TUC demo 20 October 2012, photo Senan

TUC demo 20 October 2012, photo Senan   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Syria: Cameron defeated

Now defeat Tory cuts!

TUC: Name the day for a 24-hour general strike

“I get it.” Through gritted teeth Tory Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged an historic defeat. MPs had just voted by a margin of 13 to oppose British participation in a military intervention in Syria after he recalled Parliament on 29 August.

The last time a British prime minister was defeated on a war motion was in 1782 when MPs voted to end Britain’s involvement in the American war of independence.

US forces may still bomb Syria. The Socialist Party is against any attack on Syria, which would cause further suffering and exacerbate the conflict.

We are also completely opposed to the murderous Assad regime and to the reactionary, sectarian forces who dominate the anti-Assad opposition.

We stand instead for the building of a united, non-sectarian mass movement of workers and the poor to establish independent trade unions and a mass workers’ party.

Such a party can play a key role in overthrowing the repressive regime and allowing the masses to democratically determine their future.

Blair’s heir

Humiliated, Cameron was forced to ‘get’ the huge opposition to an attack and that the divisions in his party and his government have been exposed. Tempers frayed and the blame game ensued as realisation of the rout set in.

Cameron was caught in the long shadow of Iraq. This was the revenge of the anti-war movement of 2003 – as much a defeat for Tony Blair and New Labour’s ‘dodgy dossier’ as it was for the Con-Dem government.

Huge anti-war demonstration in London in 2003, photo Paul Mattsson

Huge anti-war demonstration in London in 2003, photo Paul Mattsson

The entire legitimacy of the Con-Dem coalition has taken a battering. Their weakness has been exposed.

Now we have to ensure that Cameron ‘gets’ our opposition to austerity. The most effective way to do this is through the main potential opposition force in society, the organised trade union movement and the broader working class.

We call on the TUC to urgently name the day for a 24-hour general strike which would have huge support from workers.

Already teachers, postal workers, firefighters, civil servants and other sections of the organised working class are planning action.

Bringing these struggles together to strengthen them is widely seen as a logical step.

The deep well of anger against austerity would yield enormous support for bold action from young people, pensioners, the unemployed, etc.

In reality Labour fell into voting against action on Syria under mass public pressure – Miliband did not oppose an attack outright.

He argued that more time should be given to the UN inspectors to allow evidence of a chemical weapons attack to be collected.

Nonetheless Miliband’s stance on the vote revealed an important point – even a shred of opposition could force this Coalition back.

They have been successful in their vicious austerity attacks because Labour has not provided any meaningful resistance.

Very quickly a new party, based on working class struggle against cuts could become a mass force in society.

Fundamentally the planned attack on Syria is the logic of the capitalist system and imperialism’s drive for profit, prestige and power. A socialist alternative is necessary.

Revenge of 2003 anti-war movement

Pop! The bubble of Prime Minister Cameron’s image as a strong leader burst. Crack! Any idea that the Con-Dems are a strong coalition exploded. Snap! went the British imperialists’ illusion that Britain is a powerful force in the world. And bang! That was the distrust of the public towards capitalist politicians bearing down on the whole sorry story.

After months of softening up public opinion for an attack on Syria, should the ‘red line’ of a chemical weapons attack be crossed, President Obama and Cameron were committed to working together as the world’s policemen in a strike on Syrian government forces.

Given the strength of public opposition, the complications and clear risks for the future of the entire region posed by an attack, grumblings of opposition from within the Tories and the military were audible – but not to Cameron it seems.

But within days their plans were in tatters. And it has been revelatory. Processes and factors that have lurked beneath the surface were forced into the open as the law of unintended consequences took revenge.

Ten years ago an estimated 30 million people marched in cities across the world, two million in Britain, to oppose an attack on Iraq which was widely understood to be a war for oil, for prestige, and for imperialism’s strategic interests.

People knew that when capitalist politicians claimed their aims were to save lives and for democracy they lied. The bloody facts have borne this out.

New York demonstates against the war in 2003, photo Paul Mattsson

New York demonstates against the war in 2003, photo Paul Mattsson

Scepticism about so-called intelligence is widespread in the wake of Tony Blair and George Bush’s ‘dodgy dossiers’ and claims that Saddam could mount an attack with WMDs within 45 minutes.

Nonetheless there have been attempts to pedal documents that assert Assad carried out a chemical attack but also admissions that so far there is no ‘slam dunk’ or ‘smoking’ piece of intelligence to prove it decisively.

There is no doubt that Assad’s is a brutal dictatorship capable of unspeakable horror and cruelty, but there are also few illusions that an intervention by imperialist forces would improve the situation.

Shadow of Vietnam and Iraq

Behind some of the indecisiveness among capitalist politicians and the military about a plunge into action have been the lack of clear stated aims for the action and a fear of what could ensue.

Concerns no doubt include the potential for ‘blowback’ in terms of terrorist attacks in Britain and the US and the risk of attacks on British bases in Cyprus.

Obama is fearful of a major knock to US prestige. Having pledged to respond if Assad crossed the ‘red line’ of a chemical weapons attack he has now been weakened and forced, in no small part by Cameron’s defeat, to go to the Congress for a vote on 9 September.

The more thinking sections of the US administration remember the military defeat in Vietnam, which combined with a mass anti-war movement, gave birth to the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ and virtually ruled out US military interventions for a historical epoch.

The Vietnam war gave a huge push to the development of consciousness in the US and internationally, in a period of heightened struggle, with millions drawing socialist and revolutionary conclusions about the nature of capitalism and imperialism.

The Socialist has pointed out that there is no straightforward capitalist solution to this conflict. Evident from all previous imperialist interventions, is that the interests of the working class and poor in the region are far from a motivating force.

Asked in a poll for the Independent newspaper whether the experience of the Iraq war means that Britain should keep out of military conflict in the Middle East, 62% agree.

The same poll found that a majority thought Cameron showed he is “out of touch with Britain” in his handling of the Syria crisis.

Stop the War demonstration in London, 31.8.13, photo J Beishon

Stop the War demonstration in London, 31.8.13, photo J Beishon   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A big majority in the US opposes military intervention and in France where an attack is also due to be debated.

The Iraq and Afghanistan effect has contributed to a crisis of legitimacy of establishment politicians and, to an extent, of democratic processes, which has been enormously exacerbated by the capitalist economic crisis and its accompanying boot of austerity.

Weak parties

Also revealed was the weak state of the three main parliamentary parties. Having managed to appear united and to defy gravity to an extent by seeming to deflect the true extent of anger over the cuts, the Tories were suddenly naked in their isolation and division.

The Tory front bench dissolved into a swearing, spitting mess as the result of the vote came through – and much of it was aimed internally.

Gove allegedly shouted at Tory rebels outside the chamber: ‘You’re a disgrace’. Why hadn’t the whips done their job? Why hadn’t more Tories turned up? How dare some of them revolt!

Then the Tories turned their wrath on Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. He was blamed for not summing up the debate well enough.

And finally they remembered Labour leader Ed Miliband who they accused of “stark raving hypocrisy”, “dishonourable behaviour” and “putting his party before the national interest”.

Since the vote there has been a desperate attempt to claim that this is the only issue there is division over in the Conservative party and that Cameron’s position is not in danger.

But this is far from true. All but three of the 39 Coalition dissidents had rebelled before. It’s been reported that only 20 Tory MPs actually backed the motion while the others felt duty-bound to vote for it.

Two days before the reported chemical weapons attack Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC that events in the Middle East were “the most important event so far of the 21st century, even compared to the financial crisis we have been through and its impact on world affairs.”

It reveals the relative weakness and myopia of British imperialism that it is unable to assert itself on this situation.

In a flash Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson has stepped into the furore, arguing that there should be another vote if the US Congress votes for action, presenting himself as the strong hero and, presumably, the potential replacement for a much-damaged Cameron.

Cameron’s humiliation can bolster Miliband’s position in the short-term, despite his and Labour’s tepid and partial opposition over Syria.

A ComRes poll in the aftermath of the vote though puts Labour only six points ahead, a rather thin lead due to Labour’s record of non-opposition to government cuts.

Miliband has been given little space to enjoy the glow of the Westminster victory. He now faces attacks from members of his front bench, and from Blair, and he has developed his position to say he would support an attack if there was significant change in the situation – if al-Qaida got large stockpiles of weapons or if there is a direct threat to Britain’s national security.

In reality both factors could be a consequence of the interventions in Syria by imperialism and reactionary powers within the Middle East.

The growing presence of al-Qaida forces in Syria is well-documented, as is the enormous funding and arming of anti-government forces by the semi-feudal dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The potential for ‘blowback’ from British or US military intervention in the form of terror attacks is strong and a factor in public opposition.

International relations

In the days after the vote there was much hand-wringing at the damage done to the long-cherished ‘special relationship’ with the US.

US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to confirm this when he called France ‘our oldest ally’, referring to the war of independence against Britain.

But within days Obama had Cameron on the phone, reassuring him of Britain’s ‘BFF – best friends forever’ status.

No doubt the US regime had looked down the barrel of increased isolation in a world riven by tensions in the face of on-going capitalist crisis and reconsidered any breach.

Since then Kerry has been doing his hawkish utmost to campaign for an attack – citing the need to protect Israel and warning that the US reputation is on the line.

Obama now appears to be committing to a fuller onslaught in the hope of winning Congress round and avoiding a Cameron-style humiliation.

Socialist opposition

The Socialist Party and the CWI stand in complete opposition to imperialist military attacks. Such attacks would worsen the situation in Syria and undoubtedly across the region.

But we are not silent on what needs to be done either. We explain that to bring real democracy to Syria requires the building of, and encouraging the establishment of, independent working class forces that can unite workers, the poor, oppressed and suffering in their common interests against both the forces of imperialism and their semi-feudal and capitalist allies in the region.

Unlike capitalist politicians who fundamentally represent their own national capitalist classes we are socialist internationalists and support struggles against imperialism, oppression and capitalism across the world.

We explain that fighting austerity and for a socialist alternative in Britain and across the world is a vital part of this.

The gap that has been opened up will not remain open indefinitely. The hesitation of the trade union leaders over mass determined action against austerity and to bring the government down must end.

Trade union members must do all they can to apply pressure, to coordinate action where it’s already on the cards, and in all unions to demand a 24-hour general strike.

Building new mass workers’ parties and fighting for a socialist alternative would have big impacts across the world, inspiring millions to join the struggle, including in the Middle East.

Lobby the TUC

‘All out together in November’

Sunday 8 September

12.30pm Hardy Suite, Hermitage Hotel, Exeter Road, Bournemouth BH2 5AH (opposite the TUC conference venue)

See shopstewards.net for info