David Aaronovitch: Stop trying to stop the war. Start trying to win the peace

'Peace campaigners: instead of indulging yourself in a cosmic whinge, why not do something more positive?'
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The Independent Online

This Sunday, a lot of people are planning to come to London as part of what organisers promise will be a "massive turnout" for their demonstration. The slogan for that march is a simple one: Stop the War . Here's a bit of well-intentioned advice for the most open-minded of those with tickets for the coach, and it, too, is very simple. Don't go. Have the flu. Stay at home. Do something constructive instead. You are wasting your time.

Although the Coalition Against the War – which is organising the march – is essentially a construction of the Socialist Worker's Party (or, as the Weekly Worker put it after the coalition's conference on 28 October: "The SWP is still trying to run things as if they had private property rights"), most of those planning to demonstrate probably couldn't tell Trotsky from Freud.

Every effort has been made by the organisers to keep things broad. Too broad, some say. At the October conference, a resolution was proposed by Iraqi and Iranian communists criticising "Islamic terrorism". Their motion was defeated, and the comrades walked out declaring that: "We cannot work in the leadership of a coalition that is not able to stand up against Islamic fundamentalism and the Taliban." One can speculate that the motive of those voting down this eminently reasonable resolution was the fear of losing support among more hard-line sections of the Muslim community.

But then, for six weeks after the attacks of 11 September, the SWP refused to use the word "condemn" about the carnage, preferring instead not to "condone" it. Recently, pacifists on Teesside at their local Stop the War Coalition meeting may have been alarmed when (also according to the Weekly Worker) an Alan Feasby, of the Socialist Alliance, stood up and "made the point that many in the room were not opposed to all wars – as socialists, the instigation of class war is in fact a principal aim". The logic of which is to suggest that the problem with the war in Afghanistan is simply that it's in the wrong place. He'd prefer it to be here.

In a press release issued last week, the coalition, besides naming its platform speakers (including The Express's Yvonne Ridley, presumably reporting first hand from the front) moved to present itself as moderate. "Contrary to claims in some sections of the media," it said, "at no time has the anti-war movement in this country supported the Taliban or, indeed, any other armed faction within Afghanistan."

Bit of a fib that. The organisation Workers' Power, while not vast, is certainly an active part of the coalition, attending its conferences. Here's what it says: "In Workers' Power we will support all those fighting the imperialist attack, be it the Taliban and other Afghan militias, the Iraqi army, Hizbollah etc, because we want the defeat of this imperialist adventure." I don't know what the view is of the coalition executive member Carlos Rule, member of the Socialist Labour Party and also of the Stalin Society. Before you go on the march, perhaps you could ask him.

All of which is only to point out that there are some leading figures in the movement who would not be reconciled whatever Tony Blair or George Bush did, short of replacing Parliament and Congress with organs of workers' power.

Well, we all have our crosses to bear (if you will forgive the Christianocentric turn of phrase). I take no pleasure in finding myself temporarily on the same side of the argument as Richard Perle and the "bomb everywhere" hawks who sit on the far edges of George Bush's counsels. When Perle slammed into Jack Straw for going to Tehran, he inadvertently made a lot of people very happy. I'm not wrong because of Perle, and the peace campaigners are not wrong because of Workers' Power.

But any demonstrator as of this weekend must answer the question, what does "Stop the War " mean? Do you mean that we should somehow freeze the frame at this point, with Kabul taken by anti-Taliban forces, and Kandahar not? Are you demanding that the Northern Alliance stop? Are you asking that the Taliban look reality in the face and surrender (that should make a good placard)? Or are you demanding just that the US and Britain abandon the anti-Taliban forces and cease attacking Taliban positions? Is that what it amounts to?

If it's the latter (and I think it must be), doesn't that mean, in effect, that the war will be hugely prolonged, that aid will be even more compromised and that the civilian suffering will be worse? And if it does, what the hell are you demonstrating in favour of it for? What – you must ask yourselves as you applaud the fine speeches and well-struck attitudes in Hyde Park – would actually happen to the Afghan people we all talk about so much, if Britain and America were to do the thing you demand? Mustn't you rather hope that they take no notice?

Some campaigners are switched to transmit only, no receive. Whatever happens, they seem to be able to accommodate it in their world view. This remains intact whether the Taliban are defeated or not, whether Kosovo is liberated or not, whether Osama bin Laden is captured or not, whether he admits guilt or he doesn't, whether Afghans welcome liberation or they don't. One of next Sunday's platform speakers, George Monbiot, was this week still claiming that there was a good chance that the Taliban would have handed over Mr bin Laden had they been given "the evidence", thus making war unnecessary. He was, in effect, running the place, George. Don't you get it? And he wasn't going to hand himself over, since (as he said this week) he prefers death to arrest.

And as for the magazine that claimed yesterday that "bin Laden is still winning", I just despair. Not "may" be winning or "could" be winning, but "is". I have not been a gung-ho optimist about this war at any stage, but to make this statement with such certainty seems to me crazy. BBC viewers saw the documents in the al-Qa'ida house liberated by John Simpson. Did that look like a tactical retreat?

For a fair-minded progressive the call should not be Stop the War . That slogan is now irrelevant and harmful. The requirement is surely to win the peace. It is to support and supplement the work of the aid agencies in any way we can, to collect money ourselves and to demand of the Government and the UN that they fulfill the promises of an Afghan Marshall Plan. It is for people with the right skills and enthusiasm to volunteer as teachers, or to assist those Afghans now in Britain who so wish to assist in the remaking of a nation. Peace-making has always been far more difficult and – to be honest – far more positive than peace campaigning. It doesn't lend itself quite so well to stirring speeches and placards.

So on Sunday, instead of listening to the same old tired stuff about cowboys with rockets and selective horror stories from Mazar; instead of marching along with mouth open and ears closed (however comforting that can be); instead of indulging yourself in a cosmic whinge, why not do something that might help the people of Afghanistan?

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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