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Britain: 100,000 demonstrate against occupation of iraq

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Just when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown wished that the British electorate would forget about far-flung adventures and concentrate on bread-and-butter issues like £200 tax relief for pensioners, and more nutritious school meals – the anti-war movement made a comeback.

Tens of thousands of activists came to London on the sunniest day of the year to demonstrate their continued resistance to the occupation of Iraq. The loudest slogans and purest loathing were reserved for Grosvenor Square, scene of some of the fiercest protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. There, the US Embassy, with its bronze imperial eagle poised to descend on its prey, was harangued for hours, as marchers slowed to pay their disrespect.

Hundreds of police guarded the Embassy as if it was the Baghdad Green Zone itself, with hundreds more, sitting in vans and in full riot gear, down the side streets.

But, if Labour ministers and campaign managers thought their American cousins would bear the brunt of the anger, the speeches at the rally in Trafalgar Square again proved them wrong.

Author and veteran anti-war activist, Tariq Ali, set the tone when he called on everybody to punish Blair in the coming general election by refusing to vote for the Labour MPs who supported the war. They should, he suggested, vote for only those Labour MPs who voted against the war and for George Galloway. This could, he suggested, “destroy Blair’s majority for war”.

Lindsey German, national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition and Socialist Workers Party leader, likewise emphasised the opportunity the general election gave to punish Blair and the warmongers. Neither pointed to the absence of a serious political force, i.e. a party, which could challenge Blair for power, not only and not primarily at the polls, but on the streets and in the factories.

Though the rhetoric of the speakers was more overtly anti-imperialist and less pacifist than at previous rallies – with many references to defending Venezuela, Syria, Iran – none of them pointed to the root cause of war and neoliberalism: capitalism. Nor the one real solution: revolution.
Workers Power and the socialist youth group Revolution – which mounted one of the most vivid and militant contingents on the demo – emphasised precisely this link. Rather than sowing illusions in the potential to use the general election – where all the major parties support the occupation – to get the troops out, we encouraged activists to use Saturday’s mass turnout as a springboard to relaunch the movement. Our leaflet said:

“This means winning friends and relatives, work, college and schoolmates to supporting the victory of the Iraqi resistance fighters. Despite the crimes of some of the Baathist and Islamist forces, this is a mass movement with deep roots.

We should ‘twin’ our schools, colleges, unions, hospitals and community centres with those in Iraq. By opening up a dialogue, we can learn more about the real conditions in Iraq and start to provide practical solidarity: computers, information, basic medicines, school books, etc. Endless wars and ten years of sanctions have left lots to be repaired.

We can rebuild the mass movement of 15th February 2003. Then an imminent war could have been stopped and masses came out onto the streets. Now our tasks are more difficult, but none the less urgent.

Through direct action against the war profiteers and military bases, through walk-outs and boycotts, through defending the Belmarsh and Guantanamo detainees, we can build the kind of movement that helped end the Vietnam war 30 years ago. Through merging our movement with the anticapitalist and workers’ movements, we can take a real step towards ending the system that creates wars: capitalism.”