Noam Chomsky once wrote that activists had two options in relation to changing government policies (in the US): ‘One way is to try to influence the choice that will be offered by the two major political parties and to exercise this choice on Election Day. Another, very different approach is to try to modify the objective conditions that any elected official must consider when he [or she] selects a course of action.’
You can either work within the system, trying to persuade a party to have the right policy, and then vote it into power, or you can work outside the system, to change the political climate that all parties have to work in – and raise the political costs of having the wrong policy for all of them.
For a very long time, Peace News has stood for the second approach, in line with its anarchist influences.
This is going to be a big year for elections. It’s possible that November will see both the United States re-electing Donald Trump and the United Kingdom re-electing Tony Blair, in the shape of Labour leader Keir Starmer.
Starmer has shown us what kind of foreign policy he favours. In recent months, he has given solid and steady support to both Israel’s horrifying war in Gaza and the British government’s pointless and dangerous war on the Houthis in Yemen (see page opposite).
“If the peace movement was strong, it would have been able to overcome these attacks and persuade the public that it was a strength rather than a weakness to prefer diplomacy to bombs, and to seek genuine human security through social justice and equality rather than domination through overwhelming violence.”
It is a sign of the weakness of the peace movement, both inside and outside the Labour party, that Jeremy Corbyn is banned from standing in this year’s elections as a parliamentary candidate for the party he used to lead, in the London constituency where he is still the MP.
Mainstream commentators agree that one of Corbyn’s major weaknesses was his ‘lack of patriotism’, in other words, his anti-militarist politics, including his membership of CND.
If the peace movement was strong, it would have been able to overcome these attacks and persuade the public that it was a strength rather than a weakness to prefer diplomacy to bombs, and to seek genuine human security through social justice and equality rather than domination through overwhelming violence.
It definitely should not be a major goal of the peace movement to make Corbyn a Labour MP again, but if the peace movement was powerful it would not be possible for the Labour party to treat him this way.
In the run-up to this British election, the peace movement, particularly the radical end of the peace movement, must challenge the deep-seated militarism of the entire British political class.
We welcome your thoughts on how to do that!
There is a long way to go until the November elections in the US but, as I write, Trump is leading the current US president, Joe Biden, by an average of six percent in seven key states.
There is a very real chance of another Trump presidency (unless some of his many court cases results in a conviction before November, which a Morning Consult poll suggests would cut into his support by over 20 percent among swing-state Republicans).
How can Trump be stopped? Not by hating and fearing his supporters, or laughing at them.
Donald Trump, hard though it may be to see through the haze of his crude and threatening language, is something of a moderate in Republican terms.
On abortion, for example, Republican governor Ron Desantis signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida which Trump called ‘a terrible thing and a terrible mistake’, warning Republicans to be cautious on this issue for electoral reasons.
Trump also attacked Desantis for his willingness to cut benefits for over-65s and people with disabilities: Medicare and Social Security. Trump has posed as defender of social welfare benefits despite having supported cuts to them in the past.
Trump seems to be able to draw equally from different wings of the Republican party, super-reactionary evangelical Christians as well as more liberal-minded folk.
Many commentators believe that a new Trump administration would be quite different from the first in that Trump and his supporters would be much better prepared, and Trump would not allow himself to be surrounded by as many restraining forces.
Commentators have also pointed to the far-reaching plans being drawn up by ‘Project 2025’, ‘spearheaded by the far-right think tank Heritage Foundation and supported by more than 80 organizations, many well-known for their extreme positions, and for pushing hate and Christian nationalism’, in the words of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.
Project 2025 aims to reshape much of the US government and strip away hard-won rights, with the sacking, and sometimes the replacement, of possibly tens of thousands of civil servants.
A reformed department of justice would, in this plan, be ordered to pursue Trump’s enemies.
It has been reported (and denied) that one option being considered by Project 2025 is for a new right-wing president to invoke the Insurrection Act on their first day in office ‘to allow the military to quell civil unrest’.
Day One dictator
This casts a different light on Trump’s comment on Fox News on 5 December that he would be a dictator on his first day in office (though only for that day).
Fox News host Sean Hannity gave the former president a chance to say he would not abuse his powers if re-elected president. Trump replied: ‘Except for day one.’
Trump went on: ‘I love this guy. He says: “You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?” I said: “No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.”’
The many prosecutions of Donald Trump (for his role in the 6 January 2021 coup attempt, for illegally removing and keeping top secret documents, and so on) seem to have strengthened political support for him.
“He says: ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said: ‘No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.’”
In a way, Trump is tapping into the power of nonviolent action. He presents himself as suffering on behalf of others, on behalf of the country as a whole, suffering for a noble cause (the prosperity, freedom and ‘greatness’ of the United States).
Those who once supported him feel that they cannot abandon their leader, their martyr, in his time of need.
What does a revolutionary nonviolence perspective bring to this problem?
The starting point has to be that many of the grievances of Trump supporters are legitimate: their worries about job insecurity, declining living standards, problems in schools and in healthcare, violence and crime.
The amazing trade union organiser Jane McAlevey tells how many of her startling victories started by meeting workers one-by-one and asking them what was important to them, and persuading them that joining and fighting with the union was an effective way to get the changes that they needed.
Not all Trump supporters have to be won over in order to defeat Trump. This is not far from being a 50:50 race.
However, there are no shortcuts in making political change.
McAlevey relied on old-fashioned one-to-one, face-to-face organising, assessing workers, recruiting members and identifying ‘organic leaders’ in each department and on each shift.
Something similar is needed if you want to really make change, as opposed to shocking your way onto the front pages and capturing attention briefly.