For unity in anti-war movement

Mark Fischer calls on the Stop the War Coalition leadership to end the bar on the affiliation of Hands Off the People of Iran

The past four months have seen tumultuous events in Iran. The outcome of the presidential elections - whatever the precise scale of ballot-rigging - unleashed a tsunami of protest from below. Quickly, the political and social logic of the demonstrations overwhelmed the timid parameters set by Mir-Hossein Moussavi and the rest of the ‘reformists’, who touted themselves as leaders of the upsurge. From anger against the outcome of a particularly crudely stage-managed election, many protesters now look to fundamental social change, particularly amongst the workers and youth.

Iran remains a pivotal country in the region. A country which saw one of the 20th century’s great revolutions in 1979, where political Islam has been tested out as a contemporary state form (and failed miserably) and which exerts an ideological and political influence in other hot spots for imperialism, not least in Iraq. No wonder it is of such concern to the US and its ally, Israel.

The June events and their aftermath vindicate the stance taken by Hands Off the People of Iran. Our campaign resolutely stands against any imperialist intervention as the main danger. At the same time, we have always insisted - sometimes in the face of fierce criticisms and ugly smears - that this implies no political compromise with the Tehran regime. Indeed, our solidarity is with the Iranian masses, crucially the working class, but also those other forces in the women’s, nationalities and students’ movement which  support political freedom and progressive social change.

What was noticeable over the summer was that the logic of the drama unfolding on the streets of Iran propelled other political forces towards the positions taken by Hopi. In particular, we noted some movement by the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition.

A June 20 statement on the coalition’s website, for example, underlined that the STWC supported “the right to demonstrate peacefully, just as we support the Iranian people’s right to political, trade union and other civil freedoms and to struggle to achieve them. We unequivocally condemn the shooting of protesters and other violations of democratic liberties by the Iranian government .…

“In expressing our solidarity with all the Iranian people striving for a democratic outcome to the crisis in their country, the coalition will support demonstrations and initiatives which reflect these principles.”1

Similar, the coverage in Socialist Worker. Though deeply divided, the Socialist Workers Party remains a key player in the STWC, of course - certainly had a different tone from what we used to get. A memorable front page was “People power rocks Iran”, introducing an enthusiastic article which prominently featured the key slogan, ‘Marg bar diktator!’ - death to the dictator! “Whatever happens over the next few days,” concluded the unidentified Socialist Worker writer, “the people of Iran have shown their power - and their thirst for change.”2

Comments like these provide encouragement for those of us anxious to overcome an unnecessary and self-defeating division in the anti-war movement. That is, the unfortunate decisions of the 2007 and 2009 STWC annual conferences to reject the affiliation applications of Hands Off the People of Iran. In both cases, conference acted on the misguided recommendations of leaders of the coalition.

However, the reasons offered for this exclusion have actually changed quite dramatically. In 2007, it was because the affiliation of Hopi was supposed to be incompatible with the aims of the STWC - Hopi was told that “a study of statements and articles issued by your organisation show that you are entirely hostile to the coalition, its policies and its work … Under these circumstances, it is impossible to regard your application as in any way supportive or sympathetic”.3

The fact that this was a political exclusion of Hopi was confirmed at the 2007 conference itself. Our campaign was attacked for its twin-track stance - against any imperialist intervention against Iran (whether in the form of sanctions or Israeli/US military strikes); and, simultaneously, opposition to the theocratic regime.

Thus, in 2007, Steve Bell of the Communication Workers Union - and Socialist Action - presented the leadership’s case. Allowing Hopi to affiliate, he claimed, would be tantamount to “accepting serious conflict and disruption” into the coalition’s ranks (by which he presumably meant having disagreements while engaging in united action for agreed aims). He went on to tell the conference - shamefully to loud cheers from some sections - that because Hopi “characterise Campaign Iran as apologists” for the Tehran regime (hardly an untruth) this meant that we were effectively some brand of cultural imperialists who were “telling the people of Iran what kind of government they should have”.4

The facts of political life impose themselves, however. The ban on Hopi - especially given the wide support our campaign has garnered alongside our record of unflinching opposition to imperialism - made the leadership of the STWC look increasingly foolish.

And then there is what might be taken to be sectarianism. Andrew Murray (STWC chair) now writes to Hopi, in the aftermath of the 2009 conference, not telling us that our politics are “entirely hostile to the coalition”, but that it is my role as national secretary of Hopi that is the sticking point. Or, as comrade Murray wrote, “the problem is, and remains, the hostile attitude towards the coalition publicly expressed by your national secretary” (April 30). Without my malign influence, and in stark, glaring contradiction to the storm of accusations and smears that leading STWCers threw at Hopi in 2007, comrade Murray tells us that our “political differences” do not “constitute a barrier to affiliation”. What has never been explained to us is quite how our organisation - with no change in its core political or campaigning priorities - sloughed off its “entirely hostile” skin that had previously made it “impossible” to admit to the ranks of the STWC without risking “serious conflict and disruption”.

Now, if we are to believe comrade Murray, the only barrier to Hopi’s ‘exile’ are the remarks I made to a CPGB internal aggregate meeting in 2007, to the effect that Hopi - in my view - should aim to be an “alternative political centre” to the “rotten politics” of the STWC leadership.5

For the record, I want to make my position crystal clear. I continue to oppose many of the political positions upheld by officers of the STWC such as comrades Murray and Lindsey German and John Rees. But then so now does the SWP central committee.

However, advocating an “alternative political centre” to this leadership is not the same as advocating, still less attempting to form, a rival organisational centre. We are not in the business of frivolous splits. Indeed, at Hopi’s December 2008 annual conference, I voted against a motion which demanded that Hopi should “take on political responsibility for building an anti-war movement on a principled basis”. Other CPGB comrades joined me in voting down this motion.

It is time to end the absurd position that the CPGB is allowed to affiliate to the STWC but Hopi is not because of the harsh comments made by the CPGB’s national organiser (Mark Fischer). This simply brings discredit to the STWC. Surely, with yet further sanctions threatened against Iran it is time to unite our movement.