Can we learn from history?


The events reflected in recent CPNN bulletins concerning the voting split in the United Nations and the results of last fall’s elections, remind me of turbulent periods of the 20th Century and raise the question if we can learn from what happened then.

The rise of populist and potentially fascist parties last year remind one of the rise of fascism in the 1930’s. What can we learn from those times?

First of all, we must avoid a Third World War. That requires a unified opposition against fascism and preparations for war such as those that took place in Germany and Spain in the 1930’s. A lesson from the 1930’s is that the opposition was weakened by serious infighting between communists, socialists and anarchists. In France, in the late 1930’s there was a united front under the leadership of Leon Blum (who later played a major role in the establishment of UNESCO), but by then it was too late for united fronts in Germany and Spain.

Lesson 1: the need for solidarity of those opposed to fascism and war.

These times also remind us of the 1960’s and the movements for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. I was part of the new generation at that time in the United States, and our generation was opposed by many peace activists of the previous generation who were influenced by the anti-communism of the government and the media. We were considered too radical! Of course, there were some in the previous generation who worked with us, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X. but they paid for it with their lives (to what extent at the hands of government forces remains an open question). In Europe, too, the new generation took a revolutionary stance in the face of opposition for the most part from their elders.

Lesson 2: the need to listen to the new generation and work with their progressive leadership.

Returning to the voting split in the United Nations, we can ask if the Global South can provide leadership at this period of history beyond their votes at the UN. In recent years, this blog has followed progressive trends in Latin America and Africa, but the more a regime is progressive the more likely it will be overthrown by the forces of imperialism. The classic example from a previous generation was the government of Allende in Chile. But now, Venezuela is overturning the left-wing legacy of Hugo Chavez and Brazil has overturned the leftist legacy of Lula. And perhaps most dramatic was the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, we may assume because of his leadership for African unity to oppose Northern imperialism.

Lesson 3: the need to develop oppposition based in the civil society rather than relying on states to provide the leadership that is needed. Even in Colombia, which has provided leadership for peace in the last year, we have warned that the people should develop a strong civil society and not depend on the government to remain progressive. Even if the government is not overthrown, it may be weakened by corruption as is the case now in South Africa.

As for the reaction to the rise of right-wing politics, we have been following the post-election fightback for human rights in the USA, which can also serve as an example for other countries faced with similar problems. One of the outstanding aspects of the fightback for human rights in the USA is the leadership of cities. Something like 300 American cities continue to maintain their stance as sanctuaries to protect undocumented immigrants against national police raids, despite the threat of the new president to cut funding to those cities. These are the cities that voted against Trump and that mounted huge demonstrations on the day after his inauguration.

Lesson 4: the need to develop an alternative progressive movement based on cities.

These lessons are played out at a local level in my city, where I am writing the annual report, The State of the Culture of Peace in New Haven, for the official city peace commission, of which I am a member. Here are some of the remarks of activists who were interviewed for that report and who were asked about how to respond to the new political situation in the country:

* Ideally, we should unite the widest movement possible to defend the human rights of everyone, beginning with the most vulnerable. And at least, we should struggle against divisiveness, not necessarily to convince the other, but at least to find ways to collaborate.

* Listen to the youth. They have a more holistic view than us adults, especially with regard to sexual orientation. They’re angry and will not tolerate inaction. We need them in public office to push the legislature to defend public services and policies.

* Resistance is needed at every level against hate and persecution. For immigrant rights, the city needs to continue providing leadership and link up to the resistance on a national level. Despite the election results and false news by some of the mass media, we must realize that progressive opinions are those of the majority of Americans.

* Protest is necessary, but with an agenda that is clear and unifying. We need dialogue at every level, engaging the opposition and taking care that legitimate anger does not stifle dialogue. We need the emergence of a moral voice like that of Martin Luther King, with an effective media strategy.

I have presented a rationale previously that we need to develop a movement of progressive cities that can take control of the United Nations if and when there is an economic and political crash that leads the Member States to more or less abandon the UN.

But now we arrive at a major contradiction. On the one hand, cities are more progressive than rural areas, but on the other hand, they are also more vulnerable if and when there is a global economic crash. And there is reason to think that such a crash is imminent. We face the possibility of a sudden and traumatic reversal of the trend towards urbanization that has been developing over recent centuries.

That leads us to Lesson 5: The need to develop links between progressive organizations based in cities (such as City Peace Commissions) and adjacent rural associations that can help us survive a global economic crash.

In this regard, an economic crash at this point in history could be worse than that of the Great Depression, because small, self-sufficient farming has been replaced by industrialized farming dependent on oil deliveries. It is not easy to find an historic precedent or roadmape for how we should respond. Perhaps the closest is the experience of Cuba after loss of oil deliveries following the crash of the Soviet Union when they reformed their agricultural production to be more diversified, more integrated, and smaller in scale.

Entering a watershed period of human history


(pour la version française, voir en dessous)

“We’ve seen two shocking election results recently: the defeat of the referendum for the peace accords in Colombia, and the election of Donald Trump in the USA based on a racist and xenophobic campaign. What does it mean? It means that voters in the two countries are alienated from their governments – quite simply, they do not trust the government. And they are angry. So what comes next? Do we slide back into war or into fascism? Or do we return to the people, listen to their fears and anger, and organize them in the sense that Martin Luther King told us?: “The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.

Hopefully, we can avoid a nuclear war, which might have been greater if Clinton had been elected.

But at the same time, yes, we are moving backwards.

By looking at the big picture, we can see that this is inevitable. As I describe in my novella, “I have seen the promised land“, the American empire is crashing, and it will bring immense human costs in dislocation and suffering, far greater than we can imagine at this time. As a result, we may assume, as I describe in the novella, that there will be attempts to impose a fascist “solution” much as was done during the greatest economic collapse of the 20th century.

In fact, the election of Trump promises to embolden fascists everywhere. We already see fascism in Turkey, and it is threatened in Brazil and Venezuela. Not to mention fascist political parties on the rise throughout Europe.

Hence, we are aleady challenged to overcome fascism now, before we suffer from the economic collapse. Perhaps that is to our advantage, because the struggle will be more difficult later when economic survival becomes the priority.

In the CPNN bulletin, we list some of the measures being taken already in the fightback against the attacks on human rights in the United States and towards territorial peace in Colombia. The move towards sanctuary universities, cities and states in the USA is especially impressive. Were there such moves when minorities were targeted in Germany during the 30’s? We cannot forget the words of the pastor Martin Niemöller in Germany at that time, “First they came for the communists and I did not speak out— because I was not a communist.” Then the trade unionists. . Then the Jews . . . Then the catholics. “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

We note that in both the USA and Colombia, the fightback takes place primarily on the local level, often at the level of cities and towns. At the national level, the corruption of the culture of war continues. We may be slow it down, but it cannot be eradicated there because it is too much entrenched in the structure of national government. At the local level, however, we can be free from the culture of war and free to develop strength for the culture of peace.

In Colombia, there was consideration of a process by which the revised peace accord would be adopted through open municipal councils with direct participation of citizens. Unfortunately, however, there is so much violence and threat of renewal of war that it was decided not to take this route but rather to seek ratification immediately from the national congress. However, in the long run, I have argued elsewhere, the peace will not be sustainable until it is established and maintained at the local and municipal level.

We also note that in both the USA and Colombia, the leadership is being taken by young people. That is inevitable and necessary. As I documented previously in my history of American Peace Movements, each new peace movement must reinvent its methods, because the preceding movement has become rigid and inflexible in its approach. However, that does not mean that the older generation should remain on the sidelines. We have ever more work to do as advisors to the new generation. In that regard, I call your attention to the example of I.F. Stone who served as an advisor to the youth movements of the 1960’s. The new generation of activists will have to look for our advice based on the experience of previous generations, and we must be there alongside them.

To some extent, our advice will be tactical. We must teach the methods of nonviolence and mass mobilization. We must alert the new generation to avoid the influence of agents provocateurs.

But even more so, it is important to provide strategic advice. The most important task is to prepare both the consciousness of the people and new institutional frameworks, so that when the institutions of the culture of war have momentarily collapsed, we can create a new United Nations based directly on the people.

We are entering a watershed period of human history. Although it is being pushed forward by economic factors, the ultimate determining factor can become the social consciousness of the people themselves.


    Nous avons vu récemment deux résultats électoraux choquants: la défaite du référendum sur les accords de paix en Colombie et l’élection de Donald Trump aux Etats-Unis après une campagne raciste et xénophobe. Qu’est-ce que cela signifie ? Cela signifie que les électeurs dans les deux pays se sentent aliénés, dépossédés de leurs gouvernements – tout simplement, ils ne font plus confiance à leurs dirigeants et ils sont en colère. 
Alors, que va t-il arriver maintenant ? Allons-nous tomber dans la guerre ou dans le fascisme, ou retournerons-nous vers les peuples ? Serons nous capable d’écouter leurs craintes et leur colère et de nous organiser dans le sens exprimé par Martin Luther King? :”La tâche suprême est d’organiser et d’unir le peuple pour que sa colère devienne une force transformatrice“.

    Espérons que nous pourrons éviter une guerre nucléaire, bien que cela ait été plus probable si Hillary Clinton avait été élue.

    Mais en même temps, oui, nous sommes dans la régression. 

En regardant les grandes lignes, nous pouvons voir qu’une régression est inévitable. Comme je l’ai décrit dans la Nouvelle: «J’ai vu la terre promise», l’empire américain est en train de s’effondrer, et il entraînera des coûts humains énormes dans la dislocation et la souffrance, beaucoup plus grands que ce que nous pouvons imaginer. En conséquence, nous pouvons supposer, comme dans mon roman, qu’il y aura des tentatives pour imposer une «solution» fasciste, comme cela a été le cas lors du plus grand effondrement économique du XXe siècle, en 1929.

    En fait, l’élection de Trump promet d’encourager les fascistes partout. Nous le voyons déjà en Turquie, et il semble vouloir émerger au Brésil et au Venezuela. Sans parler des partis politiques fascistes à la hausse dans toute l’Europe.

    Par conséquent, nous devons lutter MAINTENANT contre le fascisme, avant que nous ne souffrions de l’effondrement économique. Peut-être est-ce à notre avantage, parce que la lutte sera bien plus difficile plus tard lorsque la survie économique deviendra la priorité.

    Nous citerons quelques-unes des mesures qui sont déjà prises pour lutter contre les atteintes aux Droits de l’Homme aux États-Unis et pour aller vers la paix territoriale en Colombie. Les initiatives pour les sanctuaires dans les universités, les villes et les États aux États-Unis sont particulièrement impressionnantes (cf. cpnn). Y a t-il eu de tels mouvements lorsque les minorités ont été ciblées en Allemagne dans les années 30 ? Souvenons nous des paroles du pasteur Martin Niemöller en Allemagne à cette époque : “Quand ils sont venus chercher les communistes, je n ai rien dit, je n’étais pas communiste. Quand ils sont venus chercher les syndicalistes, je n’ai rien dit, je n’étais pas syndicaliste.” Puis ils sont venus chercher les juifs, ensuite les catholiques. “Puis ils sont venus me chercher. Et il ne restait plus personne pour dire quelque chose.”

    Nous notons que, aux États-Unis comme en Colombie, la lutte se fait principalement au niveau local, souvent au niveau des villes. A l’échelle nationale, la corruption de la culture de guerre continue. Nous espérons pouvoir éviter le fascisme et ses extrêmes ; mais la culture de guerre ne peut pas être éradiquée dans la structure du gouvernement national parce qu’elle y est trop ancrée. Au niveau local, cependant, il n’y a pas de culture de guerre et nous sommes libre de développer la force de la culture de la paix.

    En Colombie, avait été envisagé un processus par lequel l’accord de paix révisé serait adopté par des conseils municipaux ouverts avec la participation directe des citoyens. Malheureusement, il y a tellement de violence et de menace de renouveau de la guerre qu’il a été décidé de ne pas emprunter cette voie, mais plutôt de demander immédiatement la ratification du congrès national. Cependant, à long terme, comme je l’ai toujours soutenu , la paix ne sera durable que si elle est établie et maintenue au niveau local.

    Notons aussi que, aux États-Unis comme en Colombie, les jeunes sont les nouveaux leaders. C’est logique, souhaitable et nécessaire. Comme je l’ai documenté dans mon histoire des mouvements pacifistes américains, chaque nouveau mouvement pour la paix doit réinventer ses méthodes, parce que le mouvement précédent est devenu rigide et inflexible dans son approche. Cependant, cela ne signifie pas que les générations précédentes doivent rester à l’écart. Nous avons encore plus de travail à faire en tant que conseillers pour la nouvelle génération. Je me souviens de l’exemple de I.F. Stone qui a servi de conseiller aux mouvements de jeunesse des années 1960. La nouvelle génération de militants devra chercher nos conseils sur la base de l’expérience des générations précédentes, et nous devons être là, à leur coté.

    Dans une certaine mesure, nos conseils seront tactiques. Nous devons enseigner les méthodes de non violence et de mobilisation de masse. Nous devons alerter la nouvelle génération comment éviter l’influence des agents provocateurs.

    Mais plus encore, il est important de fournir des conseils stratégiques. La tâche la plus importante est de préparer à la fois la conscience du peuple et les nouveaux cadres institutionnels, de sorte que lorsque les institutions de la culture de la guerre s’effondreront, à ce moment nous puissions créer une nouvelle ONU basée directement sur le peuple.

    Nous entrons dans une période critique de l’Histoire de l’humanité. Bien qu’il soit poussé par des facteurs économiques, l’ultime facteur déterminant peut devenir la conscience sociale des peuples eux-mêmes.

Some Advice to the New Generation


Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace and the indigenous elders who came to Paris for the Climate Negotiations are correct in their assessment.

As the elders say, “We have misplaced our trust in governmental leaders and the leaders of industry. They failed us by trying to maintain their profits, economies and their power over the people . . .  Those seeking profit and power have created a business of war and destruction that now threatens the lives of billions around the world . . . We can no longer wait for solutions from governmental and corporate leaders. We must all take action and responsibility to restore a healthy relationship with each other and Mother Earth.”

And as Naidoo says, “We need substantial, structural, systemic change – and this change can only be led by the youth, who are not infected by the political pollution of the past.”

With this wisdom in mind, I should like to offer some advice to the youth who are seeking “substantial, structural, systemic change.”  It concerns two needs: 1) a general raising of consciousness; and 2) the development of new institutions.

At CPNN we are very familiar with the challenge of raising consciousness.  In contrast to the dominant culture of war that uses the mass media to justify their power and their violence, we are part of a growing movement of alternative media that seeks to provide what the people are seeking: the truth.

Of course, the truth is not simple.  As Gandhi teaches us, the truth is mountain that we are climbing by many different paths, often invisible to each other.  We may not always understand each other’s truth, but we can always recognize the falsehoods of the propaganda for the culture of war by its emphasis on violence, fear and passivity.

Never before have so many people come to the truth that we need a world without war.

What is more difficult is the development of new institutions.  It often seems that the state has already pre-empted the possibilities for institution-building.  But the state, as I have shown in the History of the Culture of War, has come over the centuries to monopolize war to the point that it has become itself the embodiment of the culture of war.  Even when revolutionaries have sought to end war by taking over the state, they have simply ended up by creating new cultures of war.

However, the state is neither stable nor necessary.

Several times each century the state system collapses from the contradictions of its culture of war.  In the 20th Century we can point to four such crashes, two of them from the two world wars and two of them from the economic contradictions of the culture of war (the Great Depression and the crash of the Soviet empire).

Nor are states necessary.  Human needs, as well as care of the environment, can be handled by local and regional government and coordinated at a global level by institutions such as those of the UN system.  For what is the state necessary?  For wars and war preparation and for the guarding of frontiers.

So here is my advice: don’t worry about the state, but strengthen local, regional and global institutions that can replace the state next time the system crashes, so that we can arrive at a world without war or frontiers.

A Vision of the New Generation


As described in this month’s CPNN bulletin, the youth participants at the Budapest training were inspired to continue their activism for a better world.  I, too, was inspired, and it has led me to imagine a roadmap for the global transition from culture of war to culture of peace.

I see a tremendous multiplier effect in the enthusiasm of the new generation.  They are rebellious and optimistic.  They believe a better world is possible, and they are willing to struggle for it.

I have a vision of them as trainers of trainers to multiply their rebellion and optimism.

The effects of their training are global since they are connected by Internet, by their travels, and by their ability to speak many languages.  I think of the young trainers I worked with in Budapest: one from the Philippines working in Spain; one from Switzerland having worked in the USA and Brazil; one from Portugal working in Italy; their conversations in Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, French, German with links to Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Hindu, etc., etc.

I imagine a network of CPNN websites in different languages, fed by reporters everywhere, and translated and shared on other language sites, so that wherever in the world there is action for a culture of peace, it is immediately shared and taken up and mirrored in actions elsewhere.

What will the actions be?  They will be as varied as this new generation has imagination.  We already saw this imagination in some of the responses of youth organizations in the 2006 report from 475 youth organizations:

* Training and workshops for youth on issues such as the culture of peace, conflict resolution and mediation, values and human rights.

* Vocational training and employment programmes

* Activities in the arts, creativity, music, theatre and dance.

* Intercultural and international exchanges and meetings, where youth activists get to know others,

* Promotion of networks, publishing and documenting their work, distributing the information widely, both online and on paper and by radio in local communities.

Perhaps you are saying that this kind of activity seems weak in comparison with the great power of nation states with their militaries and multi-national corporations with their enormous resources.  But I respond that the culture of war, be it the military might of states or the wealth of corporations is not sustainable.   It rises and it crashes.  On the other hand, human culture does not crash.  It grows.   Sometimes it grows rapidly; sometimes it grows slowly.  But it does not crash.  And the work of the new generation described above, makes it grow more rapidly.

As you can see, I believe, in the company of great sociologists, that history is ultimately determined, not by military might or the wealth of empires, but by the people themselves and their social consciousness.