Socialist Democracy statement on the war in Ukraine
Stop the War
No to NATO
No to Putin
28 February 2021
Demonstrators hold signs 'No war!', in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be opposed by socialists and the wider labour movement. It has brought suffering to working class people in the two countries directly involved and heightened the risk of a clash between nuclear armed states that threatens the whole of humanity.
However, it must also be recognised that the attack on Ukraine comes in the wake of a long period of aggressive and provocative actions directed against Russia by the United States and its allies. The most immediate of these was the US and EU sponsored coup in Ukraine in 2014 which saw the installation of an ultra-nationalist and virulently anti-Russian government. Openly neo-Nazi groups played a key role in the street agitation that accompanied the coup and were later integrated into the Ukrainian Armed forces as units and battalions. It is these military formations that led – and continue to lead - the offensive against the ethnically Russian populated regions in the east of Ukraine. An agreement in 2015 – the Minsk II Accords - that formed the grounds for a ceasefire and which should have led to restoration of Ukrainian control over its border with Russia and also greater autonomy for the eastern regions – was never fully implemented. In the period since then the US and its European allies have provided substantial armaments and training to Ukraine’s armed forces including those formations linked to far-right political organisations. Successive Ukrainian governments – with the encouragement of the most hawkish political elements in the west – have called for the country to join the NATO military alliance. The current president of Ukraine recently called for the county not only to become a NATO member but for advanced missile systems – including nuclear weapons – to be located on its territory. This scenario - in which NATO arms are moving up to the borders of Russia – can only be seen as a precursor to war. While the decision by Putin to invade Ukraine is in purely in the interests of the Russian state and the oligarchy, and is in contempt of both the Ukrainian and Russian masses, the threats posed by NATO to Russia and to global peace should not be dismissed.
The war in Ukraine is part of a much longer process that has been going on since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This period has seen a major imperialist offensive by the US as it seeks to maintain its position as the leading world power. A central feature of this drive has been the increasing reliance by the US on military force. This has seen the US directly engaged in a number of wars including the Persian Gulf (1990/91); Bosnia (1995); Kosovo (1999); Afghanistan (2001-2021); Iraq (2003-present); Libya (2011) and Syria (2017 - present). During this period the US and its allies have pursued a strategy of military encirclement in relation to Russia and China that has seen the eastwards extension of NATO and a build-up of military forces in the South China Sea. The objective of this strategy is to subordinate these regions of the world to the will of US imperialism and to prevent any other state or combination of states emerging as a potential rival. Another objective is to bring allies in Europe and Asia more closely under its leadership. The US has made no secret of this and it has been set out in detail by think tanks such as the Project for the New American Century. While closely associated with the Bush Administration its blueprint has also been followed by those that came after. This includes Donald Trump who – despite his maverick image - was completely at one with the so-called neo-cons on China. Joe Biden – with his pledge to restore American leadership – is more of the same.
While the Putin regime in Russia currently finds itself in conflict with the US that does not make it an imperialist rival. Its economy is much less developed and is largely dependent on energy exports. What industry it does possess has largely been inherited from the Soviet Union. It does have a powerful military but in geo-political terms it is no more than a regional power seeking to exert influence on neighbouring states.
Neither is it anti-imperialist. Putin’s regime is thoroughly capitalist with its strongest base of support among the oligarchs who looted the economy in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather than challenging US imperialism it has constantly sought to cut deals with it. Putin does not want to recreate the Soviet Union. The ideology of the regime is Russian chauvinism. In an address preceding the invasion of Ukraine Putin blamed the Bolsheviks support for the rights of nationalities as one of the causes of the current crisis. The Putin regime is thoroughly reactionary and anti-working class. This was shown most recently in January of this year when Russian troops were sent into Kazakhstan to help quell a workers’ revolt.
Ireland has not been untouched by the imperialist drive over the past thirty years. While it has a long tradition of scaremongering over Russia and support for US imperialism this has increasingly moved from the rhetorical to the practical. The most visible demonstration of this practical support for imperialism has been the use of Shannon Airport by the US military since the invasion of Iraq. In that time, it has become a major transit hub for US arms and personnel particularly for those enroute to the Middle East. The Irish state’s official policy of military neutrality was always very weak but today is non-existent as it actively colludes in the US led war drive. This will become even more explicit as the Irish government pushes for the constitutional fig leaf to be dropped and for Ireland to formally partner with NATO.
There is an old socialist adage that at time of conflict the main enemy is always at home. This is just as true today. It is easy to rage against Russia but it is more difficult to oppose one’s own government particularly over something as fundamental as war.
Class independence is key. We rightly admire people in Russia who are protesting against Putin. Shouldn’t we be following their example by challenging Ireland’s own role in this war. What more effective means is there of stopping war than preventing your own state from collaborating in it? This is the authentic anti-war position which stands in stark contrast to the liberal handwringing - which amounts to little more that backhanded support for the interests of US imperialism - that we have become accustomed to.
Anti-war activists should also take a strong stance on the rights of refugees. The EU’s record on asylum seekers and refugees is a poor one and already there are signs that its policy on refugees from Ukraine is being racialised. We saw a sample of this last year with the attempts of Syrian and Afghan refugees to enter the EU from Belarus being blocked by the erection of fences and the deployment of thousands of military personnel by Poland. There are currently reports that "non-whites" who are fleeing the war in Ukraine are being prevented from crossing the EU frontier.
We don’t know for certain how the war in Ukraine will play out, whether there will be a negotiated settlement or a prolonged conflict. Even if there is an agreement - as there was before - it is unlikely to last. The crisis over Ukraine has given us a glimpse of an appalling potential future in which a nuclear war breaks out and the masses are conscripted to fight. All the elements are now in place for this to occur.
If this is to be avoided the working class will have to fight for a future free from capitalism and free from the imperialist wars that arise from it. “Workers of the world unite” is another old slogan that has never been more relevant or urgent.