‘Stop the War was founded in September 2001 in the weeks following 9/11, when George W. Bush announced the “war on terror”. Stop the War has since been dedicated to preventing and ending the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere’ (from Stop the War Coalition’s website).
The Stop the War Coalition came to prominence as a leader in the campaign to oppose the invasion of Iraq by US and UK forces, and quickly formulated the longer term objective of opposing Britain’s future wars. However, while simply opposing invasion was straightforward and appropriate for the war on Iraq, STW has not adapted or developed in such a way as to enable it to confront alternative, less direct, military strategies, either because the leadership is not capable of appreciating those strategies, or because the organisation has allowed itself to be subverted, or because its gate-keeping function was planned from the outset.
In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 Tony Blair made it clear that ‘standing shoulder to shoulder with America’ meant supporting the US in any war it chose to undertake, against any country, regardless of whether that country had any connection with the events of 9/11.
Saddam Hussein undeniably had blood on his hands if only from his Western-backed war on Iran, and was commonly (though not universally) assumed to be responsible for gassing the Kurds of Halabja, important factors for many who supported invasion. The primary justification for war on Iraq, however, was the claim that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons.
The desperate-looking evidence of nuclear activity, such as the aluminium tube claim, Tony Blair’s ridiculous claim that Saddam could and would use WMDs in 45 minutes, Tony Blair’s blatant lie about Saddam Hussein’s links with al Qaeda, the deep suspicion amongst the general public that the war was essentially an oil grab, together with the impression that the US felt justified in bombing somebody simply because it was hurting after 9/11, all contributed to opposition to the war on Iraq both in the House of Commons and amongst the British public.
The Stop the War Coalition was a response to the clear intention of George W. Bush and Tony Blair to go to war, and a reflection of the mood of a large number of Britons. From Stop the War’s website:
Stop the War opposes the British establishment’s disastrous addiction to war and its squandering of public resources on militarism. We have initiated many campaigns around these issues.
[..] Stop the War has organised around 40 national demonstrations, including the largest protests ever held in Britain, most memorably on 15 February 2003, when up to two million gathered on London’s streets to oppose the Iraq war .
Since the invasion of Iraq things have become more complicated. Neither Muammar Gaddafi nor Bashar al Assad had invaded anyone, or gassed any minorities. There was no suggestion that either country was developing nuclear weapons. The reduced justification for going to war, however, has been more than offset by the greater subtlety with which war against Libya and Syria has carried out. Regime change was to be effected, or at least seen to be effected, from within.
General Wesley Clark revealed in 2007 that he had known since a few days after 9/11 of the Pentagon’s intention to ‘take out seven countries in five years’. The Western media, along with ‘anti-war’ organisations, chose to ignore the implications of this revelation, instead promoting the concept of the Arab Spring, i.e. of a wave of popular revolutions erupting spontaneously across the Arab world, in order to make people in the West more amenable to the idea of forced regime change.
Of course the US’s client states did not fall, and when it became apparent that only the most progressive and independent countries in the greater Middle East were to be permitted to overthrow their governments, most observers saw through the propaganda.
There was no justification for an invasion of Libya, and the public would in any case have been outraged. Instead the British and US governments went for the rent-a-mob strategy employed in Iran in 1953, and later in Ukraine in 2014, so as to engender protests with a violent element. The Gaddafi government was then accused of ruthlessly suppressing peaceful protests, paving the way for the famous no-fly zone (the revolution and its coverage by the world’s press is well described by Jay Janson, There Was No Libyan Peaceful Protest, Just Murderous Gangs and Nic Robertson).
The huge protests in support of Gaddafi, including what may have been the world’s largest demonstration, were ignored.
The Stop the War Coalition supported the ‘Arab Spring’ from the beginning, and has not noticeably changed course since. The organisation bought into and promoted the ‘Gaddafi the monster killing his own people’ scam, organising protests outside the Libyan embassy on e.g. 20 and 22 February 1911 (dates of embedded tweets seem to convert automatically to NZ time).
In this, STW was clearly exceeding its remit, which is to oppose Britain’s illegal wars, not to facilitate them by protesting the alleged actions of foreign governments.
STW moved seamlessly from protesting Gaddafi to protesting against bombing Syria, so that on one and the same date, 25 February, it tweets the result of a protest against Gaddafi, and a link to its statement opposing intervention in Libya or other Middle East countries.
Stop the War saw no contradiction, as its statement No to Military intervention – Stop the War statement on Middle East revolutions makes clear: its position was that it opposed military intervention while simultaneously facilitating that same intervention by continuing its vilification of Gaddafi. In late March 2011 it republished an article by Owen Jones, in which Jones too argues against bombing Libya but show considerable sympathy for the pro-bombing position:
‘Let’s be clear. Other than a few nutters, we all want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive. In both his anti-Western and pro-Western incarnations, his record is that of a brutal and unquestionably slightly unhinged dictator.
‘I will not caricature supporters of the bombing campaign as frothing-at-the-mouth neo-cons or born-again Paul Wolfowitzs.’
In an article published in the Guardian on 22 March, STW chair Andrew Murray argued similarly against the no-fly zone, while still pushing the ‘evil Gaddafi’ line used by NATO governments to justify it:
‘The UN decision was taken at the instigation of the frightened autocrats of the Arab League, few of whom can claim any mandate to rule superior to that of Gaddafi’s brutal regime.’
With organisations like Stop the War ostensibly opposing intervention while simultaneously creating the conditions for acceptance, it was hardly surprising that on 17 March 2011 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, which authorised the international community to establish a no-fly zone and to use all means necessary short of foreign occupation to protect civilians. On 19 March NATO forces began airstrikes against Libya.
The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPGB-ML)
‘As the moves toward war accelerated, the CPGB-ML was the only organisation in Britain that came out unequivocally in favour of Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan masses he represented. Its members did all in their power to expose the lies of the imperialist media, and to show how various Trotskyite, revisionist and left-Labour luminaries in the leadership of StW were contributing to the propaganda offensive that was softening the British people up for a new war.’ (Shame on You Stop the War Coalition, March 2017)
Stop the War’s complicity in the war on Libya drew little criticism from within its ranks, a notable exception being the affiliated Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPGB-ML), who campaigned against the leadership’s stance throughout 2011. One memo was A letter from Bristol comrades, 9 May 2011 (the John Rees mentioned is one of STW’s officers and has been a vociferous opponent of both Gaddafi and Bashar al Assad):
‘Rees and co have since scrambled back to a stance that they hope will rescue their ‘progressive’ reputations (basically ’stop bombing Libya, you’ll only make it harder to get rid of Gaddafi’), a clumsy and hypocritical manoeuvre which will fool few and inspire none.’
The comrades went on, with notable prescience:
‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ was their mantra then, ‘Neither Gaddafi nor Nato’ is their mantra now. Will we wake next week or next month to ‘Neither Damascus nor Nato’, ‘Neither Teheran nor Nato’ or ‘Neither Pyongyang nor Nato’? What about ‘Neither Beijing nor Nato’?
This was followed a few days later by Stop the War’s dirty role in the criminal war against Libya
‘[…] never has the anti-war movement squandered such an opportunity to build a truly anti-imperialist movement through the mobilisation of the working class against a predatory war, while enlightening the masses about the inextricable link between war and imperialism.’
Another strongly worded attack was published in September 2011, As the Libyan resistance fights on, ‘Stop the War’ misleaders are already dancing on Gaddafi’s grave. The article lists the reasons for war on Libya:
1. Oil and water
Libya’s natural resources are coveted by western multinationals. […]
2. A bad example
Libya has set an example to all of Africa in showing what can be done when resources are used to benefit the people. Under the Gaddafi government, all Libyans have had access to decent, cheap housing; education and health care have been universal and completely free; electricity has been free; women have enjoyed equal status with men. […]
3. African unity
Libya has been working to free the people of Africa from colonialism, including helping to fund cheap telecommunications and domestic media and participating in development projects encompassing education, health and infrastructure.
It allocated massive funds for projects such as the African Central Bank and the African Monetary Fund. It has been a strong supporter of the African gold dinar currency plan and the African Union alliance.
Libya has given fraternal support and assistance to anti-imperialist liberation movements across Africa and beyond, including the ANC in South Africa, Zanu in Zimbabwe, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Irish republican movement, socialist Cuba, Chavez’s Venezuela and Morales’ Bolivia.
5. Dollar supremacy
Russia Today has reported that the Libyan government was planning to switch its reserve and trading currency from the dollar to the gold standard, further undermining the faltering US economy, which is already mired in crisis.
Not content with the many billions Gaddafi’s government invested in the West and the concessions already given by Libya to multinational oil companies, imperialist multinationals and governments want to get their hands on all of Libya’s huge sovereign wealth funds.
Stop the War responded to CPGB-ML’s criticisms by expelling the organisation in September 2011. This was contrived by the ‘officers group’, under chair Jeremy Corbyn, rejecting the affiliation of the party, the reason given being the party’s public criticism of STW’s leadership, i.e. its criticism of STW’s policies on Libya and Syria.
CPGB-ML’s initial response to its disaffiliation, in October 2011, is of interest as it spells out in some detail the objections the party had to STW’s Libya policy. A large section is excerpted here, but the complete memo is worth reading. Many of CPGB-ML’s points will strike a chord with followers of the war on Syria.
StW leaders and the war against Libya
Stop the War leaders have accepted Nato propaganda that characterised its agents in Benghazi as a ‘popular’ movement and a part of the anti-imperialist ‘Arab spring’. They have even mobilised demonstrations in support of these agents, while characterising the popular Libyan government as a ‘brutal dictatorship’.
And today, while those who continue to resist Nato’s assault are being carpet bombed in cities all over Libya, Stop the War leaders continue to prop up the imperialist propaganda effort by:
– accepting and promoting the imperialist lie that Gaddafi’s government has already fallen and that the stooges of the ‘NTC’ have formed a new government;
– accepting and promoting the imperialist lie that the ‘fall’ of the Gaddafi government is a cause for popular celebration in Libya;
– accepting and promoting the imperialist lie that the ‘rebels’ are expressing the popular will of the people and thereby bringing ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’ to Libya;
– keeping the imperialist media’s silence about the resistance that is being mounted by the legitimate government of Libya, its armed forces and the armed citizens;
– keeping the imperialist media’s silence about the real character of the ‘rebels’, despite the wealth of evidence now available;
– keeping the imperialist media’s silence about the terrible crimes that have been and are being committed by Nato’s ‘rebels’ against the people of Libya (massacring of black people; massacring of pro-government supporters, raping of women, looting and burning of homes);
– keeping the imperialist media’s silence about the terrible crimes committed by Nato’s bombers and special forces, including the targeting of civilians, water and electricity supplies, schools, mosques, hospitals and libraries, the imposition of sanctions to prevent the import of medical supplies and food, the theft of Libya’s wealth and resources, the use of chemical and nuclear weapons, including depleted uranium-tipped missiles, and the carpet bombing of civilian populations that has resulted in a death toll of well over 50,000 so far;
– keeping the imperialist media’s silence about the gains made by ordinary Libyans since the Green revolution in 1969, which have brought them from being the poorest people in the world to the richest in Africa, with a standard of life for ordinary Libyans comparable to that in parts of western Europe;
– keeping the imperialist media’s silence about the critical support given by Libya to anti-imperialist movements all over the world, and especially its support to the African struggle to break free from the chains of the IMF and the World Bank and the diktat of imperialist corporations and governments.
In so doing, Stop the War’s leaders have proved themselves unfit for their positions. We call on them either to correct their line immediately, or to resign and allow a national conference to elect new, more suitable leaders who are prepared to carry out StW policy thoroughly and completely.’
At Stop the War’s Annual General Meeting in March the following year, the CPGB-ML, which had been affiliated from the party’s inception in 2004, was refused permission to speak on its own behalf. The process by which this was achieved is described in Stop the hypocrisy: no room for democracy or political debate at Stop the War’s annual back-slapping smugfest.
Having been disaffiliated the previous year the party was at a disadvantage, as only those sent as official delegates from affiliated organisations or local branches were allowed to speak, while other STW members attending had only observer status.
‘… comrades from the CPGB-ML raised a point of order and objected to the party’s unconstitutional expulsion from the coalition, arguing that we should have the right to hear any charges against us and put our case to the meeting before such an expulsion could be accepted as valid. In the chair, however, that oh-so-mild-mannered and liberal darling of ‘left’ Labour Jeremy Corbyn was having none of it. He refused our comrades the right to be heard, or even to question this decision […]’
The CPGB-ML were assured that they would be able to put their case in the discussion of a motion put forward by the CPGB Weekly Worker, which included a call for the reinstatement of CPGB-ML’s affiliation.
Jeremy Corbyn subsequently moved a procedural motion that in order to get through the agenda only one person would be allowed to speak for or against each motion. As movers of the affiliation motion, the Weekly Worker were able to speak, using the allocated four minutes to promote their own cause, Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI was founded by people like Peter Tatchell, supporter of a no-fly zone in Syria, who proudly claims as his motto ‘Neither Washington nor Tehran’).
When, following Lindsey German’s speech in opposition to CPGB-ML’s affiliation, the party asked to be allowed to speak, Corbyn successfully moved a motion against, supported by George Galloway.
I have found no attempt by STW to put its side of the story with regard to the disaffiliation of the CPGB-ML and the way the party was treated at the 2012 AGM. However the Weekly Worker’s description of events at the AGM is consistent with that of the CPGB-ML; see Expulsion and exclusion as war threat grows.
By making it impossible for CPGB-ML to speak on its own behalf at the AGM, Jeremy Corbyn ensured that there was no criticism at the Annual Meeting of Stop the War’s policies in relation to Libya and Syria.
At the end of their statement of 8 October 2011, the CPGB-ML appealed to STW’s members:
We call on the Stop the War Coalition’s members to hold their leaders to account. We need an organisation that is truly willing and able to work amongst the British people to promote a movement of industrial, political and military non-cooperation with all of imperialism’s aggressive war preparations and activities.
Only then will we be able to claim that we are not complicit in the war crimes of the British government, armed forces, media and corporations. And only then will we have the remotest chance of actually stopping the war.
The United Kingdom needs a genuine grassroots anti-war movement that would seriously oppose UK warmongering, not condone it, and that would hold ‘anti-war’ politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn, Alex Salmond and George Galloway to account.
Part 2: Stop the War: the War on Syria, considers to what extent the Stop the War Coalition has hindered or enabled the war against Syria.
Adel Safty, Iraq: Manipulating the Evidence to Start a War
Jonathan Stein and Tim Dickinson, Lie by Lie: A Timeline of How We Got Into Iraq