Editorial: The killing of Lee Rigby

What is needed is a united working-class struggle against imperialism.

Proletarian writers

Subscribe to our channel

Proletarian writers

Subscribe to our channel

The killing of the young soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south-east London, on 22 May has exposed once again one of the big lies of contemporary bourgeois politics – namely, that imperialism’s bestial wars of aggression (be they in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali or wherever) are somehow necessary to keep us ‘safe from terrorism’ here in Britain.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it is almost a surreal exercise in doublespeak to hear the weasel words that are currently being delivered up for public consumption by the likes of David Cameron and Boris Johnson today, just as they were by the likes of Tony Blair before them, and to contrast their hysteria and hyperbole with the sobering warnings delivered up for their consumption by their intelligence services from the very start of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

In truth, the ruling class finds such desperate acts a small, even at times highly useful, price to pay in the service of their wider strategic objectives. Especially as such misguided actions so often play into their hands in any case – helping to cover their tracks as they battle to control key sources of fossil fuels, minerals and resources, to control the transportation routes for these resources, and to complete their encirclement of China, Russia, or any other countries that they take as their strategic adversaries.

We can understand the grief of Lee Rigby’s family and friends – it is the same grief as that experienced by countless millions of parents, wives, husbands, siblings, children and others at the loss of their loved ones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yugoslavia and every one of the innumerable countries to which imperialism has stretched, and continues to stretch, its bloody hand of aggression.

Cynical imperialist use of cannon fodder

Rigby’s death is indeed a tragedy for his family and friends. But he is not the completely innocent victim that is being cynically portrayed by the corporate media and bourgeois politicians. He was not merely a ‘drummer boy’; he was also a machine gunner, who ‘saw action’ in Helmand province, scene of some of the most intense and bitter fighting between US and British occupation troops and the patriotic Afghan resistance.

It is, however, a tragedy that, as in all imperialist wars that have ever been fought, the price is paid by young working-class men and mere boys. In Rigby’s case, he was the son of a cleaner and the stepson of a supermarket worker – sent to do the bosses’ bidding, against the interests of himself and his class.

As with the Christmas Day football reputedly played between British and German troops in the trenches of World War I, whose centenary will be ‘celebrated’ next year amidst an orgy of jingoism and chauvinism, there is something almost poignant in the reflection that both Rigby and one of his alleged killers were both reported to have been passionate supporters of Manchester United.

Who is responsible for the carnage?

How much more poignantly did Norman Bethune, the great Canadian communist and surgeon, writing in China in 1939, sum this up in his brilliant article, ‘Wounds’:

Any more? Four Japanese prisoners. Bring them in. In this community of pain, there are no enemies. Cut away that bloodstained uniform. Stop that haemorrhage. Lay them beside the others. Why, they’re alike as brothers! Are these soldiers professional man-killers? No, these are amateurs-in-arms. Workman’s hands. These are workers-in-uniform …

What is the cause of this cruelty, this stupidity? A million workmen come from Japan to kill or mutilate a million Chinese workmen. Why should the Japanese worker attack his brother worker, who is forced merely to defend himself? Will the Japanese worker benefit by the death of the Chinese? No, how can he gain?

Then, in God’s name, who will gain? Who is responsible for sending these Japanese workmen on this murderous mission? Who will profit from it? How was it possible to persuade the Japanese workman to attack the Chinese workman – his brother in poverty, his companion in misery?

Is it possible that a few rich men, a small class of men, have persuaded a million men to attack, and attempt to destroy, another million men as poor as they? So that these rich may be richer still? Terrible thought! How did they persuade these poor men to come to China? By telling them the truth?

No, they would never have come if they had known the truth. Did they dare to tell these workmen that the rich only wanted cheaper raw materials, more markets and more profit? No, they told them that this brutal war was ‘The destiny of the race’, it was for the ‘Glory of the emperor’, it was for the ‘Honour of the state’, it was for their ‘King and country’.

False. False as hell!

The agents of a criminal war of aggression, such as this, must be looked for like the agents of other crimes, such as murder, among those who are likely to benefit from those crimes. Will the 80 million workers of Japan, the poor farmers, the unemployed industrial workers – will they gain? In the entire history of the wars of aggression, from the conquest of Mexico by Spain, the capture of India by England, the rape of Ethiopia by Italy, have the workers of those ‘victorious’ countries ever been known to benefit?

No, these never benefit by such wars. Does the Japanese workman benefit by the natural resources of even his own country ..? Long ago he ceased to possess that natural wealth. It belongs to the rich, the ruling class. The millions who work those mines live in poverty. So how is he likely to benefit by the armed robbery of the gold, silver, iron, coal and oil from China? Will not the rich owners of the one retain for their own profit the wealth of the other? Have they not always done so? …

Are wars of aggression, wars for the conquest of colonies, then, just big business? Yes, it would seem so, however much the perpetrators of such national crimes seek to hide their true purpose under banners of high-sounding abstractions and ideals. They make war to capture markets by murder; raw materials by rape. They find it cheaper to steal than to exchange; easier to butcher than to buy.

This is the secret of war. This is the secret of all wars. Profit. Business. Profit. Blood money.

Behind all stands that terrible, implacable God of Business and Blood, whose name is Profit. Money, like an insatiable Moloch, demands its interest, its return, and will stop at nothing, not even the murder of millions, to satisfy its greed. Behind the army stand the militarists. Behind the militarists stand finance capital and the capitalist. Brothers in blood; companions in crime.

What do these enemies of the human race look like? Do they wear on their foreheads a sign so that they may be told, shunned and condemned as criminals? No. On the contrary. They are the respectable ones. They are honoured. They call themselves, and are called, gentlemen.

What a travesty on the name, Gentlemen! They are the pillars of the state, of the church, of society. They support private and public charity out of the excess of their wealth. They endow institutions. In their private lives they are kind and considerate. They obey the law, their law, the law of property.

But there is one sign by which these gentle gunmen can be told. Threaten a reduction on the profit of their money and the beast in them awakes with a snarl. They become ruthless as savages, brutal as madmen, remorseless as executioners.

Such men as these must perish if the human race is to continue. There can be no permanent peace in the world while they live. Such an organisation of human society as permits them to exist must be abolished.

These men make the wounds.

Our tasks in Britain

Whilst we fully support the heroic Afghan resistance, and all those forces fighting arms in hand, or by whatever means, against imperialist occupation and aggression around the world, we have to be clear as to what our tasks are at this stage of our struggle in Britain.

We have to build a genuine communist party in struggle, one able to mobilise all sections of the working class from whatever background; and one that will be capable of frustrating the imperialist war machine at home by an active strategy of non-cooperation.

If we refuse to fight in imperialist wars for profit or help with their logistics; if we refuse to broadcast imperialist propaganda in support of such wars; if we refuse to make or transport munitions or supplies, then the British war effort will collapse.

This means supporting those courageous soldiers, like Joe Glenton and Ben Griffin, who have already taken this step. Two of the conditions for membership laid down by the Communist International in 1919 are highly instructive in this regard:

A particularly marked and clear attitude on the question of the colonies and oppressed nations is necessary on the part of the communist parties of those countries whose bourgeoisies are in possession of colonies and oppress other nations.

Every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International has the obligation of exposing the dodges of its ‘own’ imperialists in the colonies, of supporting every liberation movement in the colonies [u]not only in words but in deeds[/u], of demanding that their imperialist compatriots should be thrown out of the colonies, of cultivating in the hearts of the workers in their own country a truly fraternal relationship to the working population in the colonies and to the oppressed nations, and of carrying out systematic propaganda among their own country’s troops against any oppression of colonial peoples …

Every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International has the obligation to give unconditional support to every soviet republic in its struggle against the forces of counter-revolution. [u]The communist parties must carry out clear propaganda to prevent the transport of war material to the enemies of the soviet republics. They must also carry out legal or illegal propaganda, etc, with every means at their disposal among troops sent to stifle workers’ republics.[/u]” (Emphasis added)

Individualist actions, such as the killing of Lee Rigby, hinder, and do not help, the furtherance of such noble tasks.

Moreover, by further dividing the working class, by fanning the flames of racism and islamophobia (reported incidents have increased ten-fold in the last few days), by breathing new life into fascist outfits such as the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP), and, most especially, by handing to the state on a plate the perfect excuse for the introduction of yet more repressive legislation, and the further erosion of democratic rights, such actions in fact serve a deeply reactionary purpose.

It is by no means coincidental that the apologists for such actions, and the milieu in which the alleged perpetrators moved, a lurid web of honey-trap operations, fronted by deceptive demagogues, often self-described as ‘preachers’, is precisely the one that has also spawned so much of the counter-revolutionary terrorists and rats of Libya, Syria and elsewhere, whose gruesome atrocities are aided, abetted, lauded and funded by the likes of Cameron, William Hague, and Britain’s various military and intelligence services.

Viewed against this background, it should therefore come as little surprise to thinking workers that the two alleged assailants were long since ‘known to the intelligence services’ and that at least one of them had been approached to work for MI5. The New York Times reported “a growing sense that inquiries into Mr Rigby’s death are likely to delve into the murky world of the security agencies and their dealings with islamic extremists”.

The international working-class movement has long experience of agents provocateur and of ‘false-flag’ operations. In the vicious climate of reaction that has been stirred up, we should be on our guard.