Communism Against the War Drive

Image - Time to co-ordinate the class struggle resistance to imperialist war

Intervention or Monasticism?

RP26 carried details of CWO’s participation in the Sheffield No War But the Class War group and our attempts to build a strong co-ordination around opposition to the war drive based on the politics of class struggle.

The Sheffield group held a meeting July 13th on the basis of the declaration (in Box 1 below) which had been originally issued by the London No War But the Class War group late in 2001.

At the demonstration in London on September 28th, CWO militants intervened with our own literature and assisted with the distribution of the Sheffield NWBtCW leaflet (in Box 2 below). Critical elements around the demonstration were receptive to both sets of literature, with RP26 selling particularly well, and the Sheffield NWBtCW participation also attracting favourable comments from a number of individuals in and around the event who were expressly critical of the popular-frontist alliance of liberal-pacifists, religious demagogues and Palestinian nationalists which the march organisers had deliberately attracted.

The presence of a number of disconnected fractions around the event espousing slogans in accord with NWBtCW showed the presence of an emerging current but was also evidence of the urgent need to generate further links and co-ordination. Along with others, the CWO continues to share a commitment to developing such a current as part of our “praxis” as Communists. In that context, we are critical of the currently existing London No War But the Class War group (a rump who represent a tiny handful of the forces attracted late last year) and of the International Communist Current both of whom have elected to stand aloof from that task.

We choose to comment on these cases because they both, in common with ourselves, describe themselves as “left communists” but suggest that endless self-clarification is the overwhelming task for communists when confronting the imperialist war-drive.

Box 1

Against War and Capitalism

The civilian death toll mounts in Afghanistan, to be added to the thousands who died in New York. The refugee crisis grows daily, with millions more facing starvation. Ground troops are sent in and we are warned to expect a long drawn out bloody conflict. War certainly lays bare the horrors of capitalism.

Anti-War Demonstrations

We are heartened by the fact that reasonably large, and growing anti-war demonstrations have taken place both in this country and elsewhere. We share the view that, despite the massive propaganda efort, only a minority of people actively supports the war efort. The efects of the war will be increasingly felt. The war is being used as a cover for the deepening economic crisis but also contributes to it, leading to more sackings, increasing racism, additional draconian laws and further cuts in social spending. This will in turn lead to more and more opposition to the war. The important question will be the form this opposition takes.


Over the last few years, since at least June 18th 1999, we have witnessed the growth of a global anti-capitalist movement. Through a series of international gatherings beginning with Seattle and most recently at Genoa, this diverse movement succeeded in questioning the viability of capitalism. Many commentators are now seeking to write of this movement, suggesting that September 11th changes everything. But war and capitalism are inseparable. Nation states and would-be states (like Al Qa’ida) fight each other for control of both resources and the right to exploit our labour power. This is the normal mode of functioning of capitalism - since the First World War barely a day has passed without war being waged somewhere in the world. The struggle against the war and the struggle to replace capitalism with a classless world human community are the same.


The overwhelming urge for peace is an understandable response to the war. The ideology of pacifism is, however, a completely reactionary basis for opposition to the war. Most pacifists seek an alternative method to resolve the conflict, the favourite being that bin Laden should be tried before an international court, whilst others look to UN intervention. Even if we ignore the often-tragic failure of such initiatives in the past, this can at best lead only to capitalist peace. Capitalist peace means death by starvation, lack of shelter or healthcare, by environm ental poisoning, over work, hopelessness and alienation, in short terror and death by other means.


The response of the left to the war is to drag out the tired old formula of ‘anti-imperialism’ in which the USA is the imperial power to be opposed. This in turn means giving support (‘conditional` or ‘critical’, it matters not) to the barbarous misogynist pro-capitalist regime of the Taliban. Not surprisingly this quickly develops into anti-Americanism, which writes of an important section of the working class as irredeemably reactionary. The Stop the War coalition, formed by the left, is a cross-class alliance with religious leaders, MP’s and other enemies of the working class. That the left performs such a counter-revolutionary role doesn’t surprise us - they are after all the left wing of capital. To the members of such groups, among whom we know that there are decent people, we must pose the question: How can you stomach such reactionary nonsense?

We are a group of people, based in London, who have come together to oppose the war on a class basis. We do so because only an opposition based on the working class ofers the possibility of superseding the capitalist mode of production and thus permanently removing the threat of war. We do not pretend to have all the answers, nor do we agree on everything, but we take this as our basic standpoint.

We meet regularly for discussion, seeking to develop our understanding of the war and of opposition to it, and to plan practical ways to express this opposition through action. We are not linked to any existing political group, we do not have a formal membership, we reject hierarchy, and we strive to reach decisions by consensus.

Box 2

No to War – No to Capitalism

Full-scale war in Iraq now seems certain. The US government is intent on escalating the atrocities in this region of the world; their plan is to dominate the region and control its resources, trade routes and markets. The UK government supports this plan, confident that it will receive a share of the spoils of war.

  • The governments justify this war by pointing to the horrors of September 11th - every child knows that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ and yet this point appears lost on these men of power.
  • The governments justify this war by alleging Iraq has weapons of mass destruction ... and so ‘we’d better kill them before they kill us’ is planted in the nation’s consciousness - ask your self who’s stock-in-trade is the production of weapons of mass destruction, and who’s going to use them now in this second major war of the new millennia?
  • The governments justify this war by calling Saddam Hussein ‘mad and bad’. Whilst there is no doubt that this Butcher of Baghdad has killed thousands of Iraqis in his time, Western governments have killed ten times as many through sanctions and daily bombing; they are as ‘mad and bad’ as those they accuse.

We totally condemn the bestial appetites of the Western governments but we do not give comfort to their enemies in the “Islamic ” world. This is not a fight over religion but for control of the planet. Western imperialism may carry out genocide to keep its hold on the bulk of the world’s resources but their replacement by another set of Islamic reactionaries is not a solution for the world. We refuse to line up with Muslim reactionaries who shout Allah u Akbar (God is Great) and Taliban Zindebad (Long Live the Taliban) on demos.

Concretely the way to stop war is not to line up with Islamic reaction but to take action in defence of our own interests and deprive all governments of the freedom to act on their war front.

The UK fire fighters are showing us a prime example of such action; their thre atened strike, if realised, would divert thousands of troops to man the Green Goddesses as in 1977. Why do the governments insist on spending billions on weapons and conflict whilst they won’t even pay minimal wage demands or provide half-decent services? We argue that war and capitalism are two sides of the same coin and to oppose this economic system is the only valid method of opposing war. We argue that the way to stop the western governments’ acts of war is to battle with them at home on both an economic and political level. Shefield No War But the Class War exists to promote this economic and political battle.

London NWBCW – A Retreat from Responsibility

For several months during the summer of 2002, Sheffield NWBtCW tried to make contact with the London group in an attempt to build a closer national co-ordination - using the London group’s own declaration as a starting point.

When a meeting was finally arranged, shortly before the September demonstration, it was clear that the group which continues to use the London NWBCW name had changed radically from the group of the previous year.

The London group explained that they no longer saw their role as being centred around building a class-struggle opposition to the war drive, as they had in 2001. Indeed, it was unclear whether they could still defend the quasi-programmatic statement which they had originally issued. They instead saw themselves (a tiny handful compared to the public events late in 2001) as working towards positions which they labelled “left communist” but intended to do so whilst assiduously avoiding any discussion with other organisations who would describe themselves in the same way.

The meeting took a further negative turn with the arrival of K (a former adherent of the semi-autonomist publications Subversion and Workers Scud, currently Melancholic Troglodyte). K immediately disrupted the political dialogue by demanding an end to the political discussion while he asked the Sheffield comrades what type of food each of them preferred. It was clear from the responses of the other members of the London group that K was treated as their “leading theoretician”.

The nature of the discussion deteriorated as K defended their decisions to cut themselves off from discussions with the CWO or ICC because of the two groups “hostility to study groups” and their attitude to themselves as “the sole poles of regroupment”. The comments were not withdrawn when a CWO militant pointed out that both were gross misrepresentations.

The negative nature of the London group’s retreat towards being a self-regarding sect became even more apparent when they refused to disclose details of their meetings thus shattering hopes for further regular links.

The sole concrete agreement was to work towards a jointly signed statement for the London demonstration but the London group reneged on that agreement at their closed meeting the following night. Laughably, the arguments from part of the Sheffield contingent that the publicity should highlight the potential role of firefighters’ strikes in slowing the war machine was indeed picked up by the London group. They inverted the argument in their essentially pacifist leaflet by asserting that the war drive would undermine moves towards strike action!

For the CWO comrades, the change of emphasis displayed at the meeting confirmed their existing fears about the London group. Those fears had originally surfaced during the large anti-war demonstration in London in the autumn of 2001 when a noisy and assertive internationalist intervention under the NWBtCW banner had been shunned by K and others. On that occasion those around K had abandoned their own banner to congregate behind a samba band and distance themselves both spatially and politically from the internationalist contingent which involved militants from both the CWO and ICC.

The retreat by the London group from preparedness to build an internationalist co-ordination on a wider geographical basis, or even in London, is an act of irresponsibility by K and his political/social “circle of friends”. This is particularly true for at least three reasons.

Firstly, in Britain, London still contains the biggest concentration of those who have either already been in contact with internationalist ideas or who are open to ideas of class struggle. It is also invariably the focus for national events and demonstrations - critical organisational tasks are more easily undertaken by those in London. Finally, and most fundamentally, the London group had already (in 2001) taken the initial political and organisational steps towards a class-struggle based resistance to the war drive. Their retreat to being “part a discussion group part something else” (their own words at the September meeting with the Sheffield group) has negated their earlier work - whether as an act of deliberate sabotage or not is hard to gauge.

ICC – A Further Retreat from Marxism

The latest edition of World Revolution (no 259) contains a full page article entitled “In defence of discussion groups”. In contrast to K’s wild assertions about ICC and CWO decrying discussion groups there can be no doubt that both groups, albeit with very different perspectives, have both espoused and participated in discussion groups.

An article discussing the historic role and experience of discussion groups may well have been useful.

However, the ICC have an unfortunate habit of attempting to squeeze reality into their own idiosyncratic set of ideological constructs. Modest examples would include their arrival at the conclusion that Blair represents the most anti-American faction of the British bourgeoisie and that the working class is holding back world war. In this article they explore their own interpretations regarding discussion groups and then they decide that that not only is the Sheffield NWBtCW group but that it has fallen into a misconception that:

the discussion group is a sort of ‘transmission belt’ to the party, a kind of political group that is easier to get into... because it has less of a programme... [The group] has fallen into this conception since it has defined itself according to a mini-platform of seven points

WR 259

In fact, if the ICC had wished to enter into an honest debate they would have discovered that:

  1. There is no element active in the Sheffield NWBtCW which sees the primary role of the group as being a “discussion group” in any generally understood use of the term. The group is in fact currently discussing the possibility of starting a study circle/ discussion group alongside its other activities.
  2. The CWO, or as far as we know any of the other participants, do not see the group “as a sort of ‘transmission belt’ to the party”. We make no secret of the fact that militants who wish to work with the CWO more closely and achieve shared political understanding and practice will be very welcome. That perspective does not in any way translate into the group itself being a “kind of political group that is easier to get into”. In reality the group exists as an intervention group working within an ill-defined and confused tendency groping towards a class-based response towards the drive towards war.
  3. The seven points supported at the Sheffield July event were not a “mini-platform” but agreed guidelines to future activity. If the ICC really wanted to disagree with the political basis around which NWBtCW has based itself they should have directed their criticism at the original platform issued by the London group in 2001. Unfortunately that exercise would only have shown that they and us and most other elements in NWBtCW could all find particular formulations with which they did not fully agree. The point of gathering around that statement was that it expressed an adequate central core of internationalist class struggle - indeed, even sufficient for the ICC to intervene under its slogan and banner in 2001.

The real criticism put forward by the ICC is that the “group unfortunately participated in [the September 28th] march”.

Like the ICC we were present when the march assembled. Unlike the ICC we made contact with and attempted to co-ordinate with the London NWBtCW group and its periphery. We intervened at the event to maximise the usefulness of our presence. Unlike the ICC who stood isolated at the side of the Embankment, CWO militants engaged in discussion with a number of militants new to the ideas of communism and also intervened energetically amongst the marchers as they entered into Hyde Park. The positive response to the sales of our own literature and the issuing of the NWBtCW leaflet has already been referred to. Those interventions did not result from “significantly overestimat[ing] the possibilities of [our ] influence in the current conditions” but from a desire to connect with the minorities present on the day who were open to internationalist argument.

The ICC’s scorn for those who “traips[ed] behind the... march” is an argument in favour of their customary self-perception as the only force capable of correctly interpreting Communist theory, strategy and tactics. More significantly it is also a reflection of their essential passivity where Communists’ only role is to be the holders of theory with the future Party even being denied its critical organisational role in a revolutionary situation.

That introversion is one reason why they are able to spin strange scenario upon strange scenario rather than allowing reality to be reflected in a developing understanding.

With particular reference to the current drive to war, we have to ask whether the ICC still sees Blair as representing the most anti-American element of the British bourgeoisie. If they have changed that “analysis” perhaps they could explain how and why.

More mysterious yet, and further evidence for considering their method “idealist”, is their totem of the “working-class holding back world war”.

For Marxists, theory and ideas develop from the material reality of class society and not vice versa. So, we have to ask the question of how, in the current reality, is the working class holding back World War when the mass anti-war demonstrations are dominated by a liberal, pacifist, religious hotch-potch and for the ICC attempts to derive an opposition consciously based on class struggle is a “significant... overestimation”. If it is even impossible to develop a class-struggle minority against a new regional war then how on earth can the working-class be holding back world war. The harsh truth for the ICC is that, in accordance with their general method, the working class is not holding back world war on earth but is only doing so in the heads of the ICC members and the pages of their press.

Unsurprisingly, the idiocy of such constructs is most openly exposed in situations where hundreds of thousands are on the streets and the ICC see their role as... standing on the sidelines preparing articles maligning attempts at intervention by fellow Communists!

No War But the Class War – A Mobilising Slogan

The CWO recognises the absolute weakness of communist forces world-wide and certainly in Britain. Unlike the ICC, we do not puff ourselves up with self-descriptions as an international movement which has survived longer than any of the three internationals in the history of the workers’ movement.

We recognise our central duty of safeguarding and developing Communist theory and practice but this is an impossible task if we remain isolated and introverted.

Communists can only defend and enrich their programme and organisation by interacting with social reality. We need to recognise the actuality of developing forces and develop theory and practice to relate to those developments. This applies both to underlying developments in the World economy and to those elements who are caught up in all kinds of social movements and are receptive to the Communist programme.

Operating in Britain, we are currently in a position marked by two main factors.

Firstly, there is a reactionary “popular front”-type movement capable of mobilising hundreds of thousands of non-class conscious workers who subjectively have identified with a task of stopping “their” government’s drive to war.

Secondly, we are witnessing a significant upturn in strike action including firefighters, rail workers and actions beyond the Unions in transport and hospitals in Strathclyde.

“No War But the Class War” gives us the potential to work across the country with those forces who see a connection between the two and wish to link class struggle with resistance to imperialist war. This is no easy task with forces being geographically scattered and emerging from a range of political perspectives.

We believe that in the last months of 2001 the London NWBtCW group was positioned to stand at the organisational centre of that process. Under the influence of K the rump group has turned their backs on that task.

The task nevertheless remains critical. We will continue to work with Sheffield NWBtCW and others to strive towards co-ordination and development of an internationalist class-struggle resistance to the drive to imperialist war. We appeal to those who share that perspective to contact us direct or to link with the Sheffield NWBtCW.

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