By Ann Katrin Orr
Within hours of the invasion of Ukraine, workers and young people in Russia were protesting against it. Protesting in Russia comes with significant risks including police brutality; arrest; detention and being sacked. Regardless, people have protested in over 147 towns and cities to date. Putin’s authoritarian regime has banned most forms of protests, making the photographs of hundreds and even thousands on marches and in squares against the war very significant. At the time of writing 13,000 people have reportedly been arrested. Putin’s regime is not unshakable and already significant opposition exists.
People Vs oligarchs
These protests are an expression of solidarity with the masses in Ukraine, horror at what has already happened and fear of what is yet to come. They also speak to a growing discontent at Putin’s regime and the conditions faced by ordinary people in Russia. Putin is flexing his muscles and pushing tensions between the key global players up by several notches, but for him there are many risks, not least the potential for working-class people in Russia to revolt and organise to challenge his regime.
Like elsewhere, wealth inequality has significantly increased in Russia and ordinary people are now being asked to sacrifice living standards and risk their lives for Putin and the oligarchs’ war. Since the onset of the Covid pandemic, Russia’s 500 richest people have increased their wealth by a staggering 45%. Their combined wealth is now estimated at $640 billion, which means that they can easily withstand the billions which have been frozen in accounts as a result of sanctions. Not so for the Russian masses.
Significant mobilisations have also happened internationally. While expressing full solidarity with working-class people in Ukraine and calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops, we cannot trust NATO or any representatives of US or Western imperialism. They do not act in the interest of working-class people anywhere. An active, international anti-war movement is needed. In the strongest traditions of anti-war movements of the past — such as against the Vietnam war and the invasion of Iraq — young workers, college and school students have an important role to play.
Mass mobilisations against the war should be backed up by the international trade union movement. It could effectively organise practical assistance and transport for refugees as well as efforts to support the resistance of ordinary people in Ukraine. In Russia, petitions against the war are being shared in workplaces and online. People signing these petitions are risking their jobs. There have been reports of teachers and others already being sacked for refusing to withdraw their signatures. Building on these initiatives, workers must organise collectively. The working-class in Russia has the power to really undercut Putin’s military efforts.
Anti-capitalism is key
Anti-capitalism is essential to building an effective global anti-war movement. War goes hand in hand with this system that is based on maximising the profits of a few, regardless of the human and environmental cost. As with every crisis of the capitalist system, some are benefiting. Share prices of arms companies soared after the German government announced a €100bn (£85bn) special military spending package. But for ordinary people, particularly in Ukraine, the cost of this war is unfathomable.
As the revolutionary socialist, Clara Zetkin, said about WW1: “The workers have nothing to gain from this war, but they stand to lose everything that is dear to them”. The threat to lose everything we hold is very real once again. This war has sharpened it but the backdrop was already provided by Covid, the global economic crisis — now reflected in the massive cost-of-living spike — and the unfolding climate catastrophe. This makes building revolutionary forces internationally even more urgent, and that is what International Socialist Alternative is doing.