Reviewed in Social Anarchism, No. 20, 1995, pp. 99-102, with minor subeditorial changes
Review as printed
During a trip to Brisbane years ago, I was talking about peace issues with a group of activists. One of them commented, "The problem of war is undoubtedly the strongest argument for anarchism." I could only agree. The thinking behind this claim is straightforward. The central driving force behind modern warfare is the system of states. Anarchists seek a world without states and thus address a central root of war. No other political philosophy tackles this issue head-on.
Unfortunately, this line of thinking has been adopted by only a minority even in the peace movement. The strengths and limitations of much writing on peace issues are apparent in the two books reviewed here.
Conditions of Peace is the product of a group of scholars called EXPRO -- the Exploratory Project on the Conditions of Peace -- who have met since 1984 to attempt "to break through the strictures that the Cold War had placed upon political imagination" (p. 3). In this EXPRO volume, there are seven major authors, six major chapters and five major themes: security, democracy, ecology, economics and community. The authors for the most part are eminently sensible. They describe the incredible harm caused by warfare, the enormous military expenditure that could be diverted to more socially useful tasks and the damaging and hypocritical nature of US foreign and military policy. They argue for reforms in international relations, for redefining security to include environmental and community dimensions, for political and economic democracy, and for grassroots action.
A Just and Lasting Peace by Roger C. Peace III is somewhat different. It is a history of the US peace movement since World War II, focussing on the 1980s, covering the nuclear freeze campaign, Central American solidarity actions, support for antiapartheid struggles and opposition to the Gulf war, among other things. The presentation is clear and systematic. Without going into a lot of detail, it covers the major political events, peace organisations and actions in a balanced way. This is a convenient overview for anyone not familiar with the great range of social activism on peace and related issues in the United States. The book also contains an impressive amount of analysis and prescription for the peace movement, including discussions of the politics and ideology of the movement, an account of common security as a suitable vision for the movement, and how to go about building a movement. Most of this is down-to-earth with plenty of examples. All social movements need more people doing this sort of assessment of goals and strategies.
So far, so good. Both books are written by committed authors and filled with good material on critique of the existing system and visions of an alternative. But there are limitations.
All the authors leave the state largely unquestioned. Linked to this is a shortage of analysis of social structures and how they relate to war. Roger Peace does provide a radical analysis of capitalism and nationalism, and Arjun Makhijani in his chapter in Conditions of Peace presents capitalism as the basic driving force behind the current war system. But these books are not the place to find convincing analyses of links between war and patriarchy, bureaucracy, the military, the state, science/technology, or industrialism.
If the state is not the problem, then perhaps it is the solution! Peace movements have for decades tried to convince or pressure governments to do the right thing. It is so disappointing when they don't, but this never seems to be enough to suggest that the approach is fundamentally flawed.
There are several standard approaches, all of which appear in these books. One is simply to present good ideas -- for governments to carry out. For example, Robert L. Borosage says "nations should actively try to prevent and resolve conflicts long before violence occurs" (Conditions of Peace, p. 16). Michael H. Shuman says "the U.S. government should support all local efforts to educate, research, and lobby on foreign policy" (Conditions of Peace, p. 113). Good ideas, to be sure. But what will make them happen? Perhaps the authors imagine that government policy-makers, seeking to improve the rationality their decisions, will be reading these chapters looking for ideas. This approach of saying "the government should..." seems to be an attempt to appeal to the rationality of elites.
Another approach is for communities to organise and apply pressure on governments to do the right thing. Makhijani, for example, lists a series of controls on multinational corporations that he believes should be imposed. He notes that "No single community has enough power to establish and enforce these rules" (p. 202) and suggests that an international agency might be created to enforce them. Roger Peace favours working locally to build movements that can act nationally to bring about political change, typically by affecting Congress and legislation.
Strategies that involve persuading or pressuring governments are only to be expected, since none of these authors examines the state as a root of war. Roger Peace says "The maintenance of state power is not in itself negative" (p. 253); for him, it's okay if the government serves the people. Other authors want to remove power from the state by vesting it in international organisations. Although every author is fully supportive of local communities having more power over their affairs, none of them examines the systematic obstacles against this created by states.
Another important limitation of these books is their US-centeredness. When events in other countries are mentioned, it is almost always because of their connection to the US. Now, undoubtedly, a study of the US peace movement is quite a useful thing. But in studying it, it is surely useful to look at connections with and lessons from other societies. For example, the Western European peace movement of the 1980s preceded the US movement and was in many ways stronger and more radical. But none of this can be gleaned from Roger Peace's account.
Most of these writers recognise that the US state is now the world's foremost imperialist (or neoimperialist) power. But they do not reflect on the implications of this for antiwar strategies. Opposition to the war system may well have a greater chance of developing in peripheries, both poor countries and the lesser capitalist powers. Opposition within the US, the imperial center, is unlikely to topple the system alone, but can play a crucial role in conjunction with other forces. But in these books there are no analyses and strategies taking this into account.
How much does any of this matter? Perhaps it is enough for writings to stimulate concern and encourage action. These books are filled with useful information, good arguments and inspiring stories of action. Their analyses can readily be criticized from an anarchist perspective, but it is a far bigger challenge to develop an anarchist strategy that works in practice.
Conditions of Peace: An Inquiry, edited by Michael Shuman and Julia Sweig. 254 pp. Washington, DC: EXPRO Press, 1991. $15.95 paper.
A Just and Lasting Peace: The U.S. Peace Movement from the Cold War to Desert Storm, by Roger C. Peace III. 345 pp. Chicago: Noble Press, 1991. $14.95 paper.
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