The opening paragraph of Stop the War’s latest email to members in Bristol ploughs a familiar furrow:
Yesterday’s vote in parliament is welcome. MPs reflected the majority view in the country and rejected the government’s plans to join an attack on Syria. It represented the victory of mass anti-war opinion over the interests of the UK elite that has been enthusiastically participating in US-led wars over the last decade and more.
There can be no doubt that the hundreds of demonstrations, protests, rallies and pickets of the last twelve years have been central to bringing the war makers low and making it impossible for Cameron to join in another catastrophic attack.
But we need to resist such mutual congratulation over the alleged effectiveness of ten years of rudderless protest and remind ourselves of a few salient facts.
1. The vote at Westminster was indeed a breathtaking upset for British imperialism, reflecting as it did the panic and disarray of our masters faced with a choice between drinking poison (plunging into another Iraq or Afghanistan) or dying of thirst (seeing US hegemony crumble).
2. Open war against Syria is most likely still on the agenda anyway. Labour complains that war against Syria is being prepared “in a rush”, just as it used to complain that the cuts were happening “too fast”. Slacken the timetable a little and the objections melt away.
Labour complains only that the UN inspectors need more time, with the unstated corollary that an adverse report would legitimise missile strikes. All Miliband’s posturing amounts to is the demand for a bigger fig leaf to cover this criminal enterprise.
3. Under imperialism, though any given war may not itself be inevitable, war in general most certainly is, and the more urgently so as the capitalist crisis deepens.
Workers don’t need to be hearing right now that parliamentary democracy has proved itself a reliable bulwark against militarism. Least of all do they need to be hearing that Labour (or Labour ‘lefts’, or an anti-war movement dominated by social democracy) is going to deliver “peace in our time”.
4. We congratulate the government and people of Syria whose steadfast resistance to imperialist subversion has weakened and divided their enemies.
This motion was passed overwhelmingly at the recent CPGB-ML party congress
This congress confirms that opposing imperialism’s murderous and barbaric wars for profit and plunder is an integral and essential part of the fight against capitalist imperialism, and must be a major priority for communists living in imperialist countries such as Britain.
Congress notes that, following the illegal expulsion of our party from the Stop the War coalition (StW) in March, members have been giving serious thought to what the main thrust of our party’s anti-war work should be.
Congress welcomes the contribution made to this discussion by the CC in its anti-war policy briefing document, which was issued in June, and fully endorses that document’s contents.
Congress recommends that all members and study groups who have not yet done so should read this document, discuss its contents and consider how best to advance the party’s anti-war programme in their local area or region.
This congress believes that the leaders of StW, far from being a force for anti-imperialist unity, are a major obstacle to achieving such unity, since they do not act to unite workers against imperialism, but instead work to unify anti-war activists with the imperialist Labour party. By continually bowing to the wishes and enhancing the prestige of ‘left’-Labour MPs and trade unionists, StW’s leaders are in fact making the anti-war movement subservient to the interests of the imperialist Labour party, which means, ultimately, that they are putting the movement under the control of the very class that is waging these criminal wars. This has been amply illustrated by the complete inability of StW either to seriously challenge the bourgeois propaganda onslaught against Libya and Syria or to offer any meaningful support to either of those countries in their desperate struggles to defend their independence.
Congress further believes that until all honest anti-war activists reject the pro-imperialist politics of such leaders, their activities, however sincerely undertaken, will continue to be completely harmless to imperialism and will continue to have absolutely no effect on the course of imperialist war.
Congress further reaffirms its intention to work towards a time when the party is able to found a truly anti-imperialist anti-war movement in Britain.
Congress therefore instructs all branches and members to do whatever they can to:
promote awareness and recognition of the party’s anti-war slogans, bringing them to life by popularising their true content among as broad a section of workers as possible and infusing them with the spirit of anti-imperialist unity.
bring closer the founding of a new anti-imperialist front by putting into action the six tasks laid out in the CC’s anti-war policy briefing document, chief among which is to keep building the party and transforming our new members into seasoned and professional cadres who are able to spread our party’s influence amongst the working class.
keep pushing the line of non-cooperation, bringing to workers’ attention the fact that we really do have the collective power to put a stop to imperialist war and encouraging them to work to transform their unions into fighting organisations that are prepared to adopt non-cooperation policies and to put them into action.
This motion was passed unanimously at the recent CPGB-ML party congress
This congress recognises that the imperialist beasts of the USA, Britain and France planned, financed and played the major role, assisted by their various middle-eastern puppets, in the overthrow of the popular Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi.
This congress notes that they, through the trickery of a UN resolution to impose a ‘no-fly zone’, supposedly to ‘protect’ the Libyan people, used the combined air power of Nato member states to carpet-bomb and destroy Libyan airports, military bases, media stations, hospitals, schools, electricity and water supplies, general infrastructure and residential areas alike.
Congress further notes that, even with the great military advantage that this onslaught from outside gave the rats of the Transitional National Council (TNC), they were so numerically weak and lacking in any support within Libya that they could not make decisive use of this advantage. So it was that Libya was flooded with military ‘advisors’ from the imperialist regimes and elite troops from all the neighbouring states that were under the sway of imperialism.
This congress applauds the heroic struggle that the Libyan people and their army waged against Nato’s proxy forces on the ground, despite the horrendous effects of the imperialists’ all-out air war, noting that they held out for more than six months until the capture, torture and public murder of the leader of Libya’s green revolution, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Congress also sends a red salute to the brave green fighters in Libya, who are continuing to put up resistance to imperialism and its puppets today.
Closer to home, this congress condemns the disgusting role played during the war on Libya by the ‘left’ supporters of imperialism – the social democrats, revisionists and Trotskyists. In Britain, the worst of these enemies of the international proletariat once more proved themselves to be the Labour party, the SWP, Counterfire, the CPB, and the ‘anti-war’ umbrella group in which many of those parties’ spokespeople play a leading role: the Stop the War Coalition (StW). StW held a single nationally-organised demonstration over the issue of the overthrow of the sovereign state of Libya by imperialism – but they held it outside the Libyan embassy supporting the imperialist-backed TNC and opposing the anti-imperialist leadership of Colonel Gaddafi!
This congress affirms that imperialism is the main enemy of the international working class, and that US imperialism, as the biggest and most powerful imperialist state, is the biggest enemy to world peace.
Congress further affirms that in an imperialist war the duty of the working class in an imperialist country is to work for the defeat of its own government. And an essential part of that process must be exposing and leading workers away from the misleadership of social democracy and its revisionist and Trotskyist hand-maidens, who will try with all their guile to keep workers tied to the imperialist war machine through revolutionary-sounding phrases and lies.
This congress resolves to continue working to show our class that we do have the power to stop the imperialist war machine by starving it of all the necessary supplies for its wars of brigandage, whether those supplies be weapons, transport or soldiers!
Congress further resolves to use all means at the party’s disposal to disseminate information about the ongoing battle in Libya, in order that British workers should understand that there is a popular resistance movement fighting to rid the country of imperialist forces. Our party will continue to expose the vile and rapacious doings of the TNC rats who now hope to rule Libya (with imperialist troops stood at their shoulders). These villains have murdered, kidnapped, raped, looted and evicted from their homes those supporting or suspected of supporting the green resistance. From the earliest days, even before coming to power, it was well known that the TNC rats were lynching black Libyans, as well as other black Africans working in the country, and our party will continue to remind the world of this fact.
Finally, this congress resolves to continue pointing out that this bloody war was brought upon the Libyan people in order to grab the country’s oil, to remove its anti-imperialist leadership, and to kick open the door to the re-conquest of Africa. The freedom and protection of the Libyan people was never a real reason for waging the war – except, perhaps, in the minds of a few simple souls who simply cannot, or will not, see the jackboot an inch from their face, even when it is pointed out to them.
This congress remains confident that the Libyan masses will rise again to rid their land of the imperialist puppets and bring the imperialists’ dreams of world domination to nought.
Long live the memory of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, hero of the Libyan and African peoples!
Victory to the anti-imperialist peoples!
Death to imperialism!
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.
On Monday 5 December, Stop the War Coalition held a rally at Conway Hall headlined Don’t Attack Iran. Everyone in the hall (apart from the usual smattering of MI5 agents) was in agreement: none of us wanted to see Iran attacked.
From the platform, a very frail looking Tony Benn spoke first, confiding to us that when he was minister for energy (years ago when even I was young), some unidentified bloke in his ministerial office had helped Israel to “British” nuclear secrets. If that wasn’t bad enough, Benn also found out and all the “waste” plutonium from “our” civil nuclear industry had been secretly shipped off to America to make nuclear bombs.
Benn said he hadn’t found out about either of these outrages until after he left office. Which says it all about the effectiveness of Stop the War Coalition’s brand of ‘anti-imperialism’.
Not one of the speakers, including George Galloway, who (despite a terrible chest infection) headlined at his tub-thumping and fiery best, had any suggestions about what to do apart from march about with our banners and protest.
We were told to go back to our workplaces and trade unions and “expose” the media lies about Iran; but the speakers’ only stated aim was to bring more people out on the streets of London to wave banners and protest at some undeclared date in the future.
Most depressing of all was the quick mention of Syria in passing. No question of any ‘Don’t Attack Syria’ campaign. We were just told to watch our email inboxes as Stop the War Coalition planned to call us all out – you guessed it … to wave banners and protest at Downing Street at 5.00pm on the day Syria was attacked (or maybe the day after, the speaker wasn’t too sure).
Syria did better than Pakistan, as while all the speakers agreed that Pakistan was under threat, there was not even a suggestion of going to Downing Street with banners to protest over any attack on that benighted country.
So what is to be done? Well, when Stop the War Coalition does call us out, we will (as always) troop along with our banners and protest, but that by itself will do nothing. Two million of us waved banners and protested to stop the war in Iraq, and the imperialists laughed.
We have to do much more and something else. We have to go to the Stop the War national conference and demand something more than mere banner waving and protesting and wondering why these naughty imperialists won’t listen to reason.
The sickest joke to come out of Stop the War’s reactionary stance on Libya has been the accusation that members of StW who stand in solidarity with the Gaddafi-led Libyan revolution are a divisive influence within the anti-war movement and should pipe down at public meetings, reserving their distasteful minority opinions for under-the-counter retail (or preferably shut up all together).
Yet what has truly divided and weakened the anti-war movement, indexed by the dwindling of national anti-war demonstrations from millions to hundreds, has been the perennial reluctance of the leadership to consistently call for victory to the Afghan and Iraqi resistance, a stance that has finally degenerated into John Rees’s open support for the imperialist-backed Benghazi rebellion.
Rees and co have since scrambled back to a stance that they hope will rescue their ‘progressive’ reputations (basically ’stop bombing Libya, you’ll only make it harder to get rid of Gaddafi’), a clumsy and hypocritical manoeuvre which will fool few and inspire none.
It is this misleadership, and StW’s resulting failure to give an anti-imperialist lead as capitalist crisis breeds fresh wars, which undermines and weakens the movement.
We are constantly told that our anti-imperialist stance risks alienating some supporters of StW’s (somewhat narrow) broad front. It is not impossible that some overly sensitive petty-bourgeois liberals might find the atmosphere uncongenial in an anti-war movement which had learned to outgrow its social-democratic prejudices, however many times it was spelt out to such individuals that their presence within the broad movement remained welcome.
But right now, we need to understand why the ‘broad’ front in reality remains so very narrow; how it is that the mass of working people do not actively embrace the cause of peace and withdraw their cooperation with imperialism’s wars. What is it about StW’s approach that so severely limits its scope?
The fact is that, so long as those leading the anti-war movement refuse to give solidarity to the forces that are resisting imperialist aggression on the ground, they will be keeping British workers divided from their real allies in the fight against monopoly capitalism and its wars, hindering them in the indivisible struggle for socialism and peace.
As Karl Marx wrote, no nation that enslaves another can itself be free. The failure to give consistent and wholehearted support to those defending Libya’s sovereignty with arms in hand can only weaken and divide the anti-war movement.
It is not the CPGB-ML and fellow internationalists who pose a threat to the unity and progress of the anti-war movement, but the rotten Trotskyite and revisionist politics that infect the upper echelons of StW and wash back into its branches, rendering the movement vulnerable to being shoved off course by every new wave of imperialist propaganda.
Whilst we have never taken a sectarian approach in our work with StW, cultivating good personal relations with fellow coalitionists from all backgrounds, we cannot shirk the responsibility of identifying the destructive and divisive influence of those political agendas behind which some remain trapped.
Particularly damaging is the Trotskyite combination of deep historical pessimism (’the Soviet Union was a disaster; the working class has nowhere taken and held power and gone on to build socialism’) with the most light-minded optimism over the probability of finding some ‘progressive’ needle in the stinking reactionary Benghazi haystack, some (as yet undocumented) perfect Trotskyite strand within the (very well-documented) hotch-potch of monarchists, veteran opponents of the revolution, paid assassins and mercenaries.
Whilst one might think that their own historical pessimism should instil in them a degree of caution, the reverse is the case. In fact, the phony optimism is about as healthy as the hectic flush on the face of a fever patient, and serves one purpose alone: to make it easier to abdicate political responsibility.
Why endure the unpopularity of standing by the Gaddafi revolution when you can have your cake and eat it, standing shoulder to shoulder with the BBC cheering on the rebels, whilst simultaneously posturing as ‘anti-imperialists’?
With the same glad heart, the same gentry lined up with Thatcher to cheer on Solidarnosc (or ‘progressive elements’ supposedly lurking within that anti-communist lynch mob) against the Polish workers’ state, helping prepare the ground for the subsequent liquidation of socialism.
‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ was their mantra then, ‘Neither Gaddafi nor Nato’ is their mantra now. Will we wake next week or next month to ‘Neither Damascus nor Nato’, ‘Neither Teheran nor Nato’ or ‘Neither Pyongyang nor Nato’? What about ‘Neither Beijing nor Nato’?
The anti-war movement faces stormy times ahead, where the warmongering scenarios will be getting ever messier and more complex and the choices to be made ever more knotty. (By comparison, Libya should have been a no brainer.) The movement’s ability to weather these storms will increasingly depend upon its ability to grow up politically and develop a consistent anti-imperialist perspective.
We in the CPGB-ML stand ready to assist in this endeavour.
The following motion is being submitted by the CPGB-ML to the upcoming Stop the War national conference.
We believe that the proposed programme of action is both necessary and achieveable. We therefore call on all anti-imperialists and anti-war campaigners to give it the widest possible circulation in order to generate discussion and to mobilise support for this important work.
Individually, we may be powerless, but together, we do have the power to stop imperialism’s criminal wars.
CPGB-ML resolution to StW conference, October 2010
This conference notes the passing last year of a motion calling on the coalition “to do all in its power to promote a movement of industrial, political and military non-cooperation with all of imperialism’s aggressive war preparations and activities among British working people“.
Since that resolution was passed, many important developments have taken place, which on the one hand make this work more urgent, and on the other have created an atmosphere that is more receptive to our message.
Conference notes the attack on those condemning war crimes that was embodied in the draconian sentences handed down to the Gaza protestors. Congress further notes that these sentences were aimed not only at discouraging muslim youth from political activism, but also at dividing the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements along racial lines, and branding Palestine solidarity as a ‘muslim’ issue.
Conference condemns the murder by Israeli commandos of nine solidarity activists aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May, despite the fact that the UN had called for the ships to be allowed to pass. Conference notes the UN’s recent findings that these murders were illegal – another war crime to add to the many being committed daily against the Palestinian people.
Conference further notes that in the atmosphere of international outrage that followed these murders, even Israeli-friendly politicians such as Cameron and Hague were forced to make statements condemning both the murders and the siege on Gaza.
Conference reaffirms its support for all those who have taken the lead in active non-cooperation over the past year, in particular for Joe Glenton, for the EDO Decommissioners, for the Gaza protestors, and for the many British participants in siege-busting missions by land and sea to Gaza.
Conference notes that the landmark acquittal in the case of the Decommissioners can only facilitate more actions of this kind, since it not only sets a legal precedent, but is a reflection of the general sense of disgust against Israeli war crimes in particular.
Conference reaffirms its belief that the majority of people in Britain are opposed to British imperialism’s wars, and considers that the time is ripe to make active non-cooperation a central theme of our work. Conference therefore calls on the incoming steering committee to take the line of non-cooperation into as many arenas as possible, including:
Putting on a fundraising concert to draw attention to the Gaza prisoners’ plight and to raise money towards a campaign to overturn their convictions.
Approaching Joe Glenton to take part in a national speaking tour against cooperation with the Afghan war.
Giving full backing, including maximum possible publicity, to all those groups or individuals, whether affiliated to the Coalition or not, who, like the EDO Decommissioners, the Raytheon activists and Joe Glenton, are targeted by the state for refusing to cooperate with, or for actively attempting to prevent, the illegal wars and bombings waged and backed by British imperialism.
Stepping up the campaign outside army recruitment centres and at army recruitment stalls in schools, colleges and universities, drawing attention to the war crimes committed by the British armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Launching a full campaign inside the unions to draw attention to British, US and Israeli war crimes, with the aim of passing in each of them, and then at the TUC, motions condemning those crimes and calling on workers to refuse to cooperate in their commission, whether it be by making or moving munitions or other equipment, writing or broadcasting propaganda, or helping in any other way to smooth the path of the war machine.
Following the excellent example set by PSC (eg, the campaign to draw attention to pro-Israeli propaganda in Panorama) and Media Lens (eg, alerts drawing attention to the media’s cover-up of war crimes committed in Fallujah) and working with these and others to draw in as many members and supporters as possible to an ongoing campaign to hold the media to account for their pivotal role in apologising for, covering up and normalising British, US and Israeli war crimes.
Continuing and increasing the work already done to make Britain a place where war criminals, whether US, British or Israeli, can get no peace, through holding protests, through citizens’ arrests and through all other available channels, including using local, national and international courts to file charges and draw attention to their crimes.