The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Great Britain:
Opposition to war, in Parliament and in the streets

Mar 17, 2003

The following article was taken from two articles which appeared in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper of our comrades in France, issues #1805 and #1806.

After the spectacular mobilization against the war in Iraq, which took place in London on February 15, Tony Blair is now facing a "rebellion" from inside his own Labour Party. Clare Short, the Secretary of State for Cooperation, without any warning, announced before the television cameras that she intended to resign from the government if Blair engaged British troops in the war without U.N. sanction. The day before, an assistant of the Minister of Industry had resigned. Then several members of Parliament occupying lower positions with the government announced their intention to follow this example.

Meanwhile, the number of Labour Party members of Parliament taking a public position against British intervention outside the framework of the U.N. rose in just two weeks from 122 to 250, or more than half of the Labour Party group in the House of Commons. Many of these "rebels" had previously voted for the motion presented by Blair that supported Resolution 1441 of the Security Council and the efforts of the United Nations to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. So the distance that separates these "rebels" from Tony Blair is not very big. Their change of heart was no doubt motivated by the fact that local party organizations are right now starting to nominate candidates for the parliamentary elections of 2005-6. Even though the rules permit the party apparatus to impose its choice on local organizations, the first two current members of Parliament up for nomination were removed as candidates due to their unconditional support for Blair.

Even the leadership of the Trades Union Congress, the central body of British unions, which up to now had maintained a prudent silence, has joined the ranks of this opposition, even if it's using the most measured terms possible.

This opposition within the Labour Party came at a bad time for Blair, when the majority of public opinion remains against this war. Nonetheless, he doesn't seem too bothered by the Labour Party rebellion. First of all because, thanks to the Conservative Party members of Parliament, Blair holds a strong majority for his war policies. And, as supreme head of the armed forces, he doesn't have to get approval for military action. Furthermore, this "rebellion" may help move the center of gravity of the opposition into Parliament and out of the streets, which most of the "rebel" deputies fear as much as Blair does.

In any case, Blair showed no sign of backing down faced with his setback in Parliament. On the contrary, it was with a calculated arrogance that he appeared before television cameras during a series of special programs on the subject, when he affirmed that he did not hesitate to risk his political career by going against the majority public opinion.

Nonetheless, Blair did judge it necessary to change his rhetoric. Because the scarecrow of "weapons of mass destruction" didn't take hold, he has now begun to hammer away at the idea that to renounce the war is a way to undercut the authority of the United Nations and to sign its death warrant, just as the policy of appeasement to Hitler at the time of the Munich Agreements caused the decline of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations, opening the path to World War II. Never mind the fact that this parallel, as stupid as it's demagogic, equates Iraq – a poor country, exhausted by two wars and 13 years of economic sanctions – with Germany – which in the 1930's was the second most powerful imperialist country! The only thing that counts is the emotional appeal of this message.

Despite all these efforts by Blair, the opposition to the war remains solid within the British population. All over the country, including in the most out of the way localities, there have been a rash of initiatives – boycotts, vigils, demonstrations, meetings and debates, invasions of military bases, etc. – marking this opposition.

These initiatives, as chaotic as they are symbolic, are marked by the limits of the public movement which inspires them, by diverse religious influences and by the illusions held in the United Nations; as well as by a basic anti-Americanism and non-violence. But one thing is certain: no matter what Blair will say, he cannot claim that he launched his missiles against the people of Iraq with the support of the British population.

Then, on March 5, there occurred an event without precedent in a country where high school strikes are practically unknown. In response to word-of-mouth appeals, the Internet and leaflets, tens of thousands of youth throughout the country took the authorities by surprise, deserted their high schools in massive numbers and organized sit-ins against the war. In London, under the eyes of the dumbfounded police, several thousand students converged on the House of Commons and the residence of Blair on Downing Street, armed with signs against the war and sacks full of petitions.

These demonstrations by the youth probably didn't weigh more heavily on Blair than did the mobilization of February 15 or public opinion in general. But they contribute to nourish the climate of current opposition against the war and to give it a dynamism that the pangs of conscience of politicians most worried about their careers wouldn't be able to give it.