Archive article from The Socialist Issue 366
Did The Anti-War Movement Fail?
ON 15 FEBRUARY 2003, the planet was swept by a tidal wave of demonstrations. From Greenland in the north to the Auckland Islands in the south, around forty million took to the streets to try and halt the looming invasion of Iraq. Like 1968, 2003 will remain indelibly marked on the minds of a generation who were roused to action for the first time.
This magnificent movement proved many things. It showed that in the modern world there is a greater international consciousness than ever in the past. In contrast to the international institutions of capitalism - the IMF, WTO, EU and the rest - the anti-war movement showed the possibility of a real 'international community'.
It decisively refuted the myth of an apathetic humanity. Above all young people shattered the idea that they are apolitical. The millions of school students who marched out of their schools - often facing disciplinary action and police brutality - inspired the whole anti-war movement. They terrified the warmongers - giving them a glimpse of their future opponents.
Another lesson was written in the blood of tens of thousands of Iraqis and over a thousand 'coalition troops'. The anti-war movement was right - Blair and his fellow warmongers lied - this is not a war against terrorism or to find mythical WMD, but a war for oil and for the prestige of US imperialism.
As we said in the Socialist Party leaflet distributed on 15 February: "It should be for the people of Iraq to overthrow Saddam. If US imperialism does it, they will not replace him with genuine democracy, but with a puppet in the US's interest." Allawi, the puppet in question, has consistently rubber-stamped the 'coalition's' barbarous assaults on one Iraqi city after another - from Falluja to Najaf to Samarra.
No-one in the anti-war movement takes pleasure in being proved right in the language of human misery. For the young people who took part it is a source of great frustration that the anti-war movement failed to prove one vital thing - that mass movements can win. For all the might of our demonstrations, the war and occupation went ahead.
As the Socialist Party explained at the time, it would have been a vast blow to the prestige of US imperialism to have pulled back from the road to war once they were set on it.
To have stopped the US going to war in those circumstances would have meant building a movement so powerful that the power and prestige of the US capitalist class would be at greater risk from a movement at home than from abandoning their war plans.
During the anti-war movement the Socialist Party campaigned for the next step to be a 24-hour work stoppage against the war. Without doubt, if the trade union leaders had called for such a stoppage, it would have had mass support from working people - Britain would have halted for a day.
Such a strike could have snapped the thread by which Blair hung to power and forced Britain to abandon its war plans. A similar strike in the US would have been a real step to halting the war train.
But even though the anti-war movement did not go beyond demonstrations it shook the ruling classes of the world. At the time of 15 February Blair was not sure he would survive. He warned his family that they may have to move out of Downing Street for good - not in five years, but any day! It has since also come out that the government was seriously considering pulling back from sending combat troops to Iraq.
Yes, Blair went to war and survived - but he is a wounded prime minister - who could still face the fate of Spain's prime minister Aznar in the future.
End the occupation
As long as the occupation of Iraq continues, Iraqi opposition to it will increase. The anti-war movement must clearly and unequivocally demand an end to the occupation and for the Iraqi people to decide their own future.
Amongst many who demonstrated on 15 February there is an understandable fear that withdrawing the troops immediately would lead to escalating ethnic and religious conflict and even the break up of the country.
The barbaric killing of Kenneth Bigley and other hostages, and the many Iraqi civilians who have been killed by terrorist bands will add to these fears. But it is wrong to draw the conclusion that the troops should stay.
The blame for the current situation lies at the feet of the warmongers. The 'coalition of the willing' is not in Iraq to bring peace, but to further the interests of US imperialism. To do so they are balancing between the different religious and ethnic groups. This, as has always been the case with imperialist occupations, tends to massively exacerbate the tensions.
The solution lies with the working people and poor masses of Iraq. The only way to guard against ethnic and religious clashes would be through the formation of multi-ethnic defence forces to protect the security of all, under the democratic control of working people.
The Socialist Party stands for such measures to be combined with a mass movement of the working class and the oppressed masses for an end to the occupation of Iraq. Such a movement should call for the convening of an Iraq-wide national assembly of democratically elected delegates to vote on the formation of a workers' and poor farmers' government that would provide the basis to deal with the crushing problems facing Iraq.
Terrorism no solution
The anti-war movement was the beginning of a new generation being drawn into struggle. But in its aftermath, it is possible that a small minority might, out of frustration, turn to supporting the terrorist actions of right-wing, reactionary organisations like al-Qa'ida.
But while these barbaric acts of 'mass terrorism' claim to be in the defence of the victims of imperialism, in reality they only create more victims while playing into the hands of the imperialist powers.
After all, as the statements of former US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill have made clear, Bush wanted to go to war on Iraq from the moment he was elected. But it was 9/11 that gave him the possibility of winning public support for going to war.
By contrast, despite its limitations, the anti-war movement showed the potential power of mass movements, it terrified the warmongers and continues to have a vital role to play today. Just as the movement against the Vietnam War played a central role in forcing the US to pull out, the current anti-war movement can do the same regarding Iraq.
For a new party
We also need a political alternative to New Labour that is capable of replacing the warmongers and of leading mass action against imperialist war. Even if Blair is replaced by Brown, New Labour will remain a party of big business, which protects the profits of British Petroleum and their ilk, whilst destroying public services and attacking the living conditions of working-class people.
We need a new mass party that stands up for the interests of working class people. The Socialist Party is fighting for such a party - a party that brings together the anti-war movement, trade unionists, anti-privatisation campaigners and the anti-capitalist movement.
Struggle for socialism
The struggle for a planet without war goes beyond the struggle against Bush's 'war on terror'. Conflict and instability are the norm in this capitalist profit system riven by crisis.
The big imperialist powers have always gone to war to defend the profits of their rich elites, as was summed up by a US Strategic Planner in 1948 when he said of the US: "We have 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period... is to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality... we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation."
To permanently end the threat of war and terror we have to fight for the end of capitalism and for the establishment of a democratic socialist world, run in the interests of the billions instead of for the profits of the billionaires.
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