Hutton report sharpens divisions within the ruling class

See also :

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Tony Blair and his political allies hoped that the Hutton report would 'draw a line' under all the arguments over the war on Iraq. This did not happen. Critics of Blair's policy of more sustained and closer relations with the US were angered by Hutton's 'whitewash'. Positions are now more strongly polarised and contested. More questions are being asked. More new material is being produced. The Butler inquiry into intelligence matters will provide another arena for opponents of the government's line to continue their combat. There was the well publicised collapse of the court case over the revelation by a secret service employee that the US had asked for British help in spying on certain delegations at the UN prior to the war. Clare Short then detonated her 'bombshell' that Britain eavesdropped on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. By the time you read this there will almost certainly have been further stages in this conflict within the ruling class, flak from Blair's critics, counter-attacks from the government and its friends.

It is necessary to put this in a historical context. From the end of the Second World War to the end of the 1980s the imperialist policy of the British bourgeoisie was mainly determined by the need to play its role in the bloc dominated by the US in the 45-year Cold War confrontation with the Russian bloc. British capitalism had plenty of frustrations with the way that the US treated it - most notably with the way its 1956 action over Suez was subject to US sabotage - but throughout the period the British bourgeoisie was broadly united in accepting the 'special relationship' on American terms. With the collapse of the Russian bloc there was no basis for keeping to the discipline of the western bloc. Since then the central fraction of the British bourgeoisie has tried to maintain an imperialist orientation that is not too tied up with, and therefore overwhelmed by any of the other major imperialisms. This is not accepted by all the ruling class as some - a lot of the Tory party, the Murdoch media - want to strengthen links with the US and distance Britain from European powers such as Germany and France. It is the continuing concessions that Blair has made to the 'pro-US' position which have so alarmed the central faction of the bourgeoisie and provoked the most serious political crisis of the British bourgeoisie since the 1930s.

The policy of appeasement - British imperialism manoeuvring to establish an international framework which might restrain the advances of German imperialism, making concessions if they could be justified in Britain's long term interests - this was the policy of the main part of the British bourgeoisie. In the mid-1930s Churchill was in a minority, crying in the wilderness. His attitude was seen as rash and reckless. After more than a decade of denouncing Russia as 'Bolshevik' he thought they should be included in a 'Grand Alliance' against Germany, as Russia had become "an asset to the cause of peace". As for the Labour party (and even those further to the left) Churchill was prepared to provide "protection" for "their ideas" in "return for their aid in the rearmament of Britain". At one point Churchill even said that he "would speak on every socialist platform in the country against the Government". There was talk about a coalition government led by Churchill and Eden with Labour and Liberal ministers. It came to nothing, not just because the likes of Churchill and Lloyd George were rejected as political adventurers by leading figures in the bourgeoisie, but because the policy of appeasement was still seen as the best way to defend British interests. The conflict over imperialist policy continued for years. It only began to be resolved in March 1939 with the German invasion of Czechoslovakia which prompted a crash acceleration in Britain's defence programme. Even then Churchill didn't become Prime Minister until May 1940, and there were still differences on Britain negotiating a separate peace with Germany.

The present crisis within the British bourgeoisie shows no immediate prospect of being resolved. Following the Hutton report the Blair faction has even less credibility, the bourgeoisie is even more clearly divided. The arguments might focus on whether David Kelly really killed himself, or on the existence of 'weapons of mass destruction' - but the conflict within the ruling class is ultimately concerned with the nature of Britain's relationship with the US. Growth of anti-Americanism

The question of 'weapons of mass destruction' would not be an issue if the bourgeoisie was united. Iraq's possession of materials for chemical and biological warfare was no obstacle to British support for Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. But with a divided bourgeoisie anything can become contentious. In the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq the faction round Blair was prepared to play a role in the US's 'war on terrorism'. This has taken place while Blair still talks of Britain being a 'bridge' between Europe and America, but that has not satisfied the government's critics.

The central faction of the bourgeoisie accepts that alliances with other powers will sometimes be necessary, but that these will tend to be only temporary coalitions. In the relationship with the US the British bourgeoisie is wary of losing the capacity to defend its own particular interests. For example, it is possible to see how British imperialism gains from having a military presence in Afghanistan or Iraq, but this gain is diminished if British forces are restricted to acting within the framework of American strategy.

Rather than explicitly spelling out the raw selfish national interests that the bourgeoisie want to defend, a part of the ruling class is increasingly embracing anti-Americanism.

We are treated to a vision of the US as a lethal leviathan lead by a right-wing idiot. America is the country that is developing tactical nuclear weapons while demanding that others give up WMDs; it refuses to sign up to or take seriously environmental agreements as it pollutes the world; it has no plan for dealing with the chaos in Iraq; it has a military presence in 130 countries and is responsible for 40% of the world's military spending. Look at all the publicity over Guantanamo Bay. This is portrayed as uniquely 'unjust' and contrary to the 'rule of law'. When asked in Germany whether the US was bound by any international system, legal framework or code of conduct, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld replied "I honestly believe that every country ought to do what it wants to do ... It either is proud of itself afterwards, or it is less proud of itself". Commentators in Britain have said that this is a terrible admission from the US that it will do what it likes - shooting first and asking questions afterwards - regardless of the views of the rest of the 'international community'.

There is also the anti-Americanism that focuses on the way that the US government treats its 'own' people - like the 29,000 American troops that have been killed, wounded, injured or become so ill as to require evacuation from Iraq. This is where the unusually generous coverage in the British media of the US primaries and caucuses comes in to play. The emergence of John Kerry - a 'man with a conscience' - is contrasted with the brutality of Bush, the man who as Governor of Texas executed more people (152) than any in modern US history.

At the moment a lot of the British media is devoted to disparaging the weight of US influence internationally, as a way of discrediting those policies of Blair that seem to sacrifice British imperialism's position through too close association with the US. For example, the British government has been perceived as being less vocal than other governments in its protests at the detention of British citizens in Camp Delta. The bourgeois critics care no more for the detainees than the government does, but their plight is another anti-American stick to hit it with. Britain as a 'bridge'

Media coverage of the recent summit between Chirac, Schroeder and Blair showed how the divisions within the British bourgeoisie operate. The faction that favours closer links with the US chose to focus on Chirac's affirmation of the importance of Franco-German relations, thereby trying to undermine any significance for British participation in European schemes. Meanwhile, British involvement in European projects continues to grow. The blueprint for a 60,000 strong European rapid reaction force was first laid out in 1998. There have been difficulties in this original idea being taken up, so Britain, France and Germany are now going to create 1500-strong battle groups capable of being deployed in 15 days, which will be used as commando forces for missions "appropriate for, but not limited to, use in failed or failing states". There are also advanced plans for a joint aircraft carrier.

This military co-operation is evidence that Britain has not turned its back on Europe. As for Chirac's remarks about relations with Germany, this partly reflects French concerns that Germany is edging closer to Britain. German imperialism, after all, has no interests in Anglo-American relations becoming closer. Some critics of Blair also highlighted Chirac's remarks, as a way of suggesting that Britain was being pushed to the periphery of European developments.

The idea of Britain as a 'bridge' between the US and Europe has not been abandoned by Blair. However, there are still great suspicions in parts of the ruling class that the Prime Minister has forgotten the importance of maintaining an independent imperialist orientation. The arguments are not going away. Bourgeois unity in democracy

The Hutton report has not strengthened the position of the Blair faction. The Butler inquiry will also be a battleground for different factions. However, this intra-bourgeois dispute has not hampered the ruling class's ability to use its divisions for ideological purposes.

For instance, calls for new inquiries feed the illusion that somehow there are figures capable of conducting investigations with their only goal being the disinterested uncovering of truth. In reality, all the inquiries are entirely within the framework of bourgeois politics. Or take the example of the intelligence services. Critics of Blair say that intelligence was perverted for political ends, as if the secret state wasn't an integral part of the bourgeoisie's apparatus of repression, which only exists to serve the needs of the ruling class.

The inquiries and the intelligence services are used in the conflicts within the bourgeoisie. They are integral parts of the democratic state, and, as such, they are supposed to be respected by the whole population, rather than seen as the tools of our exploiters.

The working class must become conscious of the way that the bourgeoisie functions, of the way that, even when it's divided and going through an internal political conflict, it can still act against workers' interests. It must also be aware of the way democracy is used as one of the state's main weapons against workers' struggles.

Car, 26/02/04.