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Protest politics, APEC and the war we need to end

A debate has broken out about tactics at the recent APEC summit. There is a section of the left which considers that the APEC protests were a dismal failure* weren't as successful as they could have been as they presented an opportunity for a level of militancy that wasn't realised. We published a view here on this by Pip Hinman and Alex Bainbridge : Why the Stop Bush/ Make Howard History protest was a success

This perspective has been challenged in a thread on LeftWrites.Below we reproduce Pip Hinman's contribution to that discussion. We also suggest you read an article published in the latest edition of the US Socialist Worker:Does it matter if we protest?

by Pip Hinman

Yes, as Liz Turner remarks, the left does need do do more than just build rally after rally.

Why did the mass anti-war movement that rose up, reasonably quickly in 2002-2003, drop dramatically after the invasion? Was it a failure of the left to keep organising? No. A large section of the movement – the more liberal wing – lost confidence in being able to do anything to pull the troops out. In addition, the ALP and some unions which had given significant logistical support to the movement no longer wanted to. In Sydney, Labor split the main organising committee, Walk Against War, a significant setback for the movement.

It was the left which then formed the Stop the War Coalition, along with some radical Greens and independent anti-war activists.

We have not “failed to put forward a strong argument about what kind of action will stop the war”. There’s no secret to how the other major war (Vietnam) was stopped: it was a combination of Vietnamese resistance, GI resistance, union blockades and actions and mass actions (including mass civil disobedience actions).

In other words, no one action – or single tactic – can stop war (in Iraq or Afghanistan), but a combination, on a sustained basis, can. That’s the main lesson from the anti-Vietnam war movement. Fetishing civil disobedience as the single most important tactic is wrong, because it downplays the role that working people can and have to lay in any significant social movement.

Lifting people’s confidence in the value, and necessity, of struggle, and defence of our rights and those of others, is very important right now. We’ve had a grim 11 years under Howard and an increasingly conservative ALP which, under Rudd, is echoing the Howard line of: “It’s ok to disagree with the war in Iraq, just don’t try and organise against it. Use the ballot box to express your displeasure.” Both major parties are trying to de-legitimise the tactic of mass mobilizations.

In this context, as well as the police state aggression, the tactics deployed by the Stop Bush Coalition were spot on. The peaceful, but defiant, nature of the APEC protest demolished the Howard/Rudd “violent feral” myth for many who had been swayed by the images of G20 being blasted everywhere, and it lifted people’s confidence in social movements being able to make some political gains. It also secured an important opening for Stop the War Coalition in Sydney to work with the broader union movement – something that we have struggled with for three years since the split in the movement.

These are important victories for the anti-war movement which we should not underestimate. We still, however, have a fight on our hands to convince more people to get active in the movements, and to realise that our power remains our mobilising capability. That doesn’t mean we should only seek to organise mass protests, but does put a premium on networking and alliance building which is essential if we’re to bring larger numbers onto the streets.

Ultimately, people’s confidence in struggle changes with them taking some form of action – and if that action is taken along with masses of others confidence tends to rise (the IR rallies are also testimony to this). Is this direct action? Yes, but in a mass and overtly political way.

Pip Hinman

PS. Raul Bassi is a founding member of the Socialist Alliance in Sydney
* My original wording was exaggerated and wrong.So I've adjusted it to fit the facts. See this review here --DR

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