Felicity Dowling writes:
We are the socialists, far from the only socialists, but in Left Unity, socialism is our starting point. Our socialism is transformational; we not only criticise capitalism but we also work toward the end of capitalism. Organising in each country, and between our countries, could transform the world.
I am writing about our response to Ukraine, to the war, to capitalism and its various current crises, about the role of the working class in ending capitalism, the condition of the working class, about socialism as a workers’ politics and ideology, organisation within the class, and about our discourse. This should be seen as complementary to the piece from Andrew Burgin.
We stand in solidarity with all who face the brutal reality of war in every part of the world, including Ukraine, Yemen and Palestine. Hearts break for the suffering of the civilians and conscripts involved in these wars. We see the brutal and drawn-out horrors of war as they show themselves, this time in full colour on our TV screens unlike the barely covered war in Yemen, or the torture of the Palestinians.
We recognise that Russia is a nuclear power and that nuclear warfare could threaten human life on earth. It is brutality itself that the country which experienced the Chernobyl disaster should be the site of a possible nuclear war. We call for the disbandment of all nuclear weapons.
We have no truck with Russia’s aggression nor with NATOs provocation. We weep for the people of Ukraine affected by this war. We recognise the anger that Ukrainians must be feeling against those inflicting this on to their towns and cities. Formal and informal reports indicate real heroism in fighting against the invaders.
We will not ignore the imperialist politics of transnational military alliances being played out by proxy in Ukraine. While we recognise the huge economic progress that happened in Russia after 1917, we have no truck with the anti-democratic history of the Soviet Union from the 1930s onwards, nor with the terrible damage done by the move to neo-liberal economics with the ending of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.
War raises huge emotional responses. It is hard not to respond on nationalist lines. As wars rage, the necessity of an alternative world system becomes ever clearer. War is hard baked into capitalism, and the ‘peace’ following war is often bitter, as Afghanistan is experiencing.
“Shamed, dishonored, wading in blood and dripping with filth, thus capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, of ethics – as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as a pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity – so it appears in all its hideous nakedness.”
So wrote Luxemburg of World War 1. Little has changed except that war is waged not in trenches but in the towns and cities.
In our discussions of the war, our role as transformational socialists, as defenders of the working class, as internationalists, socialism must be prominent.
There is no long-term solution to war without building a movement of working people across the globe capable of stopping war and instituting a better world. A victory for Putin would not help us at all, neither would a victory for the US. A victory for Ukraine in the context of this power struggle between NATO and Russia is hardly likely to be long lasting, much as we hope Ukraine would be allowed to go about its business in peace.
“If the workers take a notion, we can stop the speeding trains,
Every ship upon the ocean we can tie with mighty chains ,
Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill
Fleets and armies of all nations will at our command stand still.”
(‘Workers of the World, Awaken’, Joe Hill, 1914).
We are far from this stage now but we need to get to that stage and we will not do so unless we raise that call. The future, like power, concedes nothing without a demand.
Our socialism is based not just on feelings of solidarity and class experience but on a careful study of the times in which we live, of history, of the state of the working class, of women, children, disabled people, on the situation for poor farmers, on the state of the climate and the environment and of course the wealth of the very rich and powerful.
“The hurt to women in times of war is brutal. For those of us who were fighting in Russia for the law against domestic violence and for the rights of survivors to sexual violence and harassment it is simply obvious that this war and this violence are the continuation of the domestic violence that we have been witnessing and we have been fighting against. First of all, the war has been ongoing for eight years, even though with totally different dynamics. More importantly, the war is not some discrete event that has an end and a beginning: the war is just the culmination or climax of the patriarchal violence we are living in. For us as feminists it is obvious that this war is part of the violence we have been fighting against and will keep fighting.” (‘A Tremendous Resistance: Feminists in Russia against the War and Patriarchy’, Feminist Anti-war Resistance.)
Recession and depression are a structural part of capitalism and recession in the UK, in the world, and especially in the countries most directly affected by war, now appears likely. The BBC warned of hunger in many countries.
War damages the environment and the climate. Now more fossil fuel than ever is being produced and planned. Russia is still supplying oil and gas to Europe. If this stops next year the impact on supplies to the UK will worsen, and more people will have cold homes.
‘Military activities include the manufacturing, testing, and transport of weapons requiring huge amounts of fossil fuels. Multiple studies have found that these activities result in massive greenhouse gas emissions. The United States and Canadian militaries have been estimated to be one of the largest polluters in the world. The world’s militaries have been known to produce the bulk of chlorofluorocarbons which were banned in the 1987 Montreal Protocol for damaging the ozone layer in Earth’s upper atmosphere.’ (T’he Environmental Consequences of War’, (‘The Environmental Consequences of War’, V. Ramana Dhara)
Class war and Expropriation. Even in times of relative economic stability the ruling class aims to take still more of what is produced from the working class and the poor, and still more to control state spending towards supporting the rich and large corporations rather than the poor. In the UK this extends to privatisations which physically damage the infrastructure of an advanced society such as the supply of power to people’s homes and to industry.
We are a small party with our feet in the working class. In the UK we face the worst drop in living standards in decades. No matter how much suffering there is and will be, there can be solidarity with those facing war. Workers have done this before even at cost to their own living standards, as the workers of the Lancashire Cotton Mills showed during the US Civil War. However, the sheer waste and harm of war is also keenly felt.
We are internationalists, we see no solution to the problems of the globe based on just one country. We must, perforce, work mostly in one country, but aim to build as much practical international solidarity as we can. We work closely in our class to agitate, educate, and organise towards a different, better world.
We know there is no magic wand to create a class movement. Our role as socialists is to keep those ideas alive and relevant. It is to recruit more people to socialism and to organising together. We work where we can, to assist movements in the workplace and in our communities, to build the basis of a socialist working-class movement. It is quite a modest aim though it takes considerable time. The more people we can win to these ideas the greater the chance we can win this fight for a viable, peaceful, prosperous world . We do not see this as something coming just from the West, as the class is indeed global in 2022, and far larger and better organised in many other countries, including in the global south. In Ukraine there is a higher per centage of trade union members. In India last year there was the largest ever general strike. There are 157 million workers in the USA, seventy-one million in Russia, around 784 million in China, around 501 million in India, 129.36 million in Indonesia, 156.9 million full-time workers in the European Union. These are a significant and powerful section of the global population and it is to them we direct our work. Across the globe there is no shortage of struggles for a better world, but war often cuts across such struggles, leading people, albeit temporarily, into support for their national leaders.
We, like Rosa Luxemburg, do not think change comes by a formula set out by leaders but by the class itself.
“The modern proletarian class doesn’t carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers’ struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight… That’s exactly what is laudable about it, that’s exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers’ movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding, the weapons of their own liberation.”
Building a movement of class conscious, transformational working in the class is crucial. Our publications, our organisation, helps to build this.
Ukraine has a difficult recent history with war and a poor economic situation. What should be a prosperous middle income country is one of the poorest in Europe. Ukraine has a well-educated population, there is active political discussion and low levels of people in absolute poverty. Ukraine was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, and is still a globally important agricultural area exporting across the world.
“Ukraine is one of the main world exporters of grains as well as vegetable oils. The main agriculture export products are Corn and Wheat. In 2021 Ukraine was the second largest supplier of grains for the European Union (EU) and a large food supplier for low and middle-income countries in Asia and Africa. The longer the Russia-Ukraine conflict lasts, the more insecurity about food supplies it may bring not only to Ukraine and the region, but also to the whole world.”
In Ukraine living standards dropped dramatically at the end of the Soviet Union. Living standards, having fluctuated badly, had begun to rise recently. Ukraine had suffered 8 years of smaller scale war. Wages had begun to improve in Ukraine. Pre war Ukraine had a trade union membership of 43% as opposed to 23.5% in the United Kingdom Our message to Ukrainian workers and poor people is that we advocate for an alternative to the system that causes war.
We oppose the attempts to blame all Russians. Just as the opposition to the Vietnam war inside the USA affected the outcome of the war the Russian opposition too will affect this war. Working people are not responsible for the wars the ruling classes of their countries wage. The Russian opposition to the war is courageous. The war in Chechnya had to end when the dead bodies of soldiers came home.
The only answer we can propose is the struggle for socialism. Who will do this if we turn away from that task to look for shorter term aims? We can advocate for peace talks and the withdrawal of troops, for international workers solidarity, for alternatives to oil, for free movement of people, but we must also say another world, one with peace, prosperity and freedom is possible once capitalism is removed, and that the working class has the power to do that.
As Left Unity, and with our international comrades, we try both to speak truth to power and to defend and to improve the services our communities have now, and we ceaselessly say a better world is possible, because it is. There is wealth enough to feed, clothe, house, educate and provide healthcare for all, but the wealth is used to send billionaires on jaunts into space whilst those of us who work each day (and those unable to work), get less and less. The wealth to produce a better world is already with us even under capitalism but the political will is not yet there. Our chances of a future on planet earth depend on building a mass international movement to demand the end to capitalism. Without this, either war or climate disaster could send us into barbarism. Across the world the same rich people, mainly men, determine our future. Even the food we eat depends often on the decisions of these rich people.
Because we do follow current and historical events in detail we are aware of the crimes and harm committed by NATO over the years. It is not just NATO though, it is all the tentacles of US power and the power of its allies, from the world bank to the IMF and more.
We need to extend our reach, not just to those who always read our material but to a wider movement. This is not always easy. We understand that NATO has different meanings to different people. Those who have not followed NATOs history in depth, in Serbia, in Libya, in Afghanistan, in Greece during the dictatorship, still see it as “our” defence against the ‘bad people’. Similarly, some people in the UK still think Russia is Communist, and as such ‘the enemy’.
Socialists understand that war is a feature of imperialism and of capitalism. Capitalism rules the world. It is the dominant economic and political force on the planet. Within Capitalism is the pressure for dominant economies to exploit weaker ones and through the world financial institutions like the IMF and World bank to enforce capitalist disciplines of restructuring and austerity, which make the poor poorer, and the rich richer.
In opposing war from a socialist position not from a pacifist one, we stand in a great tradition, from Rosa Luxemburg and the conscientious objectors in World War 1 to the US peaceniks and anti-war movement in the Vietnam war, to the mass movement against the Iraq war.
There was a period of relative peace, at least in the global north, after the horrors of World War two, and after the Chinese revolution and national liberation struggles. Europe at least saw decades of peace. But after World War 2 the working class was better organised and held a class memory of the horrors of war. Europe benefitted not just from peace but gained wealth by not wasting money on armaments. Europe united in peace could quickly become richer than the USA.
The breakup of the Soviet Union and the reintroduction of capitalism into Eastern Europe did not bring peace and prosperity to Russia or to much of Eastern Europe. The age of neo-liberalism in Russia and in Ukraine brought poverty and corruption. The drop in living standards, the drop in life expectancy, was accompanied by rampant gangsterism. In Russia one factor which created such loyalty as Putin holds came because he appeared to calm the most rampant gangsterism, and allowed people to get on with their lives to some extent.
The ruling class across the world is not a unified whole, but has different fiercely competing sections. None the less, the oligarchs who gained their wealth by robbing the national wealth of Ukraine and Russia also operate within the UK. Ukrainian Len Blavatnik is one of the richest people in the UK and has a knighthood. He is also active in US politics. The Tory Party’s close links with the Russian regime are regularly exposed.
The pressures within capitalism are profound. Globalisation has made key commodities like grain and oil international, and each country dependent on the international market. Grain from Russia and Ukraine is crucial to the world market. Subsistence farming in many countries is driven out by big agribusiness.
Oil and Gas are deeply affected by this war. Although the US has huge power there are still conflicts within the ruling class and decisions made by one section can cause problems for the entire world. Oil and gas are crucial to the functioning of an economy. Russia is the world’s second largest producer of oil. There are serious problems involved in replacing Russian Oil (https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9518/CBP-9518.pdf).
As socialists we describe and intervene where we can in the difficulties our communities face from poverty, pollution, hunger, climate catastrophes housing struggles, attacks on women, and of course war. We see our class, the working class ,when it is organised, as the force that can defeat the capitalist system and produce a better world. All wheels stand still at the workers’ will. Each of these problems, poverty, pollution, hunger, poor housing, attacks on women, homo and transphobia, racism and anti-migrant laws are hard baked into the capitalist system in which we live. We fight hard for the small improvements that organising can bring, but we are clear that there is no full solution under capitalism. Each small win each struggle develops the potential power of our class.
The rich gain ever greater shares of the wealth of our planet, “when it comes to wealth (valuable assets and items over and above income), the gap is even wider. The poorest half of the global population owns just 2% of the global total, while the richest 10% own 76% of all wealth”.
Oxfam wrote “The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa. Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day —a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry. Getting the richest one percent to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years would equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly and childcare, education and health.”
As globalisation develops, capitalism becomes ever more dangerous to our people. The huge wealth of our planet is fought over by competing sections of our ruling class, fought over, using many different tools of power, including war. The divisions between different elements of the capitalist class each in search of endless profit leads to conflict. The rule of the strongest of the capitalist powers in known as imperialism, and this shapes the world. The dominant political and military power in the world in the USA. The USA has launched many wars and been a proxy element in many others.
The USA has however no monopoly on war or on violence. Plenty of smaller states have foul records in this matter The US is the biggest military and financial power but they have not had their own way in wars. They left Afghanistan with their tails between their legs, and are now anxious to display their power. A potential challenger to the USA predominance is China who in one report outranks the USA in financial wealth though much of this is in real estate. China is the world leader in manufacturing
Socialists do not call for war or take sides in a war between capitalist powers. As sure as night follows day there will be another war. For long term peace, we need to be rid of the system that fuels war. Just as we acknowledge the terrible current and potential consequences of climate catastrophe we know of the brutality of war and the horrific possibilities modern warfare opens including the use of nuclear war, a war that could wipe out nations, making the attack on Hiroshima seem small.
Our work is in the UK but we are aware of and attempt to link to the global struggles. Our work is in the housing problems in London, in the health service in Liverpool, with the youth in Northampton, in the food pantries and the migrant support groups, in the many trade unions, in the Ecosocialist Alliance, in the peace movements, all in the UK. But we, by clear decision, link our work into Europe through the European Left party, and work to build wider global links.
Socialists are those who wish to see the end of capitalism and to establish long term peace, climate and environmental protection, and end to poverty and racism. So, in our discourse on war the ideas of socialism must come high on the agenda.
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