Pete Cannell is an active member of Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition. He responds here to Mark Boothroyd’s article on the Syrian Revolution and the anti-war movement.
It was good to read Mark Boothroyd’s article on the Syrian Revolution and the anti-war movement. My hope is that it will trigger a debate on how the movement can match up to the challenges that it faces.
This short response to Mark’s article is written from my perspective as an active member of Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition. It’s worth noting that the Stop the War Coalition in Scotland has taken different positions from the London office. We’ve organised and supported demonstrations in solidarity with the Syrian revolution and maintained contacts with Syrians living in Scotland. We’ve done this from an anti-imperialist perspective and have not compromised on opposition to British military interventions. However, looking back, over the last five years while this activity has been important it’s neither been enough, or sufficiently consistent, and it has undoubtedly been hampered by the fact that the resources of the UK coalition and its actions and statements have not supported our approach.
I think Mark’s right to locate the problem in the response of the anti-war movement to the Arab Spring. While the US and the UK haven’t been in control of events, they have seen first Libya and now Syria as an opportunity to crush any idea that democracy and self-determination is possible in the region.
At its high point the great strength of the UK anti-war movement was that it could engage with a mass audience at the level of human solidarity with ordinary people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the same time had a coherent and serious analysis of the role of US and British Imperialism in the Middle East. However, as Mark points out, with Libya and Syria this has shrunk back to the ‘Don’t Bomb…’ position. Of course it’s important to understand that our main enemy is at home but it’s not sufficient, and simply repeating it without a deeper analysis makes it inadequate for building a movement.
To develop a strategy for the future I think we do need to take a longer view than Mark does in his article. The tragedy of Syria is a result of the interventions of the major imperialist powers in the Middle East over several decades. Despite the debacle of Iraq and Afghanistan the British State has not lost its appetite for military interventions and if anything it has stepped up its sales of arms around the region. It’s highly likely that in the next few weeks Cameron will ask Parliament for permission to openly bomb Syria. The US and its allies have already carried our more than 2400 air strikes and civilian casualties are rising. Under this umbrella Turkey is intensifying an onslaught on the Kurds.
In this context the anti-war movement in Britain needs to be strong against further interventions. However, to stop Cameron in 2015, simply resting on the echoes of past success is not enough. The mass campaign we need can only be developed if opposition to military intervention by air or land is combined with opposition to arms sales and economic and political support for assorted despots in the Middle East. In addition we need to develop and popularise an analysis of the Middle East that explains the role of Russia, China and local regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Moreover we need to be in solidarity with refugees and always on the side of those fighting for freedom and democracy.