The Anti-War Movement

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

The "anti-war-movement"
undercurrent #7

There was no militant response to the war in Britain, as in most Nato countries (Greece seems to something of an exception, but the protests were fuelled by nationalism and encompassed the whole political spectre). With a professional army, the war did not affect the lives of people here in any significant way and was merely something happening on TV, and the current political apathy in Britain was surely no fertile soil for mass resistance against the war. Furthermore, the war propaganda of a new humanitarian internationalism succeeded in silencing criticism and paralysing opposition to the war, and the obvious lack of immediate economic interests in the region helped underpin the image of Nato as the humanitarian peace dove who only bombs to avoid worse suffering. Whoever spoke out against Nato's war was denounced as a lackey of the Serb regime and compared with the appeasers of 1938. At the least, anyone opposed to the bombing of Yugoslavia was asked what else one could do, since "we have to do something". Many on the left who still opposed the Gulf war in 1991 now found themselves cheering Nato's war on the grounds of preventing "the next Holocaust". We don't care what Ken Livingstone and the likes do, but this was certainly a phenomenon not confined to Labour MPs and newspaper columnists. At least, the humanitarian card that belligerent politicians the media played made things too difficult to take an anti-war-position. It is worth noting that the entire "direct action"-scene, normally bursting "to do something", was silent about Nato's war. There was a symbolic scene in Brighton, when a several thousand strong animal rights demonstration passed the anti-war-vigil consisting of a dozen people. SchNews, the weekly news-sheet representing the direct-action scene, ran precisely one article throughout the whole time of the war. For this political milieu it was as if the war was not happening at all and one could go about one's business of writing about trees, parks, GM food etc..[1]

However, the anti-war-movement was a failure not only in terms of size, but also as far as its political content is concerned. It was a bizarre alliance of remnants of the peace movement, Trotskyist groups, some Labour left-wingers and sometimes even Tory MPs. One regretted every demo in London one had attended together with this mixture which was completed by Serb nationalists displaying their stupid flags. The only consent was the opposition to Nato's bombing campaign; apart from that, Tories could moan about the absence of a true national interest in the war, Labour MPs showed themselves shocked that the sacred international law was broken, while Trotskyists chanted their "welfare not warfare"-slogans, thus demanding the better political personnel that is wise enough to invest "our" money usefully into hospitals instead of bombing hospitals elsewhere. Though not dominant, anti-American propaganda by old Stalinists also resurfaced: while the British PM was the pace-maker calling for ground troops, the anti-war demonstrations displayed nationalist "Yankee go home"-placards showing the map of Britain in the colours of the US flag.

On top of that, many of the Trotskyist sects supported the idea of Kosovan independence. Consequently, the focus of their "critique" was to accuse Nato of having "sat back and done nothing while the Kosovars have been systematically massacred and driven from their homes". By idealising the nationalist terrorists of the Kosovo Liberation Army as freedom fighters, by spelling out freedom as "nation state", these sects reinforced the fundamental ideology of national self-determination that dominates the conflict in the Balkans. The "independence for Kosova" Workers Aid for Kosova demands is the definite formula for further ethnic cleansing - this time against the Serbs, who are already now leaving Kosovo.


[1] Two characteristics of the direct action scene, though, make this failure no surprise. Firstly, it thinks in clear-cut moral oppositions: good vs. bad. Secondly, it is based on the expectancy of immediate effects of their action. Obviously, both things did not apply to the war since there were no "goodies" and no realistic perspective of ending the war through protests.