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.