Socialist Alternative

War rages while workers face the chopping block: how can we fight back?

Editorial first carried in issue 24 of Socialist Alternative, published at the start of April 2022

The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin once said that “Capitalist society is and has always been horror without end.” This fact is now on full show in the current events unfolding in Ukraine. Putin’s war, driven by his desire to be the new Tsar of a new Russian Empire, has and will continue to destroy the lives and livelihoods of countless Ukrainian families, who are thrust into bloodshed and destruction.

At this stage, while Mariupol is bombed into the ground  the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine at the time of writing sits at 3.3 million and rapidly counting. Almost 7 million more now remain internally displaced. 

The mass murder and displacement of Ukrainian people is inevitably forcing people all over the world to not only show support to the victims of this war, but to ask what the way out of this crisis will be. Tremendous displays of solidarity have been on show, with well over £100m in donations in the UK alone to provide supplies, medicine and food for those fleeing the border into Poland. The scheme to house refugees has been taken up by 120,000 households, a huge and unprecedented display of sympathy. Even in a horror-situation like this, the overwhelming mood of solidarity among ordinary people does not die – quite the opposite.

Roots of war

At root, this war is a symptom of the growing divide on a world scale between competing imperialist spheres of influence, in the new ‘Cold War’ between the capitalist elites of the US and China. Putin and Russian imperialism which is broadly China’s “side” but with its own independent interests and rivalry with the US, has used this as an opportunity to try and carve out this space for itself amidst the decoupling of the rival blocs. The US, UK and Western imperialism meanwhile have jumped into this conflict sensing a threat to their power on a world scale. 

Western imperialism’s cold war interests have of course been masked by ‘democratic’ slogans. Biden, speaking on 16 March stated boldly: “What is at stake here are the principles that the US and the UN stand for. It’s about freedom. It’s about the right of people to determine their own future.” But behind the smokescreen is at root a war for control over profit-making, over the control of world markets, while it is the working class and the global poor that pay the ultimate price. The defining crises of our era – of the climate, military standoffs and war will be used increasingly as bargaining chips in the new Cold War. 

Tories Making Hay

Johnson, still reeling from his ‘partygate’ scandal, has seen the war as a golden opportunity to divert attention away from his troubles at home. He has, by the skin of his teeth, been able to use the crisis and loss of life as an opportunity to fend off an immediate challenge to his rule from within the Tory Party. Even if many of the rebel Tory MPs, including Scottish leader Douglas Ross will have withdrawn their letters of no confidence, this will still not be smooth sailing for Johnson from now on. The escalation of the cost of living and refugee crises will almost certainly continue to be a thorn in Johnson’s side. Tory unity, although temporarily intact, survives on life support, waiting to be unplugged. 

Despite paying lip service to ‘solidarity’, the Tories initially provided a shockingly low amount of spaces for refugees. However the huge public backlash forced the Tories to expand their refugee scheme. To begin with, Priti Patel had only approved the Visa applications of 300 people. The ‘new’ scheme is far from sufficient. It leaves it to charities and local authorities to oversee voluntary applications from members of the public to house a refugee. This is a wholly inadequate plan which can easily be manipulated by unscrupulous child and people traffickers. The systemically racist and divisive immigration laws that the Tories base their appeal on have and will continue to cost lives, for refugees from Ukraine and across the world.

More Starmer Flag-Waving

War has the unique ability to draw out the worst features of the capitalist system. While the Tories have tried to use the war as an opportunity to whip up the narrative of ‘national unity’, there has been no political force on show from the main Westminster, Holyrood or Senedd parties prepared to challenge this, quite the contrary – they sing from the same hymn sheet. What is needed is a political alternative that opposes the Russian invasion in earnest but also opposes all imperialist forces, and recognises and states boldly that there is no such thing as the ‘national interest’ – only our interests as working class people internationally, and those of the billionaires. 

Far from fulfilling this need, Starmer has continued his quest to secure Labour’s status as a remodelled party of big business. Draped in the flag of the empire, Sir Keir’s main line of attack against the government has been to demand deeper, indiscriminate sanctions, along with a more hawkish line than even the one currently pursued by Johnson. 

At the same time, Starmer has cynically used the war as a chance to deepen his clampdown on the left. This was seen most recently in his threat to remove the whip from 11 Labour MPs who signed a recent statement from Stop the War coalition, calling very mildly and quite naively for “diplomatic peace” to be negotiated between the US and Russia. Unfortunately, every single one of these MPs (aside from those who have already had the whip withdrawn, including Corbyn) rapidly removed their signatures. This incorrect strategy of failing to wage principled anti-imperialist struggle against the war in the name of staying in Starmer’s New Labour will have to be rejected if we are to build the mass movement that we urgently need. 

This move reveals a strategy diametrically opposed to the bold approach that working class people need in order to build a mass anti war movement. In fact, rather than hiding away in Starmer’s Labour, the situation is absolutely crying out for the building of a mass anti-war and anti-imperialist movement to be built from below, with a fighting strategy and programme. 

No to Putin, no to Biden, no to Johnson

The shocking new line of the establishment, exploiting the horror and bloodshed of the Ukrainian people, has been to shift the blame for the cost of living disaster on the war alone. For example, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng recently commented that “people are willing to endure hardships in solidarity with the heroic efforts that the people of Ukraine are making”. Tory strategist Lord Haywood commented that the cost of living increases were “part of the cost of democracy”. 

No doubt, the war and the following economic disruption to oil and gas supplies as well as general decoupling will play a major role in driving the economic crisis forward. But behind all this is the cynical, bare-faced distortion of the truth from the capitalist rulers of the ‘democratic West’. Inflation was set to skyrocket long before the military build-up began to escalate. The bills for working class people are not increasing for the sake of Ukraine, but for the profits of the billionaires and the governments that serve their interests. 

This is why socialists stress that any movement against imperialist wars must be linked to the struggle of workers against all forms of hardship and misery and against the capitalist system itself. Connecting a new anti-war movement to the workers’ struggle against job losses, most recently in the struggle to save 800 jobs at P&O Ferries across the country, will be vital. Linking the fight for asylum and safety for those fleeing imperialism and war must be connected to the struggle against racist policing of black and brown youth, seen in the mass outrage after the horrific racism and misogyny on show from the met in the case of ‘Child Q’

Only an organised, energised and militant rank-and-file upsurge in working class struggle, linked with a fighting anti-racist and anti-capitalist movement will be most able to come to the aid of the people of Ukraine and Russia – neither the British nor US governments that uphold the racism and exploitation inherent in capitalism. 

NATO: no alternative

Putin’s line – that the invasion is being conducted to ‘denazify Ukraine’ and defend Russian speakers – is a transparent lie. Were it in Putin’s interests, he would sacrifice the national rights of Russian-speakers in the ‘rebel republics’ within a second. The same, however, goes for Biden and Johnson when they cry crocodile tears for the democratic and national rights of the Ukrainian people. 

Did Johnson cry those same tears when he went scuttling over to demand extra oil from the Saudi dictators while just the day before, 81 people were executed by the regime? What about when British-manufactured weapons, supplied happily by the UK government are passed into the hands of the Saudi regime to reign terror and mass killing on the people of Yemen in a war now responsible for 370,000 lost lives? Did Joe Biden care for ‘freedom’ when he pushed bills through Congress providing $1bn in military support to the bloody Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people? 

The global movement we need must be based on working class solidarity and on independence from all imperialism – whether US, Russian, Chinese or NATO. This will also mean rejecting any idea that genuine, lasting peace and self-determination will come for the people of Ukraine by negotiation between the imperialist powers. Whether or not Putin and Zelensky negotiate a ‘peace deal’, resistance to Putin’s war machine will only be successfully carried out by working class people organising on a bottom-up basis in the region, including setting up community-led resistance committees to stop the Russian invasion while appealing to the conscripted ranks of the Russian military. 

Workers’ struggle against war

In Britain, the workers and trade union movement should be linking the fight for jobs and decent conditions here to the solidarity actions needed to assist the resistance of the Ukrainian people. Workers’ action against war and imperialism would be infinitely more successful in genuinely weakening the Putin regime than any EU or US-led sanctions, which overwhelmingly target the working class people of Russia while doing little to attack Putin’s gang of thieves and warmongers. 

At the start of last month, historic action was conducted by dockers in Kent, Liverpool, Cheshire in refusing to dock Russian oil and gas. While actions like these point to the huge potential power of working class people, all actions must be taken first and foremost in solidarity with the working class and anti-war movement of Russia, which continue to face escalating state repression from the Putin regime. That the sharpest authoritarian measures are still met with some protests numbering in the thousands speaks to the widespread opposition to this war among workers and youth in Russia. 

Whatever happens in these events, even with a ceasefire, there will be a tragic and irreversible loss of lives and livelihoods of millions. This reflects the rottenness, horror and devastation bred by this capitalist system. This is why International Socialist Alternative, which we are part of, organises across over 30 countries on all continents, to build a mass movement of working class struggle to sweep away the capitalist warmongers and the system that props them up. 

We say: 

  • No to war in Ukraine! For the right of Ukrainians to decide their own future, including the right of self-determination for minorities
  • For the withdrawal of Russian troops!
  • No to military intervention by NATO powers! Stop the arms race, oppose NATO expansionism. No trust in the Tories to help ordinary Ukrainians
  • Build a massive anti-war and anti-imperialist movement linking up workers and youth over borders. Solidarity with the workers and youth protesting the war in Russia – bring down Putin and all the warmongers
  • Make the bosses pay! Nationalise the energy and transport companies, banks, major corporations and industries under democratic workers control. Tax the wealth of all capitalists and oligarchs to fund an emergency programme for green job creation, education, housing and health for all, and to provide open, safe and legal routes to Britain for refugees everywhere. Demand access to decent housing, health services and benefits for all
  • Resist job losses everywhere! Reinstate the workers at P&O ferries with a mass trade union campaign of strikes, protests and occupations. Nationalise P&O ferries and all companies threatening sackings, with compensation only to be paid to small shareholders on the basis of proven need – none for the criminal bosses
  • For an internationalist working class socialist alternative to war, destruction and job losses. Join Socialist Alternative today!