Socialist Worker

Opposition runs deep

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 1768

IT'S AMAZING that Francis Fukuyama still dares to show his face in public. Far from experiencing the end of history after the fall of Stalinism, we are now confronted with the third major imperialist war since 1989. There are major similarities between each of these conflicts, but also significant differences.

One phenomenon we first saw during the 1991 Gulf War was that of the B-52 liberals-left wing intellectuals who supported the slaughter inflicted by the United States and its allies on Iraq. This was an even more pronounced feature of the Balkan War in 1999. On both sides of the Atlantic very large sections of liberal-left opinion lined up behind NATO's bombing campaign on the grounds that it was, as Tony Blair put it, 'a war for values' waged for humanitarian purposes.

The pattern that is emerging now is rather different. There are, of course, figures on the left who are lining up behind George Bush's 'crusade'. The Guardian carried an absurd article by Christopher Hitchens on Friday last week. Hitchens hated Bill Clinton's sleazy administration so much that he backed the Republican right's effort to impeach him.

But Hitchens is now defending Clinton's successor against left critics like Noam Chomsky on the grounds that the war in prospect is one against 'fascism with an Islamic face'. But there is at the same time a much more powerful counter-current than there was during previous crises. Take Clare Short.

According to Andrew Rawnsley in last Sunday's Observer, when she visited Macedonia at the start of the Balkan War in 1999, she asked the NATO commander there, 'Why aren't you in there already?'

'The international development secretary returned to London to become one of the sharpest-beaked hawks of that conflict,' Rawnsley continued. 'She likened opponents of the action in Kosovo to the appeasers of Nazism, which transformed Clare Short in the eyes of the prime minister.' Yet twice last week Short very publicly expressed her unhappiness about Bush's war plans.

She said, 'I think we all understand that America feels so angry that they want to get somebody, but you can't have lots of planes and guns and ships and make everybody do their bidding.' Three former Labour ministers joined Short. Ex defence minister Doug Henderson called for a debate on the crisis at the Labour Party conference. Peter Kilfoyle, who resigned from the Ministry of Defence because of his unhappiness about the direction the Blair government was taking, backed this call.

Kilfoyle said, 'My fear is that certain elements in the US would like to shape the evidence against Bin Laden to suit their own agendas, and much of that is about settling old scores, rather than meeting the needs of a coalition against terrorism.' Tony Lloyd, a former Foreign Office minister, expressed similar doubts: 'The wrong action, like heavy bombing, would make the situation worse.' It is important to understand that none of these three ex-ministers have any association with the left of the Labour Party.

Kilfoyle, for example, built his career under Neil Kinnock as a hammer of the Militant Tendency in Merseyside.

Their reservations are pragmatic, rather than arising from a principled opposition to imperialism. But they do reflect a very widespread sense that the kind of terrorism that caused the outrages in New York and Washington has deep and tangled roots that can't be removed by using the Pentagon's military might. Moreover, suspicion of American foreign policy within the British labour movement extends well beyond longstanding rebels such as Tony Benn, Tam Dalyell and George Galloway.

Hostility towards Bush's Son of Star Wars missile defence programme has been building up inside the Labour Party for months. Barely had yet another ex-minister, Chris Mullin, returned to the back benches than he was contesting Blair's support for the policy. This line-up is important because it means that opponents of the coming war are likely to be much less isolated than we were in 1999, and perhaps also than in 1990-1.

At the very least these reservations should give our arguments a greater hearing than in the past. This makes it all the more important that we build on what has already been achieved in laying the basis of an anti-war movement. It needs to ensure that the voice of opposition to Bush and Blair sounds strongly even before the first missile is launched.

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Sat 29 Sep 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1768
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