September 28 in London—a Historic Event

by George Saunders

The lords (and ladies) of the American Empire are well aware, and watching closely, as a huge antiwar movement is growing in Britain. Public opinion polls in the United Kingdom show that 70 percent or more are opposed to the aggression against Iraq being contemplated by the Bush administration, with support from “Bush’s poodle,” Tony Blair. And on September 28, this opposition was expressed in a huge demonstration of at least 350,000 people.

Bush adviser Condoleeza Rice is reported to have said: “Only 350,000 in a country whose population runs in millions is just a drop in the bucket. No wonder the New York Times did not find it news fit to print.”

Yet, as one of our readers has pointed out, 350,000 in a country of 60 million, if extrapolated to the United States, with its 288 million, would mean a mass demonstration of nearly…TWO MILLION PEOPLE!

(Incidentally, two million, or a million and a half, was roughly the maximum size reached by huge demonstrations in the United States from 1970 to 1972, when “Out Now!” became the majority sentiment against the war in Vietnam.)

Another one of our readers pointed out how tricky playing with numbers can be.

It’s estimated that there were “only” about 3 million industrial workers in Russia in 1917, yet they led that country of 150 million in establishing the first workers’ republic in history.

During the past two years in Britain, radicals and class-struggle fighters have been elected by rank-and-file trade unionists to become the leaders of their unions. A dozen unions with such leadership endorsed and took part in the September 28 demonstration in London, as part of the Stop the War Coalition.

The New York Times may not have found news of the September 28 demonstration “fit to print,” but in a news report on October 1 it did call attention to the danger, from the ruling-class point of view, of the rising radicalism in the British trade unions, and in the Labour Party.

The Times reported, worriedly: “Britain's labor movement has been emboldened by the election of former Communists and other militants to the leadership of major unions.”

The Times was uneasy about the narrow margin, 60 to 40, by which the Labour Party conference adopted a “go through the UN first” resolution in regard to war on Iraq. (That false position is shredded to bits in an article below by Tariq Ali.)

“But Only by 60 Percent to 40 Percent”

Here’s how the Times reported that 40 percent of the British Labour Party delegates voted for unqualified opposition to a war on Iraq. A quote from Tony Benn was included that perhaps the Times editors feel will make Bush’s war hawks pause and think:

“On Iraq, a motion was defeated that would have barred British support for military action against Iraq under any circumstances, but only by 60 percent to 40 percent.” [Emphasis added.]

“Another [motion] that would permit such action if it were sanctioned by the United Nations was approved. The party votes are not binding on the government. Tony Benn, a retired member of Parliament and veteran left-winger, said waging war in Iraq would amount to ‘tearing up’ the United Nations Charter. ‘The problem for the prime minister,’ he said, ‘is not the Labour [Party] conference. It is the people of Britain, and half the people of the U.S., who regard war as a total and absolute denial of the principles of the U.N.’”

For our readers’ information, we reproduce below an article by Tariq Ali which in stirring prose captures the power and import of the September 28 demonstration. It is from the September 30 issue of the magazine CounterPunch (coedited by Alexander Cockburn).

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tariq Ali was a leading figure in the mass movement against the war in Vietnam, as well as in the Fourth International, whose supporters all over the world played a major role in the mass protests that eventually forced U.S. imperialism to withdraw from Vietnam.

Supporters of the Fourth International in the United States were central to organizing and building the mass mobilizations against the Vietnam war. These revolutionary socialists were united then in the Socialist Workers Party, which had a leadership forged in the class battles of the 1930s, with roots going back to the IWW, the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs, and the early Communist movement inspired by the Lenin-Trotsky leadership of the Bolshevik revolution—figures like James P. Cannon and Farrell Dobbs, among many others. (An indispensable account of that historic struggle may be found in Fred Halstead’s Out Now: A Participant’s Account of the American Movement Against the Vietnam War.)

Today Tariq Ali is an editor of New Left Review and a frequent contributor to CounterPunch.  He is the author of a new book, published since 9/11, The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity (Verso, 2001).

Taking It To Londons Streets

The New Anti-War Movement

by Tariq Ali

London: Saturday, September 28. It was a beautiful clear blue sky. No mists but a great deal of mellow fruitfulness. The Stop the War Coalition—a united front that includes socialists of most stripes, liberals and radicals, pacifists and the moderate Muslim groups [and twelve trade unions]—had expected 200,000 people, but the mood in Britain was uneasy and large numbers of people, many of them conservative or even apolitical, had decided to swell the march.

The week before the march, New Labour issued the so-called Blair dossier, a farrago of half-truths and stale facts that was a very crude attempt at war propaganda. It backfired miserably. Blair was at his worst. The grinning disk-jockey in clerical mode. Everything reduced to a pseudo-morality tale.

War-talk and piety is such an ugly combination. It may have convinced his ghastly cabinet, a bunch of mediocrities, most of whom would find it difficult to gain employment elsewhere.

Blair prefers it like this: in the land of the blind, the one-eyed beggar is king.

The Daily Mirror, a leading London tabloid devoted eight pages to denouncing the dossier and Blair. This newspaper has turned decisively after 9/11, in sharp contrast to its rivals and “betters.”

The only pro-war piece in the paper, hallucinatory on every level and published to give the White House a voice, appeared under the byline of the former Nation columnist, Christopher Hitchens. The man with the Orwell-complex has fallen really low. He will fall further.

“No war in Iraq; Justice for Palestine” were the themes that united everyone present on Saturday, September 28. Murdoch's Sky TV reported 400,000. Irish radio insisted there were half-a-million. Channel Five News said “over a quarter of a million.” Only BBC TV reported the “police figure” of 150,000.

Let’s be modest. Let’s accept that there were over 350,000 people who came from all parts of the country to show their contempt for Tony Blair and his backing for Bush’s planned war against Iraq.

I met people, old and young, who had never been on a demonstration before. Rites of passage. And the mood was one of defiance and anger.

The new wave of trade-union leaders who have been elected to defy the New Labour Thatcherites were solidly against the war. Bob Crow, the 40-something leader of the railway workers, denounced Blair in vitriolic language. So did Mark Serotka from the Civil Servants Union and others.

Then there was Tony Benn and George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn (the last two, still Members of Parliament). They spoke for the Labour Party members opposed to Blair.

It was the Jewish sabbath. So the contingent of Hassidic Jews could not speak, but their moving plea for Palestinian rights was read by a young Muslim from Leicester.

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was also there strongly denouncing the Prime Minister. Many Londoners heaved a sigh of relief when Blair refused to let Livingstone back in the Labour Party. No longer needing to suck up to the New Labour leadership, Livingstone shifted his position once again. Sometimes opportunism can lead in the left direction.

Nobody on the demonstration was taken in by the talk of a UN-led war being somehow more acceptable than a Bush-Blair attack. The British peace movement, for one, will not be taken in if the permanent members of the UNSC allow their arms to be twisted and their purses filled by the Bushmen.

Here the movement will continue. And when the bombs begin to drop there will be acts of non-violent civil disobedience all over the country.

We need the same in the United States.