'To be a socialist is to be an anti-war activist'

Issue 

Following the police brutality at the March 26 Books Not Bombs student anti-war protest in Sydney, and threats of more prior to the BNB protest on April 2, the corporate media and NSW Labor government ran a campaign of slander and red-baiting against the organisers of the protest. In particular, the socialist youth organisation Resistance, whose members initiated the BNB group, was singled out.

Resistance was accused of being made up of “violent extremists”, of using BNB as a “front group” and of manipulating student protesters to recruit them to the socialist cause. Green Left Weekly's STUART MUNCKTON interviewed KYLIE MOON, national coordinator of Resistance and a leading activist in BNB, about the media accusations.

The Books Not Bombs coalition has come under fire from the media and the NSW government for its role in organising student protests against the war on Iraq. One of the main attacks has been that BNB is nothing but a “tool” of Resistance. Can you explain the relationship between BNB and Resistance?

Resistance is proud to have established the Books Not Bombs coalition in Sydney, as well as having helped establish similar groups right across the country. Far from being a “front” for Resistance, BNB is an open organisation. Any student who opposes the war on Iraq is both welcome and encouraged to get involved in the group. Decisions for BNB activities are not made behind the scenes by Resistance members, but democratically in open BNB meetings.

We are not ashamed that many of the leading activists in BNB are Resistance members. This is simply evidence of the commitment Resistance has to building the anti-war movement.

Behind the accusations against Resistance and its role in BNB is the implication that Resistance is not really genuine in its opposition to war in Iraq, but is cynically using it to recruit people to Resistance. How do you answer this?

Interestingly, this is usually argued by people, such as Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman, who are pro-war. Resistance, on the other hand, has a long history of opposing war — we were formed in the late 1960s by student activists in the movement against the Vietnam War.

To suggest we only oppose and organise against the war on Iraq as a cover to recruit people is absurd. From our beginnings, we have always opposed the military interventions of the Western powers in the Third World, even when it wasn't popular to do so (we opposed covert US war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the US bombing campaign against Serbia in the late 1990s, despite sizeable majorities supporting these wars).

If all we wanted to do was take a position on an issue simply in order to recruit people to us we would parrot the pro-war position of the Murdoch press.

Far from organising anti-war demonstrations as a cover for recruiting people to our socialist ideals, we are part of the anti-war movement because of our socialist ideas. Socialism means a just and equitable society without exploitation or violence. The war on Iraq is an unjust war, in which the poverty-stricken people of a Third World nation are killed so the richest country on Earth can take their oil reserves. Under these circumstances, to be a socialist is to be an anti-war activist.

We would hardly be consistent socialists if we supported this imperialist war, would we?

Of course we seek to convince other opponents of this war of our socialist ideas. We think the only way to permanently rid the world of wars is to replace the capitalist private-profit system, which in the modern world is the root source of wars, with a socialist society — a society in which our national and human resources are utilised for social needs, not the accumulation of private wealth by billionaire families like the Murdochs.

Resistance has been repeatedly accused of deliberately provoking confrontation and violence at demonstrations. NSW Labor Premier Bob Carr accused Resistance of doing this to “radicalise naive, politically unsophisticated youngsters”. Does Resistance organise or provoke violence at demonstrations?

On the contrary, our approach is actually to organise the largest possible peaceful demonstrations. We are serious about stopping this war and we believe violent confrontations between police and small groups of protesters will hamper rather than help the cause.

Provoking police attacks, simply plays into the hands of the enemies of the movement, the Carrs and the Akermans. It gives them a propaganda stick with which to beat the movement, as well as an excuse for more police repression.

We don't believe that police violence, especially if it is obviously provoked, will necessarily radicalise people. Instead it often just demoralises them. After all, people don't like getting hurt and if they're injured at a demonstration they may well decide not to show up to the next one. Evidence of this is that after the police violence at March 26 and the media hype about possible violence at April 2, the latter protest was a lot smaller.

The media chose not to tell the real story of April 2. Working with others inside BNB, Resistance went out of its way to ensure the April 2 protest was as peaceful as possible. BNB organised more than 100 “peace monitors” to ensure there was no provocation and they worked hard on the day to convince the crowd not to engage in any actions that might provoke a police attack. It was thanks to these efforts that the protest was peaceful.

Michael Duffy, writing in the Daily Telegraph, accused Resistance of being a revolutionary group, of wanting to overthrow the government by force. Others have commented on Resistance's use of the image of the revolutionary Che Guevara, hardly a pacifist. Is this consistent with your anti-war position?

Resistance is a revolutionary organisation. We don't think capitalism can be abolished through gradual reforms. It's protected by powerful repressive institutions — the military machine, the police — that will forcibly resist any fundamental change in the existing social order, even when a majority of the population want such a change.

We believe that we can only achieve fundamental social change by convincing the majority of ordinary people — workers and students — of the need for such a change. We believe that democracy, the rule of the majority of people, is the only way socialism can be achieved. We have no desire at all to force our views on an unwilling majority. Instead, we use peaceful means to try to convince people of our views.

People right across Australia have no doubt come across Resistance — not carrying guns or fleeing to the mountains to start the armed struggle — but holding campaigning stalls on street corners armed with copies of Green Left Weekly. That is our approach — to try, through discussion and argument, to convince the majority of people of our ideas.

The campaign against the war on Iraq is of course an important part of that. Resistance is not on the “fringe” over this issue. Large numbers of people agree with us that this war is not in the interests of ordinary people anywhere but is thoroughly unjust.

If ordinary people can build a mass movement strong enough to stop the war, they will start to see the power they have when they take united action. People will see that they have the power to stop injustice, that they don't have to accept what the corporations and governments try to force on us. They will start to think, can we also stop attacks on working people, the unemployed, refugees, students and Indigenous people?

Resistance, however, is not a pacifist organisation. We support the right of oppressed people to use armed struggle to defend themselves if they have to.

For instance, we supported the right of the East Timorese, under genocidal Indonesian military occupation, to wage a guerrilla war against the Indonesian occupation. Before the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959, which Che Guevara helped make, Cuba was ruled by a brutal US-backed military dictatorship in which peaceful protest was not allowed. Armed struggle was the only way to remove that dictatorship.

This is clearly not the case in Australia, where we can demonstrate and organise relatively freely. As such, we do not support armed struggle or acts of violence here.

It is not inconsistent for us to wear T-shirts or badges with Che. Che Guevara is a global symbol of the struggle against injustice as he fought against the same system that is responsible for the war on Iraq. Che always opposed imperialist wars. He was a strong opponent of the US war on Vietnam. But, like Resistance, he was fully in solidarity with the Vietnamese workers and peasants in their armed resistance to the US aggression against their country. If Che was alive today and living in Australia, not only would he strongly oppose the war on Iraq, he'd be marching alongside us.

From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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