Specious unity

Phil Kent reports from the December 1 World Against War conference

Tom Burr of Redhill writes of the December 1 World Against War conference: ""¦ there was one aspect that worried me. Some of the speakers from Iran, having first stated their opposition to an invasion, then went on to describe how they were fighting the Ahmadinejad regime" (Letters Morning Star December 3). He concluded: "Can't those delegates at the conference see that they are playing imperialism's game?" In other words only patriotism can defeat imperialism: independent working class action against the state amounts to treachery.

So, although the conference, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, did not exactly whitewash the Iranian regime, comrade Burr is on message as to the tone and intention of the event. George Galloway set the ball rolling when he told the 1,000 or so activists in Central Hall, Westminster, that he did not particularly like the Iranian regime, but argued that we must not allow any differences to split the anti-war movement. He did not say what he did not like about Iran, and he never returned to the subject. What mattered in his view was that we resolutely oppose imperialist plans to attack Iran and campaign to get the troops out of Iraq.

On this narrow, agitational point the entire conference (in reality, extended rally, of course) was indeed absolutely united. But beyond this there was no common viewpoint, no common philosophy binding the movement together. Although the event was designed so as not to draw attention to this state of affairs, nonetheless it kept peeping through. The anti-war movement's specious unity is only maintainable by following Galloway's advice. Any serious debate on Middle Eastern realities would blow it apart.

The point was driven home for me by a speech from Hans von Sponeck, a former UN diplomat and now a member of the Swedish peace foundation, and his concrete plan for a "just peace" in Iraq. Amongst his proposals was a demand for a united Iraq and against what he called "soft partitioning". However, Lindsey German of the Socialist Workers Party spoke against Turkish raids on Kurdistan and asked when the promise of a Kurdish homeland was going to be kept. Mind you, the last time I heard her speak she was complaining that the Kurds were behaving as US puppets. So it may be just that one side of her mind does not know what the other side is thinking. Personally I think that self-determination might be a good way of splitting the Kurds away from imperialism. But we must not talk about it lest we disagree and split the movement.

Another interesting idea of von Sponeck was that an "international commission" should be set up in this quest for a "just peace". If this is not done, then, according to him, the entire process must end in total disaster. He obviously does not agree with the likes of Hassan Juma of the Iraqi Oil Workers Union and Sami Ramadani, who think that it is only foreign interference that is preventing Iraqis coming to a just and peaceful resolution of their problems. In their view, all the major divisions amongst the Iraqi people have been provoked by the occupation.

Von Sponeck proposed a regional settlement in which the entire zone would be free of weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, Campaign Iran, for example, is arguing for the right of Iran to develop nuclear-enriched fuels, which in practice opens up the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons. Marzieh Langroudi of the Iranian group, Mothers Against War, on the other hand pleaded, admittedly from a pacifist standpoint, that the Middle East should be free of all nuclear weapons and this was more enthusiastically clapped by the audience than Campaign Iran's position.

But of course the big beast at the party is political islam, which was represented on Saturday by Ibrahim Mousawi of Hezbollah. He is an educated and sophisticated speaker who views islam as a socially and culturally inclusive religion that must not persecute non-believers. But it is islam that decides what is just. He is not a secularist. Furthermore, political islam, whether it be of the Iranian shia or Saudi sunni variety, is in favour of a totalitarian capitalism. Far from being opposed to imperialism, it dreams of the day when all muslims are united in a single state in a decidedly imperialist world.

Other speakers included Lebanese Communist Party general secretary Khaled Hadadeh, who called for a strategic anti-imperialist alliance between islamic groups such as Hezbollah and the left - for example, the SWP's John Rees and STWC chair Andrew Murray, a member of the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain. And, of course, on this at least both of them agree with comrade Hadadeh. For them Mousawi and Hadedeh represent progress - in the shape of a cross-class popular front.