When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party in Britain he stepped down from being chair of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), while continuing to support its activities. Opponents of Corbyn have used this continuing connection to attack Labour and its leader. The ensuing arguments have pursued familiar lines with Corbyn and friends accused of being ‘anti-West’ and ‘pro-jihadi’ and his detractors portrayed as ‘bombers’ and Blairites.
In reality the strand of thinking represented by the Stop the War Coalition is just one set of options on offer for British imperialism. For example, opposition to British membership of NATO is among the military options open to the British bourgeoisie. The dominant strand in the British ruling class is for continuing participation in NATO, but a minority (including StWC) favour British military independence (presumably with the possibility of temporary alliances with other powers if such are deemed to be in the interests of British capitalism).
Opposition to NATO goes along with a determination for Britain to leave the EU, which is the policy of the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party of Britain (two significant parts of the StWC – Andrew Wilson of the CPB was/is chair before and after Corbyn). They might complain that they should not be lumped in with the usual right wing anti-EU little Englanders, but there’s no logical reason why not. In the Libyan war of 2011, for example, leftists were divided over whether to support the Gaddafi regime or the opposition backed by a variety of powers, in particular France and Britain. The StWC backed Gaddafi’s status quo and they were joined by the likes of Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, who did so in the name of political stability in the region.
But the area where the Stop the War Campaign is currently most under attack is over Syria. It is not surprising that those who voted for British bombing in the area should make accusations about those who voted against. If you say that ISIS is the new Hitler then anyone who says any different is bound to be labelled an appeaser. But some of those who had previously supported StWC have said it has effectively taken sides in the conflict. In a letter from a number of activists to the Guardian (9/12/15) we read that “StWC has failed to organise or support protests against the Assad dictatorship …Nor has it shown solidarity with the … millions of innocent civilians killed, wounded and displaced by Assad’s barrel bombs and torture chambers. It portrays Isis as the main threat to Syrians, despite Assad killing at least six times more civilians. StWC has … one-sidedly failed to support demonstrations against the escalating Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah military interventions in Syria.
As well as systematically ignoring war crimes committed by the Assad regime, StWC often misrepresents the opposition to Assad as being largely composed of jihadi extremists and agents of imperialism”.
These remarks are not all at the same level. The ‘respectable’ opposition that the critics have in mind, for example, would be potential replacements for the current regime, not challengers to Syrian capitalism. But criticism of Hezbollah is not to be expected from factions that have so consistently supported it, most notably in its war with Israel. With the campaign over starvation in the besieged western Syrian town of Madaya, the United Nations reports that there are some 450,000 people trapped in around 15 siege locations across Syria, including areas controlled by the government, ISIL and other insurgent groups. Madaya is under siege by the Syrian government and Hezbollah. Inside Madaya there are anti-Assad militias, the al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in Syria) and the pro-US Free Syrian Army. In the Morning Star, the paper that puts forward the view of the CPB, it was reported (12/1/16) that “Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV channel … accused anti-government fighters of hoarding humanitarian assistance that had entered the town in October and selling the supplies to residents at exorbitant prices.” Whatever the truth in the specific details in Madaya, the reality for the population in Syria, in Iraq, and in other conflicts across the region and the world, is one of death from starvation, from war, or in the attempt to flee the area. The policies of StWC focus on the relations between capitalist states at the imperialist level, with recommendations for policies that British imperialism can follow, predicated on the continued existence of British capitalism.
Corbyn (in a 4/6/15 post on http://www.stopwar.org.uk/) announced, while still StWC chair, that “The 21st century is shaping up to be possibly the most warlike century ever. By comparison the last decade of the 20th century was a time of serious discussion about long-term disarmament and arms conversion, as conflicts, while not expiring completely, were certainly reduced in their intensity.” This turns reality on its head. Following the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of the imperialist blocs headed by the US and Russia, there was in Europe a certain amount of military restructuring which included a reduction in the size of a number of armies and some changes in military focus. However, in the 1990s, with the end of the blocs there was a proliferation of conflicts: the Gulf War, in Rwanda, Burundi, the wars in ex-Yugoslavia, across the Caucasus, in Sierra Leone, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Wars extended and developed in their intensity and have done so further in the 21st century. Discussions among the bourgeoisie about ‘disarmament’ and ‘arms conversion’ are entirely fraudulent manoeuvres as powers great and small have been compelled to strengthen the military dimension of their intervention on the imperialist stage.
Against the lying claims of the Stop the War Campaign (and its opponents), the world is not just so many brutal military conflicts in which the population must choose between its exploiters and oppressors, it is a world in which social classes have different interests and different dynamics. The bourgeoisie’s world is one of imperialist conflict; the working class, with common interests internationally, has the potential to destroy capitalist nation states and create a society based on solidarity.