[Marxism] "Peace" Advocates Against The Antiwar Movement- Another Look at Prof Furedi

Tony Abdo gojack10 at hotmail.com
Wed Mar 17 16:34:24 MST 2004

More from the Frank Furedi school of thought on the supposed demerits of 
building actual mass demonstrations. Is it a coincidence that CommonDreams, 
and other sites influenced by the liberal DP intellectual set, are coming up 
with all this garbage during a presidential election year? I'm rushing off 
to vote John Kerry because these big demos just don't accomplish nothing... 
lol... what a joke of a political line.

The protest of thousands PLUS of people in the streets is not really a 
protest they say. Well this sort of crap used to flow forth in downpours 
from the Civil Disobediance crowd druing the '60s and '70s. Still does, as 
nothing really has changed that much about why we still need a powerful 
antiwar movement in the streets.

'Direct Action' (and voting responsibly DP) are really where it's at!  It's 
classic liberalism and ultraleftism rolled up into one.  And commondreams is 
publsihing this demobilizing junk immediately before the March 20 actions 
coming up! Makes one sick, it certainly does. It's the true face of Vote DP 
liberalism here... JUST GET OFF THE STREETS, and be good.    John Kerry will 
save you, with the help of other people who have no "failure of courage and 
imagination' like antiwar demo organizers do! A disgusting piece...

Oh! But the writer of this commentary is so damn radical by not paying 
taxes! Jeesh, what an idiot.

Tony Abdo

Published on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
“Let’s Put on a Show!”
Spectacle versus Reality in the US Peace Movement
by Pattrice Jones

Yet again tens of thousands prepare to descend on major metropolitan areas 
to march in circles through empty streets. We will exercise our legs and our 
lungs and our egos and then go home again. Nothing will change and nobody 
will be surprised at that. As usual, exorbitant expenditures of time and 
money will add up to exactly zero. Meanwhile, people and animals and 
ecosystems in Iraq and elsewhere will continue to pay the price for our 
failures of courage and imagination.

The French have a word for it: spectacle. Back in the 1960s, Guy Debord and 
other Situationist theorists and activists described late capitalist culture 
as “the society of the spectacle.” Long before the advent of reality shows 
and ring tones for disposable cell phones, Situationists were already 
chafing at the degree to which the lively variety of everyday life had been 
reduced to a deadening array of things to watch and buy.

Today, consumer culture extends to extremes beyond the most most jaded and 
surrealistic dreams of the political theorists of earlier eras. Only 
fictional nightmares such as Karel Capek’s War with the Newts, Aldous 
Huxley’s Brave New World, or George Orwell’s 1984 approximate the sinister 
absurdity of the sociopolitical atmosphere in which we now must find ways to 
effectively create change.

In the society of the spectacle, there’s no business like show business. 
Image is everything. Even those who actively participate in the events of 
the day do so as spectators of their own lives, with one eye always looking 
back at a real or imaginary camera. All actions, including and especially 
political acts, become performances. Creative resistance is quickly 
suffocated by incorporation into the show.

Sound familiar? It should. Troubled teens write in weblogs rather than 
private diaries while television network NBC (owned by military-industrial 
behemoth General Electric) literally makes a mockery of subversive ideas on 
comedy programs like Will & Grace and Whoopi.

We must live in a democracy if people are allowed to mock the president on 
tv. That’s what they — including “the president” — want us to think. Do you 
remember how Bush portrayed the biggest US peace marches before the invasion 
of Iraq? He said that such demonstrations illustrated the difference between 
the United States and Iraq, thus turning the protests into one more reason 
why the people of Iraq needed to be “liberated.”

By then it should have been manifestly evident that symbolic demonstrations 
of dissent no longer shake up the system to any significant degree. Instead 
of challenging the spectacle of democracy, our protests are incorporated 
into the spectacle, making it stronger and more compelling. The more 
spectacular our demonstrations become, the more drums and puppets we deploy, 
the easier it is for average citizens to see protesters as merely the cast 
members of an ever-more-colorful reality show.

This bears repeating: The big demonstrations that have become so popular are 
not only ineffective; they actually make matters worse. By channeling the 
time, energy, money, and creativity of so many activists into an exercise in 
futility, these demonstrations and their preparations deflect activist 
attention from the urgent task of fashioning actual (rather than symbolic) 
challenges to the corporate world order and the military power that sustains 
it. Moreover, these demonstrations leave people — activists and regular 
citizens alike — more rather than less comfortable with the existing order. 
Watching or reading news reports about the event, citizens feel good about 
living in “a free country.” Mollified by making the news, participants go 
home feeling like they have done their part. Indeed, judging from the 
comments they make to reporters, personal comfort appears to be the primary 
reason many people attend these events. “I know we can’t stop the war,” goes 
the usual litany, “but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t show my 
disagreement.” Thus, the performance of dissent becomes an end in itself 
rather than the means to an end.

When we start from the premise that we can’t make a difference, is it any 
wonder that we don’t? When we choose tactics that are spectacular rather 
than substantial, should we be surprised when we are simply incorporated 
into the show? Is it true that the best we can hope for is superficial media 
coverage of the mere fact that some people disagree with the policies of the 
Bush regime? Might we dare to dream more extravagantly? Dare we risk 
disappointment by trying to actually stop the crimes that Bush is 
perpetrating in our name, rather than simply signal our disapproval of them? 
What might we do to really make a difference?

The first thing we need to do is understand the distinction between direct 
and indirect action. For too long, too many activists have mistaken drama 
for direct action. For the record, direct action includes only tactics that 
have an immediate impact on some element of the problem at hand. Indirect 
action seeks change via more circuitous routes, such as seeking to change 
citizens’ minds in the hope that they will, in turn, change their voting 
behavior and that this will, in turn, lead to changed national policies. 
Rent strikes, boycotts, blockades, sabotage, and demonstrations that 
substantially interfere with business as usual are direct action. Petition 
drives, letters to editors, community education, and demonstrations that are 
limited to symbolic expressions of opinion are indirect action.

Study of successful social change movements reveals that success is most 
likely when both direct and indirect tactics are coordinated. Needless to 
say, these must be effective tactics, which means that they must be rooted 
in accurate perceptions of reality and smart strategic analyses. Want to 
change the hearts and minds of your fellow citizens? Then you’d better have 
a clear sense of what they’re really thinking and feeling along with at 
least a rudimentary working knowledge of the factors that lead people to 
change their attitudes and behavior.

If peace activists feel a little daunted by that list of prerequisites, 
that’s good — they should. Like people in every other field of difficult 
endeavor, activists are forever making mistakes due to unspoken, and 
inaccurate, assumptions. Because marches and rallies were so effective 
during the civil rights and Vietnam protest movements, we assume that they 
will have the same effect on public opinion today. We forget that times have 
changed; we forget that people are no longer shocked by the sight of 
thousands of their fellow citizens marching in the streets; we forget that, 
for both observers and participants, protest marches have become little more 
than parades.

We also forget that direct action was an essential element of many of the 
most effective protests of the past. In the USA, civil rights protesters 
deliberately got arrested en masse in order to overwhelm the criminal 
justice systems of small southern towns, thereby literally preventing them 
from conducting business as usual. Similar tactics had been used in 
anti-colonial movements elsewhere in the world including, most famously, in 
South Asia. The leaders of the US civil rights movement learned from what 
activists in other countries had done, correctly adapting the tactics to 
suit the circumstances.

In contrast, the current US peace movement functions like a closed-circuit 
television system, repetitively broadcasting the same old message to its own 
members. Protest events are highly scripted, with the emphasis on style 
rather than substance. Activists signal dissent but do not actually rebel. 
Demonstrators and police officers often engage in highly stylized 
cooperative ballets wherein a handful of people are voluntarily arrested.

The point of such dramatic scenarios entirely escapes me; certainly, they do 
not in any way constitute direct action. Direct action is not necessarily 
dramatic and, in these days of the spectacle, may be most effective when it 
is not part of any show. Direct action against war must, by definition, in 
some way impede the march of the war machine. Withdrawing one’s financial 
support from the military-industrial complex is direct action for peace; 
shouting “Whose streets? Our streets!” on a sunny sunday afternoon is not.

Emergencies call for urgent action. Killing continues in Iraq and is likely 
to commence somewhere else soon, if the Bush Doctrine of preemptive warfare 
remains the foreign policy of the United States. That dramatic violence 
plays out against the backdrop of everyday environmental mayhem perpetrated 
by the Bush administration. Now is not the time to indulge our taste for for 
the spectacular or our wish for self-satisfaction. Now is the time for 
effective direct action. Specifically, now is the time for economic direct 

The Industrial Workers of the World used to say that the workers of the 
world could stop capitalism just by crossing their arms. In today’s late 
capitalism, where few workers are unionized and the franchise is 
increasingly illusory, our greatest power may be as consumers. The consumers 
of the world can bring the military-industrial complex to a crashing halt 
just by keeping our hands in our pockets.

The two ways to withdraw one's financial support from the war machine are to 
stop paying war taxes and to boycott the corporate profiteers that 
constitute the industrial side of the military-industrial complex. Both of 
these strategies ensure that we are not supporting war with money at the 
same time as we oppose war with words. At minimum, these forms of economic 
direct action subtract funds from the war machine and its corporate 
supporters. At maximum, such direct action may impact the foreign and 
domestic policies of the Bush regime.

Is it possible to make such a sufficiently significant dent in corporate 
profits? Yes. The majority of people in the world opposed the war in Iraq 
and continue to resent the current foreign and environmental policies of the 
United States. Many organizations around the world already have joined 
together to call for a boycott against war. All that remains is for the 
mainstream US peace movement to stop marching in circles and get on the 
peace train. If we agree that everyone should, insofar as possible, shun the 
shoddy consumer goods of evil corporate behemoths in favor of substantial 
and sustainable local products, then we will be supporting the regrowth of 
healthy local ecosystems and economies at the same time that we are 
weakening the war machine.

If you want peace, don’t buy war. There’s nothing spectacular about that.

Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle is online at or may be purchased from 
Black & Red press of Detroit.

The Global Boycott for Peace offers a clearinghouse of information about 
boycott initiatives around the world.

Tax resistance is a complicated undertaking. Visit the War Resisters League 
at http://www.warresisters.org or War Resisters' International at 
http://wri-irg.org for detailed information.

Pattrice Jones ( pattrice at bravebirds.org ) previously taught a University of 
Michigan course on the theory and practice of social change activism. A 
former tenant organizer and anti-racism educator, she now lives in rural 
Maryland, where she operates the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education 
Center and coordinates an international coalition of nonprofit organizations 
opposed to factory farming.

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