We can win, and we will win

A retired US Army officer turned revolutionary socialist and author, Stan Goff spent the majority of his military career in a field euphemistically termed “Special Operations”. Beginning with Vietnam in 1970, Goff was deployed to eight countries designated as “conflict areas”, including Grenada, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, the ill-fated US mission to Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 and Haiti in 1994. Goff also trained troops in Panama, Venezuela, Honduras and Korea and taught military science at the US Military Academy at West Point and tactics at the Army’s Jungle School in Panama. Goff is now a member of the coordinating committee of Bring Them Home Now and has a son serving in Iraq. Green Left Weekly’s Kiraz Janicke asked Goff about his views on the US war drive and the need to rebuild the global anti-war movement.

You’ve seen the iron fist of US imperialism in action first-hand. What was the most significant factor in your political transition?

Well, going blind on the road to Damascus makes a great drama, but that’s not how I personally got here from there. I don’t think there was one outstanding factor that resulted in my embrace of revolutionary politics, unless it was being in the military itself, paradoxical as that might seem at first blush.

Any soldier with a high level of intellectual curiosity is a potential political scientist. Once we become curious, our experience — if one works in combat arms as I did, and actually spends a great deal of time deployed abroad — does not incline us to a great deal of abstraction. An aversion to abstraction makes a natural Marxist, I think. What Marxists call fetishisation and reification, soldiers call eyewash… or sometimes there’s a more scatological term.

All the characteristics that make a good soldier are also useful for professional revolutionaries — knowing the distinction between strategies, campaigns, and tactics, for example; coordination and collectivity; discipline; mission focus; taking calculated risks; a culture of criticism and self-criticism. And there is a principle leaders learn early in the military — even though many fail to follow it. That is, employ your unit in accordance with its capability.

At bottom, though, what motivates anyone to embrace revolutionary politics is an element of faith — not the religious variety — but faith in the ability of human beings to participate in their own history, and in the possibility of a future society that is both conscious and driven by human decency. There’s a soldiers’ fatalism there, but also that perennial human need to make meaning.

Can you tell me about the state of the anti-war movement in the US, what are the forces holding it back, is it regrouping and reconsolidating?

One thing we have to understand about the United States is that the cultural component of US society plays a pivotal role in its politics. It is difficult to overestimate the immense power of the US bourgeoisie’s ideological apparatus, which is cultural through and through. The combination of consumer culture, which is a direct reflection of our imperial privilege in the current international division of economic labour, and the technical sophistication and ubiquitous reach of culture-disseminating media, have utterly pacified US society. Gramsci would gasp at the efficacy of it, and Goebbels would blush with humility.

Some people would like to underplay the significance of television as a medium, but we cannot ignore the fact that average US residents sit gazing into this electromagnetic data stream for an average of 70 full 24-hour days each year — that’s almost 20% of our lives, or if you want to assess this as a percentage of our waking lives, it becomes almost 29%.

Two-hundred-and-forty-eight million of us are tuned in, and this is not content-neutral information to which we are exposing ourselves. Those who say “Lighten up, we are just relaxing” are deluding themselves that they are left unaffected by the content and form of television. We pay an average of US$255 per person (not family) to television services each year, maintain 2.4 TVs per household, where $40-$45 billion is paid by advertisers to find their way into our living rooms and, as we become increasingly passive and flabby, our bedrooms.

This is the ideological reach that has been achieved by the US bourgeoisie. Combine that with our comparative, on average, affluence — that imperial privilege — and our still-powerful post-McCarthy anti-communism, and you have an extremely low level of class struggle here.

This isolates the left into theoretically conformed groupings for lack of a mass movement that can focus our collective political practice. The war has to some degree given us an opportunity to break out of this sectarian limbo, but it’s going to require the divestment of a lot of religion-like fealty to old lines. There can be no regroupment of the left if everyone on the left continues to insist on their respective forms of intellectual conformity. I don’t care how many Stalins or Trotskys or Maos can fit on the head of a pin. What are the conditions now? What can we do now?

We still have some work to do in overcoming the homophobia of the left, to deal with the still stubborn and unacknowledged sexism on the left, and in the US our failure to grasp the national dimension of so-called racism. And we need to critique our past devotion to industrial development which ecological reality is showing us now to be a catastrophic historical dead-end.

With the war concentrating our efforts, we need to connect the war to the existing mass movements on all these issues.

Can you give me an idea of the level of opposition to Bush’s war drive within the US armed forces?

That’s difficult to do for at least two reasons — first, because there is just no way of getting some kind of representative sample for a number of demographic and technical reasons, and second, because there are so many different dimensions of “opposition”.

What we can see are tendencies. In the military organising that I have been involved with, we are seeing the institutional breakdown of the military via the increasing numbers of dissenters, deserters and refusers. We are connected with various outreach and counselling efforts, so this is something we can measure. And the numbers are climbing, fast.

The longer this goes on, the worse it will be, and that’s why there are cracks developing inside the Pentagon. There are generals who are both opposed to this war and devoted to the military.

Any comments on the US elections in Iraq? And any comments on the Iraqi resistance?

It appears that — as has been the case from the very beginning — the US has once again wildly underestimated the slum-cleric Moqtada al Sadr, who is possibly the most popular — as opposed to “revered” in the case of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most popular Shia cleric in the country. With his amateur militias… there were very few former military among them, the reason their casualties were so horrific… but with them he shifted the political balance of power during last year’s Shia rebellion and forced Sistani to acknowledge Sadr’s influence.

Since the ceasefire, which humiliated the US which had sworn to arrest or kill Sadr, Sadr has used his increased public stature to consolidate political control over vast areas of Baghdad, turning them effectively into US military no-go areas.

Sadr has been very coy on the election question, probably to gauge the degree of influence Sistani would actually exercise over both the process and the outcome of that election.

The US will have to somehow intervene to ensure Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s continued influence over the Iraqi National Assembly, because Washington has not the least intention of allowing an Iraqi political body they prop up to orient toward Iran.

Bush’s handlers must realize by now that they are on the cusp of winning the Iran-Iraq War, and this is definitely not the desired outcome for them. Cheney’s clique is making noise like they want to attack Iran, even though they have not the least capacity for such an action and it would be political suicide.

Sadr — as the Shia cleric who made the most direct overtures to Sunni guerrilla forces for a national united front — is now positioned to take the most significant leadership role in the wake of the election, the next time the Shias rebel… which will be when the afterglow fades and the US is forced to expose its true agenda.

The armed resistance in the north continues to grow apace, and the election has not changed that one whit. But the real wild card here is Sadr, in my opinion.

The elections have created a momentary political boost for the US administration at home, but in the final analysis, it may be the biggest political setback it has suffered to date. And war is purely political at the end of the road.

What do you think is the significance of conferences like the Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference for rebuilding and consolidating the global anti-war movement?

Sharing of information, impressions and assessments of our strategies is always critical. I don’t think we need to see revolutionary internationalism either as some instrumental Comintern-like control to coordinate a single strategy or in the more utopian and reality-challenged terms of a mighty and spontaneous upwave of proletarian unity.

Even more significantly than merely sharing, which is in itself very important, it gives revolutionaries an opportunity to have the kinds of conversations we can not have on the Internet, where we can gain the deeper perspective that comes from face-to-face, secure communication.

We have to see this as more than an anti-war movement. This needs to be seen for its greatest potential, its historic potential, and that is to decisively break US global power and hegemony.

We in the US have the responsibility to damage that power from inside, but the decisive blows to the current world system will come from outside the US, and those blows — plural — will come in many forms. One of them is certainly political Islam, the political content of which the left ignores at its peril, but it will also come in many other local and regional forms.

Given that the US is engaged in an energy war to rescue itself from the law of value, energy producers and nations on strategic sea-lanes are key in this, and not just in Southwest Asia. Indonesia, China, Venezuela, Colombia, Nigeria, the Philippines, even little Haiti… these are crucial. These struggles are multiform and may not conform to metropolitan leftist ideas about what is appropriate, or to schemas of Marxism-Leninism. They might involve women undressing to shame oil foremen in Nigeria, or Bolivarian circles, or indigenous environmental justice campaigns, or coca growers blocking roads.

Anything that weakens the local compradors’ hold on political power is a plus in our column, because these are the surrogates for US power projection.

If the conference is simply sharing our theses, we will have lost an opportunity. But if we go back to our own comrades with a new perspective for our own struggles and a renewed revolutionary faith, and even with some nascent partnerships, then it will succeed. Can the US war drive be defeated?

In many ways it is being defeated right now. This is the most important thing the left can grasp right now, in my opinion. Failure to grasp this fundamental fact could lead to that very fact being reversed because of demoralisation and demobilisation. We are having a material effect on US power, and we cannot let up.

The most unfortunate result of the last 20 years of counter-revolution has been the left’s loss of its combat edge, if you’ll forgive the military language.

Many people have taken to whining and putting on hair shirts. But when the conditions are not propitious — which they were not during the disintegration and defeat of first epoch communism — we have to recognize that these are the conditions. By the same token, when the conditions are favourable for intervention from the left, we have to switch out emotional gears, and go back into overdrive.

A deep analysis of the current conjuncture, some of us have been arguing, shows a decaying US imperium that is increasingly fragile and increasingly dependent on the two remaining pillars of its power — monetary hegemony and its immense and immensely expensive military.

Part of that military supremacy is real — the lethal high technology and capacity to project it worldwide. But part of that is mystique, the belief shared even by many on the left that this military is invincible. Iraq is proving that it is not. The United States is objectively losing the war in Iraq, and it is caught in a terrible dilemma. It can not win militarily, but it can not quit politically. So it is paying a price, economically and politically.

Our job globally, I think, is to ensure that this price is as high as possible — both politically and economically. Resistance to neoliberalism in any and all forms right now, rebellion against the loan-sharking of the United States, is very important in this regard.

Popular movements in the global South must push hard for national default on external debts, for example. Boycotting and shutting down US companies in these countries is essential. If the movement needs a slogan, I’ve got one: Make them pay.

Here in the US, we will continue to put pressure on our craven elected officials at some level, through escalating tactics including disobedience and even social disruption. But the linchpin of the campaign I work with is to hollow out to the extent possible the ideological support for the war inside the military, as part of the larger campaign to show people in the US why this war is being waged at their expense, and at the expense of their children.

We can win, and we will win. If we don’t stop, we will defeat not just the war drive, but imperialism itself. Have faith.

Stan Goff will be speaking in Sydney at the Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference at Ashfield Boys High School on March 24 at 7pm, for more information, visit http://www.apsc.net.au.

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