There was a very interesting post on Jim Jepp’s blog recently about the peace movement in Cambridge. In particular Jim relates how in Cambridge there is both a Stop the War Coalition group, and Campeace. This is far from unusual. In Manchester there is a Stop the War Coalition that has recently been reconstituted as quite a formal delegate body, and in parallel a “Stop the Warmongers” group that is more of an activist body. In Oxford the split is more bizarre, with a broad and inclusive Oxford Stop the War Coalition, that is an activist group with strong links with CND et al, and there is a separate “East Oxford STWC” that only includes the SWP!
I am a delegate from the South West to the national steering committee of STW, and a couple of weeks ago I went to the quarterly meeting in London. I don’t think it is appropriate to give a full report of that closed meeting, but it did occur to me that the Stop the War Coalition operates with two different organisational models.
At the national level it operates as a coalition of national organisations, like the SWP, CP, CND, Green Party, et al. This model of organisation sees the Coalition at a national level making decisions, and then the decisions being implemented in parallel by the different component organisations. This is the way that Birmingham and Manchester Stop the War Coalitions work as well.
But on the ground, there are a number of Stop the war groups made up of individual peace activists, who see it as their main political home, and who are not necessarily members of other political organisation. This is the way Bristol, Swindon and Oxford Stop the war groups operate. When STW used to have national council meetings with delegates from all the local groups it used to inspire me how diverse the STW groups are.
One of the problems we have in STW, is that there is no account taken of the fact that we are operating in two different way. This is a shame because they could be complementary.
At the moment I suspect that those who operate according to coalition of organisations model, see the local activist groups as conservative and ornery people who don’t enact the national decisions! And the local activist groups sometimes see the national coalition (and some of the groups in it) as trying to control them.
I have been active in the peace movement for a number of years now, and I am pleased to have learned a great deal from the older CND activists and other peace activist I have worked alongside. A lesson they learned as long ago as the 1950s is that the peace movement needs to work on the permissive principle – let a thousand flowers bloom – so that everyone respects the right of other peace activists to organise differently, and march to the beat of their own drums.
Finally, I will end by reporting that Andrew Murray, national chair of the STW gave a very mature and nuanced political introduction, that recognised that alongside the insurgency against the occupation there is also sectarian slaughter, and also he nodded towards the fact that the Iraqi government does have interests separate from the occupation forces, and is seen as having some legitimacy by very many Iraqis (after al they voted for it). Andrew argued that the continued presence of US/UK troops is an obstacle to resolving the violence, and we need to redouble our efforts to get British troops withdrawn, and to break Britain away from US foreign policy. Over the next 12 months our strategic direction needs to be demonstrating the bredth and depth of support for the anti-war movement, in particular to shift the balance of opinion amongst Labour MPs.
However we organise, through coalitions of organisations or local activist groups, we can all unite behind that task