In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many have rightly condemned Russia’s imperialist aggression. In doing so, however, many have fallen in behind the instruments of Western imperialism, supporting and calling for sanctions and other actions by NATO powers that only escalate the conflict. rs21 member Andy Gammon argues that solidarity with Ukrainians means calling for an end to NATO.
To be a Ukrainian now, of whatever ethnicity, must be scary. The military tools of Putin’s Greater Russian nationalism, the tools of Russian imperialism, could be rolling down your street any minute. And, if you’re a progressive Ukrainian, all of the outcomes must seem bad: Russian occupation of the whole country leading to years of resistance fighting, Russian occupation of half the country and years of resistance fighting, or a rump nationalist Ukrainian government in charge that holds back progressive change for a generation. It is not a situation that I would wish on anyone.
For socialists in Britain, we have to stand unequivocally with Ukrainians resisting the Russian invasion. There can be no question over this. The Russian invasion is an imperialist project that must be opposed.
We also have to look at why it is happening. In 2009 I attended a protest in Strasbourg against NATO. This military organisation has only one reason to exist: to further the aims of Western imperialism. We knew then that its continued existence could only be a further driver for wars. There can also be no question that the encirclement of Russia by NATO is one of the key drivers of the current conflict; ordinary Ukrainians find themselves under fire and bombs because of the imperialist rivalry between Russia and NATO.
NATO, as an organisation, was created to organise western imperialism in its struggle with Soviet imperialism. The ruling classes cooperating in the alliance liked to claim that NATO protects democracy, so when the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, NATO membership became emblematic for many of the formerly-occupied Warsaw Pact countries. The newly minted Russian Federation also publicly declared their intention to apply for membership, though this would be consistently blocked. The continued NATO expansion eastward, coupled with their own exclusion from the alliance, then started to look like a threat to the new Russian ruling class.
This context to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has to be understood. It does not diminish our solidarity with the working class of Ukraine to understand that this invasion takes place within the context of rival clashing imperialism, both courting the Ukrainian ruling class and both willing to accept the death of Ukrainians to further their global imperialist aims.
The only way, then, that peace can be achieved is if NATO is dismantled and the Russians withdraw from Ukraine. For people in Britain who want peace, standing in solidarity with the Ukrainians must also mean calling for an end to NATO. As socialists in Britain we can have very little impact on the situation on the ground in Ukraine though we should be raising the demands for an end of arm sales to Russia and the welcoming to Britain of as many refugees as want to come. But it is up to us to dismantle the imperialist architecture that has made this war possible: that means ending NATO.
Over the last few days, professional politicians from both sides of the Commons have fallen over themselves to posture about how they will ‘stand up to Putin.’ This talk is meaningless. It holds out a mirage of direct intervention in Ukraine (something the ruling class in the UK is not yet quite so senseless to really consider) while simultaneously covering up the fact that the proposed sanctions are completely ineffectual. Sanctions applied by imperialist countries rarely do anything other than harm the populations of target countries. In this case, they will also add to our woes as part of our own cost of living crisis.
Western posturing and sanctions will only have the effect of closing down space in Russia for the nascent anti-war movement there. Western aggression makes Putin’s argument for him domestically, legitimising his claims that the west sees Russia as a threat and making opposition to his greater Russia project more difficult. This doesn’t help Ukrainians and it doesn’t help Russians; it does, however, lock in the imperialist conflict that our current ruling class of cold war reenactors love to play about in.
Our own government has loved posturing in this crisis. The invasion has knocked Johnson’s lies about ‘partygates’ and the unnecessary Covid deaths of thousands of people off the agenda. He gets to cosplay as a Churchill but the reality is that he, and the interests he serves, are completely in bed with Russia’s gangster ruling class. They are not really interested in stopping the war they helped to create. They are also not interested in helping us through the effects of this war: the rising prices that will push more people into poverty. They have no solutions and deserve no support or cover from us.
The left in Britain cannot fall behind jingoistic rhetoric that stokes tension in Ukraine: that puts the lives of Ukrainians at risk. We also cannot shy away from condemning the Russian invasion, and should hope for its defeat. We must also make sure that Britain is a welcoming destination for Ukrainian refugees. Most of all, the place where we can have the biggest effect is by taking on the argument against NATO. We must dismantle NATO as a weapon if we want to destroy the tensions that are currently killing Ukrainians.
On that NATO protest in Strasbourg, as we were being teargassed by CRS robocops, I also have a vivid memory of an anarchist banner stretched over a motorway bridge:
Pas de guerre entre les peuples, pas de paix entre les classes.
No war between peoples, no peace between classes.
While we’re not there yet, that seems like as good a position as any to aim for.