The resurgence of genocidal weaponry in a time of Trump is another indicator of a world in crisis that has to be changed, argues Lindsey German
Another week, another threat to world peace. Following Trump’s decision to try to appoint a new president in Venezuela, now we have his promise to scrap the INF treaty which limited the acquisition of nuclear missiles by the US and Russia. This move will immediately bring greater dangers to Europe, will help to trigger another nuclear arms race and will do nothing to solve the growing dangers facing the world.
The INF treaty was a product of the Cold War, and was part of the process of détente between the two superpowers. It was agreed during the 1980s by US president Ronald Reagan and his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, and resulted in the scrapping of thousands of missiles on both sides.
The treaty was agreed against a background of mass protests across Europe which began nearly 40 years ago and which resulted in mass demonstrations on the streets of London, the movement of women around the Greenham Common airbase, where they launched a peace camp, and the rebirth of CND as a major force in politics.
The movement was galvanised by the decision of Reagan and the British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to site Cruise missiles at Greenham as part of military plans to use tactical nuclear weapons in Cold War conflict with Russia. Cruise missiles were sold as allowing the West to pursue a ‘limited’ nuclear war, rather than the total destruction with which nuclear weapons were usually associated. They were ‘first strike’ weapons - in other words, the US and UK would be prepared to use them in an attack rather than for deterrent means, as had previously been claimed.
This prospect of ‘limited nuclear war’ in Europe terrified millions of people. It raised the prospect of a third European war in less than a century – one which was certain to be even more deadly than the last. So the movement grew across the continent and eventually led to some form of détente, including the INF treaty.
Trump claims that he is scrapping the treaty now because Russia is developing new missiles which contravene it. Nato – the western military alliance which has developed a much more interventionist stance in the post-Cold War world – has backed Trump.
With recent anti-Russian rhetoric at a post-Cold War high, this is an extremely dangerous development. It will lead to both sides increasing their stocks of nuclear weapons, and may well see a return to deployment of US nuclear missiles here in Britain. The US will certainly deploy them in a number of the east European states which border Russia, intensifying possible future conflicts.
While there is much talk of the Russian threat, many analysts suggest the real target here is China. This major military power is not subject to the treaty, so has no constraint on developing its own nuclear missiles. Trump sees the US as being tied to restricting its weaponry, while China – its real economic and military rival – is not. Hence the abandonment of the treaty and the ratcheting up of the wider nuclear threat.
Trump is a bit like a playground bully who picks on one of his weaker adversaries because he does not dare take on his stronger ones. The rhetoric over Russia cannot hide the fact that the US fears China more than any other power and is determined to counter its military influence.
Yet this conflict is built into the competitive imperialist system in which we live. The threat of nuclear war is moving that little bit closer, and is yet another reason to change that system.
The cult of Churchill
While we’re on the subject of war, I feel the cult of Churchill has reached absurd proportions. Well done to the Scottish MSP who pointed out a few home truths by saying that Churchill was a racist who let people starve during the Bengal famine. The outcry which greets these truths is just astonishing, not least from the egregious Piers Morgan, whose spluttering fury in defence of the wartime PM sank to new lows.
At least part of what’s driving this is widespread ignorance about the reality of the Second World War. Churchill’s importance was that he was one of the very few Tory MPs who was in favour of fighting the Nazis rather than doing deals with them. We know that the appeaser Chamberlain hung on until May 1940 and that the king was loathe to have Churchill as prime minister, preferring another appeaser, Halifax. We know that when Churchill first took over as prime minister he was met with silence from his own benches and cheered by Labour. Indeed, his wartime cabinet was a coalition with Labour, and Attlee was his deputy.
Churchill’s strength was that he was prepared to prosecute the war against Germany – but he did so to protect the British empire, which governed his enter wartime strategy. It was why he insisted on an Italian campaign to protect British trade routes and interests in the Mediterranean and was slow to open a second front in France. He cared about the empire, but not about many of its inhabitants such as the starving Indians.
Some of the right wing Brexiteers like to recall those days of 1940, saying they show British ‘resilience’ in the face of adversity. Actually, that was only a part of the picture. There was a lot of demoralisation in the summer of 1940 as British soldiers returned defeated from France, and German air attacks began. The fascists were still agitating against the war, many Tories still wanted a deal with Hitler, and working class people were angry and fearful. However, by and large, these latter wanted to fight, and Churchill articulated that defiance.
But when it came to peacetime, he was soundly rejected as prime minister, because people didn’t want a return to pre-war misery and they knew his class interests were against theirs.
The 75th anniversary of D-day this June will revive many of the myths, and will try to claim that the war was won by Churchill (and the Americans). The reality was very different.
Theresa May wins by defeating her own deal – it’s magic
The line between tragedy and farce is often indistinguishable in the great Brexit fiasco. This week the woman whose deal was defeated by 230 votes only 2 weeks ago claimed victory, by voting against her own deal, and uniting her own party by deciding to go back to Brussels for yet another fruitless visit. But don’t worry, it’s all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault for not backing a second referendum.
It's time now to stop the attentisme which has dominated British politics for months. There is a stalemate in the British parliament, there is no sign of a major shift in the attitude of the EU, opinion in Britain remains as hard as it was in 2016 – and as divided. The problem for May is that whatever option is eventually adopted her party is very deeply divided. It also no longer represents the wishes of the majority ruling class in this country. In normal times, that ruling class would already be trialling plan B – a Labour government. But there is too much fear of Jeremy Corbyn as leader for that to happen.
So the only thing that will break this is movement outside Westminster and Brussels – in particular, an assertion of class politics outside parliament. That means maximising all the challenges to capital and the powers that be; building on the campaigns against austerity; supporting all the industrial action. And putting a political argument about the alternative to neoliberal exploitation.
One way not to do that is the total mess over Labour's attitude to the Tory immigration law. This went through last week after Labour first planned to abstain, then imposed a one-line whip, meaning the bill was easily passed. I still don’t quite get the thinking behind this, but whatever it is, the result is bad. It demoralises Labour supporters and fails to put a principled argument on immigration. Which is: migration is a fact of life in the rich developed world – indeed economies such as the UK and Germany could not survive without it. There are two ways to go on this: you can criminalise and scapegoat migrants, or you can treat them as respected workers who make a valuable contribution and defend them against racism.
The choice really isn’t difficult for socialists
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Lindsey German statement at Spycops Inquiry
- The Tower Hamlets revolt explodes the election stalemate – weekly briefing
- Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes - book review
- This is the real face of the Ukraine war – weekly briefing
- Living with shadows: memory and struggle - Interview with Merilyn Moos
- Russia and Nato: the crocodiles with Ukraine in their jaws
- There’s planet government and then there’s life on earth – weekly briefing