No war but the class war: remembering and reflecting ten years after - Practical History

Account of a participant involved in the No War But The Class War group at the time of the first Gulf War.

Submitted by Spassmaschine on August 14, 2009

In September 1990, US, British and other forces were mobilising in the Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and full scale war was imminent. At Conway Hall in London's Red Lion Square a meeting was held on Sunday 2 September 'to organise a plan of action... to counteract the blatant warmongering and racism that is going on'.

The meeting was called by Hackney Solidarity Group, who had invited members from all the class struggle anarchist and anti-state communist groups in London. Those represented at the meeting included Class War, the Anarchist Communist Federation, the Direct Action Movement, the Anarchist Workers Group, Wildcat, Sussex Poll Tax Resisters and Haringey Unwaged Centre as well as various individuals.

With the exception of the AWG who argued for a support to Iraq (and later dissolved with leading members joining the Revolutionary Communist Party), all those present agreed to oppose the war on a position of revolutionary oppostion to all sides in the conflict and to set up regular meetings using the name 'No War but the Class War' (NWBTCW).

NWBTCW continued to exist until the end of the conflict, maintaining a presence on anti-war demonstrations with leaflets and organising a picket of the headquarters of the oil company BP on 21st September. Hackney Solidarity Group held a public meeting with NWBTCW speakers.

With hindsight I have to agree with most of the criticisms of the NWBTCW set out in the Aufheben article: that the group was more concerned with defining and arguing for an internationalist position against liberal pacifists and anti-imperialist leftists than with organising autonomous action against the war. Even most of the groups who set up NWBTCW did not consistently work together; they used common slogans and marched as a bloc on demos but they did not all attend meetings or pool resources. For most of them it was business as usual - selling papers and trying to recruit members.

The most useful contribution from this scene came after the end of the war and after NWBTCW dissolved. NWBTCW meetings did involve revolutionaries from the Middle East living in London, who in turn has links to comrades in Iraq, Iran and elsewhere. As a result, people who had been involved in NWBTCW were able to distribute some of the first reliable information in English about the uprisings in Iraq at the end of the war, demonstrating that they were revolutionary working class movements rather than Kuridsh nationalist or Shi'ite revolts.

The name NWBTCW was revived for a similar group at the time of the Kosovo conflict later in the 1990s - with many of the same mistakes in my view. At the time of writing (the day after US and British missiles began raining down on Afganistan), a new NWBTCW group has been set up in London.

Ten years after its first incarnation I am not so convinced that 'No War but the Class War' is a good enough name. The basic position of opposition to all sides in the war and support for resistance against them in all countries remains correct. But for other people not familiar with the history of this slogan it might sound different - it seems to say 'never mind their war, come try our war instead'. Trying to explain the horrors of war to my kids in the light of recent events, I don't think that we should define our resistance as a form of war. Do we have to use the metaphor of war to describe class struggle? War implies seizing power, conquering territory, a subordination of activity to a military appparatus. The class struggle and the movement for communism sometimes involves violence, but also talking, thinking, eating, dancing and so on. As Jean Barrot wrote of Spain in 1936: "Reducing the revolution to war simplifies and falsifies the social question into the alternative of winning or losing, and in being 'the strongest'. The issue becomes one of having disciplined soldiers, superior logistics, competent officers and the support of allies whose own political nature gets as little scrutiny as possible". This is a million miles from the subversive activity we need to put a stop to the war machine and create a world human community.

Neil, Practical History (October 2001)

Taken from the Practical History website.