Issue 278 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
Nothing to lose but fear
The war on Iraq and its prolonged aftermath are now determining the political agenda. The fallout has damaged the British establishment and looks set to worsen as the situation in Iraq rapidly deteriorates.
It is equally clear, although never acknowledged by the mainstream media, that the global mass movement against the war was the crucial factor in building popular resistance, which in turn made a critical stance more acceptable in 'official' political circles. The Stop the War Coalition crystallised popular anger against the wider neoliberal project, and against the betrayals served up by New Labour. The article by Salma Yaqoob (September SR) is an important contribution to the wider discussion we need about the way forward for the movement, as was some of what came out of the People's Assembly on 30 August. What the Coalition has achieved so far has been impressive, but we also need a clear idea of the problems we face.
The anti-capitalist movement provides the inspiration for many millions worldwide, but lags behind in the UK. Anti-war activity can help build a more vibrant anti-capitalist movement here, but we must also provide a bridge from simple opposition to the war to opposition to capitalism. At the People's Asembly Tony Benn correctly identified fear as something to overcome. There is great fear and insecurity. Not, as the media wants us to believe, fear of terrorism, but fear of what the system will do to you next. Will it fire you, close down your pension scheme, care home or school? Will it saddle you with debts? Will it insist you work till you are 70? It is through the fight against the war that we overcome this, that we draw people into struggle and give them hope, undercutting the Nazis and racists, and providing inspiration for workers themselves to begin to resist attacks at work.
But, crucially, the left must break with its own pessimism and sectarianism, and with the narrow perspectives it inherited from the defeats of the 1980s and 1990s. The Socialist Alliance isn't perfect but at least it's an attempt to forge some unity on the left, and to put forward anti-war politics. It is up to the wider movement to develop this, to change it, to help turn it into something broader. But to do this, people must really believe that a new world is possible. Salma rightly says that of all the things which have been robbed from people over the last two decades 'the most important one is their imagination'. We must be creative and audacious about putting forward our ideas, while also being patient and persevering, and allow the energy and imagination of the movement to come through. The next period will see a global struggle develop against imperialism and neoliberalism, in which the anti-war movement will be central. Bush's permanent war on terror means that we must become involved in permanent resistance.
I was glad to read Paul Embery's reply (Letters, September SR) to Martin Wicks' claim that various rank and file groups were 'SWP organisations'. This type of criticism will be familiar to any trade union activist.
The recent troubles of my union, the PCS, will also be familiar to most readers. The immediate problem was solved by a very broad-based campaign. This was followed by a successful electoral pact combining the broad left organisation, Left Unity, and the softer of two right wing factions, currently trading under the meaningless title of PCS Democrats, who are quite clear that Left Unity remain their 'political opponents'.
This joint approach meant that most of the leading positions went to a broad-based coalition not dominated by a single political organisation. In fact, their determination to get rid of the 'Moderate' faction aside, the two have little in common. The success of the operation may create future problems, but we sometimes have to take risks. A scratch is easier to deal with than gangrene.
Despite the experience of generations, there is no automatic feeling that betrayals by trade union bureaucracies result from the specific role they play rather than from some 'original sin' in the thinking of individuals who can be replaced. The solution is not to simply dismiss existing broad lefts as electoral dead ends or rank and file groups as sectarian fronts. We have to work within--and help build--the first, arguing for the position of the second and, where rank and file groups exist, help to build them.
A plague on both their houses is hardly constructive.
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Thanks for a fine article on the anti-war movement ('Within Political Inches', September SR), most of which I agreed with. However, I was slightly surprised to read that the activities of the anti-war movement had resulted in 'ultimately winning the united support of the TUC general council'.
While it is correct to say that the motion passed at last year's TUC congress opposed intervention in Iraq without a second UN resolution, since hostilities began--and during the occupation of Iraq--the silence of the TUC has been deafening. Before, during and after the war it has failed to give its support for any of the huge national demonstrations.
Surely it would have been better to focus more strongly on the direct action of the 300-plus workplaces that took some form of protest action against the war rather than the TUC's inactivity. Hopefully, too, pressure from below can result in the TUC being forced into actually doing something to protest against the occupation. In the meantime I don't think it should be given credit for sitting on the fence.
The claims about my views, actions and motives made by Lindsey German and Andrew Murray ('Within Political Inches', September SR) are wildly inaccurate. I responded to their personal attack when it first appeared in the Morning Star (see www.labournet.net) For the original article to which Lindsey and Andrew object, see www.signsofthetimes.org.uk. What the anti-war movement needs now is less self-congratulation, more analysis and an end to smear politics.