Trident is a Strange Beast
No one can think straight when they have been sold such a squandering of billions, such a harmful waste.
If it were just an embellishing charm that did no harm beyond poisoning its owner, diverting billions from meeting real needs and bolstering a post-Empire flagging ego, then that would be one thing. But it is more than that.
If it does not remain just a wasteful charm, then that means it will have become a furnace, part of a machinery activated to burn limb from limb billions of adults, children and creatures of all kinds. In all the politics it is almost impossible to even remember what this can do.
And its justification? Deterrence?
Now the Cold War is over, nothing would invite the emerging suicide bombing failed state’s pin prick match stick weapons to be trained on us more than us having a firework factory that can help combust the world.
Trident is supposed to project our power but it projects our powerlessness, our ‘punching above our weight’ imperial fantasies that are used to try to hide our inability to relate as equals.
But where does that come from?
What twisted experience of class, nation and domination means those who dominate our political system in the rUK will today vote through weapons of mass destruction? Why does commissioning weapons that would make all past genocides look sane bolster their pride rather than shame their humanity?
We can condemn other countries for seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction – even countries who have been our allies like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; and we can look uneasily at other such weapons-possessing countries like Pakistan, wondering how soon they will be in the hands of the suicide mentality unleashed in part by our wars launched under the pretext of stopping others possessing weapons of mass destruction they had already relinquished.
We can condemn others for seeking to possess these weapons. We can look uneasily at others who posses them, realising our possessing them makes us far more – rather than less – vulnerable. But why can we not meet the world as equals and devote these vast resources to life-giving activity including devoting them to building peace processes?
All nuclear possessing states will have their own perverse histories that have led those in power to believe they have a God-given right to possess a power that can destroy creation. What is ours? In particular, how is it that it is acceptable to so many English Labour MPs to vote for weapons of mass destruction?
I would start not with patriarchy or capitalism, but with something that looks so small and inconsequential and hardly even there: English identity.
Until recently there was hardly any space to even contemplate it publicly. It was taboo. But now, the disrupted sense of identity resulting first from the IndyRef process and now from the Brexit vote has caused progressives in England to suddenly understand why progressives in Scotland have increasingly supported independence for Scotland.
The disruption is of course not just to their sense of identity but to politics itself as the Brexit vote ushers in a nasty turn to the right in Westminster politics built on the “getting out of Europe, foreigners aren’t welcome here” mood music that is anathema to politicians and the general public in Scotland.
So what of English identity?
My partner pointed out the extraordinary words in the crescendo line in the song sung at the last night of the Proms, that annual celebration of BritEnglish identity. It is that “Britons never never never shall be slaves”.
It is the ultimate projection of the slave owner saying we will never never let you do to us what we daily do to you. Truly sickening.
But these words and that night point to precisely how getting to grips with the question of English identity is blocked.
It is by conflating English with British and so not even allowing an opening for seeing how the system conquers the English day by day by decade by century:
In English history the story goes that there were the Romans then Anglo Saxons conquering the British, then Normans conquering the English and establishing a class division, then the rising middle class English (Parliamentary side) fighting against the Catholic Aristocracy in a civil war, then a truce as that rising class combined with the aristocrats to drive the enclosures of the common land in these islands, drive the enclosure of so much of the world’s common land through Empire, driving people off their lands and using them as labour in the military and factories that drove Empire. And as this process continued, there was an increasing confusion of English and British identities right up to that flag waving last night of the Proms.
The Irish led the way out of Britishness, with the First World War as the context, the rest of the Empire soon followed, with the Second World War as the context, and now Scotland is trying to free herself, with the Third World War (Trident) as the context. Does it really require war to realise how to refuse to participate in the Empire building? To refuse those projections and insist we care for each other and ourselves?
But there is another level to this process. Which is that the BritEnglish have a twist not just to national but also to class identity that makes it almost impossible to begin to grasp what is going on:
The Tory reshuffle has brought the Thatcher-like grammar school crowd back to the top table, pushing aside the posh Eton boys who had retaken control after the Thatcher Major grammar school decades. How extraordinary that they can shift so seamlessly between the ‘presumptive right to rule of the Etonians’ to the ‘I made it to the top so why haven’t you?’ of the grammar school gang, and so appear to make radical changes at the top (just like the English Civil War) when the posh boys have messed up keeping everyone in line, only to better exploit (viciously come down on) those who are struggling to survive or seeking to change the system. (Even Tommy Sheppherd voices hope that Erasure May will be better to deal with because she is not one of the posh boys, seemingly forgetting she is just the other side of the same coin).
And in the midst of this, the reactionary part of Labour’s role (which is to appear to speak for the poor the better to manage them and make sure nothing changes) is made so clear in the vicious response by its rulers to Corbyn and his attempt to reject the BritEnglish mentality on Trident, and a host of other areas.
Corbyn, though, has clearly not been able to step free of the BritEnglish mentality enough to grasp what is happening in Scotland.
Like the No campaigning Scottish Labour Party, when he uses the language of ‘solidarity between workers across borders’ to object to independence, his deeply learnt BritEnglish mentality is in the service of those who want to stop any part breaking away from the Empire.
As we know, Marx and Lenin and Keir Hardy had no problem in recognising the need to see the struggle for self-determination and the struggle against class oppression as intimately linked. Because their era (from mid 19th to early 20th century) was close to the era where – across Europe – the independence struggles for nationhood were the struggles to assert the right of a people to determine their own government rather than be ruled by unelected powers. Nationalism as an expression of that liberatory push for self-determination and democracy rather than as hatred of foreigners the better to project our own self-loathing into others.
As a friend recently pointed out (thanks Nick), the Brexit campaign showed so clearly that all that projection of ‘nasty nationalism’ by the media elite onto Scotland was a projection diverting them/ us from facing up to the BritEnglish racism entwined in BritEnglish exceptionalism.
The BritEnglish share with America the self-poisoning of the ‘exceptionalist’ mentality. This Empire mentality is that “we have a right to rule over you, but you will never have the right to rule over us”.
It is perverse, and so unlike most European countries attitudes, including (now) post Empire Scotland, and maybe soon (if it can disentangle the twisted tortured contortion of identity and class self oppression) England too.
America is the only major country pushing for human rights that always refuses to be bound by human rights institutions like the International Criminal Court while insisting other nations leaders (particularly in Africa) be held accountable there.
Brexit is partly about rejecting the European Hunan Rights system, tearing us away from decades where the BritEnglish have struggled as they are supposed to accept they are a normal country like any other, but forever have to demand opt outs and special needs exceptions. The Special needs of the city of London’s financial class, of a country without a constitution, of an unelected House of Lords, a voting system that allows for no change, and a decimated local government level. The EU referendum campaign kicked off with Cameron returning from Brussels and claiming to have a deal that meant we were ripping the rest of Europe off so we should stay in. So much for fair play.
And no wonder the BritEnglish and the EmpireAmericans share an ideology of ‘exceptionalism’. If not, then Bush and Blair would be in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague rather than just us dragging warmongers from ‘lesser’ nations there. If not, then we might have to relearn our equality.
Wanting to be ‘a normal European country’ is the oft heard cry of those seeking independence for Scotland. In response, the twisted logic of even progressives caught in perpetuating the BritEnglish contorted mindset is summed up by that picture of Ed Milliband at the Labour conference standing in front of a British flag bearing the slogan ‘One Nation’, while berating independence supporters in Scotland for their ‘nationalism’.
Trident is part of that twisted logic. Any Labour MP who thinks themselves progressive, let alone sane, yet votes for it, is part of that tradition of doing something to make yourself look big that just makes others see your impotence. Stand up for yourselves at last, you will never out-Tory the Tories. And you will not save jobs by voting for Trident (it’s billions could create infinitely more), but you’ll perpetuate a system that smashes workers rights to a decent job.
Visibly stating your humanity with a vote against Trident would be a great step to regaining trust. If instead your vote shows you only exist to manage, control and distract those who are not served by the Tory party, then you will continue being usurped by UKIP who do the same job in a very different way.
People need an alternative to a status quo that is failing them, and if Labour cannot offer hope (and given that the media hides the radical social justice message of the Greens) people will continue turning to the media-amplified UKIP message of hate to express their rage. A rage that is also bottled up in those Trident weapons: rage transmuted through magical thinking into an assertion of power that makes a societies powerlessness visible for all but themselves to see.
The English are exceptional, and in that are no different to any other people.
Disentangling the everyday feeling – of people, places, music, stories – that being English feels like, disentangling this from the learnt BritEnglish empire mentality, is not a small task, but it’s one decolonising people all over the world have to undertake, or else they continue being ruled by their old masters in new guises.
The magical charm may now cost £200 billion and rising, but it is still just a magical charm, whose only power is to disempower whoever possesses it.