Tuesday, 30 May 2017

General Election – What Labour Should Say On Defence and Security


  • Labour should commit to a real defence and security of British people
  • Real defence and security of British people does not consist of occupying, bombing or interfering in the countries of other people
  • The hugely expensive military systems such as Trident, global naval fleets and so on are always aimed at offensive actions against others, not defensive actions to protect the British people. They are also, as Galbraith and others discussed in relation to the US Military-Industrial Complex, more concerned with promoting the profits of huge armaments producers than with any effective defence and security of a country's people
  • Real security for peoples comes from establishing friendly and co-operative relations between the peoples of all countries, such as was being developed via the EU. It does not come from a retrenchment from such developments and a jingoistic promotion of narrow national self-interest
  • Defence and security should be the concern of all citizens, and should be the responsibility and duty of all citizens
  • Real defence and security comes from the involvement of all citizens being actively involved and organised on a democratic basis. Universal military conscription, as Engels put it, is the necessary corollary of universal suffrage. It is the means by which the people ensure that their democratic wishes are implemented
  • All wars start with the generals basing their plans on the weapons that dominated the last war, and which quickly have to be discarded, as new weapons always dominate the current war. In an age where computers dominate control of everything including weapons systems, the dominant weapons of any future war will be cyber weapons not nuclear weapons, or other forms of mechanical device
  • Real defence and security comes from the permanent mobilisation of the citizenry at a community level. The basic requirement is to develop democratically controlled community policing, linked to the development of a citizens militia.

Every government should commit itself to the defence and security of the people of its country. Such a commitment does not in any way contradict the concept of revolutionary defeatism. Revolutionary defeatism only means that socialists will not align themselves with their own ruling class, in order to oppose some foreign enemy. A practical reason for that is that experience shows that the ruling class will never pursue the defence of the vast majority of the people to its fullest degree. In World War II, the French ruling class, quickly changed sides and established the Vichy government, for example, so as to continue making profits at the expense of French workers. Further back in time, Cromwell had to remove all of the old aristocratic generals, and organise the New Model Army, to ensure that the King was defeated.

The working class, which nowadays constitutes the vast majority of the population, in developed economies, cannot rely on the ruling class for its own security and defence. It must organise that security and defence itself, and pursue it fully, which means also by the most rational and democratic means.

If someone were to say to us that the defence of Russia or China, involved those countries developing vast armies, naval fleets, and missile systems aimed at Britain, still less if they were to tell us that the defence of those countries relied on them being able to bomb, or occupy Britain, we would immediately see through such arguments. We would say, this has nothing to do with the defence of Russia or China; it only has to do with the expansionist ambitions of the rulers of those countries. Yet, we are asked to believe that Britain's bombing of Syria, of Iraq, of Libya, its development of a £100 billion Trident nuclear submarine fleet, the creation of nuclear bombs, and long range fighter bombers, of a global navy, and of armed forces, most of whom are stationed not in Britain for its defence, but across the globe, is all part of a defence of Britain!

Clearly, it is not. If all of our soldiers, sailors and airmen were intended to provide defence and security for the British people they would be based in and around the British coastline; the military hardware on which billions of pounds is expended would be geared to providing those soldiers and sailors with the kind of equipment required to protect those borders, rather than to be used to invade and attack other countries. The reality is, as J.K. Galbraith and C. Wright Mills discussed long ago, the real determinant for these armaments is not what provides effective defence for the people, but what provides the biggest profits for the armaments companies, on whose boards the former generals and admirals sit, and from which they draw large stipends. Its rather like the way NHS spending is always geared to the huge hospital complexes, expensive hardware, medicines and computer systems, from which the big companies make huge profits, rather than on the kind of primary care, and health protection measures that would be much cheaper and more effective.

In the same way that the health security of the people would be greatly benefited from having locally organised democratic control over the general environment in which people live and work, the provision of decent homes and communal spaces for everyone, and an abolition of all those aspects of work that destroy workers health, be it from noxious substances, dangerous work practices, or the general stress that leads to mental illnesses caused by the uncertain nature of employment, so too the general security of workers would be greatly benefited from the people themselves being actively involved in their own security and defence, organised from a community basis upwards.

The development of the modern standing army, and of the police force are recent developments. The police force was only established in the middle of the 19th century, and its main purpose was to protect the rapidly rising wealth and property of the urban bourgeoisie. Even in the 19th century, it was common for nations to employ mercenaries to fight in their armies rather than to have their own standing army. In the United States, its Constitution called not for such a standing army, but for a Citizen's Militia, and it is in respect of the organisation of such a militia that the Constitution requires that the people have the right to bear arms.

The Second Amendment was based partially on the right to keep and bear arms in English common law and was influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Sir William Blackstone described this right as an auxiliary right, supporting the natural rights of self-defence, resistance to oppression, and the civic duty to act in concert in defence of the state. 

It states,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

After the Manchester terror attack, there has again been considerable discussion about the role that Britain's foreign policy plays in encouraging attacks on Britain. The claim is made that the real reason for terrorists attacking Britain, the United States and other countries, is because they hate our way of life. Yet, Switzerland also has the same way of life as Britain or the US, but has not been the target of such foreign terror attacks.

This information from the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service indicates not only no activity by jihadists in attacking Switzerland, but even very little activity of people travelling from Switzerland to Syria to take part in terrorist activities. Indeed, the main concern of the Swiss Intelligence Agencies seems to have been in relation to surveillance activities by foreign governments, whilst home grown terrorist activities by left and right-wing extremists was considered almost as much a threat as that by jihadists.

I tried to find details of actual terrorist attacks in Switzerland, from Wiki, and again found a dearth of evidence of such attacks. Only three were listed, and none were actually to do with jihadists. An internet video by some ISIS supporters has been released, which speaks of further attacks across European countries, including Switzerland, however.

So, although its clear that ISIS, ideologically hate modernism, and the principles of democracy, culture, equality and so on, which underlie civilisation, and so might attack people in European countries on that basis, whether or not they come from a country that has carried out attacks in Syria, Libya or elsewhere, the fact is that currently, Switzerland has not faced those attacks in the way that the UK, France and other countries have done, who have been actively involved in such intervention.

There is, of course, another reason why Switzerland has faced no such attacks, and less in the way of terrorism in general, and that is that Switzerland has a form of direct democracy, and also its own defence is organised more via the existence of its Citizen's Militia than a standing army. Consequently, a more or less permanently armed citizenry, via that militia, is focussed upon national defence rather than external aggression against other countries, and so can be more actively involved on a daily basis in ensuring that defence, in a way that a permanent, small standing army, whose resources are concentrated on very expensive large-scale, equipment, that is only justifiable on the basis of fighting large scale wars across the globe, can never be. See also: Terrorism and Democracy.

The real basis for establishing peace and security is for ordinary people to come together and form organisations that promote friendly and co-operative relations amongst each other. The EU provided one framework in which such relations could begin to be developed. Indeed it was established after WWII, in part precisely for that reason, so as to try to avoid future wars. But, the biggest risk to peace and security in Europe currently comes from Britain's decision to leave the EU, and the Tories proposals for a hard Brexit. Already that has led to some Tories, and the Tory gutter press calling for Britain to go to war with the EU, over Gibraltar! The inevitable consequence of Brexit will be the re-establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which open up all of the old wounds that the EU helped to heal via the Good Friday Agreement.

We have seen Theresa May prepared to launch into a jingoistic attack on the EU, at the start of the General Election campaign, and the EU itself now faced with a US, under Donald Trump, who sees the EU as an enemy, and who is clearly beginning to distance himself from NATO, and a Brexit Britain under May that is positioning itself as the US's unofficial 51st state, has openly declared, via Merkel, that the EU must integrate further, and distance itself from both the US and UK. This represents one of the biggest movements away from peace and security, and a move towards hostility and conflict, for decades.

Labour should commit itself, whether Britain is in or out of the EU, to building links between workers and workers organisations across Europe, based on the need for cooperation, and our own collective security. That security should not consist just of security against military attack, but security against environmental disasters, against the insecurity that comes from a capitalist system prone to regular crises and chaos. We should, in that vein begin to develop a European wide Labour Movement, and we should where possible create European wide worker-owned and controlled co-operative enterprises, that builds international cooperation and security at an organic level between workers in all countries.

And, at the same time, we need to develop these organic links and co-operation at a local community level.  In 2011, when riots began to take place across Britain, it was not the police that brought them to an end, but the self-organisation of local communities into defence squads. The state, and the functions of the state should not be separated from civil society itself. Such separation is the basis upon which authoritarianism, and dictatorship is based. Every citizen has as much of a duty to take part in the policing and defence of the community as they do to vote, or to take part in Jury Service.

When the Manchester bombing took place, ordinary citizens spontaneously took part in helping the injured etc., and that happens in every such instance. It demonstrates that for all of the talk from bourgeois ideologists about human nature being essentially individualistic and selfish, which is the basis of capitalism, nothing could be further from the truth. But, instead of such activity and involvement only occurring when some such tragedy arises, how much better would it be for the citizenry to be permanently mobilised, and to be organised on a democratic basis so as to prevent or to minimise such tragedies?

The best means of detecting threats within our own communities comes from the people who live in those communities. All to often, as has been seen recently in the US with the police killings of numerous black men, the police are seen not as the defenders of communities but as an alien force, treated with suspicion and hostility. Democratic self-policing by communities removes that division between police and policed. And, communication and coordination between such community organisations enables the information to be shared, so that potential threats can be identified and prevented at source.

We cannot immediately go from a standing army to a citizen's militia, such as exists in say Switzerland, but we can begin to develop the basic infrastructure for such a militia. At the start of WWII, it was a communist Tom Wintringham, who had fought with the International Brigade against the fascists in Spain, who set up the Volunteer Reserve, which became the Home Guard. Engels in his pamphlet The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party, argues that universal military conscription is the logical corollary of universal suffrage, because “it puts the voters in the position of being able to enforce their decisions gun in hand against any attempt at a coup d'état.” 

If the workers in Chile had followed that advice, then the government of Allende could not have been overthrown, and the vicious fascistic regime of Thatcher's friend General Pinochet, would not have been able to come to power

Thatcher implemented her own milder versions of Pinochet's tactics in closing down democracy wherever local Councils like the GLC confronted her, and imposing virtual martial law on mining communities during the 1984-5 Miners Strike. The closeness of Thatcher and the Tories to Pinochet's brutal regime even led Tony Blair in 1999 to call the Tories “The Party of Pinochet”.

If we look at the events of recent weeks, it shows that the Tories have failed in the basic duty of a government to ensure the security of the people. The cyber attack on the NHS showed that they have not even spent the money required for basic things such as upgrading hospital PC's or the software running on them. It is an indication of how little has been spent on Britain's 21st Century infrastructure needs in terms of a modern broadband backbone. Instead the Tories prefer to waste hundreds of billions on HS2. Yet, all of that would be as useless as a chocolate teapot in the event of a cyber attack, which seems to have been the likely cause also of the breakdown of BA's computer systems that brought its flights to a standstill.

Similarly, the terror attack in Manchester showed that the Tories preferred expensive military hardware solutions are useless when it comes to dealing with such attacks. The Tories have a problem because with such attacks they have no obvious target to bomb, which is what their defence and security policy always comes down to.  Indeed, as I wrote recently with modern cyber warfare, nuclear weapons are a ticking time bomb waiting to be exploded whenever some hacker decides to set them off!

Labour should commit itself to investing large amounts of money for cyber security, not just to be ready for any attacks by enemy nations, but to protect UK businesses and citizens from the kind of criminal activities that affected the NHS, and which are targeted at ordinary British people and their normal activities.

In short, the current policies of defence and security amount to nothing of the kind. They are generally geared not to defence but offensive military action against the people of other countries. They are not based on concerns for the defence of ordinary British people, but for the interests of British capital at home and abroad, including the interests of the big military contractors to make big profits.

Labour should commit itself to turn all that on its head, and to ensure that British citizens are provided with real defence and security for the things that actual affect them on a daily basis, a defence and security based upon their own involvement and democratic control.


George Carty said...

Given that the UK is a densely-populated island nation dependent on imported food and raw materials, isn't its navy more important than its army? There's a reason why Winston Churchill said that the U-boat threat was the only thing that truly scared him during World War II.

And anyway, what you seem to be advocating isn't really an army (designed to defeat other armies on the battlefield) but more of a gendarmerie (well, a proletarian take one) designed to maintain order within a territory.

Boffy said...


Britain isn't really densely populated. Residential dwellings account for around 1% of the land mass, whereas Golf Courses alone account for more than 2%! Even taking into consideration residential gardens, roads, schools etc. that only rises to around 10%.

The real problem and this is also the real reason for high land prices and property prices, is that vast swathes of land are still in the hands of a tiny number of landowners like the Duke of Westminster, Prince of Wales and so on, and because large chunks of land have been economically sterilised as a result of the idiotic policy of the Green Belt.

I have no doubt that agricultural production could be increased considerably should the UK seek to do so. After all, the UK produces far more food today than it did 200 years ago, despite the fact that then a large proportion of the population were employed in agriculture, whereas today less than 2% are employed in agriculture. The problem is not the possibility of doing so, but the comparative cost of doing so rather than importing food from stable suppliers in the EU, which is another reason that Brexit is idiotic.

A significant investment in solar power, in wind and tidal energy could significantly increase domestic energy supplies, as could the use of fracking for oil and gas. Moreover, a conversion of vehicles to electric power, fuel cells and a programme of energy conservation in homes etc. could reduce energy demand. My son is working on a film at the moment for Manchester's roll out of Mobikes, an idea developed by a Chinese company, but it got me thinking today about the potential for extending that to the battery powered bikes, or even a come back for the C-5, on a similar basis.

In fact, given the extent of the UK economy dependent on services, a more important aspect is the provision of world beating broadband and mobile communications, which are sadly lacking. A navy is pretty redundant in those respects, other than as I said a coastal patrol function.

I remember that Churchill himself said that its the victors who write the history of wards, which he went on to say he would write the history of that one. The fact was that Britain was effectively defeated after Dunkirk. It was only Hitler's decision not to press home the advantage at that point, in his anticipation of deal via Lord Halifax to form an alliance with Britain against the USSR, that saved Churchill. Again, had the Germans kept up the air war, and destroyed Britain;s airfields and air force, the country and its navy would have been pretty defenceless.

So, Britain actually needs effective air defence, which I would suggest comes partly from an air force, but mostly from effective ground to air missile defences, as well as effective cyber and electronic counter-measures. Many air defence batteries in Britain in WWII were staffed by civilian recruits, as well as civilians providing spotters, fire and air wardens and so on. It is an obvious area for a militia style defence to organise.

Again, a development of cyber and electronic defences, are something that can be developed on an Open Source basis, in the same way as Linux, Open Office and other such co-operative ventures, that are suitable vehicles for democratic control by civil society. They are practical measures for today, to provide security against cyber warfare threats etc.