Anti-war party remains defiant

The April 12 march organised by the Stop the War Coalition was nothing like the wake predicted by some smug media pundits. First because, given the endgame being played out in Baghdad, it was numerically very big. Predictably, the police and march organisers gave very different figures for the turnout - estimates varying between twenty thousand up to 200,000-plus. (No prizes for guessing which one is which.) The left currently does not have a reliable and accurate method of calculating the size of such mass actions - or indeed the culture of telling itself the truth about them anyway. However, in the view of this reporter, it is 'artistically' accurate to say that the march was up to 80,000 - by any standards, an impressive achievement given what was happening in Iraq itself. So, the size of the march was excellent - its mood of quiet determination was even better. This was the 'hard core' of the movement on the streets, and its size and solidity should be a cause for some confidence. Again, young people were very much in evidence and leftwing paper sellers did a steady trade. While the bulk of anti-war protesters do not yet hunger for ideas, there is certainly a minority that is refreshingly open to the politics of the left. The demographics of the march underlined that a new, very young, layer of political activists has definitely arrived on the scene. The question is, where now? I spoke to a number of SWPers during the day who agreed that the size of the march was an effective rejoinder to those that had written off the anti-war party in the lead up to the event. However, from the comments of a number of these comrades, there is a lack of clear vision about where the movement must go now. Some hoped for a large turnout on the May 17 national demonstration in solidarity with the Palestinians, with the new layers activated by the fight against the war "feeding into" mobilisations on other issues. In other words, more big demos, more opportunities to recruit to 'the party' - the SWP sect, that is. If cynical, one might conclude that the SWP believes the task for the movement is to serve the 'party', not the other way round. Of course, the likelihood is that these new forces will indeed have undergone a more general politicisation, and that they will become activists on other issues as well - particularly one as closely linked to the Iraq war as Palestine. Yet the maverick MP George Galloway has correctly warned against a 'grand old duke of York' strategy for the movement - up to the top of the hill, then all the way back down again. There has to be something more than simply one march after another, an unending sequence of mass mobilisations that simply protest. The movement needs to come up with some answers of its own, then organise to achieve them. It needs something like a political party, in other words. Sellers of the Weekly Worker reported that during the course of discussions with many marchers, the phrase "I'll never vote Labour again" was a recurring one. We even heard something like it from several of the platform speakers in Hyde Park. This is understandable - laudable even, given the despicable Blair and the craven role of much of the parliamentary party. But what - in effect - does it mean? There is no viable political alternative to compete with Blair and his party for the votes of the anti-war movement, progressives and the working class. In its absence, the 'softer' elements of the anti-war party will either drift back towards grudging support for Labour as the lesser evil, or even - if really disorientated - towards the slippery Charles Clarke and his Liberal Democrats. If the harder elements that marched on April 12 do not address themselves to building a political alternative to Blair and Labour, then the 'no vote to Labour' stance is effectively a disengagement from politics - the exact opposite of what the movement needs. The monster anti-war mobilisations that began on February 15 were lightening flashes that momentarily illuminated broad vistas for the left, revealing the huge potential for a revolutionary alternative to take root in contemporary society. We need to put our own house in order before that happens, however. So, let us try that again, shall we - mass movement serves 'party', or party serves mass movement? Getting that the right way round would be a start "¦ Ian Mahoney