Peace Movement petition
plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Sun Sep 15 05:00:43 MDT 2002
The Peace Movement Aotearoa is currently launching a petition in
opposition to NZ support for the 'war on terror'.
As petitions go, it is rather on the (unnecessarily) wordy side. But
more serious are the first and last paragraphs, which are clearly
insupportable by anyone seriously interested in radical social change
and taking sides with the oppressed.
Firstly, however, the positive aspects. The petition attacks the whole
concept of the 'war on terror and notes its growing expansion to take in
whole new sectors of the world. It rightly rejects the NZ government's
role in the 'war on terror' and insists on the withdrawal of all NZ
military staff involved, including the SAS troops.
All this is fine and unobjectionable.
However, there are two key parts of the petition which are objectionable
and should be opposed.
The first sentence of the petition declares, "We the undersigned condemn
all acts of terrorism, including state terrorism, and support all those
responsible for terrorist acts being brought to justice."
The first thing to say about this is that you cannot fight effectively
against the 'war on terror' if you adopt the language of its
instigators. The PMA petition uses the term 'terrorism' in a completely
undifferentiated way, thereby putting the violence of the oppressed on
the same level as the violence of the imperialists. In fact, state
terrorism - which comprises the overwhelming majority of acts of terror
on the planet - is merely added in, as if it is a tag-on or afterthought
- 'including state terror'! - as if other forms of 'terror' were the
That this kind of thinking appears in an 'antiwar' petition when the
'civilised' Western states have just barbarously killed hundreds of
thousands of Iraqi civilians through sanctions is actually quite
breath-taking. Exactly which non-state acts of 'terror' compare with
this, we should ask the PMA.
And, of course, we can go back to the inccineration of hundreds of
thousands of Japanese civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US and
its allies (including NZ and the first Labour governent), the carpet
bombing of Dresden and other German cities during WW2 (the british
invented civilian bombing), the murder and wounding of millions of
Vietnamese by the United States government in the 1960s and early 1970s,
and the general all-round barbarism carried out by the Western powers in
all their colonies and neo-colonies past and present.
The second thing to say about this paragraph is that it draws no
distinction between the legitimate violence of the oppressed and the
violence of oppressing powers which is designed to cow the oppressed.
Instead, it adopts the very language of Bush, Blair, Howard and Clark -
the language of the 'war on terror' - to refer in blanket terms to
But every movement that has ever fought for national liberation, and had
to use violence because of the violent nature of the oppression they
were fighting, has been dubbed 'terrorist'. It's not much more than a
decade ago that Nelson Mandela and the ANC were denounced as
'terrorists' in Washington, London, Canberra and Wellington. Same with
the irish republican movement and every other national liberation
movement I can think of.
A couple of weeks ago, Washington also declared the Communist Party of
the Philippines (CPP) and its military wing, the New People's Army (NPA)
to be 'terrorist' organisations. As a result CPP bank accounts in
Europe have been frozen. The CPP leads mass organisations of tens of
thousands in the Philippines - trade unions, community organisations,
women's movement, gay and lesbian organisation, peasant associations and
so on - and the NPA operates almost 120 guerrilla fronts. Their attacks
on the totally anti-democratic and oppressive regime in their cuntry are
dubbed 'terrorist' acts. Do the PMA "support all those responsible for"
a range of actions by the NPA and CPP 'being brought to justice"?
Moreover, what about all the 'terrorists' the US claims to have picked
up in Afghanistan? Hundreds of people in that country have been
snatched by the US and their allies and are now being held in indefinite
detention at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. As the
report by NZ TV journalist Camer0n Bennett showed (last Sunday), they
are held as 'detainees' and therefore can be denied the rights of POWs
and ordinary criminals. Not only are these people held without trial,
and indeed can be held for the rest of their lives should the US so
wish, they are locked in tiny cells 24 hours a day. They get 15 minutes
per week out of their cells, and have their hands and legs mancled for
this 15 minutes. Are they 'terrorists' who should be "brought to
justice" according to the PMA?
If we turned back the clock fifteen years would they support members of
MK, the military wing of the ANC, being "brought to justice" for
"terrorist acts"? Would they have supported IRA and INLA members being
"brought to justice" for "terrorist acts"?
This opening section of the petition negates the positive parts that
follow, and make it unsupportable as a petition.
Unfortunately, the petition ends badly as well.
The final demand in the petition calls on the NZ government to play an
increased role in world affairs, supposedly "to initiate and support
positive ways of reducing the threat of terrorism (whose terrorism? -
PF) and war, in particular by improving the social and economic
conditions of the peoples of the world."
I don't doubt the sincerity of PMA people in wanting to impprove global
social conditions, but the kind of thinking behind this part of the
petition is not the way to do it. It is, at best, a patronising
reflection of the old 'white man's burden' thinking. The oppressed of
the world are incapable of liberating themselves, so the beneficent
white leaders of the West, like whiter-than-white Helen Clark, should
condescendingly expand their world role and sort things put for them.
By contrast, the best way we can help the oppressed of the world is by
activists on the ground in New Zealand organising in solidarity with
their struggles for liberation, promoting the solidarity of NZ workers
with workers and oppressed peoples all over the world, *outside of* and
*in opposition to* our own imperialist government.
The NZ government is not a force for good in the world. The less scope
it has for interference in other people's countries the better. Indeed,
we should be trying to reduce its scope for interfering in our lives in
NZ, not encuraging it to expand its role in interfering in the Third World.
NZ is a capitalist society. Moreover, it is not just any old sort of
capitalist society. It is a highly-developed First World capitalist
society. In Marxist terms, an imperialist country, albeit a junior
imperialist in size. The NZ government is like the board of directors
of NZ Capitalism or NZ Imperialism Ltd. It manages the affairs of NZ
capital in general within NZ and promotes those intersts on the world
stage, historically by plundering the Pacific and anywhere else it could
get a toehold in a world dominated by bigger imperialist sharks.
The job of radicals in relation to NZ society and the NZ state and
government is not to bolster the massive illusions that exist among
people here about these institutions, let alone advocate a greater
global role for the NZ capitalist state. Rather, it is to educate
people about the realities of the NZ state and government, to expose
them and to oppose them.
The starting point to genuinely radical politics in NZ is opposition to
our own ruling class and our own state - and, of course, the capitalist
political parties (Labour, National etc) which administer them. Support
for our ruling class and their state and government is what Marxists
call 'social chauvinism' and 'national chauvinism'. In NZ, these forms
of chauvinism are especially strong, and radical politics are extremely
weak. Most of what passes for radical politics here are forms of
liberalism. Liberalism papers over the division of NZ society into
classes with totally antagonistic interests and it papers over the
division of the world into imperialist countries and countries which are
oppressed and plundered by imperialism.
It is especially vital that people seeking radical change develop a
radical, rather than liberal, understanding of NZ society and the role
of the NZ state as the representative of NZ capital. This means we
should oppose the NZ government's foreign policy per se and encourage
ordinary NZers, especially workers, to forge their own bonds of
solidarity and support with people struggling against oppression in the
Such solidarity also means recognising their right to use violence in
their struggles for liberation and combatting Western government and
media propaganda that any people who do so are 'terrorists' who need to
be "brought to justice".
What is also curious about this petition is why it needs to be so
long-winded and include these two reactionary aspects.
While petitions are one of the least effective ways of confronting the
reality of capitalism's militarist imperative - although more effective
and useful than gazing into mirrors, praying, organising silent vigils
and other signs of powerlessness and superstition - people serious about
an antiwar petition could do much better.
An antiwar petition need only state something along the following lines:
We, the undersigned, totally oppose the US-led 'war on terror' and all
NZ government and military collaboration with it. We demand an end to
the threats to invade Iraq, an end to the Western sanctions which have
killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and an end to the
US-British bombing that has been ongoing since the Gulf War. We demand
the NZ government cease participating in these barbaric sanctions and
that it withdraw all involvement form the 'war on terror'.
This petition would say everything that needed to be said, take a
principled antiwar and anti-imperialist position, and be about a third
the length of the PMA petition.
Above all, however, what we need is an active campaign along these
lines, mobilised on the streets and reaching into the workplace and the
PS: I leave aside any but the briefest comments about the SWO's claim
that the petition is "a great way of organising opposition to the war"
and that everyone should get behind it and organise petition stalls,
thereby "show(ing) that the foundations of a powerful anti-war movement
have been built" . The whole SWO uncritical embrace of this petition,
in their special 'Stop this Madness' handout, merely reveals that they
are liberals, not Marxists. The sooner their leadership dissolve the
organisation into the Greens or the Alliance the better. Any individual
revolutionaries caught up by mistake in the SWO can come and join the
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