by David Broder
There were two self-proclaimed “socialists” on the platform at the Student Stop the War rally in London today – Tony Benn and Lindsey German – and most of the one hundred people in the audience were from the Socialist Workers’ Party and other “socialist” groups. But working-class politics was not on the agenda. Not only did they fail to cite the workers’ movement as the agency to fight imperialism, there was almost no talk of solidarity with Marxists and trade unionists in conflict zones like the Middle East and the Caucasus.
Similarly, for all the talk about student campaigns against Army recruitment on university campuses (in fact, mainly in the wealthiest universities: where clearly the focus should be on stopping Army recruitment at FE colleges and in deprived areas), the Stop the War leaders failed to elaborate any strategy for “stopping the war” except for calling for more protest marches.
Tony Benn said that Stop the War is not a single issue campaign; but then commented that all successful struggles in history have been single issue campaigns; and then claimed that Stop the War puts forward a vision of a different kind of society; but also that it included people across the political spectrum, and commented approvingly on the fact that the Tory MP Michael Ancram had spoken from a Stop the War platform. This meaningless cocktail of sentiments went hand in hand with Lindsey German’s assertion that we ought to “force the government to set up a different kind of society without war and recession”.
Indeed, these “socialists” do not put forward a different vision of society, or even talk about the only agency which might get us there – the workers’ movement – but rather argue for the government to re-allocate funds from “war” towards public services, as if imperialism were some misguided government policy rather than the expression of modern-day capitalism. This unserious attitude was taken to its logical extreme by the chair, Stewart Halforty – once close to Socialist Action but now in the orbit of the SWP – who said that we should resist the establishment of military academies under the Private Finance Initiative, since if built these would “create a profit motive for war”.
Both Benn and German, as well as ex-soldier George Solomou, made the usual dull speeches about the “illegality” of the Iraq war, along with their new theme, NATO “provocations” against Russia. In regard to the recent conflict in the Caucasus both Benn and the SWP were more or less straightforwardly Russian defencist, attacking Saakashvili’s ties to the West while making no mention of the Putin-Medvedev clique’s efforts to maintain their dominance in the Russian “near abroad” and bolster their domestic support by playing ‘hard-ball’ with the West. As always the “main thing” is to oppose American imperialism, and thus to neglect any criticism of any other government or support for any workers’ movement.
So bereft are these “socialists” of class politics that they were not even excited by the strike action taken by American and Iraqi dockers in May to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, no doubt because the radicalism of this action would alienate the collection of middle-class liberals, 9/11 Truthers and other such social dust who make up the numbers at Stop the War’s peaceful marches through the centre of London.
Most contributions from the floor were more of the same, although it was particularly objectionable when SWPer Dominic Kavakeb, who is of Iranian descent, claimed that there was no need to support the Iranian workers’ movement, since “I know the Iranian people, and they are good, and they will make the changes they need to”. We might have thought that the fact that the Iranian workers’ movement is not in power is evidence that they do need support if they are to change Iranian society. Benjamin Lewis from the CPGB and Hands Off the People of Iran asked Lindsey German a question about HOPI’s exclusion from Stop the War, and she replied with the stock claim that HOPI was set up “to replace the Stop the War Coalition”, which rather begs the question of why they would have wanted to affiliate to it… She furthermore displayed a far-from razor-sharp analysis of the Iranian regime with the disinterested comment that “of course, different groups are oppressed at different times”.
Unfortunately, despite having my hand up from the very start of the “questions” section of the meeting, which lasted for 15 minutes as opposed to the 80 minutes given to lead-offs by the three speakers, I was ignored by the chair. However, three Workers’ Power comrades spoke either in this “questions” period or in the later discussion on “strategy and tactics” (which was not a discussion about strategy and tactics, but rather self-congratulation on student stunts), and proceeded to say nothing critical of the SWP or the leadership of Stop the War. To his credit their comrade Simon Hardy was critical of Putin, albeit not in a particularly angular fashion.
The Student Stop the War rally (or was it a conference?) displayed the anti-war movement’s total lack of political bearings, its lack of any strategy to “stop the war” and thus its lack of purpose, and the separation in most “socialists’” heads between their campaigning activity and the “big politics” of their leaders’ Sunday afternoon speeches. Perhaps they should consider whether the ideas of Marx and others, as well as the strategy of working-class struggle, are just “interesting”, or whether they are useful tools for analysing society and planning how to change it in the here and now.