Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

The Labour Party and Capitalism's Wars

At the beginning of the Iraq war, one of many wars supported by the Labour Party, Tony Blair announced: 'I'm proud of the British Empire'.

In a speech as Prime Minister to the lord Mayor's banquet in 1997 he said:

"I value and honour our history enormously".

Blair went on to say:

"the fact that Britain had an Empire - about which 'a lot of rubbish [is] talked' - "should be cause of neither apology nor hand wringing; rather it must be used to further Britain's global influence"

He did not go into detail about the "rubbish" being talked about colonialism. Maybe the uncomfortable fact that the British Empire was built off slavery, class exploitation and plunder from numerous countries like India was not worth considering.

And it was the Labour Party Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who said Britain must stop apologising for its colonial past. He wrapped himself up in "British exceptionalism" and declared that we should:

"....recognise that it has produced some of the greatest ideas in history" (DAILY MAIL 15 January 2005).

Would he have offered "scientific racism" or "eugenics" as one of Britain 'greatest' ideas which was then imported around the world, finding fertile soil in the United States and Germany?

In the US eugenicist policies manifested itself in a widespread effort to prevent individuals who were considered to be "unfit" from having children. These policies often included involuntary sterilization or enforced institutionalization.

In 1933, the Hitler-controlled government issued the so-called "Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases", under which at least 400,000 Germans were involuntarily sterilized for having hereditary conditions such as mental illness, epilepsy, "feeblemindedness", or physical deformities (Kennedy Institute of Ethics, 2002).

A great idea!

And do not be deceived that Jeremy Corbyn, doyen of the capitalist Left, did not embrace nationalism. He might have excluded the British Empire and weighted his nationalism heavily on 'multi-culturalism', but he still conceived history around Britain, the nation and national identity.

For all his 'internationalism', you would never hear Corbyn agreeing with Marx that the working class had no country. Nor would he agree with socialists that it was not in the working class interest to fight in capitalism's wars.

The rot set in right at the beginning of Labour Party's formation in 1906. Keir Hardie claimed Labour was to be the Party of peace. High on its agenda was to end wars. Yet in becoming a capitalist political party wanting to run capitalism they had no choice but to support capitalism's war.

The myth has grown that Keir Hardie disavowed patriotism and nationalism. This was not the case. Here is Keir Hardie in his own words during the First World War. This, from the SOCIALIST STANDARD of March 1961:

"A nation at war must be united especially when its existence is at stake. In such filibustering expeditions as our own Boer War or the recent Italian war over Tripoli, where no national danger of any kind was involved there were many occasions for diversity of opinion and this was given voice to by the Socialist Party of Italy and the Stop the War Party in this country. Now the situation is different. With the boom of the enemy's guns within earshot, the lads who have gone forth by sea and land to fight their country's battles must not be disheartened by any discordant note at home." (Pioneer, Merthyr 15th Aug., 1914).

J Ramsay Macdonald supposedly a pacifist, went even further

I want the serious men of the Trade Unions, the brotherhoods, and similar movements, to face their duty. To such it is sufficient to say, 'England has need of you', and to say it in the right way.
DAILY CHRONICLE, 14 Sept. 1914

"Discordant note" would have been criticism of the war. It would have been to tell workers not to kill their fellow workers. How should socialists have acted during the First World War.? Here is the socialist Party of Great Britain in its 1914 Manifesto opposing the war:

"The Socialist Party of Great Britain, pledges itself to keep the issue clear by expounding the CLASS STRUGGLE, and whilst placing on record its abhorrence of the latest manifestation of the callous, sordid, and mercenary nature of the international capitalist class, and declaring no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working class blood, enters its emphatic protest against the brutal and bloody butchery of our brothers of this and other lands who are being used as food for cannon abroad while suffering and starvation are the lot of their fellows at home. Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism".

As Marx remarked, you cannot take from the working class what they have not got. Workers have no interest in capitalism's wars. Under capitalism, workers do not own the means of production and distribution. They do not have direct access to what they and their families need. They do not have raw materials like oil to protect, spheres of influence to maintain and trade routes to defend.

Fast forward from Hardies Merthyr speech you also hear the same nationalist sentiments from Sir Keir Starmer: leader of her majesty's loyal opposition. He too looks forwards to "Britain's great future". He would support war to serve the national interest which is nothing more than the interest of the capitalist class.

The Labour Party, of course, has form. The Labour Party supported two world wars and several smaller ones. It was Blair's government that took Britain into war in Afghanistan, Bosnia Iraq. And the Labour Party says little about the bloody war in Yemen where Britain is currently giving military support to Saudi Arabia. Nor does the labour Party say much about the civil war in Libya. No criticism just acquiescence.

What the Labour Party does say though, is that Starmer is proud to be patriotic:

"Keir wants to be Prime Minister of this country, because he wants to believe that a better future is possible for this country, where we can spread opportunities for everybody, we can rebuild our public services, we can create best businesses in the world, which are the envy of the world" (GUARDIAN 4 2 2021).

Labour can never make capitalism work in the interest of the working class. It cannot control capitalism which is why it has always left office with more workers unemployed than when it first came into power. In the past, when faced with economic crises, Labour governments have been forced to make cuts to the health, have been unable to do anything about erasing child poverty and have always left the NHS a poor second best to what the capitalist class enjoys in the private sector.

Yet in wanting to "create best businesses in the world, which are the envy of the world" Starmer shows his capitalist supporting hand. He is no socialist. He has no interest in establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. He is just another capitalist politician using nationalism to gain non-socialist votes.

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