Michael Doyle

Michael Doyle

Why We Need To Build The Anti-War Movement – Not Disband It

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It should be no surprise that the Stop the War Coalition with its clear opposition to war, the arms industry and UK and US imperialism would be demonised by the military establishment and both the Labour and Conservative party. But some on the left have also joined the attacks on the coalition, as Andrew Fisher’s recent article illustrates. In light of the recent events in Gaza and Israel, the question of who will continue to stand by the Palestinian people as they face another year of the longest and harshest military occupation in modern history becomes more pertinent. Stop the War are calling for an immediate ceasefire.

But just imagine if Fisher’s wish had been granted and Stop the War dissolved itself on the eve of the biggest upsurge in violence since the second Intifada in the early 2000s. There would be no formalised organisation on the left calling for an end to the violence. Nor would there be an anti-war movement putting current events in their broader geopolitical context. A context which is increasingly fertile for yet more conflict and war. 

It was, in part,  Stop the War’s activism throughout the 2000s and early 2010s which helped increase public support for the Palestinian cause during the brutal ‘mowing the grass’ operations Israel launched in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014. Despite the ridiculous media coverage of the recent violence which would lead one to believe that said coverage is reflecting strong and overwhelming support for Israel’s policy of apartheid, polling shows that is far from the case. This is in no small way down to the maintenance of a well-organised and principled anti-war movement which has been devoted to raising awareness of the Palestinian cause.

Fisher’s position points to a more general weakening on the left on foreign policy and imperialism. During the New Labour years, the Labour left was, in the words of Peter Mandelson, ‘sealed in a tomb’, yet the anti-war movement proved to be the one outlet where it was politically relevant and successful. Jeremy Corbyn and the senior advisors who would later form the nucleus of his leadership were key figures in the Stop the War leadership. Indeed this was the primary reason the British ruling class were so vicerally opposed to his leading of the Labour Party, never mind the country.

It was Corbyn’s principled anti-imperialist politics as much as anti-austerity politics that drew in hundreds of thousands of supporters to his leadership campaign in 2015. Activists in the anti-war movement, Palestinian solidarity campaigns, and human rights groups entered the Labour Party, many for the first time. Moreover, Corbyn’s speech in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing chimed with public opinion: Western wars in the Middle East and North Africa had created blowback. 

From the very beginning, Corbyn’s anti-imperialism was considered ‘baggage’ by Fisher and John McDonnell. In Owen Jones’ book on the Corbyn years, he states explicitly that McDonnell had a set of ‘red lines’ that meant that foreign policy issues were ‘pointless battles
that damaged the project’. Despite Corbyn’s long-held beliefs that Britain should give up Trident and leave NATO, an organisation that Fisher concedes should have disbanded after the Cold War, he was encouraged not to use his leadership of the Labour Party to advance those positions. 

Even if one disagrees with some of the positions Stop the War holds, it is healthier to have a debate than to advocate an organisation – which remains the only formal and institutionalised anti-war organisation on the left – be disbanded. The truth is, attacks from the left are designed to appease a grubby compromise with capital and establishment interests. Give up your anti-imperialism and adopt a social chauvinist position on UK/US foreign policy, and we might let you have a few ameliorative measures to ease the economic pressure on the working-class. That approach does nothing to build the ideological and intellectual depth of the left – in fact it achieves only the opposite. 

Rather than allow space for a consistent anti-war position that abhors the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and wishes to seek a negotiated settlement, Fisher argued Stop the War should be disbanded, narrowing “acceptable” parameters of debate. It is abundantly clear to any socialist with the slightest understanding of how the global state system operates that we live in an era where war is an absolutely central feature, affecting all politics. It is therefore impossible to build a meaningful left-wing project in the West without anti-war and anti-imperialist politics. 

Thankfully, Stop the War still exists, and its activists are currently mobilising with many others to take to the streets on Saturday in solidarity with the Palestinians. 

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