Stop the hypocrisy: no room for democracy or political debate at Stop the War’s annual back-slapping smugfest
Saturday 3 March saw the first AGM of the Stop the War Coalition (StW) since its leaders had rescinded the affiliation of the CPGB-ML (let’s just call it what it was, an expulsion) by email on 23 September 2011 with the following message:
“I regret to inform you that Stop the War Coalition’s officers group today decided to reject the affiliation of the CPGB-ML. We have therefore refunded your recent card payment for the affiliation fee. This decision has been taken due to the fact that the CPGB-ML has been publicly attacking Stop the War Coalition in its publications. Kind Regards, Stop the War.”
Our party has been affiliated to StW ever since we formed seven years ago, so the rejection of our annual affiliation payment was a particularly shabby and undemocratic way of excluding us. But given that the leadership of StW is an unprincipled lash-up of social democrats, Trotskyists and revisionists, such underhand methods are par for the course.
Of course, we replied to this email, stating that there were no grounds for expulsion and that the self-appointed ‘officers group’ had no power to expel us either. Our reply was ignored.
The ‘attacks’ that the leadership claims were made by us on StW were real enough, but they were political criticisms of the leadership of StW, and at no time has anyone pointed out to us where it is written in Stop the War’s aims and objectives that such criticism is not allowed. As to the substance of the criticism, we did no more than our duty to the movement in pointing out that StW leaders had supported Nato’s propaganda war against the Libyan people and their government, and thus aided a criminal and unprovoked assault against a sovereign nation.
Aiding and abetting the destruction of Libya
At a time when the imperialist powers were finalising their plans for the barbarous attack on Libya, and throwing every possible support to their unpopular puppets in the ‘Transitional National Council’; at a time when the imperialist media was spewing forth wall-to-wall saturation propaganda aimed at demonising the Libyan government and preparing the populations of Britain, France and the US for another ‘righteous’, ‘humanitarian’ war, the leadership of StW sprang into action and called a demonstration in London.
Quite right, one might think. Just the kind of thing a good anti-war movement should be doing. Except that StW convened its demonstration not outside Parliament, Downing Street or some other office of the warmongers, but outside the Libyan embassy, against the Libyan government and in support of imperialism’s TNC stooges in Benghazi.
The fact that StW’s leaders are claiming in retrospect to have been ‘even-handed’ and only interested in convincing ‘our government’ not to bomb Libya is made a mockery of by that action. At the very moment that imperialism was trying to justify a war of brigandage, the leadership of StW helped things along by presenting the British people with an ‘across the board’ condemnation of the intended victim!
Whether or not all those who made this decision and carried it out had the intention of serving the imperialist cause is immaterial. In politics, where the lives of hundreds of thousands of people can hang in the balance, only the result of an action is relevant – and the result of the StW demonstration (the only demonstration that the coalition called in regard to Libya, even after the bombs were raining down on the Libyan people) was to support imperialism’s stated reasons for its dirty war and thus undermine opposition to the war among the British people. And that, whether intentional or not, makes the leaders of the coalition guilty of pro-imperialism.
This political characterisation of StW’s actions is an accurate one, and it must be made and understood if such a deadly mistake is to be corrected rather than repeated.
However belatedly, the mistake could still be corrected if StW was to clearly denounce not only the Nato imperialist puppet-masters, who have planned and directed the whole criminal destruction of Libya, but also their mercenary gangster puppets, who are currently rampaging through the country, lynching and ethnically cleansing black people in an orgy of racist violence, as well as targeting all those known to be loyal to the old government.
It might be too late to mobilise the British people to stop Britain’s forces taking part in the rape of Libya, but it is not too late to pull Britain out of the unholy alliance propping up the unpopular TNC. Nor is it too late to give support to the real representatives of the Libyan people – the Green fighters who are currently regrouping to defend their countrymen and resist the fascistic forces unleashed by Nato.
Aiding and abetting the war against Syria
Meanwhile, equally crucially, the anti-war movement must not allow the same mistake to be made in relation to imperialism’s next intended victim – Syria.
And yet, despite all the costly lessons that Libya could and should have taught StW’s leaders, we are once again seeing that, just as the British people are being bombarded with wall-to-wall propaganda lies that are aimed at demonising the Syrian government and justifying a full-scale war against the country, StW leaders are lining up … to denounce the Syrian government!
At last weekend’s annual conference, despite paying lip-service to the principle that the Syrian people should be free to determine their own future without outside interference, the self-styled ‘officers group’ members took it in turns to emphasise how much they personally deplored the ‘brutality’ of the ‘dictator’ Assad, who was ‘murdering his own people’ etc.
It’s a nasty trick: on the one hand pretend to care about the fate of Syrian people, while on the other you make sure that imperialism’s lies are reinforced, thus giving a helping hand to the imperialist cause of destroying Syria as an independent nation.
The duplicity is quite subtle too. How many people in the hall spotted the incongruity between the position that ‘Syrians should be free to determine their own future’ and ‘We cannot possibly give any support to Assad’? For the great unspoken truth of the day was that the majority of Syrian people are firmly behind their government (a broad, secular, anti-imperialist, national-unity coalition, by the way, not a ‘family dictatorship’ or an ‘Alawite dynasty’).
They wish their leaders to continue with its policies of independent economic and political development; with its policy of support for Palestinian self-determination and opposition to Israeli war crimes and occupation. Indeed, many of the valid criticisms that Syrians have of their government concern recent compromises that have been made with western finance capital at the expense of ordinary people. What the vast majority of Syrians don’t want is a West-imposed coalition of free-market flunkies and religious fundamentalists.
So if Syrians support the Assad government, should we not support their right to support that government? And should we not support the Syrian government’s right to defend itself against attack by imperialist-created militias? Under the pretext of ‘allowing Syrians to chose’, StW’s leaders are in fact telling all those on the left who might think of publicly backing the Syrian government that they must keep their support to themselves.
And when ‘leftists’ like John Rees, who has used his Islam Channel TV show to give airtime to known MI5 agents such as the spokesman from the ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ in order that they can denounce the ‘human rights abuses’ of the Damascus government, are agreeing with Cameron and Hague that the Syrian government is an evil dictatorship hated by ordinary Syrians, who is to blame the majority of British people if they are left with the impression that there is no fundamental reason to object to Nato’s stated aim of ‘regime change’ in Syria?
No right of reply in StW’s ‘democratic’ ‘broad front’
With such critical political questions in need of serious consideration and debate, it was no wonder that the bureaucrats in charge of StW’s annual conference had come up with two new ways to keep dissent at bay. First, only those sent as official delegates from affiliated organisations or local branches were allowed to speak, while other StW members attending had only observer status. Straight away, this put our comrades at a disadvantage, since, of course, the CPGB-ML was not allowed to send any delegates or propose any motions.
Despite this, at the very start of the day’s business, comrades from the CPGB-ML raised a point of order and objected to the party’s unconstitutional expulsion from the coalition, arguing that we should have the right to hear any charges against us and put our case to the meeting before such an expulsion could be accepted as valid. In the chair, however, that oh-so-mild-mannered and liberal darling of ‘left’ Labour Jeremy Corbyn was having none of it.
He refused our comrades the right to be heard, or even to question this decision, and so began the first shouting match of the day. Pretty? No, but with little other choice open to us than that of meekly accepting the chair’s ruling, anyone who cares to think about it from our standpoint (having been both illegally expelled and denied the right to question that expulsion) might accept that they may well have done something similar.
Having seen to it that most of the meeting had no idea what the fuss was about, the chair took a vote of the assembled delegates, who came down overwhelmingly in favour of giving us no chance to question our expulsion, or, equally importantly, to question the reasons for that expulsion. We were, however, given an assurance that we would be able to put our case when the subject was raised under proposition 16 on the agenda. This motion had been put forward by a hostile organisation, the CPGB Weekly Worker, but it did call for the reinstatement of our affiliation, so we accepted the assurance and retired from the fray.
The second, procedural manoeuvre was then sprung on the conference as a fait accompli, presented by Corbyn as a way to “get through the agenda”: only one person would be allowed to speak for or against each motion (and this despite the fact that delegates had been encouraged to put their names down on a list if there was a motion they wanted to speak to).
In practice, what this meant was that a whole lot of uncontroversial and very similar motions went through on the nod, with each speaker in favour making the same points and no-one speaking against them, while those motions that were controversial were rushed through with no debate allowed: the mover got their allocated four minutes, the leadership opposed and a vote was taken, with no further discussion and not even a right of reply against any slanderous or spurious argument the leadership might have chosen to put forward.
Seeing where this was leading, one comrade, during the break, sought a guarantee from the chair that a. proposition 16 would definitely be taken and not ‘accidentally’ fall off the agenda, and that b. our comrades would be guaranteed the right to put their own case for four minutes, rather than having to rely on the mover of the motion. The guarantee on the first point was given but only a commitment to “bear that in mind” was given on the second point.
Given the open manoeuvring to make sure that the reasons for our expulsion were not discussed, it was clear that there was no hope of a ‘peaceful’ settlement, despite the fact that another comrade had approached the Arrangements Committee and been promised that her name would be at the top of the list for speaking to proposition 16.
Early in the afternoon, during a ‘general discussion’ on organisation, one of our comrades did manage to force her way onto the list of speakers, and used her three minutes at the microphone to remind delegates of the need to work actively inside the trade unions in order to mobilise workers in relevant industries to organise collective action that could stop the imperialist war machine.
Every one of us has a duty to do what we can to prevent our country taking part in illegal wars of aggression, said our comrade. Individually we might be weak, but together we do have the power to change things. If British workers refused en masse to produce weapons, to serve in the forces, to transport the materials or to write or broadcast the propaganda needed to wage these wars, then the British ruling class would be forced to pull out of them, she reminded the delegates – and this speech was received with great applause.
The comrade also reminded those present that this most effective type of anti-war action (as opposed to the ‘keeping people busy’ activity such as petitions and lobbies of MPs favoured by StW’s leaders) was already official coalition policy, since CPGB-ML motions on active non-cooperation had been overwhelmingly adopted by conference at the last two annual conferences, but had never yet been implemented. [link here]
Finally, right at the end of the day, and with the assembly much depleted, came proposition 16. The CPGB Weekly Worker mover naturally focused on explaining why she thought her party’s front organisation Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) should be allowed to affiliate. She also spent considerable time pointing out her organisation’s disagreements with ours, which was just as well, since we would have hated anyone to think that we held many of the Trotskyist positions she put forward.
Once her four minutes were up, it was over to Lindsey German to oppose the motion. In her contribution she made reference to the last email that she had sent us following our positive reply to a letter the StW office sent us asking us to affiliate. Judging by her response, that affiliation reminder email was sent in error. The email we received from her on 27 February, just five days before the AGM, read as follows:
“Thank you for your request for affiliation. As you are aware, the officers felt that your reported recent characterisation of some of them, including our chair Jeremy Corbyn, as ‘pro-imperialists’ or ‘traitors’ was unacceptable from an affiliated organisation. We understand that sometimes debate on issues becomes heated, but feel that we could only consider affiliating you if there were assurances that you would not make such remarks in the future. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss this further. Best wishes, Lindsey German.”
From the podium, German again insisted that the problem was one of ‘unacceptable language’. But the idea that dear St Jeremy is so thin skinned that he needs cushioning from our upsetting accusations is ludicrous in the extreme. This is a man who tells us that he is a socialist, but who has no qualms about getting his pay cheque from serving a party that is drenched in the blood of innocents.
The Labour party that Corbyn is so loyal to has never yet refused to give full support to one of British imperialism’s wars, whether in or out of government. Indeed, the last Labour government was exceptionally active in galvanising support for Nato’s aggressive wars of destruction against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. To remain loyal to such a party is hardly a vocation for the thin-skinned.
Ms German’s performance over, Saint Jeremy moved to the vote, whereupon our comrades once more objected in a very noisy and animated fashion, and it was during this justified uproar that the honourable StW chairman proposed and took a vote denying us the right to speak in our own defence. And he was shamefully supported in this action by George Galloway, who had apparently forgotten that even the Labour party gave him a hearing before kicking him out!
Thus it was that the ‘democrats’ who make up the leadership of StW, who cannot refrain from condemning real anti-imperialist fighters like Colonel Gaddafi and President Assad at any and every opportunity on the grounds that these ‘dictators’ are alleged not to let their people have any say in their country’s affairs, showed that they are not averse to practicing a bit of dictatorship themselves when it serves their agenda.
Meanwhile, whatever the bureaucratic manoeuvrings of Corbyn and co, the struggle against imperialism goes on. While the Trotskyists, revisionists and social democrats that pass as the great and the good of StW drag the coalition further into the gutter, shedding ever-more members as they go, our party will continue to act as a pole of attraction for all those who are serious about destroying British monopoly capitalism’s choke-hold on workers all over the globe, and we will continue to hold out the hand of internationalist solidarity to all those in struggle against British imperialism.
The video below is taken from a meeting of anti-war activists in Birmingham and shows Comrade Harpal Brar talking about the role of the Labour party in stifling the anti-war movement’s ability to actually stop war.