Mohsen Sabbagh saw a wholly unsatisfactory number of demonstrators in Manchester
On Saturday September 20 the Stop the War Coalition, in conjunction with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Military Families Against the War, held a demonstration in Manchester to coincide with the Labour Party conference. It called for troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and an end to the continuous US-UK threats of war - in particular against Iran. At the halfway point outside the conference venue, there was a two-minute silence in memory of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and a letter of protest to Gordon Brown was handed in.
According to figures provided by the STWC, 5,000 protesters turned up to march. Had this been accurate, it would have been unsatisfactory enough, especially given the warm sunshine. But in reality the true figure was about half that quoted by the STWC (and repeated by Socialist Worker and the Morning Star). By the end of the short rally this had been further reduced to just a thousand or so, listening to what was largely a rehash of old speeches - if you had been to any previous anti-war demonstration you would already have heard them.
You would also have recognised most of the faces. Speakers included Lindsey German, Tony Benn, Rose Gentle, Andrew Murray and Seamus Milne. Highlights included Tony Benn, arguing that now it was more crucial than ever that we “lose our sectarian attitudes” and work together to achieve our common goals; and Rose Gentle (Military Families Against the War) who showed her determination to keep on marching - “If we have to, we will continue for another four years.”
That was also the message of comrade German, who emphasised once again that imperialist war is not good. Not exactly a sophisticated message, but in any case the crowd was almost exclusively made up of people involved in leftwing politics who did not need telling (although maybe she had just noticed the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty).
Around the time of the Iraq invasion large numbers of young people entered left politics. This pool of recruits has now almost completely dried up - as, march after march, rally after rally, support for the anti-war movement continues to decline. The huge turnouts of 2003 are just a memory and even the left has fallen into demoralisation. The Socialist Workers Party had urged its comrades to organise a coach to Manchester from every STWC branch, but it failed to persuade even its own members to turn out.
Carrying on as before is no longer an option, comrades. It is not just the anti-war movement, but the revolutionary left itself that needs to undergo a root and branch rethink.
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