Issue 272 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
Last month's demonstrations against the war were truly historic. With two million on the streets of London, and millions more protesting in cities and towns throughout the world, never before have the mass of the world's population come together to give our rulers such a clear and decisive message--no to a war on Iraq.
Clearly the protests are causing Tony Blair some serious headaches, and by the look of his increasingly haggard and ageing appearance, a few sleepless nights as well. He would not have been helped by the House of Commons vote when 121 Labour MPs opposed his rush to war. Normally the feelings of ordinary people find little expression in the Commons, but such is the size of the anti-war movement and so determined are people to make their opinions heard that even many MPs cannot ignore them.
Despite all the protests Blair has shown us that the views of the British electorate counts for nothing and the only person to whom he is accountable is to be found in the White House. Yet it is this that makes his position so weak. Blair, along with Aznar in Spain and Berlusconi in Italy, are the world's leaders most vulnerable to regime change.
The opposition to war is also leading to splits at the top of society. The dispute among the world's superpowers about the timetable for war is a reflection of this. Even though Donald Rumsfeld has announced that the US military is ready for an invasion of Iraq, it is a strategy fraught with immense dangers if they go ahead without the consent of the other imperialist powers.
But the impact of the protests goes well beyond the world's leaders. Many of those taking to the streets in opposition to war have now witnessed the sham that poses as democracy. The fact that their opinions are repeatedly ignored has forced many to conclude that an alternative must be found--one where those who run society are truly accountable to those who live and work in it. It also shows that the key to stopping this war lies not in the corridors of Westminster or the meeting rooms of the UN, but on the streets, in our workplaces and in our schools and colleges.
The question facing the anti-war movement today is the same that faced the Chartists, the Suffragettes or the civil rights movement in the past. Then the key to their success (which virtually everyone today would claim to support) was direct action. The same methods must be employed now if we are to stop a bloodbath in the Middle East.
The demonstrations scheduled for the coming weeks show the anti-war movement is still gaining strength. And the decision by the Stop the War Coalition to convene a People's Assembly in London on 12 March is a recognition that the House of Commons does not reflect the feelings in the country against war. It is also crucial that the debate about war and the scale of opposition to it gets the recognition it deserves. Trade unionists in Greece and Italy have already promised to take strike action over the war.
The anti-war movement is now beginning to raise issues that even go beyond its original aims. The questions as to who runs society, whose interests they represent, and most crucially, whether there is an alternative to the current system of war and recession are being asked by many who have been forced to confront the agenda of our rulers. There has never been a more crucial time for these questions to be raised, and answers suggested. The next few weeks will determine the shape of the world for years to come.