Over at the Socialist Unity blog Andy reviewed the latest Stop the War demo and was less than impressed. this lead to an interesting discussion in the comment thread, though unfortunately centered mostly on tactics rather than strategies, much less on the question I’ve asked there as well: has the antiwar movement failed?
Tactically, if we look at what the antiwar movement has done from September 2001 onwards, it has been impressive: larger and larger demonstrations against the War on Afghanistan and in the runup to the War on Iraq, culminating in the 15 February 2003 demonstrations, with two million in London and tens of millions worldwide marching against the war. Not just demonstrations either: a wide variety of direct action initiatives have been tried by local antiwar groups, ranging the spectrum from letterwriting campaigns to attempts to occupy military bases.
Strategically, the antiwar movement managed to set the debate in a fair few countries, despite the opposition of much of the political and media elites. Even at the height of the warfrenzy, there never was a majority in the UK in favour of war and even in the US the war was never supported by a large majority of the people, if it had a majority at all. The great victory of the antiwar movement was that it managed to put the warmongers on the defensive, by making opposition to the war the default position in the debate, with the supporters of the War on Iraq having to explain themselves. With Afghanistan it was the other way around, but with Iraq the antiwar movement framed the debate.
We must not underestimate this achievement, in a climate in which much of the US electorate at least was whipped into fear by “9/11″ and The War Against Terror and despite the US/UK’s media’s tendency to portray protestors as a minority of bearded wierdies. Here in the Netherlands this was the one subject on which the overwhelming majority of people could agree, whether socialists, liberals or conservatives, Pim Fortuyn supporters or not: the war was a bad idea and Holland should stay well out of it.
And yet, Holland didn’t stay out of it, though it did avoid the actual invasion. And neither did the UK, US, Spain, Poland, etc. The antiwar movement did not stop the war, did not stop the occupation, despite two million people marching in London and tens of millions worldwide. In the end it turned out the voters could be ignored, unless you did something really stupid, like pretending an Al Quida attack is the work of ETA say. Bush got his second term, Labour had no problem winning their next election and as far as I know nobody lost their seat for their war support other than Oona King.
So I think it’s fair to say that the antiwar movement did fail, as it did not prevent the war nor raise the (political) cost of the war. Arguably it didn’t even slow down the start of the war. We won the battles, but we lost the war.