Unexpectedly high turnout marks a historical turning point worldwide as millions take to the street against war in Iraq. Marxist.com reports from demos in Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Israel and Venezuela
We have been receiving reports on last Saturday’s antiwar demonstrations from different parts of the world, which we are publishing below. (We will publish others as they come in). In some countries, such as Spain (see below) the numbers taking part were truly enormous and without historical precedent. The process is the same in all countries.
The antiwar movement is bringing to the surface an accumulation of anger that had been simmering just below the surface. In Denmark and Belgium we can clearly see this process. In other countries like Spain and Italy what we saw on Saturday confirms an already extremely radicalised situation. However big or small, there is one common feature: in all countries: the turnout went far beyond even the most optimistic forecasts. This is the case even of the small demonstration in Tel Aviv!
What all this confirms is that millions of people around the world, ordinary working people are deciding that they have to do something. They cannot simply let things be as they are. They do not trust their governments and they want to influence what is being done at the top. This active, and massive awakening of large numbers of ordinary people, who normally would not take an active part in protests, marks the beginning of a serious change internationally. The masses are definitely back and with a bang!
The long period of lull is definitely over. The period we are entering will be one of intense class conflict on a scale never seen before in history. This is truly a global process. Never have the closing words of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto been more relevant: Workers of the world unite!
Belgium: the biggest antiwar demo since the 1980s
Only one month ago only about 10,000 demonstrators turned out to protest against the war. But on February 15, about 100,000 people defied the freezing weather in Brussels to challenge the war plans of Bush and Blair. The high turnout was expected as the recent opinion polls had already indicated that 83% of the Belgian population is opposed to the war. One poll even revealed that two thirds of the population would oppose a war even if it received the blessings of the United Nations.
Most remarkable on this demo was the high proportion of 'ordinary people' and unorganised youth, who had probably never been on such a demo. There were many Arab immigrants and also immigrants from the whole of the EU, especially from Italy and Spain. There was even a big delegation from the German public service union Verdi.
The sheer size of the demo meant that it had managed to mobilise far beyond the narrow limits of the classical left wing organisations. There is no doubt that this demo was the result of a groundswell of discontent and anxiety fuelled by the general world situation marked by recession and war.What was also remarkable was the mood of confidence. There was even a feeling of happiness because there were so many out on the march and in so many countries. This was the feeling that permeated large parts of the demo. A typical comment was that of one older worker who spoke to me. He said: “Listen, the 1990s were quite black years of reaction. I spent those years educating my kids. But now things are starting to change. The people are reawakening. I must get back to some kind of activity”. In spite of the scandalous fact that the leadership of the unions had not mobilised at all for this demonstration, many trade unionist activists still turned out. “The trade unions should look beyond the walls of their workplaces'“ was the comment of one socialist activist. He added that, “We have a responsibility to go beyond our so-called core activities. Solidarity with the people of Iraq suffering a terrible embargo and the pressures of imperialism is also part of our day-to-day work. In our public service union even our members in the military support our activities against the war.”
The Belgian government and the media tried to use this demo as a sign of support for their stance within NATO and in the UN. Some illusions do exist undoubtedly in the “peace diplomacy” of Belgium and also in the powers of the United Nations. These illusions can persist because of the attitude of one wing of the antiwar movement which is supporting the manoeuvres of the French, German and Belgian governments. In reality what this amounts to is supporting one “minor” imperialism against another. The Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs acknowledged this weekend during a television debate that Europe needs to develop its own military capabilities to be able to take part in world policing alongside the US. This is a vain hope, as Europe has never been so disunited as it is now. Within the EU there are competing imperialist interests and these are paralysing it from working as one united power.
By doing sowing such illusions, one sector of the antiwar movement is politically disarming the protests and preparing for its confusion and disorientation. With or without the UN the coming war will be unjust, imperialist and will have to be opposed. In spite of these manoeuvres however, there is also widespread understanding among a large layer that no amount of UN support is going to make it a just war. And recent polls have indicated that this is the case. The leaders of both (Dutch and French speaking) Socialist Parties had to reflect this pressure when they openly condemned the resort to war even under the UN banner. They hastily added that “the party is one thing and the government is another”. This amounts to basically saying that “we don't want war but in the name of national and international solidarity we will support it reluctantly”.
Some sections of the antiwar movement have denounced this hypocrisy of the Belgian authorities who have been trying to give the idea that their “peace diplomacy” has temporarily neutralised the activities of NATO etc., while on the other hand they have been giving effective massive logistical support for the transportation of US military hardware to the Gulf via the port of Antwerp. In fact part of the port has become a logistic platform for the US military in the recent weeks.
Various demos have been organised against this situation in Antwerp (with 750 on a local march) and also in the neighbouring cities. The antiwar committees launched by the Vonk-Unité, journal of the Belgian Marxists, have played an important role in these protests. They also organised protests against the use of Ostend airport by the US military. The picket of around 35 people was organised by the Anti War Committee of the Coastal area and even made it into the national news. In another city, Brugge, 450 school students marched against the war last Wednesday. Now we are preparing for D-Day, the day the war starts, when we plan to call strikes and demos.
Erik Demeester, Belgium
Spain: more than 7 million took to the
streets on February 15
This huge number of people demonstrating all over the country gives the real idea of what happened in Spain on Saturday. This represents a movement without any historical precedent. Neither the demonstrations against the coup in 1981 nor the massive demonstrations during the last one-day general strike on June 20 of last year compare to this mobilisation. More importantly, what this figure proves is that far going changes are taking place in the consciousness of the masses.
We have been underlining this process for some years now. In fact this mass movement against the war is not an isolated event. It is the high point (so far) of a process that started back in 2001 with the one-day general strike in Galicia. Since then we have had the following mobilisations: 1 million in Barcelona on March 18 last year against capitalism and war during the EU summit; 300,000 in Madrid against a reactionary government bill curtailing labour rights; 200,000 in Seville against another EU summit, 3 million on the streets during the June 20 general strike, hundreds of thousands protesting against the government over the Prestige disaster, 500,000 in Barcelona against the government’s plans to redirect the second largest river in the country… and the list is literally endless.
This time, however, the issue was extremely political. The mass of the population now realizes that the government is arrogant with the weak and but is always obedient and subservient to their masters (i.e. George W. Bush). The ordinary working people of Spain have had enough of the rule for the rich and powerful. Entire families, entire neighborhoods, entire cities took the streets on Saturday to say ‘Enough is enough!’
In Madrid one and a half hours before the demo was supposed to start people were already marching. At 10 pm the demo was still going on! More than two million people were on the march, dwarfing any of the demonstrations that the government had called against terrorism a few years back. They could not hide this fact, not even with their campaign of fear and misinformation. They used the mass media to broadcast programmes about the evils of Saddam and arguing the case for war. But they cannot fool anyone anymore. The people from all the working class neighbourhoods went to Madrid, but the local government (controlled by the right-wing) did not provide any extra transport services to cope with such huge numbers. As they were crushed onto the trains, the people were shouting: “this is a boycott! this is a boycott!”
In Barcelona more than two million people flooded the city centre. It was an amazing picture that was reminiscent of the days of the struggle against the Franco dictatorship. This was the fourth time in less than two years that this city has seen a demo with more than one million people! This figure is even more astonishing if you considering that Barcelona and the working class belt around it has a population of about 3 million. Even the local police (who normally play down the numbers on such demos) admitted that 1,350,000 people were on the streets. Barcelona is not a very big city. In fact you can walk from one end to the other in about two hours. On Saturday, a very cold evening, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators did precisely that.
In other working class and industrial areas the movement was just as big as in the main cities. In the Asturias region the demo was organized in Oviedo with more than 200,000 people. That is equivalent to the entire population of the city of Oviedo and more . People in the mining valleys could not get a train. That was the general picture last Saturday.
This has confirmed the opinion polls. 80% of the population of Spain is against the war. Even with a UN resolution 46% of the Popular Party voters (that is the right-wing party in power!) are against the war. And yet the government still is not listening!
For millions it has now become abundantly clear that capitalism means war, environmental disasters, poverty, unemployment (the figures are increasing in Spain), casualisation of labour… This movement shows that we are entering into a new epoch in Spain, in Western Europe and throughout the whole World. The same process is taking place in Italy, Greece, France, Britain… No one can stop it now!
These demonstrations are going to have profound political consequences. The June 20 general strike was seen as a success and the government has had to discard its “friendly” mask and has also lost the ability to convince anyone (apart from the trade union leaders, but this will change very shortly). The effects of the demonstrations will deepen the gap between the government and society at large. Now they are reacting like a wounded beast. Their position is an arrogant5 one of stepping up their repressive measures.
At the recent Goya Ceremony (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars) actors and film directors spoke against the war. Rather than a tame film ceremony it was transformed into a lobby against the war. The following week some of these actors went to the Parliament and demonstrated against the war. But they were arrested! These events have served to highlight the real character of the reactionary right wing.
On February 13 the Spanish Student Union organized an international day of action, with tens of thousands of students taking to the streets in the build up for Saturday’s demo. Now they are preparing to organise a student general strike for March 5 and walk-outs on the day the war starts. This will undoubtedly be a big success because the ground is ready for such actions. It is time now that the trade union leaders took up their responsibilities to organize anti-war committees in every workplace to stop the imperialist war.
The conditions exist in Spain to organize serious actions, including strike action, of the key sections of society. If this were done the workers would get the overwhelming support of the entire population. Only by such actions internationally can we seriously stop the capitalist war machine!
Denmark: huge demonstrations
On February 15 the streets of the Danish capital, Copenhagen saw one of the biggest demonstrations ever. Around 40,000 people were on the demonstration, and this in a nation of only 5 million people! People from all walks of life were there, from babies in pushchairs or on the shoulders of their parents, to pensioners who had come out for the day from their rest homes. And, of course, there were thousands of young people. There were also different trade union banners. One section of the demonstration was made up of the apprentices that were carrying placards against both Bush and Saddam. This was a demonstration which will definitely be remembered for many years to come.
There were also many other demonstrations in ten other cities all over the country with thousands of participants. The precise number of participants is not easy to work out. It is widely known that the Danish police have had big difficulties in recruiting new people. Therefore they cannot be too choosy about who they recruit. This means that the mathematical skills of the police force are not too good! According to the police reports between 12,000 to 25,000 people took part in these demonstrations, depending on which newspaper you read.
The truth is that this was a demonstration the size of which had not been seen for at least twenty years. The old paving stones of Christiansborg Slotsplads (the square in front of the Danish parliament building, the biggest square in Copenhagen) have been worn out by many demonstrations, but this time not only did the demonstration fill the whole square, but it spilled over into the whole of the surrounding area. Even Højbro Plads (a nearby square) was full of demonstrators. The statue of old King Absalon was forced to look down on this huge mass of people. According to the old legends, Dannebrog, the Danish flag, flew down from the sky during a battle led by this old king. But on February 15, it was the Palestinian flag that was flying around. The building of the old stock exchange, the Børsen, was also surrounded by a mass of demonstrators. This was the same building that was stormed by the Danish workers in 1918 when the speculators were beaten up!
In Denmark too people are fed up with constant cuts and privatisations while millions are being spent to serve the interests of US imperialism in the bombing of the people of Iraq. With all this mass opposition the Danish Government has been on a “winter vacation” for more than a week, and it has not said a single word about the war. This is probably because they are scared to express themselves against the general sentiments of the people. A massive majority of the population is clearly saying: NO TO THE WAR!! Thus the crisis in world diplomacy has also meant a crisis opening between the right-wing Government of Denmark and the population, making the future of the Government very shaky.
Israel: unexpected numbers also turn out for anti-war rally in Tel Aviv
The anti-war demonstration in Tel-Aviv wasn’t as big as the demonstrations in many of the European capitals. About 2000 people took part in the rally, far more than even the organisers had expected. Although relatively small, we all have reasons to be proud about this action.
The Israelis and Palestinians will be among the first victims of Bush’s war. Although Iraq is not expected to attack Israel, the country will suffer from the economic consequences of the conflict. Millions of dollars are to be spent on the country’s defence system while the country is in the condition of economic crisis. The poor will suffer the most. The rich Israelis can always rent safe homes in neighbouring Cyprus. The middle classes can also go to north or south of Israel to find shelter in the tourist hotels. The poor people have no money and no power to escape from the central parts of the country.
Sharon of course has given total support to Bush’s war. He hopes that a stronger American presence in the region would strengthen the position of Israel against the Palestinians. The Israeli media is totally supporting Bush’s arguments for war. The enormous and widespread anti-war atmosphere in Europe is explained away with arguments such as “it’s the Arab influence”, “they have commercial interests in Iraq”, and “this is the traditional European Anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism”. So it is up to the “noble and idealistic America” to go to save the world against these evil Europeans!
But not all Israelis agree with these official statements. The February 15 anti-war demonstration in Tel-Aviv was the biggest protest action since Sharon was re-elected on January 28. Different groups took part in this action – communists, Arab nationalists, radical pacifists, and small left and anarchist groups. It’s important to note that the Zionist left from the MERETZ party and the “Shalom Achshav” movement did not take part in this action. We can say that this demonstration was the biggest non-Zionist demonstration of the last few years.The demonstrators marched from Tel-Aviv “Sinematec” to the Museum. During the march there were two acts of provocation. Someone tried to provoke the demonstrators with the Israeli flag. A few meters further ahead some demonstrators were attacked by unknown elements. The police prevented this from becoming a physical clash. The rest of the march went ahead absolutely peaceful. The Israeli radio reports about clashes between the demonstrators and the police are absolutely false. At the end of the march, there was a meeting near the Tel-Aviv museum. The speakers made parallels between Bush’s and Sharon’s policy. Some demonstrators recommend that the UN inspectors go to visit the Israeli nuclear centre in Dimona because they have more chance of finding nuclear weapons there than in Iraq! On the other side of the street about 10 demonstrators from Sharon’s Likud party demonstrated in support of Bush’s war and called the anti-war protesters traitors”.
As I said, this anti-war rally was a very successful action of Israeli left. It did of course have some weak points. One of them was the poor presence of the working class and the unions. The most powerful weapon against the imperialist war is strike action on the part of the working class. At this stage this is unlikely in Israel as the situation is extremely polarised and there is also no party or union that is prepared to stand up to the plans of Sharon and his cronies. For such action to develop it will need time and experience for the workers to draw all the necessary conclusions. This will inevitably happen in the future.
A Kramer, Israel
Venezuela: antiwar rally in Caracas, Venezuela
8,000 people marched through Caracas on February 15, against the imperialist war on Iraq. For three hours the demonstrators filed through the main streets of central Caracas while people from the balconies greeted them with red flags, red berets and Venezuelan flags. There were a lot of Palestinian and red flags on the demonstration. People shouted slogans against US imperialism, in favour of peace and in support of the Palestinian people. The most popular ones were: “no more blood for oil”, “we don’t want to be and we won’t accept to be a US colony”, “Iraq hold firm, the world is rising”. The demonstration had been organised by a very broad range of popular, left wing and student organisations.
Slovenia: surprising turnout against the war
Today there were demonstrations against the Iraqi war in Ljubljana. I was really inspired by the fact that so many people showed up. I had no idea that so many people were against the US war plans in Slovenia. I was also pleasantly surprised to find people who were interested in Marxist ideas. Considering the great interest we saw on this rally we have decided to distribute leaflets next week explaining the Marxist position against the war.
Austria: 30,000 in Vienna
We took up the call of the Spanish School Students’ for an international day of action for February 13. In Vienna the appeal was quite successful. In one school for example, 150-200 students attended a meeting to discuss the war. After our speech there was a long discussion even on such questions as “Federation of the Arab world”, “Revolution in Iran”... After the meeting we were asked by a teacher too come to her class to continue the discussion with her students! Also very important was a meeting in a school for apprentices where we believe it will be possible to organise antiwar activities on a weekly basis.
On Saturday, February 15 in Vienna there was a sizeable demo with some 30,000 participants. This was far more than anyone had expected. Some 200 copies of the ‘In Defence of Marxism’ antiwar manifesto were distributed and a significant number of youth showed a keen interest in Marxist ideas.
What was very impressive was the fact that some sections of the trade unions officially mobilised for this demo. There was the special case of the railway workers union. They were on the demo, but they had also taken the important decision to express their opposition to the war by refusing to transport weapons through Austria. Another important development was the size of the Young Socialist (YS) delegation on the demo. The YS can become a very important focus for young people who want to get active against this war.
Der Funke, Austria