|Picture: JESS HURD
HUNDREDS LISTENED eagerly at a recent debate on the war at SOAS college in London
DELEGATES FROM Socialist Workers Party branches across Britain met last weekend, as NATO continued its war in the Balkans. There was an urgent discussion about how best to mobilise the growing anti-war mood and how to put socialist politics at the heart of the movement.
LINDSEY GERMAN, editor of Socialist Review, introduced the meeting by stating that the war is heightening the political atmosphere:
"It is dawning on millions around the world that this war is a catastrophe, that it is not about humanitarian aims but about NATO expansion. The ruling class is in an absolute mess. There is no sign that the war has achieved anything in terms of military aims. There is a huge questioning, with a growing number of people against the war. The Pentagon is divided over ground troops. In Germany the ruling coalition has massive problems. We shouldn't think Tony Blair is immune from this. Blair is trying to present himself as gung-ho about the war, but it could rebound on him.
The SWP has played an important role in shaping the anti-war movement. But we need to deepen and broaden the movement. Our activity shouldn't just be about going to a demonstration once a week. It has to be about how we intervene on the streets, at work and on housing estates. We have to have a high level of activity and demand more from party members. If we do this we can build a mass movement. In every major city we can organise meetings of health workers, teachers, media workers and others against the war.
We have to start thinking on a much bigger and wider scale, and we have to be more adventurous. Anybody who has a gut socialist instinct will feel strongly about this war. We have sold over 15,000 Stop the War pamphlets-but the potential is much bigger. People find Socialist Worker impressive. Anti-war Labour MP Alice Mahon used pictures of bombing victims from Socialist Worker in parliament last week. Tony Benn rightly says that opinion polls show 30 percent against the war-that is 20 million people. There is an audience for our ideas. We have to seize the time and step up the activity and intervention of the party."
CHRIS BAMBERY introduced a session on how the political atmosphere and anger at New Labour went wider than the war:
"There has been a shift in the world and that requires a shift in the party. We can't just continue with the same routines. We have to rise to the challenge in two ways. Firstly, we should have the spirit of 'let a hundred flowers bloom'. Members need to be encouraged to go off and build the anti-war movement. The party is stuffed with talent. People need to be given their heads to use it. But within that we also need to build the party.
The audience for socialists is clear. Look at the election results in Scotland, where 100,000 people voted for a socialist alternative to New Labour. General disillusionment with Blair can fuel the opposition to the war, and opposition to war can fuel the wider disillusionment with Blair. On tuition fees the links can be made between how there's money for war, but not education. Often the class anger can be sharpest in smaller towns where we don't yet have a branch. We can push into new geographical areas.
To do this we have to be very systematic. In Glasgow Cathcart, where we stood in the election, we systematically went door to door, street by street, building up a network of Socialist Worker buyers. We need that systematic approach everywhere. That means a strict division of labour in SWP branches and districts. Someone should be obsessed with sales of Socialist Worker, someone with new members and so on."
IN THE discussion which followed, HUW PUDNER reported from the election in Wales. In Neath the SWP stood two candidates and got over 1,000 votes. "It is clear that Labour is losing its support. Plaid Cymru put policies to the left of Labour and did very well," he said. HUW WILLIAMS said he never thought Labour would lose in an area like the Rhondda. The election campaign had "made people push out to places where we are not known. In Islwyn, which Labour lost, people are massively alienated. The raw class anger was fantastic."
JACKIE FORREST from Paisley, near Glasgow, said that the party had not campaigned on "soft issues" during the election, but over the war and the Nazi nail bombs: "We didn't underestimate people's concerns."
IAN MITCHELL said that the socialist vote across Glasgow-23,000-was a vote against the war and New Labour policies.
DOZENS OF delegates spoke at the meeting of how they had been building the anti-war movement.
EMMA from Durham told how "the university has a reputation for being right wing and apathetic. But we called an anti-war meeting. We organised it with the People and Planet society. Some people only wanted to book a room for 20 people, but we went for it. We leafleted the library and put ads in the student newspaper, and 150 people turned up."
JOHN from Birkenhead said, "We had a fantastic local meeting for 50 people. Just two of us built it. There's no magic formula. We leafleted and contacted people. Flyposting was important-people came because they had seen posters. We had people from the Green Party, CND and the local trades council. Now we're going to have similar local meetings around the area."
ALEX CALLINICOS spoke of the debates he had been involved in around the country: "It is clear there is massive potential in the anti-war movement. The debates have been fantastic. They are serious, with people who want to hear the arguments. The war means that as a party we need to be on a war footing. We should all be doing something to build the fight against the war every day."
KAREN from Partick told how "I only recently joined the SWP, and we've been out on the streets against the war. I'm disgusted with this war. There's nothing 'humane' about killing our brothers and sisters in another country."
SAM, an admin worker at London's Guildhall University, explained how "we put a motion on the war to our union branch committee. There was a real row. Now we're going to organise a debate in the college. We got a delegation of 12 people on the last national demonstration."
JULIE WATERSON underlined "the possibilities of building an anti-war movement in the workplaces. There is no Chinese Wall between the war and trade union activity over jobs, welfare and conditions."
ANNA from Harwich stressed that "it is important we involve young people. We got a fantastic response among local school students and we've got a meeting next week. We should look to young people. They have a strong anti-war instinct."
CHRISTIAN from Leeds said, "We had 350 people at a teach-in at the university. Labour MP Denis McShane put the argument for the war, and Alex Callinicos and Tariq Ali were against. Now we've got a growing Stop the War group."
JAMES, a student at London's LSE, argued, "Anti-war meetings can be built in a much shorter timetable than many people think. In just two days with leafleting we had a fantastic meeting with 100 students." He also argued that "people want to know why we are at war. They want to listen to politics and to Marxist arguments."
CHRIS HARMAN said, "It is important people understand that NATO is putting its whole credibility at stake in a war that is falling apart in its hands. It makes the atmosphere much more political." He argued, "We have to set our sights higher in the sense of the numbers we can mobilise. But we also need to go below the level of big district or town meeting. We need more local meetings. In colleges we need not just college wide meetings, but groups like Archaeology Students Against the War. Everyone has to think what initiative they can take to build the movement in their workplace, their locality and their schools."
JOHN REES spoke of the importance of building the Marxism event in July, which he described as "the intellectual spine of the anti-war movement". He said that building for Marxism "is about winning people who have been radicalised around the war to Marxist ideas. The war throws up key questions about society and the world. It's only a short jump from asking why, at the end of the 20th century, we have war in Europe to drawing the conclusion that we need to fight for a different society. In every district and branch of the SWP we need a group of people who are obsessed with fighting to build Marxism."