We are taught that the ruling class is all-powerful, that we have to endure everything they impose, whether imperialist war or welfare cuts. Yet last week David Cameron and the Tories wanted to go to war and didn’t succeed and they are reeling from the shock.
This vote is not a simple matter of a prime minister who didn’t get his sums right. First it shows the impact of the mass anti-war movement over the last decade. Millions of people were won to the struggle to oppose the war in Afghanistan and stop the war on Iraq.
They may not have been on the streets marching every week since 2003, but they have watched the disaster of the wars unfold. All those who opposed the war feel vindicated—anti-war sentiment in Britain runs deep. Many MPs are worried about getting re-elected if voters hold them responsible for more war and bloodshed.
There are also MPs whose motivation for opposing Cameron was a kind of nationalism. This says that Britain has nothing to gain from mounting what the government claimed would be a humanitarian mission.
Socialists are internationalists. We feel solidarity with ordinary people fighting exploitation and oppression across all borders. We are against Western military intervention because we know our rulers have no interest in helping mass movements topple dictators or win freedom.
Whatever the rhetoric of humanitarianism, any Western attack on Syria is about our rulers deciding they need to punish Bashar al-Assad’s regime for challenging their authority. They also want to reassert their influence after the Arab revolutions seriously challenged their presence in the region as West-backed despots were ousted.
And ordinary people will suffer the most from any attack. Britain isn’t following the US to war now, but this doesn’t mean politicians have given up on the idea of imperialist intervention. They were just not strong enough to push it through this time.
Many in our own ruling class still want to maintain the illusion that they are a global power. Already some MPs are asking if there will be another vote and in the US Barack Obama is ramping up the scale of his threats to bomb Syria.
Tory defence secretary Philip Hammond has raised the possibility of MPs returning to vote again if, he says, things “change very significantly”.So we will have to be vigilant and keep up the anti-war pressure. But last week exposed the true weaknesses at the heart of the ruling class for all to see. This is a blow to Cameron’s authority and that of the whole government. It will be felt for some time to come.