Global Independent Analytics
Panagiotis Papargyris
Panagiotis Papargyris

Location: Greece

Specialization: Greece, Crisis of the US hegemony; Israel / Occupied Palestine, Oppression of Black people in the US

Why are there no massive anti-war movements in the Western countries?

Peace not war

- For the past eight months, a Saudi-led alliance has been bombing Yemen, trying to restore the former pro-imperialist regime that was overthrown in January. It is being carried out under the blessing and with the material, logistical and military support of the US.

- The occupation of Afghanistan continues. About two months ago, the US army committed one more war crime there by intentionally bombing a hospital of Doctors Without Borders, leaving 30 people dead.

- A few years ago, NATO waged a war of regime change against Libya, murdered the country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, and left the country in chaos.

- In February 2014, an imperialist coup backed by the US and the EU and spearheaded by fascist gangs overthrew the government of the Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, established an utterly reactionary regime and plunged the country into a bloody civil war next to the Russian border.

- Germany is rediscovering its militarist past, and so is Japan. The British government is trying to escalate British intervention in Syria, with Cameron shamelessly lying, talking about “70,000 moderate rebels” – a lie of equivalent proportion to the one that Blair had used about “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” in an effort to justify a crime of equivalent proportion.*

- In Syria, Western imperialism has generously funded and supported reactionary Islamist militia in its effort to overthrow the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and impose its fervent desire of regime change within the infamous dogma of “New Middle East.”

- The downing of the Russian plane by Turkey raised the danger of a military showdown between the countries of NATO and Russia. The Turkish state could not have taken the decision on its own; the NATO alliance has a strict hierarchy, and important decisions that have to do with war and peace are not taken without the agreement of the hegemon (US).

- In the South China Sea, the reckless provocations of US imperialism against China threaten to spark an all-out war.

Never before has mankind been threatened in the manner that it being threatened today. The reckless provocations of Western imperialism (led by the US) against Russia and China threaten to spark an all-out war between nuclear powers with incalculable consequences for mankind. Western imperialism is clearly threatening to initiate a third world war, after which the very existence of mankind is doubtful. However, the response of the workers and the oppressed in the Western countries does not stand up to the challenge. On the contrary; in our epoch, not only are the imperialist interventions not confronted by massive anti-war movements at home, but they are often even met with support! Who can forget Libya, Ukraine and Syria, when people went as far as to label the reactionary Western-backed movements as “revolutions against the tyrants”? But why is it so? Why are there no massive anti-war movements in the Western countries? Why does the criminal imperialist agenda find support or at least is not seriously opposed? This is a not a simple question and it certainly cannot be addressed within the limits of a short article. However, one important factor that contributes to this reality can be identified. And this factor may be found in the sphere of material interests.

The English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat alongside the bourgeoisie. For a nation which exploits the whole world this is of course to a certain extent justifiable,” wrote Engels more than 150 years ago. A few years later, he would write the following (ibid): “You ask me what the English workers think about colonial policy. Well, exactly the same as they think about politics in general. There is no workers’ party here, there are only Conservatives and Liberal-Radicals, and the workers gaily share the feast of England’s monopoly of the world market and the colonies.”

In both excerpts, Engels is suggesting the existence of a link between the exploitation of oppressed nations and the advanced standard of living of the working class of the oppressor nation. This line of thought is later picked up by Lenin, who in his pamphlet “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” makes the connection between this link and opportunism within the workers’ movement in imperialist countries. It is important to note that he chose to make this connection in a chapter titled “Parasitism and Decay of Capitalism.”

To put it simply, the bourgeois class of an imperialist country is able to allow the existence of a broad middle class and the petty bourgeoisie, and is also able to share some of the spoils that it gets from the over-exploitation of oppressed countries with the privileged section of the working class. By doing that, it is able to widen its “courtyard” by forging a steady alliance with these strata, ensuring their consent by means of class collaboration. This courtyard has a very real material interest in sustaining this situation of exploitation and oppression. The economic link between the bourgeois class and privileged sections of the working class is a crucial pillar of the governance system in the imperialist countries, as it ensures a more “peaceful” class struggle within those countries.

This link also explains to an important extent the material basis of racism in imperialist countries. In order for the imperialist policies to be justified at home, the colonized people need to be presented as inferior, uncivilized barbarians. The fact that the word “Kaffir” is still being used in a derogatory manner is a grotesque example, indicative of this method: it was the name that European colonialists gave to African people who were engaged in armed struggle against their colonial rule for over 100 years. The Islamophobic hysteria that is being whipped up in Western countries serves (among other things) to prepare the public opinion for the imperialist “crusades” by degrading and dehumanizing the enemy, namely the Muslim masses, presenting them all as potential ISIS head-choppers.

When a gunman invaded an abortion clinic in Colorado on Friday, November 27th and killed three people because he did not agree with abortions, his action was not portrayed as indicative of the religion to which he belonged. He was a White, Christian man who committed the crime supposedly motivated by his Christian values. While we often get to read “analyses” that label all Muslims as potential terrorists due to the horrendous crimes of ISIS, nobody seriously suggested that there was some connection between Christianity and terrorism- and quite reasonably so.  

Interestingly enough, the West has frequently presented itself as the embodiment of democracy. Over the years, the imperialists have tried to justify their interventions under the guise of democracy – versus the “dictatorships” of their opponents. Let this be made clear: the dictatorships in the Third World countries are openly and consciously supported by imperialism, and the reason is simple. States in which workers are subjected to double oppression, having to work until exhaustion and even death for a dollar per day, cannot have anything democratic about them. This situation can only be maintained by brutal dictatorial regimes. For the US society (or the society of imperialist countries in general) to enjoy this lovely democracy, the US army and its secret services of the Empire have throughout the years set up and defended juntas in Chile, Indonesia, Argentina, Colombia… The imposition of bloody regimes in scores of oppressed countries is the only way through which the societies of Western Europe and North America can get to enjoy their parliamentary democracy.

Even nowadays, school children in Greece are being taught that democracy was a product of the ancient Greek spirit and that ancient Athens saw the highest form of governance that humanity had ever seen. But the school books forget to mention one important detail: that the Athenian democracy (enjoyed by a part of the population) could only be sustained by the most savage exploitation of another - five times larger - part of the population, namely the slaves. The majority of the slaves worked in the silver mines, lived in horrible conditions and did not survive more than ten years of work there. Even under these circumstances, the wealth accumulation was not adequate in order to allow a genuinely democratic mode of governance; this was only accomplished during the 5th century B.C., when the Athenian military was able to subjugate numerous city-states and massively collect taxes from them.

How can Israeli workers seriously oppose their bourgeoisie as long as they do not take a clear position against the crimes of their country in Palestine, as long as they remain tied to their bourgeoisie in the framework of Zionism – while at the same time ripping the respective benefits? What struggle can French workers wage against the reactionary new labour code that Hollande is proposing if they do not oppose their country’s intervention in Syria, if they do not understand that there is a reason why France has a GDP per capita of $43,000 and Mali of $700? When will they understand that the prosperity, democracy, security and all the shiny veneer with which their bourgeois class buys their class cooperation is based on the poverty, the over-exploitation, the dictatorships and the bombs that are often dropped on the heads of the peoples of the oppressed nations?

Instead of searching for the enemy abroad in mythical entities such as the “Russian or Chinese imperialism,” the proletariatthat happened to be born in the imperialist West would do well to remember that “the enemy is at home”; it is “their own” bourgeoisie and “their own” state. Maybe the ever-worsening austerity combined with the state of emergency that is rising across most of Western Europe (under the pretext of anti-terrorism, but actually aimed against the “internal enemy”) will help them in that direction. After they remember this, they may be able to oppose the crimes that their bourgeoisie commits against other peoples abroad as a prerequisite for opposing its reactionary policies at home. A people oppressing another people cannot be free.

 

* The situation in Great Britain is of particular interest, since the newly elected leader of the the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a leading figure of the anti-war movement who won the party’s elections – by a landslide – in September based on an anti-austerity and anti-war programme. A lot could be said about the prospects that his election victory opened up as well as the limitations of reformism, but here I will focus on Corbyn’s stance on the proposal of the British Prime Minister to escalate the British intervention in Syria by authorizing airstrikes. Corbyn had declared that he disagreed with this proposal. The pro-war opposition within the Labour Party, that supports the airstrikes, defended the right of the MPs to vote “with their conscience” (that is, against the proposal of their party leader) on the basis of “democracy.” How can one dictate to the MPs of a party what to vote? We live in a democratic country and something like that would be undemocratic!

Shortly before the publication of this article, Corbyn capitulated (without a fight) and gave Labour MPs a “free vote.” Since there are a lot of pro-war MPs, it is almost certain that the proposal for British airstrikes will be passed and in an absolutely democratic manner. The British bombs will fall on the heads of the Syrian people in an absolutely democratic manner!

EXPERT OPINION

Joshua Tartakovsky

Very little can be expected from Western socialists to stand up for moral causes around the world and to oppose imperialism in earnest. And that not is only because they profit from the imperialism of their countries as Panagiotis pointed out. It goes much deeper. Western socialists internalized the values of their socieites,  and have long neglected real socialism and anti-imperialism. A majority believe in the corporate media reports they hear, and is  so overwhelmed by a strong sense of guilt, that in the UK for example, the left prefers to fight against the right-wing  (even when this right-wing is in favor of an exit from the EU and even when such a Brexit would lift the burden from the suffering masses of Greeks for instance), rather than fighting against the European Union itself. This shows to what degree Western society succeeded in producing obedient citizens who cannot think outside the box. That the EU is responsible for immense suffering in Greece, for example, is very clear to anyone who bothers to visit and wander the streets of its cities. But the UK left prefers to oppose an exit from the EU just since it may strengthen the right-wing in the UK, even though for Greece the situation is a life-and-death situation while in the UK the economic situation is not collapsing to the same degree for a majority of the population.

In other words, the left wing in developing countriesis, besides the communists, is often liberal, but still adheres to the basic values of the imperialist system and does not seek to challenge it. For instance, it often sees Syria and Cuba as rogue states or undemocratic regimes. But if one truly cares about the third world, and realizes one’s own position of privilige, one would have supported Trump over Hillary since the latter is likely to enjoy more global support in pursuit of war plans. Alas, the left in the West is mostly interested in having a positive self-image of itself as a fighter against injustice, lacks a genuine understanding of the role of imperialism globally and is inhibited by guilt which prevents it from making genuine collaborations (with the Oregon protesters for example). Alas, the socialist Western left inherited from the West its superiority complex and patronizes the rest of the world, this time in the form of patronizing to the socialists around the world. Therefore, we saw, for example, how many socialists in the UK came out against the Greek Communist Party (KKE) for opposing gay marriage. In Greece, people are starving and going through the trash cans, but British socialists are more concerned with gay marriage. Such an approach can only come from those who see themselves as superior, and are not motivated by a desire for real change but rather in having a positive image of themselves.

In addition, Western socialists often make reservations when expressing an opinion and are not fully committed to the cause. We often hear from them that ‘we support anti-fascists republics in Donetsk and Lugansk, but, we do not support the annexation of Crimea.’  With them there is always a ‘but,’ as they are very sensitive to criticism from the liberals in their society and seek to present themselves as balanced and impartial. But one cannot fully oppose the Kiev junta without also siding with the people of Crimea who deserve protection from it. Moreover, Western socialists refrain from committing to any side fully and constantly present themselves as a distant third party and in this way they do a disservice to everyone involved and further obscure the issues. One cannot be impartial in the face of Nazism and crimes against humanity. In our times, taking the lukewarm position is what is dangerous

 

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