Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Grand Coalition

The formation of a trans-atlantic left-right anti-war coalition is an urgent priority. Here's my piece from the new edition of The American Conservative www.amconmag.com

Grand Coalition
The Left and Right can- and should- join together against military adventurism
By Neil Clark

"What is lacking today is a permanent, populist, broad-based political force to challenge the worldview of the serial globalizers and the advocates of endless war. The Peace Party can be that force. The global crisis we face today makes the old Left-Right arguments over public ownership and tax rates irrelevant. Let's have those debates later, but first let's get rid of those who threaten us with Armageddon."

In March 2003, on the eve of the war against Iraq, I wrote in these pages of the urgent need for a permanent left/ right alliance to challenge the dominance of the warmongers who have seized control of the government and opposition parties on both sides of the Atlantic.

The response to my article, an Anglicised version of which later appeared in the British left-wing weekly The New Statesman, took me completely by surprise. I was inundated with emails and letters of support and questions as to how such an alliance could be bought about.

The idea for a new left-right ‘Peace Party’ first came to me after attending the big anti-war demonstration in London in September 2002- and then reading an article by Stuart Reid in the Guardian, six weeks later. Reid, deputy editor of the London Spectator, occasional contributor to Chronicles and The American Conservative and self-confessed hard-core paleo, wrote of ‘feeling a little unloved’ after attending the largest anti-war demonstration in Britain’s history. ‘The organisers boasted that the event had attracted men and women from all walks of life’ he wrote ‘teachers, social workers, trade unionists, students and members of the Muslim community. There was no suggestion that among the 400,000 or so who turned up there were also soldiers, lawyers, civil servants, gentlemen farmers, quantity surveyors, bookie's runners, sub postmistresses, self-employed plumbers, or - heaven forbid - Telegraph Group journalists. As far as the organisers were concerned, this was a respectable leftwing gig’. Having marched alongside Stuart Reid and other anti-war conservatives that day, I knew exactly what he meant. It really did seem as if the march’s left-wing organisers had been taken by surprise at just how widespread opposition to the war in Iraq was.

Attending the march- and the later one in February 2003, convinced me that we were witnessing the first, unofficial steps towards a new political realignment: the emergence of a cross-party, radical new peace movement- which consisted not just of the ‘usual suspects’- but of true-blue conservatives and establishment figures too. But how could we make the alliance a reality?

After hours of discussions with like-minded friends from across the political spectrum, a ‘Regime Change UK Conference’ was organised for May 2003. The Conference’s aim was ‘to unite all those who challenge the world view of the advocates of endless war’ and to ‘discuss ways of achieving democratic, meaningful regime change in the UK’ . Over two hundred invitations were sent out, but getting prominent anti-war figures from both left and right either to sign up to our draft declaration did not prove easy. The Times columnist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris wrote to say that although he was interested in our plan, he ‘just didn’t sign joint declarations’; Tariq Ali and Harold Pinter both failed to respond. Campaigning journalist John Pilger sent us his best wishes, but unfortunately could not attend as he was out of the country filming, while military historian Correlli Barnett also sent us a generous message of support.

In the end, less than fifty people attended the London conference, but it still proved a stimulating event. Among the speakers, veteran peace campaigner Dr James Thring talked of the illegal nature of the war in Iraq; William Spring, of ‘Christians against NATO Aggression’ on the way both Blair and Bush had misappropriated the Christian message, Adolfo Olaechea, a London-based human rights campaigner on the need to attract the support of the Britain’s traditional conservative establishment, while I spoke of the challenge of countering the disproportionate influence of the war lobby in the British and American media.

We went away from the conference in high spirits: at least a start had been made. Our spirits rose even higher when we saw that the idea for a new realignment seemed to be gaining support on both sides of the Atlantic. ‘Those who want to save the country, whatever party they are now trapped in, should begin, now, to consider the formation of a new movement that will give voice to the millions who look from one corner of the House of Commons to another, but can see hardly anyone who understands their fears or knows their needs’ declared Peter Hitchens, the authentic voice of British conservatism, in the Mail on Sunday, one month later.

Across the pond, websites like antiwar.com and Counterpunch were also starting to sing from the same hymn sheet. ‘A few principled leftists realize that they need to broaden the appeal of the movement to oppose the war and that the only reliable allies they can hope for come from the anti-interventionist Right’, argued anti-war‘s Justin Raimondo; “If the left can ever reach out to this [populist, antiwar] right,… we’ll have something.” was the view of Counterpunch’s Alexander Cockburn.

The move towards a historic left-right realignment, though gathering momentum in cyberspace was still not reflected in the official anti-war movement. In Britain, Stop the War had done an excellent job in getting the people on the streets in the two big pre-war demonstrations, but under the influence of groups such as the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party seemed reluctant to take the next logical step. The Respect Party, founded by renegade left-wing politician George Galloway in 2004 after his expulsion from the Labour Party, also failed to achieve a breakthrough. Instead of pitching his appeal as widely as possible, to transcend class, race and political affiliation, Galloway instead went for the Muslim inner city: a strategy that provided him with a seat in Parliament at the last General Election and a launch-pad for a lucrative media career, but that failed to make Messrs Perle, Frum, and Feith lose too much sleep. Last year though, there were encouraging signs that Stop the War, were beginning to grasp the need for a radical new departure. The group’s Chairman, Andrew Murray wrote to me to ask if I would be able to help find two or three conservative anti-war speakers for the anti-war rally planned for that September.

Only bad luck prevented us from pulling it off. Former Minister of Defence Lord (Ian) Gilmour injured his back at home and was unable to take part, Dr John Laughland, Trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group and a regular contributor to this magazine was away on his honeymoon, while Peter Hitchens, although in principle in favour of a new realignment, had reservations about the pro-multicultural nature the event- and its attempt to link the anti-war struggle with the issue of Palestine.

Also in 2005, there was an exciting new development in Boston: the formation of the Anti-War League, with its mission ‘to mobilise opponents from every corner of the political spectrum against the plans of our Republicrat rulers for perpetual war’. The League, under its energetic organiser Doug Fuda, has plans to set up chapters across America and campaigns not just for the return of U.S. troops from Iraq, but for the dismantling of what it calls the ‘highly centralised war-making power of the federal government’. Of similar mind, San Fransisco’s Stephen Pender, writing in Antiwar.com, argued that the Anti-Imperialist League, formed in opposition to the US aggression against The Philippines in 1898, could be the blueprint for a new cross-party anti-war movement. ‘One can begin to see the outlines of a movement in which ordinary persons of conscience from left, center, and right can coalesce around specific issues against the neocons." he wrote.

As we pass the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it is time to bring all these new, positive approaches and ideas, under the umbrella of one, trans-Atlantic organisation. In time, the group can extend to other countries and become a truly international anti-war movement, but first and foremost the most pressing task is to reclaim our own democracies- in Britain and the US- as it is our governments, not those of Belgium, Bolivia or Thailand which pose the greatest threats to peace today. The Peace Party would not be a party in the traditional sense of the term, (it would not put candidates forward for public office) but a high-profile pressure group where all opponents of war would feel at home- regardless of their views on abortion, public ownership, fox-hunting or capital punishment. Affiliated groups or organisations would be able to keep their own identity and individual programmes, but would agree to co-operate on a mutually agreed set of common principles.

The principles would I suggest, be the following: the rejection of all forms of imperialism, whether they fly under a military, financial or human rights banner; opposition to the international rule of money power and global corporate governance; support for the rule of international law, national sovereignty and the principles of the U.N. Charter; opposition to the War Party’s attempts to curtail our age-old civil liberties under the pretext of ‘The War on Terror ’and last, but certainly not least- our rejection of war as a method of solving international disputes.

For anyone agreed with most of these points -whether a disciple of Ayn Rand or Karl Marx, Russell Kirk or Tony Benn, Jesus Christ or Mahatma Gandhi, the Dali Lama or Lew Rockwell- the Peace Party would be a home.

‘A Left-Right alliance of viscerally antiwar liberals and nationalist “America First” conservatives will naturally evolve over time as the horrible consequences of this war come home to roost: they will find themselves moving ineluctably toward one another, in program if not in spirit. The only problem is that, by that time, it will be too late’ wrote Justin Raimondo in 2003. With those who planned the disastrous invasion of Iraq, now clamouring for what would be an even more calamitous military confrontation with its more powerful neighbour, it’s still not too late for us to make a difference. For the sake of the vast majority of decent, peace-loving citizens in the US and Britain-and the millions of people throughout the world threatened by the aggressive actions of our governments- let’s finally make it happen.

neilclark6@hotmail.com

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