Stop the War has always been proud to stand outside this suffocating parliamentary consensus

Andrew Murray

Another front in the war started by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been opened up by the right-wing of the Labour party and its journalistic satraps. It is against the anti-war movement.

It does not stand comparison to the suffering and devastation being wrought in Ukraine. But it is nevertheless a menace both to democracy in the labour movement and to the prospects of a turn for the better in British foreign policy under a future Labour government.

Consider what has happened since the Ukraine crisis came to the boil:

  • Keir Starmer launched a gratuitous attack on Stop the War, ostensibly because we had raised the responsibility of NATO policy over years for the diplomatic impasse.
  • He demanded that 11 Labour MPs withdraw their names from a Stop the War statement, by that stage outdated, on pain of losing the parliamentary whip (and hence most likely their jobs).
  • MPs thinking of sharing a Stop the War platform have been similarly menaced, irrespective of what they might say.

Given that these are threats from a Labour leadership of already-established authoritarianism and intolerance it is not surprising that ordinary Labour Party members seem concerned about attending anti-war demonstrations and meetings for fear of exclusion.

Indeed, former Labour MP Tom Harris, now a columnist at the Telegraph, has demanded that the Party proscribe Stop the War, which would precisely have the effect of prohibiting any sign of support for the peace movement by Labour activists. Few would bet against Starmer taking his advice.

This sordid campaign, driven by politicians who have had precisely nothing constructive or useful to say about the substance of the crisis and are concerned only to burnish their bipartisan militaristic credentials through support for the Tories, has been given a simulacrum of ideological ballast by pundits from Paul Mason to Zoe Williams by way of George Monbiot.

It is noteworthy that the witch-hunt against the anti-war movement has not mainly been driven by the Conservative Party or the right-wing media. It is instead rooted in the leadership of the Labour Party, its epigones like Mason, and the liberal press.

It ignores two relevant facts. The first is that the leadership of Stop the War was right about the Afghan war and occupation. It was right about the Iraq invasion. It was right about the regime-change war against Libya. In all these conflicts we correctly anticipated the disasters that would ensue when the Labour leader of the day was urging war.

Doubtless for that reason, when Labour members were surveyed in early 2020 as to which campaigning organisations they most supported, Stop the War was a runaway winner. Perhaps that position will have eroded somewhat under pressure of Keir Starmer’s unending war on the Party he leads, but it remains a potent trend within the Party.

Who can wonder at that? Opposition to war, nuclear weapons and, to a lesser extent, NATO, have been part of Labour’s political culture for generations. But now they appear a menace to the politically vacuous, instinctively illiberal policeman moonlighting as the Leader of the Opposition. A man who rates NATO above the NHS as a Labour “achievement”.

Clearly, the drive to demonise anti-war opinion owes little to any consideration of the merits of the matter. It forms part of Starmer’s drive to dissociate himself from any trace of the policies of the Corbyn leadership, which he was once content to serve.

Nevertheless, it must perforce rest on some assertions about the international situation and Stop the War’s position on it.

The worst is that anti-war campaigners are “Putin apologists”. David Lammy, Shadow Foreign Secretary and exemplary buffoon (he once called Brexit-supporting MPs ‘nazis’), plumbed depths here alleging that Corbyn was one such. Corbyn was in fact campaigning against Putin’s war in Chechnya and against the oligarchic presence in London when Tony Blair was supporting both, and Lammy was voting for the Iraq invasion.

What is true of Jeremy Corbyn is true of the Coalition as a whole. The hunt for Putin admirers needs to be conducted on the right of British politics, where an authoritarian oligarch constitutes a sort of role model rather than an opponent. Stop the War’s sin is only that it does not blame the Ukraine crisis exclusively on Russia.

It is our long-standing opposition to NATO expansion that excites the ire of Starmer and his media votaries. Here Paul Mason distinguishes himself, although he can at least be excused any charge of inconsistency. His commitment to NATO and to Britain’s nuclear deterrent are long-standing and unconditional – indeed they were the main reason why his influence on Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party fell short of what he believed due (and, to be fair, what otherwise might usefully have been the case).

He writes, for example that “NATO is the only thing stopping Russia doing to us what it’s doing to Ukraine. The men and women working in the bowels of the Royal Navy’s submarines under the Arctic are all that stops Putin imposing his rules, his dictatorship, his ‘legitimate security concerns’ on us through nuclear ultimatums.” As ever with such Telegraph-style pronouncements one is left wondering how the vast majority of countries in the world who lack nuclear weapons have managed to get by for the last eighty years. It is a position that only makes sense if he is actually advocating the extension of NATO and the provision of nuclear weapons to everybody.

Mason urges a “distinctive defence policy” for the left. This rests above all, he argues, upon NATO and the nuclear deterrent. So far, so indistinct. Beyond that, he advocates a “bigger army”, increased weapons manufacturing and the ostracism of anyone who appears on Russia Today. It also means “re-engaging” with the European Union.

In fact, this thin gruel is risible as an approach to the world.  At most it paints a little lipstick – and not very leftist lipstick at that – on the imperialist pig. But then, there is no stronger term of Masonic abuse than “anti-imperialist”. In May 2019 he insisted that Corbyn needed “to sideline all voices who believe having a strong national security policy is somehow ‘imperialist’” and embrace nuclear weapons, which would of course have meant Corbyn gagging himself first of all. More recently he has written of British imperialism being a thing of the past – tell that to the Iraqis, Afghans and Libyans.

It is pretty clear that there is no distinctive left policy here. Not that Starmer is particularly in need of one. He is content to simply echo the prevailing establishment opinion which is, in all honesty, his approach to almost everything.

Stop the War has always been proud to stand outside this suffocating parliamentary consensus. We do not believe that foreign and domestic policy can exist in separate watertight compartments. We believe that what the British state does around the world is an expression of its internal social nature. The elite that warmly welcomes corrupt Russian money to London is the same elite that bombs, invades and occupies around the world as and when and embrace nuclear weapons. From that logic, we do not excuse Britain and NATO from their part in the tragedy engulfing Ukraine. The immediate responsibility is Putin’s and we stand with all those calling for a halt and a Russian troop withdrawal, the brave Russian anti-war movement first of all.

But the policy of making European security arrangements unipolar – the policy adopted by successive US administrations in breach of the promises of 1991 – and ultimately under Washington’s control was always going to hit the buffers. Wiser heads than Starmer and Mason – the Joe Biden of 1997, or veteran cold war diplomat George Kennan, to take two eminent examples – always knew as much.

The bill for unipolar hegemony is now falling due. The world’s two most populous nations, not to mention half of Africa, can recognise it. A distinctive left foreign policy needs to rise to that level at least. Immediately, it needs to offer a practical programme for de-escalation beyond the essential Russian withdrawal, lest this crisis threaten a still more terrible conflagration.

Instead, Labour is propelled back to the bleakest days of the early Cold War, when dissent on international matters was to be crushed and excluded. The Starmerites would like to utilise the dangerous war psychosis now being stoked to entrench this retro authoritarianism once more.

In my view, they ain’t got enough juice in their political tank for that. Stop the War stands strong on its twenty-year record and its position of opposing both Putin’s aggression, and NATO’s disastrous record of aggression over the last quarter-century, something British policy bears great responsibility for.

09 Mar 2022 by Andrew Murray

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