My friend and teacher George Caffentzis recently gave a talk entitled Is Truth Enough? The Bush Administration’s Lies and the Anti-War Movement’s Truths at a recent Maine anti-war forum. Go read it. George’s specialty is the oil industry and its impact on capitalism and world politics, especially since the first oil crisis in the 1970s. George’s comments are, as always, spot on and very insightful. I urge you to read the whole thing, but the fifth and last part is perhaps most interesting:
5. A Politics of Truth?
If we still want a politics of truth in a world of the master’s lies and the precisely-timed gullibility of many of our fellow US workers, then we must be truthful with ourselves, sober up and assess our situation and the possibilties for effective action.
First, we should recognize some of the unique elements of our situation, the most important being that we are opposing a war of occupation waged against an Iraqi resistance movement that has no discernable political program, strategy, or even tactics. This is quite different from the anti-Vietnam war movement of the 1960s and early 1970s and of the anti-Central America War movement of the 1980s (the training ground of many older militants of the present movement). In those previous movements the US government’s opponent was well known. Whatever you thought of them, the Vietcong, the FMLN, and the Sandanistas were political organizations with a public, even international presence in contact with the US anti-war movements. This is not the case with the Iraqi resistance in 2004. We are ignorant about something we should know about. We must face the political vulnerbility of our ignorance and work hard to turn this ignorance to knowledge.
Second, the situation is going to change on July 1, 2004. Using a classic “prestidigital” trick, the Bush Administration on that day will swiftly transform an occupying army into an “invited police force” asked to keep order by a “transitional” government concerned about terrorism in its borders. At that very moment, guerrilla resistance fighters will officially become terrorists, and hence open to the kind of treatment accorded to fighters in Afghanistan (including shipment to Guantanamo). Our movement will then have to face the consequences of this categorical slight-of-hand, since we will find ourselves attacked by the Bush Administration as supporters of terrorism. The key to the trick was the recent “constitution” “passed” by the US-hand picked Iraqi Governing Council and approved by the CPA. This constitution (especially with all its attractive civil liberties trappings) must be decisively deligitimated by our movement. In this fight, we should remember that “constitutions” are fetishized by many in the US working class, so we have to confront many of the prejudices that have “frozen” political change in the US for the last two hundred years.
Third, let me say this again, “respect your enemies.” The antiwar movement’s lack of interest in the Bush Administration is one reason why we fail to grasp the underlying imperatives propelling its actions. We look at the ungrammatical President, the secretive Vice-President, the Dr. Strangelovian Secretary of Defense and the Lady Macbeth-like National Security Advisor and conclude that they are “just” lackies of a right-wing conspiracy fueled by the “majors” in oil industry. Such reductionism is not completely accurate, for they are responding to a major crisis throughout the machinery of capitalism that goes beyond (but definitely includes) the profits of the oil companies and the “control of Mideast oil.” The Bush Administration has offered a “solution” to this crisis: a war on terrorism, and all that it means. Their political replacements (perhaps the Democrats) might offer a more multilateral, more union-friendly varient of “the war on terrorism” or a completely “new” solution, but either option must deal with the world-wide crisis of neoliberalism, because that is their business as residents of the White House.
Fourth, we not only must understand the “invisible hydra” of the Iraqi resistance. There is a Sphinx closer to home whose riddle needs to be answered: the US working class. It is a complex beast and bitterly divided within itself. Many of the 67% of US workers who attested in the poll to their belief in the sincerity of the Bush Administration’s commitment to the war on terrorism are terrorized all right, but not of Al-Quaida personally blowing them up. They are terrorified of being made jobless and homeless by the power of capital to move beyond US borders and use foreign workers against them. That is why the “helping hand” from capital that the Bush Administration is offering white or citizen workers through the “war on terrorism” is so attractive. It holds out the possiblity to them that they can escape the international competition for jobs in a globalized labor market through their status as “loyal” citizens which will make them “irreplacable.” Can our movement offer a better answer to the real terror of the US working class?
In the past, George’s analyses have been quite prescient in their ability to predict the next moves of neoliberal capital. It sounds to me like this will be no exception. The “war” on terrorism, like Sept. 11, is neither the beginning nor the end of the story, and the trajectory of the “plot” of this story is easy enough to spot for those who know the history of neoliberalism.