In the past few days some readers appeared to be irritated by some of the more strident criticisms of the anti-war movement on here. Indeed one of the most frequent complaints I get is that somehow, by criticising leading anti-war figures, for their public statements, I am ‘smearing’ the movement, including the more reasoned and principled opponents of the war.
Anyway Norm has some thoughts on why it is legitimate and indeed highly relevant to tackle the arguments of the likes of John Pilger whose sad descent this week led him to call Bill Clinton a ‘crypto fascist’:
Why bother, it is regularly asked by saner voices on the anti-war left, with this kind of stuff? These are (the question implies) a few nut-cases who don’t speak for the entirety or even the majority of anti-war people. This is why bother. John Pilger, just to start with him, is not in fact some lonely nut-case, even if there are signs that his judgement is now rather disturbed. He is a journalist of world renown, who has a reputation for good work in the past, and also access to prominent media outlets. In these respects he is far from alone.
Other very prominent figures of the left, with similar access to reputable and wide-circulation newspapers, broadcasting organizations and so forth – you will all have heard of Harold Pinter, for example, a playwright of some achievement – put forth opinions similar to those voiced by Pilger.
Moreover, newspapers like the Guardian and the Independent in this country, not widely thought of as papers of the sectarian far left, regulary feature in their opinion and letters columns views that are close to or identical with his. I don’t care to estimate, and I do not have the means to estimate, just how big a slice of anti-war opinion this stuff represents. But I’m unimpressed by the suggestion that it’s not of significant influence.
It needs to be answered. It needs to be characterized for what it is: at worst pro-tyrant, at best deluded, leftism. For the rest, it doesn’t implicate anyone on the anti-war left who doesn’t want to be implicated. They are capable of stating their own viewpoints, and – within that – their better positions on these issues.
The anti-war movement, or to be more specific The Stop the War Coalition, is one of the biggest activist movements seen in post-war Britain. In terms of the numbers it has put on the streets it dwarfs CND (even at its height) and the Anti-Apartheid Movement – two of the more significant campaigns of the past thirty years.
Although led by a sectarian grouping, the Socialist Workers Party, it has successfully attracted support from all shades of opinion from Liberal Democrats, Labour Party members, Greens, pacifists and communists and leftists of varying outlooks. And of course it has won the backing of a number of religious groupings.
So the Stop the War Coalition is impressive in that sense. It has achieved (as its leaders never tire of repeating) a broad coalition and put unprecedented numbers on the streets. It has also managed very successfully to put its agenda into the mainstream of debate over Iraq, mainy because of its supporters and sympathisers within the media.
Yet what is also unprecedented is the easy ride that Stop the War has had from the media. In the past CND was constantly under attack from the conservative press as was (particularly at the time of the rugby and cricket protests) the Anti Apartheid Movement. The huge solidarity movement around the Miners strike 20 years ago and the unions themselves were targets of bitter criticism from media commentators.
But, apart from a few exceptions, Stop the War has not been put under scrutiny by the media. There has been very little focus in the press on the real politics of STWC or of the groups and individuals that make up its leadership. They have simply been described as ‘peace activists’ – a phrase that, as we have discussed, is itself open to some discussion.
On the few occassions when a journalist did point out that, for example, STWC Chairman Andrew Murray was a member of the Communist Party of Britain, there were howls of ‘witchunt’ from the STWC and from those strange relics of British communism who objected viruently to one of their members being described as a communist.
Whenever the highly relevant links between the Muslim Association of Britain and the SWP came under discussion, again the reaction was close to hysterical, despite the fact that the link-up with the Islamists was (and is) much criticised within the anti-war movement itself.
The claim of “McCarthyism” every time anyone takes a peek inside the STWC is highly revealing. It shows the days of secret vanguardist cliques running fronts is far from over. It is hardly new for anyone who has ever had to deal with either the SWP of CPB or their associates in the past.
But the defensiveness from anti-war people who do not share the opinions of Pilger, Galloway, Murray, Tariq Ali et al, is rather harder to understand. For example, when someone in the media attacks the policies of Tony Blair, Labour Party members who do not share Blair’s politics, do not come out with shields raised claiming that it is unfair to ‘smear’ Labour just because Blair is leader.
As Norman says, criticism “doesn’t implicate anyone on the anti-war left who doesn’t want to be implicated.” It is as simple as that.
And if certain people feel uncomfortable at being members of an organisation led by the SWP, Andrew Murray, George Galloway and Tariq Ali in conjnction with the Muslim Association of Britain all I can say is that there are many good reasons to feel uncomfortable.