How the Stop the War Coalition Coalesced
The hallmark of the Stop The War Coalition in Britain is a knee-jerk, obsessive hostility to America and to anything connected with America. In the UK, this sentiment is spiced by an undertone of resentment at Britain's role as second fiddle to the US. For example, one STWC essay opines,
Politicians and generals want to show Washington that they are still a competent ally and thus retain some semblance of international prestige by riding on the coattails of the global superpower.
Another essay is headlined: "Can Jeremy Corbyn end 70 years of UK subservience to endless US warmongering?"
From all this, it would be natural to assume that the STWC was formed in reaction to one or another US military intervention, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This assumption would be incorrect. It was established on September 21, 2001 --- 10 days after the murderous Al Qaeda attacks on civil aviation, the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. Wikipedia describes the founding of the STWC as follows:
The impetus to form the Stop the War Coalition came following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. The Coalition was launched at a public meeting of over 2,000 people at Friends House in London, which was chaired by Lindsey German, then active in the Socialist Workers Party. German argued that the action in Afghanistan, then threatened unless the Taliban government extradited Osama bin Laden, would lead to that country's "destruction," and "possibly a wider conflagration in the Indian subcontinent, Iran and the Middle East." Other speakers at the meeting included Jeremy Corbyn (Labour Member of Parliament for Islington North), and Bruce Kent (of CND).
Thus, the STWC was formed to oppose any American military response whatsoever to the repeated acts of war that Al Qaeda, the Taliban's Arab auxilliary and enforcers in Afghanistan, had carried out against the US. There was apparently no discussion of any way to "stop" Al Qaeda's war, a subject that evidently escaped the congregants' notice. But opposition to the US, before it did anything, was obvious in Lindsey German's direful forecast of what American action would lead to.
The "destruction" of Afghanistan she predicted, echoing Noam Chomsky, is not exactly what happened next. In early October, the US sent in a small number of special forces and conducted a quite limited aerial bombing campaign in support of the Taliban's major native opposition, the Afghan Northern Alliance. With this American support, the Northern Alliance was able to sweep the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of power, and mostly out of the country, in a few months. After this, 2.6 million Afghans who had fled from the Taliban returned to their country between 2002 and 2004, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees [see: http://www.unhcr.org/441687da0.html]. These Afghans returning from Pakistan and Iran evidently didn't share the London theorists' view that driving the Taliban from power was equivalent to their country's "destruction."
The STWCers bided their time, and 1-1/2 years later they found a more clamorous rallying point in opposition to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, a very different and eventually badly mishandled intervention. The STWC and its counterparts have since merged the pictures of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, in a mirror image of the propaganda line of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, cartoon images with different labels. The Bush/Cheney cartoon merges them into a single "war on terror," even though Iraq had no part in Al Qaeda's terrorism. The pop-Left cartoon merges them into "wars for oil," even though Afghanistan had no oil.
The key diagnostic feature here is the STWC's formation to protest the actions of the US in response to 9/11 before the US had taken any action at all. I know well the sentiments involved, because I attended an exactly comparable meeting here in the US, at the same time, about 10 days after 9/11. It was organized as a discussion of the 9/11 attacks from a Left perspective. What struck me most about the talk at this meeting was the bitterness it revealed: the room fairly crackled with anger, but scarcely any of it was directed against the hijackers who had attacked American civilian airflights, and ended up killing about 3000 people in the US. Rather, the anger in the room was almost all directed against the US, which was the injured party.
Some of the congregants, the most talkative ones, argued that US "ruling circles" must have connived in the 9/11 attacks --- or, who knows?, maybe even organized them --- for some evil purpose. What evil purpose? Why, to create a pretext for an attack on Afghanistan, which those imperialist fiends had been planning all along. And why Afghanistan? Why, to seize that country's fabled wealth, the same way the American Clinton administration had contrived the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, so as to seize the rich prizes of Bosnia and Kosovo.
The dominant feature of the discussion, in short, was a priori resentment against the US. No wonder this attitude crystalized here and there into patent idiocies, like the fabled wealth of Kosovo, or Ward Churchill's intuition that the civilian victims of 9/11 in the Twin Towers were all Nazis. In both the US and UK, this mood of resentment had been simmering away on the pop-Left for some time. I suggest that it was due to the psychological trauma of the 20th century's last twenty years, which were not good ones for the mind-set of the conventional Left.
In 1989-91, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its captive Socialist Bloc spontaneously disintegrated, the most dramatic, ignominious failure since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. For some people, like most of the inhabitants of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, etc., and for many young Russians who now found it easier to emigrate to the West, this was not exactly bad news. But for individuals in the West whose worship of the Socialist Bloc had been uncontaminated by any actual residence in it, it was bad news indeed. It was, as George Galloway (then MP, Glasgow) put it, the biggest catastrophe of his life.
And there was worse. Every one of the ex-Soviet Republics of Central Asia evolved smoothly into a crony-capitalist racket-dictatorship under a former Communist Party bigwig and his gang of former Party apparatchiks. In Russia, a clutch of former upstanding Komsomols, all representatives of The New Soviet Man, stole everything that wasn't nailed to something else in the 1990s to become the "oligarchs," and a veteran of the KGB took over as big boss from Boris Yeltsin. Even worse, Peoples' China, under the rule of Chairman Mao's own Communist Party, had openly adopted capitalism in the 1980s, while retaining Lenin's format of the one-party police state. And perhaps worst of all, far worse, happened in sainted Vietnam, the hero-country of Uncle Ho: it followed China's lead into exactly the same capitalist dispensation, and became notorious for its corruption.
For activists in the West who had built their lives around the pretense of being in the vanguard of History, all this was just insupportable: History had double-crossed them. They may not have accepted precisely the Right-wing cartoon that Ronald Reagan had huffed and puffed and blown Communism down, but they felt that somebody had to be at fault for these terrible blows to their own self-image. All the pop-Left had left was their resentment. The bitterness against the US and the West generally became more intense, if anything, than it had been during the Cold War, because there no longer appeared to be any counterweight.
At the meeting I attended, around September 21 of 2001, this fuming resentment was obvious to a clinical degree. It was no doubt exactly the same at the simultaneous meeting in London which birthed the STWC.--- Jon Gallant