More on “Nonviolent Imperialism”

To the Editors:

I am writing in response to Michael Barker’s commentary titled “Peace Activists, Criticism, and Nonviolent Imperialism” (MRZine, January, 2008).  I agree with all of his observations and would just like to add a few of my own.

I have never heard of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, but the name implies that it promotes nonviolent resistance.  Unfortunately, the ruling classes have never had any moral or ethical compunctions against using violence to achieve and maintain control.  The case of Haiti is really representative of the issue.  President Jean-Bertrand Aristide struggled against Duvalierism since the 1980s.  While he maintained that his followers should not engage in aggressive acts of violence (because, as he said, the enemy had all of the means of violence at its disposal) he encouraged people to defend themselves as necessary against violent attacks.  So he promoted the practice of nonviolence for strategic reasons, not because he was opposed to violent resistance itself.

The other thing to consider is that although Aristide made impressive gains for Haiti against overwhelming odds, in the end the violence of the enemy won the day, and thousands of Lavalas supporters were murdered and all of his achievements reversed.  This poses the question of whether Aristide could have created a disciplined paramilitary force to defend the country from the coup d’état, given the crippling economic embargo imposed by the imperialists.  We will never know, because he did not attempt a Cuban-style armed popular mobilization to defend his government and gave the enemy an easy victory when he boarded a U.S. plane out of the country.

The point I am trying to make is that people in core countries who support “nonviolence” at all times and condemn armed struggle don’t understand the conditions faced by people in the periphery.  They don’t know about the extreme levels of state and paramilitary violence, and they don’t appreciate the extent to which people are willing to fight back when they have weapons and capable leadership.  Those decisions belong to the actors who are putting their lives on the line and should be respected.  As George Galloway says, the right to resist should be supported, even when one does not agree with the methods.

I agree completely with Michael’s claim that funding from liberal foundations and government democracy-promotion agencies is a cancer.  And the influence of the funding may not be felt the way one imagines — by the foundation representative making a phone call and suggesting the grantee change its message.  Other forms of influence may be the hiring of a new executive director who keeps her eyes on the grant money and does what she thinks the foundation wants, or inexperienced staff members getting the idea that not all is wrong with capitalism since that nice foundation is paying a lot of the bills.  A producer at Democracy Now! once asked me what was wrong with Reporters Without Borders being supported by the State Department, since DN! also receives government grants.  I am not trying to compare RSF, with its close ties to the U.S. foreign policy establishment, to Democracy Now!, but this is an example of how people tend to see their and others’ benefactors as benign.

But it’s not only the funding that is pernicious, but the cumulative effect of the propaganda.  Well-meaning individuals support RSF, other State Department-funded groups, Human Rights Watch, and the like based solely on a perception that the group shares their values or “is doing lots of good work.”  Of course, they have to ignore these groups’ attacks on Cuba and Venezuela, but they figure there must be some basis for the attacks (based on the propaganda campaign) instead of questioning the organization’s political motives.

Finally, Michael is absolutely correct that the left urgently needs an ideological overhaul, because all it has to show for itself at this point in time is a long history of failure.  The labor leadership is hopelessly corrupt and bureaucratic.  The environmental movement  is not taking a leadership role in slowing down global warming (perhaps because of all of that liberal foundation funding).  The peace movement, currently the most active voice on the left, is not able to affect presidential or congressional races because it has failed to extract a price from candidates for ignoring it.  To fail to acknowledge mistakes and failures only serves to perpetuate the problems, and people who are unable to own up to their mistakes and failures are not the best qualified to lead.

Diana Barahona
Candidate for Master’s Degree in Sociology, Cal State Fullerton
Long Beach, California

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