Lessons of the mass anti-war campaign in Australia

By Pip Hinman

Pip Hinman is a member of the Political Committee of the Democratic Socialist Party, and national coordinator of Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific. She was the national coordinator of the DSP's campaigning against the war, and much of the content of this article was first presented as a report to the DSP National Committee, April 26-27, 2003.


The basis of mass dissent

Building an independent mass movement

Labor conservatism

Weak union response

Youth and the anti-war movement

Canberra Convergence

Oppose US-UN occupation

Can the movement rise again?


An extraordinary round of mass protests against the war on Iraq dominated politics in Australia and other imperialist countries in the first four months of 2003. The anti-war movement peaked when up to 30 million people took part in the biggest ever global protest against an imperialist war on February 14-16—even before the war had started. In Australia, more than one million took to the streets over that weekend.

But by mid-April, three weeks after the invasion began, the movement in Australia had demobilised. There was a wave of demoralisation because, despite the anti-war movement's unprecedented scale, it had failed to stop the invasion.

At the last round of mass anti-war actions in Australia—the April 13 "Palm Sunday" marches—some commented that while they knew the war was wrong, they were unsure whether marching, even in such large numbers, could make a difference.

But this historic global anti-war movement—and its primary tactic of mass mobilisation—was not a failure. It conditioned the invaders' tactics and continues to limit the choices they have both in the occupation of Iraq and in future wars they plan to wage.

The imperialists' grossly one-sided military war in Iraq was deeply unpopular in all the imperialist countries. It was the most unpopular war in Australian history. And even in the US, where the Bush administration continues to manipulate the deep fear, uncertainty and anger caused by the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, a large minority opposed the strike on Iraq.

A key objective of the war-makers was to roll back the deep distrust of the corporate rulers of the world and their powerful governments and to win the hearts and minds of the population of the imperialist countries for a long and open-ended war against all their enemies. They failed, making this the real victory of the anti-war movement.

After the invasion, the war seemed to gain more support in the US and Australia. However, the imperialists' propaganda campaign to justify the invasion and occupation and to carry on the next stages of the "war on terrorism" continued to unravel over the next few months. More and more of the imperialists' lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were exposed, while their occupation continued to provoke resistance from Iraqis. Just three months after the invasion, this unravelling—combined with the mounting death toll of us and British occupation soldiers—provoked another shift in public opinion in the US.

A Gallup poll1 published on July 1, 2003, for instance, found that US citizens were increasingly dubious about the benefits of the war on Iraq. In mid-April, after the US had taken control of Baghdad, 73 per cent said it had been "worth going to war", with 23 per cent disagreeing. Three months later, 56 per cent of respondents said the war was "worth" it, while 42 per cent disagreed.

In most other imperialist countries, there had never been majority support for the war. In Australia, even after the collapse of the Iraqi Baathist regime, the polls showed the population evenly divided.

By July, the attitudes were again shifting. A poll2 published on July 10 found that 44 per cent of Australians believed Prime Minister John Howard misled them. The poll also showed that 56 per cent of swinging voters felt they had been misled about Iraq's weapons. Some 30 per cent of government voters said the same.

As the Iraqi opposition to occupation continues to grow, and the body bags are returned in greater numbers, we can expect that the anti-occupation sentiment will also grow and provide the movement with new openings to galvanise mass dissent. Our challenge is to defeat the imperialists' attempts to justify keeping their armies in the Middle East and in their other staging posts for aggression, and to make sure that future imperialist aggressions have as little popular support as possible.

To focus on this challenge, we have to cut through the prevailing mood of demoralisation and tackle a few questions as scientifically as possible: What were the main factors driving this movement? Has the huge wave of anti-war protests completely ebbed? Could it rise again in the next few months? If so, how can we best prepare for its resurgence?

The basis of mass dissent

One of the main factors driving the broad support for the movement was the overtly aggressive and illegal imperialist policy the US rulers have been shamelessly pursuing since the end of the Cold War. the US has been a serial offender against international law and has committed these offences brazenly in Cuba, Nicaragua, the 1991 Gulf War, Somalia, Serbia and Afghanistan. It thumbed its nose at the Kyoto protocols on greenhouse gas emissions and tore up the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty. The Bush administration saw the September 11 terror bombings as a licence to rise above all laws.

Even if the US had succeeded in pressuring the UNited Nations Security Council into leading its latest invasion of Iraq—as seemed likely earlier on—large numbers of people would have seen this as illegal, or at least against the spirit of international law.

As it turned out, the US attempts to pressure the UN into giving clearance came to nothing—largely due to the strength of the anti-war movement, particularly in Britain and France. But the threats did serve as a warning to the UN Security Council member states not to interfere—a warning they ultimately heeded. There was no attempt to call the US to account after the bombing started on March 20. For many, this became further proof of the UN's impotence.

This increasing abandonment of international law by the US rulers might be convenient in the short term, but it is a big weak spot in their drive to legitimise their increasingly naked imperialist domination of the world.

The massive protests against this war also revealed a growing dissent, not just against us-led wars, but against the system that generates such wars. This is an accumulated dissent, brought into sharper relief by the global justice movement which sprang up in Seattle in 1999 and has since mobilised big numbers in Europe, the US and Australia against capitalist globalisation.

The mass anti-war movement was not, as some anti-globalisation "experts" such as Naomi Klein have argued, a distraction from the supposed "main game"—the global justice movement—but a development of the so-called anti-globalisation movement. Klein was wrong to imply, as she did in an article written from Argentina in February,3 that the anti-corporate globalisation movement represented a higher level of radical consciousness than the "old-fashioned" single-issue campaign against the Iraq war.

The global justice movement cannot be separated from the real struggle against imperialism today. Anti-corporate globalisation today means anti-war because anti-imperialism is the progressive content of "anti-globalisation". You cannot oppose economic imperialism (or "globalisation", as it is popularly known) without opposing the imperialist war on Iraq. There's little doubt that radical consciousness was deepened and extended globally by this latest round of anti-war organising.

Another factor behind the quick rise of the anti-war protest movement was the division within the global ruling classes on how to deal with Iraq. The French, German and Turkish governments were forced by mass anti-war pressure to take the stand they did. It caused huge ructions—within the UN and more broadly—and acted as a brake on imperialism's plans to invade Iraq.

In Australia, these divisions helped broaden the movement, and put extra pressure on the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to oppose the war outright. By late January, it had become clear in Australia that the huge anti-war sentiment had started to translate into a new level of self-organisation and was shifting politics to the left. This itself encouraged greater dissent.

However, the very broadness of this dissent and the rapidity of its growth left it with certain weaknesses. The average consciousness was quite mixed. There was great distrust of imperialist governments, but the activist layers in the movement remained quite thin. The radical wing had significant room for initiative, especially at the beginning and right through the campaign in cities outside Sydney and Melbourne, but it was still too weak and had little time in which to accumulate greater forces.

Building an independent mass movement

The first challenge for the radical left anti-war campaigners was to build a broad movement focused on mass mobilisations around clear demands—"Stop the war on Iraq" and "Bring the troops home". Anti-war coalitions were initiated mainly by left activists, including the Socialist Alliance in most cities, and they embraced these demands from the start. In Melbourne and Sydney, Socialist Alliance and other left activists had to struggle for this clear focus.

The main anti-war coalitions restarted in September-October 2002 from the email lists they had retreated into in the wake of the war on Afghanistan. It was clear that the mass nationwide campaign in solidarity with refugees—many of whom are victims of the US-led "war on terror"—helped to prepare the ground for this latest round of anti-war organising. The major refugee campaigns and actions were supported by umbrella organisations which made "end mandatory detention" their key mobilising demand. This indicates a high level of collaboration between the far-left organised refugee groups and the more liberal wings of the movement, a factor which helped set a precedent for greater collaboration around anti-war organising.

Left activists made significant progress in opening up, democratising and setting up vibrant anti-war coalitions/groups in many cities. In Sydney and Melbourne, the main anti-war coalitions were soon dominated by more conservative ALP forces. In Sydney there were early attempts to exclude the radical left, but these backfired badly.

Apart from breaking the exclusion attempt, Socialist Alliance scored another big victory in Sydney around the main demands for the movement. When word got out in October 2002 that the conservative Palm Sunday committee had plans to call a major rally on November 30 with the main demand "Stop President Bush, UN not unilateralism, peace with justice", we (along with many others, it turned out) decided to attend to argue for better politics and a broader organising committee.

Seeing the strength of opposition, the conservatives quickly agreed to "No war on Iraq", and "No Australian involvement" as the key demands. They also agreed to a broader coalition that included Sydney's two other anti-war groups—the Sydney Peace Network, a split from the Palm Sunday committee, and No War on Iraq, a group initiated by leftists and activists from the Palestine Human Rights Campaign.

However, the Melbourne and Sydney anti-war coalitions remained very bureaucratic. New activists didn't find them welcoming. These coalitions functioned much more as umbrella groups taking central responsibility for the mass rallies, while most of the activism on the ground had to be organised by other means. In other cities, the anti-war committees were open and began to involve more young people and others new to activist politics, including making important strategic alliances with Muslim networks and communities.

Labor conservatism

As Gus Horowitz, a former leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and its national anti-war director during the anti-Vietnam War movement, explained in regard to the UNited States in a 1969 talk [reprinted in this issue], if the movement was to be able to reach out and draw larger numbers into action, it had to maintain its independence from the major capitalist parties. In Australia, this meant that if the anti-Iraq war movement was to have any chance of success, it would have to remain independent of the ALP, the capitalist party which has long played the role of co-opting and controlling popular movements.

While ALP and other politicians who opposed the war were welcomed in the movement, the left had a duty to keep the movement from being dominated by the ALP, which had a strong interest in trying to limit the deepening of the radicalisation that was under way. The ALP was under enormous pressure from the anti-war movement because, under the leadership of Simon Crean, it stuck to a position of supporting the war if the UN Security Council gave clearance, while at the same time trying to appear to be against the war.

Only a handful of federal ALP MPs—Carmen Lawrence, Harry Quick, Nick Bolkus and Jennie George—publicly opposed an attack on Iraq, with or without UN sanction. The ALP leadership moved quickly to silence them.

The Greens exposed Labor's have-it-both-ways position when they tried to amend a motion opposing the war without UN clearance to opposing the war regardless of clearance, but were blocked by Labor in the Senate. This pressure had built up over the ALP's shameful shoulder-to-shoulder stance with the Howard government in 2002 over its racist attacks on refugees and support for the war on Afghanistan. It was expressed dramatically in the defection to the Greens of former South Australian ALP mp Kris Hanna. This was the first defection of an ALP parliamentarian to the Greens.

In some anti-war coalitions, ALP members, sensitive to the Greens' gains at their party's expense, demanded that platforms be free of parliamentarians altogether. So the make-up of rally platforms in Melbourne and Sydney became a constant tussle between a conservative wing which wanted to feature pro-ALP trade union leaders and more conservative figures, and the radical left, which, at least in Sydney, had to fight tooth and nail to allow activists from the Middle East, Greens or anyone likely to give a more-radical-than-the ALP speech onto the speaking platform.

Outside Melbourne and Sydney, Greens and representatives of Socialist Alliance, the most active of the left organisations in the movement, were regularly on the anti-war rally platforms, either speaking or chairing.

After the huge February 14-16 protests, and after Simon Crean had been heckled at the Brisbane rally of that weekend, the ALP decided to call for the troops to be bought home. But that didn't last long. Shortly after the New South Wales state elections on March 23, Crean went public with the party's new line—to get the troops home when it was "safe to do so" and "when they'd completed their job". For most, the ALP's further retreat was par for the course. But it did have an impact on some of the more bureaucratised anti-war coalitions including the Hobart Peace Network which voted against making "Troops home" the central demand for the April 13 march.

Even Carmen Lawrence avoided mentioning what should be done with the troops in her speech at Sydney's April 13 protest. By contrast, the newly elected Green NSW Member of the state Legislative Council, Sylvia Hale, received rousing applause when she called for the troops to be bought home, as did Doug Cameron, national secretary of the Australian ManufACTUring Workers Union (AMWU).

Crean and the ALP suffered because of their unprincipled position on the war. A Newspoll conducted for the Australian newspaper between April and June 2003 found support for the ALP and Crean as leader had collapsed in every mainland state, and particularly in his home state of Victoria.4

Weak union response

Labor's weak position had an impact on the UNions, with only a handful declaring their opposition to the warand many fewer using the opportunity to try to mobilise their members against it. The West Australian and the Victorian branches of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Victorian Textile, Clothing, Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) branches were a couple of honourable exceptions.

While some unions sent delegates to anti-war coalition meetings and thousands of union members attended rallies, none put a lot of effort into mobilising their members for the rallies. Some, like the Australian Education Union (AEU) and the National Tertiary Education and Industry Union (NTEU), had good positions on paper, but that's really where they remained. While individual teachers and academics, for example, supported the student strikes against the war and refused to penalise those attending, their union leaderships refused to support them.

The real test for the UNions was not just to pass good motions (or wishy-washy motherhood statements) against the war, but whether these committed them to take action. It was evident that the only unions in which some vigorous debates took place were the ones where motions called for some level of action against the war. This is a lesson for future campaigns.

Unions with good motions on the books tended to be those which had very little or no connection to the war machine. By contrast, unions in the best position to carry out bans—the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and the transport unions—had some of the worst positions.

The AMWU's national secretary, Doug Cameron, and Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Greg Combet scuttled attempts to propose a motion to the ACTU executive to oppose the war regardless of UN endorsement.

By contrast, the CFMEU in Western Australia and South Australia called on their members to walk off the job when war began. The Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Geelong Trades and Labor Council called on workers to mobilise the following working day. The CFMEU in NSW and the NTEU national executive urged their members to leave work to attend emergency rallies the day the war started, and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Trades and Labor Council supported a national convergence in Canberra called by the local anti-war coalition.

By contrast, the NSW Labor Council, which supported Sydney's Walk Against War Coalition, only called on workers to leave work at 5 pm (!) the day the war started to attend a rally in the city called for the same time.

Given the depth of opposition to the war and the number of unionists who would have taken part in the mass rallies, the relative lack of action by union leaderships is even more deplorable. Reports from workplaces indicated that many workers wanted to do more—some even wanted to down tools—a sentiment that even the hand-picked delegates at a tightly controlled NSW Labor Council meeting on the war, in March, had to acknowledge.

Workers Against the War in Melbourne, initiated by former AMWU state secretary and Socialist Alliance trade union leader Craig Johnston with the support of some left union officials, exerted a left pressure on the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC).

Workers Against the War's support for the Books Not Bombs high school students in Sydney was also important, given that the NSW CFMEU had led the attack through the Labor Council and the Walk Against War Coalition.

However, the VTHC's efforts to build its key union action against the war (a lunchtime protest the day after war began) was seriously lacking. The executive's decision to call a lunchtime action was communicated to affiliates only a week before the war broke out, and the publicity was minimal. In the end, the UNion rally drew only construction workers from city sites and those who had been notified at the previous day's emergency rally.

The weakness of the UNion movement's response cannot all be blamed on the conservative officials, however. As CFMEU leader Martin Kingham told Green Left Weekly,5 in an industry in which a considerable proportion of workers have served with the Australian Defence Force, arguing a case against war in Iraq was not easy. But he added, "Trying to convince them that war wasn't in workers' interests was still a positive process for our union, where at least we put the issue on the agenda and weren't afraid to debate it out".

Many workers could see that the imperialists were lying about their reasons for invading Iraq. They knew that the governments of the invading forces work for the corporate bosses. But they also knew that the Saddam Hussein regime was a brutal dictatorship, and as the invasion approached, the pro-war media dropped the pretence about weapons inspections and turned their propaganda to the horrors of Saddam's regime.

The Murdoch press, in particular, also ran hard on trying to scare unions off from contemplating bans on the war machine, using the "support our troops" line. This had an effect on the thinking of many workers. Most militant workers are not pacificists who oppose force and violence under all circumstances; they didn't easily buy the argument that war is bad regardless of its objective. Nor did they buy the argument that it was all about international law and the UN. They had to be won with better, more political arguments.

But the trade union movement doesn't have many leaders with class politics and the conviction and confidence to take them to the ranks. During the anti-war campaign, the partial defeats inflicted on the militant Workers First leadership in Victoria in 2002, and across the country the legacy of years of retreat by most of the trade union leadership, had a noticeable impact. So it was not surprising that it was difficult to mobilise the UNion ranks.

Youth and the anti-war movement

As the movement organised, it became clear that in the biggest cities the bureaucratic coalitions had failed to attract and involve newer and younger activists. After the huge February 14-16 marches, there was a push by the conservative wing of the anti-war movement to hold off organising any mobilisations until Palm Sunday on April 13 (when it was fair to assume the war would already be over).

Our tendency took three initiatives to bridge these gaps: the youth-led Books Not Bombs movement, the Canberra Convergence (March 23-24) and the Socialist Alliance-initiated campaign to make Howard face the people around the federal budget. All three were vehemently and aggressively opposed by the conservative wing of the movement.

Resistance, the socialist youth organisation, initiated Books Not Bombs6 in February 2003 in response to a call to action by US students.

We didn't expect the success of the March 5 student strike—which mobilised some 7000 students in Sydney and 30,000 around the country—but we quickly realised that here was a force which could set a more energetic pace than the bureaucratic anti-war coalitions and lead with more radical politics.

The conservative wing of the movement might not have worried so much if the March 5 student strike had been a one-off. After all, many of their children, grandchildren and friends attended, and most attendees had parental consent following the huge rallies in February. With the police under-prepared, the atmosphere was peaceful and vibrant, something the establishment media reports also reflected. Books Not Bombs received widespread support for the initiative, forcing the sectarian left to hide, and the conservative forces, at least in Sydney, wondering how they could take back the political space.

When the conservatives realised that the strike was going to be repeated—on March 26—they set about to undermine it. Using a combination of police harassment and media red-baiting, directed by the Premier's Department, the state swung into action to take back the ground the students had won with the first strike. NSW ALP Premier Bob Carr was determined to quash the notion that walking out of school to protest against the war was a "conscionable" tactic. He was backed by the conservative wing of the Walk Against War Coalition, the NSW Labor Council and right-wing radio "shock jocks".

The NSW Labor Council executive acted on the NSW CFMEU's push to try to expel, or at least isolate, the radical left inside the Walk Against War Coalition. This created a storm inside the Labor Council, as some unions disagreed with the blatant attempt to split the anti-war movement.

But at a widely publicised Walk Against War Coalition meeting on March 31, the threatened expulsion motion wasn't put. The ALP stacked the meeting with hastily paid-up union affiliations, but even then their motion condemning the students and demanding that they cancel a rally planned for April 2 won by just 10 votes (55-45).

Despite the powerful array of forces against Books Not Bombs, it came out ahead, earning a reputation for initiating and leading some of the most youthful, vibrant and dynamic street protests in a long time. The decision to go on the political offensive and challenge the state's attempt to repress the April 2 Books Not Bombs protest in Sydney paid off. Not only was it peaceful—despite heavy police provocation—but the students defended the right to protest.

The ALP state government and Labor Council leadership had thought they could marginalise the left of the anti-war movement. But they miscalculated. A large section of the movement saw the red-baiting for what it was and rejected it. Support for Books Not Bombs come in from a range of people—including some former anti-Vietnam War activists and others who were livid at what they saw as a "generational" war on the youth.

The conservatives in the movement in Sydney were forced onto the defensive as statements of support for the student protests came from the Victorian Peace Network, ACT Network Opposing War, Western Australian No War Alliance and a host of local peace groups. This defensiveness was also shown in a leaflet distributed on April 13 by ALP supporter and former Communist Party of Australia leader Peter Murphy. Disingenuously titled "Where to now for the peace movement?", it purported to defend the right of students to protest, but then criticised them for "diverting" the anti-war message into a "right to protest" campaign and for provoking conflict with the police. Murphy's attack on Books Not Bombs really boiled down to trying to ensure that the ALP maintained its hold over Sydney's Walk Against War Coalition, which included trying to de-legitimise any independent initiatives.

Canberra Convergence

The Canberra Convergence on March 23-24 was another initiative which filled an important gap in the protest schedule. People were incensed at PM John Howard's arrogant dismissal of the huge February 14-16 protests, and were looking for another opportunity to call the war-makers to account. Organised by the ACT Network Opposing War, the call to protest outside federal Parliament House in Canberra (the national capital) was endorsed by a variety of anti-war groups including the Victorian Peace Network, the Rural Australians Against the War and anti-war groups from Batemans Bay, Cooma, Mudgee, Armidale, Bowral, Newcastle and Sydney.

The conservatives tried to prevent the Sydney Walk Against War Coalition from endorsing the Canberra protest but they lost. However, few resources were made available by this group to publicise and build this important action in the national capital.

All up some 21,500 people took part in the angry and vibrant two-day protest, an incredible result considering it was organised at short notice with minimal resources and against opposition from the conservative wing of the movement.

The third initiative, Socialist Alliance's campaign to block the federal budget and force Howard to face the people, struck a huge chord with people at rallies all over the country. But the minor parties' refusal to sign on as well as the ALP (worried about a possible double-dissolution election) and the quick end to the war meant that the campaign's potential ebbed.

Oppose US-UN occupation

The collapse of the Baathist regime just 27 days into the invasion left the anti-war movement unsure of its specific focus. The key question now is the defence of the right of Iraqis to national self-determination against imperialist occupation. This is why the main demand has to remain for troops to come out. It is now also one of the main demands of the groups in Iraq resisting occupation.

It is this understanding of the role of imperialism and the right of nations to self-determination that informed our position on the debates which erupted around the role of the UN in Iraq.

In the lead-up to the April 13 rallies, we decided to argue within the anti-war coalitions for the demands: "End the occupation of Iraq! US-British-Australian troops out now!" and to oppose vague calls for "UN involvement" coming from some sections of the movement.

In Australia, a call for the UN to go into Iraq had come from the ACTU. It organised a "civil society statement"7 signed by the National Council of Churches in Australia, the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Council of Social Service and the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, supporting "a mediated resolution under the auspices of the UNited Nations". Further, it said that "the UNited Nations has the most legitimate and duly empowered mechanisms to facilitate a just peace and we support a UN-administered transition process. We urge the Coalition of nations to accept and support a UN-mandated transitional authority and actively support UN reconstruction efforts."

Nothing was mentioned about the need for the US occupying forces to leave. This line was echoed by senior ALP figures in the Sydney movement as well as by Kevin Rudd, Labor's foreign affairs spokesperson, who said that the troops had a "responsibility" to stay and "reduce the chaos" in Iraq.

Where the "UN in" demand was raised in the coalitions in April, we posed the following questions:

a) Does the specific demand on the UN Security Council in any way legitimise the invasion and occupation of Iraq and possible invasion of Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, all threatened by the US through its plans to ship in tens of thousands more troops and heavy armoured divisions this month? If so, it would be a grave error for the anti-war movement to give this any credence.

b) What support is there for such a specific demand in Iraq?

c) Even if the demand is formulated as "US out, UN in", does it make any sense in the current situation, especially in relation to the directions being pursued by the permanent members of the UN Security Council? Clearly, neither France nor Germany are prepared to challenge the US presence, and in fact are manoeuvring so as not to miss out on the oil spoils and the postwar reconstruction contracts.

We should not rule out support for any national liberation group in Iraq or Kurdistan calling for UN assistance, monitoring or even supervision of elections. The point is that such calls were not that significant then, or, where they were made, were rather confused.

For instance, the Iraqi Communist Party's first bulletin to be issued after the end of the bombing war, Tareeq Al-Shaab,8 both called on the occupying forces to provide electricity, water and other essentials, and at the same time demanded they leave.

It also said that the occupation must end and the "power [be] … handed to an interim un administration" that could supervise "a conference for representatives of the forces of our Iraqi people, their political parties and other constituents" where agreement would be reached on setting up a "transition democratic coalition government".

The Worker Communist Party of Iraq said much the same thing.9

It's understandable that Iraqis make calls on the invading forces, because they are the only ones with power today. But if calling on the UN to come in simply means going through more red tape and delay for the same thing (except with the UN stamp) then why would they bother?

The Socialist Alliance agreed that the anti-war coalitions' focus should remain "End occupation, troops out now!" In Sydney, the conservatives inside the Walk Against War Coalition tried to use the debate over the role of the UN as another opportunity to isolate the left—but they were not successful. The conservatives argued that having the UN replace the US as administrators in Iraq was "an important political issue for our overall movement against the assertion of us global domination". They said that the movement could not call for an end to the occupation while not having a "a practical alternative to the chaos we have seen". Allowing Iraqis to govern themselves was not deemed practical.

While the conservatives advocated a "UN in" demand, they, along with pro-ALP union leaders, were also keen to get rid of the "Troops out" demand entirely—a vote they lost. A clear majority in the Sydney coalition voted to keep the demands "End the occupation, troops out; Justice for the Iraqi people; No more wars; and Freedom for Palestine".

This echoed the debate in the anti-war movement around the world. Tariq Ali, in the May-June 2003 New Left Review editorial, summed up the conservative multilateralists' position:

There will, of course, be pleas from the European governments for the UN to take over the conquests of American arms, which Blair, keener than Bush on unctuous verbiage, will second for reasons of his own. Much talk will be heard of humanitarian relief, the urgency of alleviating civilian suffering and the need for the international community to `come together again'. So long as no real power is ceded to it, the US has everything to gain from an ex post facto blessing bestowed on its aggression by the UN, much as in Kosovo.10

By May 22, Britain, France, China and Russia had brokered a deal with the US to approve the Anglo-American military occupation of Iraq, lift UN economic sanctions imposed in August 1990 and put revenue from sales of Iraqi oil under Washington's control, with various concessions awarded to Russia and France, which were owed billions of dollars by Saddam Hussein's regime. The deal also allowed the UN back into Iraq, and into the contract auction, rendering the debate over the UN obsolete.

Can the movement rise again?

Has the huge wave of anti-war protests completely collapsed? No. The mass campaign that mobilised close to 1.5 million people across Australia from November to April has not come to a definitive close. While anti-war protests are less frequent and much smaller, the tide could soon turn as the occupying forces begin to find themselves in a quagmire.

Many activists have expressed concern over whether mass mobilisations work. After the huge global mobilisations in February and March failed to stop the invasion, such doubts are understandable. This means that we have to work at rebuilding confidence and winning people back to a mass action perspective—a strategy of self-organisation that prompts a deeper understanding of the root causes of imperialist wars.

Whether the movement rises again over the next period is largely dependent on objective developments. A new imperialist aggression or increasing resistance to the imperialist troops in Iraq will give the movement a new focus and bring people out onto the streets—whether or not they have come to an understanding that the mass action strategy is the only winning strategy for a popular movement. They will come out into the streets again because there is no other effective way for a popular movement to express itself.

the US occupation of Iraq is facing significant opposition. the US wants its Iraqi puppets to take over as ostensible rulers although they are deeply unpopular. By July, as US soldiers faced increasing Iraqi resistance, an angry discussion from disgruntled us troops and their families began to spread through the internet. These developments may throw up opportunities for new campaigns.

The political situation in the Middle East is now more unstable—despite the "road map" in Palestine—as a result of US threats to Syria and Iran. Washington's sabre-rattling against North Korea is another growing public concern. Given the strength of popular feeling against the war on Iraq, the movement could be revived fairly quickly.

Since April, the main anti-war coalitions have been reluctant to call any actions against the occupation of Iraq or other imperialist war threats.

Nevertheless, there remains a lot of anger about Australia's involvement in the war, and testing the depth of consciousness about imperialism remains important. Offering explanations as to why the US launched its drive for "permanent war", why federal and state governments want to curb civil liberties, why the UN in Iraq will not help bring the Iraqi people what they need—self-determination—is an important part of this.

The polls show increasing disillusion with the unipolar world. A June 26 BBC poll of 11 nations conducted by Roy Morgan11 found clear concerns about the US empire. In particular, a majority said that the US was not a force for good (55 per cent); that the US is paying the costs of its rulers' policies (62 per cent); and that the US thinks it can do what it likes (63 per cent).

These attitudes are bound to spread as the lies are further exposed and the casualties increase, an inevitability as the Iraqi resistance gets organised and the number of coalition troops being sent to Iraq increases.

With typical arrogance, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld has dismissed the comparison of the quagmire for US troops in Iraq with what happened in Vietnam nearly three decades ago. It may be a "different time, a different era, and a different place", as Rumsfeld put it, but the US aggression is the same and the "Vietnam syndrome"—the abhorrence of unjustified war—is alive and well. The millions who mobilised this year were motivated not simply by the unjustified attack on a much weaker nation, but because of an accumulated dissent against neo-liberal globalisation and a healthy distrust of Western-style "democracy".

In addition to organising against the occupation of Iraq, we also have to be ready to campaign against US plans to attack North Korea and Cuba—two possible targets in its "war on terrorism". Canberra is also now talking of accepting a US invitation to help interdict North Korean ships, a potential trigger for war in Asia.

Canberra is also flexing its neo-colonial muscles in the South Pacific, sending 1500 troops and 155 police to the Solomon Islands in late July. The pre-emptive strike is ostensibly aimed at restoring "law and order", but in reality it is a mission to protect Australian capital and prop up a corrupt neo-colonial regime, and must be opposed.

It's likely that the anti-war coalitions in Britain and the US will continue, much as they did after the war on Afghanistan. In Australia, we must work to keep the networks and coalitions together, while remaining alert to openings for a new round of mass mobilisation against imperialist war.


1. See <www.gallup.com.poll/releases/pr030701>.

2. The poll was conducted by Hawker Britton and umr Research. Sydney Morning Herald, July 10, 2003.

3. Naomi Klein, "The daily war", Guardian, uk, March 17, 2003.

4. See <www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,6687160%255E27157,00>.

5. Vannessa Hearman, "CFMEU's Kingham: `We need broad support'", Green Left Weekly, April 23, 2003.

6. See <www.booksnotbombs.org.au>.

7. "Beyond War: Building a Just and Lasting Peace in Iraq". A joint statement by Australian civil society groups. April 11, 2003. See <www.ncca.org.au/mediarelease/2003/beyond_war_Iraq.html>

8. Iraqi Communist Party, "The Collapse of Dictatorship!", Tareeq Al-Sha'ab, No.9, April 2003. See <www.iraqcp.org>.

9. Worker Communist Party of Iraq, "The Collapse of the Fascist Ba'ath Regime", April 9, 2003. See <www.wpiraq.org/english/hizb120403.htm

10. Tariq Ali, "Re-colonizing Iraq", No. 21, New Left Review, May-June 2003.

11. Roy Morgan Polls, No 3643, June 26, 2003. See <www.roymorgan.com/news/polls/polls.cfm>