"Democracy in action" and other children's stories

"Democracy in action" and other children's stories

A short post on the reactions to the Commons vote on Syria and the illusions of parliamentary democracy.

The UK government lost a vote in the House of Commons on intervention in Syria. The margin was incredibly narrow and the debate heated but nonetheless it is a definite spanner in the works for the UK's involvement in any military intervention.

The responses to this fact have been illuminating in terms of the mythology certain ideologies are predicated on. The pro-war left have thrown their toys out of the pram, declaring that we've basically given the green light to murder. Yet they see no reason to comment on their own government's plans to use chemical weapons nor to push for humanitarian intervention against other despots.

Presumably the humanitarian state is above scrutiny in how it treats its own citizens and all knowing in terms of who needs help in the world. If the west has yet to infer the possibility of war against a given country there must not be a humanitarian crisis there. Almost as if these liberals are just apologists for the interests of state and capital, funnily enough.

On the anti-war side, one of the most common responses is that this vote was "democracy in action." The Stop the War Coalition commented that MPs "have for once reflected the majority public opinion in this country." With the caveat that this opinion was created by Stop the War itself, the view presented is that if enough people object to something then the powers that be have to listen.

This, incidentally, ties in with John Rees's view that the UK was just one more lumbering A to B march through London away from not intervening in Iraq.

The problem with this is that it doesn't reflect reality.

There is, undoubtedly, a groundswell of opinion against intervention in Syria or against war in general. This comes from a variety of sources - whether a conservative/isolationist position that "our boys" shouldn't die to help those wretched brown people, a Stalinist "every enemy of the US is an awesome hero of the revolution and not a dictator at all" position or a more nuanced position which recognises that even if the guy being bombed is a dictator intervention still isn't pursued with humanitarian motives. But this is not reflected in parliament, even with the recent vote.

Rather, what we saw appears to be a happy accident of partisan politics. After all, both parties supported intervention and the Labour Party amendment was not an anti-war one. Yet even with partisan interests playing a huge part, the margin with which the vote fell was extremely narrow.

Instead of restoring people's faith in parliament, the sight of cynical manoeuvring in order to score points should have further shattered it. Not least because the Liberal Democrats' about face to a pro-war position is a perfect demonstration of how quickly purported principles take a back seat to the pragmatic realities of power.

Yet it isn't hard to see a narrative emerging that because Labour stopped intervention in Syria, they have shaken off the ghosts of Iraq. Therefore it's a lot easier to vote for them in 2015 in order to get the nasty Tories out. And of course the illusions in parliamentary democracy continue to be propped up, keeping any rebellion within acceptable bounds.

In order to turn a strength of feeling against war into the kind of pressure that can stop militarism, we need more than marches and rallies. We need more active sabotage of war manufacturing, anti-militarist industrial action by workers in munitions factories and the like, and to make a solid case for soldiers to resist and refuse when sent to murder other working class people halfway across the world.

But as long as we're convinced that "democracy works" and all that we need is to lobby hard enough and march far enough to turn the tide, we're not even beginning to discuss the practicalities of such actions. The UK may be out of any venture in Syria, but it was extremely cynical partisan manoeuvring wot won it and, lacking that, the anti-war movement is ill-equipped to make any real impact when the next imperial venture pops up.

Comments

Auld-bod
Aug 31 2013 17:57

Watching the BBC TV yesterday, the only politicians who were being straight forward in their statements were some Tory rebels. The reasons the UK should not use ‘lethal force’ was there was no realizable goal and the end game had not been thought through. No sanctimonious bull about ‘shots across the bows’, or ‘horrendous war crime’ hypocrisy.

When an interviewer talked about Russia and China having vested interests in the area a Tory MP (ex-military) interjected with “Well so do we”. A row in the common house of capitalism – the BBC news editors must be wondering which ass to lick.

MIchael Handelman
Sep 1 2013 03:19

People should really (re?)watch the wonderful episode from (the usually reactionary, Public Choice ideology) "Yes, Minister" called "The Whisky Priest":

"You know we already sell arms to Syria...."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9EwpGB75kw

"Britain has sold industrial materials to Syria that could have been used to make chemical weapons, according to a new report by MPs on arms sales."

http://news.sky.com/story/1116687/britains-chemical-sales-to-syria-revealed

Joseph Kay
Sep 1 2013 10:49

Normal service has been resumed.

The Telegraph wrote:
Britain will continue to play an active role in any military strikes on Syria, despite David Cameron’s vow not to join the attacks following his Parliamentary defeat last week.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10278355/Syria-crisis-Britain-will-play-active-role-in-military-action-despite-vote-defeat.html

ajjohnstone
Sep 2 2013 05:32

"In order to turn a strength of feeling against war into the kind of pressure that can stop militarism, we need more than marches and rallies. We need more active sabotage of war manufacturing, anti-militarist industrial action by workers in munitions factories and the like"

Apart from placing on my Xmas wish-list, can we have some historical perspective where this has proven effective. We have to go back to the blacking of Jolly George and Hands Off Russia after WW1 as an example of industrial sabotage in Britain against a war.

Regardless of whether it was Milerand and Labour Party opportunism it did demonstrate the power of parliament against a government who were hell-bent on military strikes. We don't possess a constitution but now the Prime Ministers "royal prerogative" to go to war without consulting parliament is now an issue in the future because of what is now an expectation.

My criticism of the 2003 protest was that it was indeed tokenism, one march and we made our gesture so back to the pub. Another unique situation was that "non-politcos" linked up Iraq and Oil without requiring any polemical professors to do it. In the case with Syria, there was a genuine feeling of "we won't be fooled again" as the Who once sung. Its not marching to the chants of no war but trying to link anti-war with anti-capitalism that is our real challenge.

Phil
Sep 2 2013 06:03
ajjohnstone wrote:
Apart from placing on my Xmas wish-list, can we have some historical perspective where this has proven effective. We have to go back to the blacking of Jolly George and Hands Off Russia after WW1 as an example of industrial sabotage in Britain against a war.

That may be so, but it doesn't mean that it isn't what would be most effective. That we haven't got there at present doesn't mean marching and parliament works and more than the lack of a decent syndicalist movement means that the trade unions are really revolutionary vehicles. The point (although the hows will have to be looked at elsewhere) is that this should be what a serious anti-war movement organises towards.

ocelot
Sep 3 2013 11:12

I sure someone, somewhere has articulated this better, but the real threat that convinced Cameron to turn the Commons debate debacle into a bar on Brit involvement was neither public opinion or Labour opposition, but the threat to the unity of his party represented by the "bastards" picking this as another stick to beat him with. Same as with the promised referendum on EU membership. Deferring the split in the Tory party is the can being kicked eternally down the road since at least Thatcher's day. People have become so used to it that it's become normalised, but it still has the explosive potential to derail "business as usual" politics. The political system is not there to express "the democratic will of the people" but rather a committee to reconcile the different interests of the capitalist class, but that doesn't mean there aren't some serious intra-class contradictions, as well. Especially with UKIP panting down the necks of Tory right backbenchers.

Speaking of the Tory right, Crispin Blunt, one of the rebel tories was on R4 Today the morning after and came out with this gem:

Quote:
Tory rebel MP Crispin Blunt welcomed the defeat of the Government’s motion on Thursday saying it may change the UK’s position in the world.

Mr Blunt told the BBC: "If that is a consequence of this vote, I would be absolutely delighted that we relieve ourselves of some of this imperial pretension that a country of our size can seek to be involved in every conceivable conflict that is going on around the world."

In Ireland, members of the Tory right talking of it being high time the UK rid itself of "imperial pretensions" is being seen by some as an omen of the apocalypse.

Ablokeimet
Sep 3 2013 11:28
Phil wrote:
In order to turn a strength of feeling against war into the kind of pressure that can stop militarism, we need more than marches and rallies. We need more active sabotage of war manufacturing, anti-militarist industrial action by workers in munitions factories and the like, and to make a solid case for soldiers to resist and refuse when sent to murder other working class people halfway across the world.

During the campaign against the Vietnam War in Australia in the late 60s & early 70s, the thing that gave the growing movement some real social power was the fact that workers were starting to walk off the job to join the demonstrations. Of course, it helped that the "Communist" Party of Australia was at the time leading the unions involved - and that CP shop stewards had a habit of telling their officials about a strike after it happened, rather than before.

My point in this discussion is that, while strikes by workers actually involved in making the war possible are the ideal response, political protest strikes are quite powerful in their own right. They cut off the flow of profits and hit the bosses where it hurts.