The Stop the War demonstration on Saturday 24 February was described by an indymedia contributor as “yet another march from A to B and listen to speeches event, organised by the left of capital in cooperation with the police” (Indymedia) and he added “don’t expect a change in imperialist policy in Whitehall”. There is a long history of such events failing to make any change to imperialist policy, most notably the millions who came onto the streets of several continents to protest against the war in Iraq just before it was launched in 2003. These large demonstrations, whether in the USA, Britain or elsewhere had no impact on government policy whatsoever.
This raises the question of why anti-war demonstrations never stop war. Is it a matter of more militant tactics? Would it be different if there were “large scale, effective, direct anti-war action”? It is not enough to point to the equally ineffective demonstrations that have taken place at Greenham Common and various other military bases over the years. The question still remains whether there is any kind of tactic that could make an anti-war demonstration effective. This can only be answered by an understanding of why nations go to war: is it by choice with a view to a quick buck on the oil market? Or are they forced into it by the very conditions of the capitalist system today? Today, and since the early 20th century, no country has been able to stand aside from imperialism as each is forced to try and expand at the expense of its rivals. This is why the USA and Britain have found themselves bogged down in the chaos they created with the Iraq war. And there are no innocent nations or factions, however small and weak they are all inevitably drawn into imperialism: from ‘brave little Belgium’ backed by Britain, France and Russia in World War I, through the PLO backed by Russia in the Cold War, to Hizbollah backed by Iran today. When we look at the carnage in Iraq today, like any other imperialist conflict, we are not seeing an aberration but the normal operation of capitalism. “Violated, dishonoured, wading in blood and dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society” as Rosa Luxemburg said in 1916, and used in the signature quote from the indymedia contributor cited above.
This is why calling for all occupying troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, for no replacement of Trident and no attack on Iran, as the demonstration did, is utopian. Peace will not be possible and imperialism will not be ended until capitalism is overthrown by the class war.
However, the demonstration did have one slogan that was not utopian, ‘Bush and Blair must go’. Here we descend to the level of farce, since their tenure in office is coming to an end anyway, and their going already decided, especially for Blair who will be gone in a matter of months.
So why hold demonstrations?
Four years ago there was an illusion in the power of demonstrations and democracy to influence government policy. Today even the illusion that the Iraq Study Group and Democratic victories in the USA might attenuate its hawkish imperialist policies has been dashed. And we can be quite sure that none of the organisers, either then or now, had any such illusions. In fact in 2003 the leader of the LibDems was quite open about this, stating that once war started they would support ‘our boys’ in Iraq.
Nevertheless, bourgeois democracy has a need for such demonstrations against unpopular policies. When the democratic mechanisms respond to the views of the public in this way it is not to allow them to influence state policy, but to provide a safety valve and above all to provide false answers to the questions being raised by the state of capitalism today. When workers and particularly young workers see the constant and growing local wars this raises the question of what future capitalism has in store for us, in the same way that growing unemployment or the destruction of pensions does. An anti-war demonstration provides false answers – call for the end of this war, the removal of this or that leader, the exposure of this or that scandal, anything to drown out the discussion of why capitalism cannot be anything else, why it has outlived its use to humanity and become nothing but a source of chaos and misery.
Revolutionaries, those who hold to a clear internationalist position against all imperialist forces of whatever scale, whether official, guerrilla or paramilitary, need to be at these demonstrations precisely to respond to the questioning of those beginning to see through the spectacle of the anti-war demo. We do so in order to stimulate discussion, not to drown it out, to show the roots of imperialism as an essential part of capitalism today instead of providing false hopes. This is why we will understand more about the Iraq war by reading the Junius pamphlet written by Rosa Luxemburg in 1916 than by listening to the speeches at the end of hundreds of anti-war demonstrations. Alex 3/3/07