Blair and the provisional republican government

War brings restrictions on democracy and civil liberties, argues Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group, but it is also the harbinger of democratic revolution

James Thorne, former commander in the Royal Tank regiment, is one of many millions opposed to the war against Iraq. He was interviewed in Socialist Worker as a member of the Stop the War Coalition. At the end of the article he concludes: "The two main political parties in parliament are identical. Who represents the 80% of people who are opposed to war? The February 15 demonstration is more like a pro-democracy march than an anti-war one. These are dark times, but there is hope" (February 1). This is an important insight. The anti-war demonstration is a pro-democracy march, giving voice to millions of citizens, whose views are ignored. The dark days of war must indeed be matched by the hope of democracy. This war has no democratic legitimacy or democratic mandate. There has been no referendum, nor any general election, in which these life and death issues are put before the people. There has been no vote in parliament. Yet her majesty's government has dispatched 30,000 troops, a quarter of the British army, to the Middle East. The slogan 'Not in our name' sums up the mass rejection of Blair's war plans. An emerging pro-democracy movement places responsibility on all Marxists to put forward revolutionary-democratic slogans that can advance the struggle. Hope must be turned into a practical programme of action. The answer to war is not simply protests, demonstrations, direct action or even strikes. It is to overturn or remove the government and replace it with a democratic anti-war government. The demand for a 'provisional republican government' expresses most clearly the path the democratic movement must take. As revolutionaries we need to explain and popularise this idea as widely as possible. Democratic arguments are central to winning public opinion and public support. Should democratic legitimacy and moral authority for waging war depend upon the peoples of the United Kingdom, or the ambassadors and diplomats of the United Nations? The argument divides democrats from liberals. Liberal-imperialists, like Blair, use the UN in the same way as Bush. If it works, use it; if not, ignore it. The liberal left in the Labour Party takes a more 'principled' position, placing their hopes in the UN, not the people. The UN is not a democratic institution. It represents the ruling classes of the world, the imperialist powers, capitalist 'democracies' and a host of petty tin-pot dictators. Most of these depend on support and favours from US imperialism. The fact that France, Russia and China have the power of veto in the UN security council will not stop the war. But Labour left MPs seem only too ready to spread illusions in the UN. They have conveniently forgotten the predatory character of these states. The French ruling class, the great hope for British anti-war liberals, is seeking to extract a bigger slice of the oil contracts before coming into line behind US imperialism. Spreading illusions in the UN is the only thing that can save Blair and win the backing of a section of Labour MPs. All genuine democrats must pour total scorn on the pathetic, dishonest illusions in the United Nations. We place our faith in the democratic instincts of the people, especially the working class majority, and not forgetting the working class of Iraq. It is not enough to point out that there is no democratic mandate for war. It is not enough to expose the fact that bomber Blair is a dangerous elected dictator using the constitutional powers of a rotten and bankrupt system. We have to make the case for democratic government. A provisional republican government is the most democratic government that can arise from within a constitutional monarchy. It is the people's government, which takes all crown powers into its own hands. It decides the issue of war or peace, according to will of the people, not the interests of the ruling class. Such a government recognises only the sovereignty of the people. It would take command of the armed forces from the queen, as commander-in-chief, and end all military action. It would withdraw the armed forces from abroad and publish all secret agreements about the carve-up of Iraqi oil contracts. Such a government is provisional, because it abolishes the authority of the crown, unconstitutionally - that is, without the permission of the crown. Its authority is therefore temporary. It takes power to secure and enable the people to decide a new democratic constitution. One of its key tasks is calling elections to a constituent assembly. A provisional republican government is the democratic answer to the use by her majesty's government of the royal prerogative for war. Who would form such a government? Apart from saying it would be an anti-war government, the question is open. The level of the struggle and the depth of the crisis will decide. Whilst we are some way off from such a government, the crisis of war could pose the question of who governs very sharply. War brings restrictions on democracy and civil liberties. But it is also the harbinger of democratic revolution, in which the people in their workplaces and on the streets begin deciding the democratic issues. However, the case for a provisional republican government does not arise simply from this war. We need to stand back and see the issues in an historical perspective. Observing the slow evolution of the social monarchy is like taking frozen food from the freezer and watching it defrost. War means putting it in the microwave and heating it up in a matter of minutes. Between 1870 and 1940 the people were ruled by the imperial monarchy, whose domestic politics were shaped by the British empire. This regime was virtually destroyed by two world wars and the threat of German fascism. In the decade 1940-50 the regime was remoulded into the 'social monarchy'. This combined the parliamentary monarchist system of government with a welfare state and the extension of state capitalism to the mines, railways, utilities, transport, etc. These changes cannot be understood in purely domestic terms. On the contrary, the social monarchy was created alongside and in conjunction with the global expansion of US imperialism. This new relationship between UK and US imperialism was announced by the arrival of thousands of US troops and aircrew during the war. A bankrupt UK became massively dependent on US loans and military industrial production. The British imperial monarchy was transformed into the 'American social monarchy'. The cold war froze the country into a subordinate relationship with US imperialism. The UK became a major economic base for the US in Europe. Investment by US multinationals took control of 20% of the British economy. The pound was reduced from a world currency to the first line of defence of the dollar. The 'American social monarchy' is not the 51st state. But it has a 'special relationship' with US imperialism. The Suez crisis in 1956 was a defining moment in post-war history. The ruling class was forced to recognise that US imperialism called the shots. The days of an independent British imperialism, like the independent nuclear deterrent, were over for good. Ever since, US imperialism has had an interest in preserving the social monarchy, not merely as a theme park for American tourists, but because it serves their interests. Since the defeat of the miners in 1984-85 the American social monarchy model has been progressively under threat. The integration of British and European capital from the 1980s has posed the tension between America and Europe sharply. The 'welfare state capitalist' foundations of the social monarchy have been dismantled and privatised. Thatcher and Blair have exposed the parliamentary monarchy as an elected dictatorship in which the prime minister has almost dictatorial, 'presidential' powers. The war against Iraq highlights these contradictory features of the American social monarchy in its epoch of degeneration. It is not that Blair is Bush's poodle, although he is. Blair lines up with US imperialism, rather than with the EU, France and Germany because he must. It is not because Blair is a petty dictator, although he is. The system concentrates such massive centralised powers in the hands of any prime minister. In the 1920s Trotsky asked, "Where is Britain going?" To the American free market or a European social republic? The war will surely make these choices much clearer. The fact that Blair has no democratic mandate for war makes the whole enterprise politically dangerous. Last month's fall in the London stock market by 12% included an unprecedented drop for 11 days in a row. This indicates the nervousness of the capital markets in the face of uncertainty and the proximity of war. Since the fall in London was greater than New York, it suggests investors see higher risks in the political situation in the UK. Political commentators have suggested that the cabinet is divided and MPs are very worried about the situation inside the Labour Party. A survey of Labour Party chairs showed that at constituency level 80% were strongly opposed to sending the army to Iraq. Blair has taken a path to war which leads him into conflict with the instincts of Labour Party members and wider public opinion. Whilst the fall in the stock market may reflect political uncertainty, it will translate into job losses, bankruptcies and lower pensions. The failures of the Blair government are many, and are becoming ever more obvious. Nothing has been done about poverty or low pay in the public sector. The firefighters' dispute is deadlocked. The transport system is in chaos. Pensions are in crisis. House of Lords reform is insoluble. The euro is untouchable. Blair's foreign policy has made Britain a prime target for so-called fundamentalist terrorism. This war is Blair's biggest gamble. If war drags on and the human and financial costs become intolerable, then the Blair government, deeply divided, might collapse. Nobody really expects this. The Iraqi army seems most likely to be crushed, sooner rather than later. But what happens next is very uncertain. The army has been told to expect to occupy Iraq for three years. Even without the collapse of the Labour government, Blair risks mass radicalisation and popular mobilisation. This could produce a seismic shift in public opinion and create the basis not only for a new party, but, more significantly, an alternative government. A major parliamentary revolt by Labour MPs could threaten the continued prosecution of the war. This might bring the formation of a national coalition government, involving Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs. The prime minister would be cast in the role of Ramsey MacBlair or Tony Churchill-Thatcher-de Gaulle in a rerun of 1931 or 1940. A national 'government' already operates behind the scenes in any serious national crisis. Her majesty's privy council brings leading politicians together to support the state. The privy council ensures that political infighting between the various bourgeois factions does not destabilise the government in time of war or crisis. In this respect the queen has a very important role, both practically and symbolically, in unifying the ruling class. People understand the nature of war - after all, this country has been involved in more than most. At either end of the spectrum are pacifists and gung-ho warmongers. In between, the mass of people take a more sanguine and realistic view, distinguishing between wars that are just and necessary and those that are not. Marxism has theorised this distinction in terms of reactionary, imperialist wars and progressive, revolutionary-democratic wars. We do so on the basis of understanding which class or classes are waging war for what aims. There is no question that this war is an imperialist war, whose prime motivation is oil and the need for greater US hegemony in the Middle East. Oil is a major energy source in modern industrial economies. The US economy consumes 10 million of the approximately 70 million barrels of oil produced daily. It imports over 50% of its oil consumption. The Middle East has 50% of the world's oil reserves. Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia are major oil producers. Bush, elected with the backing of the oil lobby, was well aware of the strategic interests of the US in Middle East oil supplies. It was clear even then that the US oil and arms industries would force a shift in foreign policy. September 11 gave Bush his golden opportunity. The fear and anger of US citizens and working class people was cynically mobilised by Bush for reactionary aims. The 'war on terrorism' would begin in Afghanistan and soon undertake the invasion of Iraq. The war against Iraq began six months ago, when Bush and Blair decided on 'regime change'. Obviously the actual invasion has yet to start. It depends upon diplomatic manoeuvres, getting troops and supply lines in place and conditioning public opinion at home. The key to winning public opinion is to convince us it is not about oil, but liberating the Iraqi people and saving the world from 'weapons of mass destruction', which will in reality soon rain down from the B52s and stealth bombers. Writing in The Observer, David Aaronovitch presents the imperialist case for 'liberating' Iraq, or rather its oil. He challenges the left to "tackle the crimes of Saddam" (February 2). In his view the British left are either pacifists, who will do nothing against a brutal dictatorship, or Stalinists, who support Saddam against US imperialism as a latter-day Uncle Joe. The democratic answer is neither of these. In 1991 the defeat of Saddam's armed forces led to popular uprisings among the Kurds in the north and the marsh Arabs in the south. These uprisings, which began the democratic revolution, were betrayed by the treachery of US imperialism - it stood back and allowed Saddam's helicopter gunships and republican guards to crush the rebels. The lesson of 1991 is that democratic revolution is both possible and necessary to overthrow Saddam. But there can be no trust in US imperialism or illusions in its democratic credentials. The interests of US imperialism are served by an Iraqi dictatorship, not popular or working class democracy. Consequently an Anglo-US invasion will not bring democratic government. It will bring the slaughter of thousands of Iraqi people and US military dictatorship. We totally oppose the Anglo-US war and give our support and solidarity to the Iraqi people and the forces of popular democratic revolution. The Iraqi democratic opposition must form a provisional government, including the socialist and communist forces, and prepare for an uprising. This government must give a commitment to hold free elections to a constituent assembly, and recognise the rights of the Kurds to self-determination. At the same time the Iraqi working class must organise itself into factory committees and rank and file organisations, which are the key to successful democratic revolution. This is not what Anglo-US imperialism has in mind. A successful conquest of Iraq will not bring democracy or a constituent assembly. It will bring military rule until a US puppet regime has been firmly established. This could take years. Meanwhile we should support the Iraqi working class but not forget that for us the main enemy of democracy is here at home - not a national government of Blair and the Tories, but a democratic and republican government of the people.