Saturday 3 March saw the first AGM of the Stop the War Coalition (StW) since its leaders had rescinded the affiliation of the CPGB-ML (let’s just call it what it was, an expulsion) by email on 23 September 2011 with the following message: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.
Contrary to the most elementary principles of natural justice and democracy, CPGB-ML was refused the right to defend itself against its illegal and arbitrary expulsion from the Stop the War Coalition at the recent StW national conference. This many people found shocking, as indeed it is, coming as it does from people who arrogate themselves the right to condemn governments under attack from imperialism for being ‘dictatorial’ and ‘repressive’ whenever they take any action to defend their country and their people from imperialist takeover.
Given the expectation at the meeting that speakers had only four minutes to make their contribution, the following is what our representative would have said had we been granted the most elementary democratic right.
Clearly we were in no position to refute the stream of lies issuing from the mouth of Lindsey German, many of which we heard for the first time that day, but it was the effectiveness of our criticism of the policies of the Stop the War leadership that were the real reason for our expulsion, so we addressed ourselves to this point. We will leave it to the reader to judge whether the leadership of Stop the War really needed to be so frightened of allowing us to speak!
We apologise to those here who thought our protests this morning at not being allowed to defend ourselves against expulsion were unreasonable, but we invite you to consider what you would have done in our shoes – illegally and unconstitutionally expelled, with absolutely no right to appeal to the general meeting or indeed any independent entity. The blame should not be put on the victim, but on the tin-pot dictators who see fit to deprive people of their right to speak in their own defence.
We would like to press on this meeting the importance of defending the rights of the minority within an organisation to hold views contrary to those of the majority (or the controlling faction) and also to express them. That is the essence, surely, of democracy. We criticised the leadership for taking a stance on the question of Libya, now being repeated in the case of Syria, which we consider to be extremely harmful to the central aim of Stop the War – namely, to oppose all imperialist warmongering.
The error of the leadership was, while claiming to oppose imperialist war, to express support for imperialist-financed opponents of the anti-imperialist regimes that the imperialist warmongers and aggressors are targeting.
For at least a decade, the various western imperialist powers have been preparing to replace or overthrow all independently-minded governments in oil producing/transporting countries that believe the proceeds of sale of their country’s oil should first and foremost benefit their own countries’ peoples. Preparation for replacing these governments takes the form of endless propaganda against them in the bourgeois media, as well as the financing and equipping of an internal opposition pledged to serve imperialist interests.
Iran, Somalia, Lebanon and Syria, for instance are all under this kind of attack, following the precedent set in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. In the case of Libya, the Stop the War leadership – John Rees especially – set out to parrot all the imperialist lies concerning the government of Colonel Gaddafi, and at one point actually led a protest demonstration to the Libyan embassy. And today in this room several speakers have repeated imperialist lies about the government of Syria, without anybody from among the leadership expressing the slightest disagreement. Yes, a resolution that attacked the Iranian government was opposed, but only as a means of creating the illusion that the leadership ‘does not take sides’ in the conflict.
Actually, its failure to counter imperialist propaganda against target countries shows that it does take sides – it takes the imperialist side! The worst thing is that precisely because the Stop the War leadership appears to have genuine anti-war and anti-imperialist credentials, its silence (at best!) in the face of propaganda against those governments under attack from imperialism actually helps to validate that propaganda in the eyes of progressive people who would never believe such lies if they emanated solely from the Sun, the Daily Express and the BBC.
It is noticeable in today’s conference that there is a strange imbalance in the resolutions. As one speaker pointed out, the military intervention in Syria has already begun, albeit in a covert manner. Yet Syria has been hardly mentioned, except here and there by people who hasten to decry its government as brutal and dictatorial. The speaker who urged that action to defend Syria should as a matter of urgency be given a much higher profile was greeted without any enthusiasm from the platform, and an officer in the audience was heard to say that the speaker ought to be shut up.
The net effect is that Stop the War is being used as a platform for spreading pro-imperialist propaganda, and legitimising imperialism’s ‘justification’ for its military interventions, all while purporting to work against war! Frankly, the Syrian government is a lot less dictatorial, repressive or brutal than either Blair’s was or Cameron’s is.
Maybe people do not agree with our analysis of the situation, even though time has shown in Libya’s case the true nature of the ‘freedom fighters’ who so inspired the Stop the War leadership’s enthusiasm in the run-up to imperialist intervention. We should, however, have the right to express these views.
One assumes that Jeremy Corbyn expresses his disagreement with the policies of the Labour party leadership, and in forceful terms, yet he is not expelled from the Labour party. How come he is so keen on getting rid of opposition within Stop the War, which is not even a political party, whose members might legitimately be expected to defend its policies, but merely a broad organisation of people of very many differing views who seek to oppose war?
There is no basis for expelling us. We have not broken any rules of the organisation, and the organisation does not even have a constitutional mechanism for expelling anyone. That people who have been criticised should be judge and jury as far as expelling their opponents is concerned is simply outrageous in the extreme and should not be tolerated.
By attempting to unconstitutionally rescind CPGB-ML’s affiliation to the Stop the War coalition, StW ‘leaders’ are behaving in a criminally sectarian and cowardly manner.
Cowardly, because the Labour party, Counterfire and CPB leaders who dominate our coalition’s executive seek, by unconstitutionally expelling the CPGB-ML, to silence criticism and avoid having their failed policies on Libya in particular, and lack of consistent anti-imperialism more generally, scrutinised and overturned.
They seek to avoid answering to the coalition’s membership and having the truth behind these failures exposed: that their cosy relations with ‘left Labour’ (German-Benn, Murray-Corbyn, etc) and their personal political stock-in-trade are more dear to them than the stated aims of the StW coalition they purport to uphold.
That is why, at the crucial moment, rather than leading British workers to oppose Nato’s genocide in Libya, their personally cherished ideas and relations led StW to parrot the predatory propaganda of British imperialism, which was hell-bent on waging war upon Libya and the devastating this beautiful, historic, cultured and formerly most prosperous sovereign African nation – all in pursuit of Nato’s strategy of capital aggrandisement, regional and world domination.
All of which begs the question: can an anti-war movement be effectively led by members and supporters of a party that condones and conducts those wars?
Libya – a betrayal
Throughout the Libyan crisis, the conduct of the Stop the War Coalition was shameful, bringing us nothing but ignominy in the eyes of the world’s oppressed and struggling masses.
Prior to Nato’s bombardment, when US/British/French intervention was a little less blatant (very much in the vein of its current plot against Syria), conducted via MI6, CIA and other covert operatives, and through the funding of motley feudal and criminal elements, StW organised a demonstration. But this ‘anti-war’ demonstration was not against imperialism and its mercenaries in Benghazi, but against the Gaddafi government!
Owen Jones wrote on the StW website: “Let’s be clear. Other than a few nutters, we all want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive. In both his anti-western and pro-western incarnations, his record is that of a brutal and unquestionably slightly unhinged dictator. I will not caricature supporters of the bombing campaign as frothing-at-the-mouth neocons.”
Andrew Murray, wrote in the Morning Star, while Nato’s blitzkrieg was underway, that “it is wrong to assert that the rebellion based in Benghazi was some sort of pro-imperialist plot from the outset”.
Is that so?
CPGB-ML, a member of the Stop the War Coalition since its inception, did not fall for this pro-imperialist whitewash, and on 11 March 2011 we issued a leaflet calling for the defence of Libya and its government. This was a principled and coherent anti-imperialist stance, which has stood the test of time. We are proud to have promoted it, among British workers and activists – including those of the StW coalition – as part of our activity to oppose illegal and genocidal Nato wars, in Libya and elsewhere.
Further, in August 2011, we issued a leaflet calling on workers to “support the resistance” and “denounce StW treachery”.
It contained the following – remarkably restrained – criticism of StW’s position:
“Some people and organisations, such as Stop the War, have been bamboozled by the non-stop and ubiquitous Goebbelsian propaganda that has spewed forth from the imperialist media ever since Gaddafi’s regime was put in place into believing that he is some kind of a monster who must be overthrown at all costs. In view of his record in defending the interests of the Libyan people, such an approach is absurd.
“Stop the War, dominated as it is by organisations that devote themselves to spreading illusions in social democracy (ie, futile hopes that solutions for the working class and oppressed people are to be found within capitalism), still finds itself cheerleading for Gaddafi’s opponents: their only reason for opposing imperialist military intervention is that it may be harmful to the cause of imperialism’s local agents in Libya!
“Down with social-democratic treachery; down with imperialism!”
John Rees and the ‘Don’t Mention the War’ campaign
With the lack of political will to defend Libya from imperialist attack, there was a corresponding dearth of activity on the ground. What happened to ‘our’ alleged ability to mobilise 2-million-strong marches, like the one held in February 2003 before the invasion of Iraq, which is so often cited and trumpeted? This kind of capitulation before the Nato juggernaut has made us an increasing irrelevance to British workers.
As tomahawk cruise missiles, bunker busters, white phosphorous and depleted uranium rained down on Libya, pulverising Tripoli and Sirte, targeting all progressive Libyans, and in particular Col Muammar Gaddafi – whose infant grandchildren were among the early victims of Nato’s dark forces – John Rees apparently felt no shame, declaring (in a similar vein to Liam Fox and William Hague) on a YouTube interview that “nobody is going to shed a tear for the fall of this brutal dictator [Gaddafi]”.
He further advised the quisling ‘Transitional National Council’ (in reality a front for Trans-National Corporations) to gain credibility by “telling the major powers where to get off” – ie, to adopt his own tactic of dressing up an imperialist campaign in ‘anti-imperialist’ colours. No doubt this would have been convenient for Rees, but the heartless clerics had another agenda.
During the bombing campaign, StW leadership belatedly declared its half-hearted opposition to the imperialist bombing campaign – not because they disagreed with Nato’s aims, but because it believed their methods were not effective enough. Bombing, they said, “would merely serve to bolster Gaddafi’s position, and thus undermine the cause of the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime” – which principle aim of imperialism in Libya, ‘Stop the War’ leaders continued to cherish and support.
We published a statement on 8 September, pointing out that with ‘anti-war friends’ like these, the Libyan people might well ask, ‘Who needs enemies?’
StW leaders – as the 2012 national conference agenda attests – barely make reference to their betrayal of Libya, as despite some mild queasiness and reservations they remain broadly in support of Gaddafi’s lynching.
Nor is the struggle in Libya – like the struggle in Iraq – over. Resistance is regrouping, even after the wholesale slaughter of the flower of Libya’s anti-imperialist leadership. The Green flag has been raised in Bani Walid, Tripoli, Sirte and elsewhere – long after Hilary Clinton stopped cackling with glee over the gruesome imagery of Gaddafi’s murder.
For while the feudal thugs of Nato’s TNC run amok in Libya, committing mass violations of its citizens’ rights, including (among other things) kidnapping, raping and murdering Libyan women, and lynching anyone with black skin, while helping Nato bandits to help themselves to Libya’s oil and financial wealth, there can be no peace.
Let us all reflect – if there was previously any room for doubt – that these are not the actions of a popular-democratic revolution, but the pogroms of a decaying, imperialist-backed feudal movement attempting to divide and destroy the unity and progressive sentiment built over 40 years among the formerly free Libyan people. Their gains can only be temporary; their ultimate defeat is certain.
Genocide and ethnic cleansing have been perpetrated, a nation stolen, its resources subsumed into the coffers of imperialist finance capital. The issue for us to address is that all the criticism from our ‘anti-war’ group was directed, not against Obama, Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Balls, or the hosts of retainers without whom the war could not have been waged, but against its victims.
A ‘broad’ movement – the cry was ‘Unity’!
StW leaders frequently call for unity. It is interesting to compare their words with their deeds. Their response to CPGB-ML criticism of their anti-Libya propaganda was not reason or even attempted justification, but sectarian bureaucracy.
On 23 September, the CPGB-ML received an email from the Stop the War Coalition informing us of a decision by the “officers group” to “reject the affiliation” of our party. We were told that this was on the basis that the CPGB-ML had been “publicly attacking Stop the War Coalition” in its publications.
Lindsey German sent a follow-up email clarifying that “the officers” felt that our “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.”
But when did StW declare its ‘officers group’ to be above criticism – on pain of expulsion? In what statute or officers group meeting minute is this ruling secreted away? We are certainly not aware of it. And how is the policy of a broad coalition to be corrected, if it errs, without criticism?
“I personally support the call for victory to the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan – but I also know that the strength of our campaign comes from its breadth … And if this slogan puts off our affiliates – like the Quakers – then I am against it, and oppose the resolution.” (From memory)
Here is a fine thing. Counterfire leader John Rees opposing his own fervently held beliefs to hold a broad coalition together – for how can we have an anti-war movement without Quakers? (Incidentally, no Quaker we have ever spoken to – and we have spoken to a surprising number, although admittedly not at StW meetings – disagrees with the idea that an oppressed nation or people has the right to defend itself.)
Consistent anti-imperialism is just too far ahead of the curve, you see. Obviously, Rees is well up for the fight against British imperialism, but you know, these Quakers just aren’t gonna go for it, so – regrettably – the deal’s off. His speech, delivered to a carefully managed but highly spirited conference, was just enough to (narrowly) defeat the motion.
The choice: oppose Nato or compromise with imperialism
The real choice, of course, is not ‘Quakers or communists’, but whether the aim of StW can be reconciled with the class interests of the capitalists who wage these wars. If we are serious about actually stopping war, the CPGB-ML believes that we must oppose the capitalist imperialist system that on a daily and weekly basis engenders war – and campaign to raise British workers’ awareness of the actions of their own ruling class at home and abroad. This inevitably involves confronting groups and cliques that directly or indirectly support social democracy with the contradictions in their own political position.
Logically, that includes challenging the social-democratic ‘leaders’ of left Labour who talk of their opposition to war while in practice make their careers out of sitting in the parties of war and asking workers to support those parties at every juncture. We cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.
Learning lessons for the future – defend Syria!
All this is not simply an academic exercise in point scoring. There are very real practical consequences for our work next week, next month and next year, which make it of vital importance that the coalition should learn lessons and correct its stance.
Since the fall of Libya, all Stop the War’s national efforts have been directed at pointing out the threat of war against Iran. And while that threat is very real, and must certainly be mobilised against, such activity cannot be allowed to act as a cover for ignoring the much more imminent threat against that other sovereign anti-imperialist nation in the Middle East: Syria.
As well as carving out an independent economic path free from the diktat of the IMF and World Bank, Syria is home to the headquarters of many Palestinian resistance movements, and a firm supporter of Lebanon’s anti-imperialist resistance movement, Hizbollah. Millions of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees have made their homes there, and the country is Iran’s strongest regional ally, as well as being an implacable foe of Israel. Although described by western media as a ‘dictator’, President Bashar al-Assad is actually the leader of a broad-based coalition government of national unity, which comprises many political parties, including communists. All of which makes the country a prime target for imperialism’s guns.
The aggressive war being prepared by Nato and its regional stooges against Syria is using all the same tricks that were applied in the case of Libya. Nato is funding, training and arming disparate opposition and terrorist groups and parachuting in covert special forces to give them vital support, while Nato’s leaders push through UN resolutions about ‘democracy’ and the ‘safety of the people’ and, of course, orchestrate a hysterical media campaign of lies and disinformation.
And while some people do seem to have learned a lesson from the carnage in Libya, the Stop the War leadership does not yet seem to be among their number. Yet again, the coalition’s leaders are failing to take a consistently anti-imperialist and anti-war position; yet again, they are failing to stand up against the media lies and declare themselves to be on the side of the Syrian masses against Nato imperialism.
Instead of standing firmly against war on Syria, Stop the War leaders prefer not to talk about it. The recent picket for Iran and Syria didn’t feature a single speaker for Syria on the platform, and its recent emails refer to Syria only in passing.
Instead of standing up to imperialist propaganda, the Stop the War website carries articles referring to “Bashar al-Assad’s killing machine” while John Rees uses his television show to consistently denounce the legitimate government and legitimise Nato’s stooges, including the MI6-backed ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’. Once more, Stop the War’s ‘opposition’ to Nato seems to be based more on tactical grounds than on any real ideological difference.
Let no-one be under any illusion: not only is a beautiful, cultured, independent country and its people under threat, but the illegal war already being waged by covert forces in Syria is a stepping-stone to even bloodier war against Iran, and from there to war against China and Russia. In a very real sense, Syria today stands in the same place as did the Spanish republic in 1936. British workers and progressive people need to stand side by side with the Syrian masses, demanding: Hands off Syria! Victory to Assad!
And above all, we must start to use our collective power to prevent the British ruling class from taking part in this criminal and barbaric conflagration.