Stop the war coalition

Democracy to the fore

Over 300 people attended the Stop the War Coalition teach-in on December 10. While the largest component was undoubtedly made up of Socialist Workers Party supporters, other Socialist Alliance comrades were also present, as were a smattering of 'official communists' and non-socialists. However, it is not so much what was said at City University, but what was not that lingers in the mind.

Some of the invited speakers did not turn up, perhaps feeling that 'peace' is descending on Afghanistan - so whither the anti-war movement? Because of this, the first sessions had to be hastily rearranged. 'Racism, islam and the war' was merged with 'The war and civil liberties'. This was introduced by Suresh Grover, chair of the National Civil Rights Movement, an organisation which emerged from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson (whose report on so-called 'institutionalised racism' actually marked a qualitative development in the ideology of institutionalised anti-racism). Comrade Grover focused on the situation before September 11 - where racist attacks were already on the increase, he said.

After September 11, argued comrade Grover, the language used to prosecute the 'anti-terrorist' war had encouraged more racists to come out of the woodwork. He also claimed that "islamophobia is not recognised by the anti-racist left" - citing a controversy over including a muezzin to call the faithful to prayer on the November 18 demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Comrade Grover alleged that if a christian priest had got up and performed a religious ritual there would have been no controversy or excitement. Not convincing. If anything, the opposite is more likely to be true, given the weight these days of politically correct, guilt-ridden, liberal anti-racism.

The comrade went on to criticise the left, particularly the SWP, stating: "The Anti-Nazi League comes out at demonstrations, but does not do the hard, day-to-day work". Grover also complained of what he saw as the tendency of left groups to use "community struggles" in order to build their own groups. Naturally, there was no problem with left groups trying to get bigger, but for comrade Grover the particular goal of a community struggle had to come above mere recruitment (and the struggle for socialism itself as well?).

Comrade John Rees of the SWP did a lively - but poorly attended - opening on 'Imperialism and globalisation'. His presentation blamed the present economic mess that much of the world languishes in entirely on imperialism and corporate greed. He put the responsibility for the creation of reactionary regimes throughout the world on imperialism, but laid no emphasis on their anti-working class nature, stressing instead their 'anti-imperialist' credentials - the clear implication being that though these regimes may have their faults, their anti-imperialism was both genuine and progressive. Deflected permanent revolution anyone?

Meanwhile, in the other session the real politics of fundamentalist islam were being buried by a concern for the rights of muslims in Britain and a desire to excuse reactionary islamicism as an understandable response to western exploitation. Business as usual then. However, a question from the floor about the improvement in women's rights since the fall of the Taliban posed a threat to the cosy consensus. An SWP member explained - correctly - that the Northern Alliance was a brutal and reactionary coalition that had no intention of defending the rights of women. But no word of criticism of the Taliban - though whether that is because the SWP comrade thinks they are now irrelevant or because they were anti-imperialist was left unanswered.

A speaker from Workers Power raised the point that Afghan women's organisations and the remnants of the "Stalinist" People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan opposed all the sides in the Bonn 'peace' talks as being fundamentally anti-women. The WP comrade said we should be supporting secular movements. But, if that is the case, why did WP previously support the Taliban on the grounds that they were resisting imperialism?

In a much better attended second session, Mike Marqusee spoke on the relationship between India and Pakistan and on the anti-war movement in the USA. This rather unwieldy combination of topics was due to the non-appearance of Tariq Ali, who was meant to have spoken on 'Afghanistan and after'.

Comrade Marqusee drew attention to the very unstable relations between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and how the outcome of the war in Afghanistan had potentially swung American support away from the Pakistan military and towards the Hindu chauvinist BJP regime in India. Also the BJP has an active anti-muslim programme in a country which has the second largest muslim community in the world and is a nuclear power to boot. It used to be Pakistan that was portrayed as US imperialism's stooge - now India?

Comrade Marqusee's assessment of the US anti-war movement can best be described as downbeat-upbeat. Although the warmongers are virtually unassailable at the moment, if you compare the current anti-war movement now with Vietnam anti-war movement, then it has to be said that it got off to a much quicker start.

During the debate, Jonathan Farley, a former Green Party candidate in the United States, pointed to the 90% approval rating for the war in the US. He blamed a lot of the hostility toward the anti-war movement on ignorance, and his remarks tended to pander to crude anti-Americanism. Unfortunately, narrow jibes about Americans and their unthinking patriotism seemed to strike a chord with some in the room. But just imagine what the reaction would have been in Britain if a hijacked plane was deliberately flown into a London tower block containing thousands of people. And let us not forget the wave of jingoistic hysteria at the time of the Falklands War. Americans have no monopoly over chauvinism.

Rather chillingly, comrade Marqusee predicted that the hawks within the US administration will demand that the war must be extended to include Somalia, Iraq and other 'rogue' states. Far from the present anti-war movement being in its final stage, we should be preparing for a long struggle in which American public opinion could over time swing to our side.

Comrade Marqusee closed the session with a quotable epigram, citing the new Pentagon military doctrine of "full-spectrum dominance" and encouraging us all to meet it with "full-spectrum resistance".

The question of democracy was not directly raised at the session. Nonetheless, just before the end, comrade Christoph of the International Bolshevik Tendency inadvertently raised the question by proposing that what we really needed to be doing was waging an anti-imperialist struggle. Does that mean that we should support all anti-US struggles, no matter how reactionary its leadership or programme? At this point, an SWP supporter stated that we could not build an anti-war movement based on anti-imperialism, as apparently that would mean automatically excluding non-socialists.

The point is, rather ironically, that if your idea of 'anti-imperialism' (as it appears to be for WP, SWP, IBT, etc) means backing whatever ultra-reactionary happens to be in conflict with US imperialism, then, yes, you will alienate mass opinion - or indeed anybody who happens to be sane. But if that anti-imperialism is based on a call to defend all secular, democratic forces, the rights of women, minorities, etc, then you have a programme that can gain hegemony over a wide range of opinion - including the majority of workers in Britain and the US.

During this session a muslim interjected that the US had been pursuing an anti-islam policy for many years. This response could equally come from poor and working class christians, jews, hindus, buddhists - or atheists for that matter. The danger of singling out muslims is that, of course, is separates them from the rest of humanity. Worst still, it could be used to back the core message of Osama bin Laden and his followers - that there is a Zionist-jewish-christian imperialist conspiracy against the muslim/Arab world. Politics of the madhouse.

In reality, imperialism always endeavours to subvert and stifle all genuinely democratic movements throughout the world. Right through the day, we had been discussing imperialism purely in terms of its economic and military strengths and weaknesses rather than in terms of its political programme. Socialism as the mass democratic movement of human liberation led by the working class, especially  in the most capitalistically advanced countries, was not mentioned.

Once again, we see how the left fails to understand the absolute centrality of the fight for consistent and extreme democracy - without which socialism is impossible.

Phil Kent and Mike Metelits