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Syria: stop the war – arm the revolution!

By Dave Stockton


The defeat of the Cameron-Clegg coalition in the House of Commons on Thursday 29 August by 285 votes to 272 was a historic occasion: the first time a British government was defeated on the issue of making war in over three centuries. It was also the first time the Parliamentary Labour Party has refused support a foreign military intervention by British imperialism since the Suez fiasco in 1956.

The humiliating defeat for Cameron was also suffered at the hands of 29 of his own backbench MPs.

Labour’s amendment, though hardly a principled or complete rejection of UK involvement in a US missile attack on Syria, laid down conditions that delayed, though did not actually block such action in the future. It stated:

“This House… will only support military action involving UK forces if and when the following conditions have been met.” These were:

• That UN weapons inspectors should report upon the conclusion of their mission

• That “compelling evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons” should be provided

• That the UN Security Council should have “considered and voted on this matter”

• That a “clear basis in international law for taking military action on humanitarian grounds” be established

 • Finally that the prime minister “report to the House on the achievement of these conditions’” for a vote.

The defeated government motion had already been watered down in the light of Labour’s declared intention to amend it to require a further Commons’ vote, and to vote against it if this was defeated. Cameron’s motion still stated that it “may, if necessary, require military action” but promised a recall of parliament before action could be taken.

When even this was defeated, David Cameron’s surrender was total and humiliating. After all, of all the Western leaders he had been agitating for intervention the longest, and done so in the most bellicose terms, pressuring the plainly hesitant Obama to take action because his “red line” of chemical weapons had been flagrantly crossed. Now, deservedly humbled, he stated:

“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the Government will act accordingly.”

The other Tory leaders were furious. Michael Gove (reportedly with prime ministerial ambitions himself) threw a temper tantrum with the Tory backbench rebels, shouting, “you’re a disgrace, you’re a disgrace,” and had to be “calmed”.

‘F***ing c***’

Cameron’s spin doctors – the equivalents of Blair’s master of the dark arts, Alistair Campbell – released a foul-mouthed unofficial briefing from Downing Street, calling Ed Miliband him a “f***ing c*** and a copper-bottomed s***”, suggesting that he had reneged on a gentleman’s agreement to support them.

Labour’s response, met with a sheepish Downing Street confirmation, indicate that it was more a question of Miliband being non-committal and Cameron not imagining Labour would reject a call to arms as so many Labour leaders had done in the past.

Nevertheless it does seem that Miliband’s tough stance only came after being warned by the Labour Whips’ Office, that there would be a major rebellion from the party’s MPs, including resignations from the shadow Cabinet, if he gave Cameron any sort of support for military action.

A further domino – this time the big one – fell when two days later President Barack Obama stepped into the White House Rose Garden to announce that he would refer the matter of missile strikes against the Assad regime to both Houses of Congress before any action was taken.

So who can claim the credit for this dramatic turn of events?

Stop the War Chair Jeremy Corbyn MP has said the vote was “the results of the last 10 years of lobbying” by the antiwar coalition. Certainly the vote in the Commons was the coming home to roost of the actions of New Labour’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to some extent Cameron’s own escapades in Libya. Indeed the debate in the Commons was something of a collective act of contrition and atonement for the Iraq War. Blair was the whipping boy for the collective guilt of an entire generation of politicians.

But it cannot be claimed that the victory over British imperialist intervention in Syria – if it endures – was a product of a powerful and massive antiwar movement. Stop the War is but a shadow of its former self and the US antiwar movement is even more enfeebled.

Rather it is a product of the experience millions felt over the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the blatant lies they were told by Bush and Blair. Many MPs, Tories as well as Labour and Lib Dems, testified to this mass disbelief.

Of course the great international movement of millions in February and March 2003 alerted public consciousness to this. But it did not stop the war – not least because its leadership would not pass from protests to strikes and mass civil disobedience to obstruct the war effort and bring down the warmongering government.


“Hand off Syria” – i.e. stopping a US attack in the coming months is not the only struggle we have to wage, not the only duty that this situation imposes. We do indeed have a duty as internationalists to the oppressed and brutalised population in Syria, the victims of a regime that has now put Saddam Hussein’s in the shade.

Even if our rulers’ crocodile tears for the victims of Assad are to be rejected as a pretext for their actions, the apologists for Assad and for his Russian and Chinese backers and defenders are no less repulsive. We have to stand by the Syrian revolutionaries and do all we can to bring them aid in their struggle

The western imperialists claimed for months that they were friends of the Syrian uprising and its democratic aspirations, but did little or nothing to aid them. Their Saudi and Gulf state allies did – but they armed exclusively the Islamist forces they thought would best serve their interest. The Turkish government was a little more liberal in who it armed.

But none of these powers gave the rebel fighters, especially those in the main urban centres of the original insurrection the weapons they need to bring down planes and helicopter gunships or to stop tanks.

We should argue that the British, French and Americans, instead of launching tomahawks, quite simply hand over weapons to the rebel armed forces, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. We should also argue that the Labour movement finds the means to collect and provide funds for weapons, not just for medical aid for those elements in the revolution closest to the working class and small farmers.

If the Syrian revolution fails, if as well the present military regime in Egypt establishes a new dictatorship, then the forces of counter-revolution in the region and the wider world will take a big step forward. We must strain every sinew to prevent that from happening.

No US missile attacks on Syria!

Victory to the Syrian Revolution!

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