Thousands protest against Cameron’s War, solidarity needed with Assad’s victims

Nick Evans reports from last night’s protest in London against the bombing of Syria

Photo: Steve Eason

Today, the House of Commons will be asked again to vote on bombing Syria. The UK is already bombing Iraq, and Syrians are already being bombed by the Assad regime, by Russia, by the US, by France. The UK has also carried out airstrikes on Syria, but Cameron has held off seeking formal parliamentary ratification of an expansion of Britain’s bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria until now.

On the eve of the vote, approximately 4,000 people joined the Stop the War Coalition’s emergency protest on Parliament Square to oppose the bombing of Syria. This was larger than last Saturday’s demonstration, despite being called at very short notice. After a series of speeches by members of the Stop the War Coalition, CND, the SNP, the Green Party and the Labour Party, the protestors marched first to Tory Party HQ and then to Labour Party HQ to demand MPs vote against bombing Syria.

The speakers were united in their condemnation of the logic that bombing stops terrorism, of the logic that bombing can happen without the loss of civilian lives, and of the logic that adding British airstrikes can in any way help the Syrian people or make Britain safer. Many of the speakers recalled the mass mobilisations against the Iraq war in 2003, and the moral responsibility that MPs who voted for that war should feel for the cycle of violence that has followed. Others spoke of the attacks on civil liberties and intensifying Islamophobia here in Britain. There were big cheers for speakers such as Caroline Lucas who spoke out against the government’s shocking refugee policy.

Particular anger was reserved for Hilary Benn, who voted for the Iraq war in 2003, who has continued to defend his decision to do so, and who will be making a case in support of British airstrikes in Syria tonight. There was bitterness that the son of the former chair of the Stop the War Coalition should play this role, and those protesting called on Labour MPs to follow the example of Jeremy Corbyn and the late Tony Benn, rather than Hilary.

This was not the only cause for bitterness last night, though. No Syrian was given a platform to speak against the bombing of their country. Syrians opposed to both Assad and ISIS have spoken out passionately against the current bombing of their country by the US-led coalition, as well as reminding the world they have already been facing bombardment by Russia and Assad. Their voices were not heard. There were Syrians on the demonstration, with the flags of the revolution, but a regime flag was allowed greater prominence next to the stage. Not one speaker mentioned Assad, although Weyman Bennett, speaking on behalf of Stand Up to Racism did make the single oblique reference of the evening to the bombardment of Syria carried out by the regime over the last five years.

This matters as a point of principle, and as a basic requirement of solidarity to the Syrian people resisting Assad. But it also weakens the movement against the bombing of Syria. When speakers on anti-war platforms continue to dismiss the non-ISIS opposition to Assad as irrelevant, or imperialist stooges, or as no different from ISIS, they drive Syrians away from the anti-war movement, and contribute to the Islamophobia that justifies attacks on Muslims in Britain and air strikes abroad.

The demonstrations are growing, which is a relief. But the anti-war movement needs to change its tune if it wants to stop not only the bombing of Syria, but the bombing of Iraq, and the growing racism against migrants and Muslims here in Britain.


  1. Tatchell’s decision to disassociate himself from Stop the War right at the moment it is being attacked by the Tories, Blairites and the media for allegedly not involving Syrian speakers (presumably pro Western intervention) is rank opportunism. Especially considering this witchhunt has been orchestrated to discredit Corbyn and vindicate Labour’s warmongers. You would think that at the very moment StW needs defending, especially at a crucial time after the establishment has voted for war and UK bombs are dropping on Syrians, those members who have a different political agenda to Corbyn would rally round. Tatchell and Lucas couldn’t have timed it any better. It’s not as though StW has suddenly changed political direction or taken a position any different from the one it had at its foundation.

  2. Whatever Tatchell is he sure ain’t no ‘opportunist’ in the usual sense of the word. He gains no ‘opportunities’ either for himself or anyone he knows or possibly leads. You might call him individualist, adventurist, substitutionist, but he sure is not an opportunist. Maybe you’re thinking of someone else.

  3. As I’m not saying what you’re saying I’m saying, what you’re saying is nonsense. I’m talking about manoeuvres, procedures, finaglings, wanglings, leaning-ons etc and pointing out that the marxist left are diminished even further than we are already diminished by fetishisiing such stuff and elevating it the level of ‘political issues’ as you’ve just done.

  4. I too enjoyed the rounds of applause for Corbyn on Question Time. Of course, Dimbleby had to try to undermine the support by make the dig that perhaps Tories in the audience were joining in. As for the rest of your post about socialists not taking a position on political issues as a lesson in humility, due to their alleged irrelevance (weren’t you saying that pre-Corbyn too?) or in case we make a mistake I could not disagree more. Leaving the political agenda to the Tories, Blairites, pro-war left and opportunist like Tatchell and Lucas would be a disaster.

  5. If anyone was watching Question Time last night then the issue of the free vote came up there. There was an audience who seemed largely in favour of giving Corbyn a chance and the fact that it was a free vote, meant that Carolyn Flint couldn’t moan, the Tory was outflanked, Mary Beard could make a good point and the audience seemed to appreciate it. Of course this is all very ‘reformist’ but at the same time, Corbyn came out of it with dignity and honour. He wasn’t seen to be machiavellian and manipulative – charges directed at the Left, often with some justice even if it comes from people who are themselves machiavellian and manipulative. The idea that the first reflex of a left reformist should be to compel people to vote for him/her is the classic extra parliamentary reflex of people who’ve spent a lifetime winning positions on executives who then try to do a bit of arm-twisting to win majorities which may or may not reflect the membership. I’ve witnessed this countless times and heard the complaints from people who after such occasions felt manipulated even when they agreed with the sentiment. People immersed in left politics day in day out, quite often don’t see and hear this kind of disaffection and disappointment. Again,we of the marxist left, radical left (etc) have hardly any justification or credibility left in the pot, when talking of these things (which I concede I am doing). From the lofty position of tinier and tinier fragments, we are offering…er…’solutions’???? Isn’t there a scene in one of Sean O’Casey’s plays where someone (with opinions similar to his own) talks in Marxist-Leninist slogans while the battle is going on around him?

  6. A dichotomy doesn’t become false just because you (of all people) says it is, Ray. As it stands what you and I don’t know about parliamentary procedure and effects thereof is so vast, it would fill a library. I can’t tell you how happy I am to leave you there compiling it and telling yourself how important it is for you (of all people) to comment on it.

  7. You’re the one trapped in a false dichotomy about procedure and policy not me! By not imposing a whip, Corbyn’s decision had real consequences including preventing Labour taking a unified position against the war. If that isn’t a failure in policy I don’t know what is. It’s not a question of what I think but the effect of Corbyn’s decision that is important and my criticism is shared by many on the left including Stop the War. If the official anti-war campaign has made this criticism then it is important for our movement and Corbyn to take seriously.

  8. You’re still not distinguishing between voting for or against policies and the tiny incremental differences (if any) between parliamentary procedures. You know you’re doing this. Perhaps you think others won’t notice. It’s as if you’re keep taking what I am saying about PROCEDURE and slapping it on to POLICY and saying, ‘Look, Rosen is saying votes on POLICY in parliament, don’t matter.’ I’m not saying that, am I, Ray? Do you ever wonder why no one listens to you or others who try to turn what a person is saying into an argument that they are not making? It’s called misrepresenting someone’s argument, Ray.

    Even so, you clearly think there is a crucial difference in the great run of things between Corbyn imposing or not imposing a requirement on MPs who disagreed with him to vote as if they did agree with him.

  9. I wonder if anyone on the left said that to those who went on to form the Third International after socialists, elected to European parliaments, voted for war credits? How socialists act when in government matters very much to our movement. Syriza is a good example of how its left flank got out manoeuvred by the right because it compromised. It’s mistake was to separate the politics of the movement from those in government. Corbyn would do well to remember that.

  10. Ray, if you want to spend part of your life, thinking about what people in parliament, might do, could do, should do, will do, might have done, could have done, should have done in relation to whether they should have done about whips or free votes, then you go ahead. If you want to imagine that any of this particular way of spending time has anything whatsoever to do with getting one millionth of a millisecond nearer to a socialist future, then you are as entitled as the next person to enjoy fairy tales. Why not? Enjoy.

  11. Calling a whip in this case would have given Labour an anti-war position and made it much harder for the Blairites to claim a vote of conscience. These are very clear advantages over not calling a whip. There’s no artificial partition between so-called “parliamentary procedure” and socialists strategising inside or outside parliament. We can and do understand both.

  12. Yes, let’s talk about policy and ideas, of course. My sole argument was the ludicrous idea that people from outside the parliamentary process (e.g. me) should obsess about parliamentary procedure, like we know it, understand it, or think that procedure x is better or worse than procedure y, or indeed that x or y or x and y are deeply significant.

  13. What you were arguing came across very clearly. Hopefully you’ll take a less hostile approach to the debate about Corbyn’s strategy in future. Thankfully Corbyn did stick two fingers up to Hunt and the Tories by confirming his presence at the Stop the War fundraiser. A step in the right direction once again.

  14. Not sure whether your misunderstanding of my point is deliberate or not. I was talking only, solely about ‘parliamentary procedure’. Wasn’t I clear about that? Isn’t that what I said? Which bit of it wasn’t clear?

  15. I am saddened by Michael Rosen’s response to Ray B’s analysis of Corbyn’s failure to ‘whip’ MPs against a vote for air strike on Syria (war). In essence, Michael responded with the mantra, if you’re not in Labour you can’t criticise the Labour PLP.
    At a 100 strong Stop The War rally against air strikes against Syria in Norwich on November 28th, Dr Ian Gibson, close to Corbyn – both in parliament and outside – wondered why there were no Labour Party members at the rally, especially as Clive Lewis MP (Norwich South) is a supporter of Corbyn.
    It isn’t just the Blairite MPs in Parliament – alongside the Media – which presents Corbyn with a problem. It is the existing structures within the Labour Party which pose a problem to Corbyn and new Labour Party members. This is how Norwich Labour Party views the road of new members.

    “Join the Organiser Nursery
    Do you want to step up from a leaflet deliver/activist to become more involved? For those members who want to take the next step a learn the skills and knowledge to become a ward organiser, Norwich Labour Party are running a training programme which involves you taking a role in one each of the five City Centre polling Districts. The programme includes:
    Running a canvass session
    Community campaigning
    Developing a strategy
    It does not matter what ward or CLP you are from – come and join us in Norwich for at least one day or night a week to help us win the City Centre ward in next May elections. By the end of the process you will be ready to take the steps up in your branch elections next June”

    This is how the Labour Party views new members – don’t be active, don’t be political, just follow an ascribed career line – a line left by the Blairites. Locally, I know what the LP fears – Labour Party Members protesting at Labour councillors at City Hall setting the Tory budget in the new year!
    Surely Michael must realise that criticism and analysis from revolutionaries is vital – in giving Jeremy Corbyn the gears to fight the Blairites .Indeed, I’m sure Jeremy Corbyn would take Ray B’s criticisms as comradely discussion – especially as Labour’s leader has been involved in campaigns without Labour his entire life!
    Do not let Labour now become a barrier. Inside or outside, we’re socialists – and that demands us to be fraternally critical and truthful.

  16. For a socialist what a strange approach to politics you have Michael – have no analysis or make no comment on parliamentary issues unless you’re a Labour leader or a member of Labour. So the opinions of all those protesting outside parliament against the war was irrelevant unless they were Labour members and even then they can’t critique Corbyn’s strategy unless they were elected leader. This position is so absurd and such a cop out but I’ve already set out why it’s important to have one on Corbyn’s decision not to call a whip so your claim that my critique doesn’t contribute to a debate about how Corbyn might have a better strategy to challenge the Blairites in future is redundant.

    You obviously do have a position and feel very strongly about this matter but regarding others who disagree with you, you claim this issue is irrelevant to them. As far as socialist having a grasp on the mood against war and support for Corbyn nationally is concerned what has that got to do with critiquing Corbyn’s strategy? Are you suggesting socialists hire YouGov to survey the nation before we make an analysis and take a position on these issues?

    We’ll see if Corbyn turns up to the Stop the War fundraising event this week after Hunt joined the Tories in condemning his association today. Tactically it would be helpful to the anti-war movement if Corbyn stuck two fingers up to the Blairites by attending and a mistake to pander to them by not attending. Tactical decisions like this are the bread and butter of our movement and as Corbyn identifies as a socialist he isn’t immune to criticism from the left. Of course, a mistake can sometimes bear fruit and perhaps the Telegraph’s story about Corbyn reshuffling his cabinet has some truth.

  17. When ‘we’ bombed the ‘oil field’ the other night,
    was there just oil and a field there?
    Or were any of what are known as ‘human beings’ there too?
    The kind that get the oil out of the ground.
    The oil that we don’t talk about,
    when we talk of war and peace and democracy
    and doing things for the good of the people:
    the people like those who work in
    oil fields…

  18. By the way, I scanned back through your comments to see if there was any analysis of e.g. ‘Labourism’, why even in this situation Labour MPs vote that way…nope. Or what about some anger about them, rather than Corbyn? Nope. What about some kind of looking forward as to how we on the outside might be able to contribute to making Blairism weaker….? Nope. Would you not consider it even a tiny possibility that trying to undermine the Right whilst slagging off Corbyn, might be an incy wincy bit unproductive?????? Just a thought.

  19. Why anyone would want or need the eyes opening about me is a problem you can figure out all by yourself Ray. The dancing on the point of the tactical pin, delivering lectures to elected politicians whilst being elected by no one, representing no one, is surely part of the explanation why no one listens to you. There may well be others. Calling me a ‘cheerleader’ for Corbyn, whilst I have very carefully not joined the Labour Party or Momentum is of course bollocks. Yes, I do call certain kinds of behaviour by Leninist parties Stalinist because it tallies so closely with the behaviour of the CPGB in the 1950s. If you can give me another adjective to describe putting party before principle, give me a shout, I’ll be happy to switch.
    Tbh I have no idea if Corbyn is ‘mistaken’ on these matters or not, because like you I am not part of that process. This whole jolly conversation we’re having is going on in the context of neither of us knowing how the Corbyn phenomenon is going down with the masses. We don’t know what percentage of people even know or care one tiny bit about whether Corbyn whipped or allowed a free vote. Do you know? My point is different: armchair parliamentarians get off on pretending they (you) do know. Having waded through ‘Whither Germany’, I suspect this ailment derives from some of Trotsky’s more absurd claims there – as if major political movements and changes depend on the month, week, day that the Left says or does x or y. I suspect that it’s at moments like these people like you forget that it is our social being that determines our consciousness and not the other way round.
    Unlike you, I have no allegiance based on ‘right or wrong’ I’m with him/it/them. My defence of Corbyn is not absolute, is always contingent. But look, if you want to get off on inventing shit about me, be my guest. I suspect your need is greater than mine.

  20. I’m unclear whether your position of dismissing the decisions socialists make in bourgeois parliaments is ultra-left or a sop to reformism but it’s very disappointing Michael. Trying to justify a tactical mistake by pointing to success elsewhere is a case of misdirection. Corbyn made a mistake by not imposing a whip and giving Labour a position on the war that would have made it much more difficult for the Blairites and the media in their campaign to claim the moral high ground and sway the undecided.

    The quip about armchair parliamentarians is particularly ironic coming from someone who is cheer-leading the leader of a reformist party. I suppose Corbyn not turning up for the Stop the War demo a week before the air strikes vote when he was out on the picket lines the day after his leadership election victory is also nothing to concern ourselves with and has nothing to do with a strategy of appeasing the right? Never mind if a decision Corbyn makes is mistaken, let’s keep quiet lest we rock the reformist vote. For someone who labels other socialists “Stalinist” sheep for far less unquestioning commitment to a political position this is quite an eye opener.

  21. You’re still mired in procedural crap and trying to draw mega-conclusions from it. I’m not sure why you’re such an expert on the internal workings of the Labour Party and the political significance thereof. On that point, maybe the Oldham result might give you pause for thought. No, on second thoughts, of course it won’t.

  22. The strategy socialist have and the tactics they use while elected in bourgeois parliaments are very important to discuss because they are part of the wider struggle for socialism. There isn’t a political wall between how we work while elected and when not. In this case, Corbyn’s decision to allow a free vote strengthened the position of the Blairites at his expense and facilitated a vote for war. Corbyn not only had a mandate to impose a whip because of his 60% majority in the party but also because 75% of members were opposed to war. Imposing a whip would have made the issue of war a political decision rather than one of conscience. This helped the Blairites milk their status as liberal martyrs. Imposing a whip would have also ensured that Labour had a position on this issue and offered a lead to those still undecided. I think those are good enough reasons to question his strategy. More importantly, Corbyn’s decision casts doubt on his ability to defeat a direct challenge to his leadership which has been made more likely by not imposing a whip.

  23. For starters, there’s the farce of all us lefties who’ve never been elected to anything within the British electoral system and who have mostly eschewed such elections, parliament etc, suddenly becoming acute experts in the minutiae of what is or is not a brilliant tactic. That’s so typical of how we get our politics wrong in a British context. Either we join in or we don’t. We convince no one doing this kind of dance round the House of Commons pretending we know better. Second, just play out the scenario of Corbyn putting the whip on. How would it have stopped Benn and the Blairites? How would it have wrong-footed them? How would they emerged from the episode looking any different from how they are now? If anything, they could have shown themselves to be brilliant liberal martyrs in the face of stalinist tyranny. They would have rebelled anyway. And the press would have loved it. If we can keep our nerve, their problem will be down the road. Assuming that this bombing does nothing, helps nothing and there are disasters for the Syrians ahead, and bearing in mind the hostility to them within the Labour Party, some of them are going to be hard pushed to keep their position….
    But I’m done with mithering over parliamentary niceties from outside, only having stood once for Respect and that’s it. I have a sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time talking about the wrong things. Our next job is to make public the civilian deaths in Syria.

  24. Stop the War’s analysis of the disastrous “free vote”:

    “The decision to give Labour MPs a “free vote” on the issue of bombing Syria has cleared the way for a Commons vote on Wednesday to send the country to war. It was all the encouragement David Cameron needed.
    A lot of guff has been talked about the vote being “a matter of conscience.” There is of course no logic at all that makes the question of, say, railway electrification, a matter of Party discipline but the question of illegally attacking another country a free-for-all.
    In reality, it is not conscience at all that animates pro-war Labour MPs. It is either inveterate support for all British war-mongering, or a desire to destroy the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, or both. Their conduct explains the contempt in which most politicians are now held.”

  25. This is an issue about leadership and in this case Corbyn blinked. The important battles ahead that you raise have been made all the more difficult because of his decision. And this criticism is shared by many who support Corbyn in Labour including Diane Abbott who called for the whip precisely because she was aware of the consequences that allowing a free vote would have on Corbyn’s credibility as an opponent of war and as a leader.
    By allowing the Blairites to frame this issue as one of conscience Corbyn allowed them to undermine his leadership and the overwhelming majority of Labour’s members who opposed air strikes. I’m surprised that for someone who believes in party democracy you dismiss this issue as one of bureaucratic procedure. Corbyn is never going to win over the liberal media and the Blairites will spin any decision he makes in a negative way but his strategy does matter nonetheless and the left needs to question his decisions and not belittle debate for the sake of misplaced loyalty.

  26. That is such bollocks, Ray, I’m surprised that even you would come up with that. How awful it is to see marxists lapse into House of Commons procedural and bureaucratic cock as an explanation of anything. The difference is/was minimal. If he had imposed it, the ‘rebels’ would have gone bleating to the press and TV, played with the contradiction of Corbyn the democrat vs Corbyn the autocrat, the hand of Milne the Leninist would be put on it…etc etc. It really matters not a toss either way in the big run of things. The Labour Party is split – we knew that. It’s jammed pack full of Blairites and New Labour arseholes (I had the misfortune to come up against one in the Education Committee on a session on Holocaust Education and have had similar run-ins in Islington during the Blair era) and Corbyn did maginficently to get the support he did. For christsake get over the micro politics of the House of Commons and whingeing about that. There are much more important battles ahead.

  27. We need to talk about Corbyn. He made a disastrous error by not imposing a whip against air strikes. Effectively this allowed war mongers like Benn to claim to be voting in favour of air strikes as an act of conscience when it is a political decision to support British imperialism. Corbyn’s strategy towards the Blairites of elevating their bankrupt and reactionary politics to the position of a principled acts of conscience has made it significantly more difficult to marginalise and isolate them not only regarding air strikes but in all other political disputes. The strategy Corbyn and McDonnell are following will squander the support and goodwill they received during the Labour leadership election because it will frustrate and demoralise his supporters. The most significant evidence of how Corbyn’s decision has emboldened his opponents are the cheers Benn received during his speech and the liberal media’s talk of his bravery. By not imposing a whip Corbyn has contributed to the opposite of his intention to prevent bombing in Syria. The left needs to oppose this war but we also need to talk about Corbyn’s strategy.

  28. Important Speech on why we should go to war, just released.

    “We can drop bombs through the eye of a needle.
    We can’t always find the needle.
    But we drop the bombs anyway.
    And they land very accurately.…whatever’s there.
    Which is good, isn’t it?

    “There will be civilian casualties.
    That’s true.
    But these will be less important than our civilian casualties
    I think we’re all agreed on that.

    “Every time a bomb falls out of one of our planes
    onto the people of the Middle East,
    our credibility with the people of the Middle East
    goes up…er….yes.
    We will strain every tissue to bring people
    together to discuss how to bring an end
    to the killing
    apart from the killing we’re doing.
    And the people of the Middle East
    are with us on this.
    They’re always very grateful to us.
    They love us.
    And always have done.
    All the way back…Kitchener..
    and Gordon.
    Great men. Much loved.

    “We are very sympathetic to the er…
    plight of the refugees.
    Yes, there will be refugees
    as a result of our bombing action
    we know that,
    but you can rely on us
    to…er…send them back,
    where we will bomb them.
    You can rely on us to do that.

    I would like to make a point about Russia.
    We don’t trust Russia.
    They say they’re killing ISL people.
    If they are, they’re doing it in the wrong way.
    If they’re not, they should be.

    And Assad.
    Assad is the most evil person to have ever
    walked the earth.
    He kills innocent civilians.
    Can you imagine that?
    We are doing all we can to
    remove his enemies from the face of the earth.
    That’s what we’re doing
    and we know why we’re doing it.
    And none of us want the Russians in there
    instead of us.

    A quick point about Jeremy Corbyn.
    He may look like a weak, useless, pacifist.
    And he is.
    He is very, very weak.
    Very, very useless.
    And very, very pacifist.
    He’s also a crazed killer.
    Incredibly dangerous.
    And with the potential to bring Britain to its knees
    in the blink of an eye.

    He and his evil marxist henchmen
    sympathise with terrorists.
    I can put my hand on my heart
    and say we on this side of the argument
    have never ever sympathised
    with terrorists anywhere.
    You will know for example
    that we have never in anyway
    ever ever had anything to do with
    Northern Irish Protestant paramilitaries
    directly, indirectly, through intermediaries
    or secretly through our secret services.
    Never. Ever. Not ever. Or ever.

    Nor any terrorists in Libya.
    Or in Syria.
    Oh, no Syria is different.
    Sorry, as you were.
    In Syria we sympathise with moderate terrorists.
    Who do their terrorism moderately.
    There are about 70,000 of them.
    The moment we bomb ISL
    the 70,000 moderate terrorists will come
    rushing out of their houses and
    head for Assad and get him.
    There may be some Russians in the way.
    We have figured that out.
    But…er…we haven’t figured out what to do
    about that yet.
    But the 70,000 moderate terrorists
    will get that sorted.
    Russia isn’t the big bear it once was.
    No, really it’s just an old threadbare teddy.
    A threadbear.
    Sorry, for that levity in a moment of deep, deep seriousness.

    Which reminds me:

    “No government takes the decision lightly to go to war…
    that’s why we keep doing it again and again
    …er…not lightly.
    So, I would like to plead with you
    to stay united with us on this.
    After all, there’s no one else out there who’s united.
    Thank you.
    Vote for war.
    We’ve got to keep this economy going somehow.
    Keynes wasn’t right.
    But Keynes for killing makes sense.
    Pump prime the arms economy, stimulated growth.
    You see, everything connects.
    When they don’t there’s trouble.
    And when there’s trouble we pour oil on troubled waters.
    Oil? Who mentioned oil?
    Not me.
    You must be thinking of someone else.
    Thank you.
    Bombs away!
    Chin chin.


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