Why is Britain always at war? - speech by Trevor Rayne

Speech given by Trevor Rayne to an RCG meeting entitled 'Why is Britain always at War' in London on 19 January 2016

In February 2014 The Guardian newspaper published an article that said that since the start of the First World War in 1914, British armed forces have been at war somewhere in the world in every year since. In four centuries England and then Britain have unleashed over 230 wars to seize other lands and enslave and exploit other peoples.

When the Royal Air Force began bombing Syria on 3 December 2015 it was the 139th separate British military intervention abroad since the end of the Second World War. Since the beginning of the year 2000 British armed forces have operated in East Timor, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cote D’Ivoir, Libya, Nigeria, Jordan, Somalia, Mali and now Syria. There has only been one year since the end of the Second World War when a British soldier was not killed on active service; that year was 1968.

This constant belligerence and warfare does not stem from some flaw in the British character, some martial trait that compels us to fight. It is the direct consequence of the British economy which we describe as a parasitic and decaying imperialism. Lenin identified the principle characteristics of imperialism one hundred years ago and he said: monopoly capitalism ‘which finally matured in the twentieth century, is by virtue of its fundamental economic traits, distinguished by a minimum fondness for peace and freedom, and by a maximum and universal development of militarism’.

Capital concentrates and centralises into monopolies that increase the scale of production. Increasingly, profitability depended upon the export of capital overseas and securing raw materials, markets and labour abroad. The very tendency of capitalism towards crises of profitability and accumulation drives it towards monopolies, a fusion of banking and industrial capital, and the partition of the world between competing capitals. The world is divided between spheres of rival imperialist powers’ interests and into oppressor and oppressed nations. This is the fundamental economic trait of imperialism that drives it towards wars: the First World War, the Second World War and the constant battles from Korea to Vietnam, to Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria since.

Capitalism in crisis

As my comrade, David Yaffe, writes in the latest issue of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI 248 December 2015/January 2016) British capitalism and imperialism have a very specific character which he has described for over 30 years and more. David writes that repeated economic crises have been accompanied by wars and occupations. He lists those crises and associated wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Afghanistan 2001 onwards and still continuing, Iraq 2003 onwards, Libya 2011 and Yemen 2015 and Syria – producing millions of refugees. David writes that Britain’s ‘critical dependence on the earnings from its vast overseas assets and particularly those of its parasitic banking and financial services sector – makes it extremely vulnerable to any external economic or political shocks’. ‘Britain’s relative industrial decline has been accompanied by a dynamic, aggressive expansion of British banking and commercial capital to every corner of the globe.’

Currently, UK gross external assets and liabilities amount to about six-times Britain’s Gross Domestic Product. The City of London has borrowed from abroad and lent out abroad at higher rates of return; making an overall profit. But, as David Yaffe points out, in 2013 and 2014 the net earnings on the UK’s investment account have become negative. Earnings on investments abroad are inadequate to cover payments out on investments made in Britain. This is due to the imperialist crisis throughout the world, with, in particular, inadequate rates of return, profits, on foreign direct investments. This signals increased bellicosity and an increased likelihood of wars.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (owner of Natwest) started the year advising clients that 2016 could be a ‘cataclysmic year’, urging them to sell everything but high quality bonds. In the first few weeks of 2016 $4trillion has been wiped off the value of shares on stock markets. Capitalism needs to increase the rate of exploitation at home and abroad. Any resistance to this drive to exploit and oppress is intolerable to the British ruling class. Hence, the unrelenting venom spewed out by the media an ruling class politicians on Jeremy Corbyn – they want him tamed and neutered – and the wars on Libya and Syria; no independence or resistance is tolerable. That is what the crisis of capitalism means. 

Military force, and the threat of its use are essential to maintain the flow of profits from abroad into British companies and to increase those profits. It was revealing when the former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo said that Prime Minister David Cameron had not made the case for Britain going to war on Syria. Portillo said the arguments were flimsy and that there seemed to be no strategic plan. Nevertheless, he said he was in favour of war otherwise ‘the US will begin to regard Britain as an unreliable ally’. Never-mind the tosh and nonsense about solidarity with France in the face of the 13 November 2015 attacks on Paris, what guided 397 MPs, including 66 Labour MPs, to vote for bombing Syria was the alliance with the US military machine, the biggest military machine in the world by far, and its role in protecting British investments abroad and the continuing global role of British imperialism. That is why they voted to bomb Syria.

Portillo is a revealing figure: now known as a media personality – chat shows, exotic railway journeys and political punditry alongside Diane Abbott, among others. He went from being defence minister to become a director of Britain’s biggest manufacturing and arms company BAE Systems. Politicians become directors of arms companies, senior soldiers become academics at British universities. Careers are rotated through boardrooms, to government posts, to academic posts; soldiers, civil servants, corporate directors and government ministers mingle to determine government policy or positions on key issues of the day, in secret and out of sight. This is our democracy, where wealth is increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands and as it concentrates so the radius of their power expands…

The Middle East   

The RAF’s bombing of Syria was Britain’s 50th separate military intervention in the Middle East and North Africa since the end of the Second World War. As well as bombing Syria, the RAF is also currently bombing Iraq. The RAF was founded in 1918, it is now in the tenth decade of its existence and it has bombed Iraq in seven of those ten decades. Five current heads of state in the Middle East trained at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst; they are those of Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. Why? We know the reason why: oil and gas. Who controls oil controls much of the world – that is how it has been for many years. The Middle East and North Africa were thought to contain two-thirds, 66%, of the world’s known oil reserves. However, recent discoveries have brought that down to about 60%, but it is control rather than just ownership of the resource and its distribution that gives global power.

As China and India develop so control over Middle East oil can serve as a means of restraining the emergence of any new power. Libya, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Yemen are or were seen by imperialists as insufficiently subordinate to imperialism – to independent and have to be destroyed or tamed. No resistance is tolerable in this period of internationalist capitalist crisis.

Cameron apparently said that Corbyn and his supporters were ‘terrorist sympathisers’. Saudi Arabia and Turkey sponsored and supplied the jihadists in Syria. Cameron and the British government and state are allies of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, they arm them, they are the terrorist sympathisers; indeed they are the terrorists. Ceaseless war in the Middle East since the Soviet Union collapsed, with Britain in the thick of it. Saudi Arabia, stoking sectarian hatred, practicing Medieval barbarity, and Turkey laying siege to it Kurdish people with tanks and heavy artillery – both pass unremarked by the British government.

British companies  

If we look at British companies and their operations abroad: of the Financial Times 100 biggest multinationals in the world, ranked by their market value, two are oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, two are banks, HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group, there is Unilever, British American Tobacco, the mining group AstraZeneca, plus Vodafone, SAB Miller, a brewer, and GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical and health care company. Four of the top six mining companies are British or Anglo-Australian. That is they overwhelmingly extract raw materials and fuels from abroad.

At the same time nine of the top 100 companies in the world for arms exports are British: BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce being the biggest British arms firms. Arms production is the largest part of British manufacturing industry; employing about one in eight manufacturing workers in this country. A look at BAE Systems board of directors reveals something of the concentrated power in this society - this is the ruling class for here sit the current and former directors of among others: the British Land Company, one of Europe’s biggest property developers; Bovis Homes; Barclays Bank; Goldman Sachs; Scottish Power; Cable and Wireless; Rolls-Royce; the Noor Hospitals Group, providing private hospitals in the Middle East; HMV and, as we are in a pub, Moet Hennessy, Diageo, Mitchell and Butlers and Coca Cola. Two directors sit on the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group and one is a fellow to the Said Business School of Oxford University, named after its founding benefactor Wafic Said, a Saudi-Syrian billionaire.

The militarisation of science

The extent to which monopoly capital and its accompanying military component have permeated British society can be seen in scientific research. The direction of scientific research is increasingly determined by monopoly corporations in combination with the state, and it is there that are primarily responsible for the militarisation of science.

At least half of UK universities have received military funding since 2000. This is funding for arms research. The biggest recipients have been Cambridge, Imperial College, Oxford, Sheffield and Cranfield universities. Several universities refuse to disclose details on military funding. Funding comes from the British government and arms companies such BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce and from the US Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Government military R&D spending has risen in recent years while public civilian R&D has been cut back. Spending on developing combat aircraft is approximately ten-times that spent on developing renewable energy. Three-quarters of the government’s military R&D is for offensive purposes, that is attack weapons, not defensive weapons. The main projects being drones, strike planes, attack helicopters, long-range submarines and nuclear weapons. Over 50 British universities have received Atomic Weapons Establishment funding; this body develops, manufactures and maintains Britain’s nuclear warheads.

Under decaying capitalism the forces of production are being turned into forces of destruction; science is increasingly being used to destroy.

The 2012 National Security through Technology white paper, that is a government policy document, backs increased arms exports to keep the costs of government weapons purchases down. Since 2008 Britain has issued over £8bn worth of export licences to sell military equipment to Israel. As you can see in an article on our web site (Israel’s war against the people) Israel is used a laboratory and testing ground for imperialism’s weapons and tactics; from drones to cluster bombs to robotic machine guns and so on. After Israel, Britain’s next biggest arms customers are the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, both countries’ troops put down a democratic rising in Bahrain in 2011, equipped with BAE Systems Tactica armoured vehicles. The Royal Navy has recently established a permanent base in Bahrain.

What is in the offing: the British Medical Association has produced several reports on the use of drugs as weapons – the militarisation of medicine. The cabinet of horrors is being stocked with the instruments of genetic warfare. Shaker Aamer, recently released from Guantanamo, reports that a British officer observed his torture at the hands of US soldiers.

People in Britain are conditioned to accept that the state is permanently at war; it becomes unexceptional and normal. For over 100 years the mass media has been developed and deployed by monopoly corporations, they dominate the media in Britain. Before the age of television the Czech writer Franz Kafka said, ‘The cinema involves putting the eye in uniform.’ In his book 1984, George Orwell foresaw the way that the ruling class would use the media to condition and control people. Fidel Castro described the bourgeois media, ‘It is the most sophisticated media ever developed by technology, employed to kill human beings and to subjugate and exterminate peoples.’ The media is used to administer fear and demonise potential targets: Evil Saddam, Mad Dog Gaddafi, Putin and so on; repetition to create ‘facts’. Lies like Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, Libya and the impending massacre in Benghazi.

Read our newspaper, view our website, develop your own media, get out on the streets, get involved, join us and spread the message. We need a movement that is open and democratic and on the streets.

I am not the only one to see in Syria today the ominous portents of a greater war; the configuration of forces and alliances, the rivalry of great powers, international capitalism in crisis. This configuration, so like that in Sarajevo in 1914, that sparked with an assassin’s bullet that lit the conflagration that was the First World War.

International capitalism, imperialism, monopoly banks and corporations that guide the British state to war on the Middle East, to exploit its resources, labour and markets, now turn their attack on us in Britain, on the working class, on our housing and homes, on wages and jobs, the health service and education, the rights to strike and protest, to assemble and to express ourselves. The ruling class is promoting racism, introducing more racist laws and measures. This is capitalism in crisis and a ruling class that we must isolate and conclude them, end before they end us all and finish the human experiment in nature. To do this socialism is necessary.

Be assured that if we do not oppose the British ruling class’s wars abroad we will be unable to prevent the use of armed force against ourselves here in Britain.

Communists and national liberation movements: Same goal, different paths

The Battle of the Bogside - 1969

 

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 52 - September 1985

As communists in the world's oldest imperialist nation, the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) has consistently fought long and bitter struggles with the British left to establish the communist position of unconditional support for the struggle of national liberation movements against British imperialist domination and against national oppression. Our record on this, especially in relation to Ireland, is beyond serious challenge. In Britain, with its long tradition of imperialist exploitation, its strong and well entrenched labour aristocracy, communists have always had to emphasise the goal we have in common with the national liberation movements — the defeat of British imperialism.

As the crisis of British imperialism has deepened, with the consequent polarisation of British class society, and as the tempo of the national liberation struggles themselves has accelerated (Ireland 1981, South Africa 1984-5) inevitably the issue of the relationship between communists and national liberation movements will present itself in new ways, raising new questions and demanding answers. So today the very same political forces that yesterday accused the RCG of conceding to reactionary nationalism for demanding unconditional support for national struggles against British imperialism and against national oppression, are now flaunting a newly discovered 'solidarity' with liberation movements to justify their own opportunist attempt to sustain the deadly grip of the labour aristocracy over the working class and oppressed in Britain. It is, therefore, necessary to restate the basis of the communist standpoint on the national question.

Lenin and the right of nations to self-determination

Under imperialism the world has been divided into oppressor and oppressed nations and national oppression has been extended and intensified. A split has been created in the working class movement in the imperialist countries. One section, the labour aristocracy, has been corrupted by the 'crumbs that fall from the table' of the imperialist bourgeoisie, obtained from the super-exploitation and brutal oppression of the people from oppressed nations. The other, the mass of the working class, cannot liberate itself without uniting with the movement of oppressed peoples against imperialist domination. Only such an alliance will make it possible to wage a united fight against the imperialist powers, the imperialist bourgeoisie, and their bought-off agents in the working class movement. This means the working class fighting in alliance with national liberation movements to destroy imperialism for the purpose of the socialist revolution.

The unity of all forces against imperialism can only be achieved on the basis of the internationalist principle 'No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations'. This is expressed through the demand of the right of nations to self-determination. This demand recognises that class solidarity of workers is strengthened by the substitution of voluntary ties between nations for compulsory, militaristic ones. The demand for complete equality between nations, by removing distrust between the workers of the oppressor and oppressed nations, lays the foundation for a united international struggle for the socialist revolution. That is, for the only regime under which complete national equality can be achieved.

While the working class in the oppressed and oppressor nations have the same goal they necessarily approach it by different paths. As Lenin pointed out, the actual conditions of the workers in the oppressed and in the oppressor nations are not the same from the standpoint of national oppression. The struggle of the working class against national oppression has a twofold character:

'(a) first, it is the "action" of the nationally oppressed proletariat and peasantry jointly with the nationally oppressed bourgeoisie against the oppressor nation; (b) second, it is the "action" of the proletariat, or of its class-conscious section, in the oppressor nation against the bourgeoisie of that nation and all the elements that follow it.' (Lenin, 'A caricature of Marxism and imperialist economism'; our emphasis bold)

Lenin was accused of being inconsistent in his attitude to nationalism for arguing that the approach of the working class in the oppressor nation to this question was necessarily different from that of the working class in the oppressed nation. His reply to his critics was simple and direct.

'Is the position of the proletariat with regard to national oppression the same in oppressing and oppressed nations? No, it is not the same, not the same economically, politically, ideologically, spiritually, etc.

'Meaning?

'Meaning that some will approach in one way, others in another way the same goal ... from different starting points.' ('The nascent trend of imperialist economism')

What this means is that the strategy and tactics necessary for building an effective anti-imperialist movement in Britain (the oppressor nation) may differ from the strategy and tactics required to develop the liberation movement's struggle in the oppressed nation. The RCG has long opposed all attempts by the British Labour movement and the British left to impose their own, usually opportunist, strategy and tactics on the liberation movement. Equally, the RCG is opposed to all attempts to impose the strategy and tactics developed by liberation movements to meet the specific conditions of their own struggles on the anti-imperialist movement in Britain. The example of the Lancaster House negotiations on Zimbabwean independence in 1979 makes this point clear. Communists in Britain defended the right of the Patriotic Front to enter into negotiations with and make concessions to the British government, whilst, at the same time, attacking the British government for imposing these concessions on the liberation movement.

Opportunists hide behind liberation movements

On the question of Ireland and South Africa opportunists are attempting to use Sinn Fein and the ANC to attack the RCG's approach to solidarity work. In a recent leaflet Proletarian, a tiny and uninfluential group associated with the Morning Star, attacks the RCG's work on Ireland using a quote from a review in the Sinn Fein journal Iris of Ireland, the key to the British revolution. In the same leaflet it attacks the RCG's involvement in City of London Anti-Apartheid Group and demands the disbanding of City AA on the grounds of 'solidarity' with the ANC. Readers should note that Proletarian chooses to support the Morning Star, a newspaper which is vehemently opposed to the Irish national liberation struggle. This fact alone exposes the cynical and opportunist character of Proletarian's solidarity. We cite Proletarian only because it is a typical example of the way in which British opportunists use liberation movements for their own narrow sectarian ends.

The review referred to by Proletarian appeared in Iris No 10 July 1985. The review contains important distortions of the RCG's position on building a movement in Britain. (See review and our reply). More important for our argument here however, is the standpoint stated in the review on solidarity work and the strongly implied attitude of the reviewer that socialists in Britain should adopt the same standpoint. G McAteer accepts our central argument that emancipation of Ireland is a necessary precondition for the socialist revolution in Britain. We are also in agreement that socialists in Britain should 'build on whatever support there is in Britain for a withdrawal'. Where we disagree fundamentally with the reviewer is the assertion that the possibility of building an effective anti-imperialist solidarity movement in Britain 'is a totally unrealistic expectation given the political situation for the foreseeable future'. On the basis of this the review concludes that the RCG has adopted 'an isolationist stance that is doomed to obscurity' —the very quote seized upon by the truly obscure Proletarian sect.

This position ignores the political developments which have taken place in Britain particularly in the last five years. During the crucial period of the hunger strike in 1981 major British cities saw the most significant, intense and wide-spread street confrontations between the oppressed black and white youth and the police. These were the most serious spontaneous revolts in Britain in the whole post-war period. The possibility of uniting the oppressed in Britain with the Irish people in a common struggle against a common enemy was there for all to see. The opportunity was thrown away precisely because the existing solidarity movement led by the Troops Out Movement turned its back on these developments for fear of disrupting its, in any case, futile attempt to win the official Labour movement to support the hunger strike. Rather than appeal to a section of the working class which had a common interest with the Irish people in defeating the Thatcher government and was actually fighting that government on the streets, the existing solidarity movement adapted its campaign to avoid any exposure of its chosen allies in the Labour Party: the very people who, in government, were responsible for the hunger strike —by withdrawing Special Category Status for political prisoners in 1976 —and who viciously condemned the risings in Britain.

The miners' strike 1984-5 once again demonstrated that the deepening British crisis would produce new forces that could be won to an anti-imperialist position on Ireland. The striking miners' experience of police brutality, government manipulation and rigged courts led many of them to identify their own struggle with that of the Irish people. The risings in 1981 and the miners' strike 1984-5 have already shown that the expectation that real possibilities for building an effective anti-imperialist movement exist in Britain is far from being 'unrealistic'. Indeed as the crisis develops and more and more sections of the working class are forced into confrontation with the British state these possibilities will multiply.

The growing political and social crisis in Britain has also revealed that the official Labour movement will move further and further to the right as its own position is increasingly threatened — a point confirmed during the miners' strike. What is indeed a 'totally unrealistic expectation' is any belief that the existing official Labour movement can be won to a progressive position on Ireland.

Comrade McAteer and the Republican Movement have every right to assess developments in Britain from their own standpoint and act upon that assessment. But neither the Republican Movement nor opportunists in Britain claiming to act in its name have any right whatsoever to demand that the RCG and other British anti-imperialists must accept that assessment and any conclusions that flow from it. For while we have the same goal as the Republican Movement — the defeat of British imperialism in Ireland —we necessarily approach that goal along a different path. Comrade McAteer is right to say that 'Republicans cannot afford the luxury of waiting around until the British working class becomes sufficiently politicised to fully support our struggle in all its form'. But we equally are right to expose the role of the official Labour movement and to fight against the very opportunism which not only obstructs the struggle for Irish self-determination but also the struggle for socialism in Britain. We are also right — indeed it is our duty —to concentrate our efforts on building an effective anti-imperialist movement amongst the most oppressed sections of the working class, whilst at the same time working in unity with any other forces whenever possible.

Similar issues have arisen in relation to the building of a solidarity movement against the apartheid regime. The Proletarian leaflet claims that Johnstone Makatini, Director of the ANC's International Department has called for 'the shelving of differences within the Anti-Apartheid Movement in this country and for unity on the basis of exclusive recognition of the ANC'. This is a misrepresentation of comrade Makatini's remarks in London on 3 August. He did urge unity of the AAM in Britain. He did say as a separate point that the ANC had initiated a campaign for what he called, 'exclusive recognition' of the ANC as the sole representative of the liberation struggle in South Africa. If the ANC chooses to campaign for `exclusive recognition' that is a matter for the South African people to resolve. The same would be true if the Pan Africanist Congress, the Black Consciousness Movement, the UDF, AZAPO or any other force within the overall liberation movement took a similar stand. It is not a matter for the movement in Britain to decide or, even worse, cynically exploit for their own narrow sectarian ends. Proletarian's 'interpretation' of comrade Makatini's remarks, in any case, flatly contradicts the AAM's own constitutional requirement:

'to cooperate with and support Southern African organisations campaigning against apartheid' (Clause 2c)

The AAM's constitutional position is the only correct internationalist position for organisations in Britain. That the leadership of the AAM has consistently failed to abide by its own constitution on this issue is something that must be opposed. For British organisations to take it upon themselves to decide only to recognise one liberation organisation fighting apartheid and not others in the same fight is British imperialist arrogance and chauvinism of the worst kind. Our task in Britain is to give unconditional support to all organisations in their fight against apartheid in South Africa regardless of differences which may arise between different sections of the liberation movement.

Unity in the British AAM does not mean the shelving of differences. Unity means the democratically organised co-operation of different forces with different political standpoints in a common campaign against the apartheid regime and against British collaboration with that regime. When those in the AAM, who have attacked and disaffiliated City AA and also attacked the RCG's involvement in the AAM, call for 'unity', what they mean is the bureaucratic imposition of their own narrow sectarian prejudices on all anti-apartheid activists. No one seriously committed to the destruction of apartheid could submit to this demand. The fact that these sectarians attempt to use the heroic sacrifices of the South African people and the ANC to justify their own sectarian behaviour is an insult to the people of South Africa.

In the forefront of the sectarianism in the AAM is the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) — primarily the Morning Star wing of that party. In common with their counterparts in the solidarity movement on Ireland, they have rejected any attempt to build an alliance with the newly emerging political forces in Britain. All their anti-apartheid activity is strictly confined to what is acceptable to maintain their alliance with sections of the official Labour movement. Their 'unity' requires the separation of apartheid in South Africa and racism in Britain, disaffiliation of City AA (now the largest active anti-apartheid group in the country), attempts to ban FRFI from official AAM pickets, bureaucratic manoeuvring against anyone 'suspected' of wanting an active movement, and a foul, non-stop campaign of rumour, gossip and lies to justify their own position. (See reports in this FRFI and recent issues.) Any movement in Britain which denies basic democratic rights to its own supporters cannot possibly be trusted to wage a consistent fight for the democratic rights of the people of South Africa.

The political priority of the CPGB and its allies in the leadership of the AAM is the election of a Labour government under Neil Kinnock. They are prepared to subordinate the struggle against apartheid to this opportunist end. This is why they object to FRFI being sold on official AAM events because it contains material on Ireland and other issues which expose the reactionary character of their chosen allies. We remind these self-styled communists of Lenin's explanation of the task of the working class in the oppressor nation in relation to national oppression, which is to oppose:

'the bourgeoisie of that nation and all the elements that follow it''

The Labour Party's record on South Africa, and its record on Ireland, prove beyond dispute that it is one of the elements that follow the bourgeoisie.

As with Ireland, so with South Africa, unconditional solidarity with the struggle against national oppression does not and cannot oblige British communists to give up that struggle against British opportunism. Our job, as communists and anti-imperialists, working in the world's oldest imperialist nation, is to formulate the strategy and tactics appropriate to the building of an anti-imperialist movement in Britain in solidarity with all those fighting British imperialism and national oppression.

Terry O'Halloran and David Reed

 

Suggested reading:

Lenin: 'The nascent trend of imperialist economism', Collected Works, Volume

Lenin: 'A caricature of Marxism and imperialist economism', Collected Works, Volume 23

Lenin: 'The right of nations to self-determination', Collected Works, Volume 20

Lenin: 'The discussion on self-determination summed up', Collected Works, Volume 22

Reed D: Ireland: the key to the British revolution, Chapter 2

Brickley C, O'Halloran T, Reed D: South Africa: Britain out of apartheid: apartheid out of Britain

 

 

G4S: Private Armies

G4S

‘Britain is no longer what it was’. This is a common refrain in the corporate media whitewashing Britain’s profoundly virulent role in the world at large. Rather than ‘losing’ an empire, Britain has in fact adapted to a new order in which, admittedly, it is no longer top dog, but nevertheless still has the capacity to unleash mass terror and inflict misery. Private security companies provide the means for the British ruling class to do this without recourse to their own state military. This offers the advantage of being able to operate in areas more anonymously, and operating with even less oversight than a national force carries, which allows the wanton application of cruel and inhumane approaches.

Global private security is a £140bn industry and rising. It employs in excess of 15 million people. The British state has played a pivotal role in its expansion, according to The Guardian it is the ‘mercenary kingpin’ of the world[i] - 14 separate companies are based in Hereford, the SAS HQ, all the better to recruit British soldiers. There’s a lot of talk about our poor ex-servicemen, abandoned, living on the streets of Britain, losing out to undeserving recipients of British beneficence: asylum seekers. However, what of the vast numbers who go on to make a pretty penny as mercenaries, ‘dogs of war’, at the beck and call (now directly) of Big Capital. At the height of the occupation of Iraq about 80 British companies operated there. Hundreds operate globally with no democratic oversight. Last year there were contracts of £188m (to protect Basrah Gas Company) up for grabs and a five year £100m contract with the British embassy in Afghanistan. There’s big money to be had: the Labour government spent over £60m on such contracts between 2007 and 2009[ii]. And most of it goes to ArmorGroup. ArmorGroup is owned by G4S (bought in 2008 for $85m).

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