Socialist Worker

The anti-war movement politicised millions

by Judith Orr
Issue No. 2340

Thousands marched for the first time  (Pic: Angela Stapleford)

Thousands marched for the first time (Pic: Angela Stapleford)

The Iraq war will haunt Tony Blair to his grave.

He will forever be known as the imperialist warmonger who defied the mass of the population when he backed the US invasion and occupation.

The mass opposition to the bloody carnage of the Iraq war ultimately finished Blair. Today he can’t so much as attend a book signing without facing angry protests.

At the time he tried to appear untroubled. But in reality the mass resistance to war put him in a panic. Civil servants even made contingency plans in case he had to resign.

Opposition peaked with the Stop the War Coalition demonstration on 15 February 2003. The organisation was founded in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. By 2003 every city and town had an active Stop the War group.

With socialists active at its centre from its foundation the movement was solidly anti imperialist. Solidarity and united work brought together sections of the left and Muslim activists.

This strengthened the movement and also helped challenge the rise of Islamophobia.

But within weeks of the historic demo Britain went to war in Iraq. The question was raised, what did the demo achieve?

The impact of the 15 February demonstration and the anti-war movement politicised millions. Today in Britain there is still a firm majority against the war in Afghanistan.

Politicians have to go to great lengths to justify any military action.


The West eventually lost in Iraq because of determined resistance on the ground. But they couldn’t do what the US did when it was losing in Vietnam—expanding the war by bombing Laos and Cambodia.

But the West has held back from expanding the war and bombing Iran.

So the movement made a difference, but how could the invasion of Iraq have been stopped?

Many socialists fought hard to turn the mass popular anti-war mood in workplaces into to walkouts and strikes. These could have dealt the decisive blow to Blair’s war mission.

It can’t be forgotten that this was an imperialist venture led by a Labour government. To their eternal shame the majority of Labour MPs, including left wingers like Clare Short, filed in behind Blair to vote for war.

Almost a decade later, the Iraqi population is still paying a terrible price for that decision.

But now we see an alternative to the destruction of imperialist domination.

The revolutions in the Middle East and north Africa show millions are no longer prepared to be the pawns of the Western powers and their puppets.

During the Iraq war activists in the Middle East were inspired to know that millions of ordinary people in the West would stand with them rather than with Blair and the warmongers.

When anti-war protesters in Egypt were imprisoned, one activist said, “We heard that there were two million marchers in London. We know truly that we are not alone.”

These mobilisations became one of the vital ingredients of the struggle that erupted into revolution in 2011 and finally toppled Hosni Mubarak.

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