to stop the Warmongers" - Leaflet distributed at demonstrations in Belfast
and Dublin to mark the first anniversary of the beginning of the war against
20th March 2004
The invasion of Iraq almost one year ago was an event of immense significance. The naked grab for oil was an open expression of the most rapacious imperialism. It has brought into the open divisions between the great imperialist powers that have not been witnessed for over fifty years. It also provoked the biggest mass demonstration in history when over 10 million demonstrated on February 15th right across the world.
In Ireland over 100,000 demonstrated in Dublin while over 20,000 protested in Belfast. In London no one can be sure how many came onto the streets. One and a half million? Two million? The scale of the protests shocked everyone.
Before the demonstrations organisers said that the war could be stopped. The majority of the demonstrators believed that their protests would be heeded. Yet despite the scale of the protests the war was not stopped.
One question must seize everyone who protested. Why did such a huge movement not succeed? Just how many people have to mobilise for us to win?
This is not a question for historical reflection. It has been asked again and again ever since. It demands an answer now! The lies of Bush and Blair in justification for the war have been shredded utterly and clumsy attempts by the establishment through Lord Hutton to exonerate the liars have brought only complete contempt. The war is less popular now than it was one year ago. But still the question is posed. Why, despite the political damage to the warmongers and their supporters, are we unable to force the end of their bloody occupation of the country?
The first and most obvious reason is that we do not live in genuinely democratic societies. Bertie Ahern ignored the state's neutrality while Blair declared that it was the measure of his role that he ignored majority opinion! George Bush, well what can we not say about him, we know he was never even elected President in the first place, so few are surprised at anything he does.
Our countries become less democratic as the 'war against terrorism' proceeds and becomes the excuse for more and more restrictions on our civil rights. A climate of fear has been engendered - not by the terrorists but by governments - in order to justify the grossest violations of democratic rights. Opposition to the war against Iraq cannot avoid opposition to the attempts to intimidate and silence our opposition.
Belief that we live in real democratic societies means that most protestors have not understood that the war and occupation is an imperialist one. This means its occurrence was not simply the result of the greed and arrogance of George Bush or the slavish behaviour of his poodles Blair and Ahern.
The drive to war was motivated by capitalists who sought to make big money out of plundering Iraq's oil wealth. It was supported by the major parties in all the belligerent countries. Those who doubted its success opposed it only for tactical reasons or because, like France, Russia and Germany they were going to lose out to rivals. In none of these cases was opposition a principled resistance. We now even have the ridiculous claim that Bertie Ahern opposed the war!
When the war started much of this opposition vanished. In Britain the Liberal Democrats supported 'our boys' while in the North of Ireland the Trade Union leadership of ICTU was afraid of offending unionism and tried to claim that it could oppose the war while supporting the army waging it!
This meant that leadership of the anti-war campaign was in the hands of some people who no longer opposed it. But this was not new. The lack of principled opposition to war had serious effects on the anti-war movement before these fake opponents were publicly compromised.
Throughout the campaign in both Ireland and Britain appeals for support were made to trade union and political leaders who did nothing to mobilise their members in opposition to the war and who often actively stood in the way of organising opposition. Worse, the left groups who organised the anti-war campaign in Ireland supported this alliance with the trade union bureaucrats and opposed attempts to organise action and expose the rotten role of these figures.
These failings were a symptom of the fact that the opposition to the imperialist war was not itself anti-imperialist. The organisers of the campaign believed that the simple task was to get as many people as possible onto the streets in opposition to the war. They thought, and still do think, that the politics of opposition does not matter. The failure to stop the war is proof that not only does it matter, it is decisive.
Blair and Ahern were not shifted from their support from the war because they knew that however unpopular it was the opponents of war offered no political alternative to them. Those opposed to war were united on nothing else and because they were no alternative they were no threat. For the British and Irish establishments even if the governing parties lost votes and subsequently lost office they knew that any conceivable replacement government would behave in just the same way. The Tories in Britain supported the war. In Ireland the Greens are hoping for coalition government and Sinn Fein provided a propaganda weapon to Bush when he visited Hillsborough rather than organise real opposition.
This means that to win, the anti-war movement had to have the potential to build a real alternative political force to the establishment parties. To do this it would have had to win workers away from dependence on trade union bureaucrats who stood in the way of them taking action. A real democratic movement needed to be built. One that could have offered working people a vehicle to organise and express their opposition.
Attempting to create a really democratic, grass roots movement would have led to a bigger anti-war movement but there is no doubt that an attempt to build an anti-imperialist movement might initially have made it smaller in numbers. Of course an anti-imperialist movement would have welcomed anyone who opposed the war and called on everyone to support its demonstrations etc. But it would have clearly said that it was a movement opposed not just to imperialist war but to imperialist peace. It would have opposed illusions in the UN just as today it must oppose replacing US and British troops with UN ones. It would have challenged all the fake opponents of war in the trade unions and so-called 'radical' parties. Since the anti-war movement actually failed to organise in its ranks those who demonstrated it would not actually have been smaller.
A movement cannot judge itself solely on numbers. Those that do so are unable to answer the question: if two million in London are not enough, if 100,000 in Dublin are not enough, how many are? Half those numbers organised by a militant anti-imperialist movement would have been a much bigger threat to the establishment than much larger demonstrations divided and with little internal agreement.
In Britain it now appears that the lesson has been learnt that it is necessary to politically organise those who opposed the war. A new movement RESPECT has been created seeking to rally those who opposed the war and whose voice was ignored. Unfortunately it is being created on exactly the same mistaken basis as the anti-war movement. Political principles are being ignored in the vain belief that the less you say the more popular to a wider range of people you become. A belief that getting votes is more important than giving leadership and actually changing people's minds has gripped those involved. No coherent and embracing alternative is offered by RESPECT because it shies away from presenting principled socialist politics. In the North of Ireland the same shameful approach has been adopted by those behind the Socialist Environmental Alliance.
The lessons of the anti-war movement have not been learnt. Those who have not learnt those lessons cannot credibly argue that they can now end the occupation. Great events such as the Iraq war present enormous opportunities to change people's minds about the nature of the world they live in and to convince them that the alternative is socialism.
The task of everyone opposed to the occupation of Iraq is not just to organise and demonstrate against the occupation but to organise to create such a movement.