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Birmingham Stop the War meeting notes

Dave Constanidis | 31.01.2005 21:54 | Analysis | Birmingham

Some notes on the Birmingham Stop the War meeting (Jan28th) and a critical look at how the movement could make its struggle a more effective one.

First thing to be mentioned is that the venue was packed and although that may have been down to the presence of Mr Benn there still seemed to be quite some optimism (perhaps misguided?) concerning the movement and its efforts.
Salma Yaqoob began the proceedings with a whole string of statistics and moralising remarks about how we didn’t do enough and as a result have 'blood on our hands' partly because of a result of our being tax payers, and hence the funders of the war. As a result her speech, although filled with conviction, seemed interminable and while she pointed out that clearly enough wasn’t done to dissuade the government, she also failed to put forward any further suggestions as to what should be done apart from to follow the usual road of predictable and sterile protests.

Next up was the truly inept, tactless and foolish Lyndsy German who for all her vitriol and bile had very little of any importance to say. Making a fairly platitudal point about the subjectivity of the word 'terrorist' (round of applause) she pointed out that the term is applied loosely to anyone who cares to stand in the way of the coalition. She then showed the shallow nature of her critique by roundly supporting the 'resistance' (clearly a word that carries no subjective interpretation) by 'any means necessary'. Unfortunately it is those such as German, who's emotions seem to impair all thought, who walk head first into the trap set by advocates of the war who talk of a 'stable and prosperous iraq'. She seemed to applaud the killings of soldiers (whilst many people don’t disagree with fighting an enemy who invades your land most wont revel in the deaths of soldiers) whilst failing to point out any progressive elements of the resistance in any of its forms. In neglecting the diversity of the resistance she happily advocates support for the least progressive and most religious, spectacular elements of the 'resistance' those that are reported on TV, those who produce tangible acts of 'resistance'. In doing so she fails to grasp the subjectivity of her own terms and language and that of those in power as a whole. It is thoroughly useless criticisms such as hers that help to posit the view of the war as an assault on Islam or the Arab world and invariably lead to a purely spectacular support for the most conspicuous elements of the resistance.

Following that fine display of blind imbecility came Tony Benn, whilst not all may support his advocation of parliamentary politics and inparticular his stay in the labour party this man remains one of the greatest orators around. He made one very good point about the stop the war movement, whether you despise those who have sort to become its leaders and profit from it personally and politically (notably the SWP, respect). It has nevertheless created solidarity between a huge group of people that has probably never been seen in this country for eons. People from varying backgrounds from all around the country have come together with a joint aim, they’ve expressed solidarity with each other, debated, marched, discussed ideas which they may never have considered were it not for the movement, Benn made a good point about this: that the stop the war movement could be the beginning of something greater, it could have created bonds and sprouted some of the roots that will lead beyond this movement into different, more pertinent and revolutionary struggles, in the workplace or in the communities.

The anti-war movement may often come across as containing a lot of good intention and little strategic insight, its un-dialectical, sometimes shallow and ultimately (although it may contain many a good intention) not revolutionary, but what Benn said had never really struck me before. The environment of debate and solidarity that has grown around the anti-war movement can be developed towards organising more pertinent, active and lasting struggles. Large numbers of people have been introduced to the fringes of revolutionary politics through a movement that rarely goes beyond constituting a protest movement.

So far the left has been stuck to the two equally restrictive viewpoints. On the one side opposing the war with great vitriol but little accurate perspective (leading to unconditional support for any reactionary who appears to fight the ‘US war machine’) and on the other a passive and conscientious objection to a war that is seen quite rightly as an abomination against humanity. What is needed is both a clearer understanding of the nature of this war and more effective ways of fighting those who perpetrate such acts in our name.

Seeing the war in Iraq as the phenomena of an imperialist monkey and a shady crew of megalomaniacs who pull his strings is to fail to see the historical situation of the war. From Suez to Serbia, Afghanistan to Chiapas, war is little more than a business investment by the ruling class of capital. In its efforts to expand power through the exploitation and creation of new markets, military intervention becomes little more than the strong arm of capitalist venture. The war in Iraq is neither an assault on Islam nor an act of divine retribution from Mr Bush Jnr, but an act of class war on an international scale. The economic downturn in the US, its huge deficit, an inability to maximise profit in proportion to the amount of existing capital, the diminishing natural resources upon which the perpetuation of the economy depends, has lead to two of the most powerful representatives of capitalist accumulation, the governments of the UK and US to seek the appropriation of Iraqi resources in all their forms. This war is not simply an aberration on behalf of a bad set of administrations. It represents both a necessity of capitalism and an adequate historical period in which to pursue these necessities. In attempting to explain and oppose this war without any suggestion of class analysis the leaders of the anti-war movement make no effort to conceal their analytical poverty. They occupy a theoretical position that would quite happily support any government that came to power in Iraq under the guise of ‘national liberation’, providing that it was seen to oppose ‘US imperialism’. The thread bare propaganda used to justify this war coupled with the strength of public opposition the world over should make it clear that the intentions of governments cannot be challenged effectively through means of polite protest.

The tentacles of capitalism stretch the world over, but at every point that they seek to control and exploit they meet resistance. As the base of the war in Iraq has its roots in capitalist accumulation it is only on capitals ground that we can truly oppose the war and provide some support for the progressive elements of the Iraqi resistance. It is only through acts of struggle against capital here that we can hope to provide any real support (as opposed to superficial support in principal) for the Iraqi people. Capital expresses its needs for increased expansion and control through the military might of governments, this need for expansion is created in part from our struggles against capital in our workplaces and communities. It’s necessary to see this war, as with most recent wars before it, as part of the huge, ubiquitous class struggle. In Iraq workers have been organising strikes in petrochemical factories, organising insubordinate unions to challenge Allawi’s state sponsored (and controlled) IFTU. The struggle of the Iraqi working classes is at the more bloody and violent end of our own struggle. The war in Iraq is part of same offensive by the class that seeks to limit wages, sick pay, pensions and workers autonomy in Britain and the United States, it is the bloody and deadly side of the fight for capitalist accumulation. The proliferation of temporary work is implemented with the same end goal as the murder of striking Iraqi workers. Our situations are so unequivocally different, yet the product of the same battle. We share a common enemy, one that fights claims for workers power and autonomy of the community in one country with military weaponry and in another with economic assaults, corporate caressing unions and division.

Until the anti-war movement realises the interconnectedness of the problem and begins to fight it on its own turf, with assaults against the capitalist and governing class in Britain, then it will continue to remain impotent in the face of such overwhelming brutality.

Dave Constanidis