The weakness of the anti-war movement
According to the Guardian (15 October), government ministers were genuinely surprised at the estimated 20,000 plus demonstrators who turned out the previous Saturday for a CND peace march against the war in Afghanistan. The editors of the Guardian themselves must have been surprised, since earlier the same week they had published opinion polls showing 86 percent support for the war. Opponents of the war have already had a number of surprisingly large turnouts, given the short notice and word-of-mouth methods of announcing their meetings.
On 21 September a meeting was called by the “Stop the War Coalition”, an umbrella front organisation organised under the auspices of the SWP’s “Globalise Resistance” umbrella front organisation, and the “Socialist Alliance”, another front organisation. They had booked the main hall at Friends Meeting House in London, which seats 1,200 people. In the end over 2,000 people showed up, to this snap meeting, and thus an extra hall and an impromptu out-door meeting had to be organised as well, with speakers rotating between meetings. Although a healthy turn-out, the bulk of the audience was made up of what MP Jeremy Corbyn (one of the speakers) referred to as “The Usual Suspects”. Indeed, there is every chance that a bomb strike on that hall could have wiped out most of the left in London.
A CND concept vigil was organised outside Downing Street the following day (the concept being that everyone wear black). This attracted some 2,000 people as well, and saw them lined up along Whitehall displaying placards stating that they were standing “Shoulder to Shoulder against the war”, in pastiche of Blair’s cretinous soundbite of support for the US government in its war.
In clear distinction to the recent “anti-capitalist” demonstrations, these events were attended by an immensely broad range of background and age. One of the demonstrators was old enough to recall being handcuffed to a Socialist Party member, as a conscientious objector during the Second World War. Compared with crowds at other political events, they were relatively receptive to taking the literature being distributed by Socialist Party members present.
Alongside this various committees have been formed: “Media Workers Against the War”, “Artists Against the War” and “Lawyers Against the War”, usually with a significant SWP organisational input. This mushroom-like proliferation of organisations and their prominence within the anti-war movement that exists demonstrates the degree to which it is dominated by leftist notions and agendas. The aim, indeed their very existence, is focussed on the war itself, as an immediate crisis, without developing any broad analysis of the system of society that spawned it, with themselves as the unifying organisations drawing together the disparate groups and agendas involved in opposing the war.
Many of the protestors are dyed-in-the-wool pacifists, whilst others are leftists, and still others Islamists, united only in their opposition to this particular war, not their reasons for opposing it. This was made abundantly clear at the CND march. Trafalgar square had been booked, some time before the 11 September 11 attack, by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for their own cause, but they handed it over to CND for their anti-war march. A number of speakers, including one from the PSC, used the occasion of the war to push the Palestinian nationalist case as a cure for international terrorism. The number of mosques thanked by the meeting chair for their help in organising the event indicated why slightly more turned out in opposition to this war compared with the Kosovan conflict. The chair also thanked the Stop the War Coalition for helping organise the event. So, the front of a front was working in a front with CND to hold the march.
Speaker after speaker at each of the meetings have trotted out a long list of reforms, from George Monbiot’s suggestion of a Tobin Tax and an International Clearing House to alleviate world poverty, to Tariq Ali’s more conventional leftist approach of assessing the situation in national terms such as placing the Palestinian question at the centre, to the general cry for a standing International World Court to try “crimes against humanity”. The best CND could manage was a weak call to “negotiate”. The only glimmer of hope has been that the nebulous threat from “terrorists” has made the situation resistant to attempts to nationalise the problems into a conflict between specific states, thus speakers have had to talk much more in terms of a world solution.
The problem with this approach, above and beyond the mendacity of leftist fronts, is that it fetishises the crisis (both in philosophical, and more popular usages of the word, the latter, specifically for all the “activists” who long for a campaign to throw themselves into). It sees the immediate situation of open conflict as the problem, the simple solution of which is to simply pull back the troops. It doesn’t go beyond that to examine the fact that if states have weapons and armies, they are there to be used. It fails to look at how conflict is actually continuous in the present world. It simply adopts (and promotes) a simple moralist position, “War is bad, mmm’kay?”
Cause of war ignored
By taking the state propaganda at face value, and focussing on this war as a singular event, rather than a manifestation of historically arrived-at social relations, peace protestors are left with nothing more than vapid hopes. In ignoring this, they lose sight of the fact that we live in an economic system which drives its actors to battle against one another, in order to secure trade routes, natural resources and capital investments. This conflict is continual, the only variation being in the intensity of the conflict and the badges on the uniforms.
The leftists focus on the role of American Imperialism (with the SWP pointedly refusing to condemn the 11 September hijackers, merely disapproving of their tactics), hence their couching of their anti-war sentiments in terms of US withdrawal from the region. Such accounts present it as if the American government had some choice in pursuing an imperialist policy, that its actions result from some mysteriously gung-ho national characteristic, rather than from the dictates of capitalist economy. It also ignores the fact that if the US ceased to be the disruptive force for chaos in the region, there are plenty of willing understudies to take over that role. All capitalist states are basically imperialist in character and ambition.
That the master class of each nation needs to have recourse to violence to enforce and defend its interests in the world means that they must keep exclusive control of the states that direct those armies. The political machinery of society remains in the hands of a tiny minority so that it can be exercised to enforce the wage-enslavement of the immense majority at home, and rob the capitalists’ rivals abroad.
Hence why in Britain the decision to deploy military forces isn’t permitted to be voted on by Parliament, and why in America (as in the Kosovan war) the state can ignore the (unconstitutional in itself) War Powers Act (which, basically, states that the President may not deploy forces abroad for more than 60 days without congressional approval). The fewer hands involved in controlling the power to wage war, the better for the ruling class.
In its heyday, CND could count on having half-a-million marchers turnout to march down Whitehall to press its case for abandoning nuclear weapons. The holders of political power steadfastly ignored them, and nuclear weapons are still here. CND could march half a million down Whitehall against the war now, and the clique in charge would steadfastly ignore them again. The principle that the “masses” have no say over the means of war must be maintained at all costs. So long as the immense majority allows the state to arm itself and remain in the hands of a select few, we will have no capacity to effect war policy.
A socialist took the opportunity of an open microphone to address a Coalition Against the War demonstration from the plinth of Nelson’s Column, at a demonstration on 8 October, and point these facts out to the crowd. Hopefully some seeds of thought were sown there, and the idea that only socialism, the abolition of these conditions of war, exploitation and the existence of class, represents the practical material answer to the threat of war in all its forms will gain ground. So that, at some future demonstration, the impressive number of participants will stop chanting the puerile “Welfare not Warfare” and instead loudly proclaim their adherence to “no war, but the class war” as a means for bringing this ongoing horror to an end.