See attachments for the leaflet we distributed at the conference.
The Stop The War Coalition conference, which took place in London on 27 October, featured Somaye Zadeh from the SWP-led group Campaign Iran telling us that "the lies about Iran" aren’t true.
These "lies" include that the Iranian regime is undemocratic (Ahmedinejad was voted in with a large majority - never mind the widespread evidence of ballot-rigging, the open exclusion of dozens of candidates or the fact that you can only stand at all if you're a male Islamist!), that it persecutes gay people (despite “problems with homosexuals”, sex changes are allowed: how progressive) and that it’s oppressive to women (more women study at university than men, so who cares about legal dress codes, chastity laws and the religious police?)
Zadeh also cited the existence of a democratic opposition in Iran as evidence that the regime is not so bad - rather like citing the Tiananmen Square protests to demonstrate the democratic credentials of Chinese Stalinism!
For a video of Zadeh's speech, posted without comment, see here on the Stop the War website.
This ridiculous apology for the Iranian government was justified on the grounds that Somaye is herself an Iranian refugee, and that by telling the truth about Iran, anti-war activists would be playing into the hands of the Western governments who may attack it.
After some heckling from Workers' Liberty, the CPGB and members of School Student Against the War, Oxford Stop the War member Zaid Maham shouted “You stupid bloody bigots – fuck off!” extremely loudly at the school students. This prompted a walk-out from some SSAW members, disgusted by the debate and at the chair’s refusal to condemn Maham’s bullying.
Around 250 people attended the conference at Friends’ Meeting House, Euston, though the percentage of voting delegates was unclear (more on that later). As the National Union of Students National Executive recently voted to affiliate to the coalition, albeit with the rider that we stand up for our position of solidarity with Iranian workers, women and students within it (for part of the text of NUS's affiliation letter, see the AWL's leaflet), I had the dubious pleasure of being a delegate.
The conference began with a discussion of the exclusion of the CPGB student group Communist Students, and the CPGB-led Hands Off the People of Iran campaign. Both groups had been told at the motions deadline date that they were not allowed to affiliate. A speaker representing the “officers” explained that the campaigns’ aims ran counter to those of Stop the War, that they were "hostile" to it, and that they were fronts for the CPGB; somewhat odd, as CPGB’s affiliation was not under dispute, and the only possible “clash” in aims is HOPI and Communist Students’ position of support for Iranian workers and students against Stop the War’s insistence that the only task for British anti-war activists is to criticise our own government. (Why is NUS, which also supports grassroots democratic movements in Iran, not excluded? Clearly because such a move would mean more trouble than it is worth for the Stop the War leadership, while the CPGB is a much easier target.)
After speeches from Ben Lewis (CPGB) and Yassamine Mather (HOPI) explaining the undemocratic nature of the exclusion (the main argument in favour being simply that they’d “cause trouble” by disagreeing with the dominant line, and “split the movement”), the chair of the coalition, Andrew Murray, in a Stalinist manner worthy of his membership of the Communist Party of Britain, summed up, reading from a Weekly Worker article about him for dramatic effect. Unsurprisingly, with the “officer recommendation” being to vote for, and an audience packed with SWP members, the exclusion passed, with only about 40 votes against.
It's worth noting the SWP's vitriol against the Iranians who were there representing HOPI. Stop the War is willing to make all kinds of allowances for the reactionary clerics and bourgeois politicians it invites onto its platforms (including Tories! - Michael Ancram spoke at the "People's Assembly" in March), but is quite happy to denounce anti-war Iranian socialists who fled to Britain to escape the torture chambers of the Islamic Republic.
After some opening remarks from speakers including Anas al-Tikriti from the Muslim Association of Britain (denouncing the use of the word Islamist) and Lindsey German (claiming, in a class-blind fashion, that Muslims have the worst housing, schooling and jobs... religion, rather than class and within it ethnicity, seems to be the new determinant of social position for the SWP), the chair realized we were running late, and cut all workshops from the agenda – further reducing the already small amount of time for debate from the floor, except in the motions session. Students were told we could meet after the conference instead.
The session on Iraq saw speakers like Seamus Milne and John Rees hailing the glorious unified (mythical) national resistance in Iraq, glossing over market-place bombings by insinuating they were the actions of US/UK forces, seeking to sow discord. Motions calling for “victory to the resistance" were subsequently voted down, on the orders of the SWP-controlled committee – presumably because the SWP's desire for a British popular front with Liberal Democrat MPs and the likes on board temporarily trumped its support for a popular front with Islamists in Iraq.
The second speaker on Iran, after Somaye Zadeh, was from the Committee for Defence of Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR), and he was markedly better, arguing for solidarity with trade unionists, students and women in Iran. He received a standing ovation from the left of the hall, with the remaining three quarters looking on in stunned silence. It seems that CODIR is linked to Tudeh, the Iranian "communist" party. Noteworthy that the campaign of one of the most craven Stalinist parties in the world is miles to the left of the SWP! A motion completely ignoring democratic struggles in Iran was passed, and support for the Hands Off the People of Iran motion voted down.
Finally we moved on to the rest of the resolutions, rather confusingly taken with one speech for, one against (if available) and then all voted on at the end. I suspect this was an attempt at undemocratic manoeuvring by the leadership, who declared their support either way as we raced through the voting (which apart from anything else made it impossible to get a proper sense of how many people voted each way).
Resolutions of note included support for the Hands Off Iraqi Oil campaign (which, for purely sectarian anti-AWL reasons, was opposed by SWP student leader Rob Owen at NUS executive earlier this year), agreeing a day of action against an attack on Iran on 24 November (22 November in the colleges) and a 'World At War' conference on 1 December. It was also agreed to set up a Stop the War Muslim Network, which was voted for by pretty much everyone including the CPGB. This is not something I’d oppose in principle, but I abstained on the grounds that there’s hardly a dearth of Muslim people involved in Stop the War, and that this will only strengthen the existing tendency for organisation on communal, rather than political/class, lines.
The motion on a full cultural, academic, financial and sporting boycott of Israel passed with only a dozen or so votes against. I spoke against, explaining that we need positive solidarity with the Palestinians, not the classless and ultimately anti-semitic logic of the boycott. Needless to say, you could hear little of my speech due to heckling (from the minute I said I was a member of the AWL), and after I finished, Andrew Murray condemned me from the chair for “outrageous” accusations of anti-semitism. (Though I hadn't accused anyone of anti-semitism, but of supporting a proposal whose logic is anti-semitic. Meanwhile, unqualified accusations of racism and Islamophobia thrown at the AWL are fine, clearly.)
The conference ended with a speech from George Galloway (who pointedly sat about four places away from SWPer Chris Nineham on the platform). He said all the usual things about the main enemy being at home, despite declaring that he “doesn’t like” the Iranian regime (contrast to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, then). A brief student session with three Respect members on the platform simply reiterated the need for a day of action against war in Iran. Strangely enough, Respect members called for occupations of colleges on the day of any attack on Iran - which would be extremely good, but occupations are a tactic they refuse to work for or promote against fees, for grants, or on any bread-and-butter issue.
Rob Owen also failed to mention to the 40-50 students present that NUS is currently trying to abolish all potential for rank-and-file involvement in its democratic structures, and that a campaign against this is being launched, so I did. A case of the SWP wearing too many hats and getting confused, or trying to keep your audiences separate?
In summary: the political degeneration of the Stop the War continues. The need for a broad but principled anti-war movement that looks to working-class action and combines opposition to an attack on Iran with support for Iranian workers, women and students is clearer than ever.
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