War for Christmas

Originally published on the RIC Aberdeen blog. Speech from Syria solidarity rally, 5 December 2015.

So, here we are again, telling our leaders that we don’t want them dropping bombs on the Middle East. Another year, another imperialist war to oppose.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say that madness is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results. Maybe we need a Warmongers Anonymous. They keep dropping bombs, they keep selling weapons, they keep destroying lives, and then they’re surprised when there’s more instability and terrorism and hatred. They’re surprised when more refugees are sent fleeing from the chaos they’ve caused.

Or maybe they’re not surprised at all. Maybe they understand exactly what they’re doing. Maybe they know that endless war is good for the arms dealers, good for the banks, good for the people in power. Nevermind the human and environmental costs.

I’m going to quote George Orwell here, from 1984. It’s a long one, but bear with me:

The primary aim of modern warfare is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. In a world in which everyone worked short hours and had enough to eat, wealth would confer no distinction, and power could not remain in the hands of a small privileged caste. It was clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction of a hierarchical society.

So the problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare. The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed.

In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage.

A general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another.

And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.

The chill I’m feeling from reading this has nothing to do with the weather.

To a rational person, bombing Syria makes no sense at all. Mairi Black, in today’s National, points out all the reasons it’s a bad idea, and says that Cameron just wants to feel important on the world stage. I think that gives him too much credit.

Every act of warfare today serves to reinforce the power of a small group of people. That’s why we see the same story played out again and again. It doesn’t matter which warmonger is in power, or who the enemy is. It is a political choice to make money available for weapons, while snatching it away from ordinary people.

It’s no coincidence that food banks and welfare sanctions exist side-by-side with bombs and fighter jets. It’s no coincidence that we’re cutting public services to pay for Trident renewal. It’s no coincidence that we haven’t got enough resources to help the refugees we’ve created

And so we stand here, showing our opposition. We raise our voices and say ‘not in our name.’ We shout and wring our hands at the madness of it all – but it’s not madness. These are calculated decisions, designed to benefit the few at huge cost to the many. And the same decisions will be made again and again, until the system changes.

I’m going to end on a positive note. You probably haven’t heard of Rojava. It’s a Kurdish region in northern Syria – their main city is Kobane – and they’ve managed to defeat Daesh there. But that’s not what’s amazing about them. What’s amazing is how they’ve done it. They are radically egalitarian. They insist on gender equality. Women and men fight side-by-side. They reject hierarchy, and they organise from the grassroots, rather than from the top.

These are ideals that we struggle with, even in the stability of the west. In Rojava, they are living in a radically new way, while also managing to hold Daesh at bay. At the moment, they’re being suppressed by Turkey because the Kurds present a political problem there, but in Syria they are showing us that another world really is possible. We just need to pay attention.

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