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"Peace News has compiled an exemplary record... its tasks have never been more critically important than they are today." Noam Chomsky

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Keeping focussed

John Taylor

ImageI thank David Webb for his careful response (PN 2543) to my letter suggesting CND should stick to its core remit of campaigning against nuclear weapons and not diffuse this focus by succumbing to other agendas.

David says there is an obvious link between the anti-nuclear campaign and the war on Iraq and the threat of war against Iran. This link is not obvious to me, any more than with intervention in Libya, headlined by CND as ‘an excuse for yet another war.’ Perhaps David would spell it out.

Of course many members of CND are also pacifists and/or hostile to any military intervention by the West. Fair enough. We can have different views and argue about that. But in the broad coalition of the peace movement they have their own organisations, whether Pax Christi or Stop the War, through which to promote these views.

Part of the problem is the word ‘links’, extensively used by David. Of course CND needs to maintain links with a range of other organisations, and not only within the coalition. But that does not mean it should take on their views and preoccupations, even if there may be (may be) connections or because the issue is of concern to its members. Otherwise it will end up campaigning on world poverty and the Palestinians.

On Pat Allen’s defence of the speaker at London CND’s November Forum: I agree that controversial views are good; but they need to be argued, not wafted out on conspiracy theory and hearsay.

Finally, I’m sorry I missed the AGM. But I stick to my view that CND’s targeted anti-nuclear expertise is too important to be overlaid, particularly with Trident renewal a live issue.

Bad Energy

Wendy Harries, Bristol

ImageI recently received a letter from the government informing me that, as a pensioner, I would have been entitled to claim £120 under the Warm Home Discount Scheme, if I had been registered with one of their approved electricity suppliers on 11 September last year. Too late to switch now! But what concerns me most is that none of the renewable energy providers are represented.

Surely the government should be supporting these companies?

I have been a customer of Good Energy for more than 10 years, and now feel that I have been penalised for my ‘green’ commitment.

Having written to my MP, I’m hoping that you will please print this letter to inspire others to do likewise.

Good books

Eric Walker, Ipswich

ImageOn a Friday midday, I phoned Housmans Bookshop to order a book and received it on the Saturday morning. Congratulations!

So I recommend readers to use Housmans rather than Amazon but with one proviso: phone rather than order online as the online catalogue doesn’t always contain what is reviewed in Peace News.

Reform and revolution

Lucy Lant, Bristol

ImageI was delighted that you and others felt a need to respond to my letter (PN 2543). There is clearly a need to re-open the reform vs revolution debate amongst PN readers so I shall continue with it.

The road to revolution is not travelled on the byways of reform. You don’t build revolutions by doing deals with oppressive systems of power. Reforms will always be on their terms, not ours.

PN editors suggest that we somehow force corporations to be kinder to their workers and to the climate. But this ignores the intrinsic nature of corporations to exploit both people and planet for profit. (It also ignores the fact that governments are very much in the pockets of these corporations.)

As long as they exist, that is what they will do. How then are we to apply such a force?

This is a classic liberal mistake. Why waste time and energy in reforms that ultimately change nothing?

During the plenary session of the Rebellious Media Conference in London in October last year, Noam Chomsky explained that the role of radical media is to ‘say the things that it wouldn’t do to say, to say the things that it wouldn’t do to think’.

Radical media should be a forum where people explore the world they want to create. Michael Albert affirmed this by saying now is our chance to seize the moment. As Peace News organised the conference, I am totally perplexed by your somewhat pessimistic and defeatist stance.

I totally disagree that there aren’t radical and viable alternatives to capitalism being pushed for in our movements in the west.

Greece is the most obvious example of where the masses are refusing to accept austerity. Here too, such movements are building.

People are fighting the cuts, the attacks on the NHS and attacks on the planet. People are building free economies, credit unions and local currencies, people are fighting for food security, land rights and local democracy. Most people are longing for alternatives to this alienating and destructive system. They need direction and support; don’t water down their fighting spirit!

PN advises that we could “roll back the worst excesses” in the next five to 10 years. Such procrastination may sit comfortably with the western middle classes, who still somehow benefit from this disgusting arrangement of world power, but the world’s poor would disagree, and so would most other threatened life forms on this planet. They need a voice, they don’t have the luxury of time and they needed a revolution yesterday. How can we then sit back and push only for reforms that are not commensurate with the problems we are facing?

Capitalism is not robust. It is a crisis-ridden system that is now staring into the abyss of terminal decline. This is because it is predicated on the idea of infinite growth, requiring infinite resources on a finite planet. It has thrived and flourished for the last 150 years on cheap oil and coal, but that era is drawing to a close as the peak oil shocks start to set in.

Peak oil is certainly one of the things it ‘wouldn’t do to say’ and it’s noticably absent from much revolutionary discourse. The whole of western civilisation is based on this resource. Its decline will define the 21st century. As revolutionaries, we are facing both unprecedented opportunities but also greater risks of fascism and oppression from those in power.

I do agree that, for now, we face a severely atomised, brainwashed and apathetic public but the answer is not to lie back in a dull fog of defeatism just because of a perceived lack of success. Marx explained that revolutions can occur very quickly after quite dormant periods. Even the Roman Empire couldn’t satisfy the people with bread and circuses forever.

As Frederick Douglas, a 19th century ex-Afro-American slave and human rights activist, once said: ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand: it never has done and it never will.’

Editor's Response:

Thanks for your letter, Lucy. Peace News shares your sense of urgency, but we have different perspectives about the immediate road ahead.

We are committed to the radical transformation of society. We are ‘for nonviolent revolution’ - the theme of this year’s Summer Camp, which we hope you’ll be at again. We’re also committed to ‘saying the things it wouldn’t do to say’.

However, we think that putting things in terms of ‘reform vs revolution’ is not a useful way of framing the challenges facing us.

Let’s put this as concretely as possible. How are we going to build social movements that are powerful enough to overthrow capitalism, dismantle patriarchy and institute a more human social order?

Is it going to be done by simply demanding ‘revolution now’? Or is it going to be done by building ever-stronger groups, organisations, unions, coalitions and movements?

If the latter, what is it we need to build strong organisations? As George Lakey points out in this issue, to build an organisation, you generally need to win smaller victories to keep your energy up and to recruit new folk.

Let’s be even more concrete. Peace News would like to see a single, properly-funded national health service in this country, free from prescription, dentist’s and opticians’ charges, free of market distortions, with the abolition of the private health sector (whose staff are trained in the NHS: each doctor costs the NHS £200,000 in training, on average). More ambitiously, we’d like to see healthcare institutions under the control of health workers and patients rather than bureaucrats, investors and pharmaceutical corporations.

For the immediate future, however, the progressive agenda in relation to health care is mainly defensive. Unfortunately, we aren’t even strong enough as a radical movement – at the moment – to stop the government and the corporations carving up the NHS.

We’re a long way from being able to take over the NHS, or even to force through some basic reforms.

Think of the people in your neighbourhood and your hospital. Communities and health workers are a long way from even thinking about direct democratic control of health centres and hospitals, trying to figure out how that would work in practice, or building organisations to effect such changes.

To make these observations isn’t the ‘fog of defeatism’ or ‘procrastination’. It is the reality that we have to work with, while we try to lay the basis for a movement that can carry out a revolution – in healthcare, as in other areas of life.

We don’t have the space here to go into this as it deserves, but we promise to return to this important debate about strategy. – Eds

Pacifiste*

Peter M Le Mare, Cornwall

ImageI, like many many others, feel very horrified at what is happening in Syria and other similar places. We rightly feel that we should be doing something. This is frustrating but if this leads to suggesting or taking part in violence or militarily defending the rebels or what we think are the innocent victims or ‘collateral damage’ then we defeat the purpose.

It is strange that so many people are prepared to risk ‘laying down their life’ for some cause by fighting. The enemy is fought for by troops and personnel just like you and are not the people who actually are the power. To defeat that power, you have to be more powerful, and so you become the new authoritarian power that has to become, usually, worse than those you opposed.

Nonviolent ways of causing change are the only way in which one can have a true or complete revolution or real change. I think this is probably so in Tunisia and Egypt although they still have a long way to go. I could not in any way support the corrupt, violent and anti-democratic NATO in bombing the Libyans: they had no desire to put in a fair and democratic government there. As always the ‘collateral damage’ was greater than the previous regime.

I cannot see a difference between anti-militarism and so-called pacifism or nonviolence.

One of the things I like in the French peace movement is that everyone who is a peace person is called a pacifiste: there is no division.

I am quite sure – in Libya and in Syria – that no solution can be based on military action on either side. If that makes me a pacifist then so be it. I think it is only being human.

Topics: Pacifism

A response to Gene Sharp

Michael Randle, Shipley

ImageI was pleased to see in the last issue of Peace News the interview with Gene Sharp who has done much to promote an understanding of nonviolent action as a strategy for political and social change and even revolution.

However, even allowing for the fact that this was an interview, and that his answers were of necessity somewhat off the cuff, I find the reasons he gives for no longer considering himself a pacifist unconvincing.

He says that ‘maybe unjustly, or maybe not, pacifists are known for their refusal to use violence’. But that isn’t so much what pacifists ‘are known for’, as what defines them.

It’s not clear whether Gene himself rules out absolutely the use of violence, or, to set the bar somewhat lower, the use of military force.

If he does, then his stance is a pacifist one, whether or not he wants to use the term.

He states that he is ‘not for violence.’ That’s too vague.

Few people would say they are ‘for violence’ in an abstract sense. The question is – does he altogether rule out its use? His response to a later question as to whether there are any instances in which he has supported violent resistance to occupation or invasion suggests that for pragmatic reasons, rather than as a matter of absolute principle, he does rule it out. But again his position is not completely clear.

Gene rejects the proposition embodied in the old Peace Pledge Union slogan: ‘Wars will cease when men refuse to fight’. He says he does not believe you can get rid of war that way – you have to have a substitute.

I absolutely agree, as I think today would most pacifists and peace activists. As far back as the 1950s, when we were both working on Peace News, the more radical wing of the pacifist movement, while continuing to support the right of individual conscientious objection, argued that by and of itself it would not end war and that nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience was needed to resist both oppression and war preparations, particularly preparations for nuclear war.

Gene in the intervening years has distanced himself from the pacifist and wider peace movement. Perhaps this has assisted him in his efforts to convince a wider audience outside any kind of peace movement of the possibilities of nonviolent action and to get policy makers and military strategists to take seriously the notion of what he terms ‘civilian-based defence’

However, I hope this interview marks a step in the direction of his re-engagement with a constituency which has promoted his own work and that of other scholars and activists in the field, and sometimes been at the forefront of important movements and campaigns.

Libya

Martin S Gilbert, Ulverston

ImageI respond to the March editorial on Libya. It hints that the rebels had a choice of nonviolent resistance. Do we withdraw our support when that tactic is postponed, however temporarily?

The rebels were accompanied by NATO forces and defectors from Gaddafi, who a present hold some power. What choices did the rebels have?

To hope for an effective, nonviolent struggle without intervention from such people is looking for perfect answers in a highly-complex situation.

Perhaps the rebels were opportunists. But after decades of oppression there is no easy way to freedom and democracy.

Before NATO’s intervention, Gaddafi said his forces would destroy Benghazi ‘going from house to house’. At the time of writing, the Syrian tragedy shows that president Assad is intent on doing that in Homs. A response as murderous as Gaddafi’s.

Editor's response

Thank you for your letter, Martin. Our whole point was that there were two kinds of rebel in Libya: genuine grassroots forces, and opportunistic regime elements who gained the support of NATO in trying to re-establish authoritarianism.– Eds

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