Drawing the pro-Tehran line

The rejection by the Stop the War Coalition of the affiliations of Hands Off the People of Iran and Communist Students represents a sharp political line being drawn as war on Iran looms, says Mark Fischer

Of course, the logic of the decision taken on October 12 by the Stop the War Coalition's officer group to reject the affiliations of Hopi and CS could be pretty drastic.

Andrew Murray's terse little email announcing the exclusions to both organisations made it clear that this is an expressly political decision. He wrote that a "study of statements and articles issued" had convinced the officers that both Hopi and CS are "entirely hostile to the coalition, its policies and its work".

The group that has made this stark political decision is a small sub-committee of the coalition's leadership, the steering committee. Meeting weekly, it has 11 members. Out of these, three are prominent members of the Socialist Workers Party (Lindsey German, John Rees, Chris Nineham) and two are members of the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain (Andrew Murray and Kate Hudson).

Effectively, this small group runs the coalition on a day-to-day basis and effectively subverts the democracy of the STWC as a whole. The way decisions are reached lacks transparency. Effectively, the coalition is controlled by the officers.

What repercussions follow from this particular decision? If Hopi and CS are now defined as 'hostiles', what about the CPGB itself - currently an accepted affiliate to the STWC? Like Communist Students, we have hardly made a secret of our support for Hopi's principled approach to solidarity work. Are we to be purged? And what fate awaits those prominent members of the STWC that have also signed up to Hopi - the likes of Ken Loach, Mark Steel, Respect councillors Fozol Miah and Rania Khan, Labour MPs Diane Abbott, Harry Cohen and John McDonnell, prominent members of the Green Party including principal male speaker Derek Wall, Caroline Lucas MEP, Robin Harper MSP, the co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, Patrick Harvie Scottish Green Party MSP or Jenny Jones, London assembly member for the Greens? Can they soon expect to be informed by comrade Murray that - unnoticed previously - they are "thoroughly hostile" elements and are to be turfed out?

Not very likely, of course, but this does not contradict the central point. That is, the disbarring of Hopi and CS represents the move of important political forces in the STWC - the SWP and the 'renovating', pro-SWP wing of the CPB - to draw a sharp political line as an attack on Iran looms. As Yassamine Mather points out, that demarcation is a pivotal one - a question that cuts to the heart of what constitutes genuine anti-imperialism and internationalism in the contemporary world.

The importance of this question is actually underlined by the apparent stupidity of the STWC officers' actions. On the face of it, it does seem particularly dim. After all, our paper is hardly shy about reporting provocations such this to our a substantial weekly readership, the vast bulk of whom are in active politics of one sort or another. Murray and his cohorts must have known that there would be a political price to pay when they took this decision ... yet they pressed ahead, braced themselves to take the hit and are attempting to ride it.

And why in such a bureaucratically heavy-handed a manner? Why not simply bury Hopi and CS motions in a carefully crowded agenda and have them remitted off into oblivion?

Two reasons. First, the more petty. For the Murray wing of the CPB - which is politically visible in the movement and encounters us more regularly than it would like - this is a welcome opportunity to 'do' us publicly. We are the legitimate heirs of what was best about the original Communist Party of 1920 - revolutionary, proletarian and internationalist. Our very existence is an affront to them, a reminder that their real heritage is the cesspit of Stalinism, not Marxism or Leninism.

More importantly, it is crystal clear that the SWP and the CPB 'renovators' want to make Hopi's stance of implacable opposition to both imperialist intervention in Iran and the reactionary theocratic regime beyond the pale in the anti-war movement. Comrade Mather puts her finger on the nub of the controversy when she pointedly reminds Murray that in addition to unconditional opposition to the war plans of imperialism, Hopi stands for "Opposition to the theocratic regime and solidarity with and practical aid to grassroots movements - of women, workers and students - fighting for democracy and freedom in Iran."

She demands that he come clean and explicitly state whether it is this that makes Hopi and its CS supporters "entirely hostile to the coalition, its policies and its work", adding: " ... does that mean, as far as you are concerned, that it is a decided fact that the STWC's 'policy' is that the theocracy must not be opposed by people who are simultaneously against the imperialist war? And on pain of excommunication?! Are you seriously saying that there is no place in this broad movement against imperialist war for comrades who say we should support grassroots movements for democracy and socialism in Iran?"

As they sniff the possibility of mass mobilisations that could again breathe life into the flagging coalition and the political ambitions of its constituent parts, they are determined to make the STWC a Tehran-friendly organisation, one that will strictly limit its work to opposing the war plans of the imperialists and denounce any criticism of the Ahmadinejad regime as providing succour to the enemy. This is a signal to politically reactionary, pro-Iranian theocracy forces that the STWC will be a reliable ally, even a willing servant.

The backdrop to this move is obviously the crisis in the SWP-Respect project. As that (un)popular front project hits the buffers (in much the manner we predicted it would), the SWP leadership is attempting to consolidate its ranks by posing left. It now articulates criticisms of Respect for which the CPGB was denounced as "racists" and "islamophobes" when we voiced them in the recent past!

And in a pre-emptive move, it is expelling sections of its right wing - types such as Rob Hoveman, Nick Wrack and Kevin Ovenden, who have gone 'native' in Respect. Clearly, as the organisation's conference looms on January 5, Rees and co have moved to behead any faction that could coalesce in pre-conference discussion and which - judging by reports of the levels of right-leaning pro-Respect opposition the leadership has encountered in recent internal membership meetings - could have mopped up significant support amongst the organisation's rank and file (see, for example, Weekly Worker October 4).

So the SWP is being forcibly remodelled from above, a typically bureaucratic attempt to enforce discipline in the ranks, as a retreat in good order from the Respect debacle is organised. The central committee is talking up the group's 'socialist' credentials, a feint that will go down well with sections of the longer-established cadre who have been profoundly turned off by the Respect project.

As a necessary complement to this, it is narrowing the base of the STWC and calibrating it more precisely with this new 'talking tough' template. There must be no hint of controversy, genuine debate or awkward left voices in its ranks. According to the coalition's e-bulletin of September 19, the steering committee had "agreed to make opposing any attack on Iran the central theme of the STWC annual conference" on October 27 and use the gathering as "an opportunity to deepen and extend our discussions on building the movement at this critical moment".

It is pretty clear what sort depth of "discussions" the STWC officers want to see when they exclude an organisation that includes in its ranks so many exiled Iranian activists with bitter experience of the regime in Tehran, including in the theocracy's prisons and torture centres. Comrades whose insights are invaluable to our movement, as it attempts to absorb the lessons of the last six years of the coalition's opposition to imperialism's adventures.

Instead, because Hopi and CS are enthusiastically supported by the CPGB, they are useful targets. Our programmatic method marks us out on the left - and isolates us to a certain extent. We represent a new type of politics (a rearticulation of genuine Marxism), fighting to be fully born onto a political scene still dominated by the decay, degeneration and death of the old. Look at the attitude to democracy of the rest of the ostensibly revolutionary left, its hopeless economism, its popular frontism and its various attempts to resuscitate Labourism.

What can comrades who are sympathetic to our political line and supporters of Hopi and CS expect in the near future? Well, probably more of the same. No democratic space unless we fight for it and win. Slander, distortion, and foul charges levelled against Hopi, CS and the CPGB. More physical confrontations. Claims that we are CIA/MI5 stooges or even fronts. The usual Labourite/Stalinite filth in other words.

That is why solidarity from all comrades in the movement is vital.

The STWC officers group reconvenes on the morning of Friday October 19. We need to ensure that they buckle in the face of a flood tide of protest and condemnation and accept the affiliations of Hopi and CS, recognise their delegates and accept their motions as legitimate. But for that we need your active help:

l Contact the STWC office by email  (office@stopwar.org.uk) to demand that this dirty political attack is withdrawn - and don't forget to send Hopi and/or Communist Students a copy of your message (office@hopoi.info; info@communiststudents.org.uk).

l Add your name to Hopi's open letter, which we are hoping to publish in a range of newspapers and websites - www.hopoi.org/petition.html. Send an email to office@hopoi.info and let us know your name, place of residence and any positions you might hold in the workers' movement.

l Join the Facebook site, 'Reject political censorship in the Stop the War Coalition' by going to http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5547972793

l Bring these exclusions up in your local anti-war group and get it to send a letter of protest. Become a delegate or observer to the STWC conference on October 27 and support challenges to the steering committee.

And do not keep this to yourself! This is an attack on the democracy of the movement. You do not have to be a partisan of either Hopi or CS to protest against their exclusion. So pass the message on to contacts, political and anti-war groups you are involved in, e-lists you are subscribed to, etc.