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May 5, 2006

Grand Coalition


The Left and Right can and should join together against military adventurism

by Neil Clark

"What is lacking today is a permanent, populist, broad-based political force to challenge the worldview of the serial globalizers and the advocates of endless war. The Peace Party can be that force. The global crisis we face today makes the old Left-Right arguments over public ownership and tax rates irrelevant. Let's have those debates later, but first let's get rid of those who threaten us with Armageddon."

In March 2003, on the eve of the war against Iraq, I wrote in The American Conservative of the urgent need for a permanent Left/Right alliance to challenge the dominance of the warmongers who have seized control of the government and opposition parties on both sides of the Atlantic.

The response to my article, an Anglicized version of which later appeared in the British left-wing weekly The New Statesman, took me completely by surprise. I was inundated with e-mails and letters of support and questions as to how such an alliance could be brought about.

The idea for a new Left-Right "Peace Party" first came to me after attending the big antiwar demonstration in London in September 2002 and then reading an article by Stuart Reid in the Guardian, six weeks later. Reid, deputy editor of the London Spectator, occasional contributor to Chronicles and The American Conservative, and self-confessed hard-core paleo, wrote of "feeling a little unloved" after attending the largest antiwar demonstration in Britain's history. "The organizers boasted that the event had attracted men and women from all walks of life," he wrote, "teachers, social workers, trade unionists, students, and members of the Muslim community. There was no suggestion that among the 400,000 or so who turned up there were also soldiers, lawyers, civil servants, gentlemen farmers, quantity surveyors, bookie's runners, sub postmistresses, self-employed plumbers, or heaven forbid Telegraph Group journalists. As far as the organizers were concerned, this was a respectable left-wing gig." Having marched alongside Stuart Reid and other antiwar conservatives that day, I knew exactly what he meant. It really did seem as if the march's left-wing organizers had been taken by surprise at just how widespread opposition to the war in Iraq was.

Attending the march, and the later one in February 2003, convinced me that we were witnessing the first, unofficial steps toward a new political realignment: the emergence of a cross-party, radical new peace movement that consisted not just of the "usual suspects," but of true-blue conservatives and establishment figures too. But how could we make the alliance a reality?

After hours of discussions with like-minded friends from across the political spectrum, a "Regime Change UK Conference" was organized for May 2003. The conference's aim was "to unite all those who challenge the worldview of the advocates of endless war" and to "discuss ways of achieving democratic, meaningful regime change in the UK." Over 200 invitations were sent out, but getting prominent antiwar figures from both Left and Right to sign on to our draft declaration did not prove easy. The Times columnist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris wrote to say that although he was interested in our plan, he "just didn't sign joint declarations"; Tariq Ali and Harold Pinter both failed to respond. Campaigning journalist John Pilger sent us his best wishes, but unfortunately could not attend as he was out of the country filming, while military historian Correlli Barnett also sent us a generous message of support.

In the end, less than 50 people attended the London conference, but it still proved a stimulating event. Among the speakers, veteran peace campaigner Dr. James Thring talked of the illegal nature of the war in Iraq; William Spring of Christians Against NATO Aggression on the way both Blair and Bush had misappropriated the Christian message; Adolfo Olaechea, a London-based human rights campaigner, on the need to attract the support of Britain's traditional conservative establishment; while I spoke of the challenge of countering the disproportionate influence of the war lobby in the British and American media.

We went away from the conference in high spirits: at least a start had been made. Our spirits rose even higher when we saw that the idea for a new realignment seemed to be gaining support on both sides of the Atlantic. "Those who want to save the country, whatever party they are now trapped in, should begin, now, to consider the formation of a new movement that will give voice to the millions who look from one corner of the House of Commons to another, but can see hardly anyone who understands their fears or knows their needs," declared Peter Hitchens, the authentic voice of British conservatism, in the Mail on Sunday, one month later.

Across the pond, Web sites like Antiwar.com and Counterpunch were also starting to sing from the same hymn sheet. "A few principled leftists realize that they need to broaden the appeal of the movement to oppose the war and that the only reliable allies they can hope for come from the anti-interventionist Right," argued Antiwar's Justin Raimondo. "If the Left can ever reach out to this [populist, antiwar] Right we'll have something," was the view of Counterpunch's Alexander Cockburn.

The move toward a historic Left-Right realignment, though gathering momentum in cyberspace, was still not reflected in the official antiwar movement. In Britain, Stop the War had done an excellent job in getting the people on the streets in the two big prewar demonstrations, but under the influence of groups such as the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party seemed reluctant to take the next logical step. The Respect Party, founded by renegade left-wing politician George Galloway in 2004 after his expulsion from the Labor Party, also failed to achieve a breakthrough. Instead of pitching his appeal as widely as possible, to transcend class, race, and political affiliation, Galloway instead went for the Muslim inner city: a strategy that provided him with a seat in Parliament at the last general election and a launchpad for a lucrative media career, but that failed to make Messrs. Perle, Frum, and Feith lose too much sleep. Last year though, there were encouraging signs that Stop the War was beginning to grasp the need for a radical new departure. The group's chairman, Andrew Murray, wrote to me to ask if I would be able to help find two or three conservative antiwar speakers for the antiwar rally planned for that September.

Only bad luck prevented us from pulling it off. Former Minister of Defense Lord (Ian) Gilmour injured his back at home and was unable to take part; Dr. John Laughland, trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group and a regular contributor to The American Conservative was away on his honeymoon; while Peter Hitchens, although in principle in favor of a new realignment, had reservations about the pro-multicultural nature of the event and its attempt to link the antiwar struggle with the issue of Palestine.

Also in 2005, there was an exciting new development in Boston: the formation of the Antiwar League, with its mission "to mobilize opponents from every corner of the political spectrum against the plans of our Republicrat rulers for perpetual war." The League, under its energetic organizer Doug Fuda, has plans to set up chapters across America and campaigns not just for the return of U.S. troops from Iraq, but for the dismantling of what it calls the "highly centralized war-making power of the federal government." Of similar mind, San Francisco's Stephen Pender, writing in Antiwar.com, argued that the Anti-Imperialist League, formed in opposition to the U.S. aggression against the Philippines in 1898, could be the blueprint for a new cross-party antiwar movement. "One can begin to see the outlines of a movement in which ordinary persons of conscience from Left, Center, and Right can coalesce around specific issues against the neocons," he wrote.

As we pass the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it is time to bring all these new, positive approaches and ideas under the umbrella of one transatlantic organization. In time, the group can extend to other countries and become a truly international antiwar movement, but first and foremost the most pressing task is to reclaim our own democracies in Britain and the U.S. as it is our governments, not those of Belgium, Bolivia, or Thailand, which pose the greatest threats to peace today. The Peace Party would not be a party in the traditional sense of the term (it would not put candidates forward for public office) but a high-profile pressure group where all opponents of war would feel at home regardless of their views on abortion, public ownership, fox-hunting, or capital punishment. Affiliated groups or organizations would be able to keep their own identity and individual programs, but would agree to cooperate on a mutually agreed set of common principles.

The principles would, I suggest, be the following: the rejection of all forms of imperialism, whether they fly under a military, financial, or human rights banner; opposition to the international rule of money power and global corporate governance; support for the rule of international law, national sovereignty, and the principles of the UN Charter; opposition to the War Party's attempts to curtail our age-old civil liberties under the pretext of "The War on Terror"; and last, but certainly not least, our rejection of war as a method of solving international disputes.

For anyone agreed with most of these points whether a disciple of Ayn Rand or Karl Marx, Russell Kirk or Tony Benn, Jesus Christ or Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama or Lew Rockwell the Peace Party would be a home.

"A Left-Right alliance of viscerally antiwar liberals and nationalist 'America First' conservatives will naturally evolve over time as the horrible consequences of this war come home to roost: they will find themselves moving ineluctably toward one another, in program if not in spirit. The only problem is that, by that time, it will be too late," wrote Justin Raimondo in 2003. With those who planned the disastrous invasion of Iraq now clamoring for what would be an even more calamitous military confrontation with its more powerful neighbor, it's still not too late for us to make a difference. For the sake of the vast majority of decent, peace-loving citizens in the U.S. and Britain and the millions of people throughout the world threatened by the aggressive actions of our governments let's finally make it happen.

This piece originally appeared in The American Conservative.

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Neil Clark is a British-based writer and broadcaster specializing in Middle Eastern and Balkan affairs.

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