Labour MP Nia Griffiths, the shadow defence secretary, has rightly faced criticism from grassroots Labour Party members for supporting the Tory government’s promise to protect all soldiers against past crimes.
“We will always hold our armed forces and the chain of command to account,” announced Penny Mordaunt, the Tory defence secretary, recently. “But I want to ensure our service personnel are not going to be victims of unfounded allegations, as we saw in the case of IHAT (the Iraq Historic Allegations Team), or pursued unfairly for events that took place decades ago.”
Nia Griffiths tweeted in response, giving her support to the Tory minister’s pledge:
“Glad to hear this from the new Defence Sec. The Tories made a commitment to deal with this back in 2017 and it‘s shameful that no action has been taken.
“Labour would support any proposals that are effective and fair and I look forward to working with Penny Mordaunt on this.”
Young Labour activists immediately called on Nia Griffiths to step down. An open letter demanding Griffiths’ resignation has subsequently gathered thousands of signatures. The letter correctly asserts that: “Nia Griffith’s statement...legitimates the most reactionary elements of British society.”
Glad to hear this from the new Defence Sec.— Nia Griffith MP (@NiaGriffithMP) May 9, 2019
The Tories made a commitment to deal with this back in 2017 and it‘s shameful that no action has been taken.
Labour will support any proposals that are effective and fair and I look forward to working with @PennyMordaunt on this. https://t.co/2dn2pBDzbr
Crimes of imperialism
Griffiths calls it “shameful” that no action has been taken to protect soldiers. But, on the other side, what action has been taken to right the wrongs of the British army?
The victims of the Troubles in Ireland, of Iraq, and Afghanistan are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the unjustifiable suffering caused by British imperialism. These victims are yet to see any justice beyond cheap words and sacrificed scapegoats, such as soldier F - the only person prosecuted for the criminal events of Bloody Sunday.
Meanwhile, the ruling class are happy to rake in thousands of young, working-class individuals to fight on its behalf in imperialist wars - individuals who are chewed up and then spat out into society to face homelessness, PTSD, and various other life-altering problems.
High-ranking officers and the tops of the state use the working class as nothing but bodies for their wars. It is these establishment figures that are responsible for the crimes committed by the army.
As Marxists, we are internationalists first and foremost. It is our duty to fight our own ruling class and draw attention to their imperialist actions throughout the world. And the British Army is a bastion of this imperialist reaction.
No justice under capitalism
In recent years, various schemes have been set up to charge individual officers within the army for their wrongdoings. But these have largely come to nothing.
During the Iraq war, various clips went viral showing British soldiers abusing, humiliating and tormenting Iraqi civilians and children. More recently, it was discovered that British soldiers had murdered an Irish Catholic civilian in a game and used his skull as an ashtray. There are plenty of known - but far more unknown - similar cases across the world.
IHAT and others have attempted to bring these misconducts and abuses to light. But this has been met with fierce reaction from the ruling class and its political representatives. In the past, for example, Penny Mordaunt has described human rights lawyers investigating these cases as the “enemy of justice”. Theresa May has also attacked “activist, left-wing human rights lawyers”.
All the crimes of the army - both as an institution and as individuals - must be exposed and treated as such. The Labour Party should not be shielding soldiers from this.
Instead, Labour should be at the forefront of unmasking these injustices and atrocities, and going on the offensive against the imperialists who are responsible for death and destruction.
As a first step, we should begin by exposing the crimes of renowned warmonger Tony Blair. And second, we should give the boot to his belligerent acolytes in the PLP, who continue to support imperialist adventures and intervention across the world today.
These recent statements by Penny Mordaunt and co. cannot be viewed in isolation from the constant threats made by army officials against Corbyn.
In 2015, for example, during the first Labour leadership election, an unnamed army general stated that:
“The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.”
More recently, a video has come to light showing soldiers using a picture of Jeremy Corbyn as target practice.
Despite acting shocked by this news, it is clear that Tory politicians and army tops have encouraged such violent behaviour and reactionary attitudes with their own actions and rhetoric.
This is the video circulating on social media, of soldiers shooting a target of Jeremy Corbyn. MoD have confirmed to i it is real, and they are investigating. https://t.co/bSo6J7u3Qh pic.twitter.com/FjcCFT9ZYF— Luke Bailey (@imbadatlife) April 3, 2019
In order to ensure loyalty, army soldiers are force-fed endless jingoistic propaganda about protecting ‘our country’. In turn, the rest of society is whipped into supporting our ‘brave heroes’, as a distraction from the austerity and attacks that are destroying working-class communities.
And as the political situation in society becomes more and more polarised and radicalised, the ruling class is increasingly forced to lean on this national chauvinism in order to maintain any semblance of support. This has now come back to bite them, however, with the rise of the ‘anti-establishment’ Brexit Party.
The army is a key pillar of the capitalist establishment, defending the status quo of exploitation and oppression in class society. Corbyn and the movement behind him, on the other hand, defend the interests of the working class and are fighting to end the ills of this broken system.
In other words, on the one side is an institution that exists to fight imperialist wars. On the other, a Labour leader who has spent his whole life fighting against imperialism and war.
Today, this ‘maverick’ is closer than ever to becoming prime minister. And there’s no doubt that come a general election, this anti-Corbyn hysteria will be ramped up even further. It is unsurprising, therefore, that ordinary soldiers might see Corbyn and the left as a ‘danger to society’ and a legitimate target.
Fight imperialism! Fight capitalism!
Labour activists have been right to condemn Nia Griffiths for her support for Tory jingoism and flag-waving. But we must also dispel any illusions in the idea that international laws and institutions can provide justice.
International laws and rights - and organisations such as the UN, NATO, and the EU - have not prevented these wars and subsequent crimes from taking place in the first place. These are capitalist institutions, set up to protect and defend the existing world order and the interests of the big imperialist powers.
It is the job of all socialists and internationalists to oppose war and imperialism. But we must also stress that these are not just ideological choices - they are an intrinsic part of the capitalist system, which demands violence and exploitation in its drive for new markets and profits.
Our job is to fight to overthrow this system, and to struggle for a socialist society - one where the economic interests that produce wars and exploitation no longer exist.