A week after the Countryside Alliance's march in London (for "Liberty and Livelihood") came the demonstration initiated by the Stop the War coalition and the Muslim Association of Britain ("Don't Attack Iraq - Freedom for Palestine"). The earlier march was characterised as a lot of 'toffs' and Tories coming to town, but not every one there was a big 'fat cat' landowner: some were agricultural workers, some impoverished small farmers and some who've felt the very real decline in rural services. Similarly there were many who went on the 28 September march who were genuinely concerned about the drive towards war and wanted to find a way to express their fears. From the noise and crush of the start at the Embankment to the procession of speakers at the end in Hyde Park many must have wondered what sort of 'anti-war' event they'd got themselves involved in. A policy for imperialism
As with the speeches of union leaders and left-wingers at the Labour Party conference there was a great emphasis on the role of the United Nations. The actions of the US were seen as undermining the UN efforts for 'peace'. In reality the UN, like its predecessor the League of Nations, has been used in the military strategies of the biggest imperialisms. The UN had not been long founded before it was used to co-ordinate the forces arrayed against North Korea and Russian imperialism in the early 1950s. If there are occasions when the UN has expressed a view contrary to the US, then firstly it has been in the interests of other imperialisms and, secondly the US will act unilaterally anyway if it feels the need to. The UN is not a force that's above or against imperialist conflicts - it's an integral part of the way different imperialisms relate to each other. Turning to the UN or ignoring it are both imperialist policies. In Britain at the moment the current emphasis on the UN is being used as a means of advancing the particular interests of British imperialism.
"Don't Attack Iraq" read the placards. On banners and badges US imperialism was marked out as the main enemy. The front page of Socialist Worker headlined with "STOP BUSH. He is the threat to peace. He has got nuclear weapons. His doctrine is imperialism". On posters and in leaflets from a range of groups the implications of this were spelt out. The British government should not support American belligerence. No one seemed under any illusion that a demonstration through London would influence American foreign policy, but the spirit of much of the material produced for the march showed that there were some who thought that the British government had to make itself "accountable" to "democratic protests".
In reality the British state determines its military actions according to its imperialist needs. More to the point, the demand for Britain to act independently from the US actually corresponds to a policy within the British ruling class. They know there are occasions when British imperialism's interests will coincide with aspects of US policy, but they want at all times to ensure that Britain's particular interests come first.
The fact that there are states in Europe which oppose the strategy of US imperialism is easily understood - as that strategy is directed against them! Socialist Worker reported the re-election of Schr�der in Germany as "bad news for George Bush and the warmongers". But it had to admit that this was "partly a reflection of the fact that German big business does not believe its interests will be advanced by a US victory in the Middle East". So in fact the election of Schr�der corresponds to the interests of 'the warmongers' (of the German ruling class), in the same way that the military stance of the Blair government is determined by the needs of British imperialism. Marching to war
On the demonstration the abstraction of 'Freedom for Palestine' was made very concrete. Demands for a Palestinian state, for a state 'between the river and the sea', for the 'return of land' are imperialist. The fact that the conflict in Palestine/Israel is currently between suicide bombers and a state armed with nuclear weapons and all the latest military technology does not alter this. The pro-Palestine demands are one side of an imperialist conflict in which workers, poor peasants and people from the refugee camps are used as soldiers for the cause of the Palestinian bourgeoisie (and any imperialism that feels it can use the Palestinian cause). This is not a hypothetical situation but a conflict that has in various stages gripped the region for decades and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The 1948-49 war, the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and the subsequent years of attrition, the Jordanian attack on the Palestinians in 1970, the war of 73, the Syrian invasion of the Lebanon in 75-76, the Lebanese 'civil war' of 1975-1990 including the Israeli invasions of the south of the country, the 'Intifada' of the last two years - this is the continuing conflict that the organisers of the march support. The demand for a Palestinian state (supported by all major imperialisms) is no less reactionary than the insistence that the Israeli state has a 'right to exist'. Both calls are for the mobilisation of the exploited and oppressed in the service of their class enemies.
While the organisers found those dressed as suicide bombers just too blatant for a 'Stop the War' march, Islamic 'jihad' militants were omnipresent. A contingent wearing uniform T-shirts saying "Reject Western solutions" was marshalled round orange banners expressing support for various imperialist causes related to the Middle East.
While the dominant note of the march was a plea for there to be no attack on Iraq, there were the usual leftist calls for the actual defence of Iraq, even for the 'victory' of Iraq. Again, this amounts to a demand that workers abandon any thought of the defence of their own interests so that they can enter the military service of their exploiters. The proponents of this line of thought always make a distinction between 'military support' for Iraq going alongside 'political opposition' to Saddam's regime. This distinction is meaningless from the point of view of class realities. For the ruling class at war 'military support' is all it actually requires in its defence. For the working class anything that mobilises it in the defence of its exploiters can only serve the interests of the ruling class. For class opposition to war
A year ago with the demonstrations around the war on Afghanistan there were many elements wanting to defend a class position against the 'war against terrorism', and a certain amount of co-ordination and joint activity between different groups and individuals took place. This was not the case with the 28 September demonstration. This was a much bigger demonstration, with a more clearly pro-war atmosphere, but it was political dispersal that further undermined the impact of a proletarian stance. This time there were separate leaflets from the 'No War But The Class War' groups in London and Sheffield, and a general lack of co-ordination which saw these two groups in different parts of the march. Furthermore, the focus of both these groups, and of the IBRP which has a major influence on the Sheffield group, on finding a place within the march added to the difficulty of making a distinctive proletarian intervention. We will take this problem up in more depth next issue.
A year ago delegations from the organisations of the communist left, the ICC and the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party, were able to get together with some from the London 'No War But the Class War' group at the end to attempt an impromptu meeting in opposition to the official platform. Whatever the difficulties and weaknesses of that attempt, we must not underestimate the importance of working together to give the small internationalist voice the greatest possible impact. Nothing of the kind happened this time.
While the intervention of revolutionaries was swamped at this demonstration, and will continue to be very difficult to raise at such events in future, we will continue to participate in meetings wherever working class opposition to war may be discussed, to relate to any current that puts forward the need for the class war as the only way to oppose imperialist war, and ensure that our press shows what's at stake in the current proliferation of military conflicts.
Only the international revolution of the working class can put an end to the capitalist system that engenders imperialist war. While capitalism's spectacular demonstrations make all their noise, the work of revolutionaries, the discussions in the working class, the evolution of class consciousness continue, as part of the only movement that can really end war.