Stop the War, of which I am a founder member, was created to oppose the crude war of revenge against Afghanistan in 2001. I remember arguing at the time that the war would be a disaster for Afghans, it would destabilise neighbouring Pakistan and would end without solving anything.
I was wrong on one point. It has not yet ended. We denounced the war in Iraq as being based on a huge lie. A million lives later the country is still a wreck, its infrastructure destroyed, the political vacuum has produced Isis (even Obama acknowledged this fact) and the Western politicians responsible for the crimes walk free. At that time a lot of stage Kurds were brought into BBC studios to support the war.
We campaigned as a small minority against Nato’s six-month assault on Libya that cost between 20 and 30 thousand lives and has left the country divided into three jihadi zones (Isis, al-Qaeda and local variants of both). In neither of these cases did the English media conduct a concerted witch-hunt to denounce us as a malign force in British politics.
So what occasions the current assault on Stop the War, with some prominent Greens even arguing a “loss of moral compass”? The answer is simple. In addition to the wars in the Middle East there is a nasty and unpleasant war being waged in England, targeting Jeremy Corbyn. Some had hoped that a majority of the PLP would vote for bombing Syria. This did not happen. Hilary Benn’s pathetic pro-war speech (he voted for the Iraq war as well) was boosted beyond belief by a media and political establishment desperate to replace Corbyn.
How to explain the majority of Labour MPs who voted against? Simple. They were “bullied” by Stop the War supporters. Three pages of this tripe were published in The Independent. The real bully was the Bullingdon boy in Parliament, accusing anti-war MPs of being terrorist sympathisers just like Bush at the outset of the “war against terror”. But no mention whatsoever of the wavering Labour MPs flattered into voting for the bombing by tutorials on Syria at the Ministry of Defence.
Did anyone bully the staunch anti-war contingent of Scottish MPs or did they decide on their own like the 70 per cent of Scots opposed to war?
In the forefront of this campaign against Corbyn – who made no attempt to conceal his political views on domestic and foreign policy prior to his election – are his own Thatcherite colleagues on front and back benches. No opponent in the Conservative Party has ever aroused such fixity of hatred and rancour as their newly elected leader.
The bile is reserved for those who refuse to abandon social democracy. Realising that anti-austerity arguments are popular, the scoundrels have switched to “patriotism”, to defence issues, to the safety of the realm, sacralising the ridiculous Trident missiles in the process. A serving general is wheeled on to breakfast shows to suggest that if Corbyn is elected the British Army might mutiny. Since Corbyn is a founder member of Stop the War, the propaganda assault is essentially designed to weaken and destroy him.
Stop the War is opposed to foreign interventions and especially where the British Government is involved. There is a long tradition of such activity in British politics, starting with William Morris’s observation in 1885 that the defeat of the British Army in the Sudan under General Gordon at the hands of the Mahdi (a religious leader par excellence), was a positive event insofar it weakened the British Empire. He was writing as a socialist. During the 1950s CND prevented Britain from becoming a replica of the United States or West Germany and over a hundred Labour MPs were at one point members of this movement that won over the majority of the Labour Party before the capitulation of Aneurin Bevan reversed the decision in the following year.
Stop the War was founded in different times. It is and has been a coalition of individuals and organisations with differing views on many issues. This is as it should be and always has been with broad single-issue campaigns. It does NOT take positions on the demerits or otherwise of the Taliban, Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad. It is in favour of the withdrawal of ALL foreign troops (this includes the Russians) and bomber jets. The arguments against the war deployed by Stop the War are not all that different from some conservative columnists who cannot be bullied: Simon Jenkins, Peter Hitchens, Peter Oborne. None of the three are Corbynistas.
We have been consistent over the years, which is why the organisation has survived. There is no similar body anywhere else. The recent upsurge in activities against the Syrian debacle is due to the growing realisation that the murderous chaos in the region that has produced such misery will get worse with more bombs. The sight of hundreds of thousands of Syrian war refugees seeking shelter in Europe has made many realise that the way to peace is not through a war waged by the US, Europe and Russia.
That is why jumping on the anti-Stop the War bandwagon by some leading Greens suggests a loss of political nerve. Is it too cynical to detect in this behaviour a fear that the Pied Piper of Islington is attracting the electoral support of large numbers of hitherto Green supporters and needs to be denounced?
The “moral compass” of the anti-war movement has not shifted. It is no better or worse since the day it was founded. Meanwhile the wars continue. I hope there will be a large turnout on Saturday.
This essay originally ran in The Independent.