For a non-sectarian anti-war movement

Mehdi Kia looks forward to Hopi's message gaining mass support

This weekend Hands Off the People of Iran will have its inaugural conference. As one of its founding members I would like to make a few observations.

Hopi has made truly amazing strides since its launch less than a year ago. It has held meetings in almost all the major towns and cities of Britain and left an indelible mark on Ireland. The public response has been beyond initial expectation, with hundreds of people from all walks of life - from academia to the world of politics, from arts to trade unions - as well as women and men in the street signing up to its two central strategic slogans:

l No to imperialist aggression

l No to the islamic regime

These slogans were chosen because no anti-war movement that aims to become truly mass - one that can influence events - can ignore the interdependence of these two components.

However, the order in which these slogans appear is no coincidence. This is an anti-war movement targeting aggressive imperialist designs on Iran and the Middle East. The US and its allies are bent on changing the entire Middle East for their imperialist aims. Whether or not a physical assault takes place on Iran in the immediate future is impossible to predict. What is clear, though, is that the US has designs on the region and these designs are clearly contrary to the interests of the peoples of that region, including the peoples of Iran. Hence not just military attack but any sanctions against Iran should be unequivocally opposed.

Nevertheless, the fact is that the reactionary and repressive policies of the islamic regime in Iran plays into the hands of imperialist propaganda. Holocaust denial, the nuclear programme, the arrest of labour activists and suppression of legitimate working class demands, the repression of women, the hanging of homosexuals, the detention of student leaders, the suppression of national and religious minorities and a legion of other anti-democratic and repressive policies - all this makes it so much easier for the US to dress its aggressive policies against the people of Iran in 'democratic' garb and sell it to western public opinion.

Moreover, the islamic regime actively uses the war agenda as an excuse to intensify its repression, all the while playing the victim to gain worldwide support. Hence condemnation of the islamic regime is a necessary component of the struggle against imperialist policies.

But these twin slogans also address another equally important point. The repressive policies of the regime ruling Iran weakens, and indeed, destroys the very forces in society that can stand up to imperialist aggression. One only needs to look at Latin America to see that the true anti-imperialist forces within society are the organised working class, the women, the students, the neighbourhoods (and in the case of Iran add national and religious minorities) - people organised in their own grassroots organisations.

If working class activists both inside and outside the country cannot tap into this wealth of resistance, they cannot conceive of a genuine anti-imperialist and anti-war movement. The imperialists are well aware of this potential and are doing their utmost to neutralise it or even win such forces in Iran to their side. The anti-war movement ignores these struggles at their own peril.

But an anti-war movement that has the ambition of becoming a mass movement, as Hopi must, needs to be clear on a few other issues.

Hopi is not a political party or a political organisation. Hopi is a broad campaign. It is not a communist, socialist or workers' organisation. It is not, and should never become, a front for this or that political organisation. As a campaign, it should be able to attract all political organisations and individuals who accept its aims.

By the same logic Hopi should not act as a political party engaging in ideological struggle with this or that political organisation. It is an anti-war movement whose strategies and tactics should be directed to make war, or other acts of aggression against the people of Iran, impossible. For this reason it needs to attract the broadest, widest range of people, indeed anyone that can march under these slogans: muslim, christian or atheist, communist or green, ultra-radical or simply democrat or pacifist.

Hopi needs to work within the wider anti-war movement. Of course, it should work for its principled stance to be accepted by the majority, not least because this is the only route to an effective movement. At the same time it has to understand that acceptance of all its slogans is not a requirement for work alongside the wider anti-war movement. Hopi's task is not to convert the unconvertible, but to help organise an effective anti-war movement. Unfortunately the sectarian approach of the Stop the War Coalition has prevented the implementation of this principled policy. Yet Hopi should desist from echoing this sectarianism, name-calling and throwing of wild accusations.

Hopi needs to pursue its strategy by positively arguing for its stance, which is not only principled, but also practical and effective. It should desist from engaging in the negative propaganda which increasingly seems to dominate the debates. It should be completely immaterial to Hopi if this or that STWC member has behaved in an unprincipled way in this or that meeting or demonstration. The key debate is why was Hopi excluded? In this argument, common sense and logic is on our side.

Of course Hopi is interested in the truth - hence it should correct any false accusations. It should also address false arguments about the islamic regime's potential for reform. The islamic regime is not just repressive, but is irreformable - at no time in its entire existence has it shown any tendency to reform.

Hopi challenges anyone to come up with a single substantive democratic reform that has been translated into legislation - which is, after all, the only way reforms can be institutionalised. Otherwise they are merely a temporary retreat under irresistible pressure from below. When the stoning of women was met with an outcry by international public opinion, the regime pulled back. But as soon as international pressure receded, stoning resumed. It had never left the statute books. All other retreats follow a similar vein.

But, more centrally, Hopi has a strong, indeed irrefutable, argument for a powerful, mass anti-war movement. It should hammer home the argument that an anti-war movement outside Iran can never be effective without the support of those very people inside Iran who can resist US aggression. Hence the support for the working class movement, the support for the democratic movement in Iran, the support for the just demands of women, students, and national and religious minorities - these must be central to an anti-war movement which has the ambition of stopping in its track the aggression of the US and its allies.