The 2005 Annual Conference of the Stop the War Coalition was held on 12 February in Friends’ House, London. The Conference was attended by a number of CPGB-ML members, several of whom were delegates. We also had a stall outside for the whole day.
As expected, discussion of motions was trimmed to an absolute minimum in order to make way for the usual ‘big-wigs’ of social democracy and left liberalism to make their predictably analysis-deficient Bush-and-Blair-are-very-mean speeches. Among the very few speeches worthy of note were the courageous contributions made by the representatives of Military Families Against the War, and the powerful contribution from Hassan Jama’a, Chair of the Southern Oil Company Trade Union, who spoke about the reality of the occupation and the need to support the Iraqi resistance.
Christmas comes early for ‘left’ Labour MPs
The first social-democratic outrage of the day came in the shape of the Steering Committee’s resolution on the general election, which included the following passage:
“While recognising the multi-party character of our support, the Stop the War Coalition urges people to take into account the voting record and opinions of candidates in respect of:
a) Opposition to the attack on Iraq in 2003;
b) Calling for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, and an end to the Anglo-American occupation of that country;
c) Pledging to oppose any British participation in further acts of aggression initiated by President Bush; and
d) Support for the defence of civil liberties, now being attacked under the pretext of the ‘war on terror’.”
Apart from giving the entirely false impression that George W Bush is the sole initiator of acts of aggression and that Britain merely takes part in said acts in order to appease him (clearly the Troto-revisionist leadership of StWC prefer not to mention the interests of British and US monopoly capital), the motion is, taken out of the innocuous-looking brown paper that it’s wrapped in, a lavish early Christmas present for the ‘left’ Labour coterie. What a treat for these Labour MPs who sit with one foot on the imperialist gravy train and the other in an Islington coffee shop surrounded by copies of Socialist Worker – absolution, affirmation; a hearty pat on the back.
Comrade Jafar Sahari, speaking against this resolution, pointed out that any vote for a Labour MP was a vote for the Labour government, ie, a vote for imperialist war, and that if any Labour MP was genuinely opposed to the war then they would have torn up their membership card long ago. Naturally, given the composition of the audience, the point was not an entirely popular one, and the CPGB-ML delegates were the only ones who voted against the motion. When you’re in a minority amongst social democrats, the chances are you’re taking the revolutionary line!
Support the Iraqi resistance
The major controversy of the conference was over the question of support for the Iraqi resistance. There were four motions (including one proposed by the CPGB-ML) that called unequivocally for victory to the Iraqi resistance. The CPGB-ML motion read as follows:
“This conference calls for the defeat of British and US imperialism in Iraq and gives full support to the courageous resistance of the people of Iraq to the invasion and occupation of their homeland.
“It further instructs the Steering Committee to make ‘Victory to the Iraqi resistance’ a central campaigning slogan.”
Our motion was spoken to by comrade Godfrey Cremer. Comrade Cremer noted that the Coalition’s aims are, in the words of StWC Chair Andrew Murray: to end the occupation and bring the troops home. He pointed out that it is the Iraqi resistance that is in the forefront of the fight to achieve these aims, by driving the occupying troops out of their land. Pointing to the march of 2m, which had culminated in nothing more than, perhaps, very slight embarrassment for the British government, he said: “The truth is that the Iraqi resistance is being much more effective than we are. Our challenge is that the British working class has the potential to be so much more effective … The Iraqi resistance is our close ally and we have to call for its victory. We have no option but to support this resolution.”
Comrade Cremer addressed the worries voiced by Andrew Murray and Tony Benn – that by “throwing slogans to the wind” we would be putting people off – by explaining that, if we genuinely want to be effective in stopping the war, we need to stop being worried about the concerns of the pathetic trade union leadership – its destiny inseparably bound up with the imperialist Labour Party – and need to concentrate on getting out and educating people on what we can do to disrupt the war effort.
Summing up, Godfrey answered those who were too sectarian and picky to support the resistance on the basis of it being insufficiently secular for their tastes, or too aggressive. “The key question is: is the resistance fighting effectively against imperialism? The answer is emphatically ‘Yes’, which means it is on our side and we must support it.”
Comrade Godfrey was supplemented by comrade Steve Cook, who was speaking to a similar motion put forward by Finsbury Stop the War Coalition.
Steering Committee sop
In order to defeat the pro-resistance motions without looking like outright reactionaries, the Steering Committee had proposed a lifeless corpse of a motion which, while stating that “the continuing violence in Iraq is the responsibility of this occupation, and Iraqis have the right to resist it”, condemned the “taking and killing of civilian hostages, including Kenneth Bigley and Margaret Hassan, and the brutal torture and murder of Iraqi trade unionist Hadi Salieh [a representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, which organisation has been working hand-in-hand with the puppet administration]“ and advised sternly that “such killings can play no legitimate part in any struggle for national emancipation”.
The motion could be summarised as follows: we support the concept of national resistance, but we reserve the right to condemn any actual, concrete act of resistance by the Iraqi people. Anyone who has any knowledge of the role played by the Trotskyists and the social democrats during the Vietnam War or the Zimbabwean War of Liberation will be familiar with this duplicitous line of argument. To prove that there is indeed a considerable difference between saying the “Iraqis have the right to resist” and actually supporting the resistance, Andrew Murray, summarising the conference in the Morning Star of 25 February, immediately after noting the conference’s approval of the Steering Committee’s resolution cited above, points out that “delegates overwhelmingly rejected demands by ultra-left groups to adopt the slogan ‘victory to the resistance'”.
Unfortunately, no-one was allowed to speak against this shameful Steering Committee resolution. The system of contribution from the floor was organised in typically ‘democratic’ fashion, whereby people wanting to speak were asked to indicate in advance whether they were speaking for or against a particular motion. Consequently, the Chair was able to arrange matters so that any contribution against a Steering Committee (or Steering-Committee-approved) resolution was a very rare exception. Oddly enough, the person who said most to potentially damage this resolution was George Galloway, who correctly pointed out that it is not our business to tell the Iraqi resistance what it could and couldn’t do – our business is to get on with building the anti-war movement in Britain. But just as we were preparing our hands to clap a surprisingly good speech by Galloway, he concluded by calling on the conference to support the Steering Committee’s duplicitous resolution! The logic still eludes us.
A number of SWP types spoke against the CPGB-ML motion and in favour of the Steering Committee’s. Their reasoning was all the same: a slogan such as ‘Victory to the Iraqi resistance’ would detract from the coalition’s support base, and would hence be inconsistent with the StWC’s principle of ‘widest possible unity’. One might have thought that ‘widest possible unity’ with those who are fighting against the occupation would be the meaning of this ‘principle’, but, in fact, ‘widest possible unity’ in SWP terms means unity with the Labour MPs and trade union leaders who are quite happy to call for the troops to be brought home but would be in trouble if they started calling for ‘victory to the Iraqi resistance’. One speaker summed up the argument perfectly (albeit accidentally) when he said: “It’s all very well talking about victory to the Iraqi resistance, but that’s not going to put more bums on seats for the coach down to the demonstration on 19 March!” The message: it’s not about opposing the war, it’s about numbers on demonstrations.
Nobody mentioned, or was given the opportunity to mention, that the reference to ‘civilian hostages’ by the Steering Committee was, whilst emotive, entirely dishonest. Who exactly are these ‘civilians’? Mercenaries? ‘Civilian contractors’ working for the forces of the occupation? Iraqi civilians queuing up to join the Iraqi police force? The implication is that the Iraqi resistance are going round killing innocent bystanders, women and children. They are not. They are targeting the forces of the occupation, including Iraqi collaborators, and it is their right to do so.
For our part, we must insist that, if we are genuinely opposed to this war, if this war really is ‘not in our name’, then we must support the people who are doing most to bring it to an end, and this support must be unconditional and unambiguous. British workers do not have a problem with this support if it is explained to them – it is in the interests of the British working class to ally itself with all those who are fighting against imperialism. It is the ruling class and its representatives in the labour movement who shudder when they hear the slogan ‘victory to the Iraqi resistance’.
Typical mindless Trotskyist sectarianism
We would mention in passing that, while we of course voted for the other resolutions calling for victory to the Iraqi resistance (put forward by the Finsbury Stop the War Coalition, Revolution, and Workers’ Power), neither Revolution nor Workers’ Power could bring themselves to vote for the CPGB-ML resolution. Since the only thing they can have found objectionable in the motion is the Marxist-Leninist character of the organisation that proposed it, it seems to us profoundly sectarian to refuse to vote for it!
Meanwhile, the shameless opportunism of the Stop the War Coalition leadership is made to look almost subtle when compared with the attitude of large sections of the ‘left’ trade union leadership. It has come to our attention that Mick Rix, formerly a union ‘militant’, has agreed to be President of the recently-formed Iraq Union Solidarity Group (www.iraqunionsolidarity.org), which is linked closely with the TUC. Set up with the ostensible purpose of organising support for trade unions in Iraq, the IUSG confines this support only to those Iraqi trade unions that oppose the resistance and whose primary activity would seem to be complaining about ‘Islamism’ and apparent lack of trade union rights in resistance-controlled areas. (Incidentally, it is perfectly legitimate that these rights be restricted in a war situation where it is urgent that the population be united under the banner of defeating the occupation.)
Just as British trade union leaders spread bourgeois ideology among the workers of Britain, it is clear that there are a number of quisling Iraqi trade unionists who are doing that same work in Iraq. On one hand, they claim to be against the occupation, but on the other, they are against the resistance! Their position – supporting the elections and working within the ‘new Iraq’ for workers’ rights – is a tacit acceptance of the war, the occupation, and the treacherous and laughable Iraqi administration. These false friends of the working class must be exposed as the lackeys they are. There are many trade unions in Iraq who support and work alongside the resistance, and we would recommend British trade unionists wishing to express their union solidarity to support these groups rather than those (such as the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions) that are doing the dirty work of imperialism.
It is no secret that the anti-war movement in this country is led by left social democrats, whose allegiances lie not with the masses of the world trying to overthrow the shackles of monopoly capital, but with the uninterrupted flow of imperialist superprofits.
It is high time that the movement was reclaimed by those who are genuine in their wish to defeat this war. We urge those who have previously been involved in anti-war work but who have been put off by the uninspiring, ineffective and undemocratic nature of the anti-war movement in its current state to join us in this task.
Troops out now!
Victory to the Iraqi resistance!