Chris Brooke at Virtual Stoa has some very sensible things to say in response to those in the pro-war camp who constantly ask why the Stoppers didn’t protest about human rights in Iraq and don’t protest about other matters than the war.
He is absolutely right that the bulk of those who made up the ranks of CARDRI and other protest groups against Saddam’s crimes in the eighties came from the ranks of the Trotskyist and Communist left – who of course today lead the anti-war movement.
One of the few of the left campaigners who didn’t oppose the war was, as Chris notes, Labour MP Ann Clwyd MP who has continued to campaign on the issue through the group INDICT.
So the real question is not the factually incorrect “why didn’t they protest?” but the much more pertinent – why did they stop? Why didn’t more follow the example of Clwyd?
As for why the anti-war people don’t protest about other matters I agree that this a weak bit of rhetoric from supporters of the war, particularly when it comes from some on the right who I suspect have probably never demonstrated about any international issue ever.
As Chris rightly points out it takes a number of different factors to come together in order for people to be galvanised enough to organise street protests.
However once they are on the streets they can make choices about the kind of slogans they use and the content of their protests. Chris’s explanation works in telling us why there have not been protests against terrorism in the UK or protests against Saddam but I think it is legitimate to question the political content of these protests and the judgements made.
Of course I don’t agree with the protests against the war in the first place but I might not loathe Stop the War had they made other decisions about the political content of their demos.
For example the Alliance for Workers Liberty marched under the slogan “No to War, No to Saddam” which was an accurate reflection of their third camp politics. I happen to think there is a basic contradiction in that position but nonetheless I can respect them for realising there was a need to say No to Saddam. The SWP, CPB, MAB and the overwhelming majority of protestors chose not to make any clear statement about Saddam. If pressed they would mutter that of course, they didn’t support Saddam but…..However they never felt the need to tell the world they opposed the dictator.
Likewise on Thursday, was it unreasonable to expect the British left to respond in the way the Turkish and Italian left has done this week and combine peace protests with a strong anti-terrorism message?
On a day of a terrorist attack that shocked so many, couldn’t Stop the War in the midst of their protests have made a clear statement of opposition to the bombings and of solidarity with the victims? A minute’s silence, a well-placed banner or two? A press statement condemning the attacks?
Instead people chose to march under the slogan “George Bush, world’s number one terrorist”. That was their choice and they are open to criticism for their decision.
As for demonstrations in general – I used to really enjoy marches. An excuse for a trip down to London, a chance to meet lefties in the capital, sleep on their sofas and stock up on sectarian literature etc. And of course there is a good feeling in being among thousands of people publicly expressing a view you hold dear.
I’m looking forward to the day the left organises the kind of demonstrations I would actually want to attend.