Brexiteer bluster and the UK’s humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan have exposed the deluded fantasies of jingoistic Tories and the weaknesses of British imperialism. The ruling class is increasingly impotent and losing control.
A number of crises are converging for British imperialism. The economic and political consequences of Brexit, the pandemic, and over a decade of austerity have been compounded by the humiliating defeat in Afghanistan.
The incompetency of the ruling class, and a growing public anger at failed foreign intervention, is relegating Britain to a third-rate power. These crises find their roots in the long-term decline of British capitalism.
British imperialism reached its peak in the British Empire, once spanning almost a quarter of the planet’s land mass. It established the British ruling class as the masters of the world economy.
The British imperialists used this position to dictate trade conditions to the less developed nations, expanding their markets through brutal repression and exploitation.
To secure these profits, the ruling class required a formidable military machine. The British army and particularly the navy were a powerful force that once ‘ruled the waves’.
After the first and second world wars, however, Britain became a second-rate power behind the likes of the United States, Germany, and, more recently, China. World trade was restructured through the Bretton Woods system to enrich the US ruling class.
The British ruling class was found clinging to the coattails of American imperialism, allying with the US against the Soviet bloc.
This role of obedient poodle to US imperialism later led Britain into a whole host of disastrous wars, from Afghanistan to Iraq.
This is the essence of the ‘special relationship’ – itself a vivid demonstration of Britain’s decline on the world stage.
The repeated failure of the British ruling class to re-cement their dominant world position has also found its reflection in the degeneration of their political representatives.
Rather than being trustworthy representatives of the ruling class, the Tory Party is now full to the brim with deluded patriots and rabid racists, who yearn for a return to a golden era of British capitalism. This, however, is a reactionary, utopian fantasy.
Brexit is a perfect indication of how the ruling class have lost control of their main political representatives. Narrow political concerns, whipped up jingoism and xenophobia, and a generous helping of British exceptionalism, have come together in a combustible cocktail that is in direct contradiction with the interests of the dominant wing of the capitalist class.
By leading the UK out of the European Union, the Tories effectively removed a key – profitable – market for big business and the City.
Along with the impact of the pandemic, this has only exacerbated the crisis and decline of British capitalism.
Intervention and adventures
The decline of British capitalism – and thus of British imperialism – finds its reflection in the diminishing public support for military intervention and imperialist adventures abroad.
In 2001, 68% of the UK public were in favour of military intervention, compared to only 31% now. A similar trend can be seen with the criminal war in Iraq. From 2003-2015 public approval for the war fell from 54% to 37%.
Public support for military intervention is only continuing its downwards trend. A combined total of 504 British soldiers died in Iraq and Afghanistan, alongside at least 250,000 civilians in both wars, making people question whether it was all worth it.
In the past, the ruling class could always rely on whipping up nationalistic and jingoistic sentiment – for example, over trivial questions like famous figures wearing poppies (or not).
But we can see that this flag-waving tactic is starting to wear thin with the public – and indeed has even backfired in the case of the Tories attacking England footballers for taking the knee at the Euro finals earlier this year.
Scandals and waste
At the same time, there is a severe crisis of morale within the army, due to austerity cuts to the armed forces, soldiers being forced to plug labour shortages, and a series of bullying and harassment scandals. The Tories, in other words, are dulling the blade of a once powerful weapon that they had at their disposal.
A recent report found that two thirds of women in the army have been subjected to sexual harassment and bullying. The problem has become so bad that army chiefs are struggling to keep a lid on these explosive scandals.
Tension is growing between Ministry of Defence (MoD) bureaucrats and Westminster MPs. A recent report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has stated that the MoD continually ‘fails to learn from its mistakes’. This was after uncovering another spending scandal, where £5.5 billion worth of taxpayers’ money was wasted on faulty armoured vehicles.
This only scrapes the surface of decades worth of bureaucratic mismanagement and waste, which in turn reveals starkly the decrepit state of the machinery and apparatus of British imperialism.
The crisis of British capitalism is clearly reflecting itself in the crisis of the establishment, its institutions, and its political representatives.
In the face of a deep economic catastrophe, the ruling class are struggling to maintain control of the situation. They are increasingly unable to rule in the way that they once did.
At its core, this is the product of the long-term decline of British – and global – capitalism: a system that will continue to rot until it is overthrown and replaced by the organised working class through socialist revolution.