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We need an anti-war movement built upon solid anti-imperialist foundations

BUAFS banner in Trafalgar Square on May Day 2015

BUAFS banner in Trafalgar Square on May Day 2015

A comrade from Bristol Ukraine Anti Fascist Solidarity (BUAFS) was invited to speak at a recent public meeting in London organised by Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in the Ukraine (SARU). We reproduce his remarks below.

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We are talking today specifically about the way that the imperialist media serve a vital propaganda role in selling us their agenda of war and austerity. Other speakers have given many telling examples of this manipulation of public opinion.

In Bristol, we try to expose this manipulation by mounting a weekly picket of the BBC in Whiteladies Road. We do this to draw attention to the lies the corporation tells about the conflict in the Ukraine and Donbass, and to point out how this conflicts with the vaunted status of the BBC as a paragon of ‘objective’ and ‘balanced’ journalism. It lays claim to that status, so it’s right that we should demand that it be held to account for failing to live up to it.

However, in reality, we should not be so surprised about the BBC’s behaviour. Its journalists are just doing their job, serving as part of the propaganda machine for the imperialist ruling class. When push comes to shove, that is the basic purpose of every organ of mass media in imperialist society. How could it be other? The capitalist media are bought and paid for, and capitalism gets what it pays for. In that sense, we have nothing to complain about.

But if the real function of the BBC and the rest is not too hard to grasp, what have we to say about the role of some of those in ‘left’, ‘anti-war’ and trade-union circles who help to grease the wheels for war by going along with the reactionary propaganda? I’m thinking about those who in words ‘opposed’ the bombing of Libya, yet rowed in with all the vilification of Muammar Gaddafi by which imperialism sought to justify that bombing.

Or those who went along with the hate campaign against Bashar al-Assad and the progressive leadership of Syria – a hate campaign that acted as a smokescreen for the West’s proxy war of subversion against
an independent Arab state whose secular and progressive character posed a threat to imperialist dominance in the Middle East.

What do we make of those who peer down from a great height upon the inhabitants of the Donbass fighting for their lives against Kiev’s stormtroopers, only to pronounce them to be ‘Putin’s useful idiots’?

In my innocence, I had hoped to come here tonight in a cloud of glory, bearing glad tidings that Bristol Trades Council had decided to cough up £50 and affiliate to SARU. The Bristol branch of Community Unite earlier this year passed a resolution to affiliate, and went on to propose to the trades council that it follow suit.

Sadly, this initiative was ambushed by some very vocal delegates to the trades council, who ‘explained’ that the fascist coup that removed the democratically-elected Yanukovych government was in fact a “popular uprising”, that the subsequent elevation of Poroshenko to the presidency was “legitimate”, that his government was not fascist, that the Donbass resistance were no more than stooges for Putin and that the conflict in the Ukraine was not about anti-fascist resistance but was essentially a turf war between rival oligarchs.

To make this unashamed rehearsal of the standard BBC/Fox News Big Lie more palatable to a trade-union forum, matters were given a workerist twist, appealing for “solidarity with workers throughout the whole of the Ukraine”, carefully ignoring the fact that the fascist aggression dished out by the Kiev junta’s forces is actually the military wing of the IMF-imposed austerity being imposed on all Ukrainian workers.

This stunt recalls the dishonest ‘neither green nor orange’ pose that was assumed in the 1970s and 80s by those who sought to justify their enmity towards the Irish national struggle by making spurious appeals to the “unity of all workers” (all workers, that is, in ‘Northern Ireland’ – ie, the colonised six counties).

Regrettably, these lies about what is really going on in the Ukraine were enough to stampede the trades council away from supporting the resolution, which was formally remitted (kicked into the long grass). Fifty pounds here or there will not break our campaign, but this setback usefully illustrates just how crucial is the role of social democracy in making workers vulnerable to capitalist war propaganda, softening up our resistance.

It is important to challenge the media lies. But it is at least as important to challenge those on the social-democratic ‘left’ who help to give those lies currency in the working class. We can’t get rid of media lies, but we can make a start on challenging the social-democratic politics that rob workers of any ideological defence against those lies.

When the manufactured paranoia about Russia has been so eagerly embraced by many on the ‘left’, for example, it will take no more than one or two well-orchestrated false-flag operations for war fever to sweep the board.

What is the antidote to this war fever? The short answer is: to build an anti-war movement in the working class; a movement that identifies imperialist crisis as the driver of war, which supports all those engaged in resistance against imperialism and which leads a campaign of active non-cooperation with the war effort.

Do we possess such a movement now? Sadly not. The Stop the War Coalition, in the name of ‘broadening the appeal’ of the movement, withheld its support from the Afghan resistance and the Iraqi resistance. It likewise withheld support from the progressive governments of Gaddafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria. Now it opposes the Russian bombing campaign against Islamic State in Syria.

And, of course, it withholds support from the Donbass resistance – always in the name of ‘broadening the movement’. Yet, far from ‘broadening’ the anti-war movement into the mass of the working class, this approach has narrowed the movement to a dwindling support base consisting mostly of a pacifist-minded middle class.

Our task must be to break down the social-democratic walls that separate workers in Britain from all their oppressed brothers and sisters who are fighting against imperialism – be it in Palestine, Syria, the Donbass or wherever.

The imperialist ruling class that plunges one country after another into war is the self-same imperialist ruling class that imposes austerity at home. By recognising that imperialism is our common enemy and linking arms with those engaged in resistance against imperialist meddling, we can unite in an anti-war movement that stands on solid anti-imperialist foundations.

I believe that this can be done in Britain, and that our support for the struggles of the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk could be a step in the right direction.

It is in that spirit that we continue our solidarity work in Bristol. Let me take this opportunity to invite comrades to come and visit our picket outside the BBC in Whiteladies Road, every Monday from 5.00pm to 6.30pm.

Also, let me remind you about the public meeting we are holding on Saturday 24 October in the Terrace Room of Barton Hill Community Settlement, 43 Ducie Road, Bristol (BS5 0AX), from 2.00pm to 5.00pm, on the subject of imperialist crisis and the drive to war in Europe.

The Miliband-McCluskey spat

Unite’s support for Ed Miliband in the Labour leadership contest has backfired in spectacular fashion, as ‘Red Ed’ calls in the rozzers to investigate allegations of malpractice against the union in regard to the choice of Labour candidate in the Falkirk by-election.

That election was itself precipitated by the conviction of the incumbent Labour MP, the self-described ‘New Labour’ man Eric Joyce, on a charge of common brawling in the Westminster bar. This paragon of law-abiding virtue has now availed himself of the columns of the Guardian to berate Unite for its “amateur, hubristic and irresponsible actions” in allegedly rigging the candidate selection process, whilst Miliband himself repays Unite’s unflagging support by unveiling plans to scrap the right of unions to automatically sign up union members as Labour party members, instead requiring that aspiring party members actively opt in to membership.

So it is that Miliband, whose own elevation to a leading position in any large organisation could only conceivably be explained by a prevailing culture of degeneracy and bureaucratic sclerosis, is now posing as a champion of transparency and accountability!

If Miliband’s craven eagerness to demonstrate his party’s immunity to influence from the organised working class actually translates into a weakening of the bonds that mutually sustain the labour-aristocratic union leaderships and the Labour imperialists, this can only be heartily welcomed by class-conscious workers.

The real scandal in Falkirk is not whether or not Unite packs Labour wards in order to lever its chums onto the parliamentary gravy train. The real scandal is the fact that Unite has squandered getting on for £9m of its members’ hard-earned subs on propping up the Labour party – and that’s just in the period since Miliband took over.

Anti-war work in Britain

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 reaffirms its belief that our party’s two main anti-war slogans (‘Victory to the resistance’ and ‘No cooperation with war crimes’) are still the only correct ones.

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.
  • carry on with the work of exposing the treachery of StW’s leaders and of bringing to British workers an understanding of the urgent need to break with their class enemies in the Labour party, while helping them to unify instead with all those forces that are fighting against imperialist war and occupation abroad.
  • 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.

US employers using lockouts to break unions

From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 4 February

Employers in the US are increasingly turning to lockouts as a means of trying to intimidate unionised workers. “From the Cooper Tire factory in Findlay, Ohio, to a country club in southern California and sugar beet processing plants in North Dakota, employers are turning to lockouts to press their unionised workers to grant concessions after contract negotiations deadlock. Even the New York City Opera locked out its orchestra and singers for more than a week before settling the dispute last Wednesday.” (‘More lockouts as companies battle unions’ by Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, 22 January 2012)

Locked out workers are frequently replaced by substitutes from America’s huge line of unemployed, who receive little in the way of benefits.

Companies like American Crystal, which are in fact earning record profits, make unreasonable demands of their workers to accept lower wages and/or less advantageous working conditions and when the latter refuse to cooperate the companies lock them out on the pretext that the workers are holding their employers to ransom!

Shop stewards call for TUC to get tough against the cuts

CPGB-ML members were in Manchester on Sunday (12 September) for the National Shop Stewards Network rally outside the TUC conference, and attended a NSSN fringe meeting held afterwards.

The rally called on the TUC to get serious about organising a fight-back against public-sector cuts, pay and pensions attacks, privatisation etc. So far, Brendan Barber’s laughable response to the proposed all-out assault on British workers’ pay, pensions and public services has been to call for a demonstration (not any industrial action) to be organised for … next March! Thus politely giving the government time to implement its cuts, slash pay and pensions and lay off thousands of public-sector workers.

‘Fair’ cuts? NO cuts! Take the fight to capitalism. (CPGB-ML leaflet)

Bob Crow and several other speakers at the rally made the point that blaming the Tories for the cuts, or putting hopes in electing a Labour government as the solution, was a total waste of time. The unions have been spinning that yarn for 50-60 years, he said, and this is where we’ve ended up as a result. He called for the unions not to get sidetracked into a pointless campaign to get Labour re-elected, but to work together now to coordinate strike action right across the public sector.

At the meeting later, many reps spoke about their experiences in trying to carry out useful work in the teeth of union leadership opposition. One of our party members pointed out that most of the union leaders aren’t interested in giving the leadership their members expect and deserve, but instead excuse their own inaction on the basis of ‘member apathy’.

She pointed to the leaders of her own union, Bectu, as a prime example of this - in particular how they fail to educate members about what the issues really are that face them and how attacks on their pay and pensions in particular might be combatted. Instead, the leadership tell members that they don’t have an interest in fighting against the introduction of the divided conditions that management continually use to erode the pay and pension position of all staff.

She called for the public-sector unions to take the lead in launching a massive campaign to mobilise public awareness and support for their actions in defence of conditions and services, since these actions are in the interest of all of us. This is particularly important given the current stranglehold of the corporate media on people’s consciousness, since those media are universally hostile to attempts by the working class to resist attacks - constantly seeking to demonise and divide workers and brand them as lazy, greedy etc.

Our member also made the point that as well as coordinating action (something that many reps there were calling for) between unions, so we strike together as much as possible, we should be breaking the anti-union laws en masse - since the current legal framework is explicitly designed to render industrial action useless in achieving its aim of defending workers’ conditions and protecting public services.

Judging by the applause that greeted this point in a packed meeting of union reps from all over the country, this isn’t an unpopular position as far as many rank-and-file members are concerned. It’s the union leaderships who are terrified of losing control of their asset portfolios, or losing their respectable status as important members of the establishment.

Meanwhile, at the TUC yesterday (14 September), a limited motion was passed against the anti-union laws. It was a composite of several, and was supported by Bectu, among others, following the adoption at the last Bectu congress of a motion calling on the NEC to work with other unions to build a mass campaign to DEFY the anti-union laws.

Typically, the resulting joint unions motion to the TUC was totally toothless. Its main substance merely being to call on MPs to back a bill in parliament that might stop the courts from being quite so harsh in how they interpret the current legal framework.

About the need to dismantle that framework completely there was nothing but a ritual reference. About the need to defy the laws in the meantime, there was not a dicky-bird, although there was a slightly coded call from Bob Crow for the unions to do just that.

Calling for consistency in industrial strategy Mr Crow added to rapturous applause: “It’s no good walking down to Tolpuddle and then next week debating whether to engage in civil disobedience to oppose the cuts.

“If it’s good enough for the Tolpuddle Martyrs 160 years ago it should be good enough for us today.”

We would add the following points:

In order for our unions to put up any kind of a fight in defence of pay, pensions and services, workers are going to have to radically transform these currently ineffectual institutions. Either pressure from below will see new, militant leaderships emerge, or the current leaders will find their members deserting in droves to set up new fighting organisations, willing and able to take on the employers head-on.

A vital part of this campaign to transform our unions is the campaign to break the link with the imperialist Labour party, whose suffocating control of most career trade unionists is responsible for their complete inability to act in their members’ best interests. Instead, they act as one more layer of policemen for the ruling class - controlling, diverting and dampening down the growing anger and militancy of workers on the shop floor.

Most of all, workers in Britain need to belatedly wake up and realise that while we continue to confine our struggle to aiming after the best possible conditions for selling our labour power under capitalism, we will never achieve job, housing, health, education or pension security.

All the concessions won when the welfare state was set up 60 years ago are being taken away; it will take a massive, coordinated and extremely militant fight just to get back to where we were then - and as soon as we are there, the whole process of attacking them will start again.

There is only one way to guarantee a peaceful, secure, civilised and sustainable existence for our children and grandchildren - and that is to get rid of this destructive, parasitic, polluting system and build a socialist society in its place.

Resolution adopted at Stop the War Coalition Conference

The following resolution, submitted by the CPGB-ML, was overwhelmingly adopted by the national conference of the Stop the War Coalition, held on 25 April 2009.

No cooperation with war crimes

This conference condemns Britain’s continued involvement in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and calls for the immediate recall of all British troops from both these countries.

While the City of London’s financial elite sought to benefit by joining arms with the US to seize Iraq’s oil wealth and manipulate her domestic and foreign policy to their advantage, this conference affirms that the entire bloody debacle has always been contrary to the interests of the vast majority of British workers, who have consistently demonstrated their opposition to this modern-day Anglo-American colonial crusade.

Since 2004, more than 1.5 million wholly innocent Iraqi men, women and children have been slaughtered as a result of the illegal invasion and occupation of their country. This can only be termed genocide. In addition, more than 4 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes as internal and external refugees, and the resultant dislocation of Iraq’s cultural, political and economic life is near total.

In Afghanistan, tens of thousands of people have been murdered, and the country’s infrastructure smashed to pieces as a result of the Anglo-American oil monopolies’ quest to control the routes of projected pipelines.

This conference notes with shame the fact that ‘our own’ British imperialist Labour government has been a key player in planning and perpetrating these heinous war crimes against the Iraqi and Afghan peoples.

Conference notes that many British workers were browbeaten, by a compliant political and media establishment, into accepting these wars on entirely false premises (Afghan responsibility for the 11 September attacks, Blair’s ‘45 minute’ claim about Iraqi WMD, etc) that sought to paint Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than Anglo-American imperialism, as the aggressors. Thus the necessary ground was laid to send British and US soldiers (workers in uniform) to do the bankers’, oil magnates’ and armament manufacturers’ dirty work.

This conference believes that war fought to enforce subjection and servitude upon another nation is morally abhorrent; to fight and die in such a cause is demoralising, corrupting and meaningless.

This conference realises that, although individually powerless, collectively, British workers do have the power to stop the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, since the government and corporations cannot fight them without us.

This conference therefore resolves that the coalition will 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.

Union mobilisation remains key to the success of such a policy, and this conference instructs the incoming Stop the War steering committee to campaign vigorously among trade unions to encourage them to adopt a practical policy encouraging their members to do everything not to support illegal wars or occupations, directly or indirectly; and to render every support to members victimised for taking this principled stand.

This conference welcomes the magnificent examples set by such signal actions as:

  • 2002/3: FBU strike action immediately preceding the invasion of Iraq, which threatened the entire enterprise.
  • Jan 2003: Fifteen Aslef train drivers refused to move arms from Glasgow factories to Glen Douglas base on Scotland’s west coast (which remains Nato’s largest European arsenal, and from where they were bound for the Gulf).
  • 9 Aug 2006: Protesters occupied the Derry offices of Raytheon when Israel invaded Lebanon, to “prevent the commissioning of war crimes by the Israeli armed forces using weapons supplied by Raytheon”.
  • May Day 2008: tens of thousands of US west coast dockers defied court injunctions to strike in protest against US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite the decision of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) leadership to withhold official sponsorship for the strike.
  • Dec 2008: Smash EDO demonstrators occupied and disabled production at Brighton-based missile-delivery system manufacturer EDO (recently acquired by Armament Giant ITT) during Israel’s massacre of Gazans.
  • Feb 2009: Norwegian Train drivers staged a national stoppage to protest the Israeli massacre in Gaza.
  • Resolutions asking Bectu media workers to resist the transmission of imperialist war propaganda will be considered at the union’s forthcoming congress.