The World Turned Upside Down

Not in my brother's name: demonstrator in New York, photo Paul Mattsson

Not in my brother’s name: demonstrator in New York, photo Paul Mattsson

MILLIONS OF people, up to 30 million in 72 countries according to the CNN news agency, poured onto the streets of cities and towns and villages, around the world on 15 February in protest against George Bush’s war plans.

This simultaneous action was the biggest anti-war protest in history, as the following reports from CWI members testify. (CWI – Committee for a Workers’ International – the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated)

THE GLOBAL tidal wave of humanity began in New Zealand and Australia and over the next few days spread like wildfire from one end of the world to the other. A magnificent expression of solidarity was witnessed across Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

The largest demonstration was in Rome, where an incredible three million people marched against Bush and the right wing Italian prime minister and fervent war supporter, Silvio Berlusconi. Likewise, up to two million protested in London against another warmonger, Tony Blair, marking the largest political demonstration in British history.

Barcelona and Madrid also saw millions in protest against the right-wing Aznar government. And in the US, the heart of the foremost imperialist power, a magnificent half a million marched in New York (despite Mayor Bloomberg’s draconian restrictions) and hundreds of thousands followed suit across the country.

As well as these millions-strong demonstrations, many other cities and towns saw the largest protest gatherings for decades, if not the largest ever. Up to 150,000 marched through Dublin, 80,000 in Glasgow and 70,000 in Amsterdam.

This unprecedented action shows that working people everywhere are resolutely opposed to the war aims of US imperialism and the attempt to increase US global domination at the expense of the poor, the oppressed and working people.

Given the scale of the protests it is not surprising that they were generally of a very broad and varied character and included a wide number of political ideas. These included pacifist ideas and illusions over the role of the United Nations (UN).

Nevertheless, the sheer size of the demonstrations clearly shows what is possible for the anti-war movement. In some cases there was very important trade union representation at the protests.

The way forward

AS THE reports show, many protesters are very receptive to the idea of developing anti-war action, including organising workplace, college and university walk-outs and strikes. If a clear lead is given people will respond in their many millions. The Youth Against the War campaign (initiated by CWI members) for students’ strikes found an echo amongst the youngest sections of the demonstrations.

A call for a general strike by trade unions on Day X (the day a war begins) would find an enormous response. Some union leaders and well known Left figures put forward such action on the protests, including in London and Rome, which was well received.

The CWI argues that for the anti-war movement to step up a gear from the already brilliant and unprecedented world demonstrations on 15 February, it needs to put forward clear opposition to US imperialism. This includes opposing a US-led war against Iraq under any circumstances, whether it has the ‘blessing’ or not from the UN (a body dominated by the interests of the imperialist powers).

The CWI found a warm response to its socialist ideas and programme on 15 February and believes this will grow as the many millions who protested, and the many more millions who stand behind them, become increasingly radicalised by the crisis of capitalism, which causes wars and terror, unemployment and want.

“Not one soldier, not one euro, not one bullet for imperialist war”

CATALONIA MARCHED to the slogan “Stop the war”. Various towns and cities had their biggest ever demonstrations, including Gerona (40,000 – nearly half the population!) but they were all dwarfed by the estimated 1.3 million who took over the centre of Barcelona. It was amazing.

Chris Ridge

You got an idea of what was going to happen on the way. I live in a town called Granollers, about 20 miles to the north. When I arrived at the station hundreds of people were queuing for tickets. It became obvious everybody wouldn’t get one before the train arrived. So, in the end they just stormed through the barriers, brushing the two security guys aside!

In Barcelona the main street allocated for the march filled with people. Thousands joined the back, unable to move anywhere, so thousands more took over the neighbouring streets and headed for the front. The speakers kept appealing for them to move to let the next wave get near to the platform. This went on for three to four hours.

The marchers were all ages, from babies to grannies, and different nationalities, reflecting Barcelona’s population mix and giving it an international flavour. The banners, placards, T-shirts, stickers and badges – many home-made – showed why they were all there.

With a touch of black humour, one read “If you want oil, go to Galicia” – a reference to the sunken oil tanker, the Prestige, and the polluted coast! The manifesto read out also made it clear no-one is interested in UN resolutions. No war, full stop.

Despite the massive opposition to any invasion of Iraq we saw yesterday in Barcelona and across Spain – possibly 2 million marched in Madrid – Aznar and his Foreign Minister Ana Palacio made it clear today they are backing Bush. So what next? Well, if the invasion does go ahead, some people are talking of striking. I’m sure we’ll see some school students and workers doing that here.

In fact last Thursday (13 February) thousands of school students took part in protests called by the Students’ Union. The slogan in Barcelona was “Not one soldier, not one euro, not one bullet for imperialist war!”

And on Friday the unions on the underground and buses organised a five-minute stoppage against the war. If the government isn’t prepared to take notice of the magnificent demonstrations we had at the weekend, then I think we have to increase the pressure. Let’s see what they say if we bring everything to a halt!

500,000 demonstrate in Berlin

IN THE biggest anti-war demonstration in Germany for decades 500,000 from all over the country took to the streets of Berlin and paralysed the historical area from Alexanderplatz in the East of the city via the Brandenburg Gate to the SiegessŠule monument in the West.

Sascha Stanicic, Berlin

Thousands of home-made placards and banners showed the broad variety of the people present. There were many radical slogans against imperialist war, against the war for oil.

Government parties mobilised as well in an attempt to exploit the mass anti-war mood in the country. The Green Party tried to dominate the scene with thousands of green balloons and stickers. Some government ministers and the president of the Bundestag (German parliament) Wolfgang Thierse also joined the demonstration.

Hypocritically the ruling Social Democrats distributed stickers saying “courage for peace”. The Schršder government speaks against the war out of its own interests while in practice supporting the US Army in its war preparations.

The majority of speakers at the official rally were uncritical of the government as for example the Ver.di-chair (public sector trade union) Bsirkse. However Rolf Becker, TV actor and trade unionist, openly criticised the policy of the government and of the trade union leadership in supporting the war against Afghanistan.

When he pointed out the connections between the war and the economic and social crisis facing the mass of the working class he received a huge applause.

Socialist Alternative (SAV – CWI, German) was very active in the demonstration. We called on the trade unions to organise strike action against the war. SAV members were instrumental in the launch of Youth Against War (YAW) as a national youth campaign prior to the demonstration.

YAW is calling for a day of protest on 25 February and youth strikes on Day X. 20,000 YAW leaflets were distributed calling on young people to get organised and to participate in the day of action.

SAV members put up several information stalls and sold more than 500 specially produced No War for Oil Profits pamphlets.

lAnother 50,000 demonstrated in the southern German city of Stuttgart. One of the speakers of the rally was SAV member Tinette Schnatterer, who spoke as a representative of YAW and the Ver.di students’ organisation.

Over three million march in Rome against the war and Berlusconi

THREE MILLION crowded into the streets and piazzas of Italy’s capital. 25 special trains and over 2,000 coaches from all over Italy ferried protesters to Rome. Some 900 of us on a train from Catania in Sicily travelled 12 hours overnight each way.

Henry Silke, Catania, Italy

All along the route, people draped peace banners from their balconies and windows. Even the cameramen from Berlusconi’s own Mediaset Corporation displayed anti-war banners incorporating the TG5 network symbol!

In Piazza San Giovanni, hundreds of thousands gathered to hear the speeches against the war. The demonstration was given a truly international flavour by speakers from all over the world denouncing Bush’s war.

The Rifondazione Comunista Party (Prc) had two huge banners suspended by balloons one of which called for a European-wide strike against the war.

After the protest, there was a feeling of great strength in that that so many people had come together in one movement. But rather than feeling that their work was done, Italians are preparing a mass movement to continue the opposition.

Even on the train back to Sicily, plans were being laid to organise a blockade off the massive Sigorella military base on the Island.

Berlusconi’s downfall?

BERLUSCONI’S SUPPORT for the war could easily spell his downfall and he knows it.

Throughout Italy students will simply walk out on the day war starts. They have had numerous assemblies discussing the issue. The mass anti-war protests are also linked in with a wave of industrial battles still taking place.

This great demonstration is the second time 3 million have filled the centre of Rome in less than 12 months. Last March it was in protest at the government’s attempts to attack protective labour law. This mass protest comes just six days before the next general strike action called by the Cgil trade union federation. There will be mass walk-outs for four hours on 21 February in industry and small workshops.

Many Cgil workers have come out in favour of a European general strike against the war and a conference of 5,000 metal-workers in Bologna have made a clear call for this to be taken up and prepared for.

Lotta per il socialismo, (CWI, Italy), welcomes and supports this call. In the end, it is only mass strike action on a national and international scale that can defeat today’s breed of neo-imperialists.

Jo’burg demo condemns US imperialism

IN SOUTH Africa, there were three demonstrations in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. In Johannesburg between 8,000 and 10,000 demonstrators took part in a lively demo organised by the Anti-War Coalition, (AWC).

Weizmann Hamilton, Johannesburg

The AWC was initiated by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee and includes the Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Landless Peoples Movement, the Muslim Youth Association, the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI South Africa) and the Socialist Student Movement (SSM – South Africa’s International Socialist Resistance affiliate).

The demonstration did not just denounce US war aims, but also the United Nations (UN), which most speakers condemned as a tool of US imperialism.

This issue scuttled any possible agreement between the AWC and the Stop the War Committee (STW) formed by the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance (including the Cosatu trade union confederation and South African Communist Party).

The STW feared a repeat of the ANC government’s recent embarrassment when a counter-demonstration they organised against the Social Movement Indaba’s demonstration against the World Summit on Sustainable Development failed dismally. In a blatant attempt to dilute the AWC’s strongly anti-imperialist and anti-US and anti-UN message, the STW approached the AWC proposing a joint demonstration.

The DSM proposed that a joint AWC/STW declaration should be based, not only on the AWC’s four slogans against this war for oil, but should also include such demands as “No trust in the UN” and “No Servicing of US and UK warships en route to the Gulf”.

But the STW, who are running what amounts to a “Save the UN campaign” and wanted right-wing parties and groups to join the demo, refused. The STW then demanded that an ANC minister have pride of place on the platform.

After the AWC rejected this, only a handful of Cosatu branches attended. But the presence of three National Union of Mineworkers branches shows the real feelings of working-class people.

SSM and DSM member Luyanda Tetyana, addressing her first big rally, emphasised that the ANC government’s approach would be unable to stop the war and amounted to aiding US aims.

She pointed out that the working class was the only force capable of stopping the war and leading society out of the horror of capitalism towards a socialist society. A radio station interviewed her on what the SSM and DSM stand for. Many young people and workers were interested in joining us.

A demonstration of around 1,000 was organised in Durban by the Peoples Coalition Against War. DSM and SSM member, Xolani Shange, addressed the rally.

Firefighters lead 20,000- strong Belfast demo

THE MARCH was so big that it had difficulty leaving the starting point. The demo was organised by the Stop the War Coalition, a broad and loose group co-ordinated by the trade unions and including the Socialist Party, Socialist Youth and Youth Against the War.

Peter Hadden, Belfast

Pride of place at the front of the march was given to the fire service workers. Behind them came the trade unions, Left political groups and a range of other organisations. Many people arrived with their own banners and placards.

While there were many middle class people on the demo there were also many workers and young people and the mood was radical. It was the most radical statements – points about oil, about money available for war but not to pay the fire fighters etc – that got the best response. The call for people to come out again on the day war started also got a massive cheer.

Lively socialist bloc

THE SOCIALIST Party, Socialist Youth and Youth Against the War marched as a bloc, with the Youth Against the War banner stretched across the road at the head of the contingent. There were well over a hundred people behind our banners and our megaphones, placards, flags and whistles made this the liveliest and one of the most colourful sections of the march.

Youth Against the War had prepared for the march with its members in the schools handing out thousands of leaflets and holding public meetings. One very new member from Newry held a meeting in her school just a few days before the march and 75 people turned up.

The Socialist Party stall at the assembly point was busy non-stop with people buying papers, pamphlets, badges, taking placards or discussing about the party.

More than 500 copies of the Socialist Party paper, Socialist Voice, were sold and 6,000 leaflets advetising a Socialist Party public meeting were given out.

3,000 Israeli Jews and Arabs demonstrate in Tel Aviv

DESPITE THE government propaganda, around 3,000 people demonstrated against the US plans to invade Iraq, in Tel Aviv on 15 February.

Amon Cohen, Tel Aviv

Most significantly this demonstration included both Israeli Jews and Arabs. Some of the Israeli Arabs addressing the demonstration spoke in Arabic, something which is not often heard on demonstrations in Israel. As well as Israeli peace activists, there were a whole number of young people who were demonstrating for the first time.

The attendance at the demonstration reflects a growing opposition to the US war against Iraq even amongst Israeli Jews. An opinion poll in the Ha’aretz daily paper this week reported that 20% of Israeli Jews opposed the war, while another 25% though that war should not be launched before all diplomatic options have been exhausted.

Members of Ma’avak Sozialisti (CWI Israel) participated in the demonstration selling 150 copies of the latest issue of our newspaper (Ha Ma’avak – The Struggle).

Half a million protest against war in New York

IN NEW YORK City, approximately 500,000 demonstrated in the freezing cold. This is the largest protest in NYC since the 1 million person anti-nuclear weapons protest of 1982 and the largest anti-war demonstration in the US since the Vietnam War.

Bryan, New York

There was a large Socialist Alternative (CWI, US) contingent at the demonstration.

The police penned the protest in. They allowed few entry points, making it very hard for people to get to the demonstration. Probably thousands ended up being turned away and not attending due to these undemocratic restrictions.

This followed the outrageous decision by Mayor Bloomberg and the courts to refuse to allow a march, but only a stationary rally. Bloomberg and the police were clearly trying to intimidate people from coming to the protest.

The police arrested around 320 people at the demo, and in some incidents used horses, pepper spray and clubs to attack protesters.

We sold over 700 copies of Justice, our newspaper, including a special supplement for the rally.

20,000 protesters brave cold and rain in Seattle

IN SEATTLE, despite bad weather, organisers estimate the crowd was 20,000 – the largest protest since the World Trade Organisation protests in 1999.

Philip Locker, Seattle, WA

The protest was mainly made up of young people, middle class, workers and the Left. There was a small presence of union contingents (though larger than previous rallies), mainly made up of Jobs with Justice, SEIU and the ILWU.

The political make up was very varied and confused, with a lot of illusions in the UN and support for the liberal Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott who spoke and marched at the rally.

Socialist Alternative had a lively, energetic contingent of members and supporters that marched behind our banner and with Socialist Alternative picket signs.

We passed out thousands of student walkout flyers to high school and college students.

Tens of thousands march in Sao Paulo

EXCEPT FOR the 150,000 people from all over the world who protested against the war at the World Social Forum, held last month, this was the largest Brazilian mobilisation against the imminent war against Iraq.

Socialismo Revolucionario

The biggest demo was in Sao Paulo with an estimated 30,000, filling Avenida Paulista, the main financial centre.

There were many members and sympathizers of left parties – PT, PCdoB, PSTU – Left organizations, trade unions and social movements. But, there were also many non-party young people and many were on their first demo.

PT (Workers’ Party) chairman Jose Genoino and Senator Eduardo Suplicy took part in Sao Paulo. In Brasilia, PT leader and President, Lula, again stated he was against war without UN support.

Members of Socialismo Revolucionario (SR – CWI, Brazil), gave out thousands of pamphlets calling on the Lula government to oppose the war even if the UN switches to support American aggression. He should also stop repaying debt and stop Brazilian money being used to finance the US war machine.

We explained the burden of the sharpening economic crisis due to the war should not fall on the workers.

The leader of the Landless Movement (MST), Joao Pedro Stedile, called for a mass camp in front of the US Consulate in Sao Paulo on the day Bush moves against Iraq.

This proposal had been made by the Movement of those without Education (MSE) in the Sao Paulo Youth Anti-War Committee.

SR members also intervened or helped to organize the demo in Campinas involving about 1,000 people.

Anti-Bush protests held in occupied Kashmir

THE INTERNATIONAL day of protest against war on Iraq was observed in Indian occupied and Pakistani occupied Kashmir.

CWI members in Kashmir

According to media reports over 2,000 people demonstrated against the war in Srinagar (capital of Indian Occupied Kashmir), including trade unions, Left political parties and non-governmental organisations.

In Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, members of the National Awami Party (NAP) and National Student Federation organised protest meetings. CWI members and sympathisers distributed leaflets with the headline “No war for oil – down with US imperialism”.

We also carried anti-war banners with the slogan “No war for oil… Solidarity with Iraqi youth, workers and peasants” and hung them across the main road junctions in Kotli.

Protest meetings passed resolutions against the war and took decisions to organise demonstrations in the next couple of weeks. A national call will be given by the NAP leadership in few days time setting a date for a protest against the war.

There is an increasing anti-war mood amongst the population in general. We are gearing up for an anti-war campaign, in the schools and in the colleges in the coming days.

Significant protests in Russia and the Ukraine

MOSCOW CWI comrades were instrumental in initiating and organising a youth march through the city centre on 15 February.

Rob Jones, Moscow

In the biggest such demo for years over 300 participated, led by a mock coffin and huge banner saying “No war for oil”. CWI members were prominent amongst speakers and marchers. The march called not only for an end to the war in Iraq but also in Chechnya.

At the same time, the official CP (communist party) held a picket outside the American Embassy attended by about 1,000. They mobilised on a reactionary basis amongst right-wing orthodox Christians and Cossacks against the “American evil” and refused to raise the question of Chechnya.

In Kiev, in the Ukraine, CWI comrades participated in a march and concert outside the US Embassy organised by an Action Committee of representatives of all the Left parties. This was attended by about 2,000.

The official slogans of the CP organisers were “No to war in Iraq” but because of their lack of internationalism and other reactionary ideas, many of their supporters chanted anti-semitic slogans.

Rabitnichii Sprotiv (the CWI in the Ukraine) had about 40 on their contingent calling for an end to the Iraq war and linking it to the brutality in Chechnya.

One comrade spoke at a concert afterwards and was notable for being the only speaker to put forward a position based on the interests of the working class. Rabitnichii Sprotiv also organised a picket of the UN Headquarters in the city.

In Voronezh, Russia, CWI comrades participated in a protest under the banner of the Committee for United Action, which was set up as a result of last year’s rent rise protests. Several hundred people attended.

In Nizhni Novgorod, CWI comrades involved in Attak (the broad anti-capitalist organisation) organised a smaller protest, as did comrades in Novosibirsk.

Although small in international terms, these demos were big for the CIS and are significant as they indicate a growing interest in international events.

80,000 protest as Blair addresses Scottish Labour conference

AT LEAST 80,000 people marched in the biggest demonstration Scotland has seen in 30 years. Whole families came out to protest, many of them never having attended a demonstration before.

Philip Stott, Dundee

They came to protest against war and, in particular, to march to the Labour Party conference where Tony Blair was due to speak at 2pm. (Blair moved his speech to 10.15 am and had left the country by 11.20am!)

Although there was a strong pacifist mood and some illusions in the UN, especially concerning the role of France and Germany, the response to the idea of a socialist alternative to war was shown by the thousands of International Socialist (CWI, Scotland) leaflets that were snatched up and by the 200 copies of the International Socialist paper that were sold on the demo. Socialist Party comrades from North East England also joined us and sold 102 copies of The Socialist.

In particular the idea of a school and college strike against the war was enthusiastically received. Young people, especially school students, mobbed the Youth Against The War stall. 50 young people gave their names and details to join the campaign and many of them were interested in the ideas of the International Socialists. Over £100 was collected for our campaign fund, as well.

Need for a socialist programme

SCOTTISH SOCIALIST Party MSP Tommy Sheridan spoke at the rally and made a very effective anti-war speech. The SSP also had a strong presence on the demo and got a good response from the protestors. Unfortunately, nowhere in the SSP’s paper, Voice, was socialism even mentioned, never mind a clear explanation given of the need to struggle for socialism in order to end war.

The International Socialists will continue to put forward a socialist programme in the anti-war movement as well as taking concrete steps to organise walkouts and strikes in schools, colleges, universities and workplaces.

THE ARTICLES from CWI members on these pages are extracts or abridged versions. For fuller reports and reports of demos from many other countries see the CWI website

Includes: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, and more!