Correspondence: Solidarity group expelled from British Stop the War Coalition
No to political censorship in the anti-war movement!
17 October 2007
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See www.hopoi.org or www.communiststudents.org.uk for more information about this decision
"We, the undersigned, urge the officers of the Stop the War Coalition to reconsider their decision to reject the affiliation of Hands Off the People of Iran and Communist Students (one of Hopi's affiliated organisations). Failing this, the decision of this sub-committee should be overturned by the next meeting of the Steering Group or at the next AGM on October 27.
Both organisations were told in identical emails by StWC chair Andrew Murray that their aims and campaigning priorities are "entirely hostile to the Coalition" (October 12). We believe this is very wrong.
Hopi's founding statement has two core elements. First, total and unconditional opposition to any imperialist military attack on Iran or sanctions.
Second, Hopi insists that at the same time we must be critical of the reactionary Ahmadinejad regime. It actively supports the struggles of the women's, democratic and workers' movements against their regime, is in daily contact with Iranian activists and organises fundraising events for workers in Iran, many of whom go without wages for many weeks.
Hopi is totally opposed to Bush-style regime change - and positively campaigns for democracy from below. If this makes us a 'hostile' organisation in the eyes of some StWC officials, then the Stop the War Coalition must re-assess its campaigning priorities."
Reply from Andrew Murray
Thank you for your communication re the decision of the officers of StWC to decline the applications for affiliation from Communist Students and Hands off the People of Iran. I think that three things should be made clear concerning this:
First, the Stop the War Coalition is a voluntary body set up by individuals and organisations to pursue particular political aims. As such no individual or group has a "right" to membership of it. Like any voluntary organisation (as opposed to a public body) we have the right to determine who may join us. We have an elected leadership answerable under a democratic constitution empowered to take these decisions in what we believe to be the best interests of the movement we serve. Such decisions may, of course, be proved mistaken by the course of subsequent events.
But it is in no sense "censorship" to take those decisions, since nobody is thereby denied their right to publish or circulate material. Since our formation there have always been anti-war people or organisations which have chosen to stay outside StWC, just as there have been organisations to which we have denied affiliation in the past.
Second, the issue is not StWC's view of the Iranian regime. This is merely a stick used to beat us by those wanting to divide the movement. The Iranian regime is dictatorial and often brutal and is based on the denial of many basic rights. We are no more "friends" of the Iranian regime than we were friends of the Taliban in Afghanistan or Saddam in Iraq, to recall a couple of the slanderous attacks made on us by warmongers down the years. The main focus of StWC is, however, on challenging the policies of the British government in respect of the war, which includes respecting the rights of all peoples to self-determination.
There are a number of organisations working in solidarity with the Iranian people, and a number of StWC affiliates participate in such activity as well. We have never believed it is correct to cloud the movement's objectives by placing issues of "regime change" (which are ultimately the business of the peoples of the country concerned) on an equal footing with stopping the war, or at least British involvement in it. The latter is the reason for our existence. We have no fear of debate on this issue - the sort of views advanced by Hands off the People of Iran have been debated at almost every one of our conferences, and have never received more than miniscule support.
Third, our decision in respect of these two organisations is, however, political. Both are effectively controlled by the Weekly Worker group ("CPGB") - indeed their spokesman in the current controversy is the Weekly Worker's national organiser. This body has been hostile to StWC from its inception. It declined to support the objectives of the Coalition, which they now pray freely in aid, when they were first adopted in October 2001.
Its coverage of StWC activities is not merely critical, but usually abusive, and reflects the attacks made by our pro-war opponents. It supported the witch-hunting of George Galloway in 2003 and urged voters not to support Jeremy Corbyn in the general election of 2005. When I was myself subject to extensive attack in the pro-war media in 2003, the main lines of such attack were echoed faithfully, with if anything added vitriol, in the pages of the Weekly Worker. It seldom supports our activities - for example, the successful march held on October 8 in defiance of a police ban was neither promoted by the Weekly Worker in advance, nor attended on the day by its supporters nor reported afterwards, for reasons one can only guess at.
Indeed, Workers Weekly established Hands off the People of Iran at the start of 2007 explicitly as an alternative to StWC and because it no longer wished to support the Coalition - moves they had every right to take and which follow logically from their hostility to us. But to seek to affiliate many months later when they could have done at the time of their formation if their solidarity with us was sincere, and on the eve of a conference is, as I originally wrote, neither sympathetic nor supportive.
Even a cursory perusal of the material produced by Weekly Worker is testimony to its antipathy to StWC. This is consistent with the disruptive role it has played in a series of organisations in our movement over the last 25 years, which is why it has been praised by pro-war journalists like David Aaronovich and pro-war websites like Harry's Place.
Naturally, Weekly Worker has every right to pursue its own political agenda as it sees fit, but StWC has no obligation to provide it with a platform. If activists in the anti-war movement wish to debate the views of such groups - and I have seen very little evidence that any do - then there are no doubt opportunities available in their own publications and meetings.
From its inception, StWC has been a broad and tolerant organisation. Had it been otherwise we could not have sustained the movement at the level which has been done. Occasionally, however, we have to take prophylactic measures to protect our integrity, and this is one of those cases.
The decisions taken by the Officers Group in this respect will be reported to the next meeting of the national Steering Committee for ratification.
If either Communist Students of Hands off the People of Iran wish to make written representations to that meeting, they will of course be afforded the right to do so.