Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hands off Hands off the People of Iran

Hands off the People of Iran (Hopi) is a UK based organisation that opposes an Iraq style invasion of Iran but remains critical of the Iranian regime. It uses rather clunky - but clear - slogans like "No to imperialist war! No to the theocratic regime!" The obsessive use of exclamation marks aside this seems like a valid position for a progressive person to hold.

In their statement of aims they make clear they are for the withdrawal of US/UK military forces from the entire region and are completely opposed to the "expansionism and aggression" of the Israeli state. They are also determined to show that this does not mean they automatically fall into the camp of the advocates of the Iranian state, uncritically supporting its actions for fear of giving succour to those who wish to invade.

It seems like a reasonable position to think that people should neither be bombed nor oppressed. Being against one does not mean you are necessarily for the other. Bush, Blair and co tried to polarise the argument in the run up to the Iraq invasion, making out that you must be for Iraqis being subjugated if you are not for them being incinerated. The members of Hopi correctly reject this characterisation.

However, the officers of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) seem to have taken a view that Hopi is not their cup of tea at all and have revoked Hopi's StWC affiliation. The coalition's chair, Communist Party of Britain supporter Andrew Murray, feels that supporting independent trade unions and progressive forces in Iran make Hopi "entirely hostile to the Coalition". I've browsed the Hopi website and can find no intimation that they are hostile to the anti-war movement, nor seeking to act as a fifth column within it.

Of course, there is plenty to disagree with there if you choose to look, but within the context of a broad and diverse anti-war movement it would be ludicrous to suppose that Hopi's general position is not a legitimate and reasonably widely held set of views.

The StWC steering committee is having a meeting this Friday and this is an opportunity for the coalition to reverse this rather sectarian gate keeping, where our glorious leaders get to decide who is and is not really opposed to an invasion of Iran. When the StWC was first set up there were some who wanted a pure, anti-imperialist, socialist coalition - they were completely wrong and, I think, have been proven so in practice. Now is not the time to begin introducing ideological purity tests of those who obviously share the basic aims of StWC.

It would be a useful and good thing if those involved in the anti-war movement were to make it clear to the officers of the StWC that it is not their job to exclude people on the basis of their principled opposition to the Iranian regime where they also oppose a US led invasion. A coalition without disagreements is not actually a coalition but just a faction within the movement.

You can sign the open letter to the StWC here and you can write them your own thoughts directly here. You never know, it might do some good. Current signitories include Caroline Lucas (Green), Diane Abbott (Labour), John McDonnell (Labour), Peter Tatchell (Green), Cllr Chris Flood (Socialist Party), Cllr Rania Khan, Cllr Oliur Rahman and Cllr Fozol Miah (Respect), Attila the Stockbroker, Sunny Hundal, Naomi Klein, Leon Rosselson, Mark Steel, and many others.


Jim Jay said...

FYI StWC response

Dear Brother/Sister

Thank you for your communication re the decision of the officers of StWC to decline the applications for affiliation from Communist Students and Hands off the People of Iran. I think that three things should be made clear concerning this:

First, the Stop the War Coalition is a voluntary body set up by individuals and organisations to pursue particular political aims. As such no individual or group has a "right" to membership of it. Like any voluntary organisation (as opposed to a public body) we have the right to determine who may join us. We have an elected leadership answerable under a democratic constitution empowered to take these decisions in what we believe to be the best interests of the movement we serve. Such decisions may, of course, be proved mistaken by the course of subsequent events. But it is in no sense "censorship" to take those decisions, since nobody is thereby denied their right to publish or circulate material. Since our formation there have always been anti-war people or organisations which have chosen to stay outside StWC, just as there have been organisations to which we have denied affiliation in the past.

Second, the issue is not StWC's view of the Iranian regime. This is merely a stick used to beat us by those wanting to divide the movement. The Iranian regime is dictatorial and often brutal and is based on the denial of many basic rights. We are no more "friends" of the Iranian regime than we were friends of the Taliban in Afghanistan or Saddam in
Iraq, to recall a couple of the slanderous attacks made on us by warmongers down the years. The main focus of StWC is, however, on challenging the policies of the British government in respect of the war, which includes respecting the rights of all peoples to
self-determination. There are a number of organisations working in solidarity with the
Iranian people, and a number of StWC affiliates participate in such activity as well. We have never believed it is correct to cloud the movement's objectives by placing issues of "regime change" (which are ultimately the business of the peoples of the country concerned) on an equal footing with stopping the war, or at least British involvement in
it. The latter is the reason for our existence. We have no fear of debate on this issue - the sort of views advanced by Hands off the People of Iran have been debated at almost every one of our conferences, and have never received more than miniscule support.

Third, our decision in respect of these two organisations is, however, political. Both are effectively controlled by the Weekly Worker group ("CPGB") - indeed their spokesman in the current controversy is the Weekly Worker's national organiser. This body has been hostile to StWC from its inception. It declined to support the objectives of the Coalition, which they now pray freely in aid, when they were first adopted in October 2001.
Its coverage of StWC activities is not merely critical, but usually abusive, and reflects the attacks made by our pro-war opponents. It supported the witch-hunting of George Galloway in 2003 and urged voters not to support Jeremy Corbyn in the general election of 2005. When I was myself subject to extensive attack in the pro-war media in 2003, the main lines of such attack were echoed faithfully, with if anything added vitriol, in the pages of the Weekly Worker. It seldom supports our activities - for example, the successful march held on October 8 in defiance of a police ban was neither promoted by the Weekly Worker in advance, nor attended on the day by its supporters nor reported afterwards, for reasons one can only guess at.

Indeed, Workers Weekly established Hands off the People of Iran at the start of 2007 explicitly as an alternative to StWC and because it no longer wished to support the Coalition - moves they had every right to take and which follow logically from their hostility to us. But to seek to affiliate many months later when they could have done at the time of their formation if their solidarity with us was sincere, and on the eve of a conference is, as I originally wrote, neither sympathetic nor supportive.

Even a cursory perusal of the material produced by Weekly Worker is testimony to its antipathy to StWC. This is consistent with the disruptive role it has played in a series of organisations in our movement over the last 25 years, which is why it has been praised by pro-war journalists like David Aaronovich and pro-war websites like Harry's Place.

Naturally, Weekly Worker has every right to pursue its own political agenda as it sees fit, but StWC has no obligation to provide it with a platform. If activists in the anti-war movement wish to debate the views of such groups - and I have seen very little evidence that any do - then there are no doubt opportunities available in their own publications and meetings.

From its inception, StWC has been a broad and tolerant organisation. Had it been otherwise we could not have sustained the movement at the level which has been done. Occasionally, however, we have to take prophylactic measures to protect our integrity, and this is one of those cases.

The decisions taken by the Officers Group in this respect will be reported to the next meeting of the national Steering Committee for ratification. If either Communist Students of Hands off the People of Iran wish to make written representations to that meeting, they will of course be afforded the right to do so.

Andrew Murray

dave said...

Here is a response (to Andrew Murray's response) from a member of Workers Left Unity - Iran, one of the Iranian groups supporting the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign.