Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Turn Imperialist War into Civil War

Writing in this week's New Statesman, the former supporter of the orthodox Trotskyist International Marxist Group turned New Labour's Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth attacks what he calls (in pseudo Leninist language) the 'defeatist' attitude of the British people with respect to the 'Good War' in Afghanistan. As Ainsworth argues, 'The coalition is operating as a force for good - not as an occupier or an invader.' I suppose if you say something enough times you may eventually convince yourself, though it don't necessarily make it so.

Yet what is particularly insidious about New Labour is less their lies and propaganda offensive at a time of war - those have a long pedigree both in Labour's history and in British history more generally and are in a sense inevitable. Nor is their authoritarianism and attacks on civil liberties - including attacks on the right of migrants to join anti-war protests - a surprise - such things are part and parcel of imperialist warfare. What I find insidious is that having lost the intellectual argument for war, they continue to attempt to 'bring the war home' by trying to get more active consent from the British public for their militarism and warmongering on behalf of multinational corporations and the American Empire under the guise of 'Britishness' by organising symbolic rituals such as 'Armed Forces Day' and military parades of the living and the dead. New Labour do this while hypocritically claiming that such things are not in any sense 'political' and having nothing to do with them trying to appease racists and the right wing press. As Ainsworth puts it, 'The war in Afghanistan is too important to be reduced to a political football'. As a result, as John Pilger noted recently,

These are extraordinary times. Flag-wrapped coffins of 18-year-old soldiers killed in a failed, illegal and vengeful invasion are paraded along a Wiltshire high street. Victory in Afghanistan is at hand, says the satirical Gordon Brown. On the BBC’s Newsnight, the heroic Afghan MP Malalai Joya, tries, in her limited English, to tell the British public that her people are being blown to bits in their name: 140 villagers, mostly children, in her own Farah Province. No parade for them. No names and faces for them. The suppression of the suffering of Britain’s and America’s colonial victims is an article of media faith, a tradition so ingrained that it requires no instructions.

The difference today is that a majority of the British people are not fooled. The cheerleading newsreaders can say "Britain’s resolve is being put to the test" as if the Luftwaffe is back on the horizon, but their own polls (BBC/ITN) show that popular disgust with the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq is strongest in the very communities where adolescents are recruited to fight them. The problem with the British public, says a retired army major on Channel 4 News, is that they need "to be trained and educated". Indeed they do, wrote Bertolt Brecht in The Solution, explaining that the people...

Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?


In such an extraordinary 'officially apolitical' political atmosphere, and with the number of dead British soldiers in Afghanistan about to hit the 200 mark - it seems to me that the Left have to therefore redouble our efforts to also try and 'bring this war home' and make New Labour pay for their crimes. Everyone who is disgusted by New Labour's catastrophically bloody and disastrous war on the people of Afghanistan abroad - which every day brings more horror - as well as their war on public services and jobs massacre at home should try to join and help build two upcoming demonstrations, and so help cement the rising tide of resistance from below into a real movement for 'regime change at home'.

Rage Against New Labour - 27 September outside Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Troops Out of Afghanistan - 24 October, London.

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6 Comments:

At 7:46 pm, Anonymous Dave said...

'Turn imperialist war into civil war' - that's a headline with impeccable Leninist credentials, of course.

But are you really advancing this as a serious agitational slogan, or are you simply engaging in a spot of kneejerk ultraleftist phrasemongering?

How, concretely, do you plan to 'turn imperialist war into civil war'? You got a cache of AK-47s under your bed or something?

If, on the other hand, what you actually mean is that the left should step up peaceful protests against the invasion of Afghanistan - and that is an aim with which I fully concur - why not say that instead?

Unless you can deliver on the demand, you are at best posturing. That's unlike a normally thoughtful chap like you.

 
At 12:24 pm, Blogger Roobin said...

That's a typo, surely? It's spelled kneejerkultraleftphrasemongering, and anyone who thinks that is also a bit of mouldy old Marxese is a running dog of yankee imperialism.

 
At 2:41 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Well, I guess I chose it as a title in part because if the likes of Bob Ainsworth is going to use Leninist language like 'defeatism' as in 'revolutionary defeatism', then he may as well be answered in kind. I am not proposing it seriously as an agitational slogan for today because well, as you say it would be ultra-left posturing. However, the real reason I used it is because a) I am not a member of the Labour Party - so I can - and b) because I knew it would provoke any passing left wing centrists into a response - which it did.

Incidently Dave, I am glad you agree that 'the left should step up peaceful protests against the invasion of Afghanistan'. That does however raise a question - why does your blog now not come off the fence and endorse the activity of either the Stop the War Coalition or Military Families Against the War?

 
At 2:23 pm, Anonymous Dave said...

I'll happily 'endorse the activity' of both organisations, even while expressing concern about the sectarianism of their leading figures in denying affiliation to principled campaigns such as HoPI.

Other commitments permitting, I'll be on the Brighton demo.

Other than that, I don't get your point about Labour Party membership representing a bar to raising any given slogan.

 
At 5:52 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Dave - wouldn't you get expelled from the Labour Party if you raised a slogan calling for 'Civil War' i.e. the overthrow of the current Labour government?

Incidently, 'Civil War' should never be concieved as a tiny revolutionary minority with AK-47s but about as the mass activity of millions of people - a festival of the oppressed and exploited to use the description of I think Lenin.

 
At 4:13 pm, Anonymous Dave said...

Very probably I would be. But that wouldn't stop me doing it, if it was the correct thing to do.

I fully accept that I could be expelled at any time, and that the only reason I haven't been is because the bureaucracy can't be arsed.

 

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