In the United States you can attend a local “peace and justice” group meeting in almost any city and find people generally open to any new way of thinking or evidence of success that could help advance the causes of peace or justice.
But if you go to too academic a “peace studies” event you are likely to find people very focused on aid and development in distant poor nations selected from the list of those the United States is not heavily bombing at the moment — that, and a general resistance to organizing activism to end U.S. wars.
If, on the other hand, you go to a peace event organized by a national coalition you will typically find people excited to do peace activism as long as it takes the side of and is not overly confrontational toward elected Democrats.
In some cases, however, you can find a national coalition that doesn’t suffer from loyalty to the Democratic Party. Instead, it will suffer from loyalty to Marxism. At these events you’ll be told that certain types of activism are real and others phony. The real ones are typically either those involving economics in some way, such as going on strike, or they are those involving violence. These antiwar events, like the United National Antiwar Coalition conference I just attended, feature speakers advocating for war and uncritically praising any government that is under attack by the United States.
It’s never very clear whether these activists want U.S. residents to go to Syria and fight for Syria, or whether they want them to somehow fight within the United States. You hear a lot less about specific actions than about “objective reality” and “heightening contradictions” and “the collapse of late-stage capitalism.” One speaker this past weekend recommended the defection of a U.S. soldier to the Filipino side in the 1890s and the Russian revolution of 1917 as the two events we should be reproducing.
I sometimes find myself wondering what would be different if Karl Marx had secretly lived long enough to observe the successes of nonviolence in resistance struggles around the globe. Of course he might not have cared a fig, but as long as we’re fantasizing, just suppose for a minute that Marx was still alive and showed up and pointed out that science requires observing what does and does not work, that nonviolence has had more success than violence not only in the Philippines but around the world, that nonviolent campaigns are over twice as likely to succeed and those successes very likely to be much longer lasting. Then, on the authority of the great man, would people stop pretending they live in the 19th century?
A lot of people like to denounce the anti-science climate deniers as backward and ignorant. But how is it not anti-science to ignore the powerful tools of nonviolence and the demonstrations of their strength? Marx has a lot to say about economics. Wonderful. Authors ten times as old as he have a lot to teach as well. But why cling to the parts that are outdated by events? A boycott can be a terrific tool but it is not somehow more real than a march or a teach-in or a sit-in. We need as many tools as we can get, and we need to select from among them based on the evidence, not based on ancient metaphysics.
We have arrived at a point at which either nuclear war or climate collapse will end human society as we know it unless we end war and environmental destruction. (We don’t have time for pretending that evils must be ended sequentially, and that capitalism must end before war.) When you combine this fact with the past century of failure of war to end all war, it becomes very clear that we need to use something other than war to end all war, and that preaching war in the most warmongering nation on earth is the most counterproductive thing that can be done, even if you delude yourself that preaching only anti-imperial war makes a crucial difference.
There’s not a single nation the U.S. has ever attacked that has sat still and waited to fight back until it got word from U.S. peace activists that they approved. We have no role to play in telling people to fight back or advising them of more powerful nonviolent ways to do so. We have a role to play in moving the greatest purveyor of violence on earth away from violence. We can’t do so as a 19th-century sect. We need to do so using all available information and ingenuity.