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British Crown Forces Day - Edinburgh Sat 25 June 2011 - Which Side Are You On?

Sean Mac Mìcheal

“Our service personnel and their families have made and continue to make huge personal sacrifices to ensure that our rights, freedoms and way of life are defended and maintained.

"Armed Forces Day is therefore a perfect opportunity to say "thank you" for the sacrifices made on our behalf.” (1) 

Since the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 the British state has increased its propaganda offensive surrounding the various branches of its armed forces. To break the back of the opposition even those protestors who opposed the invasion have been encouraged to show their support for ‘our troops’ in an attempt to humanise or personalise the job that they are doing, or the uniform that they are wearing. It has also sought to combat falling recruitment levels which had reached record lows in Scotland.

This is a well-worn strategy which serves to deflect attention from the real purpose of the armed forces - the maintenance and survival of British imperialist interests at home and abroad.

This doesn’t just mean the ‘gunboat diplomacy’ of a largely bygone age when British colonies were held by the same iron fist that ravaged northern Scotland following Culloden. Imperialism in socialist terms is an economic rather than political structure; its underlying rationale is the economic domination of any nation by international imperialist interests, operating on an international basis.

This may have required the early systematic and brutal suppression of many peoples and cultures but has been followed by the emergence amongst those peoples of a privileged bourgeois/ capitalist class operating as junior partners to maintain the continuation of the global economic capitalist/ imperialist structure - independent of whatever political structures may, or may not, exist.

It is for this reason that the Edinburgh born socialist republican James Connolly wrote:

“If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the SocialistRepublic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.”

With this basic understanding of the nature of imperialism it is clear to see that Britain’s continuing wars across the globe are imperialist wars. From Kosovo to Iraq and Afghanistan these were wars not necessarily to subject nations to direct political control but rather to complete economic domination. (These wars, by the way, all happened under the last “Labour” government, a word which rivals “Defence” as the most inappropriate in common usage.)

Markets are then ‘opened up’; ‘competition’ is introduced to allow the plunder of resources and assets by ‘western’ capitalist concerns. In this way ‘national economies’ are largely governed by economic levers pulled by the multinationals and big business, the IMF and World Bank.

This question over the nature of imperialism and in particular the role of the armed forces is one which both constitutional nationalism and the Left in Scotland have largely failed to address.

While it might not be the position of many SNP activists it has to be noted that Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond recently claimed, “Scotland has a long and proud military history” and that the SNP would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with those wanting to defend British military bases in Leuchars and Lossiemouth. This comes not long after the SNP was at the forefront of the campaign to ‘Save the Scottish Regiments’.

Let us be clear that there are no Scottish regiments. These regiments were formed in defence of the British state and to extend Britain’s empire. As any state is just the means whereby the ruling class in society exerts its power over the people it is obvious that British Crown Forces are there to defend British capitalism and therefore, by definition, British Imperialism.

The Black Watch were formed specifically to police (or ‘watch’) the Highlands on behalf of the British Crown and suppress any opposition to the Union. Others were raised as landlord regiments where the threat of Clearance was the main recruiting motivation. Since this time they have been used on every continent as the battering ram of England’s bloody empire, not for the benefit of the Scottish people, but for the benefit of the Anglo-Scottish ruling class.

As such they are part of a blood-soaked tradition that winds its way from Amritsar by way of concentration camps on the Rand to Kenya, Malaya, Tasmania and virtually wherever else the British Army has set foot.

It’s a tradition which has meant the suppression and slaughter of many on these islands as well from rebellious Jacobites to striking workers at the Calton or democrats at Tranent. From Peterloo or Merthyr to Derry and Ballymurphy the British military machine has shown itself to be equally murderous at ‘home’.

This legacy cannot simply be swept aside.

Those who fought may have been maimed, physically crippled or mentally traumatised. Thrown on life’s scrapheap facing homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction. Poison gases on the Somme, soldiers with their eyes and mouth bulging, their skin blistered before drowning as their lungs slowly filled with their own fluids. A generation wiped out because English and German capitalists could not agree on who had the greater right to steal the resources of Africa. Such have been the benefits of ‘serving Queen and country’.

Let us be under no illusions. This is the nature of Britain’s Crown Forces. No rubbish please about defending freedom, extending democracy (at the point of a gun?), safeguarding human rights or anything similar.

This point can be made clearly and calmly simply by looking at Britain’s military history and realising that since 1707 Britain has enjoyed only 64 full calendar years of peace. Put another way; the BritishState has been at war for 4 out of every 5 years throughout its entire history!

Only the seriously delusional would suggest that this is the fault of all those other nations/ peoples/ movements who just keep lining up to have a pop just because “they hate our way of life” or other such nonsensical arguments.

The British state has spent this time at war to build and protect markets for the goods being sold by British capitalists.

We can sympathise with poor working class kids from schemes and glens throughout Scotland, signing up for want of a better alternative, as the recruiting sergeant might say, ‘to see the world’ or ‘learn a trade’. Economic conscripts they may be to the Left, whilst constitutional nationalists see Scottish soldiers, but as long they are seen in this light and not as the tools of imperialism then we’ll continue to welcome our youth home in bodybags – not too mention our brothers and sisters across the world who have stood against British imperialism. 

What good did the hundreds of thousands marching across Scotland against the invasion of Iraq do if they now sit back and stay silent while British Crown Forces take their recruitment drive into schools, colleges and jobcentres? Even primary schools are not safe from their predatory grasp.

We, as republicans, as socialists, as anti-imperialists owe it to ourselves but more importantly to all those who have suffered at first-hand the military might of British imperialism not to let this day of pomp and glory, of chauvinistic British nationalism go by unopposed. No blood on our hands.

Close down RAF bases in Scotland
End Low Flying
Scrap Trident
Disband the Regiments
End Recruitment


The authour Sean Mac Mìcheal is a member of Saorsa



1) Angus Robertson, leader of SNP group in Westminster, and Party spokesman on "Defence"

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