STWC activists' conference: Good little Stalinists

Mike Macnair was impressed on the unity of purpose shown by the Communist Party of Britain and their would-be suitors in the Socialist Workers Party at the STWC activists' conference

On Saturday June 21 the Stop the War Coalition held an ‘activists’ conference’ in Hammersmith town hall. In fact, the meeting would be more accurately described as an extended rally or series of rallies. In both the plenaries and the ‘workshops’ the time was dominated by the platform speakers, with short contributions from the floor; the final plenary consisted of more platform speakers and a little more discussion, rather than report-backs from workshops.

There seemed, on a rough count in the plenaries, to be around 400-500 people present; Lindsey German claimed that between 600 and 700 had attended all or part of the day. Given the number of people who are still turning out to local STWC meetings and events (let alone the size of the campaign at its height), these are pretty small numbers. From superficial appearances, especially age, it seemed likely that, of the two main constituents, more of those in attendance had been mobilised by the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain than by the Socialist Workers Party.

The opening plenary heard speeches from STWC chair Andrew Murray (CPB), the general secretary of the Japan Movement for Democratic Socialism and Tony Benn. In the second plenary, we had John Rees from the SWP, Kate Hudson, vice-chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and Jeremy Corbyn MP. The final plenary heard STWC national organiser Lindsey German (SWP), followed by George Galloway MP, who attracted standing ovations (your correspondent was not moved to participate ... the fact that Galloway is being witch-hunted by the ruling class does not mean that his politics deserve an ovation).

The speeches in general were highly rhetorical, and Lenin’s tag, ‘Better fewer, but better’, seemed at several points an appropriate response. There was a good deal of mutual back-slapping about the (genuine) importance of the mass anti-war movement. Galloway in particular remarked that Andrew Murray and Lindsey German had led the movement in an “exemplary way” and had forged a “remarkable unity” which would have been difficult to imagine in years gone by in the light of ideological differences.

Without a certain amount of decoding, this statement would be flatly false. The SWP collaborated with ‘official’ communists - and forces in the Labour Party and elsewhere influenced by this tendency - in the Anti-Nazi League in the late 1970s and in CND in the 1980s. Galloway’s statement can, however, be decoded.

What has changed from years gone by is that the SWP leaders who spoke from the platform at the meeting endorsed a global vision consistent with the Morning Star’s and Galloway’s. In the second plenary, John Rees called for us to build a “mass movement for peace and justice”; Jeremy Corbyn ended by saying that we must “aim for a world of peace and justice”. Similarly in the final plenary, Lindsey German ended on a call for a “project for a different world in the 21st century”, in which all would have clean water.

Galloway, the better phrase-monger, finished by quoting a banner from the Evian demonstrations: “They say the 21st is the new American century; we say the 21st is the new human century.” He concluded: “Let us not rest until we have a world where nobody is short of clean water while others drink champagne, nobody starves while others feast, and nobody goes round the world burning millions of dollars in weapons of mass destruction dropped on poor people.”

There was, too, a markedly common assessment among the platform speakers of the underlying fundamentals of the world situation. They agreed (Tony Benn was a little more cautious) that the drive to war was a product of US economic weakness rather than US economic strength. They agreed that there will be more wars. They agreed that Blair’s government has become vulnerable. Much of this was banal.

However, the emphasis on the role of US capital had another sub-text. In his opening speech Andrew Murray had said that the task of the STWC was to “disengage Britain and the British government from the imperialist project”. In the ‘war and globalisation’ workshop, a comrade of south Asian extraction speaking from the floor correctly pointed out that Britain has an imperialist history and legacy of its own and still has independent imperialist interests, though these currently march in step with those of the USA. The response was a sharp intake of breath from many of those present and a good deal of silly criticism of the comrade. These CPB types and others whose politics is grounded within the framework of British nationalism share the utopian dream that Britain could somehow be extracted from its imperialist role without the actual overthrow of the British state and British capital.

Some differences remain. In the workshop on the current situation in Iraq John Rees, speaking from the floor, emphasised the specific importance of a proposed trade union delegation to Iraq. Platform speaker Nick Buxton, responding to the discussion, “agreed” with John Rees but went on to argue that activists should “use all their community networks - mosques, women’s groups, and so on” - in effect distancing himself from the limited class politics expressed by Rees’s emphasis on the trade unions.

Comrades Murray and German laid out the STWC steering committee’s views of current tasks. They plan to call a new People’s Assembly to “indict Blair” in late August or early September. There will be a national demonstration on September 27, co-sponsored by the Muslim Association of Britain, under the slogans, ‘End the occupation of Iraq’ and ‘No more lies’. They want to us to build a delegation for the recalled Cairo Conference, which is set for the end of October or early November. And they want to build a trade union delegation to Iraq (no date set).

Comrade Rees was almost certainly right to emphasise the trade union delegation proposal in his contribution from the floor. The People’s Assembly in the spring was a good initiative at the height of the divergence between the government and public opinion, but the STWC leadership turned it into a mere rally and threw away the potential to build in the localities. A new national meeting at the height of the silly season is unlikely to have much impact. The Cairo Declaration is a classic piece of Stalinist classless utopian waffle; it also has the hallmark of anti-semitic anti-Zionism: ie, that the USA is treated as an instrument of the Zionists, rather than the Zionists as an instrument of the USA.

A recalled Cairo Conference will be a valueless jamboree. Lindsey German argued that building a delegation would “show the people of the Middle East that the British people opposed the war”; in reality, it is building concrete solidarity in Britain which will do that. The September 27 demonstration is a big gamble; it may pay off, but seems more likely to expose the relative decline of the movement since the outbreak of the war. The big demonstrations in the spring mobilised many trade unionists, but they did not attend as organised trade unionists. What opponents of the US-British occupation of Iraq need to do now is to sink roots in the rank and file of the trade union movement in Britain and to build solidarity with workers’ class organisations in Iraq.

More generally, the meeting made very clear that the leadership of the SWP, the Murray wing of the CPB directly involved in the STWC and a small element of the Labour left, apparently including Galloway and Corbyn, have some aspiration to replay the ‘official’ CPGB’s repeated efforts to create ‘broad movements’ modelled on the 1930s people’s fronts (but on a much smaller scale). The utopian rhetoric of “peace and justice”, and “another world” with “clean water for all” is to be the political basis of this ‘broad movement’. Its organisational character is presumably to be deduced from the character of the People’s Assembly and Saturday’s ‘activists’ conference’. In other words, undemocratic rallies, which leave the leadership with a completely free hand as an alternative to democratic forms of organisation.

If such a movement were to come into existence it would be the opposite of what the working class today actually needs, which is democratic political organisation of the class itself, based on a programme which represents its interests. It would repeat yet again the repeatedly disproved policies of Stalinism. We already knew the Morning Star had forgotten nothing and learned nothing; it is disagreeable to watch the leadership of the SWP learning from them how to be good little Stalinists.