Many responses from the left to the Ukraine crisis have ignored, sidestepped, or downplayed the right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people.
Yet Ukraine is one of the longest-oppressed large nations in the world. In an article of 1939 where he raised Ukraine’s right to self-determination as an urgent question, Leon Trotsky wrote: “The Ukrainian question, which many governments and many ‘socialists’ and even ‘communists’ have tried to forget or to relegate to the deep strongbox of history, has once again been placed on the order of the day and this time with redoubled force”.
The same is true today. If the right of nations to self-determination is important anywhere, it is important in Ukraine. If the axiom that peace and harmony between nations is possible only through mutual recognition of rights to self-determination is valid anywhere, it is valid in Ukraine.
Only a few currents on the left side with Putin, and even those a bit shamefacedly: Counterfire and Stop The War, No2EU, the Morning Star.
Others propose a “plague on all houses” response. The US Socialist Worker (which used to be linked with the British SWP, but has been estranged from it, for unclear reasons, since 2001) puts it most crisply: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, neither Kiev nor Simferopol, but international socialism”.
For sure socialists side with Ukrainian leftists in their fight against the right-wing government in Kiev. But as between Ukraine being dominated by Moscow, and Ukraine being ruled by a government based in Kiev and among the people of Ukraine, our response should not be “neither… nor”. We support Ukraine’s national rights.
Nations’ right to self-determination does not depend on them having a congenial governments. The governments under which most of Britain’s colonies won independence were authoritarian and corrupt. The socialist who responded with the slogan “Neither London nor New Delhi”, or “Neither London nor Cairo”, or “Neither London nor Dublin”, would be a traitor.
The even-handed “plague on all houses” response also leads to a skewed picture of reality. Thus, the official statement from the SWP’s international network includes no call for Ukrainian self-determination, for Russian troops out, or for cancellation of Ukraine’s debt; but it declares:
“The anti-Russian nationalism that is strongest in western Ukraine has deep roots. Russia has dominated Ukraine since independence in 1991…” And for centuries before that!
“The memory of Russian oppression within the USSR is still vivid and reaches even earlier to the independence struggles of the first half of the 20th [century]”. Stalin’s deliberately-sustained mass famine in eastern Ukraine killed millions in 1932-3. There is a deep historical basis to Ukrainian nationalism in eastern Ukraine, and among Russian-speaking Ukrainians, as well as in the West.
“On the other side, many of the millions of Russian speakers identify with Russia”. And many don’t. On the evidence of the referendum in 1991, where 92% of the people, and at least 84% even in the most easterly regions, voted to separate from Russia, most do not.
“One of the first acts of the new Ukrainian government after the fall of Yanukovych was to strip Russian of its status as an official language. This encouraged mass protests in the east of the country”. The parliament voted to reverse the 2012 law making Russian an official language. That was undemocratic — and stupid. The new president vetoed the measure, and it was dropped. Even if passed, it would not have applied in Crimea. Russian had not been an official language in Ukraine (outside Crimea) between 1991 and 2012. The protests in the east (often violent, but not, by most reports, “mass”) were generated by Russian interference, not by the language question.
The “plague on all houses” response is an addled version of the “Third Camp” attitude which AWL has advocated on many issues; but a very addled version.
Usually the SWP argues for “two camps”. Really to oppose US imperialism and its allies, they say, you must to some degree support the US’s adversaries, whether it be the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Israel-Palestine, Saddam Hussein and then the sectarian Islamist “resistance” in Iraq, or Milosevic in Kosova. To do otherwise is to be “pro-imperialist”. Support for an independent working-class “third force”, against both the US and allies, and their reactionary opponents, is ruled out.
On Ukraine (as also on Syria) they break from that “two camps” approach, but to an approach which is more “no camp” than “third camp”. (The “no camp” stance has precedents in SWP history, in the wars for independence of Croatia and Bosnia, for example).
Our slogans of Russian troops out and cancelling Ukraine’s debt to the West seek to support the Ukrainian people as a “third camp”. We solidarise with the East European leftists who, on the LeftEast website, call for “the third position [opposed to both Yanukovych and the new Kiev regime]… namely a class perspective”, and appeals to Ukraine’s left “to form a third pole, distinct from today’s Tweedledums and Tweedledees… You are the only ones who can give meaning to the deaths and wounds of the [occupied square in Kiev]”.
Our position is defined primarily by its positive support for those “third poles” — the people of Ukraine, as against Putin’s troops or the IMF and Western government imposing neo-liberal measures; the working-class left in Ukraine, as against the oligarchs and the chauvinists. When we use negative “neither, nor” slogans, we use them as consequences, expressions, or summaries of that positive alignment; and they do not stop us assessing the other “poles” in the political situation in their varied realities.
The “no camp” stance, instead, offers only abstract ultimate aims (international socialism) as an evasion.
By James Bloodworth (reblogged from Left Foot Forward)
Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has just delivered his response in the House of Commons to foreign secretary William Hague’s statement on the crisis in Ukraine. The statements from both sides were fairly predictable – both condemned Russian provocations – but the Labour foreign secretary was right to press the government on what action it plans to take in order to pressure Russia into pulling back from Crimea. This was especially important considering the revelations yesterday evening that the coalition is seeking to protect the City of London from any punitive EU action against Russia.
But what about the rest of the British left? Well, here we find a wide range of positions, from the Stop the War Coalition’s apparent attempt to pin the entire blame for the Crimea affair on the West to Left Unity’s somewhat abstract and blanket opposition to “foreign military intervention” and “foreign political and economic intervention”.
The Labour Party
Douglas Alexander told the House of Commons that there could be “no justification for this dangerous and unprovoked military incursion”. In terms of resolving the crisis, he insisted that firm measures were needed to apply pressure to Russia, saying that the international community needed to “alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leaders by…making clear to the Russians the costs and consequences of this aggression”.
The shadow foreign secretary also mentioned the coalition’s apparent unwillingness to upset the City for the sake of Ukrainian territorial integrity, saying he was “afraid the United Kingdom’s words will count for little without more credence being given to these options and a willingness at least to countenance their use in the days and weeks ahead”.
Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire has written a lengthy 10-point post in which she tries to paint the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a rational response to NATO/EU provocations. There is a lot that’s wrong with the piece, and you could do worse than read this take down of German’s article in the Economist.
“Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture…Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and Nato have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’.”
Much clearer in its stance has been the Socialist Workers’ Party (surprisingly perhaps), which has condemned much of what has been taken as read by Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire as “Moscow propaganda”:
“Those who claim Yanukovych’s overthrow was a “fascist coup” are parroting Moscow propaganda. He fell because the section of the oligarchy who had previously backed him withdrew their support…Putin claims to be acting in defense of Ukraine’s Russian speakers—a majority in Crimea and widespread in southern and eastern Ukraine. But beyond a parliamentary vote in Kiev to strip Russian of its status as an official language, there is little evidence of any real threat to Russian speakers.” – Alex Callinicos, Socialist Worker
The Alliance of Workers’ Liberty has published a statement on its website from the University of Russian University Workers, which is unequivocal in its denunciation of Russian aggression:
“Declaration of the central council of the ‘University Solidarity’ union of Russian university workers:
“The central council of the “University Solidarity” union expresses its concern at the situation caused by the decision of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia on 1 March 2014, granting the president of Russia the right to use Russian armed force on the territory of Ukraine.
“We believe that this decision does not help the defense of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine and that it promises grave consequences. Support to the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine can be given by other means, by the means of state and popular diplomacy, by economic cooperation, by human rights.”
Encouragingly, the Fourth International has also condemned what it calls the “foreign policy adventurism of the current regime” in Moscow:
“War has begun. With the aim of protecting and increasing the assets of the oligarchs in Russia and in Yanukovich’s coterie, Russia’s leadership has undertaken an invasion of Ukraine. This aggression threatens catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian and Russian peoples – most especially for the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Ukraine’s southeastern industrial regions…Today, the struggle for freedom in Russia is a struggle against the foreign policy adventurism of the current regime, which seeks collusion in forestalling its own end. The RSD calls on all sincere left and democratic forces to organize anti-war protests.” – Statement from the Russian Socialist Movement
Left Unity is an interesting one, and appears to draw a (false) moral equivalence between unwanted Russian military intervention in Ukraine and economic assistance requested by the Ukrainian government to support its ailing economy:
“The continuing political and economic crisis in Ukraine is taking a dangerous military turn.
“Left Unity takes the position that there can only be a political solution to this crisis and that neither foreign military intervention nor foreign political and economic intervention provide the answers to Ukraine’s complex problems.
“Whether under the flag of US, NATO, Russia or the European Union, military intervention only ever makes the situation many times worse. So it is in Ukraine. The West’s hypocrisy in condemning Russia for breaking international law is breathtaking: nevertheless, Russian troops hold no solution to the crisis.”
At the more extreme end, the Communist Party takes the Moscow line that the Ukrainian Euromaidan movement is ‘fascist’:
“The failure of EU leaders to uphold the 21 February Agreement on early elections has given sanction to a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government that threatens to destabilise the country and sets dangerous precedents for the future. The open involvement of US, EU and NATO leaders in the build up to the coup exposes it as part of the drive to change the geo-political balance in Europe in ways that threaten security and peace in Europe and the World… The Communist Party of Britain pledges its support to the Communist Party of Ukraine in its resistance to fascism, predatory capitalism and imperialism.” – Robert Griffiths, CP general secretary
…as does Workers’ Power:
“The bourgeois nationalist parties have taken power in an anti-democratic coup, using the fascist paramilitaries and rebellious police forces. Workers should make it clear they do not recognize the legitimacy of this government, its orders, the laws, and decisions of the counter-revolutionary Rada…The working class should not wait for outside intervention from Russia, nor allow the reactionary, undemocratic new regime to consolidate its power with the May 25 elections, held at gunpoint.”
As for the Twittersphere:
And on the right…
In view of the recent denunciations of both Richard Seymour and Laurie Penny for (alleged) offences against so-called so-called “intersectionality” (excellent description and analysis here), and the rise within sections of the left of this kind of vindictive ultra identity politics, this recent article by Michelle Goldberg at The Nation gives some timely background. As always, when we re-blog an article from elsewhere, it should not be assumed that Shiraz agrees with every last dot and comma:
Above: if only it were that simple…
Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars
In the summer of 2012, twenty-one feminist bloggers and online activists gathered at Barnard College for a meeting that would soon become infamous. Convened by activists Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti, the women came together to talk about ways to leverage institutional and philanthropic support for online feminism. Afterward, Martin and Valenti used the discussion as the basis for a report, “#Femfuture : Online Revolution,” which called on funders to support the largely unpaid work that feminists do on the Internet. “An unfunded online feminist movement isn’t merely a threat to the livelihood of these hard-working activists, but a threat to the larger feminist movement itself,” they wrote.
#Femfuture was earnest and studiously politically correct. An important reason to put resources into online feminism, Martin and Valenti wrote, was to bolster the voices of writers from marginalized communities. “Women of color and other groups are already overlooked for adequate media attention and already struggle disproportionately in this culture of scarcity,” they noted. The pair discussed the way online activism has highlighted the particular injustices suffered by transgender women of color and celebrated the ability of the Internet to hold white feminists accountable for their unwitting displays of racial privilege. “A lot of feminist dialogue online has focused on recognizing the complex ways that privilege shapes our approach to work and community,” they wrote.
The women involved with #Femfuture knew that many would contest at least some of their conclusions. They weren’t prepared, though, for the wave of coruscating anger and contempt that greeted their work. Online, the Barnard group—nine of whom were women of color—was savaged as a cabal of white opportunists. People were upset that the meeting had excluded those who don’t live in New York (Martin and Valenti had no travel budget). There was fury expressed on behalf of everyone—indigenous women, feminist mothers, veterans—whose concerns were not explicitly addressed. Some were outraged that tweets were quoted without the explicit permission of the tweeters. Others were incensed that a report about online feminism left out women who aren’t online. “Where is the space in all of these #femfuture movements for people who don’t have internet access?” tweeted  Mikki Kendall, a feminist writer who, months later, would come up with the influential hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen .
Martin was floored. She’s long believed that it’s incumbent on feminists to be open to critique—but the response was so vitriolic, so full of bad faith and stubborn misinformation, that it felt like some sort of Maoist hazing. Kendall, for example, compared #Femfuture to Rebecca Latimer Felton, a viciously racist Southern suffragist who supported lynching because she said it protected white women from rape. “It was really hard to engage in processing real critique because so much of it was couched in an absolute disavowal of my intentions and my person,” Martin says.
Beyond bruised feelings, the reaction made it harder to use the paper to garner support for online feminist efforts. The controversy was all most people knew of the project, and it left a lasting taint. “Almost anyone who asks us about it wants to know what happened, including editors that I’ve worked with,” says Samhita Mukhopadhyay, an activist and freelance writer who was then the editor of Feministing.com. “It’s like you’ve been backed into a corner.”
Though Mukhopadhyay continues to believe in the empowering potential of online feminism, she sees that much of it is becoming dysfunctional, even unhealthy. “Everyone is so scared to speak right now,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »
My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:
The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now
There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.
For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.
Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.
Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.
Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.
The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.
The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.
The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.
We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)
For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.
In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.
(from the Workers Liberty website)