STWC activists' conference: Speak out and be damned

Anne Mc Shane calls again for democracy in the anti-war movement

Leading members of the STWC are quick to point out the undemocratic nature of Blairism. In Saturday’s afternoon session Lindsay German declared that “the vast majority of people in Britain were denied their democratic voice” during the war. She argued that the “movement of the immense majority need to assert our values”. Quite right. But what about democracy within the coalition itself?

Having been kept off the steering committee, the CPGB (an affiliate organisation of the STWC) is still being denied the right to send even an observer. All sorts of excuses are being used. When sympathetic members of the steering committee asked what was going on, they were told we were making it all up - there is no exclusion of observers. But when I put this to Andrew Murray on Saturday, he informed me that only invited observers are allowed to attend - and we are not invited.

The reason? Well, we have a reputation of publishing reports. Bad. And we have printed articles in the Weekly Worker that criticise George Galloway. Very bad.

A particularly offending article was written by a certain Dave Osler (Weekly Worker April 24). Not a CPGBer, but a member of the Socialist Alliance and author of Labour Party plc - with a foreword by Paul Foot.

Readers might recall how this article critically defended Galloway against The Daily Telegraph’s campaign. It also pointed out the dangers of accepting money from dubious sources. But mostly it argued for political independence. For Murray none of that mattered - merely printing such an article had effectively put us on the same side as the Telegraph. We - and perhaps the SWP’s comrade Foot - were guilty by association.

So comrade Murray brooks no criticism. Naturally therefore, there must be no objective reporting of the STWC steering committee meetings. As with the aristocratic parliament of the 18th century, there is a visceral fear of being held to account. Issuing anodyne pronouncements is more than enough for the rank and file. What more do they need?

The idea of openness is clearly utterly alien for comrade Murray. He adheres to the tradition of Stalinism, not Leninism - the passionate disputes of Russia’s soviets, party congresses and conferences were, of course, reported in painstaking detail. Lenin insisted upon it. It was Stalin who reduced them to mere rubber-stamp bodies and killed honest debate. He also liked to plot and plan in secret.

Of course, MI5 will have its agents and bugs. The government and the secret state will know everything they need to know. Depend on that. It is the anti-war movement that is to be kept in the dark, denied the insights and analysis that has won the Weekly Worker such high esteem and such a big readership.

I assured him that we shall continue to fight for democracy in the STWC and specifically for the right to attend as observers. Exclusion disempowers the rank and file membership and sends all the wrong messages to the public. Comrade Murray did agree to put the matter on the agenda for the next steering committee meeting. However, he assured me that we did not have a hope of winning. He might be right - unfortunately. He certainly is determined to keep us out and keep the STWC’s debates and decision-making processes hidden and underhand.

We trust that all members of the steering committee concerned for the health of the anti-war movement will take a stand against exclusion and treating the STWC as the private possession of comrades Murray, German et al.