Stop the War Coalition - How could it have been different?

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JoeMaguire
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May 16 2007 16:43
Stop the War Coalition - How could it have been different?

A brief forray onto any chat board or forumn during the STWC marchs you will have been greeted with the summary of those defending A to B marches as a means to put pressure on the government and mobilise folk, usually a position adopted by the SWP and their fellow travellers, and those who thought the SWP was pursuing a policy which was leading everyone and everything down a blind alley. Even now those arguements still remain. Amoungst anarchists circles we have all kinds of injokes about how piss poor the STWC was in terms of gains, tactics and finally the collapse in numbers towards the end, while at the same time any chat I have with any SWPer always ends up in them praising what a great job they did mobilising people. I still think there are some ambiguities and some home truths that are commonly avoided by us when we talk about some of the anti-war stuff in the last few years.

I think the STWC achieved frankly little especially since there was so much energy and I feel a little sickened that Respect almost came into being at the same time. In the end the hacks and rewriters of history have tried to argue that such a mass mobilisation required a mass organisation at the backend of it all, well frankly Respect isnt it. And I cant look beyond the SWP using the whole war event as a platform to promote their liberal strain of trotskyism and a few of their leaders. However Im also stuck because Im unable to see beyond the SWP and look at a viable alternative. If they hadnt have organised something what would have filled its place?

Aside the SWP no left/libertarian/anti-war national group is significant enough in terms of numbers or credible enough. None of the federations or left groups grew significantly around this period, and there wasnt another organisation even in the same league as STWC from what I saw. People praise some of the tactics used at Fairford, fair do's, but is this localism and can appeal nationally to everyone? As a centralist organisation the SWP was able to respond with rapid speed and mobilise huge resources, who else could have done that? It was able to appeal to an audience outside and well beyond its own politics (even if it was diluting a little) and structure something as a pole of attraction (albiet with massive compromises).

Im sure events will fold out just the same again in the future and Im curious as to how exactly we go from living under the hegemony of a left sect to actually responding on a mass scale to the needs that capitalist society throws at us? Have we learnt lessons? Are we close to the benchmark?

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May 17 2007 17:16

Shit nobody wants to talk about it confused

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Devrim
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May 17 2007 17:19

I do, and your other thread. They are just quite big questions, and I am too busy to write about them at the moment.
Devrim

Mike Harman
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May 17 2007 17:42
Devrim wrote:
I do, and your other thread. They are just quite big questions, and I am too busy to write about them at the moment.
Devrim

yeah ditto.

Well I wasn't involved with anything at that time (although I'd read stuff and called myself an anarchist), and it was one of the marches where I met most of the current libcom group having posted on the predecessor to here for a while. I was a bit too old for the AYN though and didn't wear black hoodies either wink

I didn't get involved with any StWC stuff but the only alternative I was able to find other than them at that time was the Disobedience! lot. I went to one meeting with a mate, wich was a mixture of paranoid and exclusionary, then managed to go to the Old Street roundabout protest organised by the same group by accident - I knew about it in advance, forgot when it was, then walked into the middle of it on my way home from work (I used to get off at old street then a bus or long walk). Some of my friends (poltiical, but not 'political friends') had turned up there on purpose. I arrived about two minutes before the police penned half the people in, and ended up walking 'round in the road circles with another non-masked up mate.

Both of those I think show there was some momentum which could've been channeled in a more positive direction, but neither the StWC nor groups like Disobedience were going to do that

Some peole here were involved with http://www.geocities.com/nowar_buttheclasswar/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_War_But_The_Class_War right?. How did that go?

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May 17 2007 17:55

I knew that the protests were not going to work but my girlfriend at the time made me go.

It's hard to say what else could have been achieved because stopping the government would have required massive action. I think the best thing to do would have been to begin putting out propaganda as the movement collapsed and petered out. So that instead of feeling defeated and abandoning politics people would have an alternative. something along the lines of "Why the government didn't listen to you and what you can do in the future."

Mike Harman
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May 17 2007 18:06
jef costello wrote:
I knew that the protests were not going to work but my girlfriend at the time made me go.

It's hard to say what else could have been achieved because stopping the government would have required massive action. I think the best thing to do would have been to begin putting out propaganda as the movement collapsed and petered out. So that instead of feeling defeated and abandoning politics people would have an alternative. something along the lines of "Why the government didn't listen to you and what you can do in the future."

I was thinking along similar lines - like a "if you're serious about stopping the war, or "why this march won't work"" leaflet. Maybe someone did one at the time and we don't know about it though.

David in Atlanta
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May 18 2007 05:10

we've had the same circular discussions over here too. I defend the classic much maligned march n' rally as a form of public expression for people who can't for whatever reason take part in more "militant" mass action, as a grand opportunity to give away or sell literature and run into friends from other areas. That's really all they're good for, but thats no small thing really. Trot wankers, who tend to organize them or should i say "build" them,
roll eyes can never just say "come to washington, or london, trade lit, listen to music, talk to your mates, enjoy!", they've deluded themselves into thinking that the mass marches in DC ended the Vietnam War, ffs, and hence take such events far more seriously than they deserve.

plunky
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May 18 2007 08:57

A few personal observations - I have been involved with a local STW group for several years.
1. The SWP have little to do with organising stuff locally. There is one SWP who attends meeting sometimes - meeting which usually has 8-10 people. They used to swamp meeting to get their ideas through sometimes but we put in a limit of 2 people from any one group.
What they (the SWP) do is to have mass paper sales etc outside public meeting and before the coach leaves so many people think that they are actively involved. At the last public meeting they had people from over 100 miles away to help them with paper sales / promoting Marxism.
2. They have not been such leeches as the local Green Party who initially claimed to be actively involved but one person turned up once. Then they slagged us off in the local press for being dominated by the SWP - which we are not.
3. I have occasionally worked with people from National STW in organising demos. Most of them were not SWP - or were keeping it very very quiet.

So I think it may be wrong to assume the STW is a front for the SWP. This has happened in other campaigns before where anarchists have turned and LET the organisation be taken over by the SWP rather than stop them. I think the local STW group is only going so well because people have not been scarred off by the SWP.

National Stop the War do organise marches that just wonder round asking Tony Blair to be nice and to stop killing people. However, it does provide an opportunity to get more people involved. For many people on the coaches it is a big step going to a demonstration - it is not a distraction which is stopping them from jumping over the fence at their local USAF base and trying to stop the planes taking off. However, it can be a first step in them getting more involved and perhaps taking more direct action. This will not happen unless they meet people who are already actively involved.

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May 18 2007 08:59

AYN did one saying that marches weren't enough, we had to take direct action which would inflict economic damage. Strikes, blockades and riots basically.

That marches in themselves don't change anything isn't a reason not to go. Any more powerful social movement would still have mass marches as a part of it, and certainly as a build-up too.

As for could things have been different... well no I don't think so. But I think better organised libertarian communist intervention could have helped instill a better sense of lessons that could be learned for the future.

And the STWC leadership (the SWP), which transformed the entire movement into an electoral "slingshot" for Respect sabotaged it heavily. After they mobilised 2million people for the demonstration I think it's likely they could have inspired more militant action if they had called and argued for it. But then they were never going to. More organised intervention in the movement from us could have put pressure on them, but we're too small really I think.

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May 18 2007 09:04
plunky wrote:
However, it can be a first step in them getting more involved and perhaps taking more direct action.

i don't doubt that, it was for me. but the STWC deliberately organised central london demos to clash with fairford (which had 5-10k despite this) after the war had started and it was obvious it wasn't going to be any bigger than Feb 15th. locally the SWP failed to take over the anti-war group because of the sheer number of new people getting involved and some well organised anarchists encouraging said people to participate regularly, but they did try and set up a rival splinter organisation which also failed to gain much momentum. i'm meant to be writing this stuff up for the library actually, got some good pics/newspaper front pages of brighton demos

plunky
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May 18 2007 09:31

One action that was quite successful was to have a peace camp at a local base when it was being used to transport stuff to Israel.
The amount of local support surprised us - some of the young people used to come and sit round the camp fire in the evening (we no-drugs/no-alcohol policy) and later set up a local youth group. Some local people came and camped with us and several of them later got involved in direct action.
It was a good way of reaching out to people and got quite a bit of local media coverage - will have to do it again sometime.

Salvoechea
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May 18 2007 09:33

This is one of the most important topics on organization to deal with. How we organize ourselves to cope with these organized groups (stalinists, trotskists, green reformists, political parties, churches...) that want to control a social movement. My experience is that here in Spain, anarchists usually leave the unitary movements in hands of these groups when they feel there is a plan to control that movement. We don't have good tactics, we lack of strategies, we have a diffuse objective. Finally social movements fall in hands of these organised groups.

They have an objective: controlling the movement for their purposes.
tactics: controlling / manipulating assemblies, diffamation, propaganda, puppet leaders...
strategies: controlling the public means of movements (papers, speakers, booksales)

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May 18 2007 09:40

good Aufheben article on the UK anti-war movement:
http://libcom.org/aufheben/aufheben-12-2004/a-phenomenal-anti-war-movement

bastarx
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May 18 2007 10:53
John. wrote:
As for could things have been different... well no I don't think so. But I think better organised libertarian communist intervention could have helped instill a better sense of lessons that could be learned for the future.

I agree with this.

However much better a job 'we' could have done within the antiwar movement the enormous task of stopping a major war before it started was never going to be undertaken by a working class with little recent experience of mass struggle. Plus the fact that a lot of people on the marches seemed to be marching more to assuage their guilt over what 'their' govt was about to do rather than with any realistic expectation that the war could be stopped.

streathamite
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May 18 2007 13:12

given that the acid test of its' success is 'what would have stopped Bush and Blair going to war, then I can only think of one thing - getting people to write to their MP to inform them that if they failed to oppose the war, the writer would vote against them at the next election, and even then it would need to be a huge campaign, as both men were hellbent on this war

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May 18 2007 13:25
streathamite wrote:
given that thye acid test of its' success is 'what would have stopped Bush and Blair going to war, then I can only think of one thing - getting people to write to their MP to inform them that if they failed to oppose the war, the writer would raise a mob, burn down their office and string them up from a lamp post

fixed wink

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May 18 2007 14:01

I don't mind wars to be honest. I tell you what though, a few people I talk to only object to it on the grounds that “Blair lied”, or that Iraq was militarily weak. In the end the Stop the War Coalition failed as a matter of mathematical inevitability given the logic of collective action – which basically means that a large group won’t act in its best interests unless its members have incentives or compulsion beyond the collective goal of the group.

Caiman del Barrio
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May 18 2007 16:34

Surely the best way to have stopped the Iraqi war (given that industrial action wasn't really a possibility) would have been the physical prevention of war materials being transported over there. This could have included picketing army recruitment centres, blockading airbases, garrisons etc.

Mike Harman
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May 18 2007 16:42

I don't think there's any way the war would have been stopped at that time unless circumstances had been different. However, the experiences people had could have been a lot more positive, and more learned from it to stop similar things happening in the future. That many of us came into active politics around that time makes it hard to know what we as individuals could've done differently with hindsight.

Maybe we should discuss what we'd do differently now. Obviously the war is still ongoing, but not the momentum. If something was to happen in Iran, or maybe a massive mobilisation back into Afghanistan (or Iraq at a later date after some kind of withdrawal), then there might be mass marches etc. and a resurgence in activity. That assumes people haven't been completely put off by the state of the StWC and wouldn't bother this time 'round.

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May 18 2007 18:50
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This could have included picketing army recruitment centres, blockading airbases, garrisons etc.

That wouldn’t have stopped the war anymore than picketing London Docks in 1926 was able to maintain the general strike.

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Maybe we should discuss what we'd do differently now.

Well, I don’t want to sound funny, but as long as your group goal is to “Stop The War” then you’ve not got any option but to repeat the same cycle of behaviour. The methods available follow from the primary ideological position. There really is nothing you can do, because in the end, the great mass of people are either in support of or indifferent to the war, not through disinformation, but through aesthetic preference. They’ll certainly be more likely to support a war that communists are a priori against, most communists won’t even consider the case for war on principle.

It astonishes me what an appalling job the Labour Party has done managing the war. Thatcher would never have allowed such a public relations disaster. She’d have had Page 3 girls putting out in the Streets of Baghdad to the cheers of the Iraqi population. Gotcha!

Terry
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May 18 2007 20:24

Forming an alternative pole either within or without the STWC (I would favour without) would involve two things: (1) seeing what the immediate needs for a way forward are and forming a broad network around that, eg of all groupings or individuals in favour of direct action or horizontal organisation or both
(2) getting in there first, organising the first public meetings, getting your broad organisation together before the SWP dominated front.

(1) Would involve uniting with liberals, some Trots, pacifists, 'activists', etc.. and maybe there isn't the stomach for that.

The anti-war movements did have some positive impact, in fairness London and Washington are not escalating like they could and should and it isn't cause they are military weak. However such movements are pretty tenuous things, partially media driven, mobilisations emphemeral - everyone comes out before the event when there seems some point to it, less people as the issue becomes more complicated. Didn't the same thing happen with the big protests against Cruise in the 80s.

I think the anti-war movement had some positive impact here in Ireland, in terms of movement building, but nonetheless I would question the point of it - ultimatly doesn't helping build up a big palaver around objectives you know are unrealisable mean that what you are doing is helping to innoculate the idea there is no point, there is nothing we can do about it etc.... as big protest campaign after big protest campaign goes down to defeat.
I suspect this doesn't matter to that Swappers because they have an instrumental approach and want to recruit and demonstrate the need for radical change, we on the other hand should want to build confidence, combativity, and self-organisation, don't think that is the way to go about doing that.
Nonetheless if a big anti-war movement is gonna be happening anyways it makes sense to organise in such a fashion that there is a strong radical current as part of it I guess.

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May 19 2007 01:05
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I suspect this doesn't matter to that Swappers because they have an instrumental approach and want to recruit and demonstrate the need for radical change, we on the other hand should want to build confidence, combativity, and self-organisation, don't think that is the way to go about doing that.

Indeed. It certainly doesn't hurt to have a win once in a while...and you aren't going to do that by picking unwinnable targets.

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May 19 2007 10:51

Correct, though I’m not sure if it’s merely a question of strategy. Adopting the idea of targets is, as you say, key – but the targets revolutionaries hold in common are not those of the working class either as individuals or as a group. We continue to operate on the grand scale (against this-or-that abstracted historic suffering) and not on the level of the real existence and values of working class people.

Then, even if we hold a strategy in common, we hit the problems inherent in developing the effective collective action of large groups supplying public goods.

So, theoretically, we remain some way away from picking winnable targets.

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May 20 2007 00:09
Lazy Riser wrote:
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This could have included picketing army recruitment centres, blockading airbases, garrisons etc.

That wouldn’t have stopped the war anymore than picketing London Docks in 1926 was able to maintain the general strike.

Am I take it you've moved on from the Reich biography to an illustrated history of the General Strike then?

And to me, if the intention was to stop the war, then the only way to do so would be to physically stop the process of war preparation. This is predicated on a figure near the size of those who marched through London being prepared to prevent planes taking off I suppose. It's also predicated on war machinery still being in the UK and not stationed in Saudi and the Middle East.

dom
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May 20 2007 04:05

Thought I'd post quickly to try and make things more interesting. So whilst everyone is agreed on the fact the big marches wernt going to stop the war no one is able to come up with any better way of doing things. Anyone who does assumes the marches as a background for organising that. So surely this idicates the big marches were good but the war could never have been stopped. How can you build a mass movement without massive marches?

Quick question for everyone. If the AF or whatever organisation/ non organisation you are part of had had say 5,000 members nationally what should have that group done that the swp didnt.

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May 20 2007 06:37

not actively sabotaging fairford as 'elitist' wouldn't have hurt

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May 20 2007 10:58

I was involved in the various incarnations of No War But The Class War. Which achieved very little overall, and after initial activities coming from the momentum of the group forming, soon settled into an intellectual chinwag. Some of the leaflets were OK, a couple of actions were gd - picketing an oil depot, talking to the workers (1st Gulf War); spontaneously taking to the West End streets, blocking roads and making noise when going to war was officially announced in the media just as a NWBTCW meeting began(2nd GW). But there was always 2 poles - the direct actionists (RTS etc types) who just wanted to reproduce spectacular colourful protest actions, as if they already had all the answers as to what needed to be done and so didn't need to question any of their own limited assumptions - and those ideologues hoping to just reduce everything to an intellectual ball game. Those who wanted a considered practice/praxis were stuck as a minority between the 2.

The massive 2 million or whatever demo was remarkable for its passivity - if, e.g., a govt building had been occupied that would have been something at least. It was a real triumph for democratic liberalism - almost as if everyone was saying 'we've done our bit as good concerned citizens, now we can go home with a clear conscience'. In that light, I found the very size of it depressing. As far as building social movements, such events arguably function for most as an avoidance of such commitment - much like voting relieves one of responsibility by delegating your potential social power to politicians.

To think a demo could stop a war is obviously naive, and their outcome probably encourages resignation. But, yes, a social movement that had a local presence in people's daily lives would eventually also manifest itself in larger 'national' demos. But possibly the overwhelming unprecedented size of the 2m one and its lack of effect helped kill off any potential for widescale local-based anti-war movements. Cart before the horse, maybe. But given the low level of collective struggle in people's own lives in this period, no surprise really.

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May 20 2007 12:18
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How can you build a mass movement without massive marches?

By providing incentive or compulsion beyond the group objective.

Dundee_United
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May 20 2007 14:08

I've thought about this intensely since; the 15th of February was the most depressed I've ever been about humanity. It's kind of a hopeless question. You had hundreds of thousands of people whose opposition to the war was only paper thin, whose racism/orientalism was only tempered by an Oxfamesque pointless apologia to not be too nasty when butchering gollywog. It was really grim stuff. A mass movement composed of such fuckers was never going to stop the war. Lazy is in fact mostly right on this question - most 'opposers' of the war were acting on aesthetics, most supporters of the war were similarly motivated. Neither made their decision on principles.

It was really peculiar - we went from Justice Not War Coalition committee meetings of 20 people to this absurdly large mobilisation, which was advertised in the Herald and the List as the 'in-thing' to be on. It was not dissimilar in that sense from the equally appalling G8 mobilisations.

The real criminals of the whole thing though I'd argue were not the SWiPs who made their positions relatively clear, and had no interest in actually opposing the war beyond as a means of recruitment, but the SSP.

If Tommy Sheridan had wanted to he could have sparked a wave of civil disobience and industrial action. Instead the consistent message of the SSP, which was at the forefront of everything in Scotland during this time and had mass backing for its stance, was electoral. These bastards must have know that they could have got hundreds more 'Motherwell train drivers' but it would have landed them a 6 month jail sentence and fucked their chances of mobilising herald readers to vote for them, as it stands they ended up with 6 seats in parliament... What a fucking waste. I blame Sheridan and others personally for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis.

Britain's role in the war could have been stopped if there had been just one socialist figure with any conviction. That would have been all it would have taken to halt Blair's war and bring down the government, which was hugely weak at that time. As it stands without a prominent figure calling for this some of this actual resistance happened anyway. Imagine the difference the public backing of a Sheridan could have made. He'd have been made a John MacLean figure, ensuring loyalty to him, and have stopped the UK's role in the war - he'd have lost the greeno-libdem scum but it could have made a huge difference. Don't forget Sheridan is big mates with Bob Crow and that the RMT affiliated to the SSP near this time.

[ On a side note: On 15th of February, anarchists organised through the anarcho-scots email list handed out just over 20,000 leaflets entitled "strike while the iron is hot", arguing the case for civil disobediance and industrial action against the war]

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May 20 2007 17:30

It's funny how the only people who think that leftist organizations have any real influence on mass movements are leftists and right-winged nutters. Last week a local right-winged weekly (which is sold where I work) had the following to say about a big student protest in Jerusalem:

"More than a thousand students in red T-shirts came to protest the intent to raise tuition. Some of them wore shirts with the hammer-and-sickle symbol of the communist regime, thus further raising suspictions that anarchist groups have joined forces with the student struggle, and may have even taken control of it."

(note that in Israel, communists are almost always people related to the CPI and the Soviet Union; the notion of non-Bolshevik communists is foreign to most people here)

This week, a summary of an exposé they had about the student protest (which is now entering its second month) talked about how it's being run by the nasty communists and anarchists!!!11oneone. However, reading the article itself, you see that, although the biggest picture has some knobhead waving a flag with a picture of Lenin on it, the only mention of anything backing that claim up is the final paragraph, which refers to "the police" and "some activist;" most of the article has to do with investigating why the current head of the National Student Union is going on with this strike, and cites better sources.

As to anti-war coalitions, as I've said before, the obvious lack of influence of protests stages by such amalgams was one of the reasons I got to libcom in the first place. And, in any case, what we call "peace" can be just as violent as what we call "war," as any union activist in Egypt can probably tell you.

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May 20 2007 22:19
Salvochea wrote:
This is one of the most important topics on organization to deal with. How we organize ourselves to cope with these organized groups (stalinists, trotskists, green reformists, political parties, churches...) that want to control a social movement.

Worthy of several threads by itself. I cant think that there should be any hard or fast rules but if theres room to manouevre or the politics are very dilute then it can be easy sticking around. The only problem there is your activity is parasitic. The way fronts are managed is generally like a liberal dictatorship, whereby anyone trying to raise class arguements tends to get shouted down by Trots who want appeal to others, sanity sometimes didnt allow me too much involvement with STWC.

Having read the Aufheben article Joesph K posted I think it rightly points out that we were stuck between a rock and hard place because on one hand there was mounting political tension because the ruling class hadnt agreed on a course of action and on the other hand we had STWC wanting to mobilise everyone possible. So Dundee_United is right to say the mobilisations were sad and paper thin, but Im unsure why hes vesting so much time in the SSP.

Possibly the best we could have hoped for given the circumstances was to raise class questions and try and force a concious link between economic action being the answer to stopping the war, but I think were starting almost from square one on those questions. But theres still a few points that Im unclear on, if we had a repeat of the same events; would organised anarchists/communists organise nationally along the lines of STWC? If strike action wasnt possible would we promote national actions against army bases or work within our localities? In terms of output where should the focus have been, propaganda, direct action or mobilisations?