Anti-establishment challenge to Blair

On September 28, a week after the disenchanted wing of the establishment, in the shape of the Countryside Alliance, marched through London, it was the turn of the anti-establishment to take to the streets. Up to 300,000 marched from the Embankment to Hyde Park - one of the biggest leftwing demonstrations for decades. While Hyde Park was rapidly filling up, thousands had yet to leave the assembly point, where those waiting to march were queuing all the way back to Waterloo Bridge. Although the anti-establishment's numbers did not quite match those claimed by Blair's reactionary opponents, it was undoubtedly an historic mobilisation. Under conditions of an bloated New Labour majority in the House of Commons and rigid discipline in the Parliamentary Labour Party, discontent - from the right and the left - has found extra-parliamentary expression. On September 22 the pro-foxhunting brigade were met with applause and waves of encouragement from the occupants of the exclusive clubs and five-star hotels in Park Lane, but on Saturday the members and guests could only look on sullenly and complain about the noise and inconvenience. Killing foxes and Iraqis is what the establishment likes to do. The Countryside Alliance had taken care to embrace almost every conceivable rural cause - hunting, farm incomes, post office closures and poor public transport, etc. But the fact that Iain Duncan Smith joined the march along with many front bench Tories said it all. Indeed some 83% of those who protested on September 22 were Tory Party members or supporters. With the Conservative Party marginalised electorally, the most reactionary sections of the population are being drawn towards extra-parliamentary methods of class struggle. September 28 represented the antithesis of the Countryside Alliance. The left-led Stop the War Coalition joined forces with the Muslim Association of Britain (whose original demonstration had been called in support of the Palestinians) to field the other opposition army to Blair and New Labour. While the Countryside Alliance mobilised aristocrats, the squireocracy, farmers big and small, and those retained by them or who ape them, our march attracted large numbers of ordinary workers - disenchanted Labour voters, liberals, pacifists and religious people, as well as leftwing groups of every description, both revolutionary and reformist, British and international. The placards of the STWC were everywhere, with those of the Socialist Alliance also prominent. The muslim contingents were particularly numerous, perhaps accounting for 20% of those who attended. The crowd in Hyde Park listened to trade union leaders, including Bob Crow, Mick Rix and Mark Serwotka. Among the Labour speakers were Alice Mahon, Tam Dalyell, Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway. London mayor Ken Livingstone also spoke, as did representatives of muslim, jewish and christian faiths. Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter addressed the demonstrators to loud applause. Political ideas are in flux. Lessons are being learnt. Change is palpable. Many of the young, muslim protesters would have come into contact with the organised left for the first time. Around 1,000 Weekly Workers were taken on the day, along with CPGB leaflets and other literature. And of course the publications of other left groups were also widely distributed. An ideological battle is being fought. There were for example a number of muslim fundamentalists, carrying banners reading, "Palestine for the muslims" and "From the ocean to the sea" - the equivalent of the Zionist 'From the Nile to the Euphrates'. But overwhelmingly the islamic contingent was made up of mainstream muslims who do not want to be associated in any way with al Qa'eda or the Taliban. Significant numbers of muslims carried copies of Socialist Worker or Socialist Party leaflets many with the top folded over or ripped off, but most without. The tide amongst them flows to the left. Some on the left, most notably comrades from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, have argued that the left should not organise joint events with the Muslim Association of Britain, since it is a reactionary, fundamentalist organisation. Evidence presented for this has consisted of a link to a Pakistani islamist group on the MAB website. However, this is unconvincing. Listed amongst its aims, for example are: "to make muslims aware of their duties towards the society within which they are living"; "to broaden the scope of dialogue between the different cultures and faiths in order to serve society and humanity"; and "to improve the relationship between the muslim community and British institutions". The MAB newspaper Inspire, which was distributed by the thousand on the march, featured articles by John Pilger, Scott Ritter and Robert Fisk and talked of the "atrocities" of September 11 2001. The fact that so many muslims came along is extremely positive. The Muslim Association of Britain has provided the left with a new mass audience, but there is no chance of the MAB dominating the anti-war movement. Leave aside the fact that less than two percent of the British population owes any affiliation to islam. What would happen if, for instance, North Korea was next in the firing line? The MAB could hardly portray that as part of an anti-islamic crusade. The anti-war movement would be led by the left. The real question is, under what programme? Is the anti-war movement simply an anti-war movement? Or must it become something deeper, something more dangerous? A movement that does not simply protest at different phases of the war without end, but aims at causes and proposes cures. This is where, of necessity, socialism comes in. Peter Manson