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Do We Ever Support Military Coups ?

D 20 février 2022     H 06:00     A Drew Povey     C 0 messages

Parliamentary democracy is now seen as the best way to rule countries. But this acceptance of democracy by the capitalist ruling class is a relatively new development. In the 19th century the British ruling class had a long fight against extending the vote to poor people. It was only in the middle of the 20th century that women were allowed to vote in France, for example. Even later, democracy was extended to the colonies, often only after they had gained independence.

Military coups are generally frowned upon as the reaction to the recent coups in West Africa have shown. Opposition has come from the governments of the industrialised countries, but also the leaders of ECOWAS, perhaps just to protect themselves against their own armies.

Parliamentary democracy has been shown to be useful in maintaining capitalism. The corrupt global ruling elite like to hide behind the fig leaf of democracy to disguise their naked control of events. But where necessary, they are prepared to accept dictatorships as with the case of Saudi Arabia or Paul Biya in the Cameroon and other African dictators.

Similarly, military coups are accepted as a preferable alternative to socialism or anarchy. In Africa military coups are a safety net or opposition of last resort for the local ruling class when a ‘democratic’ government is not acting in their interests. In Mali and Burkina Faso the military moved in when the previous governments demonstrated that they were unable to defeat the Islamic Fundamentalists, and so maintain the peace and protect the wealth of the local ruling class.

But this is not only the case in Africa. In 1982 Chris Mullin, who went on to become a Labour member of parliament, wrote the novel A Very British Coup. This imagines what may happen when a left wing leader becomes Prime Minister of Britain. More recently, in 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn could have become Prime Minister, a senior serving general in the British army warned that such a government could face "a mutiny" from the Army. He said that Generals would not ’allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of the UK’.

We need to be clear about the role of the armed forces. They are not here to protect the people. They have always been used to protect the ruling class from the poor majority of the population. A socialist government would have to totally reorganise the security forces to provide dependable allies.

Similarly, we should never call for a strengthening of the security forces nor demand that they are used more effectively against so called terrorists. Such misguided faith in the army can only make military coups more likely, as in the case in Mali and Burkina Faso. At the very least, as a reaction to the Lekki massacre, for example, we need to demand that soldiers return to barracks and are never used on the streets of our cities. We also need to demand that the Air Force is never used to bomb Nigerians (see : https://socialistlabour.com.ng/2021/05/11/how-can-we-address-insecurity-do-aerial-bombardments-have-any-role/ ).

The occasional progressive military coup, most clearly in the case of Thomas Sankara, should not change our views on the armed forces and opposition to military involvement in politics. We should always be opposed to coups and never support the army. There is no alternative or short-cut to socialism. Socialism can only come through the working class taking power in their own work places. Socialism cannot arrive through a coup or even an alliance between the workers party and progressive officers within army (and such ‘progressive’ officers are far less common these days as the left is so weak). We will need to split the army to take and maintain power. We need the progressive soldiers to come over to our side to protect the workers and the government from the reactionary leadership of the army. The transition to socialism has to be led by the working class itself – we will have to call for the soldiers to join our side and be under the discipline of the workers party.

Many local people may, understandably, support the military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso. But this support is unlikely to be maintained as the continued protests in Sudan against their murderous military have shown. Insecurity is caused by poverty, inequality and corruption. These issues have to be addressed – there is no short-cut. The US army was defeated in Afghanistan, the French army is being pushed out of Mali after failing since 2014, similarly the Nigerian army have been unable to defeat Boko Haram and are no more successful against ‘bandits’.

Drew Povey,
Socialist Labour, Nigeria,