Members of Parliament, tomorrow, will once again be voting on whether to take the country to war in the Middle East. Cameron is leading the charge; but after a retreat by Corbyn, right-wing Labour MPs will now have a free hand to support the Tory leader. The question of Syria has brought all the contradictions in the Labour Party to the surface. The Blairites’ enthusiasm for yet another imperialist adventure, however, may well be their demise.
With no whip from the Labour leadership, it is estimated that up to 100 Labour MPs will switch sides and vote with the Tories in supporting bombing in Syria, thus guaranteeing Cameron a majority. The Prime Minister has indicated that British fighters could be conducting airstrikes by the end of the week.
After experiencing an embarrassing defeat in Parliament on the issue of going to war in Syria in 2013 (on that occasion, against Assad, whose name has now quietly slid into the background in the whole debate), a strong show of opposition by the Labour Party could have prevented a vote on bombing taking place at all. As the old saying goes: once bitten, twice shy – fearful of a repeat, the Prime Minister had indicated that he would not have brought the question of bombing in Syria to a vote, unless he could guarantee that it would pass.
In this respect, Corbyn has missed a vital opportunity to prevent Britain being taken down the path of war once more. The Tories have a weak majority in Parliament, and a number of Conservative MPs have indicated doubts about Cameron’s knee-jerk call for bombing in Syria. With the SNP in full opposition to airstrikes, it is possible that the Labour leader could have forced Cameron to retreat on this question, had he demanded a vote against bombing from the entire Parliamentary Labour Party.
Workers and youth will now have to watch with disbelief as MPs once again vote to take Britain on another imperialist adventure. As Marx noted, history has a tendency to repeat itself: the first time as tragedy; the second time as farce. These vile careerist creatures in Westminster – loyal representatives not of the people, but of the ruling class – have clearly learnt nothing from the horrors and mistakes of Afghanistan and Iraq. With their unquestioned servitude to the interests of imperialism, they instinctively call for war at the first opportunity. And yet, once more, it is ordinary people – both in the Middle East and back home – who will be forced to pay the price for this sickening experience of déjà vu.
It is clear, as Corbyn has correctly pointed out, that Cameron and co. have no strategy or plan when it comes to defeating ISIS. In this respect, it is also clear – again, as Corbyn has rightly stated – that bombing will not lead to peace; intervention in Syria by the imperialists will not put an end to terrorism, but only create the conditions for even further waves of reactionary violence.
But to expect such a plan is to miss the point, as the driving force behind this latest military intervention is not to destroy the reactionary forces of jihadi fundamentalism, but to restore the pride of the British ruling class and to prove that British imperialism is still an important player in world relations.
After over a century of decline, British capitalism is now in a parlous state. This degeneration of British capitalism, in turn, is reflected in the diminished position that the country and its ruling class now play on the world stage. This was seen clearly by the obsequious obedience displayed by the New Labour government towards US imperialism, first with the Clinton administration, and even more notably with Bush and his cowboy charge into Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, in a desperate and futile attempt to regain prestige and demonstrate that British imperialism is still a major world power, Cameron is beating the war drums and demanding that Britain joins “coalition forces” in bombing ISIS in Syria.
The hypocrisy of the ruling class and its political representatives regarding the evils of ISIS are clear to see. They cry crocodile tears over barbaric events such as the Paris attacks, cynically using such acts as casus belli, whilst at the same time continuing to support the most despotic regimes in the region, such as the Saudi monarchs and the aspiring Sultan of Turkey, President Erdogan, who are directly supporting ISIS and other jihadi groups.
Indeed, even the so-called “moderates” that Western imperialism has backed thus far, in the fight against Assad, are in fact just Islamist extremists of one variety or another; hence the farce of Cameron claiming that there are 70,000 potential anti-ISIS fighters that could be backed in Syria. As Peter Ford, a former UK ambassador in Syria noted in a recent interview, Cameron has “put forward…a deceitful sort of strategy – a strategy…designed to deceive the eye.”
“For example, he claimed that the Syrian opposition forces could put 70,000 men in the field against IS and he gave the impression the most of these were under the command of the so-called Free Syrian Army. This is straight-forward deceit. I choose my words carefully – the FSA is a laughable front organization for jihadists. It can only itself put about 5,000 men in the field. The idea that this would be the cornerstone of a‘boots on the ground’force to drive out IS and accompanying airstrikes is laughable.”
“Even the government is hard put to make out a case that it [airstrikes] will make any significant military difference. This is why they are having to resort to subterfuge, claiming that we have to stand by our allies. It will make no appreciable military difference. And it doesn’t stand any chance of doing so without a credible strategy for having‘boots on the ground’.”
“He talks about sending 70,000 opposition forces. By the way, at least 90 percent of those are jihadis - a slightly different persuasion from IS, but they are Islamist fundamentalists radicals supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar. These are the people that he wants to put in place of Assad. These are the so-called moderates. We saw these moderates three nights ago on television when they downed the Russian plane, shot the pilot descending in his parachute and then pulling the corpse like hyenas. These are the moderates in the book of Mr. Cameron.”
The American’s discovered this the hard way when it was revealed that out of the one hundred “moderates” they had deployed as part of their $500 million “train and equip” programme in Syria, only “four-or-five” were admitted by the Pentagon to be left several months later.
The target for these airstrikes is almost arbitrary from the perspective of Cameron. The key question, as explained above, is one of prestige and pride. As noted earlier, only two years ago, we were told that Assad was an evil dictator who had to be removed at all costs, after crossing the “red lines” of chemical weapons. Now, the West is in a de-facto alliance with Assad against ISIS and has had to make a humiliating compromise with Russia and Iran (two more former personae non gratae) in order to keep Assad in place, for fear of the consequences of removing him at this stage. It is clear, as Lord Palmerston, the 19th Century British Prime Minister, once remarked that the imperialists have no permanent enemies or allies – only permanent interests.
For the Blairites that continue to infect the Labour Party, it seems that support for war is part of their DNA also. From Kosovo and Afghanistan to Iraq and Libya, the Blairites have always been the most consistent advocates for taking Britain to war. In this respect, their enthusiasm for bombing in Syria now comes as no surprise.
Just as the Syrian civil war has become a proxy war for the various imperialist powers, so too we see that the vote over airstrikes has become the stage for the latest act in the civil war taking place inside the Labour Party – a war between Corbyn and his hundreds of thousands of supports on the one hand, and on the other hand the Blairite elite that acts as a cancer within the Party, looking to suck all life out of its host.
After months of attempts to discredit and destabilise Corbyn, these Blairite vultures are now circling, sensing a potential opportunity to swoop in and deliver the final stab in the back. Calls by right-wing MPs for their leader’s resignation have now grown into a deafening chorus. As ever, the right wing are duly aided in their mission by the media and the Tories.
Despite winning a landslide victory in the leadership election on the basis of his opposition to war, the Blairites now calling for Corbyn’s head on a stick have the audacity to accuse the Labour leader of being responsible for creating “divisions” in the Party – as if these disgusting careerists have not been fomenting division since day one! They acted incredulously to news that Corbyn had emailed Labour members, putting forward his anti-interventionist stance and asking for their responses; yet at the same time it is open secret that leading Tory ministers have been discussing with right-wing Labour MPs in order to garner their support for Cameron’s position.
The Blairites have been belligerently demanding a free vote on the question of airstrikes, with shadow ministers threatening mass resignations unless they were allowed to “follow their conscience” (read: support the Tories and vote for war). They accused Corbyn of being hypocritical, since he had been a prominent rebel against the New Labour leadership over the war in Iraq – conveniently failing to mention that the vast majority of the population was also against this illegal war, despite being fed an endless stream of lies by the warmonger Blair.
Weakness invites aggression
The reality is that Corbyn has an enormous mandate to oppose the bombing in Syria. His enormous leadership victory, winning almost 60% of the vote, is a clear demonstration of this. Meanwhile, in a recent YouGov poll, 70% of Labour members and supporters indicated that they were against the airstrikes – a result that was backed up by 68% of responses to a survey on the independent Labour news website, LabourList. Furthermore, Corbyn’s team reported that 75% of the responses to his recent email on the question of bombing in Syria showed opposition to British intervention.
Given this clear opposition amongst the Labour rank-and-file to Cameron’s calls for airstrikes, Corbyn should have demanded that this opposition be reflected by the vote of the Parliamentary Labour Party. As Diane Abbott, the Corbyn-supporting Labour MP for Hackney North noted:
“...party members and increasingly the country want to see us oppose these airstrikes, which are not the solution, with every sinew of our being. And that would mean a three-line whip…
“It’s not whether I would be disappointed. It’s what the party and the country would think. I think this is about the country, this is more than about individuals; this is more than about matters of party management. The country and certainly Labour Party supporters are looking to the party to oppose these airstrikes because they don’t think it’s the answer.”
Instead, under pressure from the Fifth Column within the PLP – and especially within his own shadow cabinet – Corbyn has conceded the high ground and allowed the Blairites to go on the offensive. Such a compromise will not pacify the Blairite belligerents, but will only embolden them, as evinced by the renewed calls for his resignation. Weakness only invites aggression.
Of course, in reality, an imposed vote on Labour MPs would likely not have led to Cameron’s defeat in parliament, such was the desire for bombing by the Blairites, who had clearly indicated that they would be willing to resign and break ranks in order to vote for airstrikes. Nevertheless, by demanding a vote against, Corbyn could have demonstrated clearly that the Labour leadership, as Abbott says, is willing to do everything in its power to fight the Tories and their imperialist designs; and at the same time, exposed the Blairites for what they really are: Tories in disguise – more concerned with unseating Corbyn than defeating this government of the rich.
The right wing of the Party now feels confident, and is keen to use the momentum over the Syria issue to go on the offensive. They, along with the Tory press, are stepping up their propaganda attacks to paint Corbyn as weak and indecisive; not the sort of “prime ministerial material” that Britain needs in order to protect itself from the heightened security threats of terrorism and fundamentalism.
Wednesday’s vote in parliament will be quickly followed by the results of the Oldham by-election on Thursday, where the right-wing are hoping for either an outright defeat at the hands of UKIP, or at least a vastly reduced majority. Such a loss, they hope, will be the final nail in the coffin for Corbyn’s leadership.
As always, however, the Blairites are completely out of touch with the mood in society, and have thus miscalculated once again. Their petulant behaviour towards Corbyn and jingoistic eagerness to support the Tories in voting for war will not go unnoticed by Labour members and supporters, who are overwhelming behind the new Labour leader. In criticising Corbyn for sowing “division” and displaying “weak leadership” (read: refusing to support imperialist bombing and war), the right wing are only drawing attention to their own arrogance and elitism.
Indeed, their hubris may be the death of them. In trying to depose of Corbyn, the Blairites are likely to be overestimating their strength and thus overstretching themselves, risking a mighty backlash from the Labour membership. Already, grassroots campaigning by Momentum is putting pressure on Labour MPs, calling for them to vote against airstrikes. Those who stick to their guns and vote with the Tories will be clearly marking themselves out as targets for deselection in the coming period.
Those right-wing MPs who believe they can use the issue of Syria and ISIS to get rid of Corbyn are, in the words of Len McCluskey, “playing with fire” and “writing their own political obituaries”. Any attempt to oust the popular Labour leader will, the Unite general secretary warns, “be resisted all the way by Unite and, I believe, most party members and affiliated unions”.
“[T]he issue of Syria is being used as the thin edge to stage a coup against Jeremy Corbyn, Labour's (overwhelmingly) elected leader.
“He has been denounced for writing to MPs and party members making his views on Syria clear - as if his huge mandate, which included support for his long-standing anti-war record, had simply earned him the right to be seen but not heard.
“Yet at the same time members of the Shadow Cabinet are making their own pro-bombing views plain, either publicly or in off-the-record briefings.
“And backbench MPs are even calling on him to quit for having the temerity to maintain his values and principles, with one even comparing him disgracefully to a "fuhrer". That is not open debate, it is abuse and should have no place in the party.
“The thought that some Labour MPs might be prepared to play intra-party politics over an issue such as this will sicken all decent people.
“And they are playing with fire. Any attempt to force Labour's leader out through a Westminster Palace-coup will be resisted all the way by Unite and, I believe, most party members and affiliated unions.
“we cannot have a "free-for-all" party. If those Westminster bubble-dwellers who hanker back to the politics of the past cannot show the elected leader - and those who voted for him -more respect then they are writing their own political obituaries.”
With the Fire Brigades Union, another important Corbyn supporter, recently deciding to re-affiliate to the Labour Party, it is clear that Corbyn’s support is growing; a fact that is demonstrated by other recent polling amongst members and supporters also.
Defend Corbyn! Fight for Socialism!
The question of bombing in Syria has further exposed the irreconcilable antagonism that exists within the Labour Party at the current time – at root, an antagonism between opposing class interests; between the Blairites, who wish to support the ruling class and its imperialist interests, and Corbyn and the hundreds of thousands of workers and youth who support him and his anti-war, anti-austerity programme.
In this respect, influential Labour activists such as Owen Jones are sowing dangerous illusions by calling for Corbyn to turn the other cheek in relation to the right-wing within Labour. “All wings of the party,” Jones implores, “need to start actively seeking out common ground if civil war is to be averted.” But how can there be “unity” or “compromise” between these two sides, which have mutually opposing aims at heart?
We must be clear: all the blame for divisions and chaos within the Labour Party lies entirely with the Blairite clique in the Parliamentary Labour Party, who consider it their inalienable right to speak out against (and vote against) the wishes of the democratically elected leader and the policies he was overwhelmingly elected on. Rather than listen to the wishes of ordinary members, these careerist creatures fall over themselves in their attempts to prove what reliable representatives of the Establishment they are.
The task now is for the Corbyn supporters, Labour members, and trade unionists to send a clear message to this right-wing mafia within the Party: either you support Corbyn and fight the Tories, or you will be kicked out and replaced by genuine leaders who will.
At the same time, Corbyn should use the debate in Parliament and his platform as Labour leader to expose all the hypocrisy and short-sightedness of the Tories, and to outline a genuine alternative to airstrikes and bombing in Syria.
The Labour Party is correct to highlight the absurdity of Cameron’s claim that a 70,000-strong anti-ISIS force can be built in the area, or that bombing will bring about peace in Syria and make Britain safer. But - as we have discussed previously - Corbyn, Abbott, and others on the Left of the Labour Party, such as Ken Livingstone, are wrong also to state that the solution lies in deploying a United Nations force or regional coalition to defeat ISIS, or in trying to reach a “political settlement” in Middle East.
The fact is that the Syria civil war has become a war between all the imperialist powers – both global (Russia, the USA, France) and regional (Turkey, Iran, and the Saudis) – and their proxies. Such opposing imperialist interests cannot be reconciled within any political settlement or regional coalition. Only a second Arab revolution, beginning in the key countries of Turkey, Egypt, and Iran, can bring an end to the reactionary mess that imperialism has created in the Middle East.
The role of the labour movement in Britain, France, and elsewhere, meanwhile, must be to oppose our own governments and their imperialist adventures. Foreign policy is always and everywhere an extension of domestic policy. If we want to see peace abroad, then we must fight for a socialist Labour government at home.
The deep global crisis of capitalism has brought all the contradictions in society to the fore. This, in the final analysis, is what lies both at the root of the barbarism within the Middle East and behind the increasing tensions within the Labour Party. Only the socialist transformation of society can offer a way out of this impasse.