Hidden alternative

The Socialist Workers Party left at home its Socialist Alliance clothing on February 11 and came to the packed 'No to war, yes to peace' meeting in Hammersmith dressed up as the Stop the War Coalition. Outside the town hall, posted like sentries, two Socialist Worker sellers. Inside, two stalls - one for the coalition, one for overtly SWP literature. The Socialist Alliance, invisible - not an application form in sight. Wilful neglect by the main SA player, in an event where the desire to remove Blair and change the way we are governed bubbled up from the floor repeatedly. The initiative for the meeting came from local Labour MP Iain Coleman, who rang the coalition asking for an opportunity to speak publicly against the coming war on Iraq. No doubt he finds it necessary to express the massive anti-war feeling of his constituents - his promise to vote against war on Iraq should parliament be offered a say was endorsed unanimously by his local Labour Party constituency committee. But this also shows us how the Labour left can rise from the dead and put itself at the head of any mass movement which may appear, upstaging the SA and misleading us into safe, reformist channels. Like West London CND platform speaker and Labour Party loyalist John Grigg, Coleman argued that "no substantial case has been made to justify a military assault on Iraq", implying, of course, that he may yet be convinced by fresh evidence. John Grigg wanted to "weigh up very carefully" whether war was justified. For him, war to remove the "odious dictator" will be OK when "we are absolutely certain Saddam Hussein is about to attack his neighbour". There is such a thing as a just war, he insisted. But, not understanding that war is fought for class interests, he displayed his confusion with an untheorised trip down memory lane. Forgetting that Britain was still defending its empire, "World War II was something of a just war," he said. To its credit, the local STWC broadened the scope of the meeting, linking the anti-war movement to the fight against service cuts and closures and to the pay struggles of local government workers and firefighters, with Fire Brigades Union official Linda Smith among the platform speakers. Labour-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council's closure plans for the Janet Adegoke sports centre and Brook Green day nursery came under attack in the opening remarks of chairperson and Unison steward Cathy Cross: "Billions for war, no money for services or firefighters," she said, prompting a dialogue across the floor. "Who shall we vote for then?" was quickly answered by "Socialist Alliance!", giving a cutting edge to the rest of the discussion. SWP paper-seller comrade Kelly admitted to being "ashamed" that he voted Labour in 1997: "I thought a Labour government would have shown more independence from America." So the lesser-evil method got him nowhere. The real question is not what we are against, but what we are for. Playwright Will Mord called for "unity of purpose in the coalition" and the need to create an "alternate government". As Linda Smith commented, "It says a lot about our so-called democracy that we have to (quite rightly) congratulate our MP for being brave enough to speak his mind." Unison steward Stan Keable, announcing his political affiliation to both the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Alliance, argued that Bush and Blair do not want war. They prefer peace: they will impose their will without war if they can. But war is merely the continuation of politics by violent means, as Clausewitz explained. "Do you want an imperialist peace?" he demanded rhetorically. We need "regime change" in the United Kingdom as well as Iraq, he went on, and in the world order. Vote buying in the United Nations is paralleled by the disgusting patronage of "Tony's cronies" in the UK. The constitutional monarchy system gives the prime minister dictatorial powers under the royal prerogative - powers to go to war without any vote. This is not genuine democracy, rule by the people, he said, but merely a means for "gaining your consent". Linda Smith also told us how British firefighters identified closely with the 350 New York firefighters killed in the 9/11 atrocity, and how this had produced a reluctance to oppose Bush and Blair's 'war on terror', a reluctance that was being overcome now that the firefighters, through their dispute, recognised Blair's government as their enemy. Money is available in plenty for war, but not for fire safety. "We are not trained economists," she said, "but we are not stupid", and called for everyone to go to Downing Street on the day war begins. Leading local SWPer John Hextall had the last word, anticipating a much bigger demonstration on February 15 than the 400,000 last September: "It's about what we do after Saturday as well," he said, but only called for more of the same. "We must build a huge campaign - a movement that not only stops this war, but goes on to build a much better society for our children." How this task of building a new society is to be approached he left unspoken. Not surprising for a revolutionary organisation which has no programme. Ian Farrell