SPGB Socialist Opposition To War - The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters


The case for Socialism against capitalism is a reasonable case directed at the working class majority of the world who do not own the means of production. Socialists argue that workers world-wide have identical class interests. They have no country to fight and die for. Workers interest’s in Iraq and Afghanistan are identical to those in Britain.

Socialists also say that the problems facing the working class today are caused by capitalism and that the workers should organise consciously and politically to replace a class system of exploitation with socialism; the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society.

However, what prevents workers from becoming Socialists are the beliefs they have been bought up with from childhood; beliefs that support capitalism, the profit system and class exploitation. Time and time again Socialists come against a wall of political ignorance in the form of ruling class ideas like religion and nationalism.

A recent illustration of political ignorance occurred in Luton during March 2009 when soldiers from the Anglian Regiment marched through the Town after a tour of duty in Iraq to be met by a cheering crowd on the one side and a jeering Islamic demonstration on the other.

This event calls for comment. There is a famous etching, The Sleep of Reason, by the painter Goya, where reason is shown as a man asleep on a stone slab and from his mind comes nightmarish monsters. This analogy can be usefully transposed to Luton where the sleep of political reason by the working class created its own contemporary monsters; Islamic Fundamentalism, patriotic crowds, marching soldiers and capitalism’s apologists in the media and in politics.

The Islamist Fundamentalists

The Islamic Fundamentalists, many of whom were dressed in black recalled Moseley’s blackshirts. Fascism is an overused word but Islamo-fascism is a pretty fair description of their politics where the religion of Islam is used to mask the totalitarian political ideas and beliefs of the leadership.

This politics is embodied among Sunni Muslims today by such fundamentalists as the Saudi-financed Wahhabis, the Pakistani jihadists known as Jama'atis, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In the ranks of Shia Muslims, it is exemplified by Hezbollah in Lebanon and the clique around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. The childish fanatics might bay out their religious hatred; cheer at videos of beheadings, torture and violence against US and British troops, blow up passengers on airplanes, trains and buses but the adults –the strong leaders- in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Britain, Iran and Iraq pull the strings. Irrational religion for the followers; calculated political strategy against Western capitalism for the leadership.

The Islamic demonstrators in Luton wanted to be provocative by proclaiming a religious programme where adulators would be stoned to death, drunks whipped and women constrained in the misogyny of the Hijab or Burqa. A corner of Luton had been transposed back to the 12th century; a battleground of crusaders against believers. The childishness of their politics is exemplified by their wish to see the flag of Islam replace the Union Jack over Downing Street and the establishment of a caliphate or Islamic State based on Shiah Law.

These demonstrators were totally silent on Muslims killing Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. There was no comment on the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980’s which saw one million people killed. No comment was made of the feudal regime in Saudi Arabia with its barbarism and contempt for women. And they were silent on the idiots from Britain joining the Afghanistan insurgency as the means for a quick exit from the living.

Some of the Islamic demonstrators held up placards claiming that the soldiers were the “butcher’s of Basra”. That British troops did kill Iraqis is accepted. That is their job. However the vast amount of deaths which took place in Basra post Saddam was the result of a power struggle between one section of the Basra ruling class and another principally over the future control of oil once the British left. The killing is still going on; one Islamic faction battling it out with another. On this, too, the Islamic fundamentalists were silent. The Islamic fundamentalists were also silent on the wealth and power of the Islamic ruling class and the poverty of the millions who live under the various Islamic dictatorships around the world.

Socialists give no support either to State terrorism or to individual terrorism. Socialism cannot be established by violence anymore than it can be established by chaos. We reject nationalism whether it comes out of Britain or Iran. We reject all religion whether it is Islamic, Christian or Hindu. Socialists reject leadership; spiritual and political. We want workers to stand on their own two feet and think for themselves.


The Soldiers

The soldiers marching through the street were given a white-wash by the media. Three British soldiers faced war crimes charges as well as criminal charges in connection with the death of a detainee in Iraq in September 2003 (BBC NEWS 20th July 2005). Amnesty International said there was a clear "pattern" of killings, torture and ill treatment by British soldiers of detainees in Iraq.

In his book WEB OF DECEIT: BRITAIN'S REAL ROLE IN THE WORLD (Random House 2007) the Historian Mark Curtis showed that torture of civilian populations is a deliberate foreign policy of political control pursued by Labour and Conservative governments.

He shows that an official British investigation in 1971 observed that the British army had engaged in the torture of detainees, using methods including "wall-standing, hooding, noise, bread and water diet and deprivation of sleep."

These techniques in torture, the investigation admitted, were "important" to counterinsurgency operations in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, British Cameroons, Brunei, British Guiana (now Guyana), Aden, Borneo/Malaysia, the Persian Gulf and in Northern Ireland.

The torture and beatings aside, the soldiers in Iraq were not there to defend freedom and democracy but to protect strategic points of influence, trade routes and to protect raw resources like oil. They are professional killers and should be seen what they are; an instrument of State violence.

The Flag-waving Crowd

Along the route were cheering men, women and children waving union jacks. Their political ignorance has kept them in poverty for generations. No one questioned capitalism’s killing machine and their political immaturity was only matched by the Islamic extremists cordoned off by the police for their own safety.

Looking at this crowd showed what a long way there is to go for workers to free themselves from religious superstition and nationalism. Socialists are dismayed at the working class accepting these ruling class ideas but the working class still has the potential to establish Socialism. Capitalism’s problems like unemployment, war and poverty will not go away. There is still questioning of capitalism. There is still dissent.

Sadly, there was no dissent in Luton on the day professional killers marched through the Town. There were no arguments being put that the war in Iraq was a war for the interests of the capitalist class. No one was telling both the cheering crowd and the demonstrators that most were living in poor housing, facing unemployment and generally living lives of poverty and discomfort.

Nationalism divides workers on a false basis that workers and capitalists have identical interests. They do not.

National borders solidify the sovereignty of the capitalist class over the working class nothing more. Nationalism conveniently promotes the idea that workers have a common interest with everyone else in the business they work in, the country in which they live, or both. It is a false idea with the only winner being the capitalist class with the retention of its wealth and privilege.

Nationalism benefits capitalists and their State. It helps them to portray the major divisions in our society as being between different nations rather than being between the world working class and world capitalist class. The capitalist State and media use nationalism to divide workers.

Capitalists can move their money and goods across borders, but capitalist States prevent workers from having the same freedom as they do. They tell workers that immigrants come and take away their jobs when at the same time millions of jobs are exported by capitalists to countries where they can pay workers lower wages and where workers are not allowed to form trade unions.

Instead of looking at the capitalist root of the problem, people are conditioned to find someone to place the blame their problem on. For the Islamists it is Western culture with its pornography, sexual mores and decadence; for indigenous workers it is the threat by “foreigners” to jobs and housing or their “way of life”.

The Media and the Politicians

It was predicable that the media and politicians would attack the Islamic fundamentalists rather than the troops parading through the town or the large crowds gathered to cheer them along the route. There was no mention of the killings, torture and beatings in Basra. There was no critical comment about the brutality of the army even to its own soldiers through the degrading process of “beasting”. It was if they were toy soldiers from the 1970’s children programme Trumpton with its inane song:

The people wave
To the soldiers brave

An example of Children’s minds being poisoned from a very early age reflected Luton’s “cheering waving crowds”.

As for the media and the politicians the worst were the Richard Littlejohns; the last people you would wish to bump into in a Middle England Saloon bar. Littlejohn gives saloon bar boors a bad name. Drenched with the hate and spite of the DAILY MAIL he would not have shed a tear if every last Islamic demonstrator had been strung up from the nearest lamppost.

His newspaper column seeps out poison and hatred against anything and anyone who disturbs his utopian vision of a 1950’s England. Like many of the media who cheer “our boys and girls” from the safety of their office, Richard Littlejohn would be the last to be seen killing and being killed in Basra.

And then there is the “rent-a quote” Conservative MP David Davies who has called on protests against serving military personnel to be outlawed. If Davis’s proposals become law it would make it an offence to incite hatred against serving soldiers. Democracy it seems is defined by Mr Davis as only being extendable to those who agree with his views.

While workers hold religious and nationalist ideas and beliefs they cannot become Socialists and the reasonable Socialist case for production and distribution to take place solely to meet human need will pass them by. Nevertheless we hold that workers are essential reasonable and with an open mind are able to understand what we say.

Socialists will continue to oppose nationalism and religion as surmountable barriers to Socialism. These mental tyrannies bind the thinking of working class to the interests of the capitalist class. Workers do not have to think this way. They can liberate their thinking and become what Marx called “a class for itself”.

However, while the working class remain fixated to the irrationality of religion and the poison of nationalism they will continue to cheer and jeer in their poverty and ignorance from one war to the next.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.