General Category > South Tyneside Stop the War

Nostalgia? In The Beginning ...


Phil Talbot:
 In The Beginning ...

The start of the South Tyneside Stop the War Coalition forum in committee room C at South Shields town hall, 7pm [BST], 21st May, 2003, was almost delayed because it was growing dark outside, and so inside, and most of the dozen or so people present in the room could not find the light switch.

No town hall staff seemed to be on duty to help with this technical problem.

Fortunately one person present, Roger Nettleship, hospital worker, union official [Unison], and one-time independent parliamentary candidate, had the wit and wisdom to continue searching the wall area near the main door until he found the switch ... just in the nick of time ... so that the meeting could start in a brightened state ... more or less on time ...

As Roger later said: “We must make our own history.”

In the forum's opening address, Alan Newham celebrated the "unlikely alliances" that have been building up in the anti-war movement.

He cited the well-testified example of: "The Socialist Workers' Party marching shoulder-to-shoulder with The Mothers' Union."

From an openly open-minded socialist perspective, Alan [who remembers that Marx's mottoes included 'DE OMNIBUS DUBITANDUM - to doubt of everything'] then started to address the historical background of the present world situation.

He called attention to the recently published Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace, by Gore Vidal.

The title is a quote from the American historian Charles A. Beard.

Gore’s book lists the number of wars and conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved.

To quote: "In these several hundred wars against communism, terrorism, drugs, or something nothing much between Pearl Harbour and Tuesday, September 11, 2001, we tended to strike the first blow. But then we`re the good guys, right? Right."

Gore is a quite prickly, partly exiled, fairly ageing, somewhat ironic, thorn in the American - and wider world - consciousness.

In an article published in the British Observer [27/10/02 - copyrights observed] Gore directly quoted the words of James Madison [aka - in the U.S. - ‘Father of the Constitution’] at the dawn of the American Republic, around the time of the constitutional convention, Philadelphia, 1787:

"Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded beause it comprises and develops the germ of every other. As the parent of armies, war encourges debts and taxes, the known insturments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended ... and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people ..."

Words that might give all food for thought, it might be thought.

But as everyone knows, words are not enough ... and actions speak louder than ...

Speaking at the forum, Alan Newham emphasized the local basis and do-it-yourself ethos of the South Tyneside Stop the War Coalition, and wondered: "What do we DO here - our area?"

What indeed?

In all cases, individual human actions and communications take place on a relatively small local scale, in a spreading [literal or metaphorical] forest of associated symbols, which include sounds, smells, tastes ... and physical things ...

While giving his opening address Alan was wearing a commercially produced sweatshirt of complex design, which included a representation of a musical score by Shostakovich.

Dmitry Dmitryevich Shostakovich [some of whose name might be distorted in transliteration] was a state-sponsored musician working mostly in the former USSR, who is widely recognized as one of the 20th Century's greatest classical composers.

Dmitry was privately appalled - but felt almost powerless himself to do anything in response to his emotional reaction - when he learned that the Stalinist state machine [which supported his own work, and which he mostly theoretically supported on principle] was systematically slaughtering [along with many others] the folk bards of the Ukraine, as part of a cultural war.

Most of the bards massacred in the purges of the 1920s and 1930s were old and frail, and from the point of view of the Soviet authorities represented out-of-date ways of thinking, feeling and doing. which had no place in the new Soviet world of the early 20th Centruy. [But where is that 'brave new world' now?]

The official justification of the purge was a clampdown on nationalism in the name of 'Internationalism' - even though, at the time, the Stalinists themselves were in the process diverting their ideology from one of 'international socialism' to one of 'socialism in one country'.

Observing indirectly the killing of the bards - and many others - from a personally relatively safe academic distance, Dmitry wondered about his own compromised position.

What was he to do? Give up his state-sponsored vocation in protest? - and probably be persecuted himself as a consequence. Or continue to compose in what many would regard as the service of a regime that violently suppressed the freeedom of music?

Wracked by such private doubts - which perhaps helped his creative flows - Dmitry went on making music - which in some ways preserved and recreated the massacred bards' work ...

Despite his personal caution, and despite his mostly orthodox Soviet outlook, Dmitry was himself almost purged in 1936, when the offiicial Soviet paper ‘Pravda’ published an article headlined 'Chaos Instead Of Music' accusing him of 'leftist distortion', 'petty bourgeois sensationalism' and 'formalism' - all apparently serious crimes in the Stalinist state.

His survival largely depended on the popular success of his 5th symphony - to which he gave the politic subtitle “a Soviet artists' practical creative response to just criticism”.

In the second world war, Dmitry worked as a firefighter during the Nazi seige of Leningrad - out of which came his 7th Symphony, The Leningrad, which became a genuinely popular classical anthem of the struggle against fascism, widely performed in the USSR, the UK, and the USA during the war.

Dmitry's works are marked by sharp contrasts, which some interpret as akin to political dialectics. They mix tragic intensity with sometimes grotesque, often bizarre, wit, humour, parody and satire - and he frequently uses quotation, including of his own previous work.

The ways of free expression - musical or otherwise - and open dialogue are never without complexities ... and compromises ... and ambiguites ...

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum ...

At the People's Assembly, Westminister Hall, London, March 12, 2003, Nader A-Naderi, who gave the second opening address at the STSTWC forum on May 21, met George Galloway.

George is a maverick British Labour MP who - since meeting Nader - has been smeared and pilloried by the mainstream British media for saying things about the war in Iraq that many other people believe - in this country and elsewhere. [Many others believe George went too far ... but that is the way open debate sometimes goes ...]

What happened when Scottish socialist George [known to some as 'Georgeous'] met Nader, a respectably married South Tynesider, with family links to Iran, and, by his own description, a 'capitalist'?

In Nader's own words: 'I shook him by the hand and said to him: "May I commend you on your balls?".'

[Context. Just before Nader spoke to him, George had openly suggested to the People's Assembly - attended by more than 1,000 people, but little reported in the mainstream media - that British troops should refuse to fight in Iraq. Nader reported this remark back to STSTWC a few days later - and expressed surprize that what seemed to be an open call to mutiny by an elected MP of the governing party had not attracted the attention of the national press, tv, and radio. Later a few British soliders did refuse to fight - in barely reported episodes - and later still George was widely accused of 'treason', and suspended from the Labour Party - but the idea that the soldiers were directly influenced by George's previously barely reported remarks must be very open to doubt.]

Nader can spin out ambiguous - even kinky - sounding lines, but he can also put things straight.

He told it as he saw it to the forum:

"The fact was, and is, Saddam offered little in the way of a threat to the national security of the U.S., and the U.K - a historical fact, considering the length of the war, and the manner of defeat of an ill-equipped, and rag-tag Iraqi Army. However, since the downfall of the tryannical regime of Saddam, one fact is clearly emerging: annexation of the Iraqi oil by the warring factions, and its incorporation into various American corporate bodies - with further money being siphoned by those managing to get lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq. Simple fact is if these players were to divert such funds from U.S., and U.K. taxes, they most probably would have been found guilty of fraud, and sent to jail, however by going through the route of war, they have laundered their proceeeds, at the cost to those who died fighting this war. The simple fact you should all remember is: crime should not pay, however sophisticated the criminal, and his or her methods of committing crimes. In other words, it is up to you to be aware of why violence is chosen in preference to civilized modes of human discourse."

Anna Snowdon, who was informally chairing the forum on 21 May, thanked Nader and Alan for their opening contributions, and went on to highlight some of the relative successes of the anti-war movement.

It had without doubt helped to save lives by acting as a restraining influence on the use of force by the U.S. and U.K.

And then Anna said: "We nearly stopped the war."

This simple phrase was not greeted with universal politeness.

It was a trigger for a somewhat heated discussion on the question of: 'How nearly was "nearly"?'

Why the idea of 'nearly' stopping a war should provoke responses including something approaching anger is a question perhaps deserving a pause for thought ...

Meanwhile, the forum continues ... and now includes the ongoing regret that, for the people killed an maimed in the war - and its consequences - our 'nearly' was, indeed, not nearly enough ...


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