British imperialism being cut down to size by the crisis


BRITISH imperialism, at the height of its power and even up to the 1930s, had at its heart the dictum of sea power, that its navy had to be bigger than the combined naval forces of all of its potential opponents.

The navy then had an empire to protect, from which Britain looted prodigious wealth, and from which the ruling class became fantastically wealthy.

Even in the 1940s the navy posed a huge barrier to a German seaborne invasion.

The other wings of British imperialism’s armed forces however were also powerful and potent.

The army, even after the Second World War, was able to deploy hundreds of thousands of troops from Malaya to the Suez Canal, while its air force was able to defend the UK in the 1940s against a more powerful German opponent.

British imperialism has now lost its empire, is mired in the capitalist crisis, with service industries making up 70 per cent of its economy, while its budget deficit, as a share of GDP, is similar to that of Greece.

Its decline and fall has now reached the point where a new Green Paper is raising the issue, that so deep is its financial crisis, that its three former independent services should amalgamate into one, or failing that, the airforce should be amalgamated with the army providing air cover for ground forces, and its navy should be shrunk, perhaps sharing an aircraft carrier or even other ships with the French navy.

That this is more than enough to fell Nelson from his column or topple Churchill from his Parliament Square plinth is obvious.

However, Churchill was able to see the writing on the wall, and what would be the fate of British imperialism. In 1939 he understood that everything rested on getting Roosevelt to bring the US into the war with Germany, while in 1946 he confessed to Truman that if he could be born again, he would prefer to be an American.

British imperialism has now hit the rocks.

Its new project, which befits its new status, is to have armed forces equipped and trained and organised to fight America’s colonial wars in Afghanistan and other places.

Its petty future is to act as a mercenary for US imperialism. So far has British imperialism fallen that such armed forces would not be able to defend the UK against any attempt at invasion. For that it would have to rely on the United States. This perspective means that the strategic requirement of UK governments would be, like the Blair government, to work out the needs of US imperialism even before the US ruling class becomes aware of them.

All the talk of Defence Secretary Ainsworth, that the new defence Green Paper raises the issue that ‘We need to be more adaptable in how we structure, equip and train our armed forces’, plus whether the UK should ‘further integrate’ its forces with those of key allies, plus the possibility of the end of the three branches of the armed forces, is in fact an admission of the approaching end of British imperialism.

General Sir Mike Jackson has however cautioned: ‘I very much hope we will not rush to quick decisions about this or that ship, this or that capability on land or air, but actually go through a rigorous intellectual process from which we can make decisions. Only then can we say “can we afford them”?’ he said.

He is hitting on the main issue for the military cadre. This is that ‘we’ have to be able to defend capitalist Britain from ‘our’ own resources, and so ‘we’ have to be able to afford it.

This becomes an issue of ‘guns not butter’ and slashing, even more than is currently being mooted, the government’s health and welfare budget, in order to be able to expand the military budget.

The working class must defend its jobs, wages and basic rights. It has no interest in defending British imperialism.

It must call for the ending of the Trident programme, the scrapping of the programme to build three new aircraft carriers and the slashing of the military budget.

It must call for all troops to return to the UK, and for a workers government to bring in socialism.