“Whether or not you agree with this war, surely now our troops are involved we have to support them?”
In other words: the best way to support ‘our boys’ is to support them being used as cannon fodder in an imperialist war. Could there be a more idiotic argument than this?
And who, exactly, are ‘our boys’?
Although in the wake of the Vietnam experience the ruling classes of America and Britain are careful to use only professional soldiers for their military adventures, the majority of these troops are still economic conscripts, proletarians in uniform. The ‘us’ they belong to is therefore the working class. But the working class has no country. Therefore ‘our boys’ also include the Iraqi conscripts whom the US and British soldiers are being urged to slaughter.
And we - communists who defend the internationalist traditions of the working class – don’t think our boys should be killing each other for the sake of their exploiters, for the imperialist interests of the UK, America, or Iraq.
On the contrary: faced with the slaughter, we insist on reaffirming these traditions. In particular, we can recall that in the first world war, the proletarians in uniform – supported by strikes and uprisings on the home front - began to turn against the horrors of the war and took their fate into their own hands. They fraternised with the ‘enemy’ troops, mutinied, formed soldiers’ councils and joined forces with the revolutionary workers. The ruling class was so terrified of the spectre of revolution it brought the war to a rapid end.
Today the bourgeoisie is very vigilant about snuffing out even the merest hint of rebellion against war, as it was at the end of the first Gulf conflict. In 1991, the uprising in Basra began when mutinous soldiers fired at posters of Saddam. It seems that, at the beginning, the revolt had a popular and spontaneous character. But it was soon crushed by a sinister alliance of bourgeois forces. Columns of fleeing Iraqi soldiers, who might have joined the rebellion, were obliterated by the US and British forces on the Basra-Baghdad road.
Saddam, however, was allowed to keep his elite Republican Guards intact and they were used to put down the rebellion in blood. In the north Kurdish nationalist gangs, in the south the Iran-backed Shi’ite religious organisations, took control of the movement and tried to use it as a bargaining counter for their own petty imperialist claims. These claims would have led to the break-up of Iraq and this ran counter to US interests. So Saddam was permitted to stay in power as the sole guarantor of ‘order’.
Today both sides are even better equipped to put down any opposition. Saddam’s terror squads are implanted in all the cities and throughout the regular army, ready to deal with any reluctance to back the war-effort. At the same time the arrogance of the Coalition does Saddam’s work for him by driving many Iraqis into the patriotic mind-trap. Besides, memories of the ‘betrayal’ of the 91 revolt are still very fresh in peoples’ minds, and they don’t want to be caught out again.
And if any anti-Saddam revolt does occur, the Coalition forces and their media are on hand to hitch it to their imperialist bandwagon. We have even seen them making up revolts that didn’t really happen.
And yet, there is dissent in the armed forces. A US marine faces jail rather than go and fight in Iraq. Three British soldiers are sent home for criticising the killing of civilians. Desertion from the Iraqi army increases. There is no imminent mass revolt in Iraq, no immediate prospect of fraternisation across the national divide. On the other hand, neither have the ruling classes of the warring regimes succeeded in totally brainwashing their foot-soldiers.
This is a small indication that the bourgeoisie may not always be able to do what it wants with its own troops. If the class war hots up in the centres of world capitalism, the workers will once again be able to ‘support’ our boys by showing them the road to revolution.