In an article published
last January in Socialist Review entitled "The Wrong ATTACK",
Chris Harman, a leading member of the UK's Socialist Workers' Party,
attempted to explain why a strong movement against the War has not
developed in France.
France is often seen as
paradoxical in the eyes of its Italian and British neighbours. Whilst
at the forefront of the European struggle against neoliberalism, it
seems that the movement in France has not managed or perhaps not wanted
to combine the struggle against neoliberalism and that against the
War on Terrorism.
The emergence of Anti-War
movements in most European countries is, according to Harman, "the
result of the major figures in the movement having identified this
war as being the military face of Globalisation".
The greater part of his
article "The Wrong ATTACK" is devoted to an analysis of
another article, written by the Vice-President of ATTAC France, Susan
George, published in Sand in the Wheels in November 2001, "Clusters
of Crisis and a Planetary Contract".
Susan George states: "My
position on the subject is clear. I say that one should not align
oneself to either side: neither the US nor Bin Laden and that it serves
no end to add massacres to massacres" [Le Nouvel Observateur,
19.12.2001], and, "Within Attac, we condemn Bush’s
methods in the so-called anti-terrorist war" [interview with
The Voice of the Turtle].
During the first meeting
of the Anti-War coalition in the UK, those present, after a prolonged
debate, judged that the slogan "No to the War, No to Terrorism"
was as inappropriate as it was dangerous. According to Rob Ferguson,
chair of the South London Anti-War Coalition, the opacity and hypocrisy
of the term "terrorism" was considered a problem, as was
the idea of treating the violence of extremist groups as somehow equivalent
to the violence of the world's two military superpowers, the United
States and the European Union.
Three demands were therefore
retained -- "No to War! No to its racist undercurrent! No to
the attack on Civil Liberties!" -- and these were leitmotifs
that enabled the movement to rally the support of a significant proportion
of the Muslim community in England.
On the link between the
war in Afghanistan and neoliberal globalisation, Susan George said
this, when she was interviewed during a conference organised by ATTAC-LSE
on 14 February:
"I think that after
the attack and the resulting trauma in America Bush had no political
choice other than invasion… I think his decision was determined
by the context and by the attacks on the World Trade Centre and
Washington. It would have been very difficult to act otherwise.
But that there is a link with Globalisation, as we have described
it tonight, I don’t believe so. There is the link with petroleum
and it remains to be seen if this turns out to be true" [Turtle
Military intervention does
not find its reasoning in the logic of neoliberal globalisation, according
to Susan George. Therefore, it is no longer necessary that the construction
of a movement against the war needs to be constructed as an integral
part of the struggle against neoliberalism.
Whatever the truth may
be, it is at least surprising to find that the vice-president of ATTAC
is able to disregard the mobilising momentum for an anti-war movement,
an idea supported by Chris Harman in his own article.
Supposing that this opinion
is representative of ATTAC France (which remains to be seen), it should
have been placed in the specific socio-political context from which
it emerged in order to contribute to an analysis whose aim was "to
understand why the anti-war movement had not been as successful in
France as it has been in the rest of France’s European neighbours".
the point, two general observations emerge from the question as to
whether there is a link between the European anti-war movement and
movement against neoliberal globalisation.
The first is the presence
of pacifist groups in certain European countries who for historical
and / or geopolitical reasons have traditionally been influential.
In Italy, for example, and to a certain extent in Spain, the presence
of US NATO Air Bases has shaped pacifist and anti-imperialist demands
much more so than has been the case in France. In an interview at
the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Claudio Jampaglia of ATTAC
Italy, pointed to the links between NATO and the WTO. He explained
that in Italy, NATO in practice influences the public life of many
cities, including that of Naples (where the largest Mediterranean
military base is to be found) and that, as with the WTO, this organisation
is "illegitimate, diminishes the margin for manoeuvre of local
committees, of governments….in relation to their own alternative
policies and military choices" by preventing democratic debate
in order to further its goals.
His analysis of the American-led
war echoes to a large extent that of the anti-war movement in Britain
because he considers the war as an instrument of the Washington Consensus
which aims to keep economic interests in the hands of the few. ATTAC
Italy therefore plans to engage not only on the theme of the war but
also to encourage other national ATTAC bodies to do likewise.
In a personal interview,
"The pacifist movement
in Italy traditionally linked the struggle for nuclear disarmament
in the 1980s to large national demonstrations against NATO bases
on Italian soil where nuclear arms were kept. Indeed,
the Italian pacifist movement can be traced back yet further. Firstly,
to that of the Left which since 1945 opposes the idea that Italy
is a country of limited sovereignty and secondly, Catholic in origin,
and with links to the scouts’ movement and various social associations,
that there should be an end to militarisation. These two streams
of thought often meet, whether in campaigns against military service,
when fighting against direct taxes for military spending or at large
In England, according to
Philippe Marlière, political scientist at University College
London, the existence of a pacifist tradition and notably the foothold
of CND in pubic opinion has influenced all streams of thought on the
Left and has enabled the SWP to graft the anti-war movement and anticapitalist
Referring to the situation
in France, Philippe Marlière adds this:
"The most important
political reason for the inexistence of a strong Anti-War movement
in France is the collapse of a Left that is both anti-capitalist
and anti-US in outlook. After the Second World War anti-capitalist
and anti-fascist ideology was at the heart of the Left and was most
clearly identifiable in the policies of the French Communist Party.
That is not to say that all the Left was Communist but rather to
say that it was the afore-mentioned stream of thought that dominated
the discourse of the Left. The
Communist Party was extremely influential up until the 1970s and
it had a relatively clear anti-capitalist agenda and therefore,
given the context of the Cold War, an anti-US agenda. That all gradually
disappeared and was never really replaced" [Turtle interview].
There are probably many
other, perhaps more complex, reasons explaining the current condition
of the movement contestaire in France. France
is perhaps where the Muslim community has faced the greatest difficulties
in Europe. At the end of the 1980s, what was then known as the headscarves
affair (resulting from the expulsion of three Muslim students who
refused to remove their foulards) while receiving widespread
media coverage never really led to a ground swell of support for French
Muslims’ rights from the various elements of the social movement
in France. Significant levels of discrimination in the workplace,
in housing and the recent "unpunished police violence" to
which young Arabs from the suburbs have been exposed, led to a climate
of mutual suspicion between French Muslims and the political classes
While in England, the repercussions
of the 11 September attacks gave birth to an association of young
Muslims called "Just Peace", which joined the larger anti-war
movement. A representative of Just Peace, Shahedah Vawda, explains
the motivation of her organisation:
"We are weary of
being labelled Terrorists. We are British citizens and Muslims.
The goal of our organisation is to create a bridge between the Muslim
community and the various organisations that have condemned the
US bombings and with whom we share a common ground… Muslims
have to be more active in the social environment of the country
in which they live if they do not want to see themselves marginalized
and left without a voice".
The success of this goal
depends on the unanimous support of the various components of the
Anti-War movement and a refusal to accept actions labelled measures
of National Security.
It remains to be seen what
the future of this movement holds and what direction this alliance
will take because it already represents a unique opportunity (in terms
of diversity). Only a unified and diversified movement can take up
the challenge of presenting legitimate, well-founded and indeed urgently
needed alternatives to neoliberalism.