Editorial: A culture of peace can only be built on an economy of peace

IssueDecember 2008 - January 2009
Comment by Emily Johns , Milan Rai

Why should Peace News, a paper devoted to peacemaking, concern itself so much with economic issues? Over the period of our editorship we have come back to class politics again and again and again.

Dan Clawson’s wonderful essay “Fusing our power” back in May 2007, at the start of our editorship, showed how activists from the new social movements have begun to revitalise parts of the US trade union movement, turning them from narrowly-focused bureaucratic monoliths into whole-person community organising campaign groups. (For more on this, we heartily recommend Dan’s inspiring book The Next Upsurge.)

The peace movement, which is largely a movement that protests, can learn much from allied movements that organise. Protesting for a day at a contested site, as our esteemed Wales editor remarked a few issues ago, is easier than trying to organise a community and engage over months and years with a contested institution (such as a local council, or a major employer).

Protest by itself cannot create stable, long-term democratic grassroots movements. Something more is needed, something wonderfully illustrated by the early history of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or “snick”), as described, for example, in Charles M. Payne’s ground-breaking I’ve Got The Light Of Freedom, about the civil rights movement in Mississippi. Radical activists in different movements can learn much from each other. There is also a more fundamental point. It is common for peace activists to speak of the need for a “culture of peace” to grow up in our aggressive, warlike, competitive societies.

There is a simple, stark truth we cannot avoid. We cannot have a culture of peace without an economy of peace. We cannot have a culture of peace without an economy built on participatory democracy, in which each person has equal value, and an equal say in determining the direction and form of the economy.

We cannot have a culture of peace in an economy dominated by short-term, individualistic, competitive profit-seeking.
We cannot have a culture of peace in an economy in which most people are forced to offer themselves to be rented out as living instruments, as the means for achieving goals which they have had no part in shaping, goals which all too often are harmful to society.
We cannot have a culture of peace without an economy in which working people control the circumstances, purposes, methods and side-effects of the work they do.
As long as our economy is dominated by giant dictatorships, larger than nations, impelled to seek short-term gain, we will have injustice and inequality and conflict and environmental destruction – and almost certainly we will have war, endless war.

Topics: Economics
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