A legal challenge to prevent arms sales to the Saudi regime has brought the horrific war in Yemen into the limelight once again. This court case has achieved a partial success. But what is needed is for the labour movement to wage a militant struggle against British imperialism and its complicity in this barbarism.
We must put an end to war-profiteering and show the Tory hypocrites the door. This can only be done through a struggle based on international working class solidarity.
The situation today
Saudi Arabia’s ongoing four-year war in Yemen has proved to be unwinnable, with the imperialist onslaught only increasing support for the Houthis. The Iranian-backed Houthis are viewed as the only force capable of fighting back: they resonate with the anti-Saudi sentiment among the Yemeni masses, and are well-acknowledged, effective combatants against Al-Qaeda.
The stated objective of the Saudi mission – to accept the legitimacy of the official president Hadi, whose presidency was unconstitutionally and indefinitely extended when it expired in February 2014 – is blatant posturing. Indeed, the Kingdom’s concern for democratic legitimacy clearly does not apply to its own rotten ruling clique.
In reality, this merciless aggression is a desperate attempt to plaster over the cracks emerging within the Saudi regime. The aim of the Saudi ruling class is to combat Iran’s growing sphere of influence in the region. But their intervention is clearly falling short of this mark. Not only is Tehran’s influence in the Gulf still very much alive and kicking, but Saudi Arabia is finding itself increasingly isolated.
Last year, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was butchered whilst in the Saudi consulate Istanbul. His ‘crime’ was criticising the Saudi monarchy and their war in Yemen. Khashoggi’s murder at the hands of Saudi assasins has shattered the liberal narrative surrounding the Crown Prince, Mohamad Bin Salman, who was formerly praised for being an impressive reformer.
The brutality of the Saudi regime has been illustrated by the destruction of ports, transport and cranes in Yemen. This has prevented the delivery of food and medicine to the majority of the starving and suffering masses. The spotlight is fixed on what the UN suspect will be the largest famine in a hundred years.
These cut-throat tactics and the murderous mission to crush the Houthis at any cost are an outward symptom of the Saudi ruling class’ internal crisis. This stage of decline is the most dangerous in the lifespan of any regime, as the power and privileges of the gangsters in Riyadh begin to be called into question.
As the contradictions pile up for the Saudi leaders, it is the Yemeni masses who pay the price. Tens of thousands have already died as a direct result of the bombing and blockade. It is reported that 10 million are close to starvation, alongside 1.2 million suspected cholera cases. All the while the reactionary Saudi regime is shamelessly afforded a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.
Blood on their hands
British imperialism’s involvement in the war in Yemen is everything short of pulling the trigger. Take it from the horse’s mouth. Phillip Hammond back in 2015, while acting as the Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of war, stated that Britain would support the Saudis “in every practical way short of engaging in combat”. This has lamentably been the case.
The British state has licensed at least £4.7bn of arms exports to the Saudis since the beginning of the war, with Saudi pilots even being trained in the UK. From Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets, to precision-guided bombs, Britain has been essential to the brutal war of attrition waged not only against the Houthis, but the Yemeni masses.
It is not merely arms sales, but the constant supply of training, maintenance and technical support that has kept Saudi missions operational. A British former technician explained on Channel 4 that if this support was withdrawn then “in seven to fourteen days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky” over Yemen.
A similar line has been echoed by a former Saudi Air Force Officer, in explaining the instrumental role the Typhoon - manufactured and maintained by British arms companies - plays in the Saudi-led airstrikes.
The Ministry of Defence, meanwhile, has confirmed that British military advisers are in control rooms assisting the Saudis in bombing raids. These officials are responsible for training their counterparts in the dark arts of choosing targets and the coding of bombs that have torn Yemen asunder.
It is impossible to conceal the indispensable role that the Tories have played in enabling this bloodshed. The systematic military attacks on civilians – targeting schools, businesses, hospitals, etc. – are well documented, as is the famine exacerbated by the impact of severe economic sanctions.
Hammond’s words have stood the test of time. Yet the two remaining Tory leadership candidates have been quick to absolve their party of any blame. Johnson has stated that “it is a folly and illusion” to suggest the catastrophe has anything to do with the UK. Hunt, meanwhile, has postured to look into a political solution; yet he maintains that Britain will not stop all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Both, however, are on standby to shed rivers of crocodile tears when given their cue. This hypocrisy from the Tories - with their indubitable support for the British arms industry - is plain as day for all to see. Whilst occasionally feigning concern, they have no qualms about rolling out the red carpet for these Saudi monsters and providing the means for the war in Yemen to continue.
Asking the Tory Party to stop arming the reactionary Saudi regime is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest buyer of UK-made arms. Threatening these contracts and sales would threaten the profits of the very corporations that bankroll the party. As Lenin once replied to a pacifist who opined that war was terrible: “yes, terribly profitable!”
At the same time, in the wake of Brexit, and with its diminished role on the world stage, British imperialism is in no position to cut ties with traditional allies in important regions such as the Middle East. Instead, the British ruling class is increasingly forced to cosy up to despots and demagogues, such as the Saudi monarchs and Donald Trump.
War-profiteering, imperialism, and the crumbling Tories must all be shown the door!
Legal action has recently been brought against the British government, arguing that the Saudi-led coalition violates international humanitarian law, thus breaking EU arms-export licence criteria. Ministers have been accused of turning ‘a blind eye’ to the murderous regime, which kills with impunity.
The Court of Appeal has ruled the arms sales unlawful: some have been suspended, and an investigation is due to take place.
Both of the potential candidates to be Britain’s future prime minister, Johnson and Hunt, have played a role in this, signing off on these arms exports whilst occupying the role of Foreign Minister. This should come as no surprise.
Supposedly ‘rigorous’ arms export controls have been proven to be fictitious. Instead, we find innocent life sacrificed at the altar of profit, accompanied by the desperate scrambling to maintain business as usual.
The legalistic approach has succeeded in a limited sense. But ultimately it will not achieve the aim of stopping the war.
As anti-arms trade activists have already pointed out, there are bombs utilised by the Saudi Air Force covered by different licensing. These will not be suspended, but merely reviewed. And the blockade will continue to deprive millions of basic necessities. So-called constructive engagement with the Saudi regime, as pitifully suggested by Tory MP Crispin Blunt, is a dangerous utopia.
Legal battles vs militant struggle
This court case has drawn attention to Britain’s complicity, revealing the hypocrisy of the Tories. But anti-war efforts must not stop here.
The labour movement must be central to this struggle. And we can turn to the recent examples set by French and Italian workers for inspiration. Earlier this year, dockers in both Marseille and Genoa refused to load arms onto the Bahri-Yanbu, a ship destined for Saudi Arabia.
Activists had tried to protest through the courts, stating that the shipment contravened UN laws. But a French judge dismissed this legal case. Nevertheless, dock workers in Marseille made sure that the ship left without the cargo. Similarly, Genoese workers refused to load generators onto the ship in protest against the war.
Macron’s promises that the arms would be used to fight against ‘terrorism’ have failed to cut any ice with French workers and activists. In a similar vein, Theresa May’s assurance to Parliament that she is working to bring about “peace in the region” is hopeless window dressing.
What these insincere platitudes show is that big business politicians cannot solve the plight of the masses in the Middle East. Indeed, as the political representatives of the imperialists and capitalists, they are responsible for this destruction and suffering.
Fight imperialism! Fight capitalism!
Britain also has its own history of workers showing international solidarity. For example, a recent documentary film called ‘Nae Pasaran’ outlined how factory workers in a Scottish Rolls Royce plant made a bold statement of solidarity with the people of Chile by refusing to service jet fighters belonging to the Pinochet junta, including those used in the 1973 US-backed coup.
These workers bravely boycotted the Chilean regime’s attempts to crush the trade union and labour movement by suspending crucial services.
This not only shows the power of internationalism, but importantly the power of the working class. Not a wheel turns and not a light bulb shines without the kind permission of the working class. Organised and militant action by workers can achieve far more than any liberal NGO or legal appeal can ever even dream of.
Corbyn’s Labour has correctly called for a permanent end to all arms sales to Riyadh. But this is only the beginning. We must take the struggle to both the political and industrial planes. In order to fight imperialism and war, we need solidarity based on the organisation and struggle of the working class. And we need a socialist Labour government, with an economy based on needs, not profits - welfare, not warfare.
Yemen is one in a list of countless countries that have been devastated by imperialism. The cheques written from the gangsters in Riyadh are stained with the blood of Yemeni men, women and children.
In the final analysis, these imperialist wars are the product of the capitalist system, with its constant search for new markets and sources of profit. This is why we can never expect capitalist politicians like May, Johnson, or Hunt to do anything but support their monstrous Saudi friends. Only with the socialist transformation of society can we end the barbarism of war once and for all.