On 25 April, local branches and national affiliates of the Stop the War Coalition (StW) met in north London to discuss the current situation and debate motions setting out the coalition’s future policy and campaign priorities.
The conference was reasonably well attended, with around 350 delegates, and business was divided into sessions entitled ‘Obama and the war on terror’; ‘Troops out of Afghanistan’; ‘Palestine’; ‘Muslims and civil liberties’; ‘Iraq’; and ‘Building Stop the War’.
The proceedings were opened and ably chaired by Andrew Murray (of the CPB and Unite), who reported on StW activities and briefly outlined the steering committee’s views as stated in its resolution.
Conference delegates and resolutions displayed a broad appreciation of the fact that US president Obama, while being an engaging and articulate (and, of course, black – itself a remarkable occurrence in the US, which remains a profoundly racist society) representative of US imperialism, remained just that: the chief spokesman of US imperialism.
In view of the fundamentally unaltered political realities, the continuity of the broad anti-imperialist aims of the coalition was reaffirmed.
A tendency to downplay the significance of the ongoing war and occupation of Iraq was ably dealt with by Sami Ramadani, who briefed the delegates on Obama’s plans to keep a significant and permanent force of occupation (approaching 100,000) in a number of massive military complexes across Iraq. These troops, Ramadani said, will be relabelled as ‘military advisors’ – a familiar ploy from the days of US war on Vietnam. But “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – or in this case, as rotten.
Tony Benn, as president of StW, gave his assessment that “We are not just a single-issue campaign; it’s much broader than that.” The main thrust of his argument was that “Despite the swing of public opinion in our favour, we haven’t won the argument at governmental level.” Sadly, his contribution was greeted with rapturous applause, rather than the round condemnation it deserved for its thorough parliamentary cretinism and stubborn refusal to denounce his beloved Labour party, which remains the ruthless representative of British imperialism, and very much the party of war.
Ranjeet Brar, introducing the CPGB-ML resolution (reproduced in full below), pointed out that imperialism itself “has a one-point programme; and this is not the introduction of democracy, as it hypocritically claims, but domination; and it is only right and just that we oppose the machinations of Anglo-American imperialism wherever it lays its bloody hand”.
He continued: “It is not US coercion or chance, but the inevitable consequence of placing the profits of City bankers and energy and armaments magnates above all other interests that has led the Labour party down this free-market fundamentalist path.
“So why the deception? The imperialists cannot express their true motives because they know the truth of the motion’s second point: that the interests of British monopoly capitalism are not the interests of the nation as a whole, as they would like us to believe. In fact, they are diametrically opposed to the interests of the majority of British working people.
“Despite a section of British workers benefiting from the City’s wealth, imperialism brings for the majority – even in Britain – only the promise of deepening capitalist economic crisis, impoverishment, wage slavery and growing unemployment, public service cuts, crippling national debt to bail out billionaire bankers, spiralling inflation, and war without just cause, without just peace and without end in sight.
“Despite our apparent weakness, working people really do have the ability to veto the war. Not by demonstrations alone – important as they are – but by our refusal to cooperate with the daily industrial, logistical and military operations necessary to launch and sustain it.
“If our soldiers follow the example of SAS refusenik Ben Griffin, and refuse to fight, will the bankers fight and die in their own demoralising and unjust, criminal war? Of course they will not and cannot!
“If our transport workers follow the example of the 15 Aslef train drivers, and refuse to transport arms to the front, can the city financiers accomplish this task to continue their war effort themselves? Of course they cannot and will not!
“Let us campaign among our dock workers to follow the example of US west-coast dockers, who brought shipping to a standstill on May Day last year in protest against US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Is this not in the finest traditions of British working-class history?
“Let us petition workers at weapons companies to strike; let us salute and encourage direct action that frustrates the ability of arms manufacturers – such as Raytheon and EDO – to manufacture the merchandise of death.”
The above words were warmly received by the conference, and the resolution, calling for a concerted campaign of “industrial, political and military non-cooperation with all of imperialism’s aggressive war preparations and activities among British working people” was overwhelmingly passed (one against and one abstention).
Among our other tasks, we must ensure that this landmark resolution does not become a dead letter, but is presented proactively and positively to the trade-union movement and the wider working class. It would be all too easy to allow our local StW groups to become subsumed in the task of gathering “500,000 signatures against the Nato war in Afghanistan to present to the Prime Minister at the Labour party conference” (when this would have not the slightest impact on the Labour warmongers, but only tend to reinforce the blind faith that many British workers still have in Labour as being in some way responsive to their desires), as suggested by Coventry and Tower Hamlets branches, and neglect this important work.
George Galloway MP spoke powerfully, condemning Israel’s atrocities in Palestine, and gave an inspiring report of the aid rendered to the Palestinian people by the Viva Palestina convoy, who have been rewarded for their humanitarian efforts by high-profile televised arrests and harassment by British police on the one hand, and a legal assault by the Charities Commission on the other, which has sequestered Viva Palestina’s accounts and is holding some £400,000 of its donations, preventing this much needed aid from reaching the people of Gaza.
A welcome intervention was made by Craig Murray (former ambassador to Uzbekistan, now Rector of Dundee University), who pointed out that the spurious ‘bomb plot’ recently ‘unmasked’ by police in the north east (gaining massive media coverage along with excited comment from Gordon Brown) represented a prime example of Islamophobic hysteria. Not only did it prove to have no basis in reality, but despite this – in an attempt to further stoke racist and anti-immigrant sentiment among British workers – the Pakistani students wrongfully arrested and interrogated were, and remain, threatened with deportation.
Mr Murray also pointed out that this was a carefully orchestrated political campaign designed in part to distract from headlines condemning police beatings of G20 demonstrators, the death of Ian Tomlinson, and Jacqui Smith (Labour Home Secretary)’s expense claims.
Finsbury Park StW moved a principled resolution calling upon the coalition to continue opposing Anglo-American attempts to turn Iraq into a neo-colony and to loot its oil, and “for the victory of the Iraqi resistance in its continuing struggle to defeat the invaders and their stooges and establish a truly sovereign, independent Iraqi state”.
In previous years, resolutions calling for support for the armed anti-colonial struggle of the Iraqi people have met with rabid denunciations from the platform. A notable change was evident in the steering committee’s attitude this year, however, in the light of the recent surge in anti-imperialist militancy following Israel’s December/January military assaults on Gaza and the profound crisis of overproduction besetting capitalism.
Andrew Murray went as far as to state that “the committee overwhelmingly supports the first two paragraphs of the resolution, and while I personally support the call for victory to the resistance, there are many groups, such as the Quakers, who could not, on the basis of their pacifist stance. We must regretfully, therefore, oppose the motion while welcoming its general sentiment, on the basis of preserving the unity of the anti-war movement.”
This equivocation was reflected in the speech made by John Rees of the SWP, who noted that the anti-war movement had become simultaneously “broader and more radical at the same time” following the attacks on Gaza. He noted the re-emergence of very large numbers of the muslim community, and pointed out that their unity with the wider British community was key to effective action.
Commenting on “the attitude of Stop the War to resistance in the Middle East”, he said that “Stop the War has always recognised that occupied people have the right to resist. However, Stop the War is open to all, including, for example, Quakers. They should be included in the movement, for its success relies upon its mass character.”
Thus far: the usual excuses for not rallying support among British workers for their fellow Iraqi workers’ legitimate anti-colonial struggle. We note in passing that the Quakers have themselves never come forward to speak against the slogan “Victory to the resistance!” Perhaps because they realise that they are part of a broader movement and cannot expect to agree with every single programmatic point put forward by that movement!
But, continued Rees, “the truth is that those of us – and I’m one of them – who do support the resistance in the Middle East, in Palestine and the other middle-eastern countries, found ourselves with a much broader audience, and this represented a real advance in political consciousness.
“The truth is that the only way imperial power is overthrown is the way the US was broken in Vietnam: by the resistance of people on the sharp end of imperialism and mass resistance at home – which we are responsible for. Both are important. Both sides of this equation are needed to defeat the imperial project.”
We welcome this admission, and would simply add to it Lenin’s observation, made at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, that “the revolutionary movement in the advanced countries, would actually be a sheer fraud if, in their struggle against capital, the workers of Europe and America were not closely and completely united with hundreds upon hundreds of millions of ‘colonial’ slaves who are oppressed by capital”.
This means making British workers conscious of the coincidence of their interests with the anti-colonial Iraqi resistance, and building a ‘broad and radical’ united movement on this basis, rather than using ‘unity’ as a pretext to avoid our urgent and pressing tasks.
Nevertheless, the 2009 StW conference did indeed mark a real advance in political consciousness, reflected by the support of a third of the delegates for the above resolution, even though the Steering Committee had recommended voting against it, and the overwhelming adoption of that of the CPGB-ML calling for an active policy of non-cooperation with British imperialism’s criminal wars (reproduced in full below).
No cooperation with war crimes
This conference condemns Britain’s continued involvement in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and calls for the immediate recall of all British troops from both these countries.
While the City of London’s financial elite sought to benefit by joining arms with the US to seize Iraq’s oil wealth and manipulate her domestic and foreign policy to their advantage, this conference affirms that the entire bloody debacle has always been contrary to the interests of the vast majority of British workers, who have consistently demonstrated their opposition to this modern-day Anglo-American colonial crusade.
Since 2004, more than 1.5 million wholly innocent Iraqi men, women and children have been slaughtered as a result of the illegal invasion and occupation of their country. This can only be termed genocide. In addition, more than 4 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes as internal and external refugees, and the resultant dislocation of Iraq’s cultural, political and economic life is near total.
In Afghanistan, tens of thousands of people have been murdered, and the country’s infrastructure smashed to pieces as a result of the Anglo-American oil monopolies’ quest to control the routes of projected pipelines.
This conference notes with shame the fact that ‘our own’ British imperialist Labour government has been a key player in planning and perpetrating these heinous war crimes against the Iraqi and Afghan peoples.
Conference notes that many British workers were browbeaten, by a compliant political and media establishment, into accepting these wars on entirely false premises (Afghan responsibility for the 11 September attacks, Blair’s ‘45 minute’ claim about Iraqi WMD, etc) that sought to paint Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than Anglo-American imperialism, as the aggressors. Thus the necessary ground was laid to send British and US soldiers (workers in uniform) to do the bankers’, oil magnates’ and armament manufacturers’ dirty work.
This conference believes that war fought to enforce subjection and servitude upon another nation is morally abhorrent; to fight and die in such a cause is demoralising, corrupting and meaningless.
This conference realises that, although individually powerless, collectively, British workers do have the power to stop the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, since the government and corporations cannot fight them without us.
This conference therefore resolves that the coalition will do all in its power to promote a movement of industrial, political and military non-cooperation with all of imperialism’s aggressive war preparations and activities among British working people.
Union mobilisation remains key to the success of such a policy, and this conference instructs the incoming Stop the War steering committee to campaign vigorously among trade unions to encourage them to adopt a practical policy encouraging their members to do everything not to support illegal wars or occupations, directly or indirectly; and to render every support to members victimised for taking this principled stand.
This conference welcomes the magnificent examples set by such signal actions as:
2002/3: FBU strike action immediately preceding the invasion of Iraq, which threatened the entire enterprise.
Jan 2003: Fifteen Aslef train drivers refused to move arms from Glasgow factories to Glen Douglas base on Scotland’s west coast (which remains Nato’s largest European arsenal, and from where they were bound for the Gulf).
9 Aug 2006: Protesters occupied the Derry offices of Raytheon when Israel invaded Lebanon, to “prevent the commissioning of war crimes by the Israeli armed forces using weapons supplied by Raytheon”.
May Day 2008: tens of thousands of US west-coast dockers defied court injunctions to strike in protest against US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite the decision of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) leadership to withhold official sponsorship for the strike.
Dec 2008: Smash EDO demonstrators occupied and disabled production at Brighton-based missile-delivery system manufacturer EDO (recently acquired by Armament Giant ITT) during Israel’s massacre of Gazans.
Feb 2009: Norwegian train drivers staged a national stoppage to protest the Israeli massacre in Gaza.
Resolutions asking Bectu media workers to resist the transmission of imperialist war propaganda will be considered at the union’s forthcoming congress.