Britain went to war because it is an imperialist power
In WR 284 we said that the election campaign had been “filled with attacks on Tony Blair for his dishonesty in taking Britain to war in Iraq, for leaning on the Attorney General to give legal advice in favour of launching the invasion. This has undoubtedly been a message to the PM that an election victory should not be seen as a reason to stay in office personally. It has absolutely nothing to do with any real criticisms of Britain’s role as an imperialist power. Michael Howard remains clear that he agreed with the war and the Lib Dems supported ‘our troops’ as soon as hostilities began.
"Imperialist states do not go to war because they have dishonest leaders, neither was the Iraq war the only war based on a lie. On the contrary, all imperialist wars are fought under lying pretexts, including the century’s ‘good war’, World War Two, which Britain did not enter to save democratic freedoms or Hitler’s victims, but to save the Empire….”
Although Blair has undoubtedly been caught telling outright lies to support the decision to go to war in Iraq, the biggest lies have come from the side of his critics. The ‘anti-war’ campaign is responsible for the key ideological attack on the consciousness of the working class. By putting the blame on Blair ‘personally’ it obscures the fact that the attack on Iraq was launched by an imperialist British state. Even Blair’s responsibility is masked by the constant repetition of the ‘poodle’ insult. Blair is to blame, but suffers from ‘diminished responsibility’ because he is just a ‘poodle’ to Bush. The war was often referred to simply as ‘Bush’s war’. You are supposed to believe that the British state did not really make a decision to attack Iraq at all. It just happened that the British state was led by a ‘poodle’ who couldn’t stop himself from following the US.
This all fits in very well with the anti-Americanism that provides the glue for this very thin tissue of lies. America is designated as the only real imperialist power in the war. However, this is just the usual moan from the British bourgeoisie that it no longer has the power it did in the nineteenth century – and anti-Americanism in France and Germany has the same nostalgia for past glories. Even Churchill, who understood the key role that the US had to play in the Second World War, and struggled consistently to get the US to commit to the war, understood very well the ultimate consequence: US intervention would underline the permanent diminution of British power and the ascendancy of the US, something that greatly depressed him.
Because of the decline of Britain’s global position the British bourgeoisie pretends that it no longer has any imperialist interests. The frequently expressed interest in Africa, for instance, is supposed to be seen as concern for the welfare of the inhabitants of that continent, and should not at all be construed as being in any way similar to the rapacious interest they showed in the nineteenth century, when Africa was carved up between it and other European powers. Likewise, the British ruling class tries to give the impression that it would never dream of attacking a country like Iraq simply to bolster its strategic position in the Gulf – an area where it’s maintained a presence for two centuries. Obviously such thoughts would not enter the minds of people running the modern democratic British state!
Towards the end of the Second World War President Roosevelt had a somewhat more penetrating view of the attitude of the British bourgeoisie:
“‘The British would take land anywhere in the world, even if it were a rock or a sandbar’, Roosevelt observed caustically to his secretary of state.” (Max Hastings, Armageddon, the battle for Germany 1944-45)
Because Blair could only come up with paper-thin pretexts to engage in this war, it was the responsibility of the ‘stop the war’ campaign to cover up its imperialist nature. This is so, regardless of the fact that much of the opposition did represent a real tension within the bourgeoisie about moving so close to the US and supporting its determination to go into Iraq despite the violent opposition from France and Germany.
The bourgeoisie never goes to war without an ideological cover. The so-called ‘anti-war’ campaigns are, at the ideological level, the most dangerous expression of capitalism’s dynamic towards war, because they give the impression that each war can somehow be dealt with in its own terms, that it’s the result of a specific policy or a particular government. They obscure the fact that imperialist war is a fundamental part of the fabric of capitalist society in decadence. In fact, the ‘anti-war’ campaigns are themselves a direct and quite fundamental expression of the tendency towards war. They provide a cover for the present war, and prepare for the next.
‘But surely you’re not saying that the millions who demonstrated against the Iraq war are agents of capitalism?’ our critics often cry. Indeed not. On the contrary, it’s precisely because those millions are potentially enemies of capitalism that the ruling class needs to corral them into these pacifist parades, needs to provide false answers to their real questions.