Beyond the politics of stopping the next war

Never have so many been failed so badly by so few, writes Manny Neira

On February 15, not thousands, not even tens of thousands, but something approaching two million mainly working people protested their opposition to war on Iraq. The range of opinion represented in London that day was broad, but the objective fact of a truly mass extra-parliamentary protest raised the fundamental question of democracy. If Blair went to war against the will of the people, in whose interest was Britain really governed?

Labour’s defeat in last week’s by-election demonstrated that seven months on, Blair has been forgiven neither the war nor the lies he told to justify it. He is not the only politician, though, who should draw lessons from Brent East. The left too stands indicted.

The anti-government vote on September 18 went not to a socialist, or even to an anti-war campaigner, but to a Liberal Democrat. The Socialist Alliance candidate, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, polled only 361 votes: less than two percent. After the undoubted skill and backbreaking effort the SWP put into organising the Stop the War Coalition, their members could be forgiven for feeling that this was a bitterly poor harvest. The percentage of the entire British population which actively demonstrated in February was higher than this derisory slice of an already derisory turnout.

Organisational skill and hard work are simply not enough. We, the tiny, splintered left, collectively failed the protestors and the class. Our failure was a political failure. It was our responsibility to present the socialist case, and link the fight against the war to the fight for human liberation. To those who arrived in London bewildered, their genuine faith in bourgeois democracy shaken, we should have offered explanation. To those who had hopes that the United Nations might yet ‘step in’, we should have offered consciousness of their own power. To those who already better understood the nature of our society, we should have offered leadership.

We failed. The left’s only united organisation, the Socialist Alliance, had no speaker on any Hyde Park platform. We heard Charles Kennedy cynically attempting to obscure his plan to support “our boys” once war started. We heard Bianca Jagger calling on the squabbling rival powers of the UN to act. The SA, though, was silent.

That is not to say individual members of the SA did not speak. Lindsey German, a leading member of the SWP and editor of Socialist Review, addressed protestors, but with a message which barely rose above pacifism. The STWC is run by those who fully understand the nature of our society but do not dare base their political action on that understanding. In an attempt to preserve the unity of a politically diverse coalition, they have silenced the only political voice which offered it any hope of success: that of socialism.

Of course, moving amongst the demonstrators were paper-sellers from every left grouplet, each seeking to peddle its own particular line, and to recruit new members. The endless, meaningless, competitive game of the left was played with energy. Understandably, most simply ignored this cacophony of sectarianism. The Weekly Worker was alone in highlighting the call for a single, united working class party. The simple fact is that despite the largest demonstration in our country’s history, and a historic resurgence of radicalism, no left group has significantly increased either its size or the distribution of its press.

The fault is not just the SWP’s. The Socialist Party abandoned the SA entirely, placing the perceived needs of its own organisation above those of the class. The smaller SA groups have responded to the SWP’s opportunism with chaos and paralysis. Without political leadership, many of those newly drawn into struggle by the STWC have dropped out rather than moving on to a more complete political understanding. All the while, of course, Iraq remains under increasingly brutal US and UK occupation.

Our demand is not for a socialist STWC: it is entirely correct that those who wish to protest the occupation of Iraq should be able to organise alongside socialists without having to accept our programme. Socialists have always formed alliances with others when our cause could be advanced by doing so. However, to suppress our politics in order to maintain such an alliance is a bizarre, confused futility, advancing nothing.

The message must be taken to the STWC: the peoples of the world have no interest in killing each other. No two genuinely democratic states, in which the people governed, would go to war. Neither the US nor the UK is governed by its people: while democratic reforms have been extracted from our ruling classes, we still live in societies divided by class and ultimately serving the interests of capitalism. At home, those interests are manifested in decaying public services, iniquitous taxation, the suppression of trade union freedoms and the continued wealth and privilege of those who serve our system of profit. Abroad, they are expressed through economic dominance over weaker powers, war, occupation and commercial exploitation of millions already grindingly poor: imperialism. These are the causes of war. The struggle against war and the struggle for genuine democratic rule by the people, or socialism, are one.

This is a socialist ABC of a kind which rarely appears in our paper, as most of our readers are ‘of the left’ and already alive to such basic arguments. It is a flavour, though, of the fundamental agreement which is objectively manifested in the Socialist Alliance, whatever its internal disputes. The strength of the socialist case is betrayed only by the failure of the left to organise around it. We must build a party - a revolutionary party - which can truly intervene in movements like the STWC, unafraid of presenting its argument and unafraid of internal democracy. A clear socialist alternative offered not only to those supporting the STWC, but also to the effectively disenfranchised voters currently supporting the BNP, or the trade unionists currently forced to support the party which is trying to crush them, might not only stop the next war, but stop war.

Manny Neira

Next steps...

The Communist Party of Great Britain is active in the STWC not to pursue a sectarian agenda, but to he Communist Party of Great Britain is active in the anti-war movement not to persue a sectarian agenda, but to advance the cause of socialism, and therefore of peace. If you have taken the trouble to read this article, we would urge you to go further: