The 100,000-strong march in London against the war two weeks ago shattered the myth that almost everyone in Britain supports Tony Blair over the bombing of Afghanistan. If that many people marched, think how many millions supported the demonstration.
Police attempts to play down the size of the march are a backhanded compliment to its significance. This opposition has not stopped the warmongers, but it has unnerved them and caused deep divisions between different sections of the pro-war coalition. There is dissension even at the centre of the bloody Western alliance.
The US and British governments clashed last week over stationing thousands of troops in Afghanistan, the speed and scale of the aid effort, and whether the war should soon move on to other targets such as Iraq. Of course Bush and Blair are both utterly committed to using bombs and missiles against one of the poorest nations on earth in order to protect Western power. But Blair is nervous that the US tactics will lead to a fearful backlash in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The Pakistani and Indian governments are at each other’s throats in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Last week India’s interior minister, the Hindu fundamentalist L K Advani, said that Pakistan was ‘the main source of terrorism on our soil despite considering itself to be part of the international coalition’.
Pakistan is furious about Kashmir and the West’s refusal to prevent the Northern Alliance from seizing Kabul. Israel continues to murder Palestinians-to the horror of Middle Eastern governments which fear the response of their populations on the streets. The splits in the coalition should encourage us. They mean our enemies are less certain.
A bigger anti-war movement could split some countries away from support for bombing Afghanistan and blunt the drive towards attacking Iraq, Somalia or some other unfortunate target. In Britain we have a government at the centre of the Western coalition and one of Europe’s biggest anti-war movements. It matters what we do. Opinion polls go up and down (partly because they ask different questions). But every one shows a substantial section of British people against Blair’s policies.
A poll published last week found only 51 percent for ‘the bombing campaign against the Taliban’, 29 percent against and 20 percent uncertain.
In all polls about half of those asked are opposed to aspects of the war and a fifth are against any use of military action. This is a larger minority than during the Gulf War of 1990-1 when, although a majority were against bombing civilian targets, only 13 percent were against the war altogether.
The task for all anti-war activists is to strengthen and deepen the movement. We have made a great start, but now we can go further. That means setting new targets and addressing our weaknesses. The anti-war movement is still not strong enough among postal workers, bus drivers, council manual workers, car workers, and so on. There is nothing inevitable about this.
It is easy to slip into the mistake that anti-war sentiment is concentrated among the ‘Guardian readers’, the relatively better paid sections of workers. Yet the Mirror has found that throwing over whole issues to people who have doubts about the war, and consistently interspersing anti-war with pro-war arguments, has boosted its circulation against the jingoist Sun.
The Mirror’s readership is drawn overwhelmingly from workers. Manual workers suffer most directly from the redundancies and cutbacks which accompany the war. It is not true that manual workers are all pro-war. It is true that so far the anti-war sentiment has only begun to be organised.
We need discussion and debate inside every union branch, and to build on the fact that unions such as the postal workers’ CWU and the rail workers’ RMT and ASLEF have opposed the bombing or the whole war project.
Every anti-war group should send a delegation to Brussels to join the demonstrations outside the European Union summit meeting on 13 and 14 December. Collecting money for a delegate or delegates can be a way of meeting new people and approaching unions, campaigns and community organisations. Anti-war groups could also have more meetings and teach-ins.
We should also be preparing for the next big national demonstration (tentatively arranged for mid to late January), and be ready for an instant response if there is an attack on another country. The anti-war agitation is the most significant campaigning movement in Britain for a decade. It can be even more powerful.
For details of future events see www.stopwar.org.uk
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