British Parliament Votes to Bomb in Syria

The vote in the UK Parliament to bomb IS will have little real meaning on the ground in terms of the fight against IS (or Daesh). But the vote was more than a purely symbolic affair. It was all about the positioning of British imperialism in the right place in the global imperialist pecking order. There was no obligation for the Government (which is already bombing IS in Iraq and used drones to kill the likes of Mohammed Emwazi in Syria) to get Parliamentary approval. So what was the parliamentary charade all about?

The Parliamentary Road to Mass Murder

Well, let’s go back to 2003. Blair had already decided that he would follow the lunacy of the oil-obsessed Bush Administration into toppling Saddam Hussein even though Saddam had managed to keep those who had done the 9/11 attacks and other atrocities out of Iraq. But Blair also knew that there was no case for war. On the basis of lies (“flawed intelligence”) Blair took his case to Parliament and sold them not just a “dodgy dossier” about weapons of mass destruction but got these representatives of the ruling class to vote for the coming atrocity. The consequences of this can be counted in millions of deaths since across the Middle East.

Two years ago Cameron lost a vote in the Commons to bomb Assad’s positions. Now he has asked Parliament to approve bombing of Assad’s most effective enemy. Superficially the only consistent thread seems to be an addiction to bombing but that would be to misread the situation. Like Blair he wants to inveigle not just Members of Parliament into taking responsibility for the war in Syria but the entire population. By getting a vote in Parliament they can say “democracy” has spoken. They still maintain this charade, despite the fact that on February 15 2003 the biggest demonstration in UK history opposed the invasion of Iraq, or that an opinion poll published as MPs went to vote showed that only 48% of the electorate supported bombing. It demonstrates the real value of a system where representatives can only be held to account every 5 years.

The Illegitimate Offspring of Imperialist Rivalry

The consequences of the vote will probably not make IS lose much sleep but it will make them more active in recruiting jihadists in the UK. The politics of the vendetta never ends and what Western imperialists forget is that IS/Daesh are the illegitimate offspring of their own policies. You can go back to the Faustian pact that Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed with the Saudis in 1945 to get one of the constants[1]. The lucky fact that oil was found in the recently created Kingdom (1935 – thanks largely to the British) turned an obscurantist religious tribe into the richest player in the Middle East. Ever since then blind eyes have been turned to their nefarious activities in promoting Salafism, starting with the Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan promoted by Zia ul Haq, which in turn gave us the Taliban. Early on they supported IS (as they had supported Bin Laden) until the forming of the Caliphate challenged their claim to leadership of the world of Sunni Islam. But no-one points the finger at the Saudi regime which is supplying arms to all kinds of jihadists around the world including anti-Assad fighters who then often sell them on to IS. Does anyone seriously think that a British Government which only sees foreign policy in terms of short term economic interests will challenge what the Saudis, Qataris and Bahrainis are doing both at home and abroad? Execution of women by stoning to death, public beheadings, the arrest of medical personnel who carry out their duty and treat the victims of state repression are all part of the same social values that IS has on offer.

The rise of the Islamic State is the unintended consequence of the actions of all the imperialist actors both local and international but without the US/UK invasion of Iraq it would not have come into existence. Its backbone and military expertise comes from the ex-officers and career soldiers of Saddam’s Army that faced repression at the hands of the new Shia majority regime in Baghdad after the US coalition victory. They first offered their services to Al Qaeda, but then formed IS to go beyond the Al Qaeda strategy of trying to build a mass Muslim base against the Western “infidels” and “crusaders”. The Caliphate is not about winning hearts and minds but about sowing fear and terror, even amongst Sunnis. It is not often noticed that at least 10 of the victims of the Paris bombings were from Muslim backgrounds but IS does not care. They were in the “dens of vice and prostitution” so deserved their fate. Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups carrying out an attack will give those who can recite the Koran a reprieve (as in the Bamako hotel atrocity in Mali) but in its remorseless need to sow absolute terror IS does not. It is a calculated strategy, just as the targets it chooses which are designed to divide its enemies (the bombing of Suruc and Ankara reignited the war between the PKK and the Turkish Government for example). The Paris bombing is designed to increase state repression of young Muslims whose families originate in North Africa. The aim is to play their situation of unemployment, discrimination and hopelessness. IS offers them identity and more importantly, a spurious sense of dignity if they join them. Given this it is not surprising that hundreds have left France for Syria.

The Hypocrisy of “Western Values”

All this seems to be missed by the revenge policies of both the French and British Governments in the wake of Paris. For both there is much rhetoric about “Western values”. Windbag in chief on this was the Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn.[2] He claimed to be defending “internationalism” but was in fact calling for joining the Western imperialist coalition in Syria. And then he homed in on his final argument that “IS/Daesh hold our values in contempt”. But how much “tolerance and decency” have those in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world experienced at the hands of so-called “Western democracy”? The only Western values which really count in this struggle are imperialist greed and hypocrisy. His widely-praised (by ruling class commentators) speech was a masterpiece in emotional historical distortion. In his direct appeal to Labour MPs he compared the fight against IS to the fight against fascism in the 1930s. Anti-fascism is the last resort of every scoundrel these days to justify imperialist intervention everywhere[3]. His claim that the House of Commons stood up to face Hitler and Mussolini does not bear a moment’s scrutiny. The House of Commons would have appeased both dictators if they had only halted at the rape of both Czechoslovakia and Abyssinia[4]. Moreover Churchill was not made Prime Minister in the Second World war because he hated Fascism (he praised it when it first appeared as a tamer of the “bestial appetites of Bolshevism – by which he meant the working class). Churchill’s aim was to save the British Empire (which like Hitler’s Third Reich was aiming at lasting another 1000 years) from German hegemony on the continent. Anti-fascism was the slogan that united British, US and Soviet imperialism only after 1941.

One irony in Benn’s defence of “civilised values” that escaped him was that the RAF committed the first war crime in the region when it dropped poison gas bombs on villages in Iraq in 1923. Winston Churchill’s comment was that he could see nothing wrong with using chemical weapons "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment". He dismissed objections to this as "unreasonable". "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes … [to] spread a lively terror".[5] “Tolerance and decency” or more in common with those “fascists” of IS?

In the course of his diatribe Benn gave us a list of the horrors inflicted by IS. He actually mentioned Suruc and Ankara (but not Beirut and Baghdad) and of course he omitted the numerically far greater horrors wrought by the British and their American allies in Iraq and Afghanistan[6]. His imperialist arrogance and blindness have been roundly applauded on all sides.

The Real Meaning of Internationalism is to Oppose ALL Imperialisms

Benn was opposed in the vote by a majority of Labour MPs, including its leader Jeremy Corbyn. Many have seen Corbyn as being the “decent one” especially when it comes to military action. But Corbyn has form on the imperialist front too. A regular commentator on Russia Today and Iran’s Press TV and (until he became leader of the Labour Party) Chair of the Stop the War Coalition he, like Benn, claims to be an “internationalist”. Except that he sees imperialism only as American or Western imperialism. Thus his anti-imperialism involves supporting the regime in Iran, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas. In its final version this policy means supporting the call for doing a deal with Putin’s Russia in Syria (which would mean saving the Assad regime which has killed many more Syrians than IS ever will).

Real anti-imperialism means opposing all imperialist actors, big or small, on the global stage today and neither Corbyn nor anyone else’s Labour Party, nor the Stop the War Coalition, do this. Working class autonomous action starts from the premise that all nation-states today are imperialist because we live in the imperialist stage of capitalism. “The only war worth fighting is the class war”[7] and we have no interest in lining up behind this or that imperialist force. There is in fact a constant shifting of imperialist positions in all this and the real reason for the British vote on bombing is to stand alongside the US now that Russia has taken an active part in bombing Assad’s opponents. British-US relations have not been good under Cameron. The British were the first Western state to sign up to the Chinese Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which Washington sees as a direct threat to its interests in Asia. The Conservative Government have also signed numerous controversial contracts with the Chinese, not least to hand over construction of British nuclear power stations to Chinese state firms. On top of this the Chancellor George Osborne has lauded the Chinese “New Silk Road” project for Central Asia (ignoring the earlier US version which intended to bring oil and gas through Afghanistan to the India subcontinent).

Paris changed things slightly. With Hollande calling for more military action the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” of 2003 became overnight “the US’ oldest ally” (Obama). Largely sidelined in the Iran nuclear talks, the British state had to do something to redress the balance to “restore its position on the world stage”[8]. It could not afford to let the main source of its weapons and it’s most important financial ally discount it entirely. When the imperialist music is playing, particularly in a global capitalist economic crisis, the powers all have to dance to its tune. This is why the Germans too will vote for military intervention to support the US coalition against IS to keep its place in the imperialist pecking order. That is why the vote this week was not entirely symbolic. And it won’t be symbolic for those innocents on the ground who just get in harm’s way. Since Paris the French air force have only actually carried out 2 of the 48 raids on the Raqqa region but in one of those they managed to hit a primary school.

The Shape of Things to Come

It will not be symbolic on the home front either. We have already seen in France how the state of emergency has led to the suppression of civil rights. The 200 environmental activists who were arrested on the eve of the Paris COP21 conference can testify to that. Already Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is targeting “activist infiltration in the public sector” whilst new teacher trainees have to undergo lectures on British values. Anyone questioning what these might be is unlikely to make the grade. Meanwhile the secret services are being given carte blanche to check all our internet activity (GCHQ admits that it derives 20% from the eavesdropping already). What make this even more laughable is that IS are not as sophisticated at IT as our rulers claim. The Paris bombings were not organised via encrypted messages but apparently through straightforward chats on Skype.[9]

With a manipulated media owned largely by a few plutocrats and a security apparatus which is increasing in power we are well on the way to an Orwellian nightmare. Capitalism by its nature repeatedly and periodically produces economic crises. We are in the depths of one now. All the quantitative easing and new debt creation we are witnessing may have saved the system but it has not promoted a recovery. The consequence is increasing barbarism everywhere of which the situation in Syria and the particular rise of IS are but a single instance. And like the population in “1984” the state does not need to consult its citizens about issues of war and peace. Syria is a long way away and professional trained killers will do the job for our masters. Economic crisis and the spread of war are dovetailing and engulfing the planet. Capitalism is a system which is already past its sell-by date but it will go on creating misery, death and destruction as long as we let it. Its time for the international proletariat to start building a political organisation from the bottom up: one which can lead the fight, not just against terrorism and war, but against the system that produced it.


4 December 2015


[1] See for more details.

[2] For those into the constitutional niceties of capitalism, the motion that the Conservatives actually drew up was deliberately based on meeting the concerns of a motion at the Labour Party Conference which Benn was presumably instrumental in compiling. By meeting his “tests” (at least in rhetoric) they were basically appeasing the Labour right wing. Benn voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and for bombing Libya in 2011.

[3] This includes those “anarchists” like David Graeber who support US ally, the PYD in Rojava with the spurious notion that a change in management style by these clones of the Stalinist PKK is somehow a “revolution” like that which grew out of the resistance to Franco’s coup in July 1936. See

[4] Benn also made appeals to the anti-fascist fight of the International Brigades in the Second World War without mentioning that they ended up fighting for Stalinism and not for a working class revolution in Spain. Ironically the man credited with founding the first International Brigade, Tom Wintringham wrote a booklet in 1945 entitled “Your MP” which detailed how the vast majority of the 1939 House of Commons were pro-Nazi or pro-fascist and that is why they supported appeasement. It is credited with helping Labour win a landslide in that election (although some Labour MPS like Herbert Morrison were also on the list of appeasers).


[6] 120,000 died in Iraq alone between 2003 and 2011 whilst according to The Lancet at least half a million died in the period 1991-2002 as a direct result of the international embargo on Iraq.

[7] First line of graffiti in Richmond Castle gaol written by a socialist internationalist who had refused conscription in 1916.

[8] Financial Times 5.12.15 p.2

[9] According to France24 19.30 News 3 December 2015

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Jock, your article is impressive in historical detail, but, looking at your closing sentence, it seems, as usual, that the ICT wants the world proletariat to re-invent the wheel organisationally and politically. The ICT seems to imagine that all existing Marxist - Leninist and Trotskyist ones should be dismissed, because it knows better. Should the ICT pay more attention to matters and questions of effective leadership, or just leave it to groups to independently sort something out ?

No "seems" about it. Maoism has never been a proletarian current and Trotskyism took a wrong turn in the 1930s and never found its way back. If you want state capitalism rather than socialism you carry on looking in those directions but the problem today is not one of leadership but of consciousness and we cannot invent the class struggle. What we can do is try to build a clear and coherent nucleus of an organisation for the future struggles in which we (presumably alongside all those other groups that stand for the independence of the working class and hopefully regrouping with them) will fight for the victory of our ideas and the communist programme.

Jock, the working class has always been somewhat 'seamless' (was it the historian Bloch's view too, if I 've spelt his name correctly !). If it is still seamless, then full independence seems unlikely. One problem is that so many of the allegedly Marxist organisations seem determined to be independent of each other, even amongst those four or more of the 'communist left', that it is hard to see how in practice they would unite in agreed major struggle, though allowing for what is seen on demos. A lot of unemployed and other proletarians have been largely 'independent' of money, so are already 'independent' of the bourgeoisie, even if not yet in their thinking, bamboozled by the media. As for your regarding Maoism as never having been a proletarian current, well of course the majority of its support came from peasants, but surely not to the exclusion of the minority of proletarians, as was the case in its early days. Do you have any info as to the situation of whatever of Maoism exists in China today ?


I think that there are people in the existing groups who are capable of a high level of thought who will come to our perspectives. If our analysis is correct capitalism will create the conditions for massive response from a class who can sacrifice no more to the insatiable demand for profit which is unpaisd labour.

A major plank in our distinct theory (although by no means exclusvely ours) is the realisation that capitalism has only worsening coditions to offer which if left unchecked will culminate in open imperialist war. As this scenario unravels, more and more politicised elements will break away from the reformist organisations looking for a better capitalism and the distinctions between the remaining polical possibilities will become critical. In all probability this will be a protracted process whereby significant numbers pass through a school of political education propelled by the objective reality of capitalism. New arenas for presenting outr perspectives will open up and new forces for the presentation of such perspectives will arise.

As you say, like it or not, many people are left out of the bourgeois scheme of things, reduced to penury on the margins. The ability of the bourgeoisie to back up its propaganca with material bribes to keep the working class quiet is eroding.

As Marxists we think that at the end of the day, the material reality of capitalisms' objective inability to maintain its proletarian host will outweigh all the superstructural irrationality - its propaganda, the many organisations paying lip service to socialism or at least a better deal whilst maintaining labour chained to capital.

Faced with the realisation that there is no beter tomorrow, indeed, tomorrow is increasingly grim, the process of politicisation may not immediately take the form of the rupture wih capitalism in all its forms, but that is the objective tendency of the process and we will endeavour to offer the revolutionary solution in situations which are not of our choosing, to a working class which is not going to come to class consciousness in one fell swoop but through a tormented maturation.

Stevein&, noted, thanks.

In the long term tomorrow may not even exist Stevein7! (But I only really said that to irritate T 34)

But what does T 34 mean by referring to the working class as "seamless"? And why does he naively assume that because some workers took up with Maoism that this gives it any honest proletarian credentials? After all, are there not workers in the British Labour Party, and hasn't Cameron declared that the Tories have the interests of the working class at heart? (Of course they do. They live off it!)

And finally I have yet to meet anyone on this planet who has managed to live "independent" of money. And should such people exist that would in no way make them independent of the bourgeoisie, whose dictatorship is world wide - has even walked on the moon and photographed. Pluto - and is as yet inescapable.