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Strange Bedfellows in the British Anti-War Movement

Ronald Radosh

In politics, sometimes we come across the “strange bedfellows” phenomenon: joint efforts towards a common goal by those one would ordinarily consider to be mortal enemies. In England, this seems to become a regular pattern quite often.

For many years, radical Islamists joined with British Trotskyists in support of radical clerics and in opposition to the war in Iraq. Secular Marxist-Leninists vigorously opposed to all religion stood alongside fundamentalist advocates of jihad because of their mutual hatred of the Western powers who stood against Saddam Hussein.

Now, strange bedfellows unite over the threat of pending military action in Syria — which collapsed in Britain over a week ago when Prime Minister Cameron lost his move in Parliament when Labor’s Ed Miliband, at the last moment, backtracked on his promise of support. Miliband instead rallied his forces to gain a majority against the PM’s proposed resolution.

Now, a writer for the Telegraph, Andrew Gilligan [1], has uncovered a new and similar alliance to the one that materialized during the war in Iraq. Calling it “friends of Assad,” Gilligan notes that — working under the pretense of opposition to war and in favor of peace — the actual goal of the groups uniting behind Miliband and British Labor is victory for Assad. They regard Assad as an opponent of American and British imperialism, much as the communists in the era of Clinton’s bombing of Kosovo supported Milosevic as Tito’s successor among the Serbs, and as a heroic opponent of NATO and the American empire.

Like International Answer in the United States, the British group cleverly called the “Stop the War coalition” is in fact composed of different sects of communists.

Key Miliband donors in the Labor Party include leaders of the new coalition. The Communication Workers Union policy chief is the group’s treasurer; the TSSA union’s chief is Stop the War’s deputy president and former chairman. And these groups were the ones who pushed Miliband to change his position and betray his promise to Cameron.

Stop the War’s current president is Kamal Majid, “a veteran communist and founding member of the Stalin Society [2], created in 1991 to ‘defend Stalin and his work’ and to ‘refute capitalist, revisionist, opportunist and Trotskyist propaganda directed against him.’”

Last year, Majid actually called Assad not simply a “reformer” — as the early Obama administration dubbed the Syrian dictator — but a man whose family had “a long history of resisting imperialism” and who had to be supported “because their defeat will pave the way [in Syria] for a pro-Western and pro-U.S. regime.”

As for the rebellion against Assad? It was part of an “imperialist plan to replace the Syrian government with a puppet state … which will do the bidding of the Americans and Zionists.”

Another leader of the Stop the War Coalition is Andrew Murray, the chief of the Unite union and a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The Communist Party’s leader last week called for efforts to stop “tipping the military balance against President Assad’s regime,” since Assad’s defeat would “remove a critic of U.S. foreign policy and the illegal Israeli occupation of Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese land.”

Communist Party International Secretary John Foster has called for “respect for the sovereignty and independence of Syria,” and “an end to the arming and financing of terrorist groups.” Keep in mind that he means not just al-Qaeda, which in this instance they oppose, but all groups and citizens of Syria opposed to Assad’s tyranny.

For the time being, the British pro-Stalin Communists have found themselves united as well with the even more sectarian British Trotskyists, including Socialist Action [3], whose website attacked “those on the Left who have mistakenly viewed the past two years’ battles in Syria as a progressive revolution.” Most recently, the group condemned the U.S. military, which it said was “preparing an immense assault on Syria.” It reminded the comrades: “U.S. imperialism does not make idle threats.” (I guess they have not included Barack Obama in their estimate of what America’s intentions are.) Also according to the group: “The proposed war is not about chemical weapons. Quite irrespective of whether the Assad regime used them or not, imperialism’s goal had been to remove the regime. The U.S. is planning a substantial intervention in Syria with the aim of qualitatively reducing Assad’s military and assisting the opposition forces.”

Evidently, the proposals made by John McCain and Lindsey Graham are confused by the group with the position of the U.S. government and the Obama administration.

Last May, Gilligan reports, the Stop the War Coalition hosted a talk by pro-Assad Syrian Issa Chaer, who joined the Stalinist CP leader Majid on the platform. Chaer described Assad as “the person who is now uniting the country,” and the Syrian people’s support for Assad, he argued, “gives President Assad the strength to carry on.”

Also aligned with the group is a pro-Iranian regime group called the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran, or CASMII, whose chairman sits on the new coalition’s steering committee. Other members on the coalition’s board include a group in support of Hamas and which calls for a boycott of Israel.

What is important is that the group, not without reason, has claimed a leading role in causing Labor’s Ed Miliband to change course. It held a “Hands off Syria” mass rally in London last week, and told the crowds that Miliband’s new position showed that the demonstrations they led had worked.

Of course, British subjects know there are good reasons to oppose a military strike, and they understand the complications of the situation in Syria. But these groups are unabashedly pro-Assad, and have gained ground by being able to exploit the anti-war sentiment of the populace. They are supporters of Assad, the Iranian mullahs, and Hamas, and are avowed enemies of democracy and the United States. Although they now oppose al-Qaeda because of its fight against Assad, they have not hesitated to support al-Qaeda’s actions in the past, such as when these elements of the British Left argued that 9/11 was a just rebuke to the American government and U.S. imperialism.

As Gilligan writes, the Stop the War Coalition has “at least a certain brutal clarity: Assad is right and must win.”

Ed Miliband is too smart to favor such a goal, and his stand against Cameron did not have a victory for Assad as his intent. But I agree with Gilligan’s conclusion: “Providing succor to the regime was, and is, quite clearly the intention of many of Mr. Miliband’s new friends.”

As usual, in opposing the position of the administration for a military strike, those who are against it must always remain vigilant and be able to recognize that not all opponents of war are made up of groups they should align with. Not all who take the same position are doing so for good reasons.

In this country, Code Pink and Answer are lurking around the corner, and hopefully will remain isolated and without influence. In some ways, we are way ahead of the Brits.

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