|The seat of power: The British Musket, used from 1722 to 1838, and used by both the British Army and United States Army. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Plaque recording the location of the formation of the British Labour Party in 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|English: Distribution of powers between member states of NATO and Warsaw Pact in 1973 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
The news being trumpeted today that generals of the
British Army are threatening mutiny if Jeremy Corbyn, the elected leader of the
British Labour Party, should ever become Prime Minister, is amazingly
revelatory of where the power lies within what are generally called western
democracies. I feel outraged by this because, so far as I understand Corbyn’s
views, most of them I warmly share. Mind you, I never heard of him until a few
months ago, when a young reporter with The Guardian of London, Owen Jones, on a
weekly discussion programme of the BBC, Dateline London, welcomed the fact that
Corbyn, who he said was a friend of his, had decided, under some pressure, to
stand for the Labour leadership. Jones welcomed it because his very presence in
the race would enable many of the important issues in British politics that are
normally swept under the rug, to be debated seriously for the first time in
I have a warm regard still for the British Labour Party
(in spite of its years of Blairite apostasy) because I can honestly say that
the only really democratic debate I have ever heard in politics --- that is, a
debate, unlike those in Parliament, in which the outcome is not known
beforehand --- took place at a Labour Party conference in the 1960s, when they
debated, and approved of the idea of nuclear disarmament. In other words, they
accepted the ideas of the vigorous Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which
organized huge marches every Easter between 1958 and 1963 from Aldermaston,
site of the government-owned Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, to London.
These were great occasions of leftist politics, organized by a remarkable little
woman called Peggy Duff, and I will never forget the passion, pride and
excitement they generated for everyone on the Left.
Many brilliant musicians and artists rallied
to the call, and they became the occasion for stirring new songs written by the
superb Scottish folklorist, dramatist and poet, Ewan MacColl and his wife Peggy
Seeger, sister to the redoubtable American singer Pete. Lindsay Anderson, a
great Leftist filmmaker and dramatist, weighed in with a documentary film. and,
inevitably, when the Labour Party came to power in 1964 under Harold Wilson,
they ignored the decision of their annual conference, and kept the useless American-made
nuclear weapons that have cost Britain millions
since then that could have been better spent on equalizing the
opportunities in Britain’s classically class-organized society.
To write the above seems to me to be not the slightest bit extraordinary: I
have always assumed that politics should be only about one thing, which is to
improve the lives of citizens, and essentially to equalize opportunities
available to them, through education, income distribution, and providing the
basic needs of shelter, clothing, food, and a living wage to everyone.
Everything else is decoration.
That a politician who has devoted his life to those very
ideals should be regarded as such a threat to the basic values of British
society as to warrant an Army mutiny really tells me more than I want to know
about the realities of British life. The generals are up in arms because at some
stage in his life Corbyn has said Britain doesn’t need an army, and should get
rid of its nuclear deterrent.
The question of whether Canada needs an army or not is a
very open one. We don't appear to be in danger of being attacked by any other
country, but our army has been useful in the past because of its peacekeeping
operations in various trouble spots around the world. Its more recent use as a
minor appendage to United States imperialism has been very much in question,
and appears to have caused a serious decline in Canada’s stature around the
I should say that
Costa Rica, a small country in a war and revolution-torn part of the world,
Central America (an area that, collectively, is very much under the control of
the United States) in 1949 became the first country in the world to abolish its
army, a decision to which they have stuck ever since, with no deleterious
results that are apparent.
The idea that
Britain would be in some way weakened if they gave the Americans back their nuclear
missiles is ludicrous.
The missiles are
housed in submarines that are kept in Scotland.
Many years ago New Zealand, a staunchly British country by origin and
outlook, decided that United States ships equipped or powered by nuclear
weapons were unwelcome in NZ ports, and so far the sky hasn’t fallen on their
Today, surely, the question of the continuing value of
NATO must be lively in the minds of more than just convinced Leftists: NATO was
an anti-Soviet alliance that could arguably have been considered necessary
during the Cold War. After being refused entry to NATO, the Soviet Union
established the Warsaw Pact and allowed East Germany to rearm in response to
the rearmament of West Germany… .thus the two sides faced each other across
middle Europe until, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact was disbanded.
Unfortunately, the nations led by the nose by
the United States have proven to be more militaristic, and NATO has
not only continued, but been used in many questionable
actions such as the invasion of Yugoslavia, the bombing of Libya and so on. The
results in both of those actions cited have been disastrous --- widespread
ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, societal breakdown in Libya --- and if Jeremy Corbyn
is challenging the wisdom of Britain’s continuing membership, one might be
excused for thinking it is not before time. Even more relevant would be his
questioning the very continued existence of NATO.
None of what I have written is really revolutionary
politics: it is just a discussion about the realities of present-day world
affairs. And that the army in Britain should be threatening mutiny proves,
surely, that that particular army, like most others I guess, is dedicated to
the untrammelled continuation of a capitalist economic structure the simple
questioning of which can be regarded as treason. This is not news, of course.
The ruthlessness with which the established powers of the European Community
have demolished the anti-austerity threat posed by the Syriza left-wing
government of Greece, surely already reveals that only orthodox capitalism is
to be allowed to flourish under the American umbrella, anywhere in the world.
I have one amusing personal anecdote bearing on the
British army and mutiny.
when I was on my way to Britain by steamship in 1960 to take up a post as
correspondent in London for The Montreal
I made the acquaintance of a
British Lieutenant-General, Sir Michael West, well-known to Canadians for having
been the commander of the Commonwealth troops who were engaged in the Korean
War in the early 1950s. When I met him he was on his way back from Washington,
where he had been Britain’s representative in the NATO military establishment.
He came, of course, from the British upper class, was equipped with the customary
toff’s education, had the accent and all the attitudes of his class, which, as
I discovered through a long friendship with him, included an almost
anarchistic, thumb-your-nose attitude towards the attitudes of the Establishment
to which he belonged. He made a small flat he owned in London available to me
for a year while he went to his new post, as Commander of Britain’s Northern
Command. This required him to live in a stone-heap of a dreary castle in the
countryside near York. He took one look at it and immediately ordered its
interior be revamped and equipped with central heating, and its exterior be painted,
top to toe, a dazzling pink. That was Mike West all over.
On one occasion after I had been writing about the
possibility of the French army rebelling against the leadership of De Gaulle, I
asked him why the British army never threatened such a rebellion.
He thought for a moment and said, “We have
talked about it from time to time, but by the second brandy we were all in
hoots of laughter. I think it’s just that if I stood up and said, ‘On to
Whitehall, chaps,’ nobody would follow.”
If that were
tradition in the British Army, could it be that the Generals would find
themselves marching to Whitehall before
a phantom army, to stage a phantom coup d’état?