By Alex Callinicos
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2792

Don’t fall for Starmer’s Stop the War smear

Keir Starmer’s Stop the War comments demonstrate his loyalty to British imperialism
Issue 2792
Two million anti-war activists march through London, 2003.

Two million anti-war activists march through London to oppose the Iraq invasion in 2003 (Picture: William M. Connolley)

Keir Starmer has been riding high thanks to the shambles Boris Johnson has created. He has seized on the Ukraine crisis to prove to the British ruling class that as prime minister he would be a trustworthy defender of their interests.

This reassurance has taken a remarkable form—denouncing the Stop the War Coalition (StW) in the Guardian newspaper after a visit to the headquarters of the US-led Nato alliance in Brussels. He wrote, “At best they are naive, at worst they actively give succour to authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies.” 

The attack on StW has been widely interpreted as a way of further distancing Starmer from his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn remains in the wilderness, denied the Labour whip in Parliament and will likely be blocked from standing again as a Labour candidate.

Corbyn was chair of StW as was his chief of staff, Andrew MurrayIt’s interesting that Starmer chose this way to demonstrate his loyalty to British imperialism and Nato. It confirms that the establishment drive to destroy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party was motivated chiefly by his anti-imperialism. 

Starmer’s attack on StW is shameful. The coalition was founded after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington to oppose the war drive by US president George W Bush and his chief ally, the New Labour prime minister Tony Blair.

StW played a crucial role in organising gigantic global protests against invading Iraq on 15 February 2003. It brought two million onto the streets of London that day. The New York Times commented, “There may still be two superpowers on the planet, the United States and world public opinion.”

The warnings that Corbyn among others made then have been amply vindicated. The Western occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq were both defeated by guerrilla resistance. The so-called “War on Terror”, failed to destroy Al-Qaeda and bred more radical Islamist movements such as Isis, which is now spreading in Africa.

Iraq and Afghanistan were left devastated. Joe Biden’s administration reacted to its humiliation when the Taliban seized Kabul last August by cutting off all aid to Afghanistan and seizing its central bank’s assets. 

Last week it announced it was splitting the money, amounting to over £5 billion, between the relatives of 9/11 victims and Afghan humanitarian aid. The biggest imperialist power in history is robbing the poorest of the poor.

Corbyn, Murray, and other StW leaders such as Lindsey German should be praised as prophets whom history has vindicated. Instead they are being denounced as apologists for Vladimir Putin. This is nonsense.

It’s true that StW equivocated when Russia seized Crimea in 2014. But its opposition to Nato’s aggressive stance over Ukraine is entirely justified. Putin may have initiated the crisis by massing troops on the border with Ukraine to advance his own imperialist interests. But it has been Washington and London who have been talking up the danger of war. 

Volodymyr Zelensky, the pro-Western president of Ukraine complained, “The best friend for enemies is panic in our country, and all this information, which only helps panic, does not help us.”

Where Starmer is right is when he emphasises how involved the postwar Labour government under Clement Attlee was in creating Nato in 1949. They saw it as a way of propping up declining British and French imperialism by keeping US troops in Europe to counter the Soviet Union.

Starmer links “both the Ns—Nato and the NHS—as legacies of that transformational Labour government”. But Attlee made the first cuts to the health service in 1950 to help fund huge increases in military spending. 

Blair was therefore very much in line with Labours tradition of defending Western imperialism. Starmer is returning to this. Corbyn is an honourable exception, closer to—though not actually embracing—the revolutionary internationalist position taken by Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg against the First World War.  Luxemburg’s comrade Karl Liebknecht coined the slogan, “The main enemy is at home.” That should be our watchword today.

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