Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hands off the People of Iran -and hands off these campaigners!

PRESIDENT Putin's visit to Tehran this week could deliver a much-needed shot across the bows of US neo-cons and warmongers whose answer to the bloody mess they have made in Iraq is to repeat the crime on a much bigger scale with war on Iran.

lt might at least give the British government second thoughts about following America's path to war again. We don't know if George Dubya is capable of thought or could tell where Iran is, or its difference from Iraq. But Gordon Brown did make his name for prudence.

It was the fall of the Soviet Union that gave Washington's neo cons the confidence that they could do as they liked. Together with crusading Christian fundamentalism and the powerful Zionist lobby it freed Republicans like Bush and Cheney from their traditional oil-interest concern for Arab opinion. Not that Washington's Saudi allies have minded too much seeing Iraq brought down, still less the prospect of dealing Iran a blow - provided America can get away with it. (It was to counter Iran in fact that the Saudis -as well as some US oil interests - initially backed the Taliban).

Russia's re-entry on to the Middle East scene owes more to geopolitics and perceived national self-interest than any ideological opposition to imperialism. (or sympathy for oppressed Muslims - anyone remember Chechnya?) It is nevertheless to be welcomed if it creates a counter-balance. And a shot across America's bows need not be a shot in the arm for President Ahmadinejad. On the contrary, his rule depends on people feeling threatened from outside and under siege, as much as on sustaining religious fervour and using brute repression when necessary.

The danger of war on Iran is due to be the main issue on the agenda of the Stop the War Coalition's conference on October 27. At least, it was. We might have expected a united stand, against aggression that could bring an all-round calamity. But that's reckoning without the genius of the Stop the War Coalition's leadership for self-inflicted injury.

On every big demonstration against the war in Iraq there have been Iranians marching, just as there have been Iraqi and Kurdish comrades, many of whom had experienced repression and exile because of their opposition to the Baathist regime. They did not wish to see their people suffering further misery and destruction from the same imperialist powers that once backed Saddam Hussein. Their presence was the answer to slanders from the pro-war liberals and Labourites who pretended you were either for the war or for Saddam Hussein, which is of course why the pro-war hacks ignored them.

Many of the Iranians similarly are left-wing comrades, of various political tendencies, who struggled under the Shah's tyranny, only to be robbed of their victory when the ayatollahs took over. Among those I've met is a former leader of the Iranian oilworkers' union, now a refugee in Britain. "We workers had the power," he lamented, remembering how they held the refineries when the Shah was overthrown, "but we let others take it from our hands". He saw this as a warning and a lesson for all. Not a reason to withdraw from the fight but for clear sighted working class leadership and thought in struggle.

In March 2005, a group of left-wing Iranian refugees set out from Birmingham to march to London where they joined the Stop the War demonstration. Their message was that they were against the Islamicist regime but also against war on their country. Along the way they were helped by anti-war activists but when they phoned the Stop the War office, to ask if they could have a speaker on the platform in Trafalgar Square they were asked what they thought of the Iranian government, and when they gave the obvious answer, told they could not speak. Later that year CND - which is part of the Coalition -had a speaker from the Iranian embassy.

Stop the War have said they had no record of the 'phone call that time, and claimed they did not know about the Iranians requesting to have a speaker. They certainly can't say this about the latest incident.

It was learned last week that the Stop the War Coalition had rejected applications to affiliate by two recently formed groups, Communist Students and Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI). Motions submitted by them for annual conference were thus ruled out of order. Two people nominated by Hands off the People of Iran, Yassamine Mather and Ben Lewis, are disbarred from standing for the steering committee.

Both organisations received e-mails from Andrew Murray, on behalf of the executive, telling them they were "entirely hostile to the Coalition, its policies and its work" and would not be allowed to participate in the StWC's AGM on October 27.

The founding declaration of Hands off the People of Iran says:
"No to imperialist war! No to the theocratic regime! We recognise that there is an urgent need to establish a principled solidarity campaign with the people of Iran. The contradictions between the interests of the neo-conservatives in power in the USA and the defenders of the rule of capital in the Islamic Republic has entered a dangerous new phase. US imperialism and its allies are intent on regime change from above and are seriously considering options to impose this - sanctions, diplomatic pressure, limited strikes or perhaps bombing the country back to the stone age

One might not like the style or agree with the formulation, but in what way is this perspective "hostile" to the aims and policies of the Stop the War Coalition? This broad alliance has ranged from Muslims to Maoists, from people shouting for "Victory to the Iraqi Resistance!" (as though we all knew what that was, and victories were won by shouting) through to those content with "bringing the troops home", and those who would have the occupation replaced by the UN. Would the Coalition really collapse if it included people openly opposed to the Iranian government? Particularly as Andrew Murray himself says he is against the "dictatorial regime".
Oddly enough, Communist Students had affiliated on September 19.
Yet now Andrew Murray is telling objectors that both it and HOPI cannot be admitted because they are mere "fronts" for the Communist Party of Great Britain (Weekly Worker) whose views have been "overwhelmingly rejected" by Stop the War conferences. But the CPGB remains in the Stop the War Coalition - unless expulsions are on the way. And if Andrew Murray is so confident that its policies would be rejected why are the Stop the War officers so bothered about keeping the two groups and their motions out?

If Hands off the People of Iran was really just set up as some devious CPGB stunt, they have been clever with it. The supporters' list includes some well-known figures whose standing in the anti-war, labour and progressive movements few would doubt (e.g.John Pilger, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, MPs John McDonnell and Harry Cohen, and Green MEP Caroline Lucas...). But more important, this initiative has the backing of serious Iran left-wingers like the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran, and Workers Left Unity Iran.

The people running the Stop the War Coalition might not like them. But they are nobody's stooges, they are not fronting for the CPGB, and they don't need lectures from Andrew Murray, a member of the Communist Party of Britain, nor from the erstwhile George Galloway fan club in the Socialist Workers Party, his allies on the Stop the War executive, about how to cope with Islamic reaction or "our duty" towards the people of Iran.

We have always rejected the slander from pro-war liberals that opposing the war in Iraq made us defenders of Saddam Hussein. Yet it is hard to believe that the people running Stop the War now recognise the difference between defending Iran and its people and defending the reactionary regime. Maybe they should pay attention to what Iranian comrades are saying instead of trying to shut them out for fear of confusing the rank and file - or upsetting certain dubious allies?

The Stop the War leadership is behaving like right-wing Labour, and worse, making up the rules as it goes along. Whatever we think of the CPGB, any nuisance it might cause is nothing compared to the damage that this exclusion could inflict. It is not too late too admit an error.

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