The Null Device

Stop the Coalition

Phil Doré was a member of the Stop the War Coalition, the group which organised huge anti-war protests in the UK; then he left the group and now runs a website on what's wrong with it. In short, the coalition is run almost entirely by hard-line totalitarian leftists like unreconstructed Stalinist George Galloway. Their ideology seems to be that anything goes as long as it's against Western capitalist liberalism; thus they give uncritical support to anti-Western totalitarian dictators like Saddam Hussein, ally themselves with Islamic fundamentalist groups (something any moderate socialist, let alone liberal progressive, would find alarming), and pulled a bait-and-switch on the thousands of moderate Guardian-reader types who came to their rallies, promising opposition to a war but handing them banners praising anti-Israeli suicide bombers. Doré's site (and the abbreviated Butterflies and Wheels article distilled from it) talks about Britain's StWC, but from what I heard, the US and Australian organising groups like ANSWER are similarly riddled with reprehensible ideologues.
This conjunction of the SWP and the MAB led to the STWC drawing a clear link between war in Iraq with Israel/Palestine. At protests such as those on February 15 th 2003, middle-of-the-road liberals who had turned up to voice their disquiet at a reckless military adventure in Iraq were bemused to find themselves being handed placards that said not just Don't Attack Iraq or Not in My Name but also Freedom for Palestine. The MAB in particular seemed to be giving out almost as many Freedom for Palestine as Don't Attack Iraq placards. The Socialist Alliance went further, subtitling their Freedom for Palestine placards with the words Victory to the Intifada, at a stroke turning middle-class Guardian readers into standard-bearers for suicide bombers.
A look at the list of names on the Stop the War Coalitions steering committee gives an idea of the scale of the takeover. The chair is a man who thinks that people shouldnt whinge about Stalin's careless slaughter of 20 million people (Andrew Murray). The convenor is a member of the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation that advocates the overthrow of democracy and its replacement with a dictatorship of the proletariat (Lindsey German). Of the Vice-Presidents, one is a man who thinks that the indiscriminate murder of Iraqi civilians can be likened to the French resistance in World War Two (Tariq Ali). Another spent the 1990s condemning Saddam's regime when he was in London and sucking up to it with a nauseating sycophancy when in Baghdad (George Galloway MP).
As another bomb goes off, slaughtering a few more Iraqi policemen or another crowd of Shia pilgrims, theres something very distressing about people like Tariq Ali and John Pilger actually welcoming this. When such figures suggest that these brutal and indiscriminate killings may lead to democracy and social justice, as Tariq Ali has (1), then one is left wondering whether to laugh or cry. You might as well hope that the BNP will take over the Equal Opportunities Commission and set about improving race relations.

Anyway, the site has a wealth of insightful and balanced criticism of the radical left's arguments, from their Intifada-good-Israel-bad take on the Palestinian issue to their support for the Iraqi "people's uprising" (which, surprisingly, isn't as popular with the Iraqi people as one would think after reading the Green Left Weekly). He signs off with a 7-step programme to rehabilitating the protest movement and saving it from the clutches of the paleo-Marxist ideo-zombies.

1. Communism is obsolete. Get over it.
2. Follow universal values. Instead of cheap partisanship and outdated revolutionary ideals, one should follow humanistic principles based on democracy, tolerance, respect for human rights and concern for ones fellow human beings. The key is the principle of democracy. Be wary of anything that smacks of condoning violence. Theres nothing more dangerous than an idealist with a gun.
3. Apply the same rules to everyone. This is important, because its necessary to be consistent in the application of ones values. Opposing the brutalities of the Israeli occupation of the Occupied Territories does not mean ignoring the indiscriminate slaughter of the Palestinian suicide bombers. Likewise, its perfectly possible to condemn racism against Muslims while also criticising the narrow-minded religious bigots of the Muslim Association of Britain and condemning the theocratic fascism of al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Iranian ayatollahs.

(One could add a meta-rule to this: beware of people who think in binary dualisms; that you must either be a Trotskyist or a neo-con, that you're either a hardline likudnik or you're cheering on the suicide bombers, that you're either with the gang of thugs torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib or the gang of thugs blowing up civilians in the Fedayeen "resistance"; that you're either With Us or Against Us.)

(via Peter, who has his head screwed on the right way.)

There are 18 comments on "Stop the Coalition":

Posted by: Graham Mon Jul 19 16:43:09 2004

Another meta-rule: An enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.

Posted by: dj Tue Jul 20 02:41:42 2004

I know that there are quite a few 'leftists' and anarchists who have opposed these tactics right from the start, mainly because it's the same old same old from these groups who basically just want to use these issues as a party-building exercise.

There's a similar problem building up in the UK now with Islamic fundies vs. the BNP and the like. For some reason, there are people who feel obliged to side with the former, which is just ridiculous to anyone who values meaningful democracy.

Posted by: acb Tue Jul 20 03:37:25 2004

See also: "the soft racism of low expectations", i.e., the patronising belief (common among the relativist/"anti-imperialist" branches of the left) that liberal democracy/pluralism/human rights is just one form of democracy/liberalism/feminism/whatever and other forms (i.e., Cuban communism, Pakistani tribal councils, Iranian theocracy) are equally valid, and that it is racist and imperialist to say otherwise.

The blank slate theory of human nature has a lot to answer for.

Posted by: Ben http:// Tue Jul 20 14:29:39 2004

It seems that the traditional, organised 'left' is comprised of three kinds of individuals nowadays. People who are traditional 'unreconstructed Stalinists' of one degree or other, people who are just ignorant and latch onto the slogans (the people who think that the Democrats or the Greens are a 'left wing' party) and thirdly people who have some particular issue to push and use the group they are associated with to push that issue (whether it be conservation, right to have homosexual sex or sex with animals, animal rights, pro or anti abortion, save the wales, free the poor persecuted cultists in China etc.).

Posted by: dj Tue Jul 20 23:28:07 2004

There are often democratic traditions in a lot of cultures. They may not always look quite the same as ours, but they are often obscured by the same kind of self-serving rhetoric that we hear from our own 'great and good'.

Posted by: gjw Wed Jul 21 00:13:57 2004

Having been a member of the Resistance Socialist Youth organisation, for almost three entire days, I'm qualified to say that these people couldn't organise themselves out of a wet paper bag. Fear the revolution.

Posted by: acb Wed Jul 21 01:33:26 2004

If one defined "democratic traditions" rather loosely. A plebiscite of ancient Greek slave-owners, however, or a council of tribal elders is not meaningfully equivalent to modern democracy.

The point being that systems and societies evolve. The Western/European tradition, which many leftists malign as the source of all injustice in the world, is a better source of ideals such as pluralism, secularism and transparency than many others.

Having said that, one could argue that, say, the US two-party system, is hardly an ideal example of democracy, being more like a legislative auction well out of the reach of most people, and other Western democracies (the UK, Australia) also being less than ideal. Though the pluralism/transparency thing still stands.

Posted by: Tegan McMolson Wed Jul 21 09:10:26 2004

This is a good post

Posted by: Itshak http:// Wed Jul 21 14:36:21 2004

You're also assuming, I think, that modern Australian Democracy is a good system. I prefer to call it Dumb-ocracy, and I am not a big fan at all.

Posted by: acb Wed Jul 21 16:11:17 2004

Australian democracy at least has preferential voting (so you can vote for minor parties that represent your views accurately and not waste your vote) a proportional upper house, in which minor parties can get the balance of power, thus providing some checks on the power of the government. In this way, it's superior to the US two-party system (where two huge parties are all that effectively exists; this is only one party more than the USSR had) and Britain (which has first-past-the-post voting in the lower house and a next-to-useless upper house of hereditary aristocrats, gradually being replaced by god only knows what; chances are it won't be a proportional senate like Australia's).

I'd say that Australia may well have the best implementation of the Westminster system in existence; though I haven't looked at others (such as Canada, New Zealand and such).

Posted by: gjw Wed Jul 21 23:46:37 2004

An interesting aspect to US democracy, for better or for worse, is the way they spread it wide and thin. Sure, they couldn't run a presidential election to save their life, but you can vote for the local police chief, school board, and dog catcher. In particular, citizen-initiated referendums and local ballot initiatives are a smart idea: if politicians refuse to confront an issue, citizens can hold their own official referendum and the result has to be adopted as law (as I understand it).

Posted by: acb Thu Jul 22 02:55:34 2004

Apparently, there's also a growing grass-roots movement to adopt preferential voting (called "instant runoff voting" in USian) at all sorts of local levels. Of course, it's probably never going to get into Congress (it undermines too many established interests), though a split between two-party-controlled federal politics and more dynamic local politics could be interesting. We've already seen various municipalities declare themselves PATRIOT Act-free zones and refuse to cooperate.

Posted by: gjw Thu Jul 22 08:50:08 2004

As I've told numberous bitter Democrats - preferential voting (along with centrally run elections) would probably have avoided the 2000 problems. You could have voted for Nader in the knowledge that if the result came down to the wire, your vote would be redistributed to Gore. In any case, it would allow minor parties a legitimate toe-hold.

Posted by: Naomi http:// Fri Jul 23 07:46:54 2004

"I'd say that Australia may well have the best implementation of the Westminster system in existence; though I haven't looked at others (such as Canada, New Zealand and such)." How can you be so shallow!

Posted by: mark Fri Jul 23 12:45:28 2004

She's right, Andrew. There's more to democracy than the Westminster system (assuming the WS is what I think it is; I think I slept through a lot of Law lectures...).

'Course, these options aren't as good as our implementation of the WS, but that ain't the point.

Posted by: acb Sat Jul 24 03:20:19 2004

I was talking specifically about the Westminster system, and not about other areas such as transparency or impartiality of the public service or what have you.

Are there any Westminster-based parliaments which are more open to non-major party involvement than the Australian one?

Posted by: Ben-Gurion http:// Sat Jul 24 14:51:32 2004

The Westminster principles are precisely that: Seperation of the 3 arms of government (the elected, the executive and the courts). You could have a Westminster system in Stalinist Russia, for all the good it would do the public at large. You weren't wagging Politics class when that was briefly explained were you Andrew?

The advent of political parties postdates the evolution of the modern political system. Back in the good old days if you openly admitted you had organised with a group of others to sieze control of the government, you would have had your head lopped off in no time at all! The idea of having parties was something that evolved by itself, it is not something that is necessarily beneficial. I think it was Plato (or was it Aristotle?) who proposed a Democratic form of government in the classic style, however it was suited to a city-state of no more than some thousands of people. Similar with Hobbes and Rosseau, their ideas of Legislation etc. had an assumption that there was some form of contact

Posted by: Ben-Gurion http:// Sat Jul 24 14:56:30 2004

(got cut off there) between the electors and the electees.

So minor parties and individuals are free to involved themselves as they see fit, however their influence is naturally limited by their lack of finances, media access and organisation.

Before Mark Latham took leadership of the ALP, you could scour the papers all week and find little mention of the ALP. Even the ABC didn't carry much about them, and if you consider the amount of (bad) publicity Cheryl Kernot got for deserting the Democrats and compare it to the amount of mainstream party news in the media, you might be surprised.

(I hear, incidentally, she has gotten a job as somebody's secretary in London. And good riddance and ya boo sucks to the Women's Electoral Lobby).