Manipulation and chaos

A week in politics is, as they say, a long time. But two weeks seems almost criminal. Why did it take so long to set up this coalition? In a period where the whole of public life has rotated around the attack on the World Trade Center, the organised left seems to have reacted awfully slowly.

Many people expected the Socialist Alliance to take a lead. There are reports of dozens of SA members pushing for the alliance to start organising. Various e-mail discussion lists were bursting with comrades asking for some guidance from the leadership.

Unfortunately though, the biggest SA component, the Socialist Workers Party, decided that it does not want the alliance in the forefront of the anti-war movement. The SWP instead arranged for one of its front organisations, Globalise Resistance, to approach the pacifistic Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to set up the coalition. While local SA members were wondering why their requests for emergency meetings on the war were either not answered or rejected by SWP members, it became increasingly clear that the SWP leadership were in negotiations with the CND - secretly, of course and without consulting any of their Socialist Alliance partners. The official SWP line - given to critical voices pushing for SA meetings - was: ?Let?s wait and see if an anti-war campaign emerges which we can all join.?

Tuesday?s meeting, however, was a bit of a giveaway. Nigel Chamberlain, press officer of CND, described ?how closely and productively CND has worked with Globalise Resistance and the SWP in setting up this campaign?. Lindsey German, editor of the SWP?s monthly Socialist Review, chaired the meeting - and, boy, did she chair it! First she pointed out that, ?It was me, a member of Globalise Resistance, and John Rees [her partner and editor of International Socialist] who organised this meeting and the big rally on Friday.? Reason enough for her, it seemed, to run the meeting in an utterly undemocratic manner.

After introductions by the usual suspects - Tony Benn, Tariq Ali and Jeremy Corbyn - she only allowed seven speakers to intervene from the floor - three of whom were members of the SWP. Only after these interventions did she tell the audience that this was supposed to have been a discussion on the statement circulated beforehand. A lot of people were unhappy with this, seeing as there was no means of putting motions or amendments to the meeting.

Comrade German, however, would not hear them and tried to move to a vote. The only way some of the people present were able to make their opposition heard was by ?hijacking? the microphone. Up to five people at a time crowded round, trying to put motions forward - with Lindsey German fuming in the background. As there seemed to be only one steward - a rather petite female SWP member - the protestors had their way. It turned out that most of the proposals were actually quite harmless from an SWP point of view. For example, one woman suggested that ?women, gays and lesbians, disabled people? be added to point 4 of the ?Suggested aims and objectives? (see below). A shamefaced Lindsey German was of course in favour of such a nice motion.

When comrades from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! put forward a condemnation of British imperialism, comrade German incredibly tried to brush it aside without any debate: ?I don?t think that should be on it,? she said and wanted to move on. Only after large parts of the meeting erupted into disbelieving laughter and heckling did she allow a vote. Not surprisingly, the SWP majority in the audience voted it down.

By now the meeting had degenerated considerably, with dozens of people leaving the hall. But the best was still to come: ?As we have already voted to have a number of officers I?d like to read out a slate we would like to put to the meeting.? Dominated by prominent lefties like Tariq Ali, Hillary Wainwright, Liz Davies and her good self, comrade German read out the list of around 10 people. There were no written copies and there was no chance to put forward another name - or a different slate altogether. ?We have to move on if we want to form working groups after this. Can I see everybody in favour of this slate?? Again, the SWPers followed the line and voted it through. A third or so of the people present did not even bother to vote - they were visibly alienated by the whole procedure.

Finally, comrade German called on John Rees in an effort to calm down the meeting. ?This is not the time to talk about differences,? he shouted. ?If we want to have a chance to influence the tens of thousands of people who are against this war, we have to keep our heads tonight.? A little democracy might have been a good idea too, comrade.

Tina Becker

Suggested aims and objectives

  1. The aim of the coalition should be very simple: to stop the war currently declared by the United States and its allies against ?terrorism?. We in no way condone the attacks on New York and we feel the greatest compassion for those who lost their life on September 11. But any war will simply add to the numbers of innocent dead, cause untold suffering, political and economic instability on a global scale, increase racism and result in attacks on civil liberties. The aims of the campaign would be best expressed in the name Stop The War Coalition.
  2. Supporters of the Coalition, whether organisations or individuals, will of course be free to develop their own analyses and organise their own actions. But there will be many important occasions when united initiatives around broad ?Stop the war? slogans can mobilise the greatest numbers.
  3. The campaign should have weekly open meetings that can divide into working groups as appropriate and a small number of officers who report directly to the meetings.
  4. We call on all peace activists and organisations, trade unionists, campaigners and labour movement organisations to join with us in building a mass movement that can stop the drive to war.