Democracy and war

Submitted by AWL on 22 February, 2003 - 9:03

Not in our name

The anti-war demonstrators on 15 February were marching against Bush's and Blair's war plans, but also against the shutting-down of democracy by deception and manipulation, the transformation of politics into a business transacted between think-tanks, advisers, bureaucrats, spin-doctors and the billionaire media.

Tony Blair has refused a parliamentary vote on the war. Last year one Labour MP, Graham Allen, was driven to talk of hiring a hall in Westminster so that MPs could at least meet unofficially to discuss the war.

In the run-up to the Afghanistan war, the British government emphasised that it was a one-off and that they opposed further war against Iraq. Then Blair supported war.

Bush's and Blair's official reason for war has been to remove Iraq's dangerous "weapons of mass destruction". Their supposedly sensational evidence of the danger turns out to have been plagiarised in large part from an old student thesis. The US administration's real motivation for war now is probably in fact the exact opposite of what they say: they reckon that Saddam Hussein has a weak arsenal just now, and so a war to remove him can be won relatively easily.

Under pressure of the anti-war movement, Blair has started to suggest that the real reason for war is to help the peoples of Iraq get rid of the tyranny of Saddam. At the same time the Government says that Saddam can remain untouched, however tyrannical, so long as he disposes of his larger military weapons. The US administration lets it be known that its plan for post-war Iraq is to take over the Ba'athist power structure intact, with a US military governor and US officials above it, supervising each ministry. The US's vital ally, Turkey, emphasises that it will not stand for any large autonomy for Iraq's Kurds after the war.

Dishonesty, deception, hypocrisy, utter lack of accountability. There may be war even without a second UN Security Council resolution.

A UN vote won't make war right

A UN Security Council mandate for war would change none of the rights and wrongs of the issue. France has large business dealings with Saddam's regime, especially through its oil multinational, Total. That is why it does not want war. If there is war, France wants to be on the winning side, so that its business contracts do not perish together with Saddam. That is why it may well back Bush in the end.

It is all a question of what sort of deal Bush and Chirac can make. The French people will have no say in it.

French imperialism is not a valid arbiter of war and peace. France is guilty of more neo-colonial meddling, especially in Africa, than any other ex-colonial power. Through its policies and alliances over the years, it bears a large part of the moral responsibility for the massacres in Rwanda.

A democratic world government is a good idea, but the United Nations is not it. The UN General Assembly? It will certainly have no say. And it is not a democratic forum. Its votes give the smallest UN member state as much weight as China, India or the USA. The General Assembly is less weighted towards the richer states than the Security Council is, but many of the poorer countries' representatives are even less accountable to their populations than the richer countries', and use their General Assembly vote largely as a diplomatic token, to be given to whatever big power they currently want concessions from.

Capitalist democracy is always limited. It is most limited of all in the most drastic questions of war and peace. Lenin was right: the essence of the state is "armed bodies of men and women". Whatever concessions the ruling class give to the labour movement and to democracy in other areas, they make sure that the deployment of those armed bodies remains the preserve of the elite.

Only the trade unions, the labour movement, the organised working class, can stop this war, or cut the roots of war more generally, by deploying their power to paralyse capital. But the labour movement can rouse itself sufficiently to stop war only if it is also leading a broader fight for democracy and rallying vast numbers of unorganised workers and middle-class people around itself.

For democracy, against war

We propose a four-point programme for democracy.

1. Insist on a full parliamentary debate and parliamentary vote before any decision to go to war.

2. Since parliamentary democracy is so limited and trammelled, we should also insist on a referendum vote before any decision to go to war.

We call for a parliamentary vote, even though the probable parliamentary majority for war would not make us abandon our own opposition to war. In the same way, we call for a referendum vote - the widest possible debate by and consultation of the electorate, on such a vital and clear-cut question - even though a referendum majority for war would only make us redouble our efforts to turn opinion against war.

In Australia, the Green party Senator Bob Brown has already raised the call for a referendum. The revolutionary socialists in the USA in the late 1930s, after some debate among themselves, campaigned for a proposal to write the requirement for a referendum before war into the US constitution. Leon Trotsky explained: "The referendum is not our programme but it's a clear step forward; the masses show that they wish to control their Washington representatives. We say: it's a progressive step that you wish to control your representatives. But you have your illusions and we will criticise them. At the same time we will help you realise your programme". (Discussions on the Transitional Programme, 22 March 1938).

3. Democracy is more than votes. A lively, effective democracy requires that the majority - the working class - can create a political voice of its own, rather than being confined to choices between different alternatives handed down by the upper classes. The blurred, muffled voice that the British working class had through the Labour Party has been largely silenced by Tony Blair's transformation of Labour into "New Labour".

Some union leaders have already called for the recall of the TUC to discuss the war; John McDonnell MP and Mick Rix of the train drivers' union ASLEF have called for the Labour Party conference to be recalled to debate both the war and the FBU dispute.

The rank and file of the labour movement should have its say! Union activists should campaign for their unions to demand a recall Labour Party conference, and, if the New Labour machine blocks the demand, to convene a "Real Labour" conference of their own.

Such a conference should and probably would declare no confidence in Blair, and call for a new Labour leadership election. The Labour and trade union left should promote a clear candidate of its own in such an election, instead of backing Gordon Brown (just as pro-war, just as anti-union, as Blair) or a compromised candidate like George Galloway.

The larger question is to rebuild independent working-class representation in politics, to create a new workers' party. A recall "Labour" conference called by the unions, which the New Labour hierarchy refused to recognise, could be a springboard for that. The slogan of a new Labour Representation Committee has new life in current circumstances. So does the argument that we should aim for a workers' government, as our alternative to both Blair and the Tories.

4. Above and beyond the immediate demands - parliamentary debate, referendum, recall TUC and Labour Party - socialists and trade-union activists should advance a comprehensive programme for remaking democracy.

The "Royal Prerogative" is still a powerful factor, not only giving the monarchy reserve powers in a crisis, but day-to-day giving the Prime Minister, selected by the monarch and acting with almost-monarchic authority, effective domination over Parliament.

The Government should be elected by and daily accountable to an elected, single-chamber Parliament. Abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords! Parliament should be subject to frequent fixed-term elections (yearly or every two years), and members subject to recall by their electors. Democracy should be underpinned by genuine freedom of information, which must include democratic control of and guaranteed pluralism in the mass media.

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