The second week of August is a time when peace activists throughout the United States pause to remember the holocaust that our own country visited upon the people of Japan in 1945. It is the right thing to do, to stop and reflect on August 6—the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima—and August 9—the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki—and to recommit to the worldwide struggle that a third nuclear weapon will never be used, and for that matter that the people of this earth will put an end to all wars, with any weapons, once and forever.
Nagasaki Day 2017 was different, however. On Tuesday, August 8, the President of the United States, Donald John Trump, threatened to unleash another nuclear holocaust on northeast Asia. The New York Times reported: “ ‘North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,’ Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, NJ, where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation. ‘They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.’ ”
Three days later, Trump not only doubled down on his threat to obliterate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he warned the people of Venezuela that he was considering a broad range of options to solve “Venezuela’s political crisis” (read: Venezuela’s working people standing up to economic sabotage by the financial elite), including the “military option.”
After only slightly more than a week had elapsed, the President reversed his long-standing opposition to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and ordered an increase in U.S. troop strength to fight what has often been called the “longest war in U.S. history” (unless one counts the genocidal war on the Native American people).
It was a trifecta of war threats. But the response by the fragmented antiwar movement was woefully inadequate.
No criticism of local antiwar coalitions or their leaders is intended. Many local coalitions organized demonstrations on short notice, reaching out to different organizations and constituencies in their local areas. Of course, many of those citizens who are most active in their opposition to Washington’s war policies had been in the streets just days before in protest of the free pass that President Donald John Trump gave to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists in the aftermath of the shameful “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. As a consequence, fewer people came out to protest Trump’s war threats than should have, even though local activists did the best they could.
The outrages committed by the Trump administration against the working people and against simple common decency have been coming at a frightening pace. Antiwar activists are part of the overall resistance movement against the Trump administration’s policies, standing up to racism, to sexism, for universal healthcare, for a higher minimum wage, for immigrant rights, and for climate and environmental justice, as they must be, especially considering the terrible price that working people pay for war. Spending for death and destruction siphons billions upon billions of dollars away from the social safety net for the poor, the sick, seniors, and children. The dollars spent on killing people could instead be spent on repairing the country’s infrastructure— beginning with the water pipes in Flint, Michigan—which are in a shambles. Such infrastructure spending would put thousands of people to work at good-paying union jobs.
Even though the struggles for jobs, wages, and the social safety net are easy to connect with the struggle against war, the resistance is fragmented. Too many decisions to take action are not made in consultation with others: many demonstrations are called within a short time frame, and even worse, on the same days. Unity in the struggle is not simply a morally good thing: it has practical value on many levels.
The fundamental imperative for unity in the antiwar movement has to do most with bringing into action the social forces that have both the power to end a war and the interest to do so.
The financiers, the 1%, the billionaire class, the ruling class—whatever you wish to call them—dominate the economy and the government and they could stop a war whenever they wished. The fundamental problem is that the wars are fought in their interest. It is for them that politicians send young men and now young women to fight and die, and if a war is being fought for their profits, they are not likely to end it unless it becomes a threat to their wealth and power.
That leads to a force in society that can stop a war: the working class. A Teamster leader named John T. Williams once said it this way: “When students stand up, they arouse the conscience of the nation. When workers sit down, they stop production.” The working people can bring the entire economy to a screeching halt if they use their strike weapon in a unified and organized way. If we were to do so, we could stop much more than a war, to be sure. Even the threat of such strike action could be enough to cause the super-rich to think twice about continuing a war policy that was provoking working people to consider shutting down production.
And there is an additional social force that is actually the one most responsible for ending the Vietnam War over four decades ago: the enlisted soldiers and sailors who are actually doing the fighting. Once it became clear that the Vietnamese were not threatening the United States in any way—a question which faced them because the G.I.’s were well aware of the marches and rallies demanding U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam—the soldiers and sailors began fighting only to stay alive and in some cases taking drastic action against officers who ordered them into combat against an enemy who really was defending his—and, as often as not, her—country from a foreign invader.
The fundamental strategic choice for the peace movement is, therefore, shall it devote its efforts to convincing those in power to do the moral thing and stop war? Or shall it turn its attention to the working people and enlisted military personnel and organize them to act in their own interests—to use their power to force war to stop?
In the United States, where there is no mass labor or socialist party, and where the trade unions have an inconsistent record of opposing Washington’s wars, it is perhaps understandable that broad sections of the peace movement consider it more realistic to try to influence the representatives of the rich and powerful. But to bring the maximum pressure against the warmakers and to create the strong movement that can attract broad sections of labor and even military personnel, unity of all antiwar forces is necessary. How can that be achieved?
The unity that matters—and indeed the only unity that is possible—is unity in action. “We agree to take a particular action together on a particular date in a particular location (or more than one location), for this—or these—particular demand or demands.” Though a majority vote is technically democratic, achieving consensus for a decision is a far better guarantee of unity going forward.
To achieve consensus, people must be ready to compromise. Most people involved will be supporting candidates for public office; in all likelihood, people will be supporting different candidates for public office. Those choices must not be imposed on others. People may feel passionately about a particular issue or struggle other than peace, but it may not be widely understood or supported by others. People need to put the strength of the antiwar mobilization first, to respect differences of opinion, and achieve consensus where it counts. On date X it may be for stopping a war; on date Y it may be for defending the rights of immigrants; on date Z it may be for a higher minimum wage. All are valid. And on date X, all the world must know that the thousands of people who are in the streets are demanding an end to a war.
The key to success is the same as it has always been: involving the working people, whether they have their hands on the machines of production or on the weapons of combat. When working people demonstrating for peace can equal the mobilizations for women’s rights on January 21, 2017, it can force the warmakers in Washington to bring the troops home. It has happened before. It can happen now.
And the process is under way. Initiated by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), a broad coalition of peace movement organizations and individual activists has called for actions against “continuous wars, including drone and mercenary warfare…and…threatening military action against Venezuela, North Korea, Russia, Iran and other countries.” Click here to read the call. The protests are called for the week of October 2–October 8; October 6 is the sixteenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The Labor Fightback Network has endorsed this call and will do all it can to make the October demonstrations successful. We will enthusiastically build actions against not only the war in Afghanistan, but the nuclear threats against the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, the threats against Iran and Venezuela, and all the aggression, both real and threatened, coming from Washington. As we have said, the unity that counts is unity in action. UNAC and many other the groups and individuals have called for the action. It’s up to all of us who are working for peace to respond with the unity.