Building for November 18

Tony Blair?s pro-war speech to the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday might have won him a few plaudits in the media. However he is clearly losing the war on the home front - the war for hearts and minds. Opposition to the United States-United Kingdom ?crusade? against terrorism is gaining ground. All over the country - in almost every town and city - Stop the War coalitions are being formed. We have even seen the launch on October 24 of Labour Against the War, a group of Labour backbench MPs and members of the party?s National Executive Committee. Support for the war has dropped from an estimated 74% to 61% (The Guardian October 30). And up to one hundred thousand people are expected to take part in the next national anti-war demonstration on November 18 in London.

Three weeks into the air strikes against Afghanistan, things are not looking good for Bush and Blair militarily. The allies are rapidly running out of things to bomb. The Taliban has not collapsed as was originally predicted. Nor has bin Laden been captured by dissidents or some elite snatch squad. As for the Northern Alliance, its big break through has not materialised, despite heavy bombing of Taliban frontline positions. Added to that, social tensions are palpably increasing in the muslim and Arab world - Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, etc, are extremely fragile and a take-over by the forces of extreme - counterrevolutionary - reaction cannot be discounted.

US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently stated that bin Laden might never be caught - ?It?s a big world, there are lots of countries. He?s got a lot of money, he?s got a lot of people who support him and I just don?t know whether we?ll be successful? (USA Today October 25). Though forced to withdraw these remarks, a quick end to the war seems out of the question. We are being warned that it might take ?three or four years?, as Anthony Boyce, chief of the defence staff, put it. Blair is trying to blame the ?three weeks blues? for the drop in public support. But it is getting harder by the day to justify bombing a people for years to come who have been living in the most appalling conditions for the last two decades - not least due to the counterrevolutionary war in the 1980s sponsored by the US itself.

Under these circumstances, it is good to see the left taking the lead of the anti-war movement and beginning to make a real impact on British politics. Effectively the lead banner has passed from the pacifist CND to the Stop the War Coalition.

The coalition is formally committed to being ?a democratic organisation? which ?welcomes participation by all those opposed to the war? (Stop the War Coalition No1 November 2001). That is the right approach and one that delivers long term results. The sectarianism that has blighted our common efforts must be rejected.

It was therefore disappointing to say the least that the October 28 conference of the Stop the War Coalition saw both the CPGB and the Alliance for Workers? Liberty being excluded from the newly elected executive - for disagreeing with the majority line.

There is little doubt that opposition to the war will continue to grow and whole new layers of people will enter political activity - so much for stupid insistence that revolutionary socialists and communist must prioritise economic or trade union demands. But what these people will be looking for is answers and the more of them that there are the more our weak point and silences will be subject to scrutiny and attack. So the left is presented with more than an opportunity. It is also presented with a duty, a duty to correctly answer the big questions that the mass of newly activated people are asking. For example, there is widespread conviction that ?something must be done? in response to the attacks in America. But what? Are UN-sanctions any better than bombs? Are we fighting to stop this war because we support the Taliban? Should the working class in Britain disrupt the war effort? Is there a role for the Afghan people in all of this?

It was those weaknesses that the joint resolution presented by the CPGB and AWL sought to address on October 28 - opposition to imperialism and attacks on muslims, migrants, etc, condemnation of the terrorist attacks on the USA, opposition to the Taliban, for democracy and secularism everywhere. Unfortunately our resolution was not only voted down - by the SWP, Socialist Party, International Socialist Group, Workers Power, etc - but punishment was meted out by the SWP in the form of exclusion. A resolution by the Worker Communist Party of Iraq and its sister organisation in Iran which criticised ?Islamic terrorism? was also defeated by the conference. But wrongly the comrades then proceeded to exclude themselves. ?We cannot work in the leadership of a coalition that is not able to stand up against islamic fundamentalism and the Taliban?, they declared.

There seems to a belief that the less politics we have the better. ?Of course as an individual I oppose fundamentalism and I oppose the Taliban. But we will have more people on our marches if we do not raise too much politics?, said Suresh Grover from the National Civil Rights Movement. For such comrades, the movement is everything, the aim nothing - a theme repeated over and over again on the day. ?Let?s not down the winning formula for our broad movement with all sorts of political demands?, argued the SWP?s leading theoretician Alex Callinicos.

Incredibly, Mark Hoskisson of Workers Power opposed our call for ?democracy and secularism? and for ?freedom of religion and freedom from religious bigotry.? Comrade Hoskisson said this was ?a contradiction that confuses the argument?. The call for secularism will alienate ?the hundreds and thousands of muslims on our marches?.

Rejecting the separation of the state and religion as an aim - a principle upheld by the American and French revolutions and which can unite believers and non-believers - goes hand-in-hand with siding with the Taliban regime for many comrades, who adhere to what they understand as orthodox Trotskyism. In the case of Workers Power - though there are internal divisions - this is perfectly open. The comrades freely chatter about fighting alongside the Taliban (though unlike some British muslim fundamentalists they do nothing treasonous except write about it in their press). In the case of others, such as the SWP, the political support they offer the Taliban is hidden.

This hidden political support does explain why the SWP stubbornly refused to use the word ?condemn? when it came to the terrorist attacks on the USA on September 11. Under pressure, they buckled on October 28. Instead of the earlier formulation ?we do not condone the attacks in New York? our statement of aims now reads ?we condemn the attacks in New York.? But why not Pennsylvania and what about Washington where over 200 people died? Was the Pentagon somehow a legitimate target for bin Laden? When challenged, Lindsey German assured us that: ?Of course we criticise these attacks as well. When we say New York, we mean America.? If that is the case why not say so? And ?criticism?, comrade German, is not the same as ?condemnation?, as you well know.

The election of the executive committee represented a step back. The SWP clearly had made the decision beforehand to exclude the CPGB and the AWL for daring to put forward an alternative point of view. There are now some 40 people on the new executive - virtually everybody nominated was voted through amongst them Carlos Rule, member of the Stalin Society and the Socialist Labour Party. The Communist Party of Britain is represented by John Haylett, editor of the Morning Star. There are two representatives of Labour Left Briefing, four SWP members, two members of the Socialist Party and a number of Socialist Alliance independents - amongst the better known ones are Tariq Ali and Mike Marqusee. Jeremy Corbyn MP and George Galloway MP are also on board. All of these people should, of course, be on the executive. It can only improve a coalition if a variety of different views are heard.

The only people the SWP majority voted against were Tina Becker (CPGB) and Martin Thomas (AWL). When Anne McShane of the CPGB proposed to include all those nominated, comrade German made clear that for her we had committed a cardinal sin: ?How can you expect to be voted on the executive committee if you don?t agree with our aims and objectives?? But till a week ago the SWP told us that they disagreed with using the ?condemn? word! Perhaps they still do? Moreover the CPGB actually abstained on the final vote on the coalition?s statement of aims. Having lost our amendments, we thereby indicated our willingness to build the movement, albeit around official aims which we consider one-sided and incomplete (the AWL did vote against).

Of course, the SWP majority had no objections to the comrades from Iraq and Iran being on the committee had they not withdrawn - although they too had voted against the majority?s resolution. So comrade German?s defence of exclusion lacks any consistency. It is a combination of opportunism, spite and arrogance.

The SWP is still trying to run things as if they had private property rights. Organisations allied to them in the Socialist Alliance are punished for no other reason than having a different opinion. This is not the politics of the future. This is pre-Socialist Alliance sectarianism.

The SWP has already paid a price for such heavy handed behaviour. ?How can you propose to build a broad movement and then exclude the minority position?? an outraged comrade from Labour Left Briefing asked after the vote. To their credit a lot of other comrades, including SWPers, were also uneasy after the conference. And it must be said that the comrades from other left groups and a number of independents did support both the CPGB and AWL nominations or at least did not vote against them.

Communists will continue to press the case for inclusion. Not simply out of our concern to have an executive voice but because the Stop the War Coalition can only but be weakened by excluding minority viewpoints who also oppose the US-UK ?war on terrorism?. Communists will also do our utmost to ensure that November 18 sees a huge turnout and that the Stop the War Coalition is built into an unstoppable force.

Tina Becker