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Stop the War Coalition attacks Open Labour and Lisa Nandy’s ‘Liberal Interventionism’

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StWC Warns of “returning Labour to  ‘liberal intervention’.”


In the latest journal of Liberation, (ex-Movement for Colonial Freedom) Andrew Murray, former Corbyn adviser and chief of staff at UNITE the Union, wrote, “Corbyn has been replaced by Starmer as Labour leader but pressure from the mass of the movement on the key issues – no more wars of intervention, support for the Palestinians, no cold war with China – can make a difference.”

Murry, who was, and is, a leading voice in the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) warned, “Biden signals a return to “business as usual” after four years of the racist authoritarianism of Trump. However, business as usual under Democrats and Republicans alike has meant one war of intervention after another this century, and Biden’s foreign policy team seems full of “liberal interventionists”. One area of great concern was that the West was drawn into “a quasi confrontational stance against China.”

Liberation Journal Winter 2020-21

These views have now been developed.

Murray, who spent many years( 1976 – 2016) in the Communist Party of Britain and Lindsey German (a leading member of the revolutionary socialist group, Counterfire) have written a polemic which grapples with the threat, as they imagine it,  of “liberal interventionism” taking hold within the British Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn writes in the introduction,,

Andrew Murray and Lindsey German have the benefit of a consistent and honest track record in opposition to war. They were part of the foundation group of the Stop the War Coalition in 2001 and have jointly written this pamphlet to ensure we do not descend into another bout of interventionism, and then pretend the consequences are nothing to do with the original military action.

The authors state,

In this pamphlet, we argue for the continuing salience of those policies amid indications that Corbyn’s successor, Sir Keir Starmer, and his Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy will look for ways to abandon them. Not only are the main lines of Stop the War’s policies popular in the country, but they are also overwhelmingly popular among the Party membership. And the contemporary international situation makes them as relevant as ever, notwithstanding many changes in the world since our foundation in 2001.

The attack against Stop the War has been most recently expressed in a pamphlet published by Open Labour – A Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times. It was launched with the participation of Nandy, and subsequently endorsed by another member of Labour’s foreign affairs front bench team. Its arguments aim at returning Labour to its worst mistakes of the past, all made under the heading of ‘liberal intervention’.

This brochure then, is a reply to the  Open Labour pamphlet, Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times, by Frederick Harry Pitt snd Paul Thompson (in the distant past a leading figure in the radical left group Big Flame).

These is some of the core, well thought out and illustrated, arguments in the Open Labour document,

The dominant (though sometimes implicit) framing that drove Corbynism derived from anti-imperialist perspectives originally formed during the Cold War, national liberation struggles and opposition to repressive American interventions in South East Asia and Latin America in the 1960s and 70s. With the collapse of the Soviet block after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this binary ‘two campism’ posed the West against the Rest. However, anti-imperialism was reshaped and revitalised by military interventions, notably Iraq, influenced by the neo-conservative defence of US hegemony as the guarantor of an often somewhat shallow conception of liberal democracy.

They observe,

What is notable about its politics is the complete lack of interest in any conflicts not directly attributable to ‘the West’ and an inability to see any actor other than the US and its allies as having motives or powers. So, for example, Islamist attacks in Europe have typically been seen through a ‘reaping the whirlwind’ prism in which terror is wholly or mainly as a response to Western military intervention.

This will strike a chord with many people.

Anybody familiar with the tragedy of the Algerian civil war between a repressive military state and murdering Islamist groups during the 1990s, will be aware of the the underlying truth of this argument. Ii what sense was the Groupe Islamiste Armé, (GIA )a response to Western intervention? In what sense is are the mass murders of black Africans by Islamist Al-Shabaab in Mozambique, happening at this very moment,  the responsibility of the West?

One needs more than a few sentences to respond to the following, but the questions posed are at the heart of opposition to the Stop the War Coalition.

The Stop-the-War worldview cannot accommodate situations where Western inaction, rather than Western intervention, has played a decisive role in unfolding violence. When the STWC discusses the Syrian conflict, it is almost wholly silent about the role of Russia or Iran, and even the Assad regime itself. The response of  the Stop-the-War left to each and every major conflict the world over typically represents little more than a nostalgia trip getting the band back together for one last riff on the Iraq years. But contemporary conflicts do not sit easily with the Iraq complex of the left.

It would be hard to find any but the most general and unfocused criticism of Russia and Iran in the StWC public statements, If they have not gone as far as figures such as Chris Williamson in broadcasting false information that benefits the Assad regime it would be hard to find much that would distract from the view that Syria is a sovereign state and that however bad the state is the axis on which any solution to the civil war can be found recognises that soveriegnty.

Liberalism and the left.

An important section of A Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times. is about the political and ethical underpinning of globally “spreading the rule of law”, “global human rights” and “global emergency services”, as Mary Kaldor and Alex Sobel put it in their Introduction.

An important section of is informed by the views of liberalion demosm and human rights developed by the late Norman Geras. They are close to the ‘synthesis’ of human rights and democratic Marxism defended by, amongst others on the internationalist left,  the present Blog.  In this Blog’s case they are informed by the critical take on Marxism and democracy of writers such as  Claude Lefort, (the democratic revolution and its ‘indeterminacy’) and Étienne Balibar ( l’égaliberté. Equality-Liberty) , and the more supportive views on democratic Marxism by Hal Draper,  “one of the creators of the Third Camp tradition). One of the bases for an alternative to Campism, is this area, independent of any ‘side’ but that of left-wing internationalism and evolving fights for human and democratic rights.

This contrasts with figures such as Andrew Murray who spent several pages of  The Fall and Rise of the British Left (2019) pouring scorn on human rights, “poisonous seeds of the politics of personal identity and human rights”, full stop.

Some of the Open Labour writers’ strongest approaches is to these problems centred around political liberalism is this,

.. the late Norman Geras called those ‘tenets of liberalism not indissolubly bound up with capitalism’, namely its attempts to ‘set limits to the accumulation and abuse of political power…protecting the physical environment Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times,a space of individuals from unwarranted invasion’. It has done so albeit unevenly and imperfectly, historically through ‘evolving institutions and practices, political and juridical, to contribute to such ends’.


They summarise the accusation that the Stop the War Coalition is campist. That is,

The ‘two-campist’ positioning of Corbyn’s intellectual and political milieu, which relates world events to a crudely caricatured clash between the West and the rest, is instinctive and reflexive rather than properly thought through. It is an under-theorised posture automatically adopted in response to the vagaries and complexities of foreign affairs.

Campism, was originally the stand of the pro-Communist left. It was the duty of every revolutionary to defend the Soviet Union, the Socialist Camp, and, later, their Anti-imperialist allies. It can be seen the have left a trace: the gut feeling that anything the West does has to be opposed. It can lead some to ‘defend’ the forces opposed to the West, as certain leftists do, ‘defending’ Iran, Assad’s regime, and others. If the StWC could offer an example, surely they defend the Palestinian camp including Hamas, against Israel.


Reply by Murray and German.

The pamphlet is a diatribe in defence of the record of the Stop the War Coalition. Its internationalism, Murray and German assert, is based on that  “we have campaigned against the actions of our own government – which does not imply support for their enemies, In case you had not got that message they call it, “indigenous and home-grown opposition to a state’s foreign policy objectives.” Anybody reading the whole text will find this repeated and repeated, “Our anti-imperialism must therefore start from here. Britain is part of one imperial bloc, and that is the one we need to challenge in our effort to give the country a new direction in world affairs.”

I doubt if there are any people who’ve been on the left for any time has not heard the slogan The Main Enemy is at Home. . This is not campism “guided by support for another ‘camp’ of hostile foreign powers” but one thing is pretty clear, it not striking out an independent policy, it is being against one side. Or, as they put it in a lengthy list of causes, “The answer to this charge is simple: in every case we have campaigned against the actions of our own government – which does not imply support for their enemies.” They attack the ‘bloc’ in short.

Away from words this is a significant issue. The principle does not always sit easily with internationalism: our main friends may be abroad. How do we help people fighting against dictatorial regimes, and genocidal groups like the Islamic State (Daesh)? This is, as the Open Labour pamphlet frames it, a major issue of human rights violations, ethnic cleansing and genocide. All Murray and German can say on Syria is that there are lots of actors, “intervention on all sides “. They avoid the issue that it was Western, primarily US action, which permitted the Kurdish forces to survive and defeat the Islamist genociders and that it was Trump’s decision to withdraw that support which has let other Islamists, under the aegis of the Turkish state, to push them back. And, as we learn, is pursuing an invasion of South Kurdistan.

What do the StWC  propose for the Kurdish people in Syria and their defenders in the PYD ? I cannot recall anything from Corbyn, and even less from the StWC about meeting the military needs for armed defence. What exactly did they offer when they state, “That does not exclude solidarity and support for those struggling for freedom, of course”? Early Day motions in Parliament? Kind words before the Coronets of Power? They looked sheepish when asked about this when  Kobanê  was in imminent  danger of falling, and was saved thanks to allied airpower: today, they do even bother to look at the Kurdish struggle.

Human Rights.

What kind of human rights do the StWC defend? Murray and German manage the impressive job of talking about issues around “China’s growing military strength” without mentioning China’s record, from the persecution of the Uyghurs, clamp down on freedom for dissenters,  to the attacks on democratic forces in Hong Kong.

Instead they pontificate in a  flurry of speculation,

It is also more likely that Biden will follow Obama and Trump in prioritising confronting China. This represents the danger of a new Cold War, but not of an Iraq-style invasion or a Libya-style bombing campaign, at least for the foreseeable future. Britain has announced that it will dispatch one of its two aircraft carriers to the Far East to assist in this confrontational posture. Nandy appears signed up to the anti-China strategy – Stop the War can see no case for  Britain deploying military hardware on the other side of the globe, against a country which poses no military threat to us.

The authors were on their strongest ground, when outlining the failures of humanitarian intervention –  although the Western leaders in these cases were always careful to underlay the reasons for their acts with appeals to national self-interest rather than a serious case for human rights.

In reality the wars of recent decades were not noble crusades against ‘fascism’ but attempts at regime change involving the deployment of huge amounts of military might. This often succeeded quite easily in overthrowing existing governments. However, the methods of imperialist war and occupation proved totally incapable of building the better societies they had promised – instead they led to endless continuing conflict, widespread displacement, human rights abuses and often very large numbers of civilian casualties as well as refugees. Many societies will not recover from the consequences of being ‘saved’ by the West for generations.

Now all Murray and German  have left is a last bow to things that never happened and were never going to,

Corbynism offers a different approach to the world. His Labour government would have aimed at disengaging Britain from the US-led hegemonic project, focussing instead on dispute resolution, de-escalation of conflicts and the reallocation of resources to poverty alleviation. It would have been a friend, rather than the sworn enemy, of movements for liberation and social justice, and radical governments, around the world. Every effort would have been made to address injustices like the dispossession of the Chagos Islanders and the occupation of the Palestinian territories. And over the longer term it would have reduced the power of the City of London and curbed the arms trade, two drivers of neo-imperial policy. It would have taken arms conversion seriously. It would not have assumed that Britain has a right and responsibility to intervene militarily willy-nilly.


Written by Andrew Coates

February 12, 2021 at 2:59 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Tory Britain! .


    February 12, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    • Perhaps the most central problem lies not in their claim to ‘rebut’ the Open Labour pamphlet but the lack of any actual proof, such as supporting any present act of intervention they say may be on the cards, by Shadow Foreign Secretary Nandy or other.

      The claim that the Open Labour pamphlet’s ” aim at returning Labour to its worst mistakes of the past, all made under the heading of ‘liberal intervention’.” tries to associate international intervention, humanitarian and human right help, with the military acts of the Blair years without any decisive proof.

      Andrew Coates

      February 12, 2021 at 9:05 pm

  2. At one point a Corbyn government certainly looked reasonably likely, or at least possible, but are you alluding to the difficulties it would have faced in enacting such policies once elected?

    The use of ‘New Times’ suggests a Marxism Today veteran may be involved here.


    February 12, 2021 at 10:59 pm

    • I am sure that Paul Thompson would be aware of the reference to New Times,

      “The principal basis of New Times is, as the name suggests, the idea that the 1980s and 90s represent a significant break with previous history. The transition from Fordism to Post-fordism is a key factor, as workers in western nations are no longer concentrated in large workplaces, but employed widely in the service and public sectors; blue collar jobs are replaced by white collar ones; and consumption is democratised to a far greater extent than previously.

      Other things are seen as radically new. Thatcherism, for example, is seen not as a simple development of previous Tory policy, but as a radical departure. Jacques, in the introduction to the MT special, writes that “at the heart of Thatcherism, has been its sense of New Times, of living in a new era… the Right has glimpsed the future and run with it.” The new times require new politics, and Thatcher is the first one to realise it.

      In terms of concrete political positions, the NT milieu did not significantly differ from the wider Eurocommunist scene. NT did not see their role as informing Communist cadre so much as influencing the wider left, in particular the Labourites and Liberals. They advocated broad coalitions of oppressed groups, and ushered in an era of ‘identity politics’. (Indeed, much of Hall’s subsequent work was concerned with questions of identity.) NT repudiated the project of abolishing capitalism, ascribing the failure of Bolshevism to ‘voluntarism.’ NT held instead to a decidedly reformist project: the left should adapt to the world, rather than seeking to change it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Times_(politics)#:~:text=New%20Times%20was%20an%20intellectual,official%20theoretical%20journal%2C%20Marxism%20Today.

      Paul Thompson,2018.

      “In September 1971 I was stood outside Fiat Miafori in Turin leafletting the workforce
      alongside a large number of Lotta Continua militants. It was at least a change of scene from similar exercises outside Liverpool car plants as a member of Big Flame ‘base groups’. Miafori was the epicentre of struggles of the mass worker and 1971, a mid-point between the hot autumn of 1969 and the factory occupations of 1973. The leaflet has long since disappeared, but the politics remain reasonably fresh in the mind. Refusal of work was a centrepiece of the politics of Italian operaismo or workerism, an umbrella term that linked various tendencies including Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio that shared some common theoretical origins in the works of a new wave of Marxist thinkers associated in different ways with the journal Quaderni Rossi. ‘Refusal’ is, on the face of it, an odd term. After all, few if any Fiat or other workers were asking their employers to terminate their contracts. The politics of working class autonomy and refusal were not timeless, but intimately linked to a crisis of mass production and profitability, with an Italian twist.

      Yet, here we are in 2018 and refusal of work is still around and has in fact made something of a comeback. We may no longer see it in leaflets outside Fiat or Ford Halewood, but it is a prominent rallying cry for the now fashionable post-work crowd as evidenced by the accelerationist left, as well as in prominent books by authors such as David Frayne and Kathi Weeks. What we are or should be accelerating to, this suggests, is an embrace of automation to finally kill off work that everyone hates in order to embrace a universal basic income (UBI) that will abolish (most) wage labour and liberate individuals to do something fulfilling. Such political forces may be using the same words, but the refusal of work has little in common with its forerunner. Whilst there are some who do understand the historical trajectory of the concepts, for many the past is truly a foreign country. This article aims to retrace the origins or the refusal of work and to make a different argument about its specificity, before returning to the current period and the promises of a post-work future.


      Andrew Coates

      February 13, 2021 at 9:31 am

  3. I understand and support why you point out that the StWC anti-imperialism is stuck in some kind of sentimental cold war confrontation. What I don’t understand is why you dismiss the “The Main Enemy is at Home”-slogan that easy. Wouldn’t it be much more adequate to show that they don’t follow their slogan at all? That is as easy as pointing to Brexit, which, as I oversee it, most of them tended to support with arguments which at least implied that Britain was (before Brexit) a nation state restrained by a western (i.e. imperialistic) force.

    You can’t, of course, end with that argument, as taking the EU side with the same kind of logic doesn’t make any sense too. You have to develop criteria to judge events which only seam accessible to the left in nationalized forms. Which is why they ask themselves to take side of one nation state, or another. “The Main Enemy is at Home” seams to be an important de-nationalizing step to me. In contrast, their way of looking on international conflicts and conflicts abroad is not only sentimental. The sentimental part is just the way, this kind of thinking came into being. In addition, it is an way of imagining national identity, which is a myth of a society where the nation state is not the alienated, capitalist form of power it is. It is an incapability of dealing with the contradictions within capitalist society, which most of the times comes in connection with antisemitism. So it is not a coincidence that it always leads to Israel and Palestine if the give concrete examples.


    February 13, 2021 at 8:00 pm

    • That is an extremely good point.

      Brexit was exactly when the main enemy was at home, and they sided with it.

      I think the original Third Camp positon is that we have to take an independent stand on all these issues.

      Andrew Coates

      February 13, 2021 at 10:26 pm

    • “Despite the terminology of “defeatism” which came into use in the 1920s for “Third Camp” attitudes, international socialists held in the strongest contempt opponents of an imperialist government at war who tipped over into support for the imperialists of the other side.

      “Lenin polemicised against the Menshevik Pavel Axelrod because in his socialist opposition to Russia’s war, he was in fact pro-German, wanting a German victory. The internationalists fought and treated with contempt the energetic attempts by the German Social Democrats to use pseudo-Marxist arguments to get the socialists of other countries to back Germany. In one of the articles in this collection, Old Garbage in New Pails, Max Shachtman tells the story of some of these efforts.

      “Today’s anti-imperialists relate to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the threat of conflict in Iran, as if it were a question of colonies fighting against colonial-style imperialism for their liberation. They are like people trying to find their way round the London Underground using a map of the Paris metro. They misapply the old communist programme for the attitude to take to colonial liberation movements — actively siding with them — to smaller regional imperialisms like Iraq and Iran.

      ““My enemy’s enemy is always my friend” would be a fair summing up of their attitude — the very opposite of Third Camp socialism. They ally with movements that are not in any sense liberating forces, not national liberation movements, but proponents of the worst social and cultural reaction. They have reduced themselves to an absurd caricature.

      “They ally with political Islam, have refused to denounce al-Qaeda bombings, they back Saddam Hussein and make excuses for the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are a thousand miles from the politics of international socialism — the politics of Lenin and Trotsky — the politics of the Third Camp” – Sean Matgamna, ‘What is Third Camp Socialism?’

      Jim Denham

      February 14, 2021 at 3:49 pm

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