Response to IAWM National Assembly Amended Agenda Rejected

We had a good public meeting in Clonakilty last night: 30 in attendance, many of whom had travelled up to 50 miles to be there. The meeting, for me, crystallised my estimation of the anti- war movement and my concerns about the direction its primary organisational element – the IAWM – is taking. Our speaker was John Maguire: thoughtful, articulate, unorthodox, stimulating, awe-inspiring. Would it surprise you to hear that the word ‘Iraq’ was hardly used during the course of last night’s meeting. Nor ‘Bush’, ‘Pentagon’ or ‘Project for a New American Century’ – not because these things don’t matter, but because it’s possible to discuss the meaning of war – the last one, the present one and the next one – without necessarily focussing on these factors. John Maguire treated us to a discourse on the nature of power, disempowerment, our complicity, our culpability, our responsibility, the use of language, abusive relationships (in this case, us as the abused, the state as the abuser) and the possibilities of resistance. Halfway through his notes, he stopped and opened it up to the audience. It was our night and his – not just his. The audience was a good mix of people who have fought the good fight one way or another for their entire adult lives – people who have been active around environmental issues, issues of justice, against war, in the unions, by making music + film + drama + art; people who have been around the globe – to Africa and the Middle East. People who are trying to make changes in the way we live our lives. I don’t often use the word energy, but if I could bottle what was in that room last night … It was quite enthralling. Contrast that to what’s on offer this Saturday. The familiar format: I speak, you comment (if there’s any time left): ‘Bush, Blair, B- 52s, resolutions please comrades, see you in Evien.’ It’s just not good enough. We live in a diverse society – our movement is nearly as diverse. Overwhelmingly, it is composed of thoughtful, confused, meaningful, unconvinced people (I include myself in that contingent). The people I trust most are those who are not sure where we’re going. Those with the answer to everything rate a poor second with me, and I refuse to be led by them. The forces they can muster are minuscule, yet they refuse to settle for anything less than a massively disproportionate role and influence. The real body of this movement lacks – or has forsaken – an organisational existence, and for this it is to be punished or ignored. Essentially, what’s really absent is imagination. There’s only one way to do a thing in Ireland – the old way. As for democracy? ‘Jesus, we’re all so busy, we never have time for that, comrade.’ My critique of the National Assembly rests on these two pillars: the need for imagination, the need for democracy – and the two are wholly interlinked. To discuss the detail of Saturday is, it seems to me, quite mundane. But we have to start somewhere. Richard phoned me this morning (Friday), and we spoke for more than an hour. His clarifications included the following: 1. The purpose of the assembly is to reinvigorate a demoralised movement and to draw in new people. 2. The slight imbalance speaker-wise was caused by the Labour Party and SIPTU being otherwise engaged (at their annual conference), and other speakers being unavailable (e.g. Bob Fisk, John Pilger, Andy Storey, Harry Browne). Richard, himself, shouldn’t be included as an SWP speaker, as he’s representing the Steering Committee. The regional imbalance was regrettable. 3. There is opportunity aplenty to discuss whatever’s on your mind. A similar gathering in England turned into an all-day rolling debate, and so can this. 4. The Steering Committee will be bound by resolutions. 5. The Steering Committee will co-opt from active groups around the country. My response, in order, was more or less this: 1. People involved in the movement expected something different: an opportunity to pore over the record of the anti-war movement, to debate the differences, to chart a course of sorts for the future. 2. The slight imbalance speaker-wise is nothing less than unacceptable domination by 3 parties (and for Richard to de- catagorise himself won’t fool anybody). To arrange this assembly so that it clashes with the Labour Party conference – regardless of who got their dates mixed up and how late the clash of dates was realised – is symptomatic of a failure to encompass the entire movement. I suggested that the assembly would not have gone ahead if it was suddenly realised that the SWP conference was on. And I was incredulous regarding the dearth of speakers beyond the ranks of the left parties. This failing, I mentioned, had been evident at all IAWM-organised marches/rallies. 3. In order to be a rolling, all-day debate, something like my agenda would be required. I asserted that, with the current format and schedule, time will be severely limited and that contributions regarding the dynamics of the anti-war movement will appear to be out of context and a diversion from the topic of the various meetings. 4. To say that the Steering Committee will be bound by resolutions is being offered as a concession. A) I don’t believe it. B) I queried with Richard why resolutions passed at a gathering of the general public (as Saturday’s assembly will be) should have any validity. Only a delegate-based conference should have such a mandate. 5. Co-opting people from the regions onto the Steering Committee is, in one sense, positive. I didn’t bother debating this with Richard, but would say that there’s no need to co-opt – just hold an EGM in recognition of the movement having grown and having changed in character. A new Steering Committee could then be elected. However, there is a crying need to construct a model of democracy that goes beyond Dublin-based, weekday meetings that will be rarely attended by people from outside the capital. This has been a major failing of every movement in Ireland. It’s time – and has long been the time – to find a solution to the democracy deficit, and then put it into practise. Finally, I acknowledge here the sterling work of Richard Boyd Barrett and his Steering Committee colleagues; of people in the SWP, the SP, the Greens, etc. I wish them well at tomorrow's National Assembly. I won't be attending, but I look forward to a more thoughtful gathering of all and anyone opposed to war – one at which they'll feel welcome and included.

Created By: Dominic Carroll