Afghanistan: cwi anti-war activities – Britain

The anti-war demonstration that took place in London on 13 October was significant for its size and mood. Socialist Party (CWI England and Wales section) members responded to the demonstration brilliantly, with hundreds making up our lively contingent and selling papers, writes Jane James.

War in Afghanistan

50,000 protest in London

There were about 50,000 on the demo, which was bigger than expected. The organisers, CND, were completely overwhelmed by the turnout.

Many of those present were peace activists. Most people came from a middle class background, although there were also working class people. Significantly, there were many youth, some of whom were school age. There were also large contingents of Asians. In many cases mosques had organised coaches. Not only were young Asian men present but also young Asian women, and mostly from a working class background.

People heard about the demo from friends, the web, posters at colleges, and by reading leaflets. Many had never been on a demo before.

Most platform speakers were pacifists, or merely called for UN intervention or an international ‘legal’ approach. The SP did not have a speaker, despite the fact that the Socialist Alliance had asked SP councillor Dave Nellist to speak on its behalf.

SP members worked very hard on the day. We set up huge hoardings, eleven foot high, at the start of the demo. These looked very impressive. As people arrived, we conducted an open-air meeting. There was a changing crowd of about 30 to 50 continually around our stall.

Our contingent on the demo, under the Socialist Party and International Socialist Resistance banners, was mainly made up of young people, including school students, and was shown on the national and regional TV news.

We handed out thousands of leaflets, and at least 750 papers were sold and possibly 1,000 (we have not yet had a full report from all our sellers). At our stalls people directly joined the SP and we now have hundreds of names of people interested in more information.

In Trafalgar Square, at the end of the demo, we kept our stall going after other groups had packed up. A continuous stream of people asked to sign our petitions, to buy our paper, and discuss with us. Most people we spoke to understood that worldwide capitalism was the reason for terrorism and wars, and were open to the ideas of socialism. Once again, we used loudhailers and set up impromptu meetings around our stall.

This was the first national demo organised against the war (although there have been protests in London and in other cities and towns) and attracted large numbers even though it took place only a week after the start of the bombings. The bulk of the demonstrators came from London and nearby. SP members easily filled up coaches from other parts of the country, mainly attracting university and school students.

In the past, demonstrations of this size would have been organised by the trade unions and Labour movement, so to get such numbers by word of mouth and the Internet is an expression of the mood against this war amongst important sections of the population.

We will continue to work in the anti-war movement and take initiatives under our own name. We particularly want to establish and build International Socialist Resistance.

This Tuesday (16 October) there is a follow-up ISR meeting in London, which we advertised during the demo.

Fifty thousand protest in Berlin, ten thousand in Stuttgart

Saturday October 13 saw two big demonstrations against the war, writes Sascha Stanicic from SAV, German CWI section.

Up to 50,000 protesters from all over the country took to the streets in Berlin, while 10,000 from Southern Germany marched in Stuttgart.

The composition of the demonstrations were very mixed, with many young people taking part in Berlin, as well as older supporters of the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism). "Social justice world-wide", was one of the main slogans that could be seen on many badges.

The anti-war activities of SAV have been highly successful. On Monday 8 October 5,000 school students took strike action in Berlin against the war. The school students’ committee which called the strike was initiated by ‘International Resistance’, ‘Youth against Racism in Europe’ and young SAV members. Since then, there has been a wave intimidation in the schools against the students that went on strike and especially the organisers, amongst them many SAV members. A number of Berlin newspapers carried articles in which SAV were held responsible for the strike and for "illegally leafleting the schools". The Berlin Education Minister, Böger, said that he would take action against SAV.

At the last meeting of the school students’ committee there were more than 30 people present and once again they agreed to campaign against any repression. A petition campaign was launched and a public debate is planned, with representatives from the PDS, the school students’ committee, and SAV. Two of the most right-wing headmasters will be invited to publicly debate. The PDS spokesperson for education in the Berlin parliament was present and agreed to support the school students. Other ideas are being discussed, like a lobby of factories under the title "school students visit their parents", where workers would be approached to join the struggle against the war.

A good initial response to the intimidation was the school students’ contingent of up to 1,000, which led the main demonstration in Berlin and which was organised by the school students’ committee against the war. At the opening rally a school student, and Antje Zander, candidate in the forth-coming Berlin elections for SAV, gave speeches. Antje Zander spoke on behalf of different socialist organisations including SAV, Linksruck (German SWP), ISL (German section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International) and others.

Eighty-one comrades from nine cities went on the demo in Berlin and fifteen took part on the demonstration in Stuttgart. SAV members led the school students’ contingent, as well as organising a loud SAV contingent with a massive banner calling for " a socialist world without terror and war". On both demonstrations we raised more than 3,000 Deutschmarks for the fighting fund and sold almost 400 papers. We had altogether eight information stalls during the three opening rallies of the Berlin demonstration and on the final rally. We have not counted the number of people who said they wanted more information yet but a number agreed to stay in touch with SAV and to get involved in campaigns against the war.

Over 2,000 march in Glasgow

More than 2,000 people took part in an anti-war march and rally in Glasgow last weekend, reports Philip Stott, from International Socialists (Scottish CWI section). The event, organised by the Scottish Coalition for Justice not War, which is an umbrella group established by CND, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), Greens, trade unions etc was the biggest anti-war protest in Scotland since September 11 and attracted a broad range of people, including a large number of Asian families and young people.

Speakers included Left Labour MP’s John McAllion and George Galloway, and SSP MSP [Member of the Scottish Parliament] Tommy Sheridan.

The CWI produced a four-page supplement for our current issue of the ‘International Socialist’ paper, which meant we had a 12-page paper. 50 copies were sold, as well as 23 pamphlets that were based on the two CWI statements of last week. In addition, we distributed 800 ISR leaflets for a public meeting on Tuesday 16 October, which went down very well.

SSP members, apart from selling the party newspaper, Scottish Socialist Voice, did not have a separate leaflet on the war (apart from one only advertising the Voice). An SSP pamphlet, written by an SWP member, was on sale but the contents of the pamphlet, which were agreed with leading members of the International Socialist Movement (ISM – one of the main leadership platforms) makes no mention of socialism or capitalism. The CWI and ISR were the only ones calling for a socialist alternative to capitalism and war.

Swedish anti-war protests grow

The Swedish section of the CWI, RS, took the initiative in founding the Coalition Against War and Terrorism, in Stockholm. This network now has 34 organisations participating, including, after some hesitation, the Left Party, and all other Left wing organisations in the country.

While the Left Party leader initially and tacitly backed Prime Minister Göran Persson’s pro-war line (through support for a UN resolution), and the party wanted to forge a "broader" alliance with church groups to avoid linking up with the socialist Left, the success of the Coalition and internal pressure has forced them to participate.

The Coalition’s first demonstration on Saturday 13 October attracted 4,000 mostly young protesters with big contingents of Iranian, Iraqi and other immigrant groups. The demonstration was widely reported in the Swedish media with the RS/CWI delegation featuring prominently in Svenska Dagbladet’s Sunday edition, including a photo of the Elevkampanjen/International Socialist Resistance banner and twenty RS/CWI placards. Peter Lahti, chairman of RS in Stockholm, was interviewed on national television (Channel 4) on Saturday evening.

The demonstration was very political, and gave a warm reception to speeches by Arne Johansson, who was the first speaker on behalf of the Coalition at the main rally, and Elin Gauffin representing the party, as well as for the MEP, Pehr Garton, from the Greens. Chants of ‘War, No! Socialism, Yes!’ for example, proved popular.

The interest in analysis and socialist politics was shown by the $290 worth of books and pamphlets sold on the RS bookstall at the demo. In addition, 154 copies of the party paper ‘Offensiv’ and 23 new subscriptions were sold, bringing in $330.

In Gothenburg 2,500 demonstrated against the war, and 1,000 in Malmö. RS and ISR/Elevkampanjen comrades also took part in protests in Luleå and Umeå, where our party was instrumental in establishing a broad coalition against the war together with a Somali and an Islamic cultural organisation.

Youth lead the way in Australian protests

On Saturday 13 a spirited anti-war rally of around 1,500 mainly young people marched to the US embassy, reports Socialist Party member, Jim O’Connor from Melbourne.

Young SP members are receiving an excellent response to high school visits to promote a school students’ organisation called ‘Youth Against War’.

The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) youth group have unilaterally called, under their banner, a High School walkout for next Thursday. The extent of cooperation possible with them is under discussion.

An on-going anti-war vigil/tent city in front of central station in Melbourne, with about 20 people participating on a roster, has been established mainly by the anarchists but with some SP support and participation. So far, the police have made no move to close it down.

We distributed for a donation about 100 copies of the recent CWI statement. We also continue to hold anti-war street stalls and get a good response.

We participated in a ‘Defend the Construction Union’ rally of around 5,000 workers with an anti war banner and petition and got a good response from the more political aware, but a reserved approach from many of the other workers.

We have now printed our SP election material for the upcoming Federal elections in November. We are standing Steve Jolly in Victoria State, and of course our anti-war position will feature heavily. The mammoth task of distributing election literature to 80,000 voters has commenced.

The next big anti-war rally in Melbourne is scheduled for 21 October.

Tenants and socialists rally in Toronto

Over 70 people marched in downtown Toronto last Saturday in protest against the ongoing war on Afghanistan, reports Jason Baines. The Greater Toronto Tenants’ Association and Socialist Alternative (Canadian CWI section) organised the event, which undoubtedly would have been larger if it had not taken place early in the morning. SA members sold papers and two of them also addressed the crowds. The media were present at the event.

The open-air rally followed a meeting to discuss poor housing conditions and high rents in the Toronto area. The mainly immigrant audience (including Sri Lankans and Philippines) clearly linked the housing issues with the war by the world’s richest nations against one of the poorest.

A follow up rally is planned in two weeks time, and a "fight back committee" has been formed to step the campaign.

Left Bloc criticises war in the Portuguese parliament

The Left Bloc (a broad Left party) held a public meeting on the war last Friday night with around 250 people attending, reports Francisco from Socialista Alternativa (Portuguese section of the CWI). Miguel Portas, a member of the national leadership and an LB candidate for Lisbon Council, made a speech analysing the attacks against the LB from the national press because the LB is the only parliamentary party that is clearly opposed to the attacks on Afghanistan. Frenando Rosa, a LB MP, made a very good intervention, calling for the setting up of a wide and active anti-war movement connected to the Left in Europe.

The Left Bloc also recently moved a resolution in the Portuguese national parliament calling for measures to "help" the anti-terrorism fight. It demanded an end to biologic warfare production, for the closing down of offshore tax havens, tax capital profits, stop the international weapons trade, and also called for resistance against attacks on democratic and individual rights

25 people turned up to a recent anti-war meeting – an initiative of Ruptura/FER (LIT). It was mainly made up of people from the Left. A group of four Italian students showed up.

Unfortunately, the LIT have a very weak approach to the war. They only stress ‘unity’ and argue it was a question of "get in action now, we [can] discuss later"

No wonder that the only political explanation of the September 11 and October 7 events were made by me. Thee Italians at the end of the meeting came to talk to me to give address details

A ‘Stop the War’ campaign was launched. Next week there will be a meeting in my college.

People are interested in hearing a socialist explanation of events. I have sold numerous CWI statements and copies of ‘Socialism Today’ (monthly magazine of the England and Wales Socialist Party).

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October 2001