Up to the top of the hill

The Socialist Worker Party generals have failed the anti-war movement, says Eddie Ford, who looks forward to the December 10 Peace Conference in London

Everyone remembers the London anti-war demonstration of February 2003. Seeing two million people on the march, it was impossible not to feel part of something massive - a movement with the potential to split the British establishment down the middle and shake the Blair government to its rotten foundations. Since then, however, things have wound down - George Bush was re-elected and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue. Frankly, the anti-war movement - or, to be more precise, the Stop the War Coalition - has failed. Why? The answer is relatively straightforward. That is, the modern-day Dukes of York in the Socialist Workers Party leadership - especially in the shape of John Rees and Lindsey German - have led the anti-war troops up the hill, and then down again. Activists have gone from one march to another, attended one conference after another - and listened to a combination of speeches - some deeply moving, most empty or simply self-congratulatory. And then they are sent home after being told to prepare for the next demonstration. Inevitably, demoralisation has set in, numbers have dwindled and enthusiasm waned. Demonstrations in and of themselves were never going to stop the war. Something more was needed "¦ but the SWP has been found totally wanting. Apart from the left populist Respect party, they have no answers. In short they are bankrupt. When it comes to the anti-war movement the SWP is not part of the solution: it is part of the problem. The STWC's December 10 'International Peace Conference' at the Royal Horticultural Hall has to be viewed as a continuation of the old cycle. Thus one of the advertised speakers is Sheikh Hassan Al Zargani, representing the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr. The Sadrist shia militias have a thoroughly non-democratic, non-secularist programme which aims to totally extinguish the working class movement and impose an islamist counterrevolution on Iraq. While it is perfectly acceptable to enter into episodic alliances with the devil, we should never do so at the cost of dropping our own programme, and we should certainly not present the devil as an angel by giving them a platform at an 'International Peace Conference'. But the SWP wants unity for unity's sake. Here is the logic of the SWP's popular frontism - one unprincipled compromise comes after another in order to achieve the widest unity. Inevitably there is a big political cost. Such unity produces the lowest common denominator politics. Cast your mind back to the last STWC demonstration on September 24 - with between 20,000 and 30,000 in attendance (though as usual the SWP-STWC talked up the figures and claimed 100,000 demonstrators). So in the afternoon, we gathered around the stage to listen to the usual line-up of journalists, lefts, christians, muslims, pacifists, etc, voice their opposition to the US-UK occupation of Iraq. All very well and good, of course, but the whole event only served to highlight how the anti-war movement lacks political focus and clarity. Yes, we all know what the STWC is against, but what is it for? As the September 24 rally progressed, the speeches certainly did not - it sounded as though some, if not most, of the speakers on the platform were sharing the same cue cards. The same old things were said, the same sentiments paraded. Speakers were so amazed that so many people had turned up for the demonstration, they patted themselves repeatedly on the back for making an impact that Blair supposedly could not ignore, and so on. By mid-afternoon, knowing the speeches almost off by heart, the crowd began to drift away. Naturally - as we have come to expect - at no stage did the 'Marxist' leaders of the SWP, comrades Rees (wearing his Respect hat) and German (an STWCer on this day) even attempt to map out any viable strategy for the anti-war movement. Quite the opposite, if anything. Wearisomely, John Rees ended his speech with the brainless exhortation to "keep fighting, keep marching" - while comrade German could only urge people to join their local STWC (if they could find one), come to the December 10 conference and, of course, start preparing for the next demonstration in March 2006. Perfectly summing up the futility of it all, German shouted: "See you at the next demonstration!" And in the meantime, comrades? Like hamsters on a wheel, it seems that comrades Rees and German are perfectly happy to expend their energies on getting the anti-war movement exactly nowhere. Having said that, communists are well aware of the real motivation of the SWP when it comes to the STWC, and the anti-war movement generally - which is to merely reproduce their sect. Demos mean more Socialist Workers sold, which means more potential recruits - which in turn means selling yet more Socialist Workers, and thus possibly gaining even more recruits. For the SWP leadership, then, the movement (and recruitment) is everything and the aim is nothing - even if the movement is getting smaller, which is undeniably the case at the moment. If that was not the case, surely it would have eventually dawned on the comrades by now that making twice-yearly appearances in central London is not going to force Blair to change course. Yes, yes, we know - the war is unjust, the occupation is brutal and unpopular, but what can we do about it? How do we challenge the warmongers and the system that produces it? Given the deafening silence on this vitally important issue from the leadership of the STWC, it is hardly a mystery why we are gathering every six months in smaller and smaller numbers. Firstly, we need clear and updated slogans for the movement. We must demand, 'Troops out now' - immediately and unconditionally. Not 'Bring the troops home' soon or whenever it is thought practicable by the top brass of the armed forces - who obviously want an exit strategy from Iraq. Such slogans are an obvious fudge and lack social purchase. More importantly, we desperately need a programmatic vision for the anti-war movement. It has to become a movement for democracy and therefore against the existing constitution and the existing system. Otherwise it is doomed to pointlessness and progressive dissipation. But to date, the SWP bigwigs have rejected anything that even hints of principle and political differentiation. The be-all and end-all of their political approach is broadness for the sake of broadness. A recipe for defeat - which led to the ill-advised decision to allow Charles Kennedy to speak at the February 2003 demonstration, allowing the Liberal Democrats to pretend that they were an 'anti-war' party. They were not and they are not. As we have witnessed, in the name of keeping the movement 'broad', the SWP does not even deign any more to present the politics it claims to still believe in - that of working class socialism. Indeed in both Respect and the STWC John Rees has dragooned the SWP to vote down the principles laid out every week in 'What we stand for', as carried in Socialist Worker. They are like Sunday christians. In church they hypocritically preach the word of god one day a week, while on the other six days they curse and cheat their fellow human beings. At their Socialist Worker Forums SWP leaders like to parade their 'Marxist' credentials. But this is now completely divorced from their day-to-day practice. In its unprincipled rush to hit the 'big time', the SWP has studiously ensured that the STWC remained united "¦ and therefore avoided taking a firm stand on a whole range of tactical and strategic issues. It is no accident that the SWP sees Respect as being born out of the spontaneous anti-war movement - inheriting all its weakness and only a few of its strengths. Like its STWC 'mothership', Respect is characterised by programmatic minimalism and desperate short-termism. Time for something different.