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.


Louisefeminista said...

"and there was no pooled fare arrangement"

That is bloody appalling. How do they expect full participation especially as London is so expensive? There is life outside London...And only people who are waged (low paid, unemployed and students can sod off then) I remember the good old days where pooled fares were expected.

Was there a creche at the conference? Because last year there wasn't one and there were complaints (quite right too)It was same at the Labour Against the War AGM. Or at the Labour Representation Committee AGM which sparked a debate as someone made a comment about no creche and I was the only one in my block who clapped and everyone looked at me!!!

So... again how do they expect full participation when many people with childcare responsibilities (usually women) cannot attend. Seems like issues around pooled fare and creches are dropping off the agenda as well.

AN said...

No creche. There was no creche arranged for the closing SA conference either - even though the exec had approved it (by majority via e-mail) and we had the budget.

I think it is part of a general retreat from the idea of empowering the grassroots to participate.

Louisefeminista said...

"I think it is part of a general retreat from the idea of empowering the grassroots to participate."

Yeah, i think that's correct though very depressing.

Renegade Eye said...

Did they call for a mass demonstration?

AN said...

Yes there will be a national demo in Manchester (for Labour party conference.
there has been some controversy in manchester itself oiver the degree to which this is being organised from London rather than locally, but i hope comrades more in the loop for that will comment.
there was also some considerbale enthusiasm from the delgates from local groups for ther motion i moved for a demo at RAF Brize Norton, which is the stepping off point for Brit troops going into theatre. But it looks like the actual organisational tasks will fall upn our region, and I will have to make it happen.

AN said...

By the way - on the question of the creche. Someone remined me today that at the previous Stop the War conference policy was passed that there would be a creche at this latest conference,. But this policy was not implemtneted.

Louisefeminista said...

Not really a surprise is it though?
Policy not being implemented.

I remember there was a letter in WW last year criticising the lack of creche re: Stop the War Conference.

AN said...

Do the CPGB provide a creche for their Communist University summer school?

Louisefeminista said...

I haven't a clue but I would lay serious money and say no...

The letter to WW came from an ex-comrade from the ISG who criticised the lack of a creche at the Stop the War Conference and I agreed with him totally. But CPGB didn't a word... Says it all really!

Louisefeminista said...

PS: if they did they would include it in their publicity and their registration forms and I have never seen it.
But suppose you could ask Elaine.. sorry meant comrade Mark Fischer why not.

AN said...

I see one of Osler's comment threads last week degenerated into a UKLN style bear pit - we better be careful or we will go down the same path!

Louisefeminista said...

Yeah, probably right. But still, issues such as creches are important and the fact they have fallen off the agenda really exposes the state of the left.

Anonymous said...

there will be a very good creche at the workers liberty summer school this weekend as with every year as well as a great line up of debates.

Says something about the state of the left when a group as small as AWL always have a creche for national events whereas our political rivals almost never do.

Anonymous said...

There's a widely held conspiracy theory within the SWP that if they put on a free creche for big events they will get undesirables from other groups turning up just for the free childcare.

AN said...

I would give that conspircacy throy more credence if:

a) it wasn't preposterous;
b) you hadn't hidden behind anonymity

AN said...

Mmm. thanks for the advert anonymous AWL member.

I see that we have had two anonymous comments within the same minute. perhaps Sherlock Holmes, (or even Dr House MD) might conclude they were the same person.

In which case how would someone obviously in the AWL know what was the thinking within the SWP about creches?

Anonymous said...

maybe an AWL member who was in the SWP, maybe a co-incidence.

Conspiracy theories (throys to you) only prosper in the absense of any other rational explanation. What is the rational explanation for stop the war and others not having a creche? If I had to offer one it would be because the SWP, CPB, CPGB, Greens don't give a shit about working class women.

Jim Jay said...

Greens do have childcare at their events - does that mean they DO give a shit about working class women?

and the SWP have a creche every year at Marxism which every branch is expected to help with... which you'd know if you'd been a member rather than chancing your arm with a guess (and annual SWP conference had child care as well as I recall)

Matty Jappatti. said...

The creche at marxism is reeaaallly expensive. The cost comes from having to run extensive risk assesments on the area used for it before hand.

I think there is a general problem with childcare on the left. I know of many good comrades who can't regularly attend meetings because they have young children. The answer, of course, is to pool responsibility and perhaps take it in turn for kids to stay round a comrades house. If anyone has cracked this, it would be great to hear how they did it.

Matty Jappatti said...

Oh, childcare is free @ marxism, so don't get the wrong idea from the above post.

AN said...

Tp clarify matty's point. Child care is free for the users, but expeneive for the organisers to provide.
And this is a good point, particularly if the take up is not very great, it may simply not be cost effective. I would defend decisions not to provide child care in some cases on that basis - but we should still recognise that what is cost effective is a political choice.
In any event having an event in central London make it very hard for parents with small children to attend. My two boys are 6 and 2 and there is o way i wuld take them to a political event in london (but i am taking them to Tolpuddle this year)

Martin Wisse said...

Regarding your 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.

Research by the US government's own Government Accountability Office shows that the majority of insurgency attacks is against US/Coalition forces, with the purely sectarian attacks a small minority.

At the same time, it has been long known that the people currently in power in Iraq are using the Iraqi government for sectarian purposes. These activities are, if not done on instigation of the Americans at the very least tolerated by them.

Let's not even mention the long history of the US in sponsoring death squads directly or indirectly.

(See my blog for more details.)

AN said...

Thanks Martin, and thanks also for signposting your very good blog.

A lrage proprtion of the fightng is addressed towards occupying forces, but if you check rahul Mahajan's blog (march 27th posting) he gives a truly horrific picture of violence between Iraqis.

We also know from expereince in Saudi Arabia ( and exported to Afghmaistan) that the Wah-habi sect are murderously opposed to Shia, and in that context sectarian violence is credible - even if the US forces act as a catlyst.

What seems to be absent, except in the fantasies of some westerners - is any coherent national liberation movement, or even the genesis of one.