what do socialists say?

How Labour doves turned into hawks

by Hazel Croft

IT IS nauseating to see the enthusiasm of Labour's leaders for the bombing of Serbia. Yet many of the same Labour ministers who now have bloody hands used to support CND and campaign for peace.

Foreign secretary Robin Cook was once a prominent CND supporter. In 1978 Cook co-authored a pamphlet that argued for "cautious disengagement" from NATO, and wanted a "non-violent" defence policy. In 1981 Cook also objected, quite rightly, to the island of Diego Garcia becoming a base for US B-52 bombers—the same bombers that are destroying Yugoslavia. Cook marched against cruise missiles in the 1980s, and in 1991 he expressed grave doubts over the bombing of Iraq.

Clare Short, development minister, was one of the main coordinators of a group of MPs who were unhappy about the 1991 Gulf War. She resigned her junior front bench position in order to be able to speak out against the war. Ten years ago, in 1989, both Cook and Short backed an advert in Tribune calling for a non-nuclear defence policy. It was also signed by David Blunkett, Margaret Beckett and Chris Smith. A fair number of the new intake of Labour MPs now cheering on the bombing will have taken part in the giant CND marches at the beginning of the 1980s.

How can we explain this transformation from peaceloving doves to warmongering hawks? It is not because Cook, Short and all the others are flawed individuals who have suddenly discovered a thirst for war. Rather it stems from the nature of the Labour Party itself. Tony Blair may have taken us to war twice in two years, but he is not the first Labour leader to sound as belligerent as the Tories. The Labour Party has supported nearly every war since the party was founded at the beginning of the century. While the party has often declared fine words about peace and internationalism, it has been willing to send workers to be slaughtered by other workers.

The party's first test came with the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914. Before the war began, Labour made strong anti-war propaganda. Just two days before the war started a Labour rally was presented with a manifesto which included the slogan, "Down with the war! Up with the peaceful rule of the people!" But by 5 August Labour leaders repudiated the manifesto and, like similar Labour parties across Europe, threw the party into support for the war.

Ever since then Labour, both in government and opposition, has supported wars—like Malaya, Vietnam and more recently the Gulf—which have resulted in the slaying of millions of workers. This is because Labour accepts the priorities and logic of the capitalist system. Labour has always accepted the idea that there is such a thing as a "national interest" of all people in Britain, no matter what their class. In reality that has meant backing the interests of the tiny elite of the ruling class who own and control all the wealth in society at the expense of the working class.

Labour has been committed to backing the whole state machinery, like the army, navy and air force and all the weapons of destruction in their hands. And it has backed our rulers' imperialism, as competing nation states vie for influence around the world. When various nation states clash, Labour always supports "our" state against the "enemy" (or British workers killing workers from other countries for the bosses' benefit). The logic of accepting that change can only come through parliament means going along with making concessions to those that really have power in society—the captains of industry, the heads of multi-billion arms companies, bank chiefs, top civil servants and army generals.

A few individuals in the Labour Party have stood out bravely against Labour's warmongering. Keir Hardie, for example, had doubts about the First World War and Tony Benn has spoken out against the Falklands War, the 1991 Gulf War and the current war. But they have been lone voices who have never managed to convince the majority of Labour MPs or party leaders. Only 15 Labour MPs, including Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn and Alice Mahon, signed a motion in parliament against the bombing of Yugoslavia.

Revolutionary socialists stand in a completely different tradition to Labour. We are totally opposed to the capitalist system and the wars it breeds. We are proud to be part of the opposition—seen in anti-war meetings taking place up and down the country—to New Labour's warmongering. Workers in Britain have nothing in common with the generals and politicians ordering the bombing. But we have everything to gain by uniting with our working class brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Serbia and across the world.