The Stop the War Coalition, back in the news due to the Syrian crisis, has a punchy name but not a wholly accurate one. Its aim is not to prevent all wars wherever they may occur, but to stop the UK from going to war. In its words: “Our consistent objective was always – and still is – to oppose the war policies of our own government and its allies.”
The campaign was given its original impetus by the Socialist Worker Party (SWP), which has some experience in creating single-issue campaigns to involve potential allies across the left.
Within days of 9/11, the SWP issued a call to sympathisers to organise against the war which they rightly foresaw the US would launch in retaliation. The speakers at that inaugural meeting were Bruce Kent, a leading light in CND in the 1980s, Lindsey German, who had been a full-time official of the SWP since 1977, and Jeremy Corbyn.
The group’s zenith was on 15 February 2003, when it organised the vast demonstration against the forthcoming Iraq war, at which the list of speakers included Jesse Jackson and Charles Kennedy.
But perhaps its greatest achievement was to get ultra-leftists from tiny groups that usually fought each with the ferocity of trapped animals to work together. Communists and Trotskyists are traditionally sworn enemies, but in the Stop the War Coalition they have worked side by side. While the late Tony Benn held the honorary post of Stop the War’s president until his death in 2014, the people who actually ran it were Ms German and her partner, John Rees, from the neo-Trotskyite SWP, and the communist chairman, Andrew Murray, who is chief of staff in the Unite union.
Ms German, who holds the title of convenor, is the key figure in Stop the War. Now aged 64, she has been fighting left-wing causes for 45 years. She has argued many times that the rise of Isis is a product of the Iraq war, the bombing of Libya, and the victimisation of Muslims in the UK. One of Stop the War’s vice-presidents, Kamal Majid, helped found the Stalin Society after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, to honour the memory of one of the 20th-century’s greatest mass murderers. While the organisation accommodates mixed views about Stalin, there is unanimoity on the question of putting Tony Blair on trial as a war criminal.
George Galloway was another vice-president. When he created Respect, after being expelled from the Labour Party, Ms German and Mr Rees led the SWP into coalition with him. The coalition soon fell apart, and then Ms German and Mr Rees fell out with the SWP, yet Stop the War held together.
When Mr Murray gave up the chairmanship after 10 years to concentrate on his day job, his role was taken over by Mr Corbyn. He gave it up when he became Labour leader, and Mr Murray took over again. In that capacity, he called on Mr Corbyn not to give Labour MPs a free vote last night, but to whip them into voting against military action.
Last month, Stop the War claimed it was the victim of a “campaign of misinformation” by the media – particularly BBC commentator Andrew Neil, who had accused it of supporting President Bashar al-Assad.
Not true, its leaders say. They are for “strong and credible” governments in Syria and Iraq, and an end to all foreign military involvement.
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