Kevin B. Anderson, International Marxist-Humanist Organization and Professor of Sociology, UC-Santa Barbara
Comments presented at the July 14 launch of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice at a public meeting at the Westside Peace Center, Culver City
The year 2017 has brought forth a new and ominous situation for the US, the world, and for progressive and revolutionary movements. First, we have seen the rise to power in the US of a form of rightwing populism with fascist overtones in the Trump regime. Trumpism shares some common features with neofascist movements abroad like the racist, anti-immigrant National Front in France or the neofascist Orban regime in Hungary. Trumpism is a hybrid form, however, as it continues many features of neoliberalism — like a cabinet of plutocrats — alongside those of rightwing populism. What is clear is that the new Trump regime is more openly authoritarian, racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and anti-environment than we have ever seen in the U.S. at the national level, even under Nixon, Reagan, or Bush.
Second, the people of the U.S. are fighting back with force and determination. For we have in 2017 also witnessed the largest popular mobilizations of progressive and leftist forces since the 1960s. This has been true not only in the U.S., with the women’s march, the scientists’ march, and the almost daily marches of immigrant rights, environmental, and anti-racist activists. It has also been seen at the large protests outside the G20 Summit in Germany, and in the leftwing populist Mélenchon candidacy in France and that of Corbyn in Britain, and of course, the Sanders campaign here last year. (In the U.S. in 2017, the continuous mobilizations are also keeping alive the split within the dominant classes as seen in the hearings over Russia or the firing of Comey.)
This Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice was originally conceived as a new type of antiwar coalition that would be able to oppose war and imperialism not only from the U.S. and its allies like Saudi Arabia, but also from their rivals like Russia and its allies like Iran. Thus, we wanted to oppose the murderous actions of Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime in Syria, at the same time that we opposed the wars of the U.S. and its allies in Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
With Trump’s election, however, a broader focus was needed, as Trump is waging wars on the people of the US as surely as he is doing so abroad. As the French put it at their protest today against Trump and Macron, these leaders are engaging in a “social war” against their own populations. In some instances, Trump has lessened the temperature of US-Russia confrontation in Syria as both attack ISIS, but this has the downside of colluding with Assad, Russia, and Iran as they impose a peace of the graveyard after a civil war in which 500,000 human lives have been lost, mainly at the hands of the Syrian regime. (Obama and Kerry were already moving in that direction, however.) While events in Syria are a bit murky, what is crystal clear is that Trump is waging his social war inside the U.S. against any and every type of progressive movement or cause, whether around labor or the environment, or around race, gender, or sexuality.
Our coalition has been conceived as an independent and revolutionary pole of resistance against the Trump regime and the system that produced it. On the one hand, we want to separate ourselves from those nostalgic for Obama and Clinton who don’t want to acknowledge how these liberals created an opening for Trump through their failure to deal seriously with economic and class divides wracking this country and the world. On the other hand, we want to have our own independent existence as a Coalition, separate from those wings of the peace movement that abstain from targeting forms of war and imperialism that do not stem from the U.S. and its allies. But of course, we are not barring joint actions with other wings of the peace movement and other progressive and revolutionary organizations.
Let us examine briefly war and imperialism in the world today, by considering two major threats of war and three ongoing wars. These are only examples, of course.
The first and most dangerous war threat we face today is the U.S.-North Korea confrontation. The U.S. has never recognized the North Korean regime and it was explicitly targeted — alongside Iraq and Iran — in Bush’s infamous 2002 Axis of Evil speech. Since then, this brutal totalitarian regime has escalated its nuclear program, setting off multiple tests of nuclear bombs, and most recently, launching a missile that could reach Alaska. While they have not yet miniaturized their nuclear warheads to fit onto a missile, it is conceivable that this will happen in the next few years. At the same time, the U.S. has targeted North Korean territory with nuclear weapons for decades. Moreover, Trump has issued some incredibly bellicose rhetoric toward North Korea, which they might well interpret as an explicit threat of imminent attack. While this conflict is exacerbated by the bellicose, unhinged language of both Trump and Kim Jong-un, its underlying cause can be found in the U.S.-China rivalry for imperialist domination of East Asia.
The second most dangerous war threat we face is the U.S., the Saudis, and their allies vs. Iran. During the campaign, Trump vowed to rip up Iran’s nuclear agreement with the U.S., the UN, and the European Union. This was not a big departure from previous Republican candidates for president, like supposed moderate John McCain, who infamously sang “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” during his 2008 presidential campaign. But Trump has gone one step further, using very bellicose language against Iran during his trip to Saudi Arabia in May, where he did so just a few hundred miles from Iranian territory. Trump issued his threats just as Iran was re-electing a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, to the presidency. We need to find ways to oppose Trump’s war threats while also supporting democratic and revolutionary movements inside Iran, like the mass uprising of 2009. We need also to be cognizant of the fact that Iran sits astride the Persian Gulf, across the water from Arabia. Iran is a growing regional power that, with its allies Russia and Syria, forms a counterweight in this strategic region to a U.S. imperialism that has been exhausted by the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Great Recession.
I also want to mention three ongoing wars. The first of these has been unleashed upon Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia escalated even further its murderous air attacks in the wake of Trump’s visit. The highly sectarian Sunni Muslim Saudi rulers have seized upon the fact that the Houthi rebels who control most of the country, and who follow a somewhat fundamentalist version of Shia Islam, have received some limited backing from Iran. In this one-sided conflict, where the Saudis and their allies control the skies, some 10,000 people, overwhelmingly civilians, have already been killed. UNICEF reports that as a result of the destruction of the infrastructure of the country, cholera stalks the land, with 1600 deaths already reported and nearly 300,000 infected. Torture has also run rampant, with the Saudi-allied United Arab Emirates having roasted detainees on a spit over a slow fire, this according to a June 27 report in the respected French newspaper Le Monde. These attacks would be impossible without U.S. support, both in military equipment sold to the Saudis and their allies, and in the indirect but crucial participation of U.S. military forces. Since Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the brutal Yemen war has escalated, with no end in sight, and virtually no media coverage.
The second war I would like to mention is Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza, which amounts to war, although it has been punctuated by actual shooting wars, as in 2009, 2012, and 2014. It’s about time for another one, if Israel keeps on schedule. At present, without an outright invasion going on, Gazans have electricity for only 3 hours per day, which means no real refrigeration of food or medical supplies. It amounts to the slow strangulation of a people. The far-right Zionists who control the Israeli government are exacting a collective punishment on Gaza for having voted for the Islamist movement Hamas in 2006, the last free elections in the Palestinian territories. While Hamas has some reactionary and fundamentalist features, these pale in comparison to the Saudi regime, which is a quasi-ally of Israel. And if the goal of Israel’s siege is to diminish support for Hamas, it is having the opposite effect, as seen in the student government elections in May at Birzeit University on the West Bank, where a pro-Hamas slate won for the third year in a row. Behind Israel stands U.S. imperialism, which arms it to the teeth, as it does with Saudi Arabia, but in this case at U.S. taxpayer expense. However, Israel remains the most reliable ally of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East region.
The third war I want to mention is the Syria war, which has been covered by several other speakers. This is the most destructive conflict of our time in human terms, with over 500,000 deaths, countless people tortured by the Assad regime, and millions of refugees and exiles. It is the last, tragic act of the Arab revolutions of 2011. These uprisings, beginning in Tunisia and Egypt, inspired Occupy and a host of other radical movements that continue today. In the last few years, two sets of freedom fighters have struggled inside Syria, the more democratic sector of the uprising against the Assad regime, and the Syrian Kurds. Both of these movements espouse revolution and grassroots democracy, although they have sometimes been at odds. For its part, the Assad regime is so weak internally that it would probably fall without the support of Russia, Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and other militias allied with Iran. Among the anti-regime rebels, machinations from Turkey and from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies have served to strengthen the more fundamentalist and authoritarian factions, one of which evolved into the reactionary ISIS movement. The U.S. largely stood by and watched this happen, in large part because both the U.S. ruling classes and the public had no stomach for another war in the Middle East, or anywhere for that matter. As progressives and revolutionaries, we cannot turn our backs on Syria, any more than we can on Yemen or Palestine. Last fall, during the siege of Aleppo, when Russian planes and pro-Assad forces carried out horrific massacres, it was a great tragedy that not only the world’s governments, but also the progressive and peace movements, remained largely silent. That silence was a major reason for the founding of this coalition.
We in the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice aim to oppose all forms of imperialist war and oppression, whether they emanate from the U.S. and its allies or from other powers, large or small. We also aim to target the capitalist system that lies behind these conflicts and which requires imperialism and war as part of its quest for global domination. Millions of people in the U.S. are enraged about this and are increasingly targeting capitalism explicitly. Today in DC at a demonstration against the Republican healthcare plan, Rev. Traci Blackmon, a civil rights activist from the environs of Ferguson, Missouri, inveighed against the Trump forces in striking language that combined Black liberation theology and anti-capitalism: “It’s time to stop calling God by other names when you really want to call God ‘capitalism.'”
While we certainly need more critical reflection tonight and after, there is also a time for action, and that time is now!
Given the large number and the organizing experience of those at tonight’s gathering, I think it is not too early to consider moving this discussion out onto the streets of LA. I’m not saying we are necessarily ready for this now. But just as an example of what this Coalition could do, think about August 6, Hiroshima Day. There could be a demonstration with slogans like these:
Abolish nuclear weapons everywhere, including those of all powers active in Korea and East Asia!
Stop the war threats against Iran!
End Israel’s Occupation and Its U.S. Enablers! For a Free Palestine!
Stop the Saudi-US war on Yemen!
Stop the Russian-Iranian imperialist interventions in Syria! For Syria and Freedom!
Stop Trump’s Social War on the people of the U.S.!