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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Deselect Stop The War Coalition


Last weekend something remarkable happened, well two things.

First, Stop The War Coalition [STWC] actually walked something back. They had published, as is their want, a repugnant piece by Matt Carr which compared the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War to ISIS. Cue outrage on social media, including from a number of Labour MPs. Less than a day later Carr's work had been taken down but not before its author had 'explained' himself by digging himself a deeper hole.

Secondly, an anonymous spokesperson for the Labour Party was quoted in several media articles saying that the piece "had been taken down because it did not reflect the organisation’s [STWC] views." That person then went on to defend STWC and claim that during the group's existence they had "repeatedly called it right."

Paul Waugh quoted a source, not named as such but presumably the same Labour one, saying about the Carr post: "This is the second time this has happened, it won't be happening again." (The 'first' time was their also taken down response to the Paris attacks that the French were “reaping the whirlwind of western support for extremist violence.”)

How the heck would that Labour source know that? STWC is not an affiliate of the party, by what possible method could the party enforce its will and hence make that promise?

If the party is now saying it has this intimate connection to STWC then everyone needs to know what exactly it is tying itself to. Waugh also reports a source telling him that STWC will "get a grip" on its website so clearly a spring clean is being attempted in the hope that the world will buy it and move on. The world should not move on. The world needs to drop STWC like a stinky hot brick, and that includes 'anti-war' activists.

Forget 'Blairite smears'


Writing in the New Statesman the socialist Michael Chessum, co-founder of The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, lamented that the movement against intervention in Syria had been relatively small. Why?
At the core of the British anti-war movement there has been a failure of internationalism. In running a campaign against British intervention in Syria, Stop the War has seemingly run a campaign with as little reference to Syrians as possible, and it stands accused of outright apologism for Russia and Assad, giving platforms to regime loyalists. As a result, the relatively simple anti-war narrative – opposition to British bombing, condemnation of Turkey and Assad, and practical solidarity with secular and progressive forces in Syria – has lost its clarity and persuasiveness in the public eye.
...
In order to effectively oppose future wars and escalations, the anti-war movement will need to regroup and renew itself. The simplified, reactive politics of recent years needs to be replaced with a genuinely internationalist movement: one that builds solidarity with labour movements and progressive forces on the ground, and opposes dictatorships and imperialist ventures regardless of who is behind them.
He is hardly the first socialist to bemoan the behaviour of STWC. Way back in 2003 the activist and comedian Mark Thomas was warning that it was a front for a hard left interested most of all in recruiting new members. Twelve years ago, in a spooky echo of Chessum, Thomas wrote:
The peace movement could do a lot worse than start to organise a coalition free from SWP [ Socialist Workers Party] domination, one that regards peace as the goal and co-operation as the means of getting there.
Comrade Andrew Coates has made similar points to Chessum's. Responding to the traditional 'blowback' response from STWC's Lindsey German following the Woolwich killing Coates wrote:
We can agree that Western intervention is wholly wrong. It has stoked the fires of conflict in all the countries she cites.
But is removing it a solution to the rise of violent anti-democratic Islamism?

Perhaps we should be, as the left, giving some energy to supporting the democratic left in these lands who offer a real political alternative to Islamism, authoritarian, intolerant, or indeed jihadist.

That involves a genuine politics of human rights.

This is the way to start thinking of how a solution can come about.

The failure of much of the British left to back the Arab democratic left is part of the problem.
Another socialist, the writer, poet and broadcaster Anna Chen, is a former STWC publicity officer and one of those most responsible for getting the numbers to the anti-Iraq war march. Her insider account of the behaviour of those controlling STWC is eye popping. After putting up with a lot she finally left - with another message which should resonate down the years:
Who needs this crap?

We were warned


Chessum doesn't note this but other commentators have - there has been a dramatic withdrawal of support from Muslims for STWC over the past couple of years. Why might that be?

Could it be, as he cites, the sickening treatment of Syrians by STWC, something I have covered at length?

As Chen notes and as Jews, Ukrainians, Iranians and Iraqis, among others, have experienced before, this is nothing new from STWC. What is new is the spotlight. Here's an anecdote from this week's edition of The Economist, of all places:
“There’s a big Syrian group,” murmurs one. “But they’re not anti,” continues another, disgusted: “They were lobbying for Britain to bomb Assad.” Those present sigh as one. On to the logistics of the event. It is decided that stewards should guard the mic, poised to fend off any “pro-war Syrians or imperialists”. After all, notes the chairman: “We know what we’re talking about here.” Would that BBC Manchester possessed such discernment. The station is interviewing pro-war Kurds tomorrow, to the group’s disdain: “They dig ’em up.” “Amazing how they find them!”
Less well known but, to my mind, just as appalling is STWC leaders Andrew Murray and Lindsey German's backing for the (misnamed) group Solidarity with the Anti-fascist Resistance in Ukraine (SARU).

This group supports the so-called 'People's Republics' in Eastern Ukraine where open fascists operate unmolested, homosexuality is illegal, child soldiers are deployed and the people left to starve and die from lack of medicine as aid agencies are banned for ideological reasons.

This so-called anti-fascist group is behind the smears against the National Union of Mineworkers - of all people - as being 'pro-fascist' because of their solidarity work with their comrades in Ukraine.

STWC has promoted SARU on their website. Also on their website they have hosted vile, defamatory diatribes by John Pilger against Ukraine, posts by the well-known anti-Semite Alison Weir, poetry that quotes neo-Nazis, a piece headlined 'Time to go to war with Israel', a post saying that concern for women kidnapped by Boko Harem is "hysteria"and another that FIFA corruption is a Jewish conspiracy.

If they're going to be starting the scrubbing there's a lot of work to do.

Matt Carr may have had his latest piece scrubbed but he was the one wheeled out by STWC only last month to defame complaining Syrians fed up with being excluded by a group now commanding statements defending it from the Labour Party High Command. Carr, incidentally, is a 'truther' when it comes to chemical weapons in Syria. He thinks Assad didn't do it and the Syrians gassed themselves to make Assad look bad. The sort of person STWC is happy to offer a platform to, in other words.

This is not to mention all those other delightful people STWC have given a platform to over the years. Have you got all night? Or what they haven't put on their website. Such issues as the plight of the Kurds in Kobane or the imperial adventures of Russia.

Talk of sharks jumped

 

As noted, those burned in close contact with STWC have been sending out warning klaxons for twelve years. Just today I discovered that a number of Labour MPs, including the now well-known Mike Gapes, put down an Early Day Motion in 2004 decrying that STWC had distributed a message saying they backed "the legitimacy of the struggle of the Iraqi people, by whatever means they find necessary" to end occupation (meaning they backed Islamists such as those who beheaded the British civilian Ken Bigley). It asked STWC to "reassure the public that they have not lost their moral bearings." Jeremy Corbyn put down an amendment to delete all of that, blaming all the violence in Iraq on the Coalition (UK, USA etc). Of course he did.*

Yet only now, after years and years of this, are some of those who have given STWC succor pausing. Only now do they smell the stink from the giant pile of manure they are sitting on top of.

STWC's Galloway, Rees, + German.
Better late than never I suppose.

Today Caroline Lucas MP resigned as a Patron but Dave Wetzel still sits on the Steering Committee with 'Green Party' next to his name. Whether or not he is a representative I don't know (have asked and will update when I get a reply) as the STWC website is opaque on who sponsors them and where they gets their funding from.

One can only assume if Lucas is resigning because of, as she said, some of STWC's "positions" then Wetzel will too. But what of all the others? What of those who appear to be representing the NUJ, NUT, UNITE and others?

Are the members of these unions and other groups or those unnamed who may be funding STWC still happy with the association? If you're a member or supporter of those unions and other groups are you happy? Maybe you should start asking questions.


*Edited to add: Gary Kent has detailed the appalling behaviour of STWC at that time, particularly towards Iraqi trade unionists.

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