Balance sheet

The Iraq phase of US imperialism's permanent war is virtually over. It is timely therefore to draw up an honest balance sheet. Alongside the abundant gains and successes recorded by the anti-war party (and the left), errors and shortcomings must be fearlessly admitted and speedily rectified. Only then can we properly prepare for the next phase of what James Woolsely - CIA director from 1993-95 and Pentagon choice to head the information department in the US occupation government - has chillingly called "World War IV". This bloodthirsty hawk envisages a conflict "against tyranny" lasting "decades" (The Guardian April 8). Iran, Syria, North Korea, Libya, Cuba and even China - all of them are targeted for regime change. The anti-war movement was above all international. Actions were often simultaneous and coordinated. November's Social Forum in Florence set the scene. Across the world many millions marched. Britain - junior partner in the 'coalition of the willing' - proved to be no exception. On February 15 London witnessed a truly historic demonstration of two million. Glasgow 80,000. Tony Blair faced two unprecedented parliamentary rebellions. Robin Cook resigned. But the parliamentary pro-war party always commanded an unassailable majority. Meanwhile opinion polls recorded most people in the country opposing the war. On March 12 1,500 delegates met together in the first People's Assembly. The anti-war party implicitly challenged the sclerotic and unrepresentative nature of parliament and Britain's quasi-democratic constitutional monarchy system. The day the war broke out - March 20 - there were countless nationwide protests. School students formed the vanguard. A new generation emerged singing and shouting into politics. Two days later half-a-million rallied in London. Patriotism and 'backing our service men and women' was the only convincing argument in Blair's armoury. Amongst the soft and vacillating it wrought devastation. Robin Cook, Mo Molam, Diane Abbott, Charles Kennedy and Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan abjectly surrendered. Despite that between 20% and 30% of the population continued to support the anti-war party. April 12 - as the war against Iraq reached its chaotic climax in looting and state collapse - 80,000 in London and 3,000 in Glasgow protested against the US-UK occupation. Achievements on the credit side are therefore palpable. What about the debit column? Keeping the Stop the War Coalition single issue served to camouflage an opportunist fear of providing a clear, unambiguous political lead. Confronted by big issues such as terrorism, democracy and patriotism, STWC balked. Clarity was sacrificed to a chimerical numbers strategy. Andrew Murray - STWC chair and member of the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain - wanted to reach out to the Liberal Democrats and "even into the ranks of the conservatives". His disastrous slogan: the anti-war party must be "as broad as the country". That meant a pigheaded refusal to condemn the murderous actions of al-Qaida, welcoming a Liberal Democratic fifth column onto platforms and curtailing or strangling debate. The Socialist Workers Party and their CPB allies tried to run the STWC's conference and the first People's Assembly as bureaucratic rallies, not democratic forums and decision making bodies. And having reluctantly agreed to the launch of the People's Assembly, the SWP put a block on local and regional assemblies - STWC's authority and thereby SWP interests might be jeopardised. The anti-war party is undoubtedly a people's movement. But not one in which the organised working class exercises decisive hegemony. That must change. One encountered much over-excited chatter about strike action. Foolishly the People's Assembly agreed an extravagant - buck passing - resolution demanding the TUC "immediately" organise "general strike action". However, real strikes proved elusive and, had they occurred, would have scattered Murray's liberals and conservatives like autumn leaves in a thunder storm. To become a war stopping social force the anti-war party must adopt consistent internal democracy and solidly base itself on the militant working class. Perhaps the biggest failure has been the Socialist Alliance. Despite the explosive wave of radicalisation the SA lackadaisically opted for "business as usual". The SWP, Workers Power, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, the International Socialist Group and most of the so-called independents voted to postpone the annual general meeting till after the war. Already dangerously becalmed, this effectively liquidated the SA. The SWP saw a golden recruiting opportunity for itself - and would brook no competition. Consequentially the left spoke in a welter of fractious and confusing voices. Petty sect rivalry triumphed over the partyist project of incorporating all talents and all principled shades of socialist opinion - including in the Labour Party - into a single democratic and centralised organisation. Doubtless hundreds of new members were made along with thousands of new contacts. Ambitions should have been higher though. Far higher. The narrow carapace of the sects should have been shattered and abandoned. By transforming ourselves we could have won tens and hundreds of thousands. If it is to have a worthwhile future the May 10 - delayed - AGM will have to be a relaunch conference. Gulf War II proves that an on-off SWP "united front" of an electoralist kind is as good as useless. What of the CPGB? There were definite shortcomings. Our leadership did not move swiftly or decisively enough. Furthermore, sectarian diversions were given far too much leeway and prominence. Eg, objections to the involvement of the Muslim Association of Britain in the anti-war party. Puerile talk of popular fronts went hand-in-hand with brittle moralism about selling out fellow communists in the muslim world. Under the circumstances such nonsense should have been dealt with quickly and firmly. The CPGB actually shed a thin layer of members. Collectively we failed to enthuse and lift them to the tempo exhibited by the mass movement. Either they quit or membership was terminated. Dead wood. An inactive communist is a contradiction in terms. Of course, numbers have been more than made up for by an influx of recruits. But there is no room for crowing. Take the Weekly Worker. Sales on the numerous protests and demonstrations boosted circulation. But not qualitatively. Readership - in the print and electronic formats - still hovers at just under an average of 10,000. Not good enough. Obviously our paper shuns populism and demands seriousness. More should have been done though to improve accessibility (without watering down hard hitting polemics, etc). There is, however, every reason for confidence. Britain is changed forever. The audience for leftwing ideas has multiplied many times over. There is a thirst for knowledge. A prediction - the anti-war generation of 2003 will progressively come to regard the Weekly Worker as required reading. Jack Conrad