The People and the War Between Powers

by Raúl Zibechi

The drums of war are beating with an intensity unknown since the Second World War (1939-1945). The tension in Ukraine could lead to a conflict between NATO, led by the United States, and Russia, who will not tolerate the deployment of weapons on its borders, just as Washington did not tolerate the deployment of missiles in Cuba in the 1960s.

The situation in the South China Sea and between China and Taiwan is equally serious, although the open war fronts are numerous: Yemen, Syria and Libya, among the most prominent. Without going into the wars against the peoples (Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico among the most prominent in Latin America), the planet is in a very dangerous situation.

The question is what should the movements and peoples in movement do in the face of a conflict between great powers, specifically the United States and Europe against China and Russia: abstain? take sides? build their own agenda?

In the First World War (1914-18) the vast majority of the Left took sides with their governments and, therefore, with their ruling classes ready to attack other nations, in what was the first great world carnage, resulting in 17 million dead, 20 million wounded and maimed, and an enormous number of people whose mental health was affected.

Before the war, Lenin asserted that a revolutionary class cannot but wish for the defeat of its government in a reactionary war. When the war broke out he advocated defeatism, the defeat of one’s own nation in order to accelerate the revolution. Transforming the imperialist war into civil war to overthrow the ruling class, was the route outlined by Lenin and followed, at first, only by a handful of internationalists.

This line of action allowed the Russian revolutionaries to seize power in October 1917, thanks to the massive uprising of workers, soldiers and peasants, tired of war and hunger.

Can the people take a similar path in these times when a war between nuclear powers is announced?

It seems obvious to me that it is not desirable.

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In the first place, for those of us below, we must affirm that there are no good powers and bad powers, that we do not support either the United States or Russia or China. In World War II, the communist parties chose to support the USSR instead of repeating Lenin’s tactics in the previous war, because they gave priority to the defense of the socialist homeland.

This clarification is necessary because many people believe that it is better for those who oppose U.S. imperialism to win, which leads them to support Russia and China and sometimes Iran or any nation that opposes the Western powers.

Secondly, I believe that movements and peoples must oppose war in order to deepen their own agenda: a territorial rootedness to exercise autonomy and self-government, building worlds that are other, new and different from the capitalist, patriarchal and colonial one.

In wars, the people always lose and the big capitalist companies win, as they prepare to redesign the conquered territories for their own benefit, exploiting the commons in order to commodify them. That is why it is necessary to boycott wars, because there are no just wars, since only real wars are wars of dispossession through genocide.

If it is true that war is the continuation of politics by other means, as Clausewitz said, the main feature of the current policy from above is the dispossession of native peoples, blacks, campesinos and mestizos to accelerate the accumulation of capital.

Thirdly, the people must defend themselves, which is not the same as participating in a war they did not choose. From what we have been learning from the EZLN, from the Mapuche, Nasa/Misak and other Latin American peoples, as well as from black and campesino communities, the best way is not to respond to war with war, because such symmetry deforms us as peoples.

Because they have very sophisticated weapons and huge armies, state and private, with traditional military forms and narco-paramilitary modes, which are attacking the people. If we respond with violence (which ethically would be irreproachable), they will take the initiative they most desire: the genocide of entire groups, as happened in the recent past. From their own experience of five centuries, the people rely only on their self-defense: indigenous, Maroon and peasant guards; community police, peasant patrols and guardians of the lakes, to mention only a handful of community defenses. The task of the people, in this period of capital wars, is not to take power but to preserve life and take care of Mother Earth, to avoid genocides and not to become the same as them, which would be another way of being defeated.

This article was published in La Jornada on January 28th, 2022. English interpretation re-published by Schools for Chiapas.

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