Blair's crisis - our opportunity

War with Iraq cannot be far off. At least if George Bush gets his way. Within the next week or two the US will have its armed forces fully in place in the Gulf. The stealth bombers, the cruise missile ships and the 200,000 troops will then be ready for the order to 'go'. As Bush has made clear, the US war machine is not going to be kept waiting round twiddling its thumbs while Hans Blix vainly searches month after month for the illusive 'smoking gun'. Frustrated by his European allies urging a delay, Bush dismisses their reticence as a "bad movie" - and "I'm not interested in watching," he says. So the US administration intends to issue a report at the end of this month which will presumably contain some kind of evidence of Iraq's arsenal of chemical and biological 'weapons of mass destruction'. However, the goalposts are visibly being moved already. Saddam Hussein is to be damned because he has not admitted he possesses these weapons. He is to be assumed guilty unless he proves himself innocent. The US wants this war, is itching for this war. Not just to finish unfinished business and see the back of the 'rogue' regime in Baghdad. The US administration has a grand plan. Not only will pliant satraps be put in place in Iraq - or its fragments - but in due course the US intends to oversee the complete redrawing of the political map of the Middle East. Only that way can a secure hold over the region's precious oil reserves be guaranteed. The desperate Saudi Arabian plan to persuade Saddam Hussein to quietly pack his bags and live out the rest of his life in exile in unlikely to succeed. The same is probably true of the plots to oust Saddam Hussein through some army coup. Nevertheless the war can be stopped. First and foremost by mass action. The simultaneous demonstrations on February 15 across Europe are expected to see literally millions take to the streets. Undoubtedly Britain occupies a strategic position. France and Germany have made it plain that they cannot support a February invasion of Iraq. Effectively there is a split between the European Union and the US. That leaves Tony Blair as the only truly reliable ally Bush has amongst the economically-militarily significant powers. Blair's foreign policy consists of sticking as close to the US as possible in order to wield what is called 'moderating influence'. Some 30,000 British troops have been committed to Gulf War II on this basis. And yet Blair appears to be in a minority in his cabinet. There is also growing discontent in the parliamentary Labour Party. Above all though, the mass of the population in Britain remains deeply unconvinced by Blair's ham-fisted attempt to link Baghdad with ricin and al Qa'eda. They know that Gulf War II is about the US constructing a new world order in its own interests, not anti-terrorism. All this translates into an anti-war majority in Britain. The Stop the War Coalition and the left therefore have both great responsibilities and great opportunities. By building a huge anti-war movement - a movement which is not just content to protest, but will promote militant actions, such as occupations, boycotts and political strikes - the pressure exerted by those below on those above can suddenly create a completely fluid political situation. Marx famously remarked that war acts as a "tocsin", or a signal, for independent working class action. War also greatly speeds up developments. Time moves more quickly. In political circles there is already well founded talk of some kind of crisis for Blair and the Blairite project. Some have drawn parallels with 1931 and the defection of the Labour prime minister Ramsay MacDonald and his co-thinkers to a national government made up of Tories and Liberals. It is certainly possible to imagine a rebellion in the ranks of the Labour Party, driven on by popular anger, creating huge fault lines in the parliamentary party and the cabinet itself. In such circumstances Britain could be forced out of Gulf War II - and this would undoubtedly give a huge boost to the anti-war movement internationally, not least in the US itself, where there is already a sizable and growing mood against Bush's adventure. Where then? Do we pat ourselves on the back and wait for the next war? Certainly not. A crisis in the political establishment caused by an unwilling and forced retreat over Gulf War II must be used as our opportunity. To begin with, we have an immediate duty to keep building the anti-war movement so as to prevent the US invading Iraq or demanding that it gets out. But those amongst us who realise that we must root out the causes of war must go further. From amongst the millions who oppose Gulf War II there must arise a movement committed to ridding the world of the system that causes war. The anti-war movement must merge with anti-capitalism and in the first place look towards radically transforming the political system through massively extending democratic rights and accountability. In Britain we demand the abolition of the whole constitutional monarchy system - the monarch, the House of Lords, MI5, the presidential prime minister, etc - and in its place a fully democratic republic where alone the working class can finally confront the class of capital. Only by successfully pursuing that aim is it possible to envisage a world that leaves behind not only war, but poverty, exploitation and alienation. That requires organisation, a mass socialist party. None of the sects - neither the Socialist Workers Party nor the Socialist Party in England and Wales, Socialist Labour Party, etc - are as presently constituted capable of fulfilling that role. None of them permit democratic debate or allow minorities to become majorities. At present the best hope is the Socialist Alliance. Yet for it to go forward requires a huge influx of militant recruits. The SWP's role in the SA, where it acts as a conservative majority, can be reduced under such circumstances and a pro-party majority emerge. Whatever the particular forms things take, the momentum created by the current situation bodes well for the immediate future. We live in interesting times. Ian Mahoney