A Rouge Forum Broadside
Terrible bombs are falling on the earth once again, the culmination of capitalist science, ready for the inhuman order to conduct yet another mass industrialized slaughter. The bombs made of petrochemicals and profits will fall screaming the names of God, democracy, liberty, and freedom. The dead will rarely be rich.
The international war of the rich on poor and working people now moves into hyper-speed, rocketed forward twice: by the terrorist attack of September 11 2001, and once again, the week of March 18 2003. The US readies to invade, terrorize, and colonize the world in the image of its monopolies, particularly to seize control of the land and governments that sit upon the commodity, rather like a natural form of money, that regulates the value of other commodities: oil. If money and greed causes war, oil makes the war machine work. Every imperialist thirsts for it.
Guarantees of "shock and awe," carpet bombing campaigns, followed by blitzkrieg tactics against a debilitated Iraqi foe whose military surrendered in mass when, ten years ago, it was ten times its present strength; that forms a campaign to go beyond victory to terror, much in the image of the second, 1945, A-bombing of Nagasaki, clearly unnecessary but as a lesson to the onrushing Red Army of the USSR. The desired audience today is the specter of a competitive China.
Now is a moment to critically review what it is that opposes this endless horror that is promised to arch across the 21st century---and to consider what to do.
Millions upon million have marched against imperialist war, all over the globe. This is certainly heartening, a hint of what could be true international solidarity for democracy and equality in years to come. However, it is a very delicate movement. Confronted with the reality of the war, and the apparent impotence of what they have done, some activists will become hopeless. Some will grow desperate, perhaps taking risky, unproductive, moralizing, action. Many will continue to call upon others, from priests to Nobel winners to Democratic Party bosses, to take action on their behalf. Trapped within the gates of the imperial world, many war opposers already seek to prove their patriotism, in a nation where being patriotic is to be faithful to dangerous subservience. Other people will lurch from one pole to another, vacillating with the crooked fortunes of the war.
The necessity for action is clear, particularly direct action which builds a mass conscious movement that opposes war at its source, the incessant demand of capitalism for more profits through the unremitting exploitation of labor, knowledge, and the earth. Even so, just as we must act, so it is that what is needed is a patient sense of urgency. We must act. Yet we must act yet again, and again, and again, with the reasonable belief that we can make change and, indeed, win--over a long, long, time, perhaps a century or more. Staggering from hopeless escapism or alienated appeals to elites, begging the ruling classes to adopt the ethics of the masses, shifting to self-satisfying but desperate adventures, will not help in building paths out of the endless misery that momentarily victorious capitalism has to offer, forever.
To get from what is, to what should be, requires a careful analysis of concrete circumstances, as they change.
Let us borrow a common analogy: the hammer and the anvil. Think of the social and economic conditions before September 11 as an anvil. It is forged of these elements:
* rising inequality,
* massive world wide unemployment,
*overproduction of key goods like autos (and a vanished industrial base in key imperial nations),
*deep working class debt (in the US at 1.5 times average annual income),
*outright control of every existing government and tax system by elites (" government is a Trojan horse for the rich," Reagan Budget Director David Stockman) who declare their tyranny to be the absence of class war,
*racism as public policy couched as fairness,
*elimination or privatization of reforms won by the mass working class movement of the 1930's in the US: the 40 hour week, welfare, safety net medical care, social security, enforcement of occupational health and child labor laws, the minimum wage,
*mass race-based imprisonment in the US, beyond levels in any industrialized nation,
*privatization of the military as secret, for-hire mercenary corporations with links to CIA and the National Security Agency began to control military policy,
*the mass media self-muzzled by the requirements of the market,
*fanatical religious irrationalism on the rise in areas not only in industrialized societies but in pockets so decadent (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait) or so collapsed (Afghanistan) that only despair could be mobilized,
*steady demolition of the dream-like hopes of the United Nation by US action like its 6 year refusal to pay dues, illegal invasion of Grenada, mining of Nicaraguan harbors, secret wars in Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, etc.,
*deepening imperialist contradictions as rising China, the European Union, and collapsing Russia collided with the needs for cheap labor, markets and raw materials of other nations, especially the US,
*ever more corporate regimentation of schooling, that is, the processes of what people know, and how they come to know it,
*hopelessness typifies the outlook of youth as their future is fashioned of either de-skilled jobs or military risks.
This is low-intensity class conflict, the anvil that formed the pre-September reality, the material conditions that allowed writers for the Rouge Forum to say, in 1999, "if you are teaching middle school, you are looking at the next soldiers in the oil war." In sum, this is what capitalism had in store after its triumph over socialism (never anything but capitalism with a purportedly benevolent party at its head).
Now, consider a hammer, formed by the terrorist attack of September 11 2001, striking the anvil. As it races toward the anvil, the parts of the hammer are easy to distinguish:
*severe international economic crises, bordering on collapse (Argentina, Venezuela, the former USSR, the former Yugoslavia, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Japan, more than 100 million homeless in China, etc.),
*internal and external wars intensifying (Colombia, North Korea, Philippines, etc.),
* a US economic crisis (airlines decimated, state budgets bankrupt, etc.),
* coupled with the promise from the most powerful nation, the US, of perpetual war,
* political repression (the Patriot Act, secret wars conducted by private firms in the name of the US government, suspension of international civil liberties, mass arrests and secret detentions, closing borders, etc),
*assassination of foreign leaders and torture of prisoners became open policy,
*sharpened international competition for resources, like oil, markets, cheap labor,
*and the threat of more terror, real or imagined-hysteria in a nation teetering on Orange-Red Alert.
The hammer took what was a potentially a fascist US society, those elements which taken together made up the anvil, and slammed it into existing fascism, the reality of US life today.
That hammer crashed into the anvil and those caught in between already feel the terrible pain of the clanging. The hammer strikes hardest against those who have the least, that is, who have the least back-up capital. Immigrants, black people in the US, new employees, the disabled, homeless, untenured teachers, youth; the hammer will ruthlessly sort the have-a-very-littles from the have-nots, just as standardized tests sort school children by degrees of parental income. Women and children will be hit hard, as will the completely defenseless, like the mentally ill. The two million prisoners in US jails will feel the terror, even if a few are released because the state can no longer afford to incarcerate them. Charity funds will dry up as the conscience of moderate wealth remembers the dog-eat-dog nature of the economic system. Segregation will sharpen, and its dominant ideology, racism, will boom. Nationalist hysteria will become nationalist hysteria-armed and in uniforms on the streets. Inequality will rise exponentially, and, with war rather than the peace dividend the official government outlook, military recruiters will flood the schools looking for warm bodies, that is, bonuses.
Intellectual work at every level will come under attack. This will be true in universities, in community colleges, in high schools, and in elementary schools and even in Head Start where the material conditions, that is, the economic attack, will meet the need for irrationalism (get those kids to fight and die for Exxon-Mobile). As layoffs increase, to solve state budget crises, class size will boom. School libraries will close as administrators, declaring themselves as the leaders of the Education Family, invest in regimented textbooks to get the minds of children right-and to regulate the work force, teachers. The worker-boss nature of the teacher/professional-administrator relationship will become glaring.
Now, as the unilateral US war threatens the tenuous treaties that briefly held together the world order following the end of the Cold War, questions of international economic collapse, the end of any pretense of civil liberties, and world war are thrown into the already difficult mix. The invasion of Iraq sets in motion, at greater speed once again, processes which were latent within the recent past, but presses them toward crisis levels. And, as in any war, each side will learn from the other, and influence the other. Tyrant will learn from tyrant, terrorists will learn from the US battlefield tactics, and the mass of people will learn as well. At issue is: how to see a way out?
In March 2003, the largest global antiwar demonstrations in the history of the world took place. As the huge encouraging demonstrations against the war show , people will resist--some because they choose to and others because they must. Many people will simply be cornered, forced to fight back. Southern California truck drivers facing rising fuel costs went out on wildcat strikes in early March 2003, shutting down their industry not only in defiance of their bosses, but their union, the Teamsters, whose leaders demanded that they return to work and live up to the contract. In workplaces, teachers and students are already being disciplined for playing active roles opposing profits' war, and in time they will find ways to resist, and perhaps overcome, that discipline. Anti-veterans are also speaking out, calling for direct resistance. Led by Call to Conscience, they urge refusals of orders, the laying down of arms; short of a call to mutiny, and without pointing to the fragging of the Vietnam era In addition to anti-war action, students are demonstrating against related teacher layoffs while teachers advise students how to go truant from the Big Tests that poison schooling, or how to cheat.
Even with the exuberance of massive demonstrations on March 5, it is clear that the gap between the leaders of the resistance, and the led, is growing nearly as fast as the gap between the rich and the poor-even if the led are unaware. Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, AFL-CIO boss John Sweeney, Democratic party pols, the usual parade of self-building movie stars and their like, are simply unreliable allies-as are those, like the editors of the New York Times, who declare that the idea of war is a good one, but the timing and tactics of this one is not. While it is quite likely that, given the slightest stumble in Iraq, the many potential high-level whistle-blowers who have already grumbled about this as a fool's war, like Daniel Ellsberg of the Vietnam era, their goals will be simply to accomplish the same mission, with differing tactics.
Within the ranks of what one might project should be the resistance, there are outright, if predictable, betrayals. The leader of the 800,00 member American Federation of Teachers, Sandra Feldman, openly supports the war, while Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, with nearly three million members the largest union in the United States, has disappeared, said nothing. Both NEA and AFT members by the tens of thousands are already receiving war-related layoff notices-thirty thousand in California alone.
Schools are now, in de-industrialized America, the central organizing point of social and economic life in US society, and many other societies as well. Schools, then, will be slammed hard by the hammer of fascism. School workers, not industrial workers, now occupy the key centripetal position which exercises more influence than the jails, the tax system, or the military. School workers, not industrial workers (whose actions in the 1930's depression civilized the US by winning rights to organize unions, child labor laws, the 40 hour week, social security, etc.) are positioned to lead fights for social justice. Already, kids and their teachers are shutting down schools against the war. The March 5th 2003 Strike and Study action against the war, initialed in part by the Rouge Forum, involved, by conservative estimates, more than 50,000 students in the US. Again, on March 19, students in Oakland and Los Angeles, along with a few teachers, left their classes in protest. Students who are offered meaningless jobs as a future in a society which is most expert at mass murder will not be long appeased by hollow promises for their own, grown-up, tank.
School resistance has a special character. On the one hand, schools are captive resources. The work in schools cannot be outsourced. Schools' product, kids and their minds, cannot be shipped to China for assembly and returned at cheaper cost than assembly in the US. Kids and teachers have more humane relationships than auto workers and Pintos. On the other hand, schools, at least purportedly, are designed to struggle for what is true, to demonstrate the construction of reason and to address the central questions of the age which seem to now be: What do people need to know, and how do they need to come to know it, in order to lead free, creative, democratic, reasonably equitable, communally acceptable lives?
Rouge Forum work in schools has, since 2001, focused on direct action, that is, urging mass boycotts of the Big Tests, walk-outs against the war, teach-ins, and the establishment of Freedom Schools with curricula and methods of instruction designed to address the overcoming of things as they are. Our ideas have had some success and, from time to time, have become the centerpiece of action in some North American cities. Our literature, available on-line where our www page is visited by about 4,000 people a week, and in limited editions in hard copy, has influenced professors, k12 teachers, students, and parents--as well as professional organizations and unionists. Still, the Rouge Forum remains far too small.
So what ends, transcends, the Master/Slave relationship that reaches its zenith in capitalism, or imperialist wars?
Direct actions against war and fascism are surely a high form of action, involving people in choices which unite mind and body at key points of power, in schools, in work places, and in the military. Direct action, however, will not be enough.
The US peace movement, now, is a fragile movement. It is made up of many disparate elements, mostly white, with only the most tenuous common agreement. Pacifists, religious objectors, opportunist Democrats, a brittle coalition of Trotskyists (Workers World, Socialist Workers Party, Solidarity), former Communist Party USA leaders, Maoists (the Revolutionary Communist Party) will not hold together under sharp attack.
It is reasonable to suggest that severe repression will come quickly if, for example, the US is stalled in street fighting in Baghdad, and protestors begin to attempt to close the coastal docks or disrupt traffic onto military bases. Officers at Vandenberg Air Force base have already stated that anyone who seeks to interfere with their work may be shot. Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia, on March 19th announced that civil liberties will be restricted in time of war, redoubling what has already been done in the name of a time of terror.
These are, indeed, new times. It is not 1967 when it was possible to think that if one peacefully stormed the Pentagon, and sat on it, in the midst of about 20,000 others, one would live. That is no longer the case. More likely is the past scenario at Kent State, in 1970, when National Guardsmen opened fire and killed protesting students. The unprecedented shooting of white people, protestors, with rubber bullets, already took place before 2001 in cities all over the US, most notoriously in Seattle. (Black people, of course, have been open game for live rounds several centuries). It will not take much for the US government terrorists to up the ante. And, given the historical popularity of fascism among masses of people, and the profoundly racist nature of daily life in the US, openly violent action against dissidents could easily become acceptable, respectable.
Should the U.S. anti-war movement face a violent assault, round-ups to shootings and all in between, most of it will wither from a one-two punch of the government (arrests, etc) , and capital (layoffs or the slim chance of an improved economy). Some people will rise to the occasion, become emboldened. Most will retreat, in shock and awe at the violence of their own government unleashed on them, as did the anti-war movement following a brief period of outrage after Kent State. Others may turn to terrorism, seeking to replace a mass class-conscious movement with bombs, contemptuous of the processes of change which rarely work fast enough to satisfy those who thirst for it. Just as before, agent provocateurs will be in the movement, urging terror, and some will follow them. Others will seek shelter in traditional avenues of redress, like the unions, organized around the lowest common denominator of willingness to pay dues, which will only encapsulate, divide, nationalize, and purchase serious resisters. None of these routes will lead to the end of the aged relationship between the Masters and the Slaves.
It may be that movements outside the US will be more powerful, persevering, and sophisticated, and then reverberate as object lessons in the US, but those lessons take time to learn, and the importance of the anti-war movement inside the US cannot be overstated. For the time being, if the slaughter is to be stopped, the impetus will need to come from within. The US military will not soon be halted by direct warfare nor by sit-ins in Italy, inspiring as they are.
The US military may, though, be hung on its own petard: dispersion and success. Invading the world is not, over time, easy. Troops are already staged in combat areas in the Philippines, in Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, while low-intensity wars continue in Venezuela, Chiapas, etc. Should the US win in Iraq without triggering an atomic war, or a massive gassing of its troops, the Bush regime still must conduct a lengthy period of military rule, under the guidance of Haliburton Incorporated, most unlikely to be popular with the mass of citizens over time . The middle east has long been a quagmire for western militarists. Ronald Reagan sent troops to Lebanon in the early 1980's. They appeared successful. In October 1983, nearly 300 Marines were blown up by a suicide bomber. Reagan withdrew, under cover of the Grenada invasion.
Meanwhile the Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Germans, French, Turks, and British all inch closer and closer to what becomes the US oil hidden under Iraqi sand. The US will not bring democracy to Iraq, but it will bring Dick Cheney's Haliburton Incorporated to privatize the oil fields, military rule, followed by a CIA-installed Iraqi puppet utterly devoted to his US masters, more and more alienated from the people of the region. The US rulers will then turn greedy eyes to Iran, the next link in the axis of evil, strategically located, holding valuable assets. The Caspian Sea area will rise again as a focal point of struggle, as each bordering power attempts to regain control of oil and gas resources lost to the US during the invasion of Afghanistan-where opium now surges back into power. Tensions in the European Union, set apace by the UK and Spanish support of the oil war, will deepen, while at the same time the Euro will probably sharpen its clash with the dollar. There is no capitalist solution to the Israeli-Zionist war on Palestine. Capital, as a system, thrives on these crises, caring nothing about who controls it from moment to moment, or who suffers.
As the war for Mid-east oil winds down, the US will turn its attention to West Africa, not for humanitarian reasons, but because nations run by criminal gangs, like Cameroon (now proudly displayed as part of the "coalition of the willing") hold additional oil resources. Troops will be needed to guard the pipelines from hungry people, already organized in insurgent movements against the warlord oil tyrants. Aids will trace down the pipeline, carried by the starving women who must sell themselves to survive-as the recent history of Chad proves.
The longer US troops must remain in the field, the clear divisions in the US ranks, particularly the racism and sexism that typifies nearly every relationship in the military, will grind against the men and women in the lower ranks, and lead to internal resistance, in some cases because they are in mortal danger from their aged or shabby equipment and their officers' bungling.
The evolution of marketeer capital to industrial capital to monopoly and finance capital, interacting processes which rise from the relentless struggle for profits which is capitalism, proved in the last two centuries to heap national war onto national war. Now, one nation attempts to rule, through its economy and its military, everywhere-solving the problem of the contradiction of international corporations requiring a national military base. This will not long stand. However, without well-informed mass action, it will only result in more wars. So far, volunteer nationalist warriors from the working classes have not been terribly hard to find.
At issue, in part, is the educational work that creates a massive change of mind, one that overcomes the roots of alienated thinking (I must trust my leaders as they know more), national and race divisions, and succeeds in demonstrating that the key, real, split in the world is the division of social class. That division can only be set aside, not merely by smashing, but truly overcoming, capitalism, and replacing it in as thorough a way as possible with international society based on a communist principle to be found, also, in the Biblical Acts 4: from each according to their commitment, to each according to their need. How can we create a society that structurally insists on loving, creative relationships, offering people the freedom to become agents of their own freedom? Capital has left us the heritage of its revolutionary moments: abundance, international systems of transportation, production, communication, and distribution. The oil war has demonstrated the potential of masses of people around the globe taking action. However, capital, whose personifications will probably bomb their own cities on the way out, will also leave us the necessity of learning to share misery.
If we are to see justice on the horizon , it demands organization--in new ways, learning the lessons of the victories, and failures, of the past. In the absence of masses of disciplined people who have the commitment and resources to serve as organizers, willing to go where they are assigned to go by collective decisions, those who are serious about social change must choose carefully what it is they plan to do, where to do it, and how. The obvious beginning point is school, for all the reasons described above. School workers and students and community people can combine action and reflection in social practices that inspire, even provoke, movement in other sectors, like among dockworkers or other pivotally position industrial workers, and many students will wind up in the military should the war be perpetual, as promised.
The form of organization remains unsettled. How does one seriously challenge a centralized, powerful, ruthless Master-class with an organization that values joy, beauty, caring relationships, reason, equality--and leadership and sharp resistance to transcend capitalism? The Rouge Forum, organizing in schools for social justice for just six years, has grown to be a stellar voice, recognized world-wide. The Rouge Forum attempts to organize people as a class, in anti-racist, anti-imperialist, reasoned action. Our focus has been, almost in order, the regulation of schools via Big Tests, opposition to exclusive practices ranging from racist tracking to excluding the disabled, That is to our credit. But the Rouge Forum remains amorphous, open-to-all, quasi-membership group, critical of capitalism, playing a key leadership role in schools, but unprepared to meet the harshness which could be coming soon. War outpaced our preparations, even though we saw it coming.
Within the Rouge Forum are many important tendencies, each entering the debate on organization fully credentialed by the risks and struggles of the last six years-each understanding that a cornerstone of our organizing has been friendship above all. Some favor a political party exercising some form of democratic centralism (once an agreement is reached by the group, all must support and carry it out). Others, seeing the need for disciplined organizing to meet the fascist centralism of elites, nevertheless point to the shipwrecked history of hierarchical socialist parties, each claiming a benevolent rule of what quickly became capitalist states, and insist on the open and popular volunteerism that typifies the Rouge Forum now. Still others suggest that the Rouge Forum should be like an iceberg, the base of which is rarely seen.
This is, in part, a discussion we must have at the Louisville Summer Institute of the Rouge Forum, June 26-29. Complete information is here.
Requests to participate may be sent to Wayne Ross, email@example.com
In the interim, direct action, and reflection, are key. Shut down the schools, but match them with Freedom Schooling. Let the curricula of Freedom Schools involve the critique of tyranny. Shut the docks, the military bases, the factories. Withdraw your support and labor. When your boss says you must make sacrifices for the common good, fight back.
Our next planned action is Mayday, May 1st, the international workers holiday. For a long term target, Mayday is it. Shut them down on Mayday to assist in the end of the empire.
Imperialism or Globalism? by Bertell Ollman
What is Capitalism Hiding? by Ollman
What is Fascism? By Rich Gibson
What is Marxism? by Ollman
The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism by Fredy Perlman
Roots of Insurgency by Marty Glaberman
Why Unionism is a Dead End, an Exchange, by Rich Gibson
Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, by Lenin