Article from the March issue of The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party
As we go to press we are seeing a serious and savage new phase of Putin’s war open up, Finghin Kelly reports.
Putin had hoped for a quick victory. Instead, he is facing a heroic and determined resistance spearheaded by ordinary Ukrainian people. This war has been marked by images of ordinary people taking up arms, directly protesting against advancing Russian troops, confronting them individually and even standing in front of tanks.
Putin is responding to this resistance with brutal methods, including heavy shelling of civilian areas – some reports point to the use of particularly vicious cluster and thermobaric bombs. We have also seen dangerous sabre rattling about nuclear conflict and even shelling close to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The Russian military seems to be pursuing a method of encircling cities to cut off food, water, electricity and vital supplies – this is an odious mix of medieval war methods with a high tech war machine.
Life is becoming more and more unbearable for people caught in the conflict. Casualties are mounting and could climb exponentially in the coming weeks. To date over 2 million people have fled Ukraine. This will increase as the war continues. The UNHCR estimates that up to 4 million people could be displaced by this war.
We are seeing the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. The suffering of those fleeing the conflict is seeing an outpouring of solidarity and support from working people globally. This sentiment is forcing the EU to allow Ukrainians enter the EU and be given certain rights.
Putin is a brutal despot. He has launched this war to boost the position of Russian imperialism in the region and to attempt to shore up his own position domestically. He claims to be there to defend the rights of the Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine – Putin has no interest in the rights of minorities – he denies such democratic rights to minorities in Russia.
Socialists are not neutral in this war. We stand on the side of working class people in Ukraine, in Russia and the wider region. The people of Ukraine have a right to self defence and to organise and repel this invasion, including with arms.
This armed struggle needs to be from below, with working-class people and soldiers democratically forming committees to defend their areas and to repel the invasion. Such committees should be independent of NATO, the EU and also the Ukrainian capitalist class – whose own oligarch capitalism has seen the impoverishment of the Ukrainian population.
No trust in imperialism
NATO and the EU have been quick to donate arms and equipment to the Ukrainian army. Many people in Ukraine and around the globe, seeing the desperation of the Ukrainian people up against a well-resourced army and wanting to see them defend themselves, have supported these arms going to Ukraine. However, NATO and the EU do not have the interests of working-class people of Ukraine at heart.
NATO is a military alliance dominated by US imperialism, which is steeped in blood – from the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan this century.
The EU is a capitalist trade block that brings together European capitalist powers to further their interests – inside Europe and globally. The war sees for the first time the EU itself give arms in a war. This represents a turning point and is part of a conscious push from those such as Macron, but also backed by German capitalism, to back up European economic power with military power.
For NATO and the EU their interest in Ukraine is motivated by their own interests – not the rights or well-being of people in Ukraine. As with Putin it is part of a geopolitical game of winning power and influence and the right to exploit different parts of the world. It is why we have seen a boosting of NATO bases, troops and missiles in Eastern Europe.
Arms coming from NATO and the EU will come with strings attached. The people of Ukraine can of course exploit inter-imperialist rivalries in order to arm themselves, however they need to be wary and reject any interference from NATO or EU in how those arms are used, or in a post-war Ukraine. Democratic committees of workers in Ukraine should be the ones determining how the arms are used and not NATO or the EU.
The only force for peace
History also teaches us that it is mass movements from below, of workers and young people that stops war. The First world war was stopped by mass strike waves and revolution across Europe – starting in Russia. Wars are not stopped by backing one imperial power against another.
It is extremely significant that there has been an explosion from below of anti-war protests in Russia itself. Despite mass arrests, tens of thousands have come out onto the streets across Russia. A million people have signed a petition against the war within days of the war starting. If that million people can be organised and can come out onto the streets and take strike action this can end the war and be the beginning of the end of the Putin regime itself.
Workers in Ukraine defending themselves from attack can win over Russian workers and young people.
Working people of all countries in the region have an interest in toppling Putin and the oligarch capitalism that he represents. This gangster capitalism has destroyed the lives of workers in Russia, Ukraine and the whole region. Along with Putin, autocrats and oligarchs across the former Soviet Union need to be toppled and the wealth that they plundered brought back into the ownership and control of working people.
Internationalism is the way
To create such a movement, it is essential that the movement in Ukraine adopts a programme that can appeal to Russians in Russia, to Russian soldiers in Ukraine and also to Russian-speaking and other minorities in Ukraine. Such a programme should guarantee democratic rights for all minorities, including linguistic rights for all minority languages and the right of self determination, and for the building of a voluntary socialist federation of peoples in the region.
There are already indications of at least some ordinary soldiers in the Russian army being reluctant to fight and even abandoning their posts. An appeal directly to rank and file soldiers not to fight can be decisive in weakening the ability of Putin to wage this war.
Working-class and young people around the world can play their part in the anti-war movement. Already we have seen massive protests around the globe. We have also seen workers in various ports around the world refuse to unload Russian oil. Members of the Unite trade union in Liverpool are one such example; they blocked oil from being brought ashore at Stanlow Oil Refinery and in doing so prevented the refinery from exploiting a loophole to get around sanctions.
- No to war in Ukraine! For the right of Ukrainians to decide their own future, including self-determination for minorities.
- Withdraw Russian troops now!
- No to US/NATO imperialism. NATO out of Eastern Europe
- No to the EU’s racist refugee policies! Open safe and legal routes for all refugees. Demand access to decent housing, health services and work or benefits for all.
- No illusions in diplomacy by the war-mongers. Build a massive anti-war and anti-imperialist movement linking up workers and youth over borders.
- For an internationalist socialist alternative to capitalist conflict that leads to war.