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The State of the Anti-War Movement

John McAnulty

11th March 2003

Enough time has passed since the mass mobilisation that occurred in Ireland and across the globe on February 15th for it to be possible to recover from the astonishment that this sudden mass upwelling of popular sentiment produced, and begin the task of analysis.

The mobilisations indicated the potential of working class and mass organisation but it has become clear since then that the demonstrations fall quite a bit short of a mass movement. They lacked structure, so there was no way that those taking part in the demonstrations could reflect on the action and plan a way forward. One of the main reasons for the lack of structure is that the majority of demonstrators see no need for it. They have not broken from the existing political leaderships but were simply repudiating the tawdry excuses for war and asking the political establishment to think again.

The task now is to turn the mass sentiment into a mass movement. Unfortunately the existing structures make that difficult. They do not facilitate either debate or united action, a reality demonstrated by protests at the beginning of March.

Essentially what happened was that the organising structure fractured into three parts. One part, led by the anarchists, staged a demonstration at Shannon airport which involved a component of direct action. Another section, the anti-war a coalition organised by the Socialist Workers' Party,  staged a separate demonstration to indicate their horror at the thought of direct action. Another section, involving ICTU, the Greens, the Labour Party and Sinn Fein were so horrified by the thought of direct action that they held a low-key vigil in Dublin rather than at Shannon.

The idea that Sinn Fein or the SWP object to direct action will be news to many, or that we should be seriously concerned about damage to a fence or a few aeroplanes at a time when the US intends to devastate an entire country. What the argument indicates is a routine sectarianism, opportunism and lack of seriousness in the opposition forces.

The question facing everyone is what can be done to stop the war after people were told that demonstrations by themselves could do so.  This, after all, is what the SWP for example claimed at meetings before the 15th.  The anarchists are not serious in proposing direct action as a strategy - they simply undertake it as individuals. The other components of the anti-war structure reject it without discussion or alternative and many did not hesitate to condemn the anarchists for what was a quite mild action.

In fact there is no openly admitted political justification for separate campaigns. Sinn Fein, the Labour Party and ICTU have a history of collaborating with US capital and with its local representatives. From their point of view a protest campaign without any real strategy is a lot more comfortable than all-out resistance. The anarchists are happy with the freedom to do their own thing. The left are either anxious to remain close to the trade union leadership or see the mobilisations as an opportunity to recruit.

The result is that strategic and political questions are not being answered. To need to build a specifically working class resistance, to demand that ICTU call for industrial action to target the local machinery of war - which is centred in the Dail rather than in Shannon, the need for a united democratic campaign - all these have been passed over.

Blair and Bush have lost the argument. This war will not pass by without a radicalisation of many working people, especially young people. The danger is that the failure to build an open democratic campaign may well lead to a long detour through the existing political organisations that have already failed the test of this imperialist war.




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