George Bush’s visit to London on 15 June was an opportunity for socialists to take advantage of large scale opposition to the actions of the American and British governments’ both abroad and at home. Unfortunately, the demonstration held by the Stop the War Coalition was as politically vacant as previous ones. Instead of highlighting wider issues of global capitalism, the only subject on the agenda was the war in Iraq. The demo was embarrassingly small; only about 2,000 strong. The speakers were of an equally disappointing character. Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German spent most of her speech giving the Prime Minister and the Queen a slap on the wrist for inviting George Bush for tea and dinner! I don’t think the representatives of British imperialist power were listening.
Slogans chanted by comrades in the SWP were not only politically vacant, but many were downright ridiculous and in one case homophobic. To hear Socialist Workers’ Party activists chant “we pay your wages; let us pass” was bad enough; as if socialists call on the police to do our bidding because the state gives them tax money. Another classic megaphone moment came when an SWP activist exclaimed “the Allies didn’t fight against the Nazis in World War Two, just to have Fascist, Nazi, Gestapo SS police officers here!” which is ridiculous on two counts. Firstly, why are the governments of the Allied nations to be praised? Secondly, the police, bad on many counts, are not Nazis, or fascists, or part of the Gestapo or the SS.
But the worst of it was when an activist was heard to bellow hysterically through a megaphone the demand, “Stop sucking each others’ cocks, batty-men”. This sort of behaviour is shocking, but not entirely unsurprising. A coalition based on nothing more than opposition to the actions of one state over another and without any real political underpinning (i.e. working-class solidarity) is bound to result in every man and his dog bringing all their prejudices to the party. To be fair to the activist in question she did apologise, only to then defend her actions by asserting that the police themselves were homophobic!
Also evident were the continually horrific antics of the Coalition’s other large organisations. The British Muslim Initiative for instance, a group sympathetic to the clerical fascist Muslim Brotherhood were giving out banners with slogans such as ‘Go home Hitler’, which not only is a massive misrepresentation of politics in the US, but also trivialises the Holocaust by conflating the death of Iraqi and Palestinian civilians with the organised and systematic genocide of six million European Jews.
Some may find the tone of this a tad angry, and it was very upsetting to see otherwise good comrades (the SWP, not the BMI) acting in such a manner, but there were some rays of light: Chants such as “abolish the police” and the slightly sharper than usual “the WORKERS united will never be defeated” were shouted when the police felt it necessary to start brutalising activists with metal batons and their fists. There was more police brutality on this demonstration than others. Metal batons were liberally used on protesters and snatch squads of heavily armoured riot police charged the crowds on various occasions. Many activists put up a defence against this brutality, but were soon stopped by Stop the War stewards who without any hint of irony asked them to “stop the violence”; they were “splitting the movement”. Also when asked who they were meant to be protecting, us or the police, one Stop the War steward responded, “both”. Disgusting.
Opposition to imperialism and national chauvinism is important, but it must be linked to democracy and liberation struggles. The Socialist Workers’ Party’s ‘Campaign Iran’ has not learned this lesson and will unfortunately go the same way as the Stop the War Coalition. Homophobic behaviour at demonstrations is not acceptable, but when you are silent about the struggles of LGBT activists in places like Iran and Iraq and treat them as an inconvenience to your kitsch ‘anti-imperialism’ then what do you expect? The slogan on Iran should read, “against Imperialism and theocracy, solidarity with students, women and workers in Iran”.