The Memory of Millions

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Review of 'Stop the War', Andrew Murray and Lindsey German, Bookmarks £12.99

During the autumn and winter of 2002 to 2003 the authorities at my kid's school in Newcastle were waging a war on drugs. Parents were informed that police with sniffer dogs would be called in to root out dope users. The police were called, not to deal with drug use at all but on 20 March 2003 to prevent the students leaving the premises to join an anti-war march as the bombs started to fall on Baghdad. On that day 300 walked past the police and angry senior teachers, heading into town to join hundreds, then thousands of others in a long and exciting day of protest which included blocking the Tyne Bridge and two major road junctions. Many of the protesters had been part of the 2 million on the streets of London on 15 February. Yet many had not, demonstrating the enormous influence the event had had on popular consciousness. It was a rolling movement.

Lindsey German and Andrew Murray have brought the story of that movement to life in a simply brilliant book. It has the design elegance of a coffee table book (top marks to Noel Douglas). The illustrations are beautiful, serious, funny, moving and chilling. The numerous personal testimonies convey surprise, passion and excitement. All of this would make it a valuable record of one of the greatest days in our political history. Yet this book is much, much more than this.

What makes it really outstanding is the depth of rhetoric-free political analysis. It really does explain in sober and careful detail the economic and political context in which the serial warmongering of Clinton, Bush and Blair has taken place. It answers questions which have been raised with me many times.

Some of my ex-Labour friends are shocked by Blair's Labour Party's love-in with George Bush. The answer is carefully teased out. The interplay of Blair's Christian fundamentalism, his affection for Britain's imperial past, his dislike of the UN, his search for a key position at the top table of the neo-con mission and the needs of the City of London are convincingly woven together.

Other sympathisers, perhaps slightly shamefacedly, query the high profile in the anti-war movement of Muslim associations with their supposedly reactionary attitudes to women. Here nothing is avoided and the point is tellingly made that ideas and attitudes, like people, can move both ways across a bridge.

One pointer to the quality of a political book is the tone of the discussion of its opponents, in this case the 'left wing' supporters of the war. It would be understandable and easy to blast them away with heavy satirical abuse as we might do on the meeting platform. This is not done here. Their arguments are dissected in detail and their contradictions pointed out.

The book is strong in all directions and readers will find their own 'best bits'. I am particularly impressed by the manner in which the movement itself is treated. We are reminded of how it came together and of the real difficulties in embracing the widest possible coalition of interests: political factions, mass campaigns, trade unions, and religious and cultural associations. The success in both helping to create a public mood of resistance and remaining in tune with it when its sheer size and force surpassed the fantasies of even the most optimistic is captured here. Buy it, look at it and read it. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.