On 14 March, the Stop the War (StW) coalition sent out a fundraising email entitled ‘Remembering Tony Benn’, calling him “a tireless fighter for peace, justice and equality”. StW convenor Lindsey German described him “fondly” as “a good friend, comrade and campaigner” and “a man of great courage and integrity”.
StW is now largely defunct, fundraising emails and web articles being the main content of its work, but at the time of the second Iraq war in 2003, when Tony Benn was its president, it had a genuinely mass following.
Lindsey German still loves to wax lyrical about the glorious “two million person march”, which was the defining moment of her career and the high point of StW. Despite this march being largely organised and mobilised by sections of the national (capitalist) press, and in fact the movement totally failing in its aims to stop the Iraq or any other war, she revels in the movement, even 15 years on.
Principally because she still doesn’t understand what led to the fleeting ‘success’ of that moment, and secondarily because it was all downhill from there. That doesn’t bother Lindsay. There’s still just enough political credibility to be rinsed and money to be garnered from the echoes of that movement, so it is rare to hear her start any speech without alluding to her rebelliousness for “trampling the grass of Hyde Park” underfoot.
Moreover, despite the leeches of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) dominating its position and finances (later Counterfire seized the organisation when its leaders split away from their Trotskyite brethren), in the five years or so after the Iraq war started, StW formally maintained the charade of participation from many political groups and shades of opinion.
But with StW’s leadership monopolised by the worst elements of Trotskyite and revisionist ‘socialists’ (John Reese, Lindsey German, Andrew Murray), they practiced their divisive sectarianism and censorship relentlessly, gradually driving out all perceived ‘opposition’ from their ranks, and confining the movement to the channels of limp parliamentary cretinism.
Repeated calls from the conference floor to encourage and lead campaigns for non-cooperation to imperialist war crimes were ignored, and when eventually these resolutions were overwhelmingly endorsed by congress delegates they were shelved and sidelined.
This domination by ‘left’ Labourites such as Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn kept the anti-war movement tied to the Labour party, despite the fact that Labour was in fact waging the very war they claimed to oppose (Tony Blair was their leader, let us not forget).
This was (and essentially remains) the modus operandi of the British ‘left’-Labour-allied Trotskyite and revisionist movement. They were then and are now viciously sectarian in hounding out opposition to this social-democratic servitude, and to any voice raised against the Labour party.
Campaigning for the Labour party (although this is in no way their remit!) has remained the core mission of StW and is the real meaning of its leaders’ claim to be ‘non-sectarian’, which always acts as a prop for parliamentary cretinism and social chauvinism – and is their occasionally stated reason for refusing to draw the anti-war movement into creative channels of actually threatening imperialist war. Nothing must be done to damage the chances of Corbyn’s election possibilities, we are told. (Perhaps they should give this advice to JC himself!)
As a result, ‘Stop’ the War ultimately wound up following its Labour masters (‘Red’ Ed Miliband) into supporting imperialist wars of destabilisation – notably against Libya in 2011 and Syria in 2012.
To return to Counterfire’s (StW) hypocritical lionisation of itself in the form of Tony Benn, let us be unafraid to give him his historical due. Two facts alone will suffice to recall his true role and character:
1. Tony Benn was a tireless fighter for more and greater sanctions against the starving people of Iraq in 2003 (along with such ‘democrats’ as Madeleine Albright). He had a singular ability to frame these attacks as being ‘against war’ (“sanctions have not run their course”), while being impeccably pro-imperialist.
2. Tony Benn, as British secretary of state for energy, conspired with the racist apartheid state of South Africa to rob occupied Namibia (then Southwest Africa) of its uranium for British nuclear power and weapons. Check the details of the Rossingham contract and see for yourself.
Now that is a good social-pacifist/social-imperialist, as Lenin would have termed him. No wonder the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) considered him, like his successor to the ‘left Labour’ mantle JC, a safe pair of hands to ‘lead’ and limit the scope of its ‘peace movement’.
‘Stop the War’ tells us, of its good friend and former comrade Benn: “He never left Labour, but was critical of much of its politics and always encouraged people to be involved in activity as their starting point in politics.” (Obituary for Tony Benn by Lindsey German, 14 March 2014)
Moreover, say StW, “he was completely committed to united work. He disliked sectarians [anti-imperialists] and couldn’t understand why some on the left spent their time attacking one another [ie, criticising the Labour party and its betrayal of the working class].” (Our emphasis)
Indeed. Tony Benn was determined to act as a prop of the parliamentary system (‘democracy’ – if only for the wealthy) and the Labour party (social democracy), which in turn acts as the chief conductor of British ruling-class influence into the British working-class movement.
He gave up his peerage – but never his love and service for the British ruling class. With friends like these, what need has the working class for enemies?