Anti-war movement is movement for democracy

To be there was truly to participate in writing a new chapter of history. The medley of statistics are well known but lose nothing from the repetition. An unprecedented 30 million worldwide took part on February 15. There were over 600 simultaneous protests on every continent - from Antarctica to Iceland and from Tel Aviv to Havana. The main mobilisations are as staggering as they are inspiring. In France there were marches in 72 cities and towns with over 200,000 rallying in Paris alone. Nearly 500,000 attended the Berlin demonstration which culminated in a huge gathering in the Tiergarten. Damascus saw a demonstration of 200,000. Numbers were even higher in countries pledged to a "coalition of the willing". In Spain - crucially Madrid and Barcelona - five million protested against George Bush's "doormat", José Maria Aznar. Over 500,000 marched in Sydney against Gulf War II and the government of John Howard - surpassing Friday's 150,000 figure in Melbourne - in what was Australia's biggest demonstration. Italy's organisers estimate that three million "invaded" Rome. Targeted, once again, was not only Bush, but the enemy at home - the billionaire prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Democratic opinion is recovering in the heart of the beast after the terrible trauma of September 11 2001. Los Angeles had up to 60,000 marching, while New York witnessed a huge rally of over 400,000. In Glasgow 90,000 were out, in Belfast too many thousands demonstrated, and, of course, between 1.5 and two million took part in the mammoth demonstration which packed London's Hyde Park - Britain's largest ever political protest. Undoubtedly what we are witnessing is a people's movement. True to its own self-made obsessions, much of the bourgeois media focused in on various celebrities who turned out for the day - Vanessa Redgrave, Jesse Jackson, Bianca Jagger, Ms Dynamite, Pete Postlethwaite, Tim Robbins, Chris Eubank, Jarvis Cocker, Kylie Minogue, etc. Rupert Murdoch's mouthpiece The Sunday Times even claimed it was "middle England" which massed in London. But February 15 was no expanded rerun of the Countryside Alliance. These marchers were not natural Tories, the little England upper middle class, disenfranchised aristocrats and their forelock-tugging rural retainers. February 15 primarily and overwhelmingly saw the mobilisation of four main social forces - young people at school and college, the progressive urban working and middle classes, the muslim population and the labour movement - in other words, an anti-war rebellion from below. February 15 was implicitly a movement for democracy. The figures speak for themselves. A recent ICM poll for the BBC showed 45% believing that Britain should play no part in any war with Iraq - with or without a second UN security council resolution. Fewer than 10% think that it would be right to go ahead in a US "coalition of the willing" (Evening Standard February 14). A few days later - after the London protest - The Guardian reported that opposition to the war - with or without the UN - had risen to a majority of 52% (February 18). Considering the well publicised disquiet in the ruling circles of Russia, France and China - permanent members of the security council who have a veto - a second UN resolution is far from certain. Needless to say though, the US is going all out to whip all security council members - permanent and temporary alike - into line. France and Germany have been lampooned and lambasted in very undiplomatic language by Donald Rumsfeld. But perhaps - as with Turkey - a share of the spoils might persuade. In parallel, weak countries on the security council, such as Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon and Guinea, are being bullied and bribed. Depending on how the haggling at the UN goes, somewhere between half and 90% of the population in Britain could find themselves pitted against their government. And in all probability war will be launched without the bother of a vote in a docile and now thoroughly unrepresentative parliament. Blair will simply deploy the royal prerogative. Put another way, with, but especially without, the UN, there exists a gaping democratic deficit. Programme So it is quite clear that fighting to stop the rush to war is inextricably bound up with the struggle for democracy - which alone provides a bridge to socialism and a world system that guarantees an end to war and the exploitation of one by another. That is why in the immediate section of our draft programme - ie, that section which logically presents and briefly outlines what we fight for under today's capitalist conditions - there is a whole raft of demands which, taken together, are designed to remove all the checks and balances against democracy that have been invented, renewed and maintained over the years by the ruling class. Our programme is designed to concentrate the maximum possible social force against our main enemy, the constitutional monarchy system and, as the struggle organises and teaches the working class, society is thereby readied for the epochal shift from capitalist to communist social relations. In place of the quasi-democratic United Kingdom and its House of Lords, presidential prime minister, standing army, appointed judges, secretive bureaucracy, etc, there must be something very different. A fully democratic, federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales with a unicameral executive-legislative body consisting of members elected by universal suffrage. The key is control from below of what is going on above. There should be annual elections. And to keep them in touch with the everyday realities of life those who are elected must be paid only the average wage of a skilled worker. Moreover, to safeguard the popular will and weaken the power of the state to the barest minimum, we advocate the instant recallability of all elected officials and the replacement of the standing army by a militia system. Our programme also demands that major policy decisions - war, for example - be decided by referendum. With such a programme of extreme democracy in mind communists take issue with those on the left - 'economists' or 'strikists' - who believe that the anti-war movement should mainly prioritise the horrendous cost of attacking Iraq. Like cost accountants these comrades worthily demand spending on "pay, jobs, education and health" instead of the "war for oil". But, however well intentioned, such leftwing bookkeeping reduces the anti-war movement to the level of trade union bargaining rather than energising and elevating it politically by providing a programme derived from the best experience of the real movement of the working class over the last 150 years. Equally barren and useless when it comes to the living struggle are those sectarians who feel themselves duty-bound to dismiss the Stop the War Coalition out of hand. The presence of the Green Party on the steering committee, co-sponsorship of February 15 by the Muslim Association of Britain and having Charles Kennedy speaking at Hyde Park are said to irredeemably constitute it a 'popular front' - which must not be touched by true socialists, only denounced. What is a popular front? Essentially it involves those in the workers' movement, usually organised in a party, promoting, supporting or joining a pro-capitalist government. An example would be the Labour Party's coalitions with the Tories and Liberals in World War I and World War II. Another would be the 'official communists' from the mid-1930s. Under the command of Joseph Stalin a strategy of aligning themselves with the 'less reactionary' wing of imperialism was pursued. Putting into power what was euphemistically called a people's government - which would not challenge the capitalist system of exploitation - was the goal. Authentic communists remember and learn from France and Spain in 1930s, 1939-45 Britain and Chile in 1973 and rightly stand utterly opposed to any such rotten class collaborationism. For the sectarians, however, the only alliance they are prepared to positively consider is the 'united front': ie, a bloc between communists on the one side and on the other reformist or centrist parties of the working class. Examples cover everything from trade unions to soviets. But, at least for those of us who base themselves on the Marxist tradition, any such impoverishing limitation on our strategy and tactics to the workers' movement alone is self-defeating. We do not, and cannot, confine ourselves to the monotone black and white of united and popular fronts. There are all manner of other alliances: ie, campaigns, actions, committees, protest groups, deals and tactical options. Hence communists experience no problem whatsoever in entering alliances - including strategic alliances - with non-working class forces. The revolutionary partnership of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels themselves advocated a revolutionary people's alliance in 1848-49 Germany between the workers, peasants and the lower middle classes. The Bolsheviks too fought hard to secure a long-term alliance with Russia's peasantry. They also championed the rights of and participated in joint protests on behalf of students, religious minorities, women and oppressed nationalities. Later, to advance the interests of the revolution, they even concluded a pact - a very restricted and short-term alliance - with Germany. So in our opinion it is perfectly legitimate to fight around particular concrete demands alongside fleeting or transient allies, such as the Green Party, MAB and, yes, even Charles Kennedy. Whether we would vote for Green Party representatives on the STWC committee, argue for MAB co-sponsorship of February 15 or invite the leader of the Liberal Democrats to speak from the platform at Hyde Park is a purely tactical question. There is no principle involved. The art lies in judging politically who on balance gains most. Certainly in the case of Kennedy we in the CPGB believes that an error was made in giving him a nationwide platform and an undeserved reputation as a peacenik. The establishment faces a huge problem over Iraq. Neither of their two main parties has a hold over, let alone heads, the anti-war movement. Iain Duncan Smith and his Tory Party is virtually indistinguishable from Blair and New Labour. If it is possible they are even more craven to George Bush and the US. That leaves the system - political and economic - extraordinarily vulnerable to the anti-war majority below. So things might easily get out of hand. This is where Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats might find their moment. Kennedy entertains high governmental ambitions and no doubt, given the opportunity, would present himself as both the voice of the anti-war waverers and the saviour of the constitutional monarchy system in its hour of need. Needless to say, as indicated on February 15, he is not really anti-war. In all likelihood Kennedy will oppose the war - equivocally, half-heartedly and cynically - as long it serves to further his ambitions and does not endanger the political and economic system. Far from being given a platform, this Charlie-come-lately should have been quietly sidelined. Own account That aside, the task of communists and their fellow revolutionary socialists in the anti-war movement cannot be confined to signing up those in and around the labour movement. Our task consists in helping to mobilise the widest numbers - not just the solidly anti-war 52% but the uncertain 30% to 40% - into an active anti-war movement which can learn through its own experience that the UK urgently needs a regime change. With up to two million marching in London on February 15, the majority of the population opposed to war against Iraq and plans in the offing for mass civil disobedience and occupations, regime change in Britain is beginning to shift from the shadows of abstraction into the realm of practical politics. And when millions upon millions of people - normally politically inert and divided by sectionalism, gender stereotyping, religion, nationality, football team, etc - for the first time enter the field of direct struggle on their own account, they learn in a matter of weeks what would otherwise take years or even decades of propaganda. Events suddenly speed up. Time shortens. Minds change. In the rapids of political struggle and mass involvement old loyalties, leaders and institutions are questioned, discarded or transformed. New ones are tested, made or are adopted. That is how communists view the MAB's imams, the soppy co-leaders of the Green Party and Kennedy's ego. Our concern lies not with them but in winning their mass base - which is now in dynamic and progressive flux. That can only be done tactically - not through creating distance, but proximity. How are we going to stop the war and rid ourselves of the quasi-democratic constitutional monarchy system? Biding our time till the next general election would be a complete diversion. However, mass demonstrations, and even political strikes called by the TUC, are not in themselves sufficient. To provide definite answers when it comes to 'hows', 'whats' and 'whens' one must wait upon the real movement of events themselves - in which the doubled and redoubled efforts of communists and revolutionary socialists will doubtless play a part. Meanwhile the anti-war majority must be organised democratically from the top to the bottom if it is to successfully meet the challenges the coming weeks and months present. Democracy, accountability and recallability must begin at home, within our own organisations. Blair's government unquestionably faces a profound crisis. By sticking like glue to the US, Blair has alienated "old Europe", fallen out with Jacques Chirac and Gerhardt Schröder, divided Nato and seen his personal popularity ratings plummet. He may indeed be "risking everything" by determinedly joining his fate to that of the USA as a matter of 'conviction'. Parallels with Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax come to mind. So does the ignominious fall of Anthony Eden after the 1956 Suez fiasco. However, what the present situation also poses it a deep split in the Labour Party itself. Perhaps something along the lines of Ramsay MacDonald's defection in 1931 and the subsequent disaffiliation of the Independent Labour Party a year later, perhaps something bigger, involving trade unions, as well as individual members and MPs. The London 'Where is Labour going?' meeting on March 3 - with George Galloway (see interview), Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, Christine Blower and John Rees - could prove to be a harbinger of what is to come. Matters will be decided not only here in Britain but, crucially, by how the war against Iraq actually goes. Military planners - in the Pentagon and Whitehall - say things are on course to run smoothly and swiftly. Saddam Hussein can be ousted within a few weeks. Such an optimal outcome is buttressed by reports of army dissatisfaction in Iraq, arrests in the high command and the use of the Iranian exile group the Mujahedin-e-Khal as terror troops. This might be hard news. On the other hand it could simply be wishful thinking or black propaganda. There remains the distinct possibility that things could go badly. War, after all, is not an exact science, more an art, and as such is highly unpredictable and full of unforeseen surprises, accidents and upsets. In the last analysis it is not military hardware that decides, but politics - that is why the US lost in Vietnam and the forces of Ho Chi Minh won. Evidently the US is not fighting for democracy in Iraq or combating terrorism. The post-Saddam regime - as envisaged by US officials - keeps in power the Sunni minority and maintains the second-class position of the Shia majority. The US has also shown itself ready to sacrifice the Kurdish autonomous area to Turkish sub-imperialism. Nor, despite the efforts of Blair and Bush, has any link between Saddam Hussein and September 11 and al Qa'eda been established. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein is in fact an integral part of the US drive to impose its new world order and export its crisis of overproduction. The Bush administration shows every intention of wanting to roll up the entire map of the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. After the region had been suitably rearranged the US would be in firm control of vital oil reserves and have easy access to the oil-rich Caspian Sea and the southern republics of the former Soviet Union. That way, US super-imperialism hopes to maintain its dominant position over potential world-historic rivals such as Russia, the EU, China and India. The suggestion emanating from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri that modern capitalism has left behind imperialism and moved on to a higher, non-national phase of "empire" is quite obviously entirely misplaced. Under these circumstances it is not inconceivable that the Iraqi population - including the 700,000-strong regular army - might actually put up stiff resistance. Gulf War II is not going to be fought on desert wastes - perfect terrain for US armour and bomber and strike aircraft. Unlike the pigeon shoot of 1991, this invasion is designed to achieve regime change and therefore must head straight for Baghdad. That could mean house by house fighting and enormous losses on both sides. In military terms cities are like forests - a death trap. Bombing and shelling Baghdad's buildings will do nothing to reduce their value as fortifications, defensive obstacles and cover. Mines, booby traps, sniper positions, the Republican Guard and the newly mobilised civilian militia could cause the US and British forces no end of trouble. Another possibility is that instead of the US getting its wished for generals' coup - which just removes Saddam Hussein and his immediate circle - the Iraqi masses will find their opportunity to sweep away the whole Ba'athist regime and its oppressive apparatus. Such a scenario is one we communists earnestly look towards. First deal with the Ba'athist government, then, with the active sympathy of the whole world behind them, the imperialist invaders, if they dare come. The claim by Bush and Blair that the anti-war movement is pro-Saddam Hussein or cares nothing for the suffering of the Iraqi population is totally unfounded and hypocritical to boot. Serving his new masters, David Aaronovitch - once a Marxism Today Eurocommunist and now a liberal imperialist columnist on The Guardian - did his bit by rounding on the February 15 demonstrators for in effect being dupes of Saddam Hussein (The Guardian February 18). True, there are elements, such as the Socialist Workers Party, who mistakenly believe they are bound to defend the Ba'ath regime as the lesser evil against the bigger evil of imperialism. However, apart from a few tiny prostituted groups - eg, the ultra-Stalinite New Communist Party and the Trotskyite News Line group - the great mass of those taking part in the February 15 protest would dearly love to see the Iraqi people deal with the hated dictator - who was for many years backed politically and logistically and supplied with weapons of mass destruction by the US. The US and Britain supported Iraq's long war against Iran in the 1980s - an estimated one million died. And of course, when in 1991, after Saddam Hussein's Kuwaiti disaster, the Iraqi masses rose in the south of the country, the US lifted not a finger to help them. Saddam Hussein was allowed to deploy helicopter gunships and the Republican Guard in order to reassert control and exact vengeance. If the US gains a swift victory over Iraq, it will only be a prelude to a series of other such "pre-emptive" conflicts. Iran, North Korea, Syria and Cuba have all been named as part of Bush's 'axis of evil' and therefore targets. In other words the so-called 'war on terrorism' is a war without end. By the same measure the anti-war movement needs not only huge numbers, but crucially the cutting edge which can be supplied only by a revolutionary party. February 15 showed all to clearly what we all know - that the left is a minuscule drop in the ocean in social terms. With something approaching two million taking to the streets, our forces were shown to be negligible and completely inadequate. Certainly with our forces divided by petty nationalism and confessional sects, the left cannot of yet present itself to the mass movement as anything like a viable leadership, let alone a gravitational centre of attraction. The SWP doubtless made recruits - but its awful bureaucratic internal regime will surely mean that what has been gained through hard effort is easily lost. What is required is principled unity. Unity which embodies both the highest levels of discipline and the full freedom of open criticism. Clearly the Socialist Alliance's forthcoming conference in March provides a splendid opportunity to get our act together. We communists propose that a campaigning timetable be agreed - involving serious discussions with the trade union left wing, left Labourites, the Scottish Socialist Party, etc - with a view to establishing a single party. To deserve the name a party must, of course, dig deep and enduring roots in the working class. Without building such a party though - brought about in the first place by launching a common weekly or daily paper - popular anger against the war drive will inevitably be dissipated and diverted into various dead ends. Jack Conrad