Tuesday, 27 October 2009
War, imperialism and the movement
There were two especially significant things about Saturday's national demonstration calling for the troops to be brought home from Afghanistan. Firstly, there's the central involvement of Joe Glenton, a serving soldier, and the relatives of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (like Peter Brierly, featured in the video below). They were more prominent in Saturday's events than on previous occasions, leading the march and adding considerable emotional and political force to what was a powerful rally in Trafalgar Square.
This reflects something deeper: the widespread disenchantment, in the military itself and amongst those back home, with the long occupation of Afghanistan, which is expressed in growing unease in the ranks and - in this country - in angry denunciations of the war from relatives we Stop the War activists speak to regularly on stalls.
The second noteworthy feature was the extensive - and remarkably sympathetic - media coverage. A great deal of this focused on Joe Glenton. There was probably more (and, from the movement's perspective, better) coverage than for any anti-war demo since 2003 and the huge marches against war in Iraq. This is linked to my first observation: newspapers and broadcasters are aware that the war is increasingly unpopular and also a big political story, as it is generating a political crisis for the government and the political and military elites.
For them, the stand being taken by Joe and the military families is tapping something important in popular consciousness: disgust at government policy on Afghanistan and weariness with the 'war on terror' and the bogus arguments deployed to justify it. The latest polls indicate greater demand for bringing the troops home than ever before - at a time when politicians and generals are trying to prepare us for a very long war indeed (anything from five to forty years).
Those who led the march also symbolise the fact that the war is biting in largely white working class communities, from which the military recruiters find young people confronted by mounting levels of unemployment. This is becoming, more and more, a class issue - on stalls in Tyneside I find a tangible sense of working class anger at 'our kids' being sent to kill or be killed, with a vast waste of money on a senseless war while recession kicks in at home.
For these reasons it would be silly and thoroughly misguided to look only at the turnout - 10,000 is smaller than most previous Stop the War demonstrations - and conclude that this isn't a big political issue for the British Left. It most certainly is - and it's likely to become bigger.
The disaster of Afghanistan is not an aberration but the frontline of modern imperialism. War and imperialism are integral parts of the global capitalism today - Lenin's phrase 'the highest stage of capitalism' comes to mind as acutely relevant. The awful mess of the 'war on terror' is part of the capitalist crisis, not somehow separate from it. Likewise, building a stronger movement against the 'long war' is central to resistance to the whole system.
You can also see the speeches from the rally by Heather Wakefield of Unison HERE, Jeremy Corbyn HERE and former Guantanamo inmate Omar Deghayes HERE.
Photo courtesy of Shepy.