Boris Johnson’s useful idiots

The Stop the War conference was marked by a pro-imperialist stunt, reports Simon Wells

On October 8 the Stop the War Coalition held what it described as an “international conference” marking “15 years of the war on terror” at the TUC headquarters in London. The STWC was, of course, founded in September 2001 after George W Bush announced the “war on terror” following 9/11.

Included in the line-up of speakers were three of Stop the War’s founders: Chris Nineham, John Rees and Lindsey German, all three then prominent members of the Socialist Workers Party, but now leaders of the SWP splinter, Counterfire. Other speakers included another founder-member, Andrew Murray of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, Salma Yaqoob and the main draw, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

First off was comrade Murray, his main message to the establishment being, ‘We were right, you were wrong’. Not without reason he claimed that the current Labour leader is part of the Stop the War legacy - there was now the possibility of having an anti-war party in government, he said.

Unfortunately the Stand Up to Racism conference was being held on the same day at a venue only 15 minutes’ walk away. Given that the STWC had announced its conference just after SUTR had called its event back in July, there must have been some considerable gnashing of teeth. But that was not for public display. Instead diplomacy triumphed. The chair of the opening plenary read out a message of support from SUTR and I hear that was reciprocated over at Friends Meeting House.

Chris Nineham was next up with the announcement of the coalition’s new ‘Anti-war Charter’, which was to be found in our conference packs.1 He said its aims were popular and achievable, but it had not been circulated in advance and had come as a surprise to the 500 or so people in the room.

The opening contributions to the morning workshop on ‘War and internationalism’ were essentially a repeat of the sentiments expressed during the opening plenary. However, the contributions from the floor gave a hint of things to come in the afternoon session. One person said that he had been in contact with people in Aleppo and they do not buy into the STWC position of opposing all military action. How exactly, he asked angrily, does Stop the War demonstrate its solidarity with the people in Aleppo? Someone else wondered if there was merit in building dialogue with Assad and Putin. Another contributor said that if Clinton wins the US presidency there would be genuine fear of a nuclear war - in which case we should surely be speaking to Russia and Syria now.

There was certainly a diversity of opinions expressed. For example, a Scottish comrade said that the elected representatives north of the border generally support the aims of the STWC and suggested that Scottish independence could therefore only advance the fight against imperialism. John Rees, in response to this and other comments, said that Stop the War cannot do everything - we are a campaign, not a political party. Answering the criticism about Aleppo, he said that the dictators of the Middle East should not receive one iota of support. He said that personally he had been in Tahrir Square, Cairo, alongside thousands of protestors in 2011, and he had told them, “What I am doing is trying to stop my government bombing yours.” At this point he was heckled by a Syrian who stood up, pointed at Rees and said, “Will you join us outside the Russian embassy?” Rees did not answer.

However, by the afternoon, some contributions from the floor were becoming more aggressive. Heckling from the Syrian Solidarity Campaign, a pro-imperialist front, intensified. Essentially the SSC are Boris Johnson’s useful idiots. The SSC calls for a no-fly zone to be enforced by the US, France and Britain, plus the removal of president Bashar al-Assad and the installation of a democratically elected government. Amazingly, the closely associated ‘Speak out on Syria’, open letter, which criticises Corbyn over his “silence”, is not only backed by the usual suspects - eg, Sacha Ismail of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. We also find names such as Roland Rance (Jews Against Zionism), Pete Firmin (Labour Representation Committee), Susan Pashkoff (Left Unity) and Fred Leplat (Socialist Resistance). Shame on them all.

A lot of animosity was directed at one of the guest speakers, John Hilary, outgoing executive director of War on Want - how, the SSC wanted to know, is a call for more anti-imperialism going to achieve anything? It was claimed that the Syrian and Russian governments are actually committing genocide, and are responsible for 95% of the collateral damage the country has seen. Obviously a no-fly zone, to be overseen by imperialist military powers, would actually be a prelude to a wider and far more dangerous conflict. After all, it would have to involve the threat, and maybe the reality, of bringing down not only Syrian but Russian aircraft. In the case of Russia that would bring tit-for-tat retaliation.

A speaker attempting to talk about the history of imperialism was also heckled, and was actually accused of supporting genocide. It all got a bit fraught, with the chair, Judith Orr, appearing to lose control of the proceedings. Chris Nineham appeared at the back of the room with two stewards, looking as though they might intervene physically, and the atmosphere seemed to calm down enough for the rest of the contributors to have their say.

The final plenary was pretty similar to the previous sessions, in that it featured many of the same sort of messages. Lindsey German asked why we are spending 2% of GDP on the armed forces, when we could be using it for schools, housing and the NHS. Referring to the future of Stop the War, she said we must redouble our efforts.

At this point the chair referred to the charter that Chris Nineham had announced at the beginning of the day. The STWC had received no representations about this, said the chair, who asked for a show of hands in support of the charter. It was overwhelmingly passed with only a few abstentions.

The final two speakers were Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, who had hot-footed it over from the SUTR conference. Abbott stated the obvious by saying that when we end these wars the world will be a safer place. She made no mention of imperialism or the class interests involved, of course. Having finished her contribution, she was about to sit down when the hecklers started up again. Now, I do not object in principle to heckling, but things were by now getting a bit too much and what we were witnessing was an attempt to disrupt the conference. However, the press, seeing an opportunity, surrounded the hecklers and focused their lenses on Corbyn too. Most people decided they had had enough and drowned out the heckles with chants of “No more war!” When things quietened down, the chair was eventually able to introduce the final speaker, Jeremy Corbyn, with the conference rising in unison and applauding.

With Seamus Milne looking on, Corbyn gave a smooth and well drilled speech. He said we have to learn the lessons of Chilcot about the decision to go to war and we have to deal with the cause of the refugee crisis: stop the bombing - there has to be a peace process, a political solution. More than that, foreign policy should be based on internationalism, human rights and peace, and arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be “suspended”. Carrying on from where he left off over in Friends Meeting House, he said that multicultural societies are better than those based on suspicion and the registering of foreign-born workers. Another standing ovation.

The chair thanked everyone and rather abruptly ended the conference, allowing numerous heated exchanges between the Syrian Solidarity Campaigners and the majority, who were not too pleased at all with this pro-imperialist attempted sabotage.


1. See www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news-comment/2207-anti-war-charter.