Last week I went to a Brighton Stop the War Coalition meeting which encapsulated the problems with some of the left’s approach to Putin’s war on Ukraine. Among the speakers were Kate Hudson of CND and Lindsay German of STWC, who are both highly regarded as among the leaders of the anti-war movement in this country.
The earlier part of the meeting was devoted to the situation of refugees from Ukraine, and from other parts of the world. There were good speeches on the woeful response of the government to the refugee crisis triggered by the war. Good points were also made about the double standards and out and out racism in the contrasting attitudes to refugees from Ukraine as opposed to those from Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. There is now more accommodation being offered to Ukrainian refugees than there are people to take them up, yet no thought of any of this being offered to anyone else.
Other aspects of the meeting were more problematic.
Kate Hudson put forward a straight pacifist line and said that there was no way she or CND would support the arguments put by some of us that the Ukrainian people had a right to self-defence, to resist imperialist occupation and to obtain weapons for that purpose, “because it just meant escalation of conflict”. But according to Lindsay German, we need not worry anyway as NATO is apparently “pumping huge quantities of weapons” into Ukraine.
Another speaker said that we should admire and give solidarity to civilians standing in front of tanks and demonstrating against occupation, but he didn’t think they should be given any weapons (aside from any the labour movement could raise money for – he didn’t clarify how he expected this to happen!), because NATO weapons “would come with strings”. So, a case of “arms for Ukraine, but not those arms!”
There was much concern about the atrocities in Bucha and other places but no perspective offered on how people could defend themselves from such things.
There was no real suggestion in the meeting that the Ukrainian people had a right to self-determination, or even any real agency in the situation. STWC, like many on the left, seem to have reduced Ukrainians to the status of victims and “pawns” – when they’re not smearing them as “Nazis”. Above all there was no perspective on how socialists could link up with socialists and trade unionists in Ukraine to build popular resistance.
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