Can Left-wingers Criticise the Stop the War Coalition?
Left-wing criticisms of Stop the War will not go away.
The assault on Stop the War is really aimed at Jeremy Corbyn wrote Tariq Ali a few days ago in the Independent.
He stated, “In addition to the wars in the Middle East there is a nasty and unpleasant war being waged in England, targeting Jeremy Corbyn.”
Richard Burgon, Shadow Treasury Minister has remarked that,
…the attacks on Stop the War were “proxy attacks” on the Labour leader.
Responding to criticism the Labour leader said at a fundraising dinner for the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) last Friday, that the alliance was “one of the most important democratic campaigns of modern times”, and accused the coalition’s critics of trying to close down debate.”
“He wished the group the very best, saying it has been a movement “dedicated to peace”. The “anti-war movement has been a vital force at the heart of our democracy”, he said. “I think we’ve been right on what we’ve done.”
Corbyn added: “We are a peaceful, democratic force. We are a force for good. We are a force for opening out people’s minds and mobilising them to challenge those that would take us into another war.
“I’ve been proud to be the chair of the Stop the War coalition, proud to be associated with the Stop the War coalition.
“We are very strong, there are very many more of us than there are of those people that want to take us in the other direction.”Corbyn insisted on attending the Christmas fundraiser in Southwark, as Labour sources said he had promised to hand over the chairman’s role in person. (Guardian.)
The StWC itself has said
“While most of our critics have supported all the wars of this century in the face of growing evidence that they have failed, the Stop the War Coalition has a proud record of campaigning against wars since the start of what was originally called ‘the war on terror,’” the group claimed in a statement on Wednesday.
StWC also attacked the vote on bombing Syria.
“The politicians who voted for further war last week fail to acknowledge the dismal record of previous interventions,” StWC argued. “Many of them are the same people who were the cheerleaders for the war in Iraq.”
In the wake of the vote to bomb targets in Syria, a number of MPs claimed to have been harassed or even sent death threats by opponents of the move.
StWC said these claims were due to “the fact that some of our supporters have had the temerity to lobby their parliamentary representatives.”
“Wild claims of intimidation of MPs have been shown to have been falsified,” it added.
John McDonnell has been cited as saying,
…one of the things we normally do is campaign against unjust wars.
“That is why we were involved in the foundation of Stop the War. Again, others have been critical of Stop the War and some of the positions they have taken, but that is honest political debate.
“As far as I am concerned, Stop the War have got it right in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan and in terms of the bombing of Syria. So of course we continue to support the organisation.
There is no argument that there are many, in the media, and amongst Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour opponents who have used the controversy about the Stop the War Coalition as a means to get at the Labour leader.
But what of “honest political debate”?
It has not escaped the attention of many left-wingers that the Stop the War Coalitions problems are deeper than the crass posts – now removed, apparently – on its Web site. That the ‘whirlwind’ and Daesh as “Internationalist Brigades” posts – amongst others – have been removed alters little about the overall politics of the group.
George Galloway, a prominent StWC supporter, has spoken at their recent rallies. Apart from his sympathies for Russian bombing in Syria, this is one of his recent statements during his campaign to be London Mayor,
Galloway also promised to support the police and security services in the fight against terrorism.
“The police will find a friend in me,” he added.
“Every terrorist will be shot down dead, and if I can, I will pull the trigger myself.
“I say to the police officer in the room, when it comes to your wages, your resources and your strengthening, you can count on me.”
The StWC protested, it might be recalled, at the terrible police shooting of suspected “terrorist” Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005.
Perhaps some may find it odd that they now promote somebody advocating a free hand to the police to shoot….terrorists.
In January this year after the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper-Casher massacres Tari Ali gave a classic ‘whirlwind’ blow-back explanation of the killings,
That has been going on since 9/11. The West refuses to address the causes. Any attempt to explain why is usually denounced and so it becomes civilisational, or good versus evil, or free speech versus barbarism. The fact is that the West has reoccupied the Arab world with disasters in Syria, Iraq and Libya where things are much worse than under the previous authoritarian regimes. This is the prime cause of the radicalisation of young Muslims. The Left is in a bad way or seen as part of the problem, so they go to the mosque, search for hardline solutions and are eager to be used by jehadis.
What is the context in which the Paris killing should be seen?
As I described above but vis-a-vis France, these guys were a pure product of French society. Unemployed, long-haired, into drugs, alienated till they saw footage of US torture and killings in Iraq.
So you think western interventionist policies in the Arab and Muslim world are responsible for radicalisation of sections of Muslims in Europe and the United States?
In my opinion, one hundred per cent.
How serious is Islamophobia in France and other European countries?
France is the worst in Europe and tries to mask it by proclaiming its secular values (sound familiar?), but these values don’t apply to Islam. In fact, French secularism means anything but Islam. And when satirical magazines taunt them, they react. It’s as simple as that.
The ‘West’ was to blame for violent Islamism; Charlie Hebdo was “taunting” Moslems – we know what happened…
The more recent Paris slaughter has wider targets than the wrong kind of “secular” leftists at Charlie Hebdo and Jews, but one can see in Ali’s response (I have not referred to his later ‘wise guy’ comments giving the ‘inside dope’ on the weekly’s history and internal conflicts) that ‘reaping the whirlwind’ claims are not new in the StWC
Ali’s position on Syria appears to be that the “causes” of the civil war – Western intervention – are the prime target. StWC is opposed to “foreign interventions and especially where the British Government is involved.” The focus on Britain avoids the problem, which supporters of Syrian democrats emphasise, that Assad is backed by foreign intervention, and that StWC systematically excludes their voices from the debate.
In the Independent Ali evokes 19th century opposition to British colonial expeditions. “starting with William Morris’s observation in 1885 that the defeat of the British Army in the Sudan under General Gordon at the hands of the Mahdi (a religious leader par excellence), was a positive event insofar it weakened the British Empire.”
Is it the case that in “different times” – now – religious leaders weakening of the British or US ‘Empire’ can be welcomed?
Or, is Ali perhaps evoking the much more influential 19th century opponents of British colonial expeditions – the Little Englanders, such as John Bright (1811 – 1889)? Bright stood for many honourable causes, successfully joining opponents of UK support for the Southern side in the American civil war, and, less successfully, speaking against the Crimean War. As an anti-colonialist Bright tends to be forgotten for his equally ferocious campaign against Irish Home Rule. But the theme of British responsibility, the focus on the moral responsibility of the British government, and the need to fight “our” rulers, has left its mark on the modern ‘anti-imperialists’ of the StWC.
One does not have to agree with the claim that there are substantial numbers of Syrian democratic revolutionaries left in much of the country to see that this is clearly a problem.
Many feel that they have a responsibility to people across the world – it’s called internationalism.
In this context we note also Peter Tatchell’s criticisms of the StWC.
The dismissive response, whether one agrees with assertions about the strength of the Syrian democrats or not, has not been helpful.
Andrew Murray, Chair of the StWC, who is a considerably greater figure than any of the two already cited, has failed to explain why, as a member of the small Communist Party of Britain (CPB) – which backs Russian bombing in Syria to support Assad on the grounds that the Syrian state is sovereign – he is a leading figure in a movement that’s called “Stop the War”.
In an interview a few days ago with John Harris in the Guardian this exchange took place,
I suggest that the Assad regime has to go, and ask Murray if he agrees. But he doesn’t directly answer the question. We bat the point around for a few minutes, before we arrive at the reason why: as a staunch anti-imperialist, he says it’s not his place to call for the toppling of regimes overseas: a strange position for an avowed internationalist, perhaps, but there we are.
“Look, Assad has been bombing his own civilians, and he’s wreaked incredible suffering on the Syrian people,” he says. “I find nothing to applaud in the regime. Except this one aspect: it appears to have quite a lot of support from minority religions in Syria, and there is a fear that there could be mass killings of Christians or Shia Muslims – which is why a transition to democracy is what is needed.”
But why avoid saying Assad should go?
I’ve said [the regime] is awful. But you’re wanting me to take the place of the Syrian people. You’re wanting me to say, like the other colonialists down the years: ‘This regime should go.’”
Feeling a mild desperation, I bow to Godwin’s law, and mention Nazi Germany. In the 1930s and 40s, it would have been perfectly legitimate to insist that Hitler’s regime was so heinous that it ought to have been brought down, in a completely non-imperialist, moral context. So why can’t you say the same about Assad?
Eventually, Murray talks about a diplomatic push for a transition “that will end up with Assad going”. He goes on: “In my view, the important thing is that the Syrian people decide who their leaders are. I don’t believe it is the responsibility of people in Britain to choose the governments of foreign countries. If Assad wants to chance testing his popularity, that’s up to the Syrian people.”
John Rees and Lindsey German – the other key figures in the StWC – are leaders of Counterfire, a split from the Socialist Workers Party. Their principal difference with their former comrades was that they both wished to continue building a “united front” in the anti-war movement (that is work with other forces in the pressure group on a long-term basis), while the SWP wanted, as they always do, to switch over to whatever new campaign was their priority as the time (which few can remember).
Counterfire has a ‘revolutionary’ strategy,
At the point where revolutionaries took the step of initiating the Stop the War Coalition in 2001, we undertook an analysis something like this. We had already understood the nature of the new imperialism from theoretical work at the end of the Cold War, during the First Gulf War, and during the war in the Balkans. We understood the contradiction between expansive US military power and its relative economic decline. We judged, from preceding experience in the anti-globalisation movement, that there would be a mood to resist and that the left might not be divided in the way it had been in the Cold War.”
Rees claims, then, that the left determined the political direction of the StWC. “We” grasped the “subjective” element in politics and organised the “mood to resist”. The words ‘united front’ have all but evaporated. Instead we had another approach, which led (see below) to the formation of Respect. That is one based on access to “workers’ consciousness”. This method was not only applied to wage-labours. In 2003 he noted that amongst Muslims, “Some of these have been radicalised by the war, and by the effect on them of racism bolstered by the war and government policy. This has made them open to working with and being influenced by the left.” The alliances of the StWC and the left within it, was therefore not a matter of confronting people’s contradictory opinions, but to get a hold on “radicalised” forces – primarily Muslims.
Counterfire and the Coalition of Resistance: a critical analysis. Tendance Coatesy. 2010.
Phil comments that the strategy has not worked well.
The Anti-imperialism of Fools.
The US is no longer the world’s unchallenged hegemon. Yet Stop the War has more or less carried on as if none of this has happened, as if the USA is the only active agent in the world and – implicitly – the designs and manoeuvres of rival states and enemies are benign or, at least, less harmful. This is why Putin never gets as much stick as Obama, why leading members of its steering committee have occasionally associated with sundry undesirables, why the Kurds get no support while IS are clumsily and favourably compared with the International Brigades. Why it appears that authoritarians and totalitarians get a free pass while democratic countries are criticised and mobilised against.
We need a new Stop the War coalition or, rather, we need one with new politics, one that recognises the inequitable and unjust character of international relations and global political economy, that sometimes war and peace is a messy business, and acknowledges that it’s not our place to soft soap regimes and terror outfits. Not that difficult you’d think, yet here we are.
Phil B. Left Futures.
In conclusion how better to illustrate this politics in action than this?
On 10 December the NUT National Executive debated a motion on Syria. It was based on something the SWP had sent out earlier in the week but was moved by Dave Harvey from Outer London.
The motion was pretty bland, reaffirming a previous decision to oppose UK air strikes on Syria, condemning the recent vote to bomb and calling for support for demos and protests against this including those called by the Stop The War Coalition. I wrote an amendment which added condemnation of all bombing, specifically naming Russian and Assad regime bombing. It also called on Stop The War to condemn this military intervention as well as UK attacks and it called on the UK government to demand that NATO member Turkey cease all attacks on the Kurds.
The debate was short but bizarre. The most common response was that people ‘didn’t disagree with a word in the amendment but it takes the focus off the UK bombing and that has to be our main thrust’.
The crassest argument by far came from the SWP. To criticise Stop The War at this time is to criticise Corbyn and that’s a no-no. So we had self-styled revolutionary socialists using their lifetimes of Marxist education to urge Labour Party members to be more loyal to their leader. Much like members of the SWP do for their leaders I guess.
12 Executive members voted for my amendment and 26 against. The main motion was then carried with one vote against (Ian Leaver of Leicester who seconded my amendment). There was probably a case for that stance. For him it was a gesture of his frustration with Stop The War’s recent publication of articles appearing to compare Daesh to the anti-fascist International Brigades and to blame the West for the Paris atrocity. There was certainly a case for abstention though it was not a particularly strident motion. My amendment took nothing out (rightly or wrongly) but added stuff in.
The vote for the amendment crossed the obvious political divides to some extent but the bulk of support for it came from LANAC supporters. The determination to defeat this condemnation of Russia and Assad and the minor criticism of Stop the War came from supporters of the Socialist Teachers Alliance and their bag-carriers in the SWP.
Both organisations are so saturated in low level, lesser-evil anti-imperialism that they have forgotten that such a thing as socialist internationalism ever existed. Now it’s just ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ (or at least a less bad enemy). It was very much like watching the last spasms of a dying species.