by Manuel García, Jr.
(Swans - January 31, 2005) As individuals we cannot change the world, only ourselves. We must become the world to change it. How? By making a commitment shared by others, and this solidarity being an engine of growth. A symbol and a statement of belief can give such commitment a focal point, making a movement out of a spectrum of conviction and interpretation. To create an anti-imperial America and a planet where all people experience a good life will require a social and political revolution of unprecedented scale. Something grander than the major religious expansions but that transcends all religious concepts is needed. The motivation would have to be a set of beliefs that attracts and unites people. It is from here that we start to change the world, and each beginning is individual. What are these core beliefs? One attempt to identify them follows.
Pledge Of Solidarity
Recognize things for what they truly are, truth is freedom --
Avoid excess and impoverishment, exploitation and debt, waste and
Tolerate freedom, honor justice, have compassion, be kind --
Knowledge guiding love, and character expressing thought in action --
These are my patriotism.
With all who take this pledge I share the work
For all to have a good life on this Earth.
This emblem is made of three strokes: a circle within which a horizontal is drawn at the one third height, with a V centered above it. One can add color to the areas defined, red below the horizontal, white within the V and blue outside it. What is the meaning of this emblem: rays of light from a distant horizon, sky between mountains seen from the water, victory grounded on union? It is just a suggestion for a coat of arms of people who visualize a humane and anti-imperial reality. Eighteen hundred years ago people might have drawn a fish or a cross in two strokes to establish contact. Forty years ago the three strokes of a peace symbol said everything (circle, vertical, an inverted V from the center). Every army marches under a flag, a visual reminder of the cause.
E Pluribus Unum
The American Left today is entirely the American Left Out. It is the province of people with keen intellect, penetrating insight, great knowledge, powerful empathic sense and no power.
This is the bitterest pain among men, to have much knowledge but no power.
-- Herodotus (c.485 - c.425 B.C.)
All of the qualities noted, in addition to the usual ones of ambition, ego (desire for notice) and personality clashes, conspire to drive anti-imperialists into a diverse array of niches. This diversity is good at dissecting imperial propaganda but politically ineffective in relation to the number of people who understand the truths uncovered and agree with anti-imperial economic arrangements.
At one time through love all things come together into one, at another time through strife's hatred they are borne each of them apart.
--Empedocles (c.490 - c.430 B.C.)
What is wanted is a way of joining anti-imperialists together into a politically effective movement that does not violate their diverse intellectual convictions. What would be the universal common ground defined as the overlap among the variety of anti-imperialist perspectives? The pledge given here is one possible minimum of such commonalty. What is essential is that some succinct statement of principles be devised and widely taken up as an acknowledgment -- to ourselves primarily -- that a movement has been formed.
The power of a simple pledge is not to be underestimated. Soldiers of the US Army take the following oath.
I (insert name), having been appointed a (insert rank) in the U.S. Army under the conditions indicated in this document, do accept such appointment and do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, SO HELP ME GOD. (1)
Many soldiers and ex-soldiers, who are moved to public protest against actions of the US government they believe wrong, will cite the Army oath as indicating where their duty really lies. The oath and the flag are supposed to remind you of what you are fighting for.
While each may make their own effort to move the cause forward now, in a movement each would also make that effort mesh with those of others, who may be very different. This is what a major democratic socialist-unionist-environmentalist anti-imperial political party would be doing, were an American one to exist. One has to look back to the politics of the anti-slavery, women's suffrage and socialist-populist movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries to find the nearest American analogs. (2) A large collaborative movement is impossible until the concept -- and willing intent -- for practical meshed effort and cost sharing (yikes!) is foremost in consciousness of the many anti-imperial tribes. The first conquest the anti-imperialists have to make is that of establishing a working politics amongst themselves. Only then can they hope to contend on the political field of battle with the imperialists, as in Mahatma Gandhi's aphorism "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
In correspondence between authors at Swans, Gilles d'Aymery had commented on the need for a message that cuts across factionalism, and defines a movement. Three excerpts from his message of 29 December 2004 state the matter succinctly:
I mentioned the need for a programmatic strategy. I should have first suggested the need for a message -- a platform, if you will; a set of a few principles of what it is we are proposing, concretely.
We do not talk to the whole, but rather to ourselves, time and again. And "ourselves" continually falls into bickering about who is holier than thou: sectarianism, friends versus enemies, the blame game.
There is no consensus to actually develop a movement. [Instead, we] just check out the "competition" that anarchists, socialists, libertarian socialists or the Hendwoods of this world offer. We are too "fragmented" -- to use Ed Herman's expression -- [into] lots of mini-chapels. (3)
And Now What?
Given such a pledge, you can "start now" to make a better world. The specifics will be those arising from the circumstances of your life and the nature of your personality. The politics you fall into will merely be a vehicle to bring about a longer lasting and greater good -- they are not an ideological end in themselves. The pledge is just a mantra -- write your own -- an auto-suggestion to join in creating a movement.
Why call it an anti-imperial movement, rather than giving it some affirmative label? Because my imagination fails me on this point. I like "socialist," but this word is loaded down by over a century of pejorative assault by "capitalism," "fascism" and "imperialism." Also, the use of labels is often the first arousal to factionalism, others will immediately prefer "libertarian," "social-democratic" regular old "democratic," "people's," "social justice," "peace and freedom," of course "communist" and you can probably imagine many others beyond this. Whatever name must be a short clear pointer to the basic goal of the movement. And what is that? Consider this.
To achieve the social gains of the Cuban Revolution on a worldwide basis, under the widest practice of civil and human rights and freedoms, with governments answering only to popular democracy, and where economic structures apply natural resources and trade for public benefit.
And Now What?, Part II
The political tools available to those who want to make a social revolution against the imperial states are both few and weak. The violent option is disproportionately in the favor of the imperialists and intrinsically repulsive, so it is best avoided or, when required by extreme circumstances, minimized in its use. Violence corrodes the soul.
The point of expressing statements and symbols like the pledge, the emblem and the platform -- or a widely-held generic ideology -- is to improve the motivation and social cohesiveness of anti-imperial political tool-users.
Until anti-imperialists recognize core principles superseding their divides of personality, faction and class, they will be ineffectual as anti-imperialists. Furthermore, once such a core ideology is identified, explicitly acknowledged and seen to inspire and unite people in practical ways, a larger social movement can gain real political and economic power. This, in turn, will act as an inducement for others to join the anti-imperial way of life.
The psychology of making this happen is to bring into consciousness what unites us rather than allowing our niche distinctions, preferences, identifications and clubs to dominate our perspectives, especially when seeking to act on public affairs.
There will be plenty to argue about in the ideal world, the point is not to let our arguing now defeat the social revolution needed to bring about that world.
Some Immediate Projects
"Starve the beast" is an American fascist slogan signaling the intent to starve government of funds for social needs by expanding war spending and cutting taxes on the plutocracy and its corporations. We can respond by starving the beast of imperialism by military anti-recruiting and selective personal spending and boycott.
Anti-recruiting would be any activity to dissuade enlistment in the military: eliminate recruiters on campus, provide legal advisors to potential soldiers to review contracts before they are signed, provide anti-enlistment offices and counter-recruiters in proximity to recruitment sites, prevent the imposition of conscription, provide legal services to currently enlisted people, conscientious objectors and deserters; political organization of military family advocacy groups, coordination of legal and political efforts between civil rights lawyers and anti-war, veterans and military family groups. Each of these exist independently, but if such efforts had a coordinated focus on the goal of stopping the Iraq War by stopping the flow of people into the US military, then this would be a movement.
Selective personal spending and boycott can have three benefits: encourage individuals to reduce their consumerism and shed debt, encourage individuals to focus their spending on products and services offered by anti-imperial economic entities and individuals, and increase public awareness and possibly cause change if the boycott and selective spending -- and savings -- pattern is of sufficient size. It would be very helpful if sympathetic economists could devise strategies enabling anti-imperialists to pool their personal spending in ways that minimize support of large corporations, fascist priorities and the war effort. We need an anti-imperial and insurgent macroeconomics that allows us to use our collective economic power to fund the work of the movement.
The Michelangelo Option
What to do? One could hum a few bars of John Lennon's "Imagine," (4) recalling a happier time of naive youth, then discard the carcass of this proposal after having dissected its many faults and assumptions -- what we might call the Herodotus Option. Or, you could consider the Michelangelo Option,
"I criticize by creating something beautiful." (5)
Imagine it as a group effort.