Where are the millions?

An open letter to the Stop the War Coalition, penned by Marcus Ström

The size and scope of the mass movement against the imperialist adventure of Bush and Blair in Iraq is unprecedented. In Britain we have seen massive demonstrations. Two million on February 15; 300,000 last September; 80,000 on April 12. The aftershocks of our movement have Tony Blair on the political ropes - exposed as a liar over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and seen to be in the pocket of the Pentagon in support of the neo-conservative ‘new American century’. In the minds of most Britons, the war on Iraq is thought of as conquest, not liberation. That is down to the anti-war movement.

Our demonstration on February 15 was coordinated with other protests across the globe. Millions upon millions took to the streets in a worldwide act of anti-imperialist solidarity. The mobilisations were not pacifist. Unlike the anti-nuclear protests of the 1980s, the movement - though largely spontaneous - has an implicit anti-imperialist character. It differentiates between just wars and unjust wars. Most people support the struggle of the Palestinians.

Yet, to be true to ourselves and hence to strengthen our movement, we have to fearlessly look at what was possible over these past months and ask some hard questions.
Missing was the active mobilisation of the trade unions. Yes, the TUC passed worthy but empty resolutions against the war, but the big battalions of the working class did not organise people on to the streets. Unison only affiliated to the STWC on February 14, the day before our largest demonstration. Such a situation would have been unthinkable in the 1970s and 1980s.

The anti-war movement exposed what passes for democracy in Britain as stunted. While in the country opposition against the war commanded a near majority in opinion polls, in parliament Blair could count on the overwhelming mass of MPs - Labour and Tory - for the war. There is no right of recall, nor the right to demand a referendum. The Stop the War Coalition responded by organising the People’s Assembly for Peace. But that was a one-off event. There was no second assembly. Moreover the STWC was run simply as a one-issue campaign. What is needed is a political strategy, not a chance for the Liberal Democrats and Charles Kennedy to pose as opponents of the war. With Blair now in trouble, who is likely to reap the rewards at the ballot box?

True, the Stop the War Coalition is now an established feature on the political map. Albeit at a much lower level, activity continues in various parts of the country. But could the anti-war movement spring back to the same level if the US and UK were to set out to change the regime in North Korea?

Crucially, we must ask what has been achieved by way of welding the millions who opposed the war into an organised force which not only protests against this or that war, but is able to challenge the capitalist system that breeds war - first of all by imposing our own democratic regime change on the constitutional monarchy system, with its unelected second chamber, its presidential prime minister and royal prerogative?

In short, where are the millions now? There are many pointers to the fact that our movement, while tremendous in scope, was largely spontaneous. The organisations of the revolutionary left did not grow to any significant degree. Pointedly, the Socialist Alliance all but disappeared during the zenith of the movement and has not made any significant organisational steps forward. The election of one councillor in Preston was good, but on the wave of millions opposed to the war our anti-war candidates could have done much better, had unity been pursued.

Unfortunately, the main organisations of the left prioritised building their own narrow sects over and above fighting for socialist unity. Clearly the Socialist Alliance missed out on a tremendous opportunity. Nevertheless, it remains a key site of struggle for what we really need: a democratic and centralised workers’ party.

That is why the Communist Party calls on all revolutionary socialists in the anti-war movement - of whatever political background - to join the Socialist Alliance on a platform of campaigning for a workers’ party. Suggestions that any of the existing left grouplets are parties of the class are a sick joke. Most operate as barren, bureaucratic sects and our scattered forces are weak. While the Socialist Alliance in its current form is far from the formation we need, it still offers the possibility of advance in that direction.

The experience of socialists in Scotland shows that, with a serious commitment to unity, results are possible both at the ballot box and throughout society. Six members of the Scottish parliament are proof of that. Leaving aside the nationalist and reformist weaknesses of the Scottish Socialist Party, we need to emulate and then surpass its experience at an all-Britain level.

The anti-war movement needs the leadership of the working class for it to seriously challenge Blair and the British establishment’s plans for yet more imperialist wars. For our class to unite, we need to build a campaign for a workers’ party that involves socialists in the anti-war movement, in the Socialist Alliance and reaching out to those in the Labour Party and the millions who continue to vote Labour.

Our task is great, but the price of failure is more war, more imperialist slaughter and a world under the heel of US militarism and globalised exploitationl