'No War But The Class War': The priority of political discussion

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The following text was written for a meeting of the No War But The Class War group in London on November 1st. The group has a continuity with groups under the same name formed during the Gulf war and the Kosovo war, but it has attracted new energies and, in our opinion, can serve as a focus for serious discussion about the meaning of the current war, and for proletarian intervention against it. The ICC’s contribution was thus put forward in a spirit of constructive criticism. On the whole the contribution was received in the same spirit: after it was presented, a number of comrades voiced unease at the lack of political discussion in recent meetings. It was decided that the next meeting would concentrate on a discussion about the effects of the war on the international working class - which for us is an absolutely key issue because an effective intervention in the real movement of the class can only be based on a lucid analysis of where that movement is to be found.

No War But The Class War meets every Thursday at 7.30, at the Sebbon Street Community Centre, Islington, London NI (behind Islington Town Hall)

As we did with its previous version, at the time of the Kosovo war, the ICC welcomes the reappearance of the ‘No War But The Class War’ group in response to the latest carnage. The leaflet that was distributed at the demonstration of 13 October essentially defended a proletarian position against the war and against pacifist illusions. We also think that the small section on the aims of the group is correct when it explains that the ideas in the leaflet are not the statement of a political programme, but “the basis of more discussion and action”.

The public meeting on 21 Oct was an excellent opportunity to discuss the significance of the September 11 attacks and the new Afghan war, which for us mark a very important step in capitalism’s ‘progress’ towards barbarism, and pose considerable difficulties for the working class and its struggle in all countries. We also welcome the fact that the meeting was open to the contribution of groups of the communist left.

The presentation at the public meeting raised many issues which needed a thorough discussion - particularly with regard to the current capacity of the working class to respond to the situation, the degree to which workers have been affected by the patriotic hysteria in the USA and the ‘Muslim’ frenzy in the east. In our view these difficulties were seriously underestimated in the presentation; but at any rate this was surely a matter for discussion. There is still a need to define what is meant by class opposition to war, and we are still convinced that this cannot be taken for granted. However, the impression we have got from the two meetings we have attended (it may have been different in the previous ones) is that within the group there is a strong resistance to really discussing the issues posed by the war, and a very strong leaning towards ‘activism’, ie the desire to ‘do things’ without really thinking them through. This could be seen in:

- the decision (which a lot of comrades seem to recognise was a mistake) to break up the public meeting into small groups around discussions on what to do, making it virtually impossible to have any coherent discussion about the presentation;

- the decision on Thursday to rush off to an army recruitment fair without any thought about the real aim of such an action, the security considerations in today’s heavy atmosphere of anti-terrorism, etc;

- the growing influence of what might be called the ‘anti-capitalist lobby’ within the group, who have not defined their politics but are extremely keen to get NWBTCW involved in forming an ‘anti-capitalist bloc’ within the next pacifist demo, or in music benefits with no indication about which political forces are benefiting; they have also proposed that NWBTCW should get on the podium at Trafalgar Square through some sort of deal with the Stop the War coalition.

As already mentioned, the ICC has more than once emphasised the need to discuss the most basic question posed by the war: what is meant by a class response to war in this period. To us it appears that this is almost taken for granted, but it would be extremely dangerous to do so. What happened in Brighton surely confirms this. As we understand it from the account by the comrade from Brighton, the NWBTCW group there was simply swamped by an arrival of elements from the Stop the War campaign; and even those who call themselves ‘autonomists’ and ‘communists’ simply went along with the idea of creating a broad front of all those ‘opposed’ to the war, which is precisely the approach of the SWP, CND, etc.

The SWP is also proclaiming that the best hope of opposing the war is to turn the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement into the anti-war movement, and to some extent this has been what has happened. Although in America some of the more openly bourgeois organisations like the greens and the AFL-CIO withdrew from the anti-war demonstrations after 11 September, the majority of the ‘anti-capitalist’, or more accurately, anti-globalisation groups have formed the basis for the pacifist pseudo-opposition typified by the Stop the War Coalition. In our opinion, we have to be very clear that just as the anti-globalisation jamboree is by no means a proletarian movement against capital, so the present ‘Stop the War movement’ has nothing to do with a working class, internationalist response to capitalist war.

We think that unless there is a real discussion in ‘NWBTCW’ about the nature both of the ‘anti-capitalist movement’ (which for us is to a large extent controlled by the bourgeoisie, even if there are undoubtedly some positive elements within or around it) and of the current ‘anti-war movement’, there is a danger that it could be dragged into functioning as a radical wing of pacifism.

There are times when decisive action is required and further discussion becomes a hindrance. But there are also times when the priority of the moment is to reflect, to understand, to analyse, to clarify. We are living through a descent into an era of unprecedented irrationality, where mythologies once thought forgotten have risen to the surface with swords in their hands. To resist these mythologies, and all the more familiar ones maintained by capitalism, we must not hesitate to defend the necessity for thought, debate, and theory.

We thus think the most important function for a ‘NWBTCW’ group is

- to act as a focus for all who want to understand how to fight the war on a proletarian terrain. It should be an open, non-membership circle of discussion, organised on a more or less local basis; there should be no distinction between internal and external meetings, unless specifically decided;

- to be a centre for activities and interventions which would as much as possible reflect the discussions within the circle. This may mean that some interventions would be done in the name of the circle as a whole, some by particular groupings within the circle.

Particular proposals

- publication of a bulletin with contributions from all the various groups, currents and individuals involved; perhaps the bulletin could be called Against Capitalist War (and perhaps the name of the bulletin could serve as the name of the group or network of groups). The first one could report on the story of the group so far and publish all the internationalist leaflets and statements which have circulated in and around the group;

- the eventual organisation of a national conference, where more time can be devoted both to political discussion and the coordination of activities;

- for Nov 18: we repeat our proposal for an autonomous meeting at Trafalgar Square. The only real moment that an alternative to the pacifists, leftists and nationalists can be posed is at the end of the demo; that’s the most favourable time for polarising questioning and dissatisfaction with the official opposition. At one level or another, this means not ‘joining’ the official platform but confronting it, although we mean confronting it politically, not provoking a punch up. Whether or not people are ‘in’ the march, our energies would be best employed in preparing to make a stand at this point in the demonstration. And we should discuss both the dangers and the advantages of such a course of action.

WR, November 2001

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