Just eight days into Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party leadership, and four and a half years before the next general election, a serving army general has already threatened a mutiny against a Corbyn Labour government.
“The Army just wouldn’t stand for it”, the un-named general told the Sunday Times on 20 September. “The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.
“There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny”.
The Daily Mail also puffed the threat.
More sober right-wing voices were more cautious. Right-wing Tory MEP Daniel Hannan described the general as an “idiot”. The Ministry of Defence effectively conceded that the quote was genuine, and said it was unacceptable for a serving officer to make such political comments.
But the ministry refused to inquire into which general had made the mutiny threat, on the grounds that with over a hundred serving generals it would be too difficult to find which one had spoken.
As if a military coup threat were so small a thing that it’s not worth investigating even when the suspects are already narrowed down to a hundred or so.
This sort of thing has happened before. In 1980, army chief of staff Michael Carver admitted in a debate that in February 1974, when a very moderate Labour government ousted the Tories in an election amidst high class struggle: “Fairly senior officers were ill-advised enough to make suggestions that perhaps, if things got terribly bad, the army would have to do something about it”.
In March 1914, army officers at the Curragh camp, the main British military base in what was then British-ruled Ireland, declared they would refuse orders to move against armed Protestant-Unionists who might defy and obstruct the law granting Home Rule to Ireland then about to pass through the British parliament.
In July 1912, Tory leader Andrew Bonar Law, leading a campaign against the Home Rule Bill, had already declared: “There are things stronger than parliamentary majorities”.
The Liberal government which was passing the Home Rule Bill retreated, saying that orders transmitted to the Curragh had been garbled. The armed forces’ chief of staff, and not the mutineers, was forced to resign. The Home Rule Act became law on 18 September; but the government gladly shelved it on grounds of the First World War which had broken out in August, and the 1914 Act was never implemented.
For now, the threat of military mutiny is a ploy to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, to foster panic, to nurture right-wing Labour revolts against Corbyn, and to lay the basis for “softer” sabotage of a Corbyn Labour government (use of the House of Lords and the monarchy and courts, bureaucratic obstruction, economic sabotage, etc.)
But, in the longer term, it is a real threat. The answer? There are things strong than military mutinies, too. Like mass working-class mobilisation, democratic workers’ self-defence, and democratic organisation of the rank and file in the army to check the hierarchy.