From al-Moussawi's nationalism to Tony Benn's illusions in the UN den of thieves, World Against War has everything bar revolutionary ideas. John Jo Sidwell reports
The first date on the Stop the War Coalition’s ‘World Against War tour’ was February 28 at London’s Friends Meeting House. The hall was half full, with around 250 in attendance. Most were members of the Socialist Workers Party, of course, but there were also a good few who do not normally attend this sort of meeting (this was clear from the number of times CPGB members and supporters outside the hall were asked where the entrance was).
Many had come to hear the ‘star speaker’ of the evening, Ibrahim al-Moussawi, editor of Hezbollah’s Lebanese newspaper, al-Intiqad (in an earlier version of the STWC’s leaflet for the tour he was actually advertised as “Hezbollah spokesperson”). The last time al-Moussawi came to Britain, to speak at the World Against War ‘conference’ in December 2007, Tory leader David Cameron made a half-arsed but well publicised attempt to block him from entering the country. In reality this was nothing more than a publicity stunt to show up the Labour government. And, of course, it gave the STWC extra publicity for its rally.
It goes without saying that communists oppose the state preventing people of whom it disapproves from entering Britain (that applies to members of both reactionary and progressive organisations, as well as would-be migrants). However, we believe al-Moussawi should not have been given a platform by the Stop the War Coalition. It says a lot about the political ideas of the small officers group - dominated by the SWP and the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain - that a representative of a reactionary, anti-working class organisation is treated like a celebrity, while Hands Off the People of Iran and Communist Students remain the only organisations to be banned from affiliating.
Al-Moussawi was at pains to highlight that he and his organisation are in no way anti-semitic: “This is not about the Jews; this is about the Zionists. We have nothing against anybody because of their religion, their colour or their political affiliation,” he said, stressing Hezbollah’s recent alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM): “The FPM represents more than 70% of all christians in Lebanon”, al-Moussawi said - at least three times. (Around 40% of the Lebanese population are christians, while 29% are shi’ite muslims, 24% are sunni and 5% Druze.)
The alliance with the FPM is an attempt by both parties to present a viable challenge to the current government. What a Hezbollah-FPM coalition administration would look like in practice - and how long it would survive - is another matter. But, leaving aside the question of the appeal of both groups to specific religious-based sections, there is not much difference between the two on a practical political level.
The FPM’s programme consists of a series of measures to moderate undemocratic state powers from a bourgeois liberal perspective, combined with a raft of privatisations and the further integration of Lebanon into the global capitalist economy.1 Hezbollah too is committed to the free market and - despite having much support amongst the poorest elements of Lebanese society - relies largely on businessmen, as well as lawyers, doctors and the like, for the practical implementation of its policies.2
Another key source of finance for Hezbollah is the Iranian state, which was crucial in the organisation’s formation and training in the early 80s. Hezbollah continues to have close ties to the theocratic regime in Tehran which, despite some distancing in recent years, continues to exert considerable influence over its politics. Whilst Hezbollah and the Iranian regime cannot be seen as homogenous, their hostility to democracy and openness to the neoliberal agenda is more or less shared. Needless to say, Hezbollah is a staunch opponent of independent working class organisation and power.
The majority of what al-Moussawi espoused amounted to little more than populist, nationalist rhetoric, evident in his focus on traditional family values (he made various references to the “fathers and mothers” who want to give “peace and security to their children”). This line is symptomatic of a general shift within Hezbollah away from the kind of pan-shi’ism proposed by the Tehran regime towards Lebanese nationalism, albeit with a strictly islamist slant.3 It is here, rather than on economic or democratic grounds, that Hezbollah has somewhat distanced itself from Tehran.
Reform the UN?
Also speaking from the platform was the president of the Iraqi Oil Workers Union, Hassan Juma’a, who insisted that the US imperialists would be “forced out of Iraq by the strength of the Iraqi people”. Unlike al-Moussawi, Juma’a put emphasis on the role of the working class, stating that “the Iraqi workers will gain victory for all the oppressed people of Iraq”.
Not surprisingly, the comrade also has a rather nationalistic viewpoint. He declared that there are “no real differences” between the various sects in Iraq: “Once the imperialists faced this unity, they fought hard to divide the people into sunnis and shi’ites.” While we share his assessment that “it is the occupation that sows death and destruction, not the other way around”, we must also recognise that there are deep-rooted differences dividing sunni from shia in Iraq.
Kept under wraps - and thereby actually kept alive - under Saddam Hussein’s iron rule, divisions have been exploited and exacerbated by both the imperialists and the fragmented leaderships within the sects themselves. Such a reality, that has seen massive ‘ethnic’ cleansing throughout central and southern Iraq, cannot be wished away. It will only be overcome through the development of a common working class programme. Nevertheless, of course, we share the comrade’s demand for the immediate withdrawal of all occupying troops. In opposition to the social-imperialists of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, we believe in self-liberation from below.
In an extraordinarily dull speech, in which she mainly proved to the audience that she had read this week’s newspapers, the SWP’s Lindsey German explained “why we keep on marching: because we need to show solidarity with those suffering at the hands of imperialism all across the Middle East”. Except those who are fighting against their own theocratic regime, she should have said.
Also speaking from the platform was former SAS soldier Ben Griffin, just a day before the government succeeded in silencing him through an injunction. He explained that the British government has been knowingly involved in illegal rendition in Iraq and Afghanistan for years: “They detain people - rather than arrest them - and then hand them over to the US forces”, who fly them to countries where torture is not legally forbidden.
While it is always to be welcomed when soldiers break the conspiracy of silence, Griffin clearly has illusions in the willingness and/or ability of the establishment to ‘sort this mess out’. He repeatedly quoted the Geneva conventions, international law and UN regulations - as if they were not designed by and for the world’s ruling classes. His speech concluded with a plea to David Miliband to make public all information held regarding extraordinary rendition and the government’s links to torture of detainees - “you will be applauded for it”.
In similar vein, Tony Benn demanded that the United Nations should be “reconstructed” so that it better reflects the needs of the world’s population. Much better if the UN were run by the leaders of lesser capitalist powers, such as China and India, presumably. What nonsense. Lenin quite rightly called the League of Nations - the UN’s forerunner - a “den of thieves”, run by the ruling classes of each country for the purpose of conserving the status quo nationally and internationally. Trying to tinker with the distribution of votes is simply a diversion from the real task of overthrowing the existing ruling class in every country.
2. See AN Hamzeh In the path of the Hizbullah New York 2004, p135.
3. L Deeb, ‘Hizballah: a primer’ Middle East Report Online 2006: www.merip.org/mero/mero073106.html