We Are Many is a new film by Amir Amirani, focused on the mass demonstrations that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It is being heavily promoted by the Stop the War Coalition (StW).
The film starts with shots of the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001 and continues with a count-down to the second Gulf War against Iraq. Its thrust is that the anti-war demonstrations of 15 February 2003, which took place in 789 cities across the world, the largest of these being in Italy, Spain and Britain, changed the course of world history, leading, according to the filmmaker, to the Arab Spring, the Tahrir Square mass mobilisations and the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
The film further claims that the defeat of the Cameron government in the House of Commons over the question of its plans to bomb Syria was all the result of the anti-war mass mobilisations of February 2003. In fact, ‘we won’ is what the film essentially tells the British working class.
The film is interspersed with soundbites from the notorious coterie of Stop the War’s leadership, sanctimoniously bragging about their supposed ‘achievements’ in mobilising the British people against war.
Merits of the film
There is some very good footage showing the truly courageous actions of some US war veterans publicly throwing away their medals, having come to the realisation that they had been duped into participating in the criminal wars of their ruling class against people who had done nothing against them or the working people of their country.
There are also exciting scenes of protesters in the US, such as Medea Benjamin, following former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and shouting “War criminal” at him.
Also very good is the exposure of the bare-faced lies told by the Bush and Blair administrations as a justification for the predatory war against the people of Iraq – particularly the observations of Colonel Wilkerson, who was Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State during the Iraq war. Colonel Wilkerson movingly condemns his own silence at the time and says that President George W Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney should be hauled up before an international tribunal and be tried for their crimes. And if that means having to appear alongside them as a defendant and being convicted, he would do it in a heartbeat.
The film not only shows that the claim about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction was a lie, and that this was known to Blair, but also that it was an illegal war. This had been pointed out to Blair in a memorandum by his attorney-general, Lord Goldsmith, who, until his arm was twisted into retracting this advice and supplying the required legal fig-leaf, stated that Resolution 1441 passed earlier by the UN Security Council did not allow for the use of force against Iraq without further authorisation.
Since Britain and the US were never likely to get a UN rubber stamp, because the weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed el-Baradei had made it clear that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the US and British administrations decided to go to war without one.
The film vividly shows that, notwithstanding huge demonstrations in London and elsewhere, on 18 March 2003 the British parliament, in complete disregard of public opinion, voted by a margin of 412 to 149 to go to war against Iraq. While 139 Labour MPs voted against the war, the rest of them lined up behind Labour prime minister and now notorious warmonger Tony Blair.
The late Robin Cook, who had enthusiastically supported Nato’s criminal war against Yugoslavia in 1999, made a turn for the better and delivered a powerful speech in the House of Commons on 17 March, resigning his post as foreign secretary, and voting against the motion the following day. A day later, on 19 March, the war started.
The film shows the brutal bombing of Baghdad, which does not sit easily with the hypocritical claims made by the imperialist purveyors of ‘democracy’ who unleashed this ‘shock and awe’ that they were ‘on the side of the Iraqi people’.
Much of this is very useful material. However, missing from the film are some extremely important facts.
First, that the huge demonstrations against the war, especially in Britain, were as much a reflection of the divisions within the ruling class over the question of whether to launch a war, as of the mobilising ability of the organisers.
The Daily Mirror, for example, carried anti-war headlines in the run-up to the war, and even printed placards for the demonstration. A significant section of the ruling class was opposed to the war, and this was reflected in the political and media discourse.
Second, despite the big demonstrations in some countries, the broad masses of the people in the centres of imperialism really turned against the war not before it started, but later, as the promised easy victory for the imperialist predatory forces vanished into the quicksands of Iraq and the Iraqi resistance fought the imperialist marauders to a standstill.
Sickened by the genocide visited on the Iraqi people, by the exposure of the lies told by the political representatives of Anglo-American imperialism, and by the revelations about the torture chambers (such as that at Abu Ghraib), burdened by the costs of the war, disturbed by the spectacle of imperialist soldiers returning home in body bags or badly wounded and psychologically scarred, and seeing no prospect of victory, the people in the US, Britain and other ‘allied’ countries grew slowly more disillusioned as the months turned to years and the occupation ground on.
This disillusionment played a big part in the failure of David Cameron’s government to gain approval in the House of Commons for yet another war – this time against Syria – the first time in 231 years that a British government’s war plans had been vetoed by Parliament. Not only were the broad masses of people against another war, but many members of the ruling class had realised that this would be another costly war that they could not win, and so preferred to try to achieve their regime-change ends by other means. The government’s motion was lost by a narrow margin of 272 to 285.
The decision of the British parliament led directly to the US administration dropping its own plans for an all-out bombing campaign against Syria. Although not militarily important, Britain’s participation in the war would have had political significance, providing diplomatic cover for US actions – something particularly craved by the Obama administration.
Deprived of the appearance of a coalition, the US ruling class felt forced to drop, at least temporarily, its ‘humanitarian’ bombing mission to bring ‘democracy’ to the Syrian people through death, destruction and devastation. Needless to say, imperialism has continued to this day, and without the slightest let-up, to wage a vicious war against heroic Syria ‘by other means’ – even finding a way to drop bombs on Syria’s infrastructure by claiming that they are aimed at IS terrorists.
The plans to bomb Syria came hot on the heels of the war against Libya, where a Nato blitzkrieg had paved the way for the overthrow of Libya’s legitimate and popular government and the murder of its leader, Muammar Gaddafi. This in turn led to the replacement of the secular, progressive Libyan government by a collection of crazed fundamentalists, supported by imperialism and portrayed by some of the leading lights of Stop the War as ‘fighters for democracy’.
The film, not surprisingly, is silent about this shameful behaviour of ‘anti-war leaders’ such as John Rees, Owen Jones and Lindsay German, to name just three.
Third, the film makes not the smallest attempt to mention the connection between imperialism and war; that the struggle against war is inseparable from the struggle for the overthrow of imperialism; that war cannot be eliminated without the overthrow of imperialism.
This again is hardly surprising since StW’s leaders are all left-social democrats of one variety or another, all of whom are more concerned to see an imperialist Labour government in office than to oppose either wars against the oppressed peoples abroad or attacks on the working class at home.
Fourth,a strange omission is the complete silence about the sacking and vilification of Andrew Gilligan from the BBC, who was the first journalist to expose the ‘dodgy dossier’ used by Blair as ‘evidence’ of Saddam’s weapons programme and hostile intent.
Fifth,the film does not counter the imperialists’ claim that they are entitled to invade any country that happens to possess chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. It would have been very useful if the film had made the correct point that, even if Iraq did actually possess weapons of mass destruction, there would still have been no justification for waging war against it.
After all, the US and Britain, both of whom participated in this criminal war, possess vast arsenals of such weapons, and they would certainly not admit that this gives anyone else the right to invade our shores. If anything, history would appear to bear out the Koreans’ view that the possession of WMDs by oppressed countries is the only guarantee of being left in peace by the imperialists. It is unlikely that either Iraq or Libya would have been invaded if they had not first disarmed. Two brutal genocides might have been averted if the countries’ WMDs had been retained as WMPs – Weapons of Mass Protection.
Impact of peaceful demonstrations grossly overestimated
The film falsely claims that the anti-war movement has ‘won’. Nothing of the kind. For the anti-war movement to win, it would have to have organised workers to carry out actions that resulted in the stopping of at least one of imperialism’s wars. And to do that, it would have to be led by people who are prepared to really oppose imperialism.
If the British ‘anti-war’ movement was serious about frustrating imperialism’s wars, it would be focused on mobilising working people to withdraw all cooperation with the war. A perfectly good example of that would be the actions taken by the London dockers who refused to load ammunition and soldiers onto the Jolly George in 1919. This action showed the readiness of British workers to give practical solidarity to their Russian brothers and sisters, and forced Lloyd George’s government to abandon its participation in the war against the new Russian Soviet Republic.
Such militant action is no part of Stop the War’s aimless weekend walkabouts, however, since its leaders are all tied, in one way or another, to the imperialist Labour party – the party that launched the wars on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq and which has always supported British imperialist wars whether in or out of office.
Through these misleaders, our ‘anti-war movement’ is actually tied to the imperialist war chariot. And because of this connection, Stop the War is unwilling or unable to make the connection between imperialism and war. Precisely because this leadership has such tender feeling for the imperialist interests of our bloodthirsty ruling class, the anti-war movement, which began so promisingly in 2003, with huge mobilisations, has been gradually reduced to a twitching corpse.
Today, StW ekes out a miserable existence, holding ritual meetings and conferences attended by ever-diminishing audiences, at which, in the main, various accomplices of imperialism congratulate each other for their achievements of 12 years ago and assure each other of the evil crimes of every leader of the real anti-war movement, from Saddam Hussein to Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad.
The film presents the 2003 demonstration of between one and two million people in London as a great victory, when in actual fact it was nothing of the kind. British imperialism joined the war without the slightest regard for the demonstration. It was able to do this because of the criminal lack of leadership given by those who organised and addressed the demonstrators.
No call was given for those present to stay out in the streets until the government shelved its war plans. No mobilisation was organised for the obstruction and sabotage of the war effort. Just a pat on the back for everyone who had arrived and instructions to go home, write to their MPs and mobilise for the next demonstration …
And so Stop the War gradually lost the mass of its members, who could clearly see that there was no point in this activity, and its annual demonstrations and conferences got smaller each year, until they became utterly divorced from the working class and from all those who really want to oppose Britain’s imperialist wars.
The lesson to be drawn from this is that there is no easy way of preventing imperialism from committing war crimes. Much more needs to be done than simply going on a demonstration, even if this is a useful start. What needs to be organised is mass non-cooperation: civil disobedience, strikes, refusals to make or transport weapons, refusals to transmit war propaganda, sabotage of army bases and arms factories, refusals by soldiers to fight in illegal wars, and so on. Determined working-class action could quite quickly prevent our rulers from going to war. After all, as the film’s title reminds us: ‘We are many’!
The real role of Stop the War
Stop the War, however, exists in order to contain the anti-war sentiments of British workers within bounds acceptable to the imperialist ruling class. By all means express your feelings; by all means go out with your placards and walk round the park as often as you like. By all means inundate your MPs with demands for peace. By all means mobilise ‘left’-wing Labourites to present early day motions. But don’t interfere in any practical way with imperialism’s war mobilisations!
Wittingly or unwittingly, the film gives succour to Stop the War and similar outfits to continue acting as safety valves against the danger of the masses getting infected with genuine anti-imperialist sentiments and activity.
While the film exaggerates the influence of the demonstrations in the centres of imperialism on the Egyptian people, what it fails to say is that, as soon as the bombing of Iraq started, the Egyptians organised an anti-war demonstration that, for the first time, overwhelmed the police in Tahrir Square.
The Egyptian masses then went on to build a movement capable of overthrowing the regime of Hosni Mubarak, finally unleashing a wave of strikes across Egypt, which ultimately led to the end of the three-decade long brutal and autocratic dictatorship.
The example of Egypt shows clearly that waving placards and demonstrating alone does not get anywhere. On the contrary, unlike in Britain, the first demonstration was a call to action on the part of the organisers to the masses. And only by following up their demonstration with mass organisation and action in defiance of the ruling elite and its brutal state machine could change be brought about. This point is not made in the film.
All the same, we would recommend our readers to see the film – not only for the good that it contains but as an object lesson in what the left-social-democratic narrative leaves out.