The fifth anniversary of the great anti-war march of 15 February 2003 was celebrated by the anti-war movement last week, as a high point of a truly unique mass movement that brought millions of people into political activity and ultimately led to the downfall of Tony Blair.
The anniversary was also marked by the mass media – which gave a somewhat mixed appraisal of the day.
One has to admire the Guardian newspaper for its chutzpah – on the anniversary the paper devoted a section of its editorial in praise of the march.
Not mentioned was the paper’s own support for the Iraq war nor its previous editorial position of not covering marches at all.
Nevertheless times change and now not only is the march to be considered as a wonderful event but we were also treated in the same edition to a long article on the march from quirky Guardian journalist, John Harris.
That the Guardian devoted a substantial section of their G2 supplement to the march is to be applauded and it is always good to see the photographs of the march – they show the incredible size and breadth of the anti-war movement that is difficult to express in words alone.
The article itself is a different matter. The main question Harris asks about the march is rather bizarre. He says, “Britain had never before seen a public outcry like it. So why haven’t we seen one again since?”
He states that the march and the movement which built it “failed to develop into anything with real political oomph”.
You don’t have to agree completely with former Chinese prime minister Zhou Enlai – who when asked in the 1970s to comment on the effects of the French Revolution, said that it was “too early to tell” – to believe that the effects of the largest demonstration in many hundreds of years of British political history may still be playing itself out.
After all British and US troops remain in Iraq and are now even more heavily engaged in Afghanistan than they were in 2003.
Harris rips the march from the movement which created it and tears it from what came before and what came after.
Rather than 15 February 2003 being seen as the high point in a long campaign against the “war on terror” Harris reduces the march to an isolated event which fell into the laps of the organisers by chance.
The organisers, he says, soon managed to whittle away this with “crushingly unimaginative tactics”. Presumably he means by this more marches.
Contrast this with Tony Benn’s approach – “The Stop the War movement is the most powerful and influential popular political movement of my lifetime and possibly of any period of our history.”
It is not a question of the honour of the movement or a question of defending the role of the SWP, which is criticised in the article, in building the anti-war movement, but the necessity of recognising the historic importance of this campaign – a campaign which still has some way to travel.
The marches are the backbone of our movement but they represent only a small part of our day to day activity.
Later this month the Stop the War Coalitions begins a series of nationwide rallies with Hassan Jumaa of the Iraqi oil workers’ union. We have worked closely with the Military Families Against the War campaign to support their demand for a public inquiry.
We have held a series of international peace conferences which have brought activists from across the world together to campaign against the “war on terror”.
There have been days of action against Islamophobia, in defence of civil liberties and opposing an attack on Iran. We have worked with artists and others to create events and exhibitions opposing the war.
And there has been much more – not least a campaign of direct action including sit-downs, banner drops and strikes and school walk-outs.
Lies and deceit
Where John Harris does hit the mark is in his account of the gap between the politicians (those who began the war) and the people (those who opposed it) and who exposed the lies and deceit that were used to promote it.
This week the government was forced to reveal the first draft of the “dodgy dossier” – and we will see the full extent of the “sexing up” of the intelligence by Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell.
We are in the middle of a long campaign to bring these politicians to account and to bring all the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is why we make no apology for calling for people to work as hard as possible to build the international day of action and the London and Glasgow demonstrations on Saturday 15 March.
The movement remains mobilised.
Five Years On: Why we are still marching
A new pamphlet by Chris Nineham and Andrew Burgin with an introduction by Tony Benn. Costs £1 with discounts for bulk orders.
Call 020 7278 6694 for bulk discount.
Andrew Burgin is a press officer for Military Families Against the War