TIME TO LEARN THE LESSONS
The war against Iraq by US imperialism was a barely disguised exercise in naked imperialist aggression that asserted the old maxim – might is right. The US laid down a challenge to the world – you are either for us or against us and, if you are against us, we will destroy you. Before this challenge the leaders of the Irish State relinquished any pretence to have an independent foreign policy and, in doing so, any justification the State might have for a separate existence. It shamefully allowed the country to become no more than an aircraft carrier for an illegal and unjustified war.
This open subordination of the country to the war plans of the US is just one consequence and one example of the unfolding logic of this war. It is an imperialist offensive which, because imperialism is a world phenomenon, will affect every country. What it cries out for is an international anti-imperialist resistance. This is the task that lies before the Anti-War conference.
How far have we gone in building such a resistance? Is there even agreement that an explicitly anti-imperialist movement is needed?
It must be clear that the nakedly imperialist war was not met by an equally clear anti-imperialist opposition. The predominant character of the opposition was reflected in the slogan ‘Not in our name’. But mere disassociation from the war is only the start of opposition and in no way sufficient in itself. We want to stop imperialist war, not merely disclaim responsibility for it.
We must first admit that we did not prevent Irish collaboration with the war.
Leaders of the anti-war movement claimed that the war could be stopped before the 15th February demonstrations but when these demonstrations exceeded everyone’s’ expectations and still the war wasn’t stopped no lessons appeared to be learnt.
The main character of these early demonstrations was humanitarian concern about the casualties of war. Again this can only be a start. Such was the disparity of military power that it was not long before the quickest way to end the war became an imperialist victory. No wonder the size of demonstrations soon fell. Only an anti-imperialist movement – one as opposed to imperialist peace as to imperialist war -would have found no reason to abandon opposition.
Of course the anti-war movement is not to blame for the demoralisation of many protestors who demonstrated on February 15th and then sank back into inactivity because their voices were not listened to. Many people who demonstrated were entirely new to political activity. We can look to the future with hope and confidence, in the knowledge that so many rallied to the anti-war banner and can do so again.
We will, however, be to blame if we do not seek to build a movement that sets out to educate opponents of war that opposition cannot be successful unless it is based on an anti-imperialist programme. Failure to see our task as building a political leadership, whose main task was to raise the consciousness of the majority of the Irish people who opposed war, has led to mistakes in the past and will lead to failures in the future.
So far the anti-war movement has only seen its role as an organisational one. It has been happy to do no more than reflect the level of political understanding that already exists among protestors. This even (or especially) goes for some left organisations who are only too ready to tell us that war can only be ended by socialism but who have been content to saddle the anti-war movement with a very basic programme. This involves a contradiction. If their argument that only socialism can prevent war is correct, then limiting the anti-war movement to pacifist and humanitarian demands is a way of ensuring its failure.
The movement has sought the lowest common denominator of opposition on the grounds that it has to mobilise as many as possible on the streets. Once this has been decided the only task is really an organisational one of calling a demonstration, then another demonstration and then another and another. Very quickly everyone becomes aware that the movement is going nowhere.
This approach prevents us challenging existing ideas and organisations, discussing a strategy and also leads to big mistakes. It allows everyone who pretends to oppose the war to claim a position within the movement even when their opposition is the purest deception. Opposition to these people’s real collaboration with war is prevented. During the war we had two clear examples of this.
The first was the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, who wanted us to support European imperialism against the American variety and repeat the mistakes of the First World War. During the conflict ICTU signed another partnership deal with the government that was collaborating with the war yet the anti-war movement refused to lobby the ICTU conference to demand that the war be discussed. At the very least the anti-war movement should have demanded that ICTU refuse to support a new partnership deal while collaboration with the war continued.
The worst result of this diplomatic alliance
with ICTU bureaucrats was in the
The second example was just as blatant. When Bush came to Ireland he wanted a chorus line of political parties to stand behind him to show him as a man of peace. Sinn Fein happily obliged in this PR exercise while claiming to oppose the war. Again the anti-war movement should immediately make it clear that there is no room in its ranks for those who come down on the wrong side when they are effectively challenged.
These examples show that clear politics are vital. They also show that such politics were absent. It may be tempting to believe that the leaderships of Sinn Fein and the trade unions want to fight against imperialism, but the pretence leaves us with no real forces and blocks any possibility of opening a debate with the followers of these movements
Without an active war there is no role for a movement whose only reason to exist is to oppose it. This means the movement needs a political platform that goes beyond the demand End the war! Simply telling opponents of the last war we must be ready for the next is to surrender all ambition to political leadership. Right now there is room only for an anti-imperialist opposition but the strength of our opponents means that this puts severe demands on the movement. It is not yet obvious it is ready to face them.
There are difficult arguments that the movement has to face up to if it wants to fight US and British imperialism. For example in the South the government claimed that it could not oppose US actions because the State is reliant on US multinationals to keep the economy afloat. Are arguments that the US multinationals would not leave because they make too much money really an answer when all the arguments of the anti-war movement have been about how far the US is prepared to go to impose its rule? Do we want them to stay anyway or does anyone think we can ignore the whole problem and hope for a humanitarian and benevolent imperialism? Not questions we can avoid if we want to be a serious movement.
It can be objected that the existing organisations and individuals willing to consistently fight against the new imperialist offensive form too narrow a base to build an opposition but all this reveals is that the numbers offering consistent opposition to imperialism in Ireland is small. It is necessary to make this anti-imperialist opposition bigger.
It’s not necessary to dodge debate to build a movement. On the contrary debate is the lifeblood of the movement, enabling us to draw upon all the ideas and experience in the movement, to reflect upon what we have done and adopt new strategies and tactics. If the majority of the anti-war movement refuse to support an anti-imperialist opposition then anti-imperialists should remain in the movement and fight their corner. Similarly if the anti-imperialist position forms a majority then humanitarians and pacifists can continue to argue their position while con-operating in a common struggle.
The present position of diplomatic alliances cannot continue. It is dishonest and anti-democratic. We need an all Ireland movement that is open and democratic and that can discuss the political basis of the campaign and what strategy it needs to move forward. Open conferences should decide the platform and strategy. An elected committee composed of local branch representatives and of organisations supporting the movement should lead the campaign. The platform and strategy should be the continuing subject of debate within the movement so that it can update or change its position after new experiences.
The platform of the campaign must be in opposition to imperialist war and to imperialist peace. End the imperialist occupation of Iraq! Self-determination for the people of Iraq! Oppose the Israeli state and the occupation of Palestine! Close down Shannon to the US military and end the right to over-flights of the country! No reliance on the UN to legitimise imperialist occupation and no support to European imperialism against its US competitor! No to US and British blackmail and no support to imperialism in our own country!
We must develop arguments in reply to all those deployed by our enemies. If we do not we will lose the overall argument. A self imposed limit to our platform will leave us silent in the face of objections.
The only effective opponent to Irish collaboration with imperialist war is the Irish working class. We need a strategy to win Irish workers to our side, not kid ourselves that because some ICTU bureaucrats give verbal support we don’t have an enormous job to do.
Within such a strategy we can see that the debate around direct action is a purely tactical one which has appeared all important to some because the movement lacked a strategy.
It is time to have confidence in our politics. We have a long way to go to build an effective anti-imperialist movement in Ireland but we will never get there if we don’t set ourselves the task.
We are anxious to collaborate with any groups or individuals willing to begin constructing the network of discussions and activities needed to begin to build an anti-imperialist movement.