Can you imagine if they had stopped a war?
The incredible thing is that in the minds of some, that march did succeed. How else to explain the vitriol, the gnashing of teeth, the sheer fury the Stop the War Coalition continues to inspire among those who demand it be condemned whenever it rears its head? How can an organisation that is otherwise such a laughing stock, ran by far leftists who have never won a thing in their lives be regarded as such a malign force? How can an group that has not stopped a single war it has campaigned against inspire otherwise well-grounded individuals, who insist they respect those with anti-war opinions, to repeatedly come out with the most childish taunts and absurd criticisms?
Believe it or not, today's Independent regards the latest machinations surrounding the StWC and Jeremy Corbyn as being the top issue facing the country. Labour MPs and the likes of James Bloodworth are demanding that Corbyn, whom is attending the StWC's Friday dinner to effectively hand over the chairmanship that he resigned from after becoming Labour leader, to not go. Corbyn in response has said that "The anti-war movement has been a vital democratic campaign which organised the biggest demonstrations in British history and has repeatedly called it right over 14 years of disastrous wars in the wider Middle East."
Well yes, but what exactly do opponents of those wars have to show for it other than being able to signal their righteousness? Almost nothing. At best, they can point to how, finally, the debate on Syria last week was somewhat better informed than previous ones and did consider if we could be making the same mistakes again.
Otherwise, what is there? As has been made clear, to be against war is one thing; to campaign against it, whether that involves lobbying your MP or protesting outside an MP's constituency office is to risk being tarred as a bully or far worse. In this world, a vigil organised in part by a local vicar becomes a mob, with the Labour deputy leader going so far as to say that if Labour members were among the crowd they should be expelled from the party. Words taken completely out of context from blog posts that were hosted on the Stop the War site before being swiftly deleted and disowned are repeated over and over. Yes, it does sound awful on the surface that StWC apparently said "Paris reaped the whirlwind", or that "IS fighters are the equivalent of the International Brigades", only they didn't, and the author of the latter has apologised profusely for any misunderstanding.
It is nonetheless impossible to pretend that the StWC are the ideal organisation or vehicle for mainstream anti-war sentiment. They are not, and have always been tied up with the familiar baggage Trotskyist groups carry, some of whom do still believe in being anti-imperialist only when it's Western countries invading and bombing other nations. They are however the only one we have, and there is no reason to believe if there was a new anti-war group created that was entirely separate from the manoeuvrings of the rump far left it would be regarded any more kindly when its goals would be the same.
This is because the majority doing the finger jabbing now are the exact same people who were condemning their comrades on the left back in 2003. The standard flavour of discourse both now and then can be gleaned from a Nick Cohen piece for the Telegraph back in January of that year, when he complained of how the anti-war movement ignored Iraqi democrats. 12 years later, and what's being used as one of the principal weapons to bash the StWC, including by Peter Tatchell, who ought to know better? That they won't so much as let Syrians speak. The precise details, that these Syrians are in fact a UK group specifically calling for a "limited" intervention in their country, not against Islamic State but against Assad, something that would entail a direct confrontation with the Russians, are naturally left out.
When that gets a bit stale, it's back to the what-abouttery the Eustonites claim to be so against. Why aren't they protesting outside the Russian embassy? Why? Why aren't they condemning this, or this, or that? Why aren't they doing what an anti-war group of my fantasy would, which is admit it's wrong about everything and commit ritual suicide on the graves of the victims they both blame and ignore? There is simply no satisfying them, however much they claim to be reasonable: Bloodworth in his article writes "even on those rare occasions where the government appears to be acting militarily for the greater good, there is usually some base motive buried under it all," as though he has opposed any of the wars when in his words the government wasn't acting for the greater good. The StWC could protest outside the embassies of every government involved in the proxy war in Syria, and still it wouldn't gain them any grudging respect. Nor would it have any impact whatsoever; what is the point of gathering outside the Russian embassy when our government, about the only one that could possibly be influenced by such protests has so little sway over them?
What it all eventually comes back to is the touching faith the pro-war left continues to have, for reasons unknown, in politicians and military commanders who often hold views diametrically opposed to theirs. The Iraq war was never about those Iraqi democrats, whom the likes of Cohen dropped just as quickly as the Americans did. Syria has never been about protecting civilians, not in 2013 and certainly not now, otherwise we would have been serious about trying to reach a settlement in the early years of the conflict. Hillary Benn can talk about fighting fascists, when to George Osborne far more important is that "we've got our mojo back". Reducing bombing to being about national prestige, slandering opponents as terrorist sympathisers, both seem a lot more disreputable, repugnant and abhorrent than going to a fundraiser for an organisation that whatever its faults, has always exercised its democratic rights legitimately and lawfully. In the end, there's a choice we all have to make.