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Naima Bouteldja © 2002


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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 interview].

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". Without exhausting 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, Claudio explains:

"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 Peace Demos."

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 movements together.

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 in France.

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.




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