No More Demockery

01 May 2003
The global movement for peace and justice which emerged from the opposition to the war should be used to achieve democratic, institutional and political change.

We failed to stop the war. Yet we mobilised a new power: a global majority for peace and justice. In the end this majority was powerless even in so-called democracies. Polls indicate that only 20 per cent of the US electorate would have supported ‘pre-emptive’ aggression had the US gone alone. And it would have been alone had Blair listened to the wishes of the British people.

This gulf between popular sentiment and the decisions of the world’s only superpower points to the direction that the anti-war (or pro-peace and social justice) movement has to go. In our resistance to war we have created diverse forms of direct democracy: new coalitions, stronger independent media and means of spreading information, people-to-people connections with those struggling for democracy across the Middle East and more effective forms of international co-ordination. The short-term need is to carry on campaigning against war – in Palestine and now, unthinkably, Syria. The long-term need is to use this democracy of resistance to achieve democratic institutional and political change.

The first institution that has to change is the ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK. It is glued together by shared belief-systems, language, mutual elite interests, power and a cynical view of human nature. Its pernicious consequences for democracy on both sides of the Atlantic is rarely challenged.

If we are ever to have democratic control over foreign policy this relationship must end. The best way to end it is by pressing the government to make two absolutely essential stands. First, it must insist the UN has complete control over the reconstruction of Iraq and its transition to democratic self-government (see ‘Who rules the peace?’). And second, it must exert effective pressure on Ariel Sharon (see ‘Sharon slips leash under cover of war’, page 14 of the print magazine). With respect to the second point, the US depends on British military bases. Our government could use this dependency to insist that the US exerts its massive financial and military leverage to get Israel to stop the settlements, to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians (including the right of return) and to get peace negotiations underway.

These are issues on which we can make common cause with the peace and democracy movement in the US. They also provide the basis for united action across Europe. We cannot leave the job of creating a counter power to the US government to the self-interested diplomacy of the French, German and Russian governments. Building for the next European Social Forum in Paris needs to be a process of creating Europe-wide pressures to democratise European politics and pull it away from US militarism and neo-liberal economics. We must also use Europe-wide organisation to lobby for the transformation of the UN into a genuinely democratic global institution. The World Social Forum shows such thinking is possible. The human and political disaster we have just lived through shows it to be imperative.

Then there is democracy at home. However impressive some of the speeches during the Westminster debate about the war there was something phoney about the occasion, just as there was about the arms inspection process. The fact of the matter was that the US war plans had been laid and agreed by the British, the troops had been sent, and the March deadline determined by military logistics. All the flaws of the British political system were concentrated into one moment: the power of the executive precludes any effective challenge to the PM.

We need to maintain the spirit of 15 February. We need to avoid differences in political allegiance damaging unity on political principles and campaigning demands. We need to build a movement that can focus on particularly urgent issues – i.e., ending the US occupation of Iraq or fighting the racism fuelled by the war’s anti-Islamic rhetoric (see ‘Peace and prejudice’, page 28 of the print magazine). That process needs to provide space for thoughtful debate about long-term direction, and it needs to make connections between the different threats to democracy from corporate, financial and military power. Another world really is possible.