May 17, 2017
By Ron Read
There has been a recent debate among socialists, religious people, communists, anarchists, and others in Pittsburgh over how the peace movement should respond to various military flashpoints around the world. One argument says that the U.S. government and other countries fund rebel groups and propaganda to overthrow foreign government and that criticizing those governments (Syria, Russia, North Korea) plays into a neoconservative agenda. Other groups believe they must criticize tyrannical dictators wherever they are to show solidarity with oppressed people. Some religious people will argue against all forms of violence (from intervention to violent revolution) regardless of the situation at hand. The opposing view is that God is against oppression, not violence, and that pacifists are focusing on the wrong things. And then there are people who say all states are bad and that…..
Nevermind, that is not what this article it about.
This article is about why these arguments should not stop people from working together. Discussion and conflict should be at the heart of a movement. There should not be uniformity of thought on anything. Imperialism is not a simple idea, it is very complex which is why governments get away with doing it. And to address imperialism, people need to understand what it is and be open to different interpretations of it.
However, debate and discussion is where groups should let their differences with other anti-imperialists lie, and here are the reasons why:
The public does not care. Most members of the public do not know or care about the individual positions of the groups that make up the movement. Even people in the activist community are puzzled when they hear about disagreements among the groups and shake their heads when they hear about in-fighting amongst them. Generally the only thing the greater public sees (or doesn’t see) are the events and demonstrations the groups hold and the media coverage they get. Requiring ideological purity also excludes a large part of society that is less opinionated on such topics, thus preventing the construction of mass movements capable of effectively resisting oppression.
The opponents will not care. In Spain, Franco killed and imprisoned the socialists, communists, and anarchists without the slightest concern for their divisions. In the United States at the turn of this century, the same groups were deported and jailed while right wing groups took over local, state, and federal government. I also don’t remember Hitler caring much about the differences between Trotsky v. Lenin v. Kropotkin v. Bonhoeffer. The left plays a dangerous game when it excludes people who want to help because they are not in total agreement with a given ideology.
Such conflicts prevent the movement from achieving the right analysis, when people exclude or marginalize other viewpoints on an issue, they often ignore valid concerns that their arguments could benefit from. If analyzed correctly, the more information we have the better our knowledge of the situation will be. This is not to say every speaker (see Milo Yanniopolus or Ann Coulter) has something genuinely valid to say. It just means that there should be a high bar for when we tell someone to go to hell.
Such divisions will empower exclusionary and authoritarian groups – Those who choose to divide often want to conquer. And those who demand ideological purity from others tend to be controlling in how they organize their “resistance” to oppression. If they can’t handle someone’s criticism of Assad, or their criticism of people who demonize Putin, how will they respond to differing views on majority v. consensus decision making? Or if they are afraid of being too “radical” by using the word imperialism, what other words will people not be allowed to use?
This article is not a call for people to forget about what makes them different or even to ignore relevant discussions on anti-imperialism. It is a call for people to acknowledge and accept how they are different, and to quit wasting our time with what Freud called “the Narcissism of Minor Difference.” When people do that, amazing things can happen. They can hold large rallies, organize regular pickets, put together townhalls…they can do all sorts of things to fight for change. But first they must let go of the belief that they can get everyone to think the same thing on a given issue. It will never happen, and I refuse to wait for such as fantasy to come true.
Ron Read is a member of the TMC Anti-War Committee.