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Protesting the two arms of imperialism

By Lee Sustar | September 20, 2002 | Page 7

CAN YOU mobilize for global justice and not oppose war on Iraq? That question will be in the air when thousands of protesters converge on Washington, D.C., at the end of September to protest the meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

There is a long list of reasons to protest the IMF and World Bank: free-market "structural adjustment" policies that dramatically increase poverty and inequality in developing countries, crushing debts that force a number of poor nations to spend more in payments to Western banks than on health care.

International outrage over harsh austerity programs in East Asia in 1997-98 laid the basis for the big demonstration against another international free-market institution, the World Trade Organization (WTO), in Seattle in 1999.

But since last fall's protest against the international financial institutions was canceled after September 11, the global justice movement has been divided on whether to oppose the U.S. war on Afghanistan--and, more recently, the planned U.S. military onslaught against Iraq.

The AFL-CIO, which mobilized tens of thousands of union members for Seattle and backed other global justice protests since, was squarely behind the "war on terror." And many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have done much to build protests against the IMF and World Bank have kept largely silent about Bush's wars.

Leading figures from the NGOs and labor therefore argued that there could be no reference to war or militarism in the call to protest the IMF and World Bank on September 28-29.

The idea that social justice issues could be kept separate from war is an old one. It follows from the commonly accepted belief that war is somehow an aberration from the normal workings of the system--a disastrous policy of bad leaders.

In fact, war brings to the surface the violence inherent in international capitalism, even in "normal" times. As the Russian revolutionary Lenin wrote during the First World War, "even in that period, roughly between 1871 and 1914, 'peaceful' capitalism created conditions of life that were a very far cry from actual 'peace,' both in the military and the class sense.

"For nine-tenths of the population of the leading countries, for hundreds of millions in the colonies and backward countries, that epoch was not one of 'peace' but of oppression, suffering and horror, which was the more terrible, possibly, for appearing to be a 'horror without end.'

"This epoch is gone for good, it has given way to an epoch which is relatively much more violent, spasmodic, disastrous and conflicting, an epoch which for the mass of the population is typified not so much by a 'horror without end' as by a 'horrible end.'"

Lenin was describing imperialism--the development of a world economy in which a handful of powerful countries dominate (and, in his day, directly colonized) weaker peoples. Today's IMF pushes Washington's free-market policies in a manner that recalls the imperialism of Lenin's day--as former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz writes in his new book.

And these economic arms of imperialism are tied to military ones. Thus, Turkey--a key ally of the U.S. against both Afghanistan and Iraq--got a big IMF bailout last year, while Argentina, in a similar economic crisis, did not.

And now Washington is putting the question of imperialist war before anyone who seeks a fair and just world--and will use the corporate media and the politicians to intimidate, belittle and smear any opponent.

Martin Luther King Jr. got such treatment for opposing the Vietnam War. In early 1967, he declared that U.S. support for South Vietnam's military dictatorship was "a new form of colonialism" and continued: "We are engaged in a war that seeks to turn the clock of history back and perpetuate white colonialism."

For speaking out, King was barred from the White House, cut off by many liberal donors and attacked by liberal newspapers across the U.S. But King was vindicated as millions more turned against that barbaric U.S. war.

Now a new generation of activists in the global justice movement face that same challenge--breaking the bounds of respectable opinion to oppose a new imperialist slaughter.

Demonstrate against the IMF and World Bank! Washington, D.C. September 25—29. For more information, go to on the Web.

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