A Manifesto Against Militarism
This month, we use the editorial pages of Living Marxism to publish our new Manifesto Against Militarism. The Manifesto, to be launched at the Hot Wars and Holocausts conference in November, will be the theme of a campaign in the months ahead. Watch this space, or ring (071) 375 1702 for information.
Can the unthinkable happen? Could the world be plunged into a great war once again? Most people think it impossible. Yet what was unthinkable yesterday seems to happen quite often today.
- When the Cold War ended, everybody expected a 'peace dividend'. Today we are witnessing a state of permanent warfare from the Gulf to the Balkans.
- The easing of East-West tensions was supposed to create an international climate of security and cooperation. Today the UN is falling apart and the Western Alliance is fracturing.
- Europe was said to be on a straight road to peaceful unification. Now even the future of the EC is open to serious doubt.
- The 'economic miracles' of the eighties were meant to have banished the bad old days of Depression forever. Today international capitalism is experiencing its worst slump for half a century.
The explosive mix of economic chaos and political conflict is creating a new global crisis. The warning signs in international affairs are there for all to see. The West is now far less inhibited about dictating terms in semi-colonial fashion to the peoples of the East and the third world. Meanwhile the rivalries among the Western powers them-selves, over everything from interest rates to Bosnia, are becoming increasingly bitter.
As the old order collapses and the struggle to shape the new one takes off, there are grave dangers ahead for us all. Every important development today points towards the rise of militarism - not just in terms of an accumulation of weapons, but as the dominant political outlook in all Western nations.
There has never been a more important time to take a stand against militarism. Yet today there is no serious criticism of what the Western powers are doing. The aim of this manifesto is to begin to turn that around. It is a call to oppose the key trends in politics which could pave the way towards war.
1 Against the moral rearmament of imperialism
Today everybody from George Bush to the liberal Guardian appears to think that the West has a legitimate right to interfere at will in the affairs of Africa, Eastern Europe or the Middle East. This arrogant assumption of moral superiority, the notion that the West must know what's best for the world, is the most dangerous idea underpinning the New World Order.
Why should the future of, say, the peoples of the former Yugoslavia be decided by Western governments at a conference held in London? Western intervention cannot be the solution to the problems of the world, because it is the cause of them. From Somalia through Iraq to Bosnia, the roots of today's crises lie in the way that the West uses others as pawns in its own geopolitical games.
The Western powers do not intervene abroad for humanitarian reasons. They are pursuing their own agenda of international power-struggles. America (with British assistance) destroyed Iraq to show its Western rivals that it was still Number One. Germany has targeted Serbia to demonstrate its own authority in Europe. The result is always to escalate the crisis, turning local disputes into international conflicts. Any further Western interference can only make things worse for those on the receiving end.
The argument that the Western powers should save the world represents the moral rearmament of imperialism. It is the modern form of the old imperial ideology of the White Man's burden. However worthy the motives which inform the call for more Western intervention, it can only legitimise the carve-up of the globe among the great powers.
2 Against Western chauvinism
Behind every discussion of international affairs today lies the assumption that Western nations are more civilised than the 'inferior' peoples with which they have to deal. This chauvinist outlook is being used to scapegoat the East and the third world.
In the opinion of Western commentators, the peoples of the ex-Yugoslav republics are fighting because of their 'tribal' hatreds, Africans are starving because they breed too quickly, and almost every other problem on Earth is the fault of the poor and the powerless rather than the wealthy and powerful West.
At its worst, Western chauvinism targets peoples against whom the great powers can demonstrate their civilised credentials. Those who are set up to play the part of the West's whipping-boys, such as the Iraqis and the Serbs, pay a heavy price for the privilege.
The argument that 'the West knows best' legitimises these campaigns of demonisation; it has already been used to justify starvation sanctions and carpet-bombing against Serbia and Iraq. But as their rivalries intensify, Western powers can also be expected to turn their chauvinist propaganda against one another - a prospect glimpsed today in the anti-German outbursts in Britain and on the Continent. National chauvinism is the cement with which our rulers will always seek to bind us together behind their banners.
3 Against race hatred
Racism is the cutting edge of the politics of the New World Order. The outbreaks of violence against immigrants and refugees in Europe are often blamed on 'Nazis' and far-right fringe groups. But whether in Germany, France or Britain, such attacks are really the practical consequence of government propaganda campaigns. By seeking to scapegoat the third world, and to blame 'immigrant scroungers' and 'bogus refugees' for social problems, the Western authorities have created the climate for a racial pogrom.
Opposition to racism has collapsed before the renewed challenge. The fashion today is for former liberals to try to come to terms with the racially charged atmosphere, usually by agreeing that firmer immigration controls are required to ease tensions. The result is quickly to shift the debate from the problem of racism to the problem of too many black people. Such appeasement of the politics of nationalism and racism is a recipe for disaster.
The return of racism to the surface of capitalist societies is one domestic sign of these militaristic times. It should serve as a reminder that the moral rearmament of imperialism has serious consequences not only for the third world, but also for those living in the heartlands of the West.
4 Against the rewriting of history
The capitalist powers are seeking to consolidate a more assertive Western worldview as the ideology of the New World Order. To achieve that, however, they first have to deal with the embarrassments of their imperial pasts.
Each national elite is out to rewrite its history in order to legitimise its militaristic role in the world today. A nation like Britain, for example, has to revive the politics of Empire which have lain discredited for the past 50 years. The USA needs to come to terms with its 'Vietnam syndrome'. And Germany has to take the edge off the Nazi experience.
One example of how the Western authorities now seek to rehabilitate their past is by arguing that Africa and Asia are worse off than when they were ruled by Western decree. History is turned on its head, and the ruination of continents which was brought about by Western exploitation becomes an argument for colonialism.
Current debates about international affairs are peppered with attempts to discover the past in the present, whether by branding Saddam Hussein as 'the new Hitler' or describing prison camps in Bosnia as 'another Holocaust'. The effect of turning tyrants and atrocities into everyday current events in this way is to play down the significance of the past crimes of Western imperialism.
The rewriting of past wars is more than a matter of historical interest. It is part of preparing for future conflicts, by rehabilitating Western militarism in the present.
5 Against the cultural war
At the US Republican Party convention in August, Pat Buchanan announced that America was now engaged in 'a cultural war, as critical...as the Cold War itself'. Since the end of the Cold War removed the old faithful anti-Soviet card, the Western right has been trying to cohere an alternative ideology. The notion of 'the cultural war' brings together many of the reactionary ideas which they need to popularise.
The cultural war is being fought to create a conservative political climate in the West. It is a war against the 'street terrorism' of black teenagers in the inner cities; against abortion, unmarried mothers and homosexuality; against sixties-style liberalism, immigration and the third world. And it is a war in defence of 'family values', motherhood and marriage; in defence of tradition, the flag and the free market; in defence of Western civilisation and the New World Order.
The right is fighting its cultural war on many fronts. Some of these, such as the moral crusade around Aids, may not appear to have any direct connection with a hot war. Yet the cultural war is laying the ideological foundations for the next phase of Western militarism.
The creation of a pervasive reactionary political climate at home can give Western governments a free hand to act abroad - against the third world, or even in conflict with one another. By the same token, challenging that political climate is a practical way of undermining the culture of militarism. Which is why the cultural war must be fought against on every issue.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 48, October 1992