In this article Roger Silverman briefly considers the issue of attempts to undermine a left-leaning Corbyn government.
Chris Mullins’ novel “A Very British Coup” does draw an authentic picture of the underhand practices of the British state, perfected over centuries of colonial rule. After all, most of the world’s current and historic trouble spots are the direct legacy of the British Empire – in Ireland, the Middle East, Cyprus, the Indian sub-continent, etc. – and its time-honoured tactic of divide and rule.
It has been argued that financial pressure could be enough to destabilise a left Labour government. However, it could be a serious mistake to rule out more direct alternatives. The point is that whether the attempted overthrow of such a government can be carried through by economic destabilisation alone, or whether it would require an outright military takeover, depends not on national traditions – not on “very British” traditions rather than a product of the hot-blooded Latin temperament – but on the morale, combativity and resistance of the working population. Economic sabotage alone was not enough to depose Allende, and it remains to be seen whether or not it will be enough to remove a left government in Britain.
The fact is that military threats – overt or covert – have periodically been deployed in British history, from the Curragh mutiny in 1914 to threatening manoeuvres and tentative coup plots under even mildly reformist Labour government in the 1960s and 1970s, to say nothing of the use of torture, blackmail and assassination in Northern Ireland. There have also in more recent times been some highly suspicious deaths and poisonings of prominent left-wingers and potential embarrassments to the establishment. Rather than dismiss these incidents as fanciful “conspiracy theory”, let’s remember that such devices are the normal stock in trade of any state’s intelligence and security forces.
Rather than rule out in advance the possibility of a coup, it would be more accurate to argue that a Corbyn government would be a government of genuine and radical reforms, more like Allende’s Popular Unity government in Chile. And as we saw under that government, every dirty trick imaginable would be brought into play to overthrow it. When a Labour government was elected in 1964 on a programme of very mild reforms, Harold Wilson accused big business of conducting a “strike of capital”, and his economics minister George Brown denounced “the gnomes of Zurich”. In today’s far more critical conditions of chronic stagnation, investment is already at a standstill, and the value of the pound has already fallen sharply. The consequences of Brexit will certainly be far sharper devaluation and disinvestment.
This would be only the very start. A Corbyn government would be undermined from the very beginning by economic sabotage, fabricated scandals, royal diversions, racist hysteria, foreign wars, assassinations and terrorist outrages (both by racist and Islamist fascists, each of which plays into the others’ hands, committed as the security services look the other way, or even if necessary as fully-fledged false flag operations).
And when the time comes, we can’t rule out outright military conspiracies. A coup would only be the very last resort of the ruling class. However, in 1966, even under the mildly reformist government of Harold Wilson, a serious conspiracy was underfoot to impose a royalist coup d’etat under Earl Mountbatten. More seriously, under the subsequent Labour government in the 1970s (swept to power by the miners’ strike after an election called by the outgoing Tory prime minister over the question: “who rules Britain?”), there was a mushrooming of private armies; military manoeuvres were staged on the streets; and the media were openly debating the viability of a full-scale military coup along the lines of Pinochet’s in Chile. In that crucial and decisive period of turmoil, Labour must be prepared theoretically, politically, and practically.