The challenge of George Galloway’s ‘Bradford Spring’

APRIL 4, 2012 – In the end, it wasn’t even close. Britain’s most prominent anti-war politician, George Galloway, is back as a Member of Parliament for his Respect Party, after receiving support so overwhelming that he had, in the words of a reporter for The Guardian, “annihilated the Labour vote”. As impressive as was his 10,000 vote majority in the by-election in his new constituency of Bradford West, even more so was the social movement feel which accompanied his campaign, replete with “first-time voters shimmying up trees to hang Respect banners” and “taxi drivers competing to see who could cancel their Labour party membership first” (Phidd 2012). Invoking the great mass movements in the Middle East from last year, Galloway called it the “Bradford Spring”. He will now, again, have an internationally recognized public forum from which to be tribune of the anti-war movement, and support the long struggle of the people of Palestine. Responding to him will be a real challenge for the pro-war Con-Dem Coalition, and the New Labour “opposition”. His victory also highlights challenges facing social movements in Britain and elsewhere.

For Con-Dem (the coalition of Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats) and New Labour, these challenges are obvious. All three major parties are deeply implicated in the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Galloway has been by far their most prominent opponent. He was suspended from the Labour Party in 2003, and ultimately expelled for saying that the U.S. and Britain had invaded Iraq “like wolves” and “urging British soldiers to disobey ‘illegal orders’” (Hall 2003).

Given the carnage which has happened in the years since, his position of 2003 looks prophetic. British casualties in Iraq, from 2003 until 2009, totaled 5,970 including 179 dead. In Afghanistan, the toll has been even higher. From 2008 through 2011, there were annually, on average, more than 2,400 British casualties. In total since 2001, 404 British troops have died (Casualty Monitor 2009; Casualty Monitor 2012). We have no idea about the civilian toll in the two countries – the U.S., Britain, Canada and the other coalition forces have shown no interest in keeping track. A very conservative figure puts civilian deaths in Afghanistan at 8,813 and the Iraq total at 100,000. Other figures go far higher – by one estimate 864,531 civilians killed in Iraq, part of 1,556,156 total casualties as of August, 2010 (Iraq Body Count (IBC) 2012; Unkown News 2010).

New Labour and the Tories both, of course, have this blood on their hands. New Labour was in office for the launch of both the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. It was only able to enter the one in Iraq when massive backing from the Tories fended off the anti-war votes from 122 Labour MP (Blitz 2003). The Liberal Democrats have played a more equivocal role. They made a name for themselves as “the mainstream anti-war voice” by coming out against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But they supported going to war in Afghanistan in 2001, a war which has proven to be just as futile as the war in Iraq, and far more costly in terms of British lives lost (Russell, Cutts, and Fieldhouse 2007, 194). And now, of course, they sit side by side with the Tories, propping up the Tory-led, Con-Dem, pro-war coalition.

Galloway has consistently linked these wars to the ongoing occupation of Palestine. It was for his support of Palestine, and his criticism of what he called “the most extreme Israeli government in history” that Canada’s Tories banned him from Canada (a ban which Galloway and the anti-war movement in Canada fought and successfully overturned). Throughout the entire period of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, Galloway explained how both wars were linked to the occupation of Palestine. “The price of peace” he argued “is justice for the Palestinians” (Galloway 2010).

The price of war and occupation has been horrendous. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 “resulted in at least 1,109 Lebanese deaths, the vast majority of whom were civilians, 4,399 injured and an estimated 1 million displaced” (Human Rights Watch 2007, 4). During Israel’s assault on Gaza between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009, “the magnitude of the harm to the local population was unprecedented: 1,389 Palestinians were killed, 759 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18” (B’Tselem 2010).

In domestic politics, the most important issues facing Britain are the aftershocks from the Great Recession of 2008-2009. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Britain’s recovery from that slump has been short-lived, the economy having slipped back into recession (Inman 2012). But the domestic economic problems are in fact intimately linked to the three key foreign policy issues outlined here – Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. In Britain and elsewhere, the foreign wars and occupations in the Middle East and Central Asia, have served the domestic purpose of distracting the population at home by dividing people along racist lines. Islamophobia has become an ugly scar, cutting through community after community in Britain, even allowing the extreme right wing to begin to regain a foothold in British Politics. As Galloway was celebrating his Bradford Spring, the neo-Nazi English Defence League (EDL) was attempting to organize with similar groups from continental Europe in a racist “Stop the Islamification of Europe” event in Denmark (Norman 2012). This kind of racist Islamophobia cannot be challenged without simultaneously challenging the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing occupation of Palestine.

For clearly staking out his position against war, occupation and Islamophobia, Galloway has become the target for some pretty awful abuse at the hands of the pro-war media. Much of this involves hurling insults to avoid responding to Galloway’s cogent arguments. The late Christopher Hitchens – who had by the 21st century wandered far from his left-wing youth, ending up in the pro-Iraqi war camp – railed against Galloway, calling him a “hysterically extremist political thug” (Hitchens 2007). Others have simply short-circuited discussion by labeling him the “Saddam-supporting British MP” (Raphael 2004). Sometimes the insults took a racialized turn. The Business in 2003 attacked Galloway and one of his supporters saying both “look like well-fed sheikhs” (The Business 2003). Some of the most vociferous attacks came from figures associated with the British left. Nick Cohen, writing in the New Statesman, said that “Respect, the alliance between the Muslim Association of Britain and the Socialist Workers Party [SWP], shows how ugly the far left in Britain has become” (Cohen 2004, 26). When Galloway was elected to Parliament as a Respect member in 2005, Cohen called it the “worst result” of election night because “an alliance between the intellectually bankrupt Marxist-Leninists of the Socialist Workers Party and Islamic fundamentalists” had been behind the victory. “Let’s not mince words. George Galloway’s defeat of [the Labour Party’s] Oona King is a disaster for the democratic left. As the campaign was fought on communalist lines, it is a disaster for multiracial London” (Cohen 2005, 11).

In politics, the term communalism has different meanings. In certain analyses, it is used to express the “democratic and potentially practicable dimension of the libertarian goal” (Bookchin 2001). Cohen was invoking the much more common use of the term, one often deployed in the Indian sub-continent. “Communalism is a political trend dating from the late 19th century that takes India’s religious groups (or ‘communities’) as the natural components of political life. Communalists thus seek political mobilization along religious lines, with high-caste Hindus and wealthy Muslims as the ‘natural’ leaders–and members of other religious groups as the ‘natural’ antagonists” (Vanaik and Lal 2004). In a careful analysis in 1992, Achin Vanaik said that the communalist movements “harden the divisions between different religious communities and increase tensions between them” (1992, 47 and 50). Bipan Chandra deploys the term with effect to analyze the ideology of the Hindu nationalist, anti-Muslim RSS (National Patriotic Organization) in India. Chandra is very blunt in his analysis. “Communalism in India is a form of fascism” (Chandra 1990, 42). The label of “communalism” then, is not one to be lightly thrown around. When directed at Respect – a party campaigning in Britain against war, against imperialism and against Islamophobia – its use is completely out of context and clearly absurd.

But in spite of this barrage of near hysterical criticism, a massive anti-war movement was built, with “Respect: The Unity Coalition” as its political face. Galloway has been, along with Salma Yaqoob, the most visible public figure associated with Respect and the anti-war movement – Galloway as the one Respect candidate to win a seat in the House of Commons, Yaqoob, the massively respected woman from an Islamic background, who has become an internationally-known symbol of the fight against war, imperialism and Islamophobia, and who from 2006 until stepping down for health reasons in 2011, was an elected Birmingham City Councillor (Gibbons 2011). The coming together of Yaqoob and Galloway, along with most of the key organizations and individuals of the British “left of Labour”, was an accomplishment which achieved international recognition, and from which many of us drew inspiration.

Between Galloway’s 2005 election win in Bethnal Green and this year’s win in Bradford West, Respect had to navigate a severe internal crisis. In 2007, the SWP, linked so closely to Galloway by Cohen in 2005, suddenly became his harshest critic. Prior to 2007, SWP publications had very effectively challenged the “communalist” charge, used in such a perverse way by Cohen in 2005 (Middleton 2006). But by late 2007, things had changed. Respect leaders such as Yaqoob had to defend Respect from the communalist charge (Yaqoob 2007), this time being levelled by leading members of the SWP itself (Harman 2008, 35–36). The divide between the SWP and Galloway was portrayed as a “left-right” split, the right being Galloway and his supporters (Socialist Worker 2007). Three very prominent SWP members who refused to part company with Galloway, were expelled from the party. To outside observers, the dispute was almost incomprehensible, particularly when it became framed in the context of obscure stories about century-old disputes in the European left, including a divide in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903 (Socialist Worker 2007), and a divide between two rival groups at the founding of the Second International in 1889 (Harman 2008, 25).

Fortunately, Respect survived the crisis. Far from being on the right, leading Respect members such as George Galloway, Salma Yaqoob and Kevin Ovenden have played a prominent role as leaders of the Palestine solidarity movement in Britain. All three participated in the Summer University of Palestine in 2011 (Viva Palestina 2011a). Viva Palestina, which sponsored that university, has organized numerous aid convoys to Gaza, with Galloway playing a leading role. Ovenden, one of the three expelled from the SWP, was aboard the Mavi Marmara when it was attacked by the Israeli military in May 2010, leading to the deaths of nine Turkish citizens (Viva Palestina 2011b). And fortunately, the disputes of 2007 are no longer visible in 2012. There are now two organizations associated with those who led the SWP in 2007, and both of them warmly welcomed Galloway’s victory in Bradford West (Counterfire 2012; Bhattacharyya 2012).

Galloway is a complicated figure. He caused considerable embarrassment to the anti-war movement, with his strange 2006 appearance on the television show “Big Brother” (The Economist 2006). He is unapologetic in his support for the Soviet Union, calling the disappearance of that Stalinist state “the biggest catastrophe of my life” (Hattenstone 2002). More substantially, his position is very conservative and on the wrong side of history, when he argues that “abortion is morally and ethically wrong” (Cohen 2004).

But he doesn’t do international speaking tours about choice on abortion, or to be nostalgic about Stalinism. He does speaking tours to condemn the occupation of Palestine, to challenge politicians like Harper, Cameron, Blair, Bush and Obama who again and again and again, in the pursuit of state power and corporate profits, show themselves willing to sacrifice young people from their own country by the hundreds, and people of all ages from the Global South by the tens of thousands.

Galloway has demonstrated, over the last ten years, that principled anti-imperialism can be combined with an open challenge to rightward moving social democracy, and that opposition can move from the margins to the mainstream, finding an opening in electoral politics. Clearly this is of interest to the social movements in Britain. For those of us in Canada, faced with a rightward moving NDP under its new ex-Liberal leader Thomas Mulcair, those lessons are just as important. Stephen Harper, for one, is aware of the reality of this challenge. That is why he tried to ban Galloway from Canada.

Galloway, together with the anti-war movement in Canada, broke that ban, and November 25, 2010, I was one of an audience of hundreds in a packed auditorium at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where he gave a magnificent presentation on war and empire. For one and a half hours, without notes, Galloway took the crowd on a tour through the Middle East and Central Asia, analyzed the dynamics of imperialism and national oppression, made the case for justice for the Palestinians and for an end to the war in Afghanistan – relating all of this to his own conflict with the current Tory administration in Ottawa. In his sum-up, he looked the audience in the eyes and said there were three words to take away from his presentation in the current period – “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,” the three key words of the movement to build support for the people of Palestine (Palestinian BDS National Committee 2012).

Part of a marathon 10-city tour organized by a coalition of organizations – including the Halifax Peace Coalition, the Canadian Arab Federation, Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and Independent Jewish Voices (Defend Free Speech 2010) – the Edmonton meeting was a magnificent example of how to convincingly present unpopular ideas to a mass audience. Galloway is an asset in the fight against war and imperialism.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

Publishing history

This article has been published as Britain: The challenge of George Galloway’s ‘Bradford Spring’,” Links, 4 April; “Britain: The challenge of George Galloway’s ‘Bradford Spring’,” JK Alternative Viewpoint, 16 April.


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Bhattacharyya, Anindya. 2012. “George Galloway Storms to Victory in Bradford West By-election.” Socialist Worker, March 31, online edition.

Blitz, James. 2003. “Blair Wins Iraq Vote but More MPs Rebel.” Financial Times, March 19.

Bookchin, Murray. 2001. “What Is Communalism? The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism.” Anarchy Archives.

Casualty Monitor. 2009. “British Casualties: Iraq.” Casualty Monitor.

———. 2012. “British Casualties: Afghanistan.” Casualty Monitor.

Chandra, Bipan. 1990. “Communalism and the State: Some Issues in India.” Social Scientist 18 (8/9): 38–47.

Cohen, Nick. 2004. “Saddam’s Very Own Party.” New Statesman, June 7.

———. 2005. “Weird – but Not in a Good Way.” New Statesman, May 9.

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Defend Free Speech. 2010. “George Galloway Announces 10-city Speaking Tour of Canada.”

Galloway. 2010. “As I Was About to Say …; … Before I Was so Rudely Interrupted by Jason Kenney.” The Ottawa Citizen, November 24.

Gibbons, Brett. 2011. “Respect Leader Salma Yaqoob to Stand down as Birmingham Councillor.” Birmingham Post, July 7.

Hall, Ben. 2003. “Expelled Galloway Could Exact Revenge on Labour at the Polls.” Financial Times, October 24.

Harman, Chris. 2008. “The Crisis in Respect.” International Socialism (117) (January): 25–48.

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Hitchens, Christopher. 2007. “The Disgrace of George Galloway.” National Post, July 25.

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Middleton, Jacob. 2006. “Respect and the ‘Muslim Vote’.” Socialist Review, June.

Norman, Peter. 2012. “The English Defence League in Aarhus, 31 March 2012.” Searchlight Magazine, March 30.

Palestinian BDS National Committee. 2012. “BDS Movement: Freedom, Justice, Equality.”

Phidd, Helen. 2012. “George Galloway Hails ‘Bradford Spring’ as Labour Licks Its Wounds.” The Guardian, March 30, sec. Politics.

Raphael, Therese. 2004. “Saddam’s Global Payroll.” Wall Street Journal, February 9.

Russell, Andrew, David Cutts, and Ed Fieldhouse. 2007. “National–Regional–Local: The Electoral and Political Health of the Liberal Democrats in Britain.” British Politics 2 (2) (July): 191–214

Socialist Worker. 2007. “Editorial – Political Reasons for Division in Respect.” Socialist Worker, November 10, 2076 edition.

The Business. 2003. “Galloway’s Front Man in Iraq ; Fawaz Zureikat, the Jordanian Mr Fixit Who Had a Hot Line to the Regime in Baghdad.” The Business, April 27.

The Economist. 2006. “Britain: Big Blatherer; George Galloway.” The Economist, January 14.

Unkown News. 2010. “Casualties in Afghanistan & Iraq.” Unknown News.

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———. 2011b. “Viva Palestina – a Lifeline from Britain to Gaza.”

Yaqoob, Salma. 2007. “Challenges for Respect.” What Next?

Afghanistan – Et tu Bruce?[1]

Bruce Cockburn sang against U.S. imperialism in Guatemala. He sang for the revolution in Nicaragua. He is now singing for Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan. Our movement is weaker for it.

In the 1980s, Central America was in the throes of revolution and counter-revolution. The signature event was the 1979 overthrow of the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, an overthrow led and organized by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). That revolution was bitterly opposed by the Generals who controlled many Central and South American states at the time, and the United States which had long backed military regimes in the region. U.S. president Ronald Reagan, funded a bloody proxy war against the Sandinistas, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. Building solidarity with the Sandinista revolution – and with the other resistance movements in Central and South America – was a central political task for activists in the Global North in that decade.

Cockburn did his part. In 1983 he traveled to Mexico and Nicaragua, “with several other Canadian artists at the invitation of OXFAM, the world hunger organization.”[2] The result was a beautiful and moving 1984 album, Stealing Fire, many of whose songs were inspired by the repression and resistance he encountered on his trip. “Nicaragua,” “Dust and Diesel” and “Yanqui go home” are explicit tributes to the new society being wrenched from imperialism’s grasp in desperately poor and embattled Nicaragua.[3] “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” is the best-known track from the album, famously covered by Bareknaked Ladies.” It is not explicitly political, but when he calls out that you’ve “got to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight,” we knew what he meant.

Bruce has now stumbled into the darkness of support for Canada’s war effort in Afghanistan. His brother is a Captain in the Canadian military, and part of Canadian forces in Afghanistan. In early September, Bruce went to the country, visited his brother, and performed for Canadian troops while he was there.

“It’s a long discussion on whether we should be in Afghanistan” he said, “whether anyone should be in Afghanistan … but since we are, and since we’ve gone this far, I don’t think it’s appropriate to leave at this stage.”[4]

This won’t do. Many of us have friends and relatives in Afghanistan. All of us want them to come home unharmed. All of us want them to come home without having done harm to others. But all of us – Cockburn included – have to ask ourselves the hard questions.

Are Canada’s troops – troops that include Bruce’s brother, two of my cousins, one of my close friend’s brother, and thousands of other Canadians either in Afghanistan or on their way – are these troops risking their lives for democracy and freedom?

What if the answer is “no?” What if we realize that the regime Canada is supporting is far from democratic (as the farce of the recent elections has clearly shown)? What if it is true that Canada is there for the same reason the U.S. is there, for the same reason the U.S. was, and is, in Central America – to expand the spheres of influence of the Great Powers in the region? And what if, as a brutal bonus, we conclude, as many military experts long ago concluded, that this war is not winnable?

For people of Bruce’s generation these hard questions might be hard to answer. In the 1980s, the progressive movement in Canada was dominated by “left nationalism.” Thousands in Canada understood the horror that was U.S. imperialism and joined movements to oppose it. But at the same time, many of those same people thought that Canada too was a victim of U.S. imperialism. The U.S. was bad, but Canada was good, peace-loving and democratic.

Cockburn’s confusion on Afghanistan represents the confusion of an older generation, looking to find the “good” Canada exporting its values abroad. Canada is at war in Afghanistan, and Canada is not the U.S., so maybe that makes Afghanistan “the good war,” a war to bring “Canadian values” to a far-off land? And besides, this war was problematic when it was conducted by the evil George W. Bush, but now we have the progressive Barack Obama in the White House. Surely Obama’s war is a good war?

Afghanistan is not a good war. The thing that made Afghanistan the wrong war was not that it was being conducted by George W. Bush – it was the wrong war because it was a war for U.S. corporate power. At the end of the day, that is what Bush represents – and it is what Obama continues.

The bitter reality is, that Canada is not one of the countries oppressed by the United States – it is a partner with the United States in keeping the world safe for corporate profits. They have Exxon and General Motors. We have Magna and Research In Motion. The fact of a border does not magically make “our” corporations any less greedy and avaricious than those in the United States. Our government is in bed with these corporations just as much as the U.S. government is in bed with its own corporations. This is what their democracy looks like, and it is not pretty.

Let’s not choose a “good” U.S. imperialism under Obama over a “bad” U.S. imperialism under Bush. Let’s not choose “good” Canada over “evil” United States. Whether we live in Canada or United States, we live in the privileged Global North that for too long has lived off oppressing the impoverished countries of the Global South.

Cockburn’s signature political song from Stealing Fire was, without a doubt, “If I had a Rocket Launcher.” He sang it to “wild applause” to members of Task Force Kandahar, after which – in a grotesque parody of the song and of Cockburn’s whole anti-imperialist past – he was temporarily presented with a rocket launcher by Task Force Kandahar commander General Jonathan Vance.[5]

Let’s not remember Cockburn for his new role as progressive cover for Canada’s imperial adventures abroad. Let’s remember him for his anti-war, anti-imperialist anthems from the 1980s. Let’s remember the helicopters which bring death and destruction to peasants and the poor in Guatemala, Colombia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Here’s your playlist to help in that process.

If I Had A Rocket Launcher
Lovers in a Dangerous Time and as performed by The Barenaked Ladies
Dust and Diesel
Call It Democracy

This article written in memory of anti-war teacher Wayne McCrank, 1960-2009.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg


[1] From “Et tu, Brute?” William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar,” Act III, Scene I, line 77 in Peter Alexander, ed., Tragedies: William Shakespeare (London: Collins, 1971). “Perhaps the most famous words uttered in literature, ‘Et tu, Brute?” (Even you, Brutus?) this expression has come down in history to mean the ultimate betrayal by one’s closest friend.” “Et tu Brute? Shakespearean Quotes,”
[2] “Songs: If I Had A Rocket Launcher,”
[3] Bruce Cockburn, Stealing Fire (Toronto: Golden Mountain Music Corp., 1984)
[4] Canadian Press, “Cockburn visits brother in Afghanistan,” Sept. 10, 2009
[5] Canadian Press, “Cockburn visits brother in Afghanistan

Dear Jack: Do you really want this war?

Open Letter to Jack Layton, federal leader of the NDP • Everywhere I go they are burying Canadian soldiers. Walking down Donlands Avenue December 12, there were the cameras and the men in uniform – waiting outside the Metamorphosis Greek Orthodox Church for the funeral of Private Demetrios Diplaros, killed in Afghanistan the week before.[1] Back at work in Peterborough, preparations were underway at Calvary Church for the funeral of Private Michael Freeman, killed in Afghanistan.[2] But this is the war that you say you want to inherit.

Your only Quebec MP, Thomas Mulcair has told the press, “the NDP is putting aside its differences that have existed historically with the Liberals on such issues as Afghanistan.”[3] And Jack, your coalition government – if it gets its way – will stay in office till 2011. Will there be another 100 Canadians killed on its watch? Another 200? And how many thousands of Afghanis?

Knowing that the NDP was calling for an immediate troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, was an enormous boost of confidence for thousands. Your actions have completely betrayed those thousands.

Last election, young people – the young people I see every day as a teacher, the young people that you and I both saw when we were both teachers at Ryerson University – just didn’t care about a choice between Harper, Dion or yourself. They didn’t see themselves in any of the parties. But I was able to tell them – in good conscience – that there was a big difference between your party and the others. Your party was committed to bringing the troops home – the troops sent to war by the Liberals, and dying in increasing numbers under the Conservatives. That argument worked. Young people hate this war. So when they were told that there was one party calling for an end to the war, they voted for you.

You have now lost their vote. You have sent them the message that principles like stopping a murderous, barbaric war are not as important – as what? What exactly did you get from your deal with the Liberals? Afghanistan is on the shelf. Taxing the corporations is on the shelf. The only thing you seem to have “won” is the promise of six cabinet seats. A religious man who greatly influenced me – an anti-war minister of the United Church – would have known what to call this – a mess of pottage. Look it up.

The coalition gambit was a top-down bureaucratic, back-room deal – and has been perceived as such by millions of ordinary Canadians who are recoiling in horror. The terrible effect of this backroom coalition adventure has been to bring Stephen Harper back from the dead – he’s soaring in the polls – and to accelerate the arrival of Michael Ignatieff as head of the Liberals – the same Michael Ignatieff who supported George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. Do you really want to sit at the cabinet table with Michael Ignatieff in the chair?

The war has come home, Jack. That funeral on Donlands was in your riding in Toronto, the riding that has time and again come out to the polls and sent you to Ottawa. If you say “troops out now” you have something to say to those folks. If you say “we’ll talk about it in 2011,” you have nothing to say that is any different from the Harper Tories.

Whatever. The movement goes on without you. We’ll be demonstrating April 4 in Toronto and in dozens of other cities chanting “troops out now!” You’re welcome to join us. There will be thousands of other NDP members there with us. But don’t expect a very warm welcome. On those marches, being against the war is a principle, not a bargaining chip.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg


[1] “A hero’s farewell,” Toronto Sun, December 12, 2008
[2] “Holidays delay Peterborough soldier’s funeral,”, January 2, 2009
[3] Murray Brewster, “NDP will not oppose Afghan war while in coalition,” Canadian Press, December 3, 2008

Afghanistan is still the issue – anti-war movement in convention

December 6, on the second day of the biennial (every two years) convention of the Canadian Peace Alliance, 100 or so delegates and observers gathered in the bitter cold on the sidewalk outside the student centre at Ryerson University in Toronto. Behind a massive banner and carrying dozens of placards saying “Troops Out of Afghanistan” we marched to join the 3,000 strong anti-Harper rally taking place that day at City Hall. We took the streets, and as our little contingent turned the last corner before arriving at City Hall, we took up the chant, “Harper Out of Ottawa, Canada Out of Afghanistan.” The message couldn’t have been clearer – no matter what government is in office, there is a movement on the streets telling any who will listen, Afghanistan is still the issue.

Most in the crowd greeted us with enthusiasm. Thousands of NDP members have been central to the anti-war movement. But Jack Layton has told them that the Afghanistan file is on the shelf while he pursues the increasingly forlorn project of coalescing with the Liberals. Suddenly, it is not at all clear that the NDP federal leadership considers it “legitimate” to be against Harper and against the war at the same time. The CPA contingent gave voice again to the crowd that was in its vast majority anti-war. The reception was fantastic (except for some disgruntled senior Liberal Party members). It was a moment when all present were very proud to be part of Canada’s anti-war movement. Opposing the war in Afghanistan is not a bargaining chip to be used in parliamentary coalition negotiations. It is a non-negotiable matter of principle. The troops must come home. The killing must stop.

The convention was an intense three-day event, December 5 to 7, which brought together elected delegates from 39 anti-war and peace organizations from across the country. Together with observers, more than 100 people attended.

The central decision of the conference was the adoption of a two-year “Campaign Goals, Strategy and Actions.” The delegates unanimously agreed that for the next two years, the war in Afghanistan and the War Resisters Campaign would be the strategic focuses for the CPA. The plan commits the CPA to two bi-national demonstrations against the war in Afghanistan each year, one in the spring, one in the autumn. The first one in 2009 will be held in the first week of April to coincide with the call from anti-war groups in Europe to mark the 60th anniversary of the creation of NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is prosecuting the brutal war in Afghanistan.

One of the most intense discussions occurred at a packed workshop centred around the war at home, and the attack on civil liberties. Matthew Behrens from Homes not Bombs said “the biggest losers from the Coalition have been the people of Afghanistan.” He and others expressed the fear that along with the war taking a back seat, so would campaigns around Islamophobia and the attacks on racialized communities. Delegates from the Tamil Youth Organization talked about how their community has been harassed and labelled as “terrorist”, and the implications that has had on community members. There was considerable enthusiasm for the idea of organizing a conference centred on the defence of civil liberties.

The issue of the changing political terrain and the war in Afghanistan was a recurring theme throughout the convention. On the opening panel, Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians said of the coalition, “we don’t agree with the concession around Afghanistan,” but nonetheless said that the coalition gave us “an opportunity to have our voices heard.” You can support the coalition, she argued, without agreeing with all its policies. On the Saturday panel, “Thinking Strategically: Building the movement to end the war,” Susan Spratt from the Canadian Auto Workers Union made a similar point. “Without a coalition” she argued, “we’re going to end up with a fascist regime that won’t budge on the war.”

But the overwhelming sentiment at the convention was that the anti-war movement had to steer an independent course. The CPA has a responsibility to keep the issue of “Troops Out of Afghanistan” in the public eye, by keeping the anti-war movement active and on the streets. This is even more the case when the political party with an official position calling for Troops Out – the NDP – has shamefully traded the push to end to the war for the promise of six cabinet seats.

The coming months will not be easy. In Canada, the Afghanistan issue has become confused because of the actions of the Coalition. In the United States, the election of Barack Obama has rightly excited millions. But while Obama is committed to winding down the war in Iraq, he is equally committed to a major escalation in Afghanistan. He is using his massive popularity to argue that Afghanistan is the “good war,” an argument that will confuse many people.

Raymond Legault from the Quebec based “Collectif Échec à la guerre” – attending the convention as an observer – argued that we had to face the fact that “fewer people are at our protests and rallies, not more.” This doesn’t mean an end to organizing, it just means that organizing has to take a different shape. “We don’t hear much about the reality of the war,” he said. “We need to bring this reality to people.” To that end, Échec à la guerre is organizing a Peoples’ Summit in Quebec for the autumn of 2009, to provide a forum where the bitter reality of war can be made more visible. The CPA delegates voted to organize a similar Peoples’ Summit in English Canada.

The convention was a real success, a coalescing of local anti-war organizing that revealed the framework around which our movement can continue to organize and build in the coming months – challenging Canada’s war both abroad and at home.

For more information, check out, and

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan

DECEMBER 5, 2008 – (Article 4 of 4) Of all the compromises that might happen to keep a coalition alive, by far the most troubling is the one that is brewing on the war in Afghanistan. As news of the coalition began to surface in the last week of November, The Globe and Mail reported that “a senior NDP official said that no policy issues are considered deal breakers” including that of the war in Afghanistan.[1]

This above all else has to be a “deal breaker.” The NDP has been the one major party that has been committed to ending the war in Afghanistan. As this is being written, news came across the wires that three Canadian soldiers have been killed, taking the military death toll past 100.[2] We don’t know how many Afghanis have been killed in the war – there is no official attempt to keep track.

No compromise is possible on war. You are either for it or against it. The Liberals began this war. The Liberals voted to extend it to 2011. We all know that it is an unwinnable war, fought for corporate profits and geopolitical power, not for democracy and human rights. An anti-war party cannot stay anti-war and enter a cabinet with a pro-war party. Layton and the NDP leadership have to face up to the fact, that were the coalition to take office, the war in Afghanistan would become their war, and the deaths and injuries suffered in that conflict would be their responsibility.

Some will say that were the NDP to insist on this point, then the coalition would not be possible. That is probably true. But a coalition that includes “compromise” on Canada’s military adventure in Afghanistan is not a coalition worth having. Canada is engaged in an imperialist adventure in Central Asia – part of the long slow re-militarization of Canada begun by the Liberals and continuing under the Tories. Opposition to this war is a matter of principle, not one of political expediency. Were Layton and the NDP leadership to compromise on this issue, it would do immeasurable damage to the anti-war movement in Canada – and ultimately to the NDP itself.

There is fear among millions in the face of an unfolding economic crisis. There is anger at the arrogance of a Tory minority that is pushing full steam ahead with neoliberalism at home and militarism abroad.

But it is no solution to replace Harper with a coalition government led by the other party of corporate power and of militarism – the Liberal Party of Canada. All that would be accomplished would be the burying of the independent voice of Canadian labour – the voice of the NDP – behind the pro-corporate voices of Michael Ignatieff and his colleagues.

If the coalition does not take office, we know the way forward. We need to build social movements against war in Afghanistan, against the militarization of Canadian society, against sending off working class men and women to die for corporate profits. We need to build inside the workers’ movements, unions with the muscle to challenge the agenda of the corporations. Don’t bail out the auto companies – nationalize them and convert the jobs to green jobs, building public transit, building the infrastructure of a sustainable green economy. If the coalition does take office – the way forward is exactly the same.

We will be told that raising Afghanistan is divisive. So be it. We will demand that the coalition withdraw the troops immediately, even if that means the Liberals abandoning the coalition and the government falling. The only lasting basis for gains for working people and the poor is in building social movements that do not rely on manoeuvres at the top of the system. The Liberals will say “but we are a party of peace, we didn’t go to war in Iraq.” We will remind them that they were going full speed ahead to war in Iraq in 2003, until 400,000 people took to the streets – including two massive, beautiful demonstrations in Montreal – demanding that Canada stay out of that conflict. The Liberals reluctantly stayed out of the Iraq war because it would have been political suicide for them to join the Coalition of the Killing.

That is the way we will win progress whether it be a Harper government, or a Liberal/NDP government – by mobilizing on the streets and in the workplaces, whether the Prime Minister is Stephen Harper, or Stéphane Dion, or Bob Rae, or Michael Ignatieff.

Previous articles:Harper’s Tories: Attacking Quebec to Save Neoliberalism
Are the Liberals an Alternative?
Liberals and Tories – parties of corporate power

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article was published as Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan,”, 6 December.

[1] Brian Laghi, Steven Chase and Gloria Galloway and Daniel Lebanc, “Harper buys time, coalition firms up,” The Globe and Mail, November 29, 2008
[2] Graeme Smith, “Canada suffers 100th military casualty of Afghan mission,” The Globe and Mail online, December 5, 2008

The Gutter Press and the ‘War on Terror’

Letter to the Editor submitted to The Globe and Mail June 26, 2008 • George Bush is white. Stephen Harper is white. Tony Blair is white. So, I will now write about white terrorism as a plague covering the planet, given that several hundred thousand in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a result of the military actions of these white men, are dead, maimed and/or traumatized. I will use the term “honky.” Were I to do this, of course, and submitted it as an article to the very respected The Globe and Mail, it would be rejected as being inflammatory, crude and, well, just a little too “gutter”. The language of the tavern is not appropriate for Canada’s national newspaper. However, when Christie Blatchford applies the same technique to people from Pakistan, not only is her article accepted – it is featured on the front page.[1]

But I urge you not to stop at the front page. Read the article in its entirety. She goes on to write about a man whose mother was in the World Trade Centre September 11, 2001, but who managed to survive. But the son, to Blatchford’s surprise, does not sign up to fight for the United States but is “inspired to go to Afghanistan not to fight the guys who nearly killed his mummy, but to fight the dirty kuffar, or infidels.”

She then compares him to an elephant, likens Manhattan to “civilization,” Central Asia to “the jungle” and says that the fellow left Manhattan for “the wilds of northern Pakistan, and wanted all the more to blow civilization to smithereens.”

Rudyard Kipling would be delighted. Blatchford has “taken up the white man’s burden” complete with racializing the enemy (Kipling disgustingly called his era’s enemy “new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child”) all to prosecute our era’s “savage wars of peace.”[2]

It is a shame that 109 years after Kipling’s hymn to racism and imperialism, there are some who have not discovered a better hymnal. It is a shame that seven years after the launch of the “War on Terror,” Canada’s national newspaper could give pride of place to something as poorly written and racially provocative as this article by Blatchford.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] Christie Blatchford, “ ‘Down with the J,’ and out of their senses,” The Globe and Mail, June 24, 2008, p. A.1.
[2] Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden,” Literature Network, Rudyard Kipling,

Democracy spells trouble for U.S. in Pakistan

When John Negroponte travels abroad, he expects to be listened to. The current U.S. deputy Secretary of State, formerly Director of National Intelligence (appointed in 2005), made a name for himself in the 1980s, as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. He was intimately involved in the brutal war against Nicaragua conducted by the “contras” as a proxy for Negroponte’s boss, Ronald Reagan.[1] But when Negroponte and assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher landed in Pakistan March 24, they were given the cold shoulder.

The visit came just after the spectacular election defeat for dictator (and U.S. ally) Pervez Musharraf, whose party received just 20 per cent of the vote.[2] Two anti-Musharraf parties – one led by Asif Ali Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto) the other by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif – are in the process of forming a coalition government.[3] But Negroponte and entourage arrived “before the new government had a chance to form itself” with key positions like foreign minister and interior minister still vacant. The Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was only sworn in March 26. A U.S. visit coming in this context fuelled “paranoia in the country about being ruled from Washington.”[4]

“ ‘To my mind, it seems ham-handed insensitivity that brought Negroponte and Boucher to Pakistan. Because certainly no one has welcomed their visit here,’ said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of physics at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University and one of the country’s leading political commentators. ‘It’s a sign of panic, anxiety, of things slipping through their hand.’”[5]

The Pakistani press was full of outright hostility to the U.S. delegation. A March 26 editorial in The News, one of the most widely read English dailies, was titled “Hands Off Uncle Sam.” It was a reflection of what was going on behind the scenes. “Nawaz Sharif was unable to give him [Negroponte] ‘a commitment’ on the war on terror, stating it was unacceptable that Pakistan had become a ‘killing field.’” Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani government adviser who attended the meeting with Negroponte described their content this way: “If I can use an American expression, there is a new sheriff in town.”[6]

The new anti-Musharraf coalition government is forcing Negroponte to scramble to reposition the U.S. attitude. As recently as November 7, 2007, Negroponte described the dictator Musharraf as an “indispensable” ally in what the U.S. administration calls their “war on terror.”[7] But when he left Pakistan March 27, he said, “Any debate or any disposition as regards his (Musharraf’s) status will have to be addressed by the internal Pakistani political process.”[8] That’s diplomats’ talk for “we’re throwing him overboard.”

The U.S. is in trouble. Its intervention in Iraq has been a disaster for the Middle East, and its intervention in Afghanistan has been a disaster for Central Asia. Now it no longer has in Pakistan, a pliable dictator with which to do business. The U.S., of course, is not above tying to undermine a democratically elected government that they do not like. With Canada’s backing, they very successfully isolated and undermined the democratically elected Hamas government in Palestine.

But Pakistan is not Palestine. Palestine has a small population, and is economically isolated, suffering under a long and brutal Israeli occupation. But Pakistan is a large and important Asian country that has been fully sovereign for 60 years. Tactics which might have worked in Palestine will be very much more problematic in Pakistan.

Bush and Negroponte will try, of course, to buy and pressure their way into the new government’s confidence. They will try to keep onside an indispensable ally in the region. But the hostile reception received by Negroponte shows that the terrain has now become much more difficult. That may be bad news for Negroponte and Bush (and their allies Harper and Dion), but it is good news for all who want to see an end to imperialist meddling in the Middle East and Central Asia.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] Michael Dobbs, “Papers Illustrate Negroponte’s Contra Role,” Washington Post, April 12, 2005, p. A04,
[2] Editorial, “Pakistan’s democracy outbreak,” Middle East Times, April 3, 2008,
[3] Associated Press, “Anti-Musharraf parties form Pakistan coalition,” msnbc, March 9, 2008,
[4] Saeed Shah, “U.S. visit to Pakistan shows ‘panic,’ expert says,” The Globe and Mail, March 28, 2008, p. A17
[5] Cited in Shah, “U.S. visit to Pakistan shows ‘panic’”
[6] Jane Perlez, “New Pakistani Leaders Tell Americans There’s ‘a New Sheriff in Town,’” The New York Times, March 26, 2008,
[7] Associated Press, “U.S. official: Pakistan’s Musharraf ‘indispensable’ ally,”, November 7, ,2007,
[8] Cited in Mumtaz Iqbal, “Is Musharraf toast?The Daily Star, April 5, 2008,

Harper’s Afghanistan solution – send in the killers

Do a google search for “24th Marine Expeditionary Unit” and “John Moore”. The first search result provides a picture that says, more than any article, what the real implications of the Tories’ war plans will be in Afghanistan. The picture shows five members of the marines, heads shaven, three of them chomping on cigars, coming off the plane at Kandahar airfield.[1] This should send shivers down the spine of all of us. When the marines go in, the killing starts. But getting the marines into Kandahar is the price Harper (backed by Dion) accepted in exchange for prolonging the war to 2011.

The Harper/Dion deal to extend the war to 2011, was based on the “demand” that NATO allies help out the Canadian war eHarper’s Afghanistan solution – send in the killers

The Harper/Dion deal to extend the war to 2011, was based on the “demand” that NATO allies help out the Canadian war effort, providing at least 1,000 new troops to the dangerous southern region around Kandahar. But there is little taste for taking casualties among many of the European NATO countries. Anti-war sentiment directed at the Iraq war kept many countries in Europe out of that war (France and Germany being the most prominent), and led to huge protests in others – Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom seeing hundreds of thousands on the streets. That anti-war sentiment has not yet focused on Afghanistan, but only because that war has yet to see thousands of coalition casualties.

So, the NATO deal to “help” Canada, does not involve any new countries putting soldiers into combat zones. France has agreed to deploy a battalion (about 700 or 800 soldiers) into eastern Afghanistan, freeing up the U.S. to send 1,000 troops to the danger zone in Kandahar.[2] There is no excuse for any illusions about what this means.

Let’s have former marines tell us about their history of intervention. William Crandell served with the U.S. 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. “We went to preserve the peace and our testimony will show that we have set all of Indochina aflame. We went to defend the Vietnamese people and our testimony will show that we are committing genocide against them. We went to fight for freedom and our testimony will show that we have turned Vietnam into a series of concentration camps.”[3] Crandell gave this testimony during the Winter Soldier Hearings in Detroit in 1971, sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, to expose war crimes in Vietnam.

21st century U.S. soldiers know very well that this is not just a history lesson. Because of the barbarism of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. based Iraq Veterans Against the War organized “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan” to document the horrors committed in those “theatres.”[4] Because of modern technology we have the “privilege” of witnessing some of this barbarism in a way that was impossible for the Vietnam generation. Web sites like “Democracy Now” have done a brilliant job of making this available to the world.[5]

Harper and Dion are making Canada complicit in this history of U.S. military intervention and barbarism.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] John Moore, “Marines Land,” Getty Images, in, Mar. 11, 2008,
[2] News Staff, “NATO agrees to send 1,000 more troops to Kandahar,” Apr. 2, 2008,
[3] William Crandell, “Opening Statement,” Winter Soldier Investigation, Vietnam Veterans Against the War Inc., January 31, February 1 and 2, 1971
[4] Iraq Veterans Against the War, “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan”,
[5] Amy Goodman, “Haditha Massacre: Was it an Isolated Event and Did the Military Try to Cover it Up?”, May 30, 2006,