Archive article from The Socialist Issue 316
Why The Anti-War Movement Needs A New Party
THIS SATURDAY tens of thousands will march through the streets of London against the occupation of Iraq.
Those demonstrating will be expressing their anger at the chaos and death that occupation is bringing to Iraq and at the lies that Blair told to bring this brutal occupation about.
But many on the demonstration will also be looking for answers.
After all, just seven months ago, on a raw 15 February, the biggest demonstration in British history marched down the same roads. On that day, as the news that we were two million strong filtered through the crowd, the most commonly heard phrase was 'surely Blair will have to listen now'.
The fact that the leaders of the so-called 'democratic world' brushed aside the opinions of the majority of humanity, calling the biggest worldwide movement in history a 'focus group', has left many wondering whether we are powerless to change events.
But to draw such a conclusion would be a big mistake. The New York Times accurately described the anti-war movement as a 'second super-power'. And it was a super-power which left Blair hanging by a thread. After 15 February Blair and his advisers were considering retreat. At that time, when the government was shaken to its core by the scale of our movement, further action could have stopped Britain's support for the war.
The Socialist Party campaigned for workers to follow the magnificent example of the school student strikes, and for the next step to be a 24-hour work stoppage against the war. If the trade union leaders had called and built for such a stoppage, it would have had mass support from working people. If it had taken place Britain would have been stopped for a day and Blair would have run scared.
It is true that even this would have not have necessarily stopped the war. Once Bush had committed the US to attacking Iraq it would have been a devastating blow to the power and prestige of US imperialism to retreat. It would have taken an almighty movement in the US itself to force them to accept such a blow.
Nonetheless, the anti-Iraq war movement has left a legacy of fear in the minds of Bush, Blair and company. We have to help make those fears a reality. Iraq is being subject to old-style colonial occupation (see centre pages). The prospect is raised of a prolonged occupation, with growing opposition within Iraq and in the West.
The parallels with Vietnam, where the anti-war movement in the US played a key role in forcing the US to pull out, are clear. But there are important differences - not least that the anti-war mood in the US and in other countries has grown at a far earlier stage than it did in Vietnam.
THIS WEEK'S demonstrations are the first step in building a mass movement against the occupation of Iraq. At a later stage, as opposition grows, industrial action against the occupation could become a real possibility. But we also need to go beyond that.
We need a political alternative to New Labour that is capable of replacing the warmongers and of leading mass action against imperialist war; this means a new party, completely different to the current mainstream parties.
Others argue that the best way forward would be to force the Labour Party to abandon Blairism and move back to the left. Such a development would be a big step forward, but is it achievable?
After all, despite a campaign by anti-war Labour activists to deselect pro-war Labour MPs, every single MP that voted for the war on Iraq has been reselected by their local constituency Labour Party. Meanwhile, George Galloway MP is being witch-hunted for taking a principled stand against the war.
At this year's Labour Party conference motions against the occupation of Iraq will be debated. But even if they are passed New Labour have made it abundantly clear that they will ignore them, just as they have ignored the other criticisms of their policies passed by the last two Labour Party conferences.
New Labour listens, not to the decisions of its conferences, or the opinions of working-class people, but to the demands of its big-business supporters (see page 4).
Even if Blair is forced to resign, the candidates to replace him are equally in thrall to big business. At TUC conference Brown made it clear, even to those who had hoped he might be different to Blair, that they are in agreement on all issues of substance.
As Bob Crow put it, Brown would be at best "same meat, different gravy". In desperation some have begun to look to Robin Cook as an alternative. But while it is true he opposed the war, he has since voted with the government on all other issues from foundation hospitals to restricting the right of the firefighters to strike.
Unprecedented numbers of people now see no significant differences between the parties.
However, the most politically conscious sections - the tens of thousands of anti-war youth and workers, the trade unionists who are entering struggle - are not, in the vast majority of cases, interested in struggling to overcome the enormous hurdles necessary to transform New Labour.
THE LIBERAL Democrats, by dint of standing still, are currently seen by most traditional Labour voters as to the left of New Labour, not least because they are perceived as 'anti-war'.
The Muslim Association of Britain, for example, one of the three organisers of Saturday's anti-war demonstration, has launched a campaign to "cheer up Charles Kennedy", as they feel he shouldn't be in the doldrums after taking a "principled stand" on Iraq. By calling for their supporters to vote for him in Brent East they have helped to achieve their goal!
But, cheered up or not, the Liberal Democrats do not offer a real anti-war alternative. As soon as the war started they dropped their opposition to it declaring instead that "the House of Commons voted earlier this week and we have to accept that democratic verdict ... supporting our armed forces now battle is engaged."
Never mind that, far from being democratic, the House of Commons' vote ignored the opinions of the majority of people in Britain!
Nor do the Liberal Democrats now call for an end to the occupation. And whilst as socialists we have every sympathy with ordinary soldiers who have risked their lives first in an unjust war and now in a colonial occupation of Iraq, this is no excuse for the Liberal Democrats failure to oppose the war.
Without doubt many of the British soldiers in Iraq would rather Kennedy showed his support for them by demanding, as we do, that the troops are brought home.
In fact this is typical of the Liberal Democrats on every issue. Whilst they appear slightly to the left of New Labour at first glance, when they have been elected at local level they have carried out identical policies of cuts and privatisation. In fact on some issues they are to the right of New Labour.
In a country with the most repressive anti-trade union legislation in Western Europe, they have encouraged New Labour to go further, giving companies the right to take action against trade unions if strikes result in "a loss of earning and incomes".
To found a new party may seem the most difficult option, but all the mainstream parties are linked by a thousand threads to the capitalist system.
Their main reason for being is serving the ruling elite. In the anti-war movement millions of people have chosen to come out on the streets and raise their own voices, as they cannot depend on professional politicians to do it for them.
There is therefore a huge potential to go beyond demonstrations and found a new party, which would not only voice opposition to the occupation of Iraq, but would defend the interests of ordinary working-class people on all issues from fighting for public services to defending the right to strike. This is the task ahead.