Friday, June 23, 2006
(belated) Stop the War Conference Report
Sorry this is a bit late. I decided to post a report here rather than on the main socialist unity website so that people could comment.
Stop the War conference had about 400 delegates, about one quarter women, and judging by appearance around one tenth black or Asian. We sent three delegates from Swindon.
Generally I thought the conference was very positive, and better than I was expecting. There were 25 motions, 9 of them from local Stop the War Groups (Edinburgh, Swindon, Merseyside, Oxford, Yeovil, Finsbury Park, Tyneside, University College hospital, and Hounslow), there were also motions from the National Steering Committee, Respect, SWP, and a joint one from the RMT and CWU. As this was a working conference on building the anti war movement there was little in the motions that was contentious, and so the business flowed fairly smoothly. As with any organisation, and any conference, knowing how the system works is important.
With Stop the War, there is a little bit of behind the scenes horse trading, where the officers’ group will ask some motions to be subtly amended so that they don’t prove impossible to implement, but I think this is all part of a constructive dialogue.
Over the last couple of years there has been a problem of the officers group not necessarily implementing all the motions passed at conference that create policy, but the Coalition does run with very limited resources.
A more general problem is that there is insufficient debate or even awareness of the current state of the coalition on a national basis. Last year I was the only member of the national steering committee from outside London, and the only delegate from a local Stop the War group, and it proved difficult for me to keep going, not least because the meetings were at 6:30 on a weekday in London, and there was no pooled fare arrangement.
Personally I try to keep in touch with people in a few Stop the War groups around the country, and the picture I get is that there is a tiredness, and an emphasis on localism, that requires more than routine of big national demos to address. Given the overwhelming unpopularity of the war, and the fantastic work that has been done by Military Families (and full credit to Chris Nineham and Andrew Burgin for that) I think there needs to be debate about why the anti-war movement is not doing better at setting the news agenda. If peo9ple want to know more about MFAW or anything else I will answer questions in the comments.
I was a bit disheartened recently when I went to a pre-conference meeting of Bristol stop the war Coalition, that after I gave what I thought was a very balanced view of both the strengths and weaknesses of the movement at the moment, based on several years of persistent organising in the peace movement, I was basically pooh-poohed by some young SWP comrades who seem to have newly got involved with the Stop the War Coalition, and for whom it is all ever onwards and upwards.
Anyway, the opening session at conference should have been an opportunity for that debate to emerge, but it didn’t quite happen. However I was heartened by how many delegates there were from local groups, doing the unglamorous routine work of grass roots campaigning.
I had two areas of concern. One was that Sami Ramadani’s expressed the opinion that the sectarian violence in Iraq is largely the creation of the occupying forces, and this seemed to be accepted by most delegates in an uncomplicated way, with some seeming to believe that it is all a dirty tricks campaign by the US.
The other area of concern was the debate over Iran. Firtslt the whole debate went a bit weird because the platform speakers, Dilip Hiro and Elahah Povey did seem to take the eccentric view that the Iranian government are brilliant, and the women’s movement and democratic movement in Iran are an example to us in the west (I exaggerate hardly at all). There were flurry of speakers slips around this, but I think correctly the conference arrangements committee took the view of not allowing the eccentricities of the platform speakers to overshadow a debate on the need to oppose a possible attack on Iran.
The motion moved by Callinicos on behalf of the SWP on Iran was to my mind much to weighted to the idea that there is a settled US policy to attack Iran, and I am not at all sure that is the case. The prevailing mood in the coalition seems very uncritical of the probability of war on Iran, and I personally think it is over-emphasised, in contrast for example to Afghanistan
After lunch we split into several workshops. Alarm bells rang for me as this is sometimes a manoeuvre to prevent debate, but at this conference the effect (and I am sure the intention) was quite the opposite, The smaller groups and more informal atmosphere allowed much more participation in discussion.
So generally the conference was a good experience, and was conducted democratically and in good spirit, but there still needs to be a serious debate about how to take the peace movement forward, and it is not clear how or where that can be achieved.