Ten years of the anti-war movement: what has it achieved? Lindsey German, STWC Britain

Ten years of the anti-war movement: what has it achieved?

We didn't stop the Iraq war. But, says Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, the anti-war movement has been vital in changing attitudes to government war policies, and is as necessary as ever.


By Lindsey German
Morning Star
9 September 2011


The anniversary of the attacks of September 11 2001 is being used to justify past wars and prepare for future ones.

Gadaffi's overthrow is heralded as a success story for Western intervention in Libya, with a possible repeat in Syria now being openly discussed. In the rush to proclaim yet another "democracy," this time in the African desert, all inconvenient facts about past wars are brushed aside.

Anti-war sentiment, although by most counts a majority in Britain and the US, is ignored and the movement is reduced to one big demonstration in 2003.

Yet by any objective criterion the "war on terror" has been a failure and the world is a more dangerous place than it was a decade ago. Far from recession banishing war, economic crisis and military might are marching hand in hand.

This was predicted 10 years ago by many people around the world who, while they opposed the killing of 3,000 people in the US on that day, feared that the response to the September 11 terror attacks by George Bush would unleash even greater terror on the world.

It is hard to dispute that now.

We have seen a 10-year war in Afghanistan, eight years of occupation of Iraq, thousands bombed in Libya, the export of torture, imprisonment without trial in Guantanamo Bay, the curtailment of civil liberties in the warrior countries, the horror of Abu Ghraib, increasing attacks on the Palestinians, wars in Somalia and Lebanon, drone attacks in Pakistan, an increased burden of debt resulting from wars and the demonisation of Muslims on an unprecedented scale.

Fortunately, the last 10 years have also seen the rise of anti-war movements around the world which have repeatedly challenged the priorities of the warmongers and which have helped to create a high level of consciousness about imperialism and war. The Stop the War Coalition has played a major part in bringing this about.

The coalition was founded after the attacks on September 11 from a 2,000-strong meeting in London. Its slogans were simple - stop the war, defend civil liberties and against any racist backlash - and it was focused on opposing the war on terror. The immediate aim was opposing the war in Afghanistan launched by Bush and his allies in October 2001.

The first phase of that war ended with the defeat of the Taliban in November 2001 and the Western powers proclaiming that they were now reshaping the world in a more democratic and peaceful order.

Stop the War organised a mass demonstration against the war, attended by up to 100,000 people including thousands of Muslims who broke their fast during Ramadan in Trafalgar Square. The coalition was unique in involving large numbers of Muslims who were highly politicised by issues such as Palestine, alongside that of the war.

It also succeeded in bringing together many of the left and those from the traditional peace movement.

Many of us saw the links between what was happening with the war on terror and the whole political set-up in the Middle East, with US imperialism highly dependent on a number of allies in the region - Israel, whose role was to act as watchdog for the imperialists in the region, Hosni Mubarak's Egypt, funded by the US not to attack Israel and the signatory of a peace treaty which had lasted since the late 1970s and Saudi Arabia, a major military and economic power in the region and home to a dictatorial royal family which oversaw repression and conservatism at home and pro-Western military intervention abroad.

It is perhaps no accident that the original September 11 attackers were all originally from these two latter countries which also had a history of repressing its Islamic fundamentalist as well as secular opponents.

It was becoming clear from early in 2002 that Bush and Tony Blair now had their sights set on Iraq. The drums of war were beating increasingly loudly over Iraq and Stop the War called a mass demonstration, this time on the eve of the Labour Party conference in 2002.

The success of this demonstration took the campaign over the war to a higher plane and in the following months tens of thousands of activists threw themselves into demonstrations, direct action, leafleting, banner drops, sit-downs in the road, school students' strikes, union activity, student mobilisations and much more.

February 15 was a co-ordinated day of protest around the world, with up to 30 million people marching across every continent. Around two million marched in London on that day - the largest demonstration in British history. Blair ignored the overwhelming weight of public opinion and backed by a large number of supine and wilfully ignorant MPs, followed Bush into war with Iraq.

The war brought further disasters to the Middle East - Iraq itself was occupied by Western troops who were met by widespread resistance. The country's infrastructure collapsed, displacement led to a total of four million refugees and estimates put the dead in Iraq at up to a million.

It was of great regret to all those concerned that we were unable to stop the war or to prevent the war in Afghanistan from flaring up again. But the anti-war movement made real advances and achieved many important political changes.

It helped to establish an alliance between the left and the Muslims in Britain - denigrated by rightwingers and the Israelis as a "red-green alliance" but in reality an important coming together of different forces especially in the face of rising Islamophobia.

It also created a political radicalism and anti-imperialism among a layer of young people. The movement has helped to sustain an anti-war mood among the population at large.

Public opinion polls repeatedly show large majorities in favour of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. British troops have already withdrawn from Iraq, defeated by constant resistance to them and by a level of discontent and opposition at home.

It also helped to bring Palestine up the political agenda in Britain and make it a campaigning issue throughout the left. It also brought a much greater awareness of the history and politics of the Middle East to a wider audience.

Blair's early departure from office is a result of the Lebanon war in 2006, where his continued hard-line warmongering in support of Israel led to a group of backbenchers demanding he set a date for departure.

It is harder for our rulers to go to war again. The recent bombing of Libya has been very consciously framed as "not Iraq."

Today there is a growing desire to link up the issues of war and imperialism with economic questions. The wars have been financed by borrowing and now the people of the warmongering countries are being told they have to make sacrifices to their welfare and education to pay for the deficit. The questions are very closely linked - recession and war are travelling hand in hand.

There are those on the left who see the war on terror as over. This is a mistake.

Barack Obama's policies mark a continuation of Bush's, not a break. The instability caused by the war means that there is greater chance of war and intervention in the Middle East today than before, and the end of Mubarak means among other things more tension between Egypt and Israel.

August was the deadliest month so far for US troops in Afghanistan and the last year the bloodiest of the war there.

Britain's imperialist past and present makes it doubly important that those on the British left always make this issue a priority and that they link it to the domestic issues which are affecting so many.

Lindsey German is convener of Stop the War Coalition.
On October 8, Stop the War, with CND and BMI, is calling a mass assembly in Trafalgar Square to mark the 10th anniversary of the Afghan war, calling for troops out, no interventions in the Middle East, and cuts to war, not welfare. There will be a similar event in Washington DC. Please pledge to join us and spread the word. Ten years on, this is a day we need to stand up against the war.