On Monday 16 April, following the launching of over a hundred 1,000lb missiles against Syria by the US, Britain and France on the previous Saturday, the Stop the War Coalition (StW) held a demonstration in Bristol city centre, ostensibly against further bombing of the country.
Stalking the peripheries of the 400-strong crowd was a lone figure, draped in silken robes and hood, wearing a plastic skull mask and waving a ‘Free Syrian Army’ flag attached to a homemade placard that read ‘Assad and Putin – Chemical child killers’.
Repeating imperialist propaganda; crushing the truth
It might be expected that this oddly-attired individual’s unhinged views – ie, that a further escalation of imperialist war in Syria in support of Nato’s jihadi army (sorry, the ‘Syrian revolution’) should be supported – would be in contradiction with the stated aim of the demonstration (‘No more war’).
Not so, however. From the official platform, and with a decent sound system to bring his noxious words to every member of the audience, the organisers had invited a young man, one Obada Alia, from the Bristol University Islamic Society (who stated that he was a Syrian national) to speak, alongside a local Labour party member (naturally).
While doing so, Mr Alia waved his own FSA flag (loathed all over Syria as the symbol of a ravaging terrorist invasion) and spouted an extended version of the bile on the masked man’s placard, levelling all kinds of lurid accusations (straight out of the imperialist playbook, in fact) against the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and its allies.
When an acquaintance of our Bristol party branch took the initiative and raised the two-star flag of the Syrian republic in opposition to this repulsive display, several of the organisers forced him to leave the side of the platform, and then sent the police over to our stall to ‘advise’ him that the flag of the legitimate Syrian state was inflammatory!
This, then, is Stop the War’s idea of anti-war work. With friends like these, the Syrian people stand in no need of further enemies. With honey on their lips and daggers behind their backs, these scoundrels appoint themselves to lead the working class into a harmless (to the imperialist war effort) cul-de-sac of impotence and confusion.
What, we ask, are British workers who really want to stop imperialist war supposed to think when the official ‘anti-war movement’ is so happy, even after so many of the lies have been exposed, to promote the extremist, sectarian views of those who are arguing in favour of imperialism’s barbaric war against the Syrian government, giving full support to the rancid views of Nato’s FSA puppets?
It was evident that plenty of people in the crowd had absolutely no issue with the red, black and white two-star flag of the Syrian republic being flown by our friend, though they were surprised to see it. Amongst the throng, people were watching and listening to the charade being played out on the platform, and questioning it.
One activist our comrades spoke to, who stated that he had long felt disappointed with the narrow horizons of the local StW branch, related how, several years back, he had questioned Chris Nineham (currently StW vice-chair and formerly a leading light of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party) about Stop the War’s action in ejecting Syrian peace and reconcilliation worker Mother Agnes from its platform after Owen Jones and other assorted Trotskyist types demanded she be dropped from the panel as an ‘Assad apologist’ before they would deign to grace it.
According to this contact, the pressure brought to bear on the StW leaders by these ‘star speakers’ was too much to bear, and they caved in at the thought of losing the audience they hoped such stars would bring.
Why hasn’t Stop the War stopped a war yet?
In fact, this pressure has not been resisted for a single day of Stop the War’s existence. For all its crowing about having mobilised the biggest demonstration ever seen in Britain on 15 February 2003 (one month before the invasion of Iraq), the truth is that it was not StW that mobilised the masses that day but the section of capitalists who felt that war with Iraq wouldn’t serve their ends.
On the eve of war, the capitalist-owned Daily Mirror told us: “A war won’t save Britain from terror”, and ran its printing press all night to make placards for the demo!
Since that 2003 high, our movement has been on a downward spiral. StW’s resources have been controlled by a self-appointed clique of ‘left’ Labourites and hangers-on, who have consistently pushed the illusion that the only ‘protest’ methods open to us are such tame activities as lobbying MPS, petitioning governments and marching (on weekends, with plenty of notice to the state).
Desperate to do something that might actually stop the wars, delegates at StW’s national conferences repeatedly and overwhelmingly called on StW to mobilise workers for a programme of active non-cooperation.
If every union made it their policy to refuse to cooperate with the wars, then workers could refuse to make or move munitions or supplies, could refuse to write or broadcast propaganda, and could refuse to fight in the forces. The wars would collapse!
But instead of putting these plans into action, StW’s executive quietly shelved them and got on with pushing pointless busywork onto a dwindling band of activists.
In stopping the movement from doing its job, StW’s leaders have demotivated and demoralised hundreds of thousands of people who really do want to end imperialist war.
Why do they act this way? Because they are all members or supporters of Labour, the party that launched genocidal wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. They are pushers of the illusion that this true-blue, union-jack-waving, immigration-scaremongering, gun-boat-toting, cruise-missile-dropping party of imperialism can somehow be transformed into an instrument for protecting the working class’s interests.
This loyalty is the key to understanding why StW’s leaders are so opposed to the building of an effective mass campaign of non-cooperation that could stop the imperialist war juggernaut. And to understanding why they consistently repeat the vile imperialist propaganda lies that they should be exposing.
The leaders of StW are neither stupid nor misguided. They are class enemies doing a job for imperialism; and doing it very effectively.
So instead of undertaking the vital work of exposing and underminging the war propaganda machine, StW tells us that, in the interests of ‘unity’, we must not work to accelerate the victory of anti-imperialist forces abroad. Instead of uniting with the millions who are fighting for their lives on the front line against the British exploiters’ guns, StW tells us we need to ‘unify’ with the tiny clique of Labour careerists in our movement who serve those exploiters!
Libya, Syria, Russia, China: supporting the drive to war
This same opportunist gang cheered on Nato’s bombing of Libya. A little retrospective wailing over the 50,000 deaths and wholesale destruction of Libya’s hard-won independence and freedom will not wipe out the stain of collaboration.
At the crucial moment, StW organised demonstrations in support of Nato’s war, and against the Libyan people’s resistance. This shameful betrayal, which neutralised opposition to the war, was the beginning of the end for StW.
Libya’s enlightened society and developed infrastructure brought the highest living standards in Africa, until the head-banging CIA and MI6-backed jihadists were forcibly installed. Now the entire country lies in ruins, black Africans are openly bought and sold on UN-protected slave markets, and the country’s wealth has been hijacked by western financiers. ‘Democracy’ in action.
No sooner had Libya fallen under Nato’s heel, than the same fundamentalist Al-CIAda army transferred its murderous rampage to another vital pivot in the axis of anti-imperialist resistance: Syria.
Right on cue, in waded StW, with heartfelt denunciations of ‘brutal dictator’ Assad and strident support for this allegedly ‘popular revolution’! Once again, there was no difference between the imperialists’ pro-war propaganda and that of our allegedly anti-war leaders.
Ignoring Nato’s criminal, barbaric assault on an independent and sovereign state, they seem only to worry that open bombing by Nato has strengthened the unity of the anti-imperialist forces inside Syria!
Moreover, StW has consistently failed to give a platform to the few brave independent journalists like Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett who are bringing real information out of Syria, exposing the imperialist lies about the country and blowing a hole through the warmongering narratives, prefering instead to give a platform to hysterical Assad bashers and Russophobes like Owen Jones, who, not content with supporting the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi and President Assad, are busily preparing the ground for war against Russia and China.
This war drive is also being supported by StW’s leaders every time they repeat media lies about Chinese and Russian ‘aggression’, ‘dumping’, ‘corruption’ or ‘dictatorship’. This is war porn, aimed at demonising countries that have committed no crime except to maintain their political and economic independence.
A century ago, Lenin pointed out that we won’t beat imperialism unless we also take on those who serve imperialist ends within our own movement.
If we really want to stop war, we must get rid of all those who pose as ‘friends of the people’ while binding our movement to the war chariot of imperialism.
Today, it is clear that many of those who have stuck with what remains of the ‘official’ anti-war movement – and many of those who have only recently started to wake up to the reality of the imperialists’ drive towards ever-greater war – are becoming increasingly aware of the bankruptcy of StW, which becomes more glaring each time we witness a spectacle such as the recent debacle in Bristol.
Demand is growing for an organisation that really does want to stop the imperialist war machine. We must rise to this challenge, and strive to bring on board all those genuine anti-war, anti-imperialist activists who are still trying desperately to chart a course with the broken compass provided by StW.
A real anti-war movement must start by standing up to imperialist propaganda, and take as its central demands:
No cooperation with imperialist war; victory to the resistance!