Report on the anti-war demonstration in Dublin marking the first anniversary of beginning of the war against Iraq
20th March 2004
The demonstration against the occupation of Iraq held in Dublin on 20th march as part of the world-wide protest against a year of war and occupation was bad news for Bertie Ahern and the Dublin Government. The presence of over 4000 demonstrators signalled that a movement still existed, extending well beyond the left organisations, and that there was therefore already in place a base from which to build mass opposition to the forthcoming visit of US Commander-in-chief Bush.
That's the good news. The awesome mass demonstrations of 2003 are gone, but a sizable movement still remains that can tap into continued discontent about US aggression and Ireland's role as a spearcarrier for Bush and Blair.
The bad news is that the shrinkage in the numbers has made clear the nature of the movement. It is essentially a pacifist movement, heavily weighted towards a religious middle-class moralism. It's not at the moment a movement that can hope to mobilise the working class - for Marxists the essential force that can hope to counterbalance the force of capitalism and imperialism. Insofar as the working class was represented on the march it was by sections of the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour party. These groups are heavily ensnared in a policy of collaboration with the Fianna Fail government on industrial issues and on the political front represent a 'loyal opposition' that calls for UN intervention - ignoring the fact that the UN acted as the chief weapon for the US up to the outbreak of war and happily oversaw a policy of mass starvation in Iraq through its sanctions policy.
By itself the nature of the movement is not a fatal flaw - many different currents oppose the war and a variety of views should be welcome. The problem is that the left, who provide the organisational scaffold for the movement, by refusing to take up the anti-imperialist politics needed, freeze the movement in amber and refuse to challenge the questionable nature of some of the opposition to the war. The contradictions boiled over into heckling of the Sinn Fein speaker Mary Lou McDonald - the fact that Sinn Fein was opposing Bush on the streets of Dublin while simultaneously being part of a lickspittle shamrock presentation in Washington proved too much for some of the demonstrators.
Two strategies were presented to the demonstrators:
One strategy, presented by Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins, was that we should use the forthcoming European and local elections to mount an electoral challenge - punish Fianna Fail in the same way that that the Spanish electorate had punished the popular party. This is an unrealistic strategy at two levels. Firstly the Socialist party in Spain is a loyal opposition - Spanish troops have not been withdrawn despite their bluster. Secondly the left in Ireland will only be able to mount a tiny electoral challenge.
The proposal by Richard Boyd-Barrett of the SWP was for a united movement to organise a mass protest against Bush. This was a proposal for more of the same. Big demonstrations and a broad movement was what the SWP had proposed last year. In between the movement had shrunk without developing politically and had recently split following accusations of manipulation and a denial of democracy by the SWP.
There is an opportunity to refound the anti-war movement in the run-up to the Bush visit. A real commitment on the left to a genuinely democratic movement and to an anti-imperialist political answer to the imperialist warmongers would be a welcome step forward.