Stop the War Coalition
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (December 2015)|
|Founded||21 September 2001|
|Andrew Murray, Lindsey German, Tony Benn, George Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn|
The Stop the War Coalition (StWC; informally Stop the War) is a British group established on 21 September 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, to campaign against what it believes are unjust wars.
The coalition has campaigned against the wars that are part of the so-called "War on Terror" of the United States and its allies. It has campaigned against the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. The demonstration against the latter on 15 February 2003, organised with Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), is claimed to be the largest public demonstration in British history.
- 1 Formation
- 2 Key messages
- 3 Campaigns and responses
- 4 Notable members
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The impetus to form the Stop the War Coalition came following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. The Coalition was launched at a public meeting of 2,000 people at Friends House on Euston Road in London, on 21 September which was chaired by Lindsey German, then active in the Socialist Workers Party. "The Stop the War Coalition has been formed to encourage and mobilise the largest possible movement against the war", said the founding statement. "Its aim is simple-to draw together everyone who wants to stop this madness, and to present the anti-war arguments which are squeezed out of the media." Among the sponsors of the coalition were the Labour MPs George Galloway, Tam Dalyell and Jeremy Corbyn, in addition to Tariq Ali, Harold Pinter, Suresh Grover, and Andrew Murray.
German became Convenor of the Coalition and a meeting on 28 October settled the Coalition's official aims. This meeting also elected a Steering Committee which consisted of a spectrum of left-wingers including representatives of Labour Left Briefing and the Communist Party of Britain. The Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee) and Alliance for Workers' Liberty failed to get elected, although both became members of the Coalition and participated in its activities. At this time, it was alleged that SWP dominated the organisation, although German, Rees and Nineham left the SWP in 2009. The involvement of George Galloway among the leading figures was criticised by Nick Cohen because of his alleged "support for every anti-American tyrant on the planet". The Conservative MP Julian Lewis, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph in 2003, referring to Andrew Murray's involvement in the Communist Party of Britain, wrote that he "had thought" his "days of unearthing totalitarians at the heart of 'peace movements'" had ended when the Soviet Union collapsed, but Murray was now in a "key position, being quoted by the anti-war media as if he were a representative of democratic politics".
In this early period, Stop the War had a broad base. Ann Treneman wrote in The Times in January 2003 that the "two most obvious strands" of StWC support consisted of "the Establishment and the grassroots. This makes for some very strange bedfellows, who include retired generals, old peaceniks, former ambassadors, anti-globalisation protesters, Labour activists, trade unions, [and] the Muslim community". By the time of the February 2003 march in London, Greenpeace, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party (SNP) were among the 450 organisations which had affiliated to the coalition, and the coalition's website listed 321 peace groups.
At their initial meeting the Coalition also adopted the slogan "Against the racist backlash", asserting that a war against Afghanistan would be perceived as an attack on Islam and that Muslims, or those perceived as being Muslim, would apparently face racist attacks in the United Kingdom if the government joined the war. The Coalition worked closely with the Muslim Association of Britain in organising its demonstrations. Nick Cohen in 2003 criticised the relationship of the StWC with organisations he considers reactionary such as the Muslim Association of Britain. He accused the coalition of ignoring the requests of secular trade unions and Kurds in Iraq. However, Cohen himself was accused of being extremely selective in his embrace of 'secular trade unions' in Iraq; in his newspaper columns, he never mentioned the most important trade union in the country, the oil workers' union, which called for the withdrawal of foreign troops, and said nothing when Iraqi oil workers were jailed by the Iraqi government for trade union activity, with the full approval of the British government minister Kim Howells. Cohen also asserted that there is a contradiction between the StWC's call for respect for human rights and its allegedly close links with organisations that openly call for the death penalty for homosexuality and apostasy.
Campaigns and responses
Build up to the Iraq War
The largest demonstration organised by the Coalition was the mass protest on 15 February 2003 in London against the imminent invasion of Iraq. It is claimed to have been the largest ever such event in the UK with estimates of attendance ranging between 750,000 and 2,000,000 people. The march was begun by police earlier than planned because of the number of people who had arrived at the two starting points. Speakers at the rally in Hyde Park included Tony Benn, Jesse Jackson, Charles Kennedy, Ken Livingstone, Mo Mowlam and Harold Pinter. StWC had forecast at the end of January that about 500,000 protesters would be on the march.
As the military build-up continued, StWC urged its local groups and supporters to organise actions on the day the invasion of Iraq began. As this date was then unknown, it was dubbed "Day X", which eventually fall on 20 March 2003. Despite having very little time to put plans into action, events took place up and down the country: in London there was a large protest in Parliament Square; in Nottingham traffic outside an army recruitment centre was blocked for a while; and large numbers of school students walked out of lessons. Following the beginning of the war and the events of Day X, the Coalition organised another national demonstration on the next Saturday, 22 March. While the turnout for this march did not match the demonstration of 15 February - Stop the War claimed up to 500,000, whilst fellow organisers CND claimed between 200,000–300,000 - it was noted that this was the largest anti-war demonstration held during wartime and had been organised with but a week's notice.
School Students Against War (SSAW) was established in 2003 as a youth offshoot of StWC. SSAW's primary principle is to engage with young people about the issue of war.
Anti-war activities from November 2003 to 2005
The Coalition held a series of protests during November 2003 climaxing in a march on the 20th protesting against what it claimed is the aggressive foreign policy of U.S. President George W. Bush, and against the continued U.S. detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, which protesters claim is an illegal infringement of human rights and the Geneva conventions. A march past parliament was organised climaxing in a rally in Trafalgar Square. A papier-mâché statue of Bush was toppled in an action reminiscent of the much televised pulling down of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad by American soldiers. Speakers included politician George Galloway (now leader of the Respect Party), then SNP leader Alex Salmond and Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic.
The coalition estimates that 300,000 people were present at the demonstration, but this figure is disputed by the police estimate which put it as low as 100,000 people.
On 19 March 2005, StWC organised a large demonstration in Westminster with supporters marching from Hyde Park to Parliament Square via the US embassy. The supporters were calling for the invading troops to move out of Iraq, for the US to not attack Iran and Syria, for the UK government to halt reductions in the civil liberties of UK citizens including the right to protest and a free trial (which they allege would result from the recent Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 and Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005), and for a reduction in racism in the UK.
The date was chosen as the it was the international day of anti-war demonstrations, as called by the Assembly of the Social Movements at the 2004 European Social Forum. Estimates of the number of marchers vary from 45,000 by the police to over 100,000 by StWC to 200,000 by some observers. The protest was significant as it was the first time that a march had passed the US embassy in London since the protests over the Vietnam War.
Commentators such as Cohen and John Rentoul have accused Stop the War of being pro-Hussein. John Rees has written: "Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein." StWC has been criticised for its refusal to condemn attacks on US and other foreign troops occupying Iraq, and refusal to condemn foreign insurgent fighters who have entered parts of the country, by journalists such as Cohen.
Cohen, Rentoul and others have repeatedly claimed that the sole responsibility for civilian deaths in Iraq lay with terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda; however, the most comprehensive survey of mortality between 2003 and 2011 found that the occupation forces were responsible for the largest proportion of violent deaths, 35%. 450,000 people are estimated to have died between 2003 and 2011 as a result of the war; 60% of those were killed directly, and more of those people suffered violent deaths at the hands of foreign troops than at the hands of sectarian militias or criminal gangs.
The 7/7 London bombings
Following the 7 July 2005 London bombings, StWC in association with CND and the Muslim Association of Britain held a vigil for the victims at the Peace Garden in Euston, London on 9 July 2005 and a further solidarity gathering at Russell Square, close to one of the Underground stations targeted, on 17 July 2005. At the latter StWC national convener Lindsey German condemned the bombings but added that "The only way to end the bombings is to withdraw from Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. When we have justice around the world we will have peace as well". The StWC also supported vigils across the country.
The StWC organised a demonstration on 24 September 2005 using the slogans "Stop the Bombings", "Bring the Troops Home", "Defend Civil Liberties" and "Defend the Muslim Community". The protest coincided with protests in Washington and occurred just before the Labour Party Conference began in Brighton.
On 10 December 2005 the StWC held an International Peace Conference attended by around 1,500 people. Speakers from across the world included Cindy Sheehan, the American mother whose son died in Iraq; and Hassan Juma, president of the Iraqi Southern Oil Workers Union.
At this conference a call was launched for an international demonstration on 18 March 2006. The protest in London took place with coaches coming from across the country.
Officers of many major British trade unions have been elected to the Coalition Steering Committee and they are also mostly affiliated to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. On 23 September 2006, a demonstration was held outside the venue for the Labour Party Conference in Manchester. Estimates of attendance varied from "around 20,000" by the police, "up to 50,000" from the Coalition, to "more than 50,000" by the Socialist Worker.
The 2007 demo took place on 24 February 2007 in London, jointly organised with the CND. The themes of this march were No Trident and Troops Out of Iraq.
On 15 March 2008 another demonstration was held, marking the 5-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq; although numbers did not match the original demonstrations, around 40,000 people marched from Trafalgar Square, across the Thames, and back around to Parliament Square, where banners were placed in sight of the House of Commons.
London G-20 Protest: 1–2 April 2009
A march from the American embassy in Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square on 1 April 2009 brought together protesters from the Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, The British Muslim Initiative, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. On 2 April 2009, 200 people protested outside the ExCeL Centre where the G-20 Summit was being held.
Syrian civil war
Since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, Stop the War has been criticised for its alleged pro-Assad links and for claiming victory in influencing Ed Miliband in the 29 August 2013 vote in the House of Commons over potential military intervention. Diane Abbott claimed "100s of Syrians are alive today because we stopped the military attack" at a time when slaughter by conventional weapons continues unchecked. Many associated with Stop the War are accused of openly favouring the Assad regime, according to the journalist Andrew Gilligan in The Daily Telegraph. StWC vice-president Kamal Majid said in a speech at a conference organised by the New Communist Party in 2012 that the Assad family has "a long history of resisting imperialism", and should be supported "because their defeat will pave the way for a pro-Western and pro-US regime".
In November 2013, it was announced that Mother Superior Agnes Mariam de la Croix had withdrawn from a forthcoming Anti-war conference organised by Stop the War on 30 November, after journalists Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill had refused to share a platform with her.
Events following the Paris attacks
Following the November 2015 Paris attacks, STWC published a story on their website titled "Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East". This story was soon taken down and STWC issued an apology.
From 2011, Jeremy Corbyn was the chair of the Stop the War Coalition, but a week after his election as leader of the Labour Party in September 2015 announced that he was stepping down from the role, but would continue to support the group.
Corbyn's continued involvement in the group became a source of friction with other leading members of the Labour Party. The former Labour shadow cabinet minister for Education, Tristram Hunt, described the group as a "really disreputable organisation" on 6 December when Corbyn's intention to attend the group's fundraising Christmas dinner on 11 December was becoming an issue. Former shadow ministers Emma Reynolds and Caroline Flint also urged him to distance himself from the group. Reynolds referred to the "abhorrent views" of Stop the War's leadership and described the group's positions as being "anti-West rather than anti-war", while Flint said they "are not Labour’s friends".
Shortly afterwards, on 8 December, it emerged that the Green MP Caroline Lucas had resigned from her Stop the War Coalition role because of the group's statements following the November 2015 Paris attacks and her concerns that Syrians had not been allowed to speak in one of the group's meetings. These concerns were shared by the human rights activist Peter Tatchell who told The Independent that Stop the War's "opposition to US imperialism ... sometimes mean[s] they will ignore the horrendous crimes of despotic anti-American regimes like Russia and Iran." In a letter to The Guardian, Tatchell and other "previous strong supporters" accused StWC of having "lost its moral compass and authority".
Corbyn attended the Stop the War event on 11 December in order to keep a promise to formally hand over his position as chair to Andrew Murray. In his speech at the event, at a Turkish restaurant in Southwark, south London, Corbyn said the "anti-war movement has been a vital force at the heart of our democracy" and "I think we’ve been right on what we’ve done". Tariq Ali, in an article for The Independent, thought the recent attacks on Stop the War were motivated by the "nasty and unpleasant war being waged in England, targeting Jeremy Corbyn" and wondered if the distancing of leading Green activists from Stop the War was because Corbyn "is attracting the electoral support of large numbers of hitherto Green supporters".
- Tariq Ali, StWC Vice-President, writer and activist
- Tony Benn, StWC President (2001-2014), former Labour Party Member of Parliament (MP) and Cabinet Minister
- Andrew Burgin, StWC press officer
- Louise Christian, StWC Vice-President, Campaigning lawyer
- Katy Clark, former Labour Party MP
- Anna Chen, former press officer
- Jeremy Corbyn, former StWC officer, Labour Party MP and party leader
- Tam Dalyell, StWC Vice President, former Labour Party MP
- George Galloway, StWC Vice-President, former Labour and Respect Party MP
- Lindsey German, StWC convenor, former Socialist Workers Party (SWP) Central Committee member, Respect candidate in the elections for Mayor of London
- Kate Hudson, StWC officer, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), (former) member of the Communist Party of Britain.
- Caroline Lucas, former StWC Vice-President, Green Party MP and ex-party leader (resigned from post, December 2015)
- Alice Mahon, StWC Vice President, former Labour Party MP
- Kamal Majid, StWC vice president, founder member of the Stalin Society
- Andrew Murray, StWC chair, Chief of Staff of Unite the union, Communist Party of Britain member
- Chris Nineham, StWC officer, former SWP Central Committee member
- John Rees, StWC officer, former SWP Central Committee member, Respect National Secretary
- Keith Sonnet, StWC Vice-President, Deputy General Secretary of UNISON
- Walter Wolfgang, StWC member, Vice-chair Labour CND, Vice-president CND and member of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee
- Salma Yaqoob, Birmingham City Councilor, Respect co-founder
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- Stop the War Coalition
- BBC News: February 2003 Protests
- BBC News: Protests at the outbreak of war
- BBC News: Anti-Bush protests
- Indymedia UK: February 2003 Protests