When a small minority of communists and socialists in Britain condemned the NATO attack on Yugoslavia as an imperialist war for domination, there was little or no support from the majority of the British public, or even from the majority of the British ‘left’.
The British ruling class and its media spoke with one voice about the alleged ‘genocide’ (since exposed as a total fabrication) being perpetrated by Milosevic, who, quite by coincidence, happened to be the leader of a country that wished to remain independent of diktats from Washington, London, Berlin or Brussels.
Equally ‘coincidental’, of course, was the fact that Milosevic’s country, Yugoslavia, just happened to be positioned in an area of vital geostrategic significance for these benign western powers and the multinational corporations they represent (apart from anything else, they wanted to put a rather lucrative oil pipeline through it).
The false assertions about the reasons for war were repeated by Labourite leaders throughout the working-class movement.
After another seven years of war abroad and repression at home, however, there is no longer much room for doubt about the motivations for these constantly escalating wars.
The more liberal sections of the British ruling class, having once denied that such a thing as imperialism even existed, are now being forced to prove their democratic credentials to the British public by criticising US imperialism in increasingly clear terms. The motivators for this are:
i) the unfettered, horrifying violence which has been unleashed in recent years by imperialist wars and which has shocked the British population;
ii) a recognition that the wars being waged in Afghanistan and the Middle East are unwinnable, such is the strength and resilience of the national resistance movements; and
iii) a belief by many in the bourgeoisie that closer economic and political engagement with the European Union will be more fruitful than the ‘junior partner’ relationship they have with the US.
What these ‘liberals’ try desperately to hide is the fact that US imperialism is only a part (albeit a large part) of a whole system of imperialism – a network of imperialist countries and multinationals that are in fierce competition with one another over domination and control of markets, resources and avenues of investment.
Britain is very much an active part of this system. Wars waged by the British state are fought in the interests of the profits of the British ruling class.
Nonetheless, even the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois criticisms of US imperialism available in the mainstream media are helping to facilitating the awakening of understanding among British working people about what is really going on in the world (as opposed to what they’ve always been told was going on).
The aggressors’ tales about ‘spreading democracy’ by overthrowing elected governments and ‘defending civilisation’ by destroying the oldest societies on our planet have been thoroughly exposed for the lies they always were.
So, too, has the nonsensical assertion that the US and Britain are simply trying to counter the ‘threat to world peace’ posed by the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ of a few ‘rogue states’ when they, the most militarised and aggressive powers in the world, drop a carpet of cluster-bombs over entire cities, or attack civilian populations with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Behind the benevolent motives they ascribe to themselves, the big business moguls who keep figureheads such as Bush and Blair in power are becoming ever more ferocious in their determination to control the world’s resources while denying them to their business rivals (Europe, China, Japan), and to maximise profits by looting those resources with little or no compensation to the actual owners.
Far from paying a fair price to the owners of natural resources, the imperialists are engaged in wanton wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians in countries whose leaders have the temerity to suggest that it is up to them what they sell, to whom and for how much. Or, even worse, that they should be able to decide how the money from sales is spent.
The need to beat the competition and achieve maximum profit is what leads these financial oligarchs to become so bloodthirsty and reckless in the pursuit of their aims. Whatever kind of people they may be at home, the logic of imperialism dictates that in business it is kill or be killed; undercut the competition or be undercut yourself; maximise profits or be pushed out of business by companies that offer bigger returns to their investors.
Anything that gets in the way of this agenda is mere ‘collateral damage’, be it thousands of British workers losing their pensions, the 13 million mostly third-world children under five who die every year of preventable diseases, the populations of whole cities in the Middle East who have been rendered homeless and jobless while their loved ones are slain by marauding invaders … or the very sustainability of life on earth that is daily more threatened by unchecked pollution and reckless carbon emissions.
Labour’s imperialist traditions
Describing Bush as an idiot and Blair as a liar may temporarily assuage feelings of anger and frustration at the apparent impotence of the world’s masses to bring these scoundrels to justice or change the seemingly inevitable course of events, but such characterisations bring us no closer to understanding what’s really happening, or what we have to do to change it.
The idea that Blair’s ‘New’ Labour is radically different from the Labour Party of yesterday is accepted almost as a universal truth in the left-wing movement. But, studying Labour’s history in government, one sees that Labour has always represented the British ruling class and its empire with as much enthusiasm as the Tories.
In 1924, the first Labour government gunned down and jailed demonstrators in India and bombed Iraqi villages. Ramsay MacDonald used the army, Emergency Powers Act and secret police to break strikes, evict the unemployed from their homes, and to arrest and spy on activists.
To pay off war debt and rebuild Britain’s economy, Attlee’s government of 1945 intensified exploitation in Ghana, Kenya, Malaya and other colonies. Tens of thousands of people in Africa and Asia were killed in ruthless suppression of revolts against British colonialism.
After WWII, Labour set up puppet regimes all over the Middle East, handed over Palestine to the zionists, helped restore French imperialist control over Indo-China and sent 12,000 soldiers to Korea. Eight million people died in the ensuing wars in south east Asia (Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, Laos). Not a single African country obtained independence from a Labour government.
In fact, in its drive to defend imperialism at all costs, there has never been any crime that the Labour Party, in or out of government, has not been prepared to commit, either at home or abroad.
Today, Blair’s Labour, far from being an aberration, is continuing in this long tradition of loyal service to imperialism.
Since 1997, the Labour Party has presided over illegal wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, besides giving full backing to Israel’s criminal occupation of Palestine and its recent reinvasion of Lebanon.
Collective punishment and torture have become the norm for British troops carrying out these invasions on behalf of their masters’ oil and arms profits. The Geneva Conventions have been torn up and, under cover of the ‘war against terror’, the Labour government is working hard to quell all dissent at home through the introduction of draconian laws that allow those who raise their voices against such crimes to be arrested without charge, held indefinitely and convicted without evidence.
Blair is not some kind of duped ‘poodle’ of US foreign policy. The interests that Blair is protecting are not those of US multinationals, but of British oil and arms companies like BP, Shell and British Aerospace.
Time to go
It is not just Blair who has proved himself unfit to govern; the whole system of imperialism has shown itself to be entirely incapable of meeting the needs of the world’s people, despite the vast wealth that modern mechanised labour has created.
The enormous and increasing riches of the world are being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. A handful of billionaires control this wealth and use it to acquire more, while the overwhelming majority of humanity gets poorer day by day; the very wealth they produce by their labour only serving to make their oppressors more rich and powerful.
While they toil to create greater and greater riches, more and more of the world’s people are being deprived of even the basic necessities of life. Capitalism has brought forth the potential for great prosperity for humankind by maximising the productive capabilities of human labour power, but it is only with communism that this wealth will finally be used to provide a decent living for all.
It’s not just time for the troops to be pulled out of Iraq (they should never have been there!), or for Tony Blair to step down as Prime Minister; it’s time the British people pulled the plug on the whole rotten system that perpetuates endless war, poverty, racism, inequality and injustice.
We need to unite with all those who are fighting British imperialism; a victory for the Iraqi, Lebanese, Palestinian or Afghan resistance against the British ruling class is also a victory for the British working class.
We can make a start in this by refusing to cooperate in any way with the war effort, be it serving in the forces, making weapons, transporting equipment or putting out propaganda. Individually, we may be powerless, but collectively, British workers have the ultimate veto over these wars – the ruling class cannot fight them without us.
Cowardliness of anti-war leaders
While purporting to be campaigning for an end to the war, the spineless Stop the War Coalition leadership has, to a man, refused to enlighten anybody about either the causes of the war (imperialist profit) or the ways in which it could be brought to an end (ie, full solidarity with, and support for, the Iraqi resistance, who are fighting on the front line, taking the practical form of complete refusal to cooperate with the imperialist war machine).
Not surprisingly, given its many formal and informal ties with the Labour Party, there has been a deafening silence on the subject of Labour’s imperialist agenda from our spineless anti-war leaders. Instead, speakers and campaign materials disingenuously spread the illusion that the problem British workers face is a few ‘bad apples’ in the form of Bush and Blair.
A particularly pathetic contribution was made at the recent demonstration by a speaker from BECTU, the entertainment workers’ union, which represents, among others, workers at the BBC and other media outfits. The StW leadership obviously felt it a great triumph to have secured backing for the demonstration from such a notoriously reactionary union, and the BECTU representative’s speech reflected that even among media workers, there is clearly disquiet about continued affiliation to a party that perpetrates imperialist war so blatantly.
Explaining that BECTU’s continued affiliation to Labour had been on the understanding that Labour would ‘listen’ to the union, the speaker went on to list some of the many anti-worker ‘betrayals’ by Labour and the numerous occasions on which the party had failed to listen to its faithful union affiliates. Instead of drawing the obvious conclusion, however, that the union had been following an incorrect policy and would have to take corrective action by belatedly disaffiliating from Labour, the speaker went on to conclude tragically: “It’s time they started listening!”
It was left to Craig Murray, former Ambassador for Britain in Uzbekistan, to point out the truth at the recent demonstration in Manchester that it is not just Blair, but the whole of the Labour Party that is the problem for the anti-war movement.
Although he has an impeccable establishment background, Murray resigned his post in protest against the occupation of Iraq and against US and British backing for the dictatorial regime in Uzbekistan. Having no party-political affiliation, this former servant of imperialism has freely stated what none of the so-called left dares to do: that it is not just Blair but the whole Labour government that has to be got rid of; that it is not just Blair, but every Labour Party member who has blood on his hands as a result of the barbaric and illegal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Until we wake up to this reality and rid ourselves of the thousands of connections that tie the working-class and anti-war movements in Britain to the Labour Party, we will make no progress, either in stopping the war or in building a secure life for ourselves and our children, free from poverty, exploitation and war.
Victory to the anti-imperialist resistance movements!
It’s time for imperialism to go!