I will preface this report on the conference by saying that the following are my impressions and my impressions alone. I have tried to provide direct quotes as I wrote them down during the discussion in an attempt to ensure accuracy. I hope they will be useful in providing one account of the conference and what was done to fight against the exclusion, abuse and shutting down of dissenting voices regarding the Iranian regime and other important issues. I was very disappointed overall but took heart from the principled stands of numerous Left groups and think there is still a lot of work to be done within the StWC to defend the best traditions of the labour movement and oppose tyranny and oppression in Iran whilst also opposing imperialist aggression.
I arrived around 9am and met the folks from HOPI and began to try and help hand out leaflets including to our four strong contingent from my university. I made the decision to sit with my uni contingent throughout which actually gave an interesting perspective as most of the opposition to the exclusion (CPGB, AWL, etc.) were sitting to the left of the stage and the majority were sitting in the middle and to the right of the stage.
The affair was rather similar to SWP organised events that I had participated in the past with panel after panel of speakers with no time allotted for discussion except when it came to resolutions.
However before this began, Andrew Murray decided to take a motion to allow a separate vote on the exclusion of HOPI and Communist Students on the basis that they were both against the aims of the StWC (a blatant falsehood) and a front-group for the CPGB – a very odd claim as the CPGB was accepted as an affiliate so even if it were a group solely made up of CPGB members, the logical conclusion would be to exclude the CPGB as an organisation as well which did not occur.
Ben Lewis and Yasmine Mather both spoke for about 5 minutes each in defence of Communist Students and HOPI respectively before being lambasted by Murray – including the use of an old article that Yasmine had written which had been specially translated for the conference – or so we were told by Murray himself.
In any case, all of this went rather smoothly despite being a contentious issue. The vote was about 40 or so voting with CS and HOPI and the remaining 300 or so who were there voting with the majority. This was very disappointing but not surprising. Revo, PR, members of the SYN, the AWL and others took the principled stand and voted against exclusion and this in and of itself was a positive step. It showed that organisationally, if not numerically, a good number of the Left groups represented there voted against the exclusion, whatever their differences with CS or HOPI. Now perhaps that’s because they believe they might be next – and indeed the dodgy reasoning behind the exclusion means that any far left group that is deemed by Murray and others to not be supporting the “correct line” of the coalition can be booted out. I’m afraid that this is not the last time we will see bureaucratic manoeuvring of this sort and it severely limits the room for critical voices to be heard within the organisation.
Murray claimed adamantly that the exclusion was not based on HOPI’s principled stand against the Ahmedinejad regime, however one of the platform speakers during the discussion on Iran made it clear that the “line” was that so-called lies about Iran would need to be eradicated within the movement.
The most disturbing part of the conference for me was when Somaya Zadeh from Campaign Iran spoke. She began by saying that she was going to go over the “facts” about the regime as opposed to the “lies” that the media tells. She began humbly enough with the easy ones. Obviously one agrees that the idea that Iran would give support to the Taliban is “laughable” if one knows anything about the history of the area. Less convincing was the contention that Iran was not seeking to get nuclear weapons. Then she openly defended Ahmedinejad about the comments on Israel saying that he was actually talking about “internal regime change” – this was echoed later by Galloway. Zadeh went on to quote Khomeini saying “Iran will never attack another country” and that she believed this was true.
She went on for a time at great pains to prove that Iran was not “anti-Semitic” with the contention that “Iranian Jews are actually quite privileged”. By this point I am sure I wasn’t the only one who was well aware that this was becoming nothing more than an apology for the Iranian regime.
“Lie Number 5” we were told “Is that Iran is an undemocratic country”. This was met with laughter and heckling from a number of people in the crowd at which point Zadeh began to be rather flustered – asserting her statements more forcefully. When she claimed that Iran was actually democratic as evidenced by the 82 percent victory Ahmedinejad secured a member of the CPGB shouted out “You’re an apologist for the Iranian regime!” Somaya replied in her defence that she was an “Iranian refugee” and therefore knew more about the situation than others. Members of the majority applauded furiously.
What happened next and what followed was utterly appalling. Zadeh’s next contention was that although there were “problems with homosexuals” that “sex changes are allowed”. This was met with a lot of heckling, myself included. It was incredibly offensive to anyone on the room who is a supporter of LGBT rights to hear such nonsense being spewed. Suddenly and rather loudly Zaid Maham (Ed. this was corrected due to someone pointing out his correct name and organisation in the comments) who is in Oxford Stop the War yelled at the HOPI contingent, students and SYN activists who were seated not far from him to “Shut up!” A number of people were somewhat taken aback but he then continued shouting “You stupid bloody bigots! Fuck off!”
Instead of being ejected for such offensive behaviour, Andrew Murray as the chair merely said “Everyone please let’s calm down over there”. I was very appalled. Further I spoke to one of the young women who was yelled at who is an activist and said she was offended by the implication that people could not be openly LGBT but could get a sex change – so that was ok. She was rather shaken up, sitting outside and said to me “I don’t want to go back in there until the voting is over. I can’t believe that guy said that to us!” She thought the guy was out of line and wanted him to apologise. I told her she should try to speak to someone and she went up to Chris Nineham. He said to her “What are you talking about? I didn’t hear anything.” When she tried to explain he said to her “It’s not our problem, why don’t you go speak to him yourself” and then quickly walked away.
This was disingenuous. Everyone had heard what had happened unless they hadn’t been in the room. Further, the abusive Maham later put a resolution to the conference from Oxford StW and was obviously known to the “leadership”.
Eventually she did speak to Andrew Murray who told her that they objected to the term “bigot” but that there was nothing they could do. It appeared that they could’ve cared less that young female and LGBT activists felt they had to sit outside or leave the room in disgust (as others did) at having to listen to these blatant untruths about Iran and then be verbally abused for opposing them.
The next speaker from CODIR was much better and actually highlighted the problems with the regime to the applause of myself and a number of others – but not John Rees who had enthusiastically responded to Zadeh from Campaign Iran.
A number of resolutions were passed including a good one by Andy Newman on campaigning amongst young people who are being recruited (though I was glad his constant refrain of ‘young men’ was corrected by an SYN activist who pointed out that many women are recruited as well). Sofie Buckland earned an enormous amount of my respect for standing up to a crowd of jeering, heckling men – so much so that it was difficult to hear her and Murray had to call for order – and opposing the resolution on Palestine because of its inclusion of support for “boycotts” and “sanctions”. While I didn’t agree with her statement about “anti-semitism” I thought Murray’s use of the chair to deride her for using the term while having said nothing to Maham about his behaviour was a bit cheap.
From the comments of a number of floor speakers for and against various resolutions who were supporting the line of the majority it was possible to come out of this conference making the following conclusions:
*Any attack on Iran must be opposed, but opposition to the regime is not to be discussed in the coalition
*Apologies for the Iranian regime will be tolerated and any attempt to refute these will be met with accusations that you are supporting the “lies” peddled by the media
*Abusive shouting will be tolerated so long as you are on the side of the majority
*Any failure to agree with the majority line on a variety of issues may mean that your organisation may be denied affiliation at the next conference
This is what we now have to work with comrades – Welcome to the New Stop the War Coalition……