By Rhodri Evans (in the Workers Liberty paper Solidarity)
A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.
The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.
So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.
But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.
And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.
The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.
And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.
The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.
Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.
The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.
It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.
All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.
The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.
It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).
But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.
“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.
Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.
Now Corey Oakley, in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag, which comes from the same political culture as the SWP, criticises “leftists [for whom] ‘imperialism’ simply means the US and its Saudi and Israeli allies.
“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…
“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.
“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…
“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).
The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.
On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.
The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.
The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.
Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.
As ever, with a reblogged article, please do not assume that all of us at Shiraz agree with all the contents of this piece, which first appeared on the Australian GreenLeft discussion group:
Above: the US Answer anti-war coalition last year on Syria: what do they say now?
“Anti-imperialists” protesting US war on Iraq?
By Michael Karadjis
For days now, the US military has been launching air strikes against the reactionary Sunni-fascist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS, or just IS now) in Iraq. Yet, strangely, not only have I not seen any evidence of anti-war demonstrations, or organising for them, I have also not seen the entire faux-“left” cybersphere full of fulminating attacks on US imperialist intervention, with everyone repeating and slightly re-wording the same half-baked, evidence-free article, like we saw last August during the alleged build-up to an entirely imaginary US attack on the reactionary, secular-fascist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.
The geopolitics is of course interesting. While the Syrian regime of Assad barely fired a shot at ISIS for an entire year (and vice versa), and instead both focused on crushing the Free Syrian Army (FSA, and its more moderate Islamist allies, and also Jabhat al-Nusra), often even directly and blatantly collaborating against the FSA, and in oil deals, and “the West”, forever refusing to send even a bullet to the FSA under the bullshit rubric that such arms “might get into the hands of extremists”, even though for the whole year, the only force in the entire region (apart from the Kurds) that were actually fighting ISIS (the worst extremists) were the FSA and its allies (and indeed are still furiously resisting ISIS in Syria right now); well now that the US is bombing ISIS, and bolstering and arming Assad’s ally, the sectarian-Shia regime of Maliki, so now the Assad regime and ISIS have also FINALLY come to blows! What an amazing coincidence!
Anyway, let’s try to figure out some differences for anti-war western leftists.
Perhaps we should only oppose US interventions when they are just a figment of our imaginations, as opposed to ones that are actually happening in our face.
Perhaps we should only oppose imaginary US interventions when the US shows that it is impossible to intervene without going around in a whole lot of circles like countless committee meetings, taking a war proposal to Congress for the first time in half a century etc, whereas when the US shows that you can order air strikes without all that pretense, then it is OK.
Perhaps it should depend on the degree of imaginary “anti-imperialism” of the reactionary tyrants under real or imaginary US attack. So apparently, since the Syrian Baath regime has collaborated with US imperialism for decades, right up to the rendition and torture program of “terror” suspects on behalf of the US in very recent times, and slaughtered Palestinians and their camps and organisations and militants with a passion rivalling the Zionist regime, we should defend such a well-intentioned regime, whereas a regime like ISIS which is totally, fundamentally anti-imperialist to the core (I don’t use that as a compliment, rather it is a neutral statement), then we should not oppose a US attack.
Perhaps we should look at who has done the most slaughtering. Both of course are monstrous tyrants to the core and neither has any redeeming feature whatsoever. But since ISIS has probably killed several thousand, and Assad has pretty much levelled every city in Syria, turned the whole country to rubble, killed over 100,000 people to be generous, tortured tens of thousands to death in medieval dungeons, bombed hospitals and schools with a fury rivalling Israel in Gaza, and at that very time, last August, had bombed hundreds of children in their sleep with chemical weapons, of course we should defend only Assad, not ISIS.
Perhaps someone could offer some other suggestions.
This is part one of a brilliant 1964 BBC series on WW1. It contains the best archive film then available, and is narrated by Michael Redgrave. It gives due emphasis to the socio-political background to the conflict, including the role of the labour movement. Well worth watching the whole series if you have the time:
H/t James Bloodworth
Coatesy has some interesting stuff on France’s entry to WW1 here
[Please note that I shall be incommunicado for the next week or so. I'm hoping Rosie and/or one or two other occasional Shirazers will step into the breach while I'm away, but if not normal service will resume on my return - JD]
By Dale Street (first published by Workers Liberty)
Sam Williams has written 16,000 words to claim that Russia is not imperialist, even when its tanks are rolling through other nations.
He describes the old Stalinist states “the former socialist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” In those days there was “no true Soviet imperialism”, claims Williams, because “wealth was not accumulated in the form of capital, and therefore not in the form of finance capital — there was not a single kopeck of finance capital.” Any other view is down to “imperialist Western propaganda and its bought and paid-for historians.”
And Russia retains its non-imperialism even after it has unambiguously reverted to capitalism. “Has the military-feudal imperialism of pre-1917 Russia been restored?” asks Williams. No, it’s not feudal. (But it was not the feudal residues in Tsarist Russia which made Marxists of the time classify it as imperialist. It was its domination and exploitation of other nations).
“What about a modernised Russian imperialism based on the rule of monopoly capitalism and finance capital?” He rejects this argument as well: Russia is “very poor in finance capital. … (Therefore) today’s Russia is very far indeed from becoming an imperialist country.”
This is really just a re-run of Williams’s denial of Stalinist imperialism. There was no finance capital in Stalin’s USSR, and therefore no Stalinist imperialism. Today’s Russia is “very poor” in finance capital, and therefore there is no Russian imperialism.
However, Williams’s equation of “imperialist” with “rich in finance capital” obliges him to classify Taiwan, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and New Zealand as imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »
Ernest Mandel once proposed that World War Two should be seen as, simultaneously, an inter-imperialist dispute and an anti-fascist struggle. The two elements are difficult to disentangle, even in retrospect, but both should be recognised and, insofar as we can, distinguished between. D-Day was, I’d contend, indubitably part of the anti-fascist struggle. The young workers who fought and died then, and the dwindling band of elderly survivors, deserve our profound respect and gratitude.
Max Hastings (yes, I know he’s a Tory, but he’s also a damned good military historian), wrote in his superb book on WW2, All Hell Let Loose (Harper Press 2011):
Meticulous planning and immense armaments promised Overlord‘s success, but the hazards of weather and the skill of the German army fed apprehension in many British and American breasts. The consequences of failure must be appalling: civilian morale would plummet on both sides of the Atlantic; senior commanders would have to be sacked and replaced; the presige of the Western Allies, so long derided by Stalin for feebleness, would be grievously injured, likewise the authority of Roosevelt and Churchill. Even after three year’s attrition in the east, the German army remained a formidable fighting force. It was vital that Eisenhower should confront von Rundstedt’s sixty divisions in the west with superior combat power. Yet the invaders were supported by such a vast logistical and support ‘tail’ that, even when they reached their maximum strength in 1945, they would deploy only sixty American and twenty British and Canadian combat divisions. Air power, together with massive armoured and artillery strength, was called upon to compensate for inadequate infantry numbers.
For the young men who made the assault on 6 June 1944, however, such grand truths meant nothing: they recognised only the mortal peril each one must face, to breach Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. The invasion began with drops by one British and two American airborne divisions on the night of5 June. The landings were chaotic but achieved their objectives, confusing the Germans and securing the flanks of the assault zone; paratroopers engaged enemy forces wherever they encountered them with an energy worthy of such elite formations.
Sgt. Mickey McCallum never forgot his first firefight, a few hours after landing. A German machine-gunner mortally wounded the man next to him, Private Bill Atlee. McCullum asked Attlee ‘if he was hit bad’. The soldier replied, ‘I’m dying Sergeant Mickey, but we’re going to win this damn war, aren’t we? You damn well A we are.’ McCallum did not know where Atlee hailed from, but thought his choice of words suggested an east coast man. He was passionately moved that this soldier, in his last moments, thought of the cause rather than himself. In the hours and days that followed, many other such young men displayed similar spirit and were obliged to make a matching sacrifice. At dawn on 6 June, six infantry divisions with supporting armour struck the beaches of Normandy across a thirty-mile front; one Canadian and two British formations landed on the left, three American divisions on the right.
Operation Overlord was the greatest combined operation in history. Some 5,300 ships carried 150,000 men and 1,500 tanks, scheduled to land in the first wave, supported by 12,000 aircraft. On the French coast that morning, a drama unfolded in three dimensions such as the world would never behold again, British and Canadian troops poured ashore at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches, exploiting innovative armoured technology to overwhelm the defences, many of them manned by Osttruppen of Hitler’s empire. ‘I was the first tank coming ashore and the Germans started opening up with machine-gun bullets,’ said Canadian Sgt. Leo Gariepy. ‘But when we came to a halt on the beach, it was only then that they realized we were a tank when we pulled down our canvas skirt, the flotation gear. Then they saw we were Shermans.’ Private Jim Cartwright of the South Lancashires said, ‘As soon as I hit the beach I wanted to get away from the water. I think I went across the beach like a hare.’
The Americans seized Utah, the elbow of the Cherbourg peninsula, with only a small loss. ‘You know, it sounds kind of dumb, but it was just like an exercise,’ said a private soldier wonderingly. ‘We waded ashore like kids in a crocodile and up the beach. A couple of shells came over but nowhere near us. I think I even felt somehow disappointed, a little let down.’ Further east at Omaha beach, however, Americans suffered the heaviest casualties of the day — more than eight hundred killed. The German defending unit , while no elite, was composed of better troops than those manning most of the Channel front, and kept up vigorous fire against the invaders. ‘No one was moving forward,’ wrote AP correspondent Don Whitehead. ‘Wounded men, drenched by cold water, lay in the gravel … “Oh God, lemme aboard the boat,” whimpered a youth in semi-delirium. Near him a shivering boy dug with bare fingers into the sand. Shells were bursting on all sides of us, some so close that they threw black water and dirt over us in showers.’
A private soldier wrote: ‘ There were men crying with fear, men defecating themselves. I lay there with some others, too petrified to move. No one was doing anything except lay there. It was like mass paralysis. I couldn’t see an officer. At one point something hit me on the arm. I thought I’d taken a bullet. It was somebody’s hand, taken clean off by something. It was too much.’ For half the morning, the Omaha assault hung on the edge of failure; only after several hours of apparent stalemate on the sands did small groups of determined men, Rangers notable among them, work their way up the bluffs above the sea, gradually overwhelming the defenders.
Statement from the AWL. This is important in view of the willingness, on the more ignorant sections of the neo-Stalinist left, to go along with Putin’s monstrous, hypocritical “anti-fascist” justification for Russian imperialism:
Accounts vary of the clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian nationalist groups in Odessa on 3 May, in which some 42 people were killed.
Some people say it started with an attack by militarised Russian and pro-Russian far-rightists on a peaceful Ukrainian nationalist demonstration. After that, “ultras” among the Ukrainian nationalists set out for the building where the pro-Russians had their headquarters.
Some say that it was a planned assault by far-right Ukrainian nationalists on pro-Russians who did no more than defend themselves.
Yet others suggest conspiracies. Maybe the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists and the far-right pro-Russians have a common interest in fomenting bloodshed which will irreparably split Ukraine. If it leads to the east being annexed by Russia, then the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists will have a better chance of influence in a rump Ukraine than if it stays united.
Maybe, so Ukrainian leftist Volodymyr Ishchenko suggests, “one of the reasons why all these protests in the Eastern Ukraine started now, and why they are so violent, is actually to halt the national elections in May — to postpone them and give [Yulia] Tymoshenko some time to gain more popularity among Ukrainians”.
Tymoshenko is way behind in the polls. Her pitch is Ukrainian nationalist. But she is also known to have had, and may still have, good relations with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Putin certainly wants to sabotage Ukraine’s presidential election due on 25 May. Maybe he also looks forward to a later election when Tymoshenko can win and then do a deal with Moscow.
None of the stories give any special trade-union significance to the fact that the building which the Ukrainian nationalists stormed was the trade-union headquarters in Odessa. It appears in all stories just as the big public building in the city (built in a time when the “trade unions” were just departments of the state administration) where the pro-Russians happened to have gathered.
Some structural facts, however, are evidenced enough to be clear even at a distance.
The local coups in the cities of east Ukraine are not just external Russian interference. There is little evidence of active popular resistance to them, for example by workers in the public buildings which have been seized.
We would, anyway, expect a base for pro-Russian sentiment. A large minority of the population, over 30% in some areas, is Russian. The cities are more Russian than the countryside. The east has voted more pro-Russian, in independent Ukraine’s elections, than the west.
The new Kiev government is distrusted everywhere, but more so in the east. People in eastern Ukraine will be reluctant to resist the pro-Russian coups not just out of fear, but also out of a wish to avoid supporting the new Kiev government, and a lack of any strong third alternative.
There are no reports of the local coups raising social demands, but it is plausible that some support accrues to them because of the social concerns of people in eastern Ukraine, worried that its old heavy industry will decline fast if Ukraine is more integrated into the world market.
The local coups also show evidence of being decisively shaped and led by people closely linked to the Russian government. They did not well up from mass protests about social or regional or language-group concerns, but started straight off with seizures of public buildings by armed groups.
The issue is not Russian-majority pockets near the Russian border, and a call for adjustment of the border. Putin has staked a claim to the whole of Novorossiya, which is a vast area of south and east Ukraine. Despite all the diversity within Ukraine, it has been a historically-defined nation for a long time. Ukraine’s right to self-determination is the central issue here, and can and must be defended without endorsing the ideas, or all the actions, of Ukrainian nationalists.
The Kiev government has put new laws for regional autonomy to the parliament, and promised to uphold the laws for Russian language rights introduced by Yanukovych, but in the east people seem to distrust the government that these measures change little.
Russia’s aim is to establish de facto control in the east so as to give Russia more options. Putin’s preference, probably, will be for a deal in which he agrees to reverse the local coups in return for strong influence over all Ukraine. Immediately, he wants obstruct and discredit the Ukrainian elections on 25 May and prevent a Kiev government gaining authority.
Volodymyr Ishchenko points out that “you have to understand that the political mainstream in the Ukraine is much further to the right than, for example, in Western Europe. Things which would receive very strong criticism in the West are more or less tolerable in the Ukraine. It’s more or less okay to talk about things like ‘the defense of white European people’; this kind of thing can even be said by mainstream politicians. It’s okay to be homophobic, not to recognize any need to defend LGBT people… The Right Sector and Svoboda [the Ukrainian-nationalist ‘ultras’] are being criticized because their violent and provocative actions are seen as something that can be used by Russia” [i.e. not really out of a leftish revulsion at their far-right bias].
This rightward tilt of the political spectrum is at least as true of eastern Ukraine as of western Ukraine. There are many reports of strong far-right forces within the pro-Russian coup-makers.
We cannot orient ourselves here by asking which side seems less right-wing, and especially not by taking Stalinist nostalgia as evidence of good left-wing resistance to right-wing Ukrainian nationalism. We can orient only by the fundamentals: Ukraine’s right to self-determination.
The Kiev government is in an impasse. It cannot mobilise the population of east Ukraine against the coup-makers. It cannot send in the Ukrainian army full-force, because that would rally people against it and open the way for a Russian invasion “to restore order”. Equally, it would like to be able to prevent the local referendums scheduled in some districts in east Ukraine for 11 May, on propositions as yet unclear, but amounting to some sort of secession. It remembers the Crimea referendum on which those gambits are modelled. It will condemn the new referendums as undemocratic, like the Crimea referendum, and it will be right, but that won’t help it gain a grip in the east.
So it tries an ineffectual middle way, moving against the coup-makers, but mildly and tentatively.
The US and the EU side with the Kiev government, but see no overriding interest in Ukraine, and (especially the EU) fear the effect on their own economies of even sharp economic sanctions against Russia. So Putin, sees Ukraine as a vital issue for which he will take risks, has the upper hand.
A way out of the impasse will require the Ukrainian left to mobilise Ukrainian workers, west and east, on socialist demands against the corruption and oligarchic inequality which people both east and west name as their main concern. Those socialist demands will be integrated with a democratic programme of national self-determination for Ukraine and full minority rights for Russians within Ukraine.
At present, though, the Ukrainian left is weak. As well as helping it as much as we can, we must also support the national self-determination of the whole Ukrainian people against Russia’s moves to grab territory, tacitly threaten invasion, and seek decisive influence over the whole country.
By Camila Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)
“[…] Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, “us”) and the strange (the Orient, the East, “them”).” (Said, 43)
Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1977) is a retort to his conceptualisation of a dual camp schema of the world called Orientalism, which effectively inverts this dual camp and with a method devoid of class politics. He opens his book with a quote by Karl Marx:
“They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.”
The tone is thus set for a necessary antidote to a paternalistic and patronising Western system of political representation and domination, of which Marxism is an inevitable part.
Said attributes Orientalism to three interdependent meanings: firstly, the academic discipline of Orientalism and its research on the Orient and the Occident; secondly, a particular style of thought that differentiates, ontologically (on the nature of being) and epistemologically (on the theory of knowledge), ‘the Orient’ and ‘the Occident’; and finally, commencing from around the late eighteenth century, the corporate institution that deals with the Orient “by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it” (Said, 3). With this threefold definition in mind, Said reviews Orientalism as a Western-style discourse employed first by British and French imperialisms and later by US imperialism, to dominate, restructure, and have authority over the Orient.
Orientalism is seen to be heavily imbued with geography, that is, imaginary spatial prejudices infused with power and exploitation, and a Western-centric notion of development and progress. Said goes as far as describing Orientalism as a delusion of exaggerated self-importance:
“Psychologically, Orientalism is a form of paranoia, knowledge of another kind, say, from ordinary historical knowledge. These are a few of the results, I think, of imaginative geography and of the dramatic boundaries it draws.” (Said, 72-73)
This paranoid form of knowledge, Said argues, ennobled British, French, and later US imperial projects:
“The important thing was to dignify simple conquest with an idea, to turn the appetite for more geographical space into a theory about the special relationship between geography on the one hand and civilized or uncivilized peoples on the other.” (Said, 216)
The following article, first published by Al Jazeera, should be drawn to the attention of those on the left who, throughout the Ukraine crisis, have been taken in by and/or parroted Putin’s hypocritical “anti fascist” rhetoric:
Is the Russian leadership formenting links with some European far-right parties?
By Halya Coynash
Ukraine’s main far-right party, VO Svoboda, has been dumped by its erstwhile European ultra-nationalist allies. It was dumped for Russia with whom the most virulently anti-Semitic, anti-migrant and far-right parties in France, Hungary and other EU countries are developing close ties. The Kremlin’s blossoming contacts with those parties, and the far-right roots of prominent pro-Russian activists in Ukraine do not deter Russia from claiming to be protecting Russian nationals from the anti-Semitic and fascist hordes who have allegedly seized control in Ukraine.
The claims have been refuted countless times and attempts to use anti-Semitism condemned by the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, prominent Jewish civic figures, academics and others. The UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights has rightly indicated that “misinformation, propaganda and incitement to hatred need to be urgently countered” but missed the point entirely about the source of it all.
Who is fascist?
Russia’s propaganda machine, and especially Russian-language TV channels are feeding not only the Russian audience, but also a significant number of Ukrainians with lies and manipulated reports. Images of a Crimean rabbi forced to leave for Kiev after condemning Russian intervention are presented as showing a rabbi forced to leave Ukraine because of mounting anti-Semitism.
Above: pro-Russian protesters storm the regional administration building in Kharkov
By Martin Thomas (at the Workers Liberty website)
On the weekend of 5-6 April pro-Russian crowds staged demonstrations in some cities of eastern Ukraine, and seized public buildings.
In Donetsk the demonstrators echoed events in Crimea by saying that they were constituting a new regional government and would organise a referendum on transferring Donetsk to Russia.
Are these justified protests by Ukraine’s Russian minority, strongest in the east, against Ukrainian chauvinist policies from the new government in Kiev?
Or are they operations fomented by the Russian government, using Russians crossing the border to join the protests, and the east-Ukrainian Russian minority? Operations whose core aim and function is to serve Russian foreign policy, for example by setting up clashes which will give Russian troops an excuse to invade?
The balance of evidence suggests they are mostly the second. The demonstrations do not emerge from a background of growing protest against specific policies and actions by the Kiev government disadvantaging Russian people in eastern Ukraine. Instead, they start immediately by seizing public buildings.
Without question there is a large Russian minority in eastern Ukraine (over 30% in some districts), and many Russians look to Russia.
Without doubt many in that Russian minority dislike the new government in Kiev. In that sense, an element of the depiction of the demonstrations as protests by an aggrieved minority is correct.
However, the broad historical facts which we know for sure are that Ukraine has been an oppressed nation, and mostly oppressed by Russia (Tsarist or Stalinist) for centuries; that for centuries also, Russians have come to Ukraine as imperial colonisers, Russian has been the language of the better-off and culturally-advantaged in Ukraine, and Ukrainian has been disdained as the “peasant language”; and that Putin’s government, keen to sustain Russia as a great power, has been striving to regain some of the reach of Tsarist and Stalinist imperialism (Chechnya, Georgia).
As contemporary evidence we have a large opinion poll conducted across Ukraine and Crimea on 14-26 March, with its results published on 5 April. The fieldwork was conducted by a Kiev-based agency (the “Rating Group”) and funded by the US Agency for International Development, so some bias can be suspected. However, it’s the evidence we have.
In the poll, only 12% of people in Ukraine and Crimea said “yes” or “to some degree” when asked whether Russian-speaking citizens were under threat. Only 29% of people who considered themselves ethnic Russians reckoned that Russian-speaking citizens were under threat, and only 17% of the population in eastern Ukraine had that view.
17% is a big enough minority to provide a base for spectacular demonstrations when the demonstrators know they have support from a neighbouring great power. It is not a democratic mandate for deciding the future of the area.
Only 13% (in Ukraine and Crimea combined) supported the “decision of the Russian Federation to send its army to protest Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine”. Only 14%, and only 26% in the east, were for the federal set-up in Ukraine which Putin demands.
When asked what should the new Kiev government’s priorities be, the big majority in the east as in the west said it should be tackling economic corruption. Only much smaller percentages mentioned minority rights or decentralisation.
27% of people across Ukraine emphatically did not support the Independence Square protests in Kiev which brought down Yanukovych. However, that 27% was a lower disapproval rating than the 33% recorded in February 2014, before the fall of Yanukovych.
In other words, it is not that people supported the movement against Yanukovych, but have recoiled on seeing the new government. On the contrary, some of those who supported or semi-supported Yanukovych to the end have switched sides after seeing Yanukovych flee to Russia and hearing more revelations about his corruption.
The theory that the overthrow of Yanukovych was produced by a surge of the far-right in Ukraine looks doubtful. The far-right Ukrainian chauvinist party Svoboda scores only 5% in the poll, as against 10% in the last elections; the vicious “Right Sector” group scores 1%.
The poll shows low levels of confidence in the Kiev government everywhere in Ukraine, and especially in the east. 50% expressed disapproval of the job the Parliament is doing, and 73% in the east.
That percentage, however, should be compared with 80% across the whole of Ukraine and Crimea who expressed disapproval of the job that Parliament was doing under Yanukovych, in September 2013.
It was not that Ukraine was jogging along fine under Russian hegemony until a far-right pro-EU conspiracy spoiled things. Rather, that the majority of Ukrainians resent both Russian aspirations to dominate, and the rule of Ukrainian oligarchs whether pro-Russian or Ukrainian-nationalist, and rightly doubt that the fall of Yanukovych has changed much about the oligarchic corruption.
The three principles on which Solidarity bases our attitude about Ukraine are:
• Ukraine is a nation historically oppressed by Russia which has the right to national self-determination. Russians living in Ukraine should enjoy democratic minority rights, but their rights cannot cancel the right to self-determination of the whole Ukrainian nation.
• We do not endorse the trade deal which the EU has got Ukraine to sign, and we demand that the Western governments give Ukraine real aid by cancelling its crippling debt to Western banks. But the immediate threat to Ukrainian political self-determination comes from Russia, invading Crimea, massing troops on Ukraine’s border, fomenting small coups in east-Ukrainian cities, and demanding Ukraine fit its constitution to Russian wishes.
• The oligarchs offer Ukraine a bleak, unequal future even if Ukraine manages to conserve its independence. Socialists internationally should back the Ukrainian left and labour movement in its efforts to create a force which can win real victories for the social demands which fuelled the Independence Square protests.
Such a force would provide a solid basis for uniting all workers in Ukraine, Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking, “ethnic”-Ukrainian and “ethnic”-Russian, west and east.
The highly dangerous situation in Ukraine has brought into focus the threat of a new cold war, and the possibility of military conflict. It is in the interests of no one for such military conflict to take place.
We oppose all foreign military intervention, and it is in that spirit that we now wish to clarify our position on the present crisis.
We take no lessons from those who have supported intervention in the past in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and who proposed major air strikes in Syria as recently as last August. Nor should we believe concerns about national sovereignty from countries which have launched drone attacks on Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.
There are many political differences in Ukraine that can only be resolved politically and by respecting the language and civil rights of all concerned.
The Stop The War Coalition recognises that in some of our previous statements we may have given the impression that Putin’s actions towards the Ukraine were justified and that, in any case, the job of any anti-war movement is to oppose only its own government’s wars. We now recognise that this was a mistake, and wish to put the record straight.
Firstly, the suggestion that the overthrow of the corrupt president Yanukovych was the work of US imperialism, rather than a genuine, democratic social revolt, was clearly wrong. Secondly, the repetition of Putin’s slander that the Ukraine protest movement and the interim government are dominated by fascists, whilst repeated in good faith by ourselves and many others on the left and the peace movement, has now been shown to be false.
We now call for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from areas close to Ukraine, no further annexations and an end to attempts to bully Ukraine back under Russian domination.
At the same time, we call on the West to act with restraint (in particular, to reject calls for any kind of military response), to cancel Ukraine’s debts and to encourage devolution of power within Ukraine.
These are the steps required in order to avoid a new cold war, a war which is against the interests of the people of the world, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere. The Stop The War Coalition apologises for any previous statements that may have suggested that we hold to any other agenda.