Issue 257 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review

Stop the war

NOT IN OUR NAME

Protests at war have erupted across the world. We print eyewitness reports of demonstrations and meetings which show the birth of a new movement

London: the demo

Over 50,000 people took to the streets of London demonstrating against the war. This was one of the biggest demonstrations seen in many years in London and showed that opposition to the war runs far deeper than the press and politicians would have us believe. It was a clear sign that the anti-capitalist movement had come to the streets of Britain.

This was a tremendous multiracial demonstration. There was a massive turnout from the Asian community. Large groups of Asians--men and women, young and old--turned up to demonstrate together. Many of them arrived at Marble Arch tube station where they were met by socialists who held impromptu meetings of a few minutes and announced to groups of people that they were part of an anti-war movement that was growing throughout the world. A cheer of delight would go up and the demonstrators would eagerly grab papers, placards and stickers, and march off to the meeting point. Here they also mingled with many young anti-capitalists--the spirit of Seattle and Genoa had arrived.

Thousands came from throughout the country. From Birmingham four extra buses had to be put on the night before. Even so some 200 people were left behind, such was the demand to get to London. Thousands of students also turned up--some 350 came together from SOAS college in central London.

As well as being impressive in size the demonstration was political. The Socialist Worker placard with the 'Fight US/UK imperialism' slogan went down a treat. The CND organisers were surprised by the size and militancy of the demonstration. Thousands of young Asians got to the front and led the chanting into Trafalgar Square. Here they took over the statues and carried on chanting for hours.

For those who have been involved in the anti-war campaign since the bombing began there was a strong feeling that Saturday was going to be big. In part this was because of the huge meetings that had already taken place. The week the bombing started over 2,000 people turned up in central London--it was so big that two overflow meetings had to take place simultaneously. This meeting launched the Stop the War Coaliton backed by MPs, trade unions, political organisations and peace protestors. This was followed by organising meetings of 500 and 250 over the next two weeks. There have also been meetings of over 400 in Birmingham and over 300 in Liverpool. Also in Newham, east London, over 250 mainly Asian people came to hear the case against the war. The day before the London demonstration the Asian weekly paper, Eastern Eye, had a front page urging its readers to turn up the following day and protest against the war.

On top of this there has been a very successful rally organised by Media Workers Against the War. Over 600 media workers came to hear NUJ president John Foster, Rosie Boycott, former editor of the Daily Express, and campaigning journalists John Pilger and Paul Foot.

The task now is to build on this anger and support. The next national demonstration is scheduled for 18 November and looks set to be huge. It is a clear sign that the anti-capitalist mood which has grown over the last 20 months is now spilling over and breathing life into an anti-war movement which is going from strength to strength. The government is losing the argument.

London: a meeting

Over 250 people crammed into a community centre hall in East Ham in east London to form the No2War coalition--Newham Opposed to War and Racism.

The meeting was a real reflection of the community. Local anti-racist group the Newham Monitoring Project, the SWP, CND and trade unionists had distributed leaflets in the week before. We leafleted every major workplace, staff in all the big schools, every mosque, and the local university and further education college. We ran stalls in the markets, visited all the shops in one of the high streets and leafleted the tube stations in rush-hour. One community group mailed out all the others in the area.

And it was worth it! A feeling of real unity and energy flowed through the room. Everyone was excited to look around and see young people from the university sitting next to older folk from the mosque. Women from an Asian women's group had brought their children. There were delegations from Christian churches and CND, from the schools and Unison, and representatives from many community organisations. It was simply the most mixed meeting in Newham in very many years.

The speakers were a real mix too--a young Palestinian woman sat next to a Jewish socialist there to speak on behalf of the trade unions, a revolutionary socialist next to a Labour councillor. All were greeted with real enthusiasm. One man who came after getting a leaflet at his mosque rose to his feet in the discussion and told us, 'I am in the 71st year of my life...and this is the best evening I have ever had. Seeing all these people--it gives me hope.'

Young women joined the London demonstration in force
Young women joined the London demonstration in force

Glasgow

Some 5,000 people took to the streets of Glasgow on 13 October. The demonstration, called by the Scottish Coalition for Justice not War, was the most diverse anti-war protest Scotland has ever witnessed. People from Scotland's Muslim and Asian communities, radicalised students, and first time demonstrators of all ages joined with peace groups and labour movement activists.

As the marchers made their way through the city centre it was noticeable how little hostility there was from the general public as compared with the Balkan and Gulf wars. The mood amongst passers-by was one of concern at the bombing, and interest in the arguments of the protesters.

Another heartening factor for socialists was the immense anger and militancy. As the demo hit Queen Street, where the British armed forces have recruitment centres, there was a mass sit-down with people chanting, 'Bush, Blair, what do you say? How many kids did you kill today?'

At the rally in George Square left wing Labour MP George Galloway spoke for everyone when he said of the US war on Afghanistan, 'it is like putting Mike Tyson in the ring with a small child and for Tyson then to savagely beat it round after round for 15 rounds.'

Liverpool

The first Stop the War Coalition rally in Liverpool (on 11 October) attracted over 320 people.

Held at Liverpool University and sponsored by the city's trades council and Merseyside CND, the meeting received many messages of support from local trade union branches, including TGWU Vauxhall, Ellesmere Port, and Liverpool NUT. But it was a solidarity statement from Merseyside and Cheshire FBU, received to resounding applause, that really set the tone of the meeting: 'You cannot bomb people into democracy or deprive starving children of food and essential medicines in order to change their government's policy. It doesn't work. It's immoral. And it's a harbinger of terrorism of the future.'

Built on and off campus through flyers, mail-outs, ring-rounds and interviews on local radio stations, the audience was drawn from a genuinely broad cross-section--students, university lecturers, activists from local campaigns, Muslim women in their chuddah, asylum seekers, care workers and lawyers.

Hussein Al-Alak from the Campaign Against Sanctions spoke of his own horror at the events of 11 September. The audience then listened in horror as he detailed the devastating consequences of US policy in Iraq. John Rees from the Stop the War Coalition developed the case against the war with hard facts such as the cost of a stealth bomber, $2.3 billion each, worth three times its own weight in gold. The total value of the 21 in the US fleet is twice the gross domestic product of Afghanistan. 'Through all the years of the apartheid regime I never thought the solution to the problem was to bomb Johannesburg from London or Washington. I always thought the solution lay with ordinary working people in South Africa,' he said to much applause.

Campaigner and Red Pepper editor Hillary Wainwright laid bare the real reason for the US bombardment of Afghanistan. Oil and gas pipelines running through Afghanistan from the Caspian Sea sponsored by western oil companies are, she said, central to understanding conflict in the region.

Germany

Berlin's march for peace was a joyous moment in tragic times. The peace movement, languishing for years, enlisted all its energy and was rewarded by a turnout of over 50,000 people in Berlin and 25,000 in southwestern Stuttgart, plus smaller gatherings in Nuremberg and other cities.

The Berlin meeting started off at three assembly points, the Friedrichstrasse station, the famous Brandenburg Gate and the Neptune Fountain near City Hall. From the latter, especially, an endless stream of people moved through downtown east Berlin to their goal, the magnificent Gendarme Platz, where one of the other groups had already arrived. The square, one of the most handsome in Europe, was so full that the third group was hardly able to squeeze in between the two baroque towered cathedrals and the imposing central Schauspielhaus, now a concert hall.

The huge crowd was an extremely mixed one, a wide array of all age levels, with young people somewhat in the majority. The signs and banners were equally mixed--all the left wing parties were represented. Nearly all signs, in varied ways, condemned the war in Afghanistan.

The demonstration was very mixed, but it was a peaceful, surprisingly happy mix as one speaker after another at the rally explained why this war was a terrible one. One American also spoke and an American rock group performed and got the crowd to repeat, 'Just say NO!' Perhaps most dramatic was the first speech by an Afghan woman who described what was happening to her friends and relatives.

Many placards condemned the German coalition government of Social Democrats under Gerhard Schröder and the once-pacifist Greens under Joschka Fischer for blindly supporting George W Bush's war--and arming for more military sallies around the globe.

Japan

There are daily demonstrations in Japan
There are daily demonstrations in Japan

Protests against the US-led attacks on Afghanistan have been taking place almost daily in Japan since bombing began. Indeed, sometimes there have been two and even three demonstrations in the same city on the same day, a mark of the sectarianism that continues to afflict the Japanese left.

The largest of these took place on 13 October when 5,000 mainly trade unionists marched through the streets of central Tokyo. I attended two separate protests on Sunday 21 October about five kilometers from each other--one organised by fragments of the old Japanese left and the second (which tried to march on the US embassy) by NGOs and citizens' groups. Given the importance of the campaign in Japan, there are some welcome signs that anti-war campaigners are beginning to join hands.

As America's unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Pacific, Japan is the base for thousands of US troops and some of the planes and ships now being used to bombard Afghanistan. Many Japanese are angry at the continued US military presence and fear that the country may be drawn into a wider confrontation. Moreover, the Japanese right has used the 11 September attacks as a pretext to challenge Japan's peace constitution, which prevents the Second World War colonial power from sending its troops abroad. Despite the massive popularity the constitution enjoys and without the slightest pretence at democracy, nationalist prime minister Junichiro Koizumi has already rammed through potentially profound changes which allow Japanese troops to provide support for the allied effort. The move is only the latest and boldest ploy by the country's hawks to expand the country's military role in Asia and the rest of the world.

The stakes in Japan then, as elsewhere, are high and point strongly to the need for an organised and united left.

India

Braving heavy rains, 100,000 people participated in a rally in Kolkata, India, on Sunday 14 October, protesting against the US attacks on Afghanistan. The rally was in response to the call given by the left parties for countrywide protests.

Drawn from a cross-section of the people, participants raised slogans calling for an end to the war and condemning the terrorist attacks in the US. Joining the protest march were the intelligentsia, workers, peasants, youth, students and women in large numbers.

The demonstration condemned the wanton destruction of buildings and the taking of innocent lives by the US air strikes. They termed the military action as a unilateral move which had no sanction from the United Nations. The US was utilising the worldwide condemnation of the 11 September incidents to strengthen its hegemony.

They pointed out that the US has encouraged, nurtured and financed terrorist outfits of all hues and continues to do so even now. Both the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden are its creations. Osama Bin Laden was used against the Soviets. US troops landing in Pakistan endangers the national interests of the countries of South Asia, they asserted.

The rallyists also condemned the servile attitude displayed by the Indian government. The BJP-led government had offered cooperation and assistance which was unsolicited by the US. It is under the illusion that the US will help it in resolving the Kashmir issue. On the contrary, the speakers emphasised, the BJP was inviting US intervention in the dispute, which would be inimical to Indian interests.

Opposition to US war should not be equated with support to the Taliban, Osama or terrorism and the demonstrators emphasised that we are 'neither with the US nor with the terrorists'.


Return to Contents page: Return to Socialist Review Index Home page