A defence of Stop the War
Introduction to Andrew Murray's latest publication, Stop the War and its critics
Britain’s political leadership has taken the country to war four times this century. Each of the first three conflicts – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya – have been military or political failures, or both. For a country which bathes itself in legends of its martial prowess and diplomatic expertise, this is a sobering record of defeat. There is scant reason to believe that the fourth war, in (or over) Syria, will break this harrowing sequence.
All four wars are continuing and the people of all four countries are now imprisoned in dysfunctional, disintegrating states at best, war zones at worst. Nor has the “war on terror” – the over-arching rubric which has served as the propaganda blanket for the different conflicts – made the rest of the world any safer from terrorism.
Against such a background, the volume and bitterness of attacks on the anti-war movement are perhaps unsurprising. The worse things have got in the theatre of conflict across the greater Middle East, the more the opponents of the wars have been demonised and vilified. No-one likes being told “I told you so”, but the fact is that the critics and opponents of these four wars did call them right – and, critically, did so in advance of each military action being initiated. Minerva’s Owl had no need to wait for dusk to take wing in this case. It appears that neo-imperial politicians and “liberal interventionists” relish a bracing confession of error even less than anyone else.
This is a short book about the attacks on the anti-war movement in Britain, overwhelmingly on its central component, the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), rather than about the wars themselves. Of course the two cannot be separated. But in the wake of the November 2015 House of Commons vote to permit the British military to join in the bombing of Syria, the media and political onslaught on StWC became a story in itself. Clearly the establishment now finds it more congenial to make the case against the opponents of war than it does to make the case for the military action itself. Given the sorry record just recounted, who wouldn’t? This displacement activity reached its nadir when, just days after voting amidst high controversy to commence bombing Syria, attention became exclusively focussed on whether Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn would keep a long-standing engagement to attend a Christmas fund- raising dinner organised by Stop the War.
Here we try to trace out the logic of these attacks, and to refute them. It is also necessary to frame them, to a certain extent, in a broader historical and political context. The first chapter describes the history of Stop the War from its foundation at the moment when the “war on terror” began. The second connects the recent media/political onslaught against StWC with the election of Corbyn as Labour Leader, and with attempts to bring to an end the unprecedented and, for the establishment, highly unwelcome situation whereby the Leader of the Opposition is, inter alia, a leading anti-war campaigner. The chapter treats of the relationship of parliamentarianism with mass extra-parliamentary movements.
The third chapter turns (returns) to the argument that the anti-war movement neglects human rights issues, and fails to meet the doctrine of “liberal interventionism” at least half way, sharing its interventionist objectives if not the militaristic methods deployed by successive government. Chapter Four addresses those criticisms which spotlight the core issue of Britain’s foreign policy, and its place in the world. The fifth and final chapter situates Stop the War in the general framework of a beleaguered democracy and the difficulties ordinary people have in imposing their views on the elite, or even getting a hearing.
In all this, the hope is not to merely justify the positions taken by Stop the War on various issues and at different junctures, but also to outline an alternative view of international politics, and a different view of Britain’s place in the world. The aim is to elucidate the importance of anti-imperialism in contemporary Britain – indeed, to establish that not only should it be the foundation of Britain’s approach to international issues, but that it is additionally the only secure basis for social advance “at home”.
All the criticisms addressed here express outlooks which have a history, often a very long one, within the British labour moment. But they also have a strictly contemporary edge – they are driven by the desire (for the establishment, the necessity) to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. The Stop the War Coalition stands proxy for the man himself. Underlying this is the uncomfortable awareness among the elite – that elite which has dragged an unwilling country into a perpetual war – that Corbyn’s ascension to high office is also a victory for an anti-war movement which rejects all that it does and all that it stands for.
This, they seem to find very worrying indeed.