Monday, 2 September 2013

What I did during the war

A bit late for the ten year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War but ah well, better late than never.  This seems somewhat timely giving whats going on in Syria and the Tory-Lib Dem coalitions response to it.  Last week Cameron lost a major vote on mobilising for a British component to the inevitable American intervention was stopped.  We never got that far with Iraq, lets hope that we can actually Stop The War this time.

This was an interview by correspondence I conducted with an old friend from the University of Essex student movement, Gawain Williams for his dissertation.  It details the very small part I played in the anti-war movement.

What I Did During The War

Me at the demo against the labour party conference in 2006
What class, if any would you consider yourself to be a part of?  And what do you consider to be a class?
I think that the Marxist class categories reflect the reality of class better than the traditional British way of dividing things into Upper, Middle and lower/working class.  That said the British way reflects an ’Identity’ in terms of how people define themselves, which despite a more tenuous basis in social reality has a reality of its own.  Personally I find it very complicated to pin down a class for myself.  My Parents are from working class backgrounds but made good, my Dad is a classic baby Boomer, born 1947 and was among the first generation to benefit from free education.  Him and my Mum I’d argue are intelligensia, i.e. proletarian in regards to their relationship with the means of production but with their intellectual labour power being exploited rather than physical.  Aside from being a student I’ve only really had fairly menial jobs, white collar but essentially proletarian in terms of my relationship to what I produce and the means of production.

Anyway, you could make a good case for Middle or Working class depending on your definition, and if you really want to push it, Lower middle or Upper working class etc.
Are you a member of a Party or where you during you involvement in the anti war movement?
I have been in the Irish and British SWP.

Were you involved in any Anti War / Peace movements before the 2001 War on Terror began?

Were you involved in any other political activity before participating in anti war demonstrations?
I was at some of the earliest of the current crop of Anti-Capitalist demonstrations in Belfast back in 2000.  I also demonstrated over student issues when I was at the Belfast tech around the same time.
How were you involved in the Anti War Movement?
I attended and helped leaflet for protests in Ireland before I went to Colchester, George bush’s visit to Dublin in 2005, Shannon Airport protest in September the same year etc.  When I moved to Essex university campus to begin my masters degree I made it a priority to get involved with the Anti-War movement on Campus.  Along with Dominic Kevakeb I helped start the STWC branch on campus, I was involved in the stall and postering for the March 18th 2006 demonstration, which I also attended.
What motivated you to join the movement?
The feeling that something unutterably wrong was happening.  By the time of the war in Iraq I was a fairly well-versed Anti-Capitalist Marxist and I felt that it was the sort of thing I should have been involved in if I was serious about my beliefs.

Why did you attend speeches on the War? I.e. personal learning or meeting other activists?
 I wanted to learn the arguments so I could argue in my own right to convince other people we were right.  I wanted facts and data I could quote.  I try to talk to people that aren’t engaged and there are a lot of myths and misconceptions that are perpetrated through the media.  I don’t think in terms of conspiracy so much as institutional bias, though there is some deliberate misinformation floating about I would agree with Nick Davies assessment that it accounts for only about 5-10% of the bullshit.  Anyway, there is a wide barrier of crap between the average punters idea of whats happening and what is actually going on and I like to hear from the experts so I can build a few wrecking balls for that barrier.
Did / Do you Believe your actions would/ Will help end the War?
Not in the immediate short term but eventually, yes.

Do you think the anti war movement could have been more successful?
In the abstract sense that anything can always be better because there’s no such thing in reality as perfection, yes it could have been.  I mean we haven’t ended the war yet have we?  A prolonged general strike back in 2003 could have done it but the unions were in no shape for a fight like that.  I think the objective conditions have moved on and an industrial action in the event of an attack on Iran is looking lige a possibility.  Still you have to remember that the working class movement had had the last 20 years of having the shit kicked out of it.  That we achieved what we did was fantastic.
What were the most successful, and least successful activates you took part in?
Hard to quantify that sort of thing.  Most Successful was probably the stormont demo in 2007.  We took over the stand that was set up for the press and absolutely scared the bejesus out of the Stormont security people.  Least, well there were a couple of meetings that weren’t very well attended and ended up with just the usual suspects preaching to the converted.

Do you think that Colchester having a large military presence helped or hindered your actions in anyway?
I didn’t really do a lot of activism off campus in Colchester itself, so it wasn’t really an issue for me.

Do you see you involvement in the stop the war movement as distinctly separate from other political activates you’re involved in?
Well, yes and no.  Considering that when me and Dom (Dominic Kavakeb) arrived the SWSS branch was moribund, there wasn’t a STWC Soc. on campus and that was the first year of Student Respect, we more or less had to get everything up and running ourselves.  In my recollection everything did kind of blur into everything else.  That said, we were all aware that that isn’t how it was supposed to be, I remember Dom talking about getting different people to chair the different meetings because it was him doing a lot of the work.  Also, at any given time when we were actually doing stuff it was always a particular thing we were doing it for.  EG. If there was a stall there was always a load of stuff on the stall to say what the stall was about.  There were people who were involved in the Respect and STWC stuff who were from outside the party and wouldn’t have done anything for SWSS but would leaflet and poster with us for Anti-War stuff.  Alys wasn’t in the party at this point and would have done a lot of stuff with us for STWC, bringing materials up from London, and being with us on the stall.  Erkhan was another.  Adam used to confuse me, he was in the SP, allegedly he ran the SP in Campus, but he went to all the STWC meetings and seemed to be around a lot, I was actually under the mistaken impression that the SP were in Respect.

Do you discuss your involvement in the anti war movement with your family?
Yes a lot actually.  My Dad was politically engaged when he was my age, he’s still technically a member of the Workers Party, or so he says.  My Mum’s never been very political but it’s a big part of my life so its something we’d talk about.  Each of them have been on Anti-War marches in Belfast largely thanks to myself.

Are there any newspaper headlines concerning the war that you remember?
Nah, I don’t read the papers.
Did you find that social aspects of the anti war movement made involvement easier?
It was nice and all but I was never into the whole social side of it.  I suppose the best way to put it is that even if everyone else in the movement were a bunch of anti-social dicks I’d have done it anyway, so the social aspect was pure gravy.

Did the war effect your voting?
Not  really.

Did you attend anti war events on the campus?
Attended and helped run a few.

Did you attend any events outside of Colchester?
Yes, Colchester was one full year within an involvement over the last couple of years.

Did you carry out any political actions with people from the anti war moment that did not relate directly to the war/ i.e. anti racism / elections?
Yes, election work and work around local issues in Belfast

Would you still have been involved in / attended anti war meetings, lecture, and protests if the war had been carried out by the UN or NATO?
Yes.  In fact I expected at the time that the UN would go along with the Americans, that they didn’t just compounded my take on things, not swayed it.

Do you see the 1990-91 gulf war as distinctively different from the current occupation of Iraq?
Yes and no.  It’s all a part of the great game of America extending its global hegemony, however I see the two invasions as representing different stages in the project.

Were you involved in any protests against the 1990-91 Gulf war?
I remember shouting “Up Sadam” at a couple of Brits and running away when I was a kid.  Does that count?  LOL.  I remember my P6 teacher being very Gung-Ho and explaining the war to us.  I think I said something like “Aye but what about Isreal, they’ve done all sorts and America doesn’t go after them cause they’re all mates”.  I knew absolutely nothing about it, I think I’d heard that on TV and it sounded good, but it did the trick, his face went black and he started making half-arsed excuses and just not explaining things very well.

Stop the war coalition uses the term ‘war’ to encompass a number of issue such as the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan , torture in Guantanamo Bay detention camp, the occupation of Palestine , the Israeli military operation in Lebanon and government reactions to Iran.   What do you see as the main aims of the anti war movement?
To engage people.  The specific aims are to get the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and prevent any future wars with Iran.  Gitmo is obviously related to this.  Palestine and the Lebanon situation involve Israel, which is the central cause of instability in the Middle East and the central prop of American imperialism, on the basis of pure tactics you can’t have a lasting peace in the Middle East while the issue of Israel-Palestine is unresolved, so its definitely in there.

Religion was depicted as being important in the war on terror with George Bush even claiming to be on a mission from god. Did this interpretation of religion differ from you own and did it effect your involvement in the anti war movement?           
The notion of religion and how much religion itself is a problem or just the way conflict is expressed is a major question in how you approach the situation we had back home in Northern Ireland.  I had it fairly straight in my head that religion doesn’t create problems on it’s own well before the war.

Do you think technology played an important role in your participation?
Nah, if anything the internet is a distraction for activists IMO.  The fight is on the streets, sitting at home arguing with idiots online is fun but you never really win.

Did you continue working in the Anti war movement once you left Colchester?

Is there anything at all you would like to say about your involvement the campaigns?

Just that while we weren't able to Stop the War and the Respect Party, which came out of the Anti-War movement has hit some serious problems in the last year, I think it was all worth while.  If we hadn't done what we did I have no doubt that they would be in Iran now and threatening god only knows who else.

And that was the end of that.  Looking back on it there are not many answers to those questions that I would have changed, except that my cynicism of the Left and its flaws is better informed by experience, yet I do not consider my time around the movements to have been wasted, nor do I let cynicism over-rule my natural romantic/optimistic streak, and god knows I have had plenty of excuses to do so.

In retrospect the Iraq War was part of the testing process for our post-information technological revolution generation.  It was one we failed to some extent however to quote Finn The Human, failing is just the first step to getting really good at something.  I did a little for the movement, more than most but not as much as I should have.