We must carry our message onto the streets and into the trade unions, while pushing back against all the attacks on us from the Starmer-state bloc and its sordid facilitators.  Looking at our history, there is no doubt that we can rise to the challenge.


From the start, the conflict in Ukraine has posed special challenges for the anti-war movement, marking as it does, a great power conflict rather than the neo-colonial wars we have seen previously this century.

Stop the War has risen to the occasion – we have been guided by our first principle, which is to challenge the warmongering of our own government, and to expose its responsibility for the crisis.  The Coalition now has a higher level of political activity round the country than it has had for the last ten years, with more groups campaigning and out on the streets.

We have managed this despite an unprecedented onslaught against us, headed by Labour leader Keir Starmer. He has sought to insulate Labour from anti-war opinion, with it must be conceded a degree of success at the parliamentary level, if much less success amongst ordinary Labour members and less still in the trade union movement.

Bridging the artificial gap created in the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party), a gap which does not correspond to the views of many Labour MPs we know, must be a priority for our work going forward.

Starmer has been seconded in his witch-hunting by Paul Mason, who in leaked emails has expressed his concerns clearly – the development of “left anti-imperialism” which “liberalism” cannot adequately counter.

That has indeed been the work of Stop the War over the last twenty years, developing a mass-rooted left anti-imperialist current in British politics which the liberal imperialists like Mason have been unable to undermine or destroy, since their path is one of endless war.  No amount of pro-war propaganda nor intervention by state disinformation organs and functionaries is going to change the growth of anti-imperialist sentiment.

Conflict in Ukraine

Our conference agreed a clear policy on the Ukraine war, condemning the Russian invasion, opposing NATO enlargement and the west’s role in stimulating the conflict and warning of the dangers of escalation and the provocative conduct of prime minister Boris Johnson and foreign secretary Liz Truss.

Events have confirmed our policy on every point.  We have spent some time arguing issues out with the minority who feel that Russia’s actions are justified or should not be criticised.  Putin’s latest pronouncements comparing himself to the Tsar Peter the Great and declaring all of the old Soviet Union Russian territory should further dispel any illusions about his great power policy.

That argument, however, should not distract from the far more important strand of public opinion which is concerned about the war, its consequences and the dangers of its extension, but nevertheless sympathise with Ukraine and support its right to resist.  They are the people who need to be won over, to intervene in the crisis on the side of peace.

They are far more numerous than the pro-Russian trend, and in particular within the trade union movement.  Our focus must be there above all and we must never forget that is the direction in which mass opinion is to be found.

Progress of the War

The head of NATO recently warned that the war could go on for years.  That is indeed what NATO is working towards – an open-ended conflict draining Russia and enfeebling a rival in what has evidently become a proxy war, with Ukraine as the battlefield.

Putin’s invasion has shrunk in scope and is now focussed on the Donbas, although territory outside that region in the south of Ukraine is also under Russian occupation.  Russian military performance remains apparently unimpressive and reliant on artillery bombardment, with devastating consequences.  Even with this focus on Donbas, much of Donetsk region remains outside Russian control, and securing that has always been Putin’s minimum objective.  So the war does indeed look like protracting.

The authoritarian nature of Putin’s regime is well understood. 15,000 brave Russian anti-war protestors have been arrested during the conflict it is estimated.  But it should be emphasised that Ukraine is no democracy either – opposition parties are being banned, trade unions subject to draconian laws and the rights of Russian-speakers violated.  This will have to be challenged or, more likely, be overlooked if Ukraine’s EU membership bid is to advance.

More and more advanced weaponry is being poured into Ukraine, primarily from the USA and Britain.  This seems calibrated to slow Russia’s advance but not to secure its categorical defeat, which indeed remains unlikely absent direct western military intervention.

The dangers of an escalation to that point remain real, and not a matter of scare stories.  The current flashpoint is the Lithuanian decision to stop Russia shipping goods to the Kaliningrad region, which is part of Russia itself.  This must give rise of fears of blockading Kaliningrad or even separating it from Russia.  Since Lithuania is a NATO member, the dangers of confrontation are very high, and one wonders what purpose this move serves.

Diplomatic Divisions

Broadly, the western camp has divided in two.  Washington and London, backed by much of eastern Europe, have been pushing for open-ended military confrontation with Russia, while France, Germany and Italy have been keen to explore the possibilities of a negotiated end to the war.  Since negotiations would require Ukraine as well as Russia to retreat from maximalist positions, the latter camp have been painted as “appeasers”.

In reality, it is the only position likely to bring the war to an end in the foreseeable future, but that is not what Biden and Johnson want.  A former Ukrainian Prime Minister said recently that there would be peace when the US decides, and so far, in alliance with the British government, it is blocking any suggestion of substantive talks.

Realistically, the US position is likely to prevail in this diplomatic division, at least in the short term.  The preponderance of power dictates as much and, indeed, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy have been obliged to fly to Kyiv and sound more hawkish.  A shift in British policy could tilt the balance, perhaps decisively, but the Johnson-Starmer bellicose bloc is showing no signs of shifting as yet.

The crisis is also working to NATO’s advantage in other respects.  Sweden and Finland look set to join – something they never did during the Cold War.  Turkey’s objections will surely be overcome, at the expense of the PKK and the Kurdish struggle no doubt, since there is no movement in the world which the west has more readily abused and abandoned according to strategic advantage.

On the other hand, there is no sign of broader world opinion turning against Russia.  Even where there is no support for the invasion, there is no willingness to condemn it, still less to line up with hypocritical and disastrous western sanctions.  China remains friendly to Russia, above all.  There is absolutely no unanimity in the so-called “international community”, above all due to the legacy of Anglo-American aggression around the world.

Sanctions Crisis

The economic consequences of the war are themselves escalating.  Many countries are facing hunger – even starvation – as food and fertiliser supplies are disrupted and prices rocket.  Some of this is the direct consequence of the invasion, which has blockaded Ukrainian exports, and more is the consequences of sanctions imposed on Russia.  These obstruct payments even for countries which are not party to the sanctions themselves.

This is piled on top of the existing economic crisis, including in Britain.  With food and fuel bills soaring already, this war comes at an unaffordable price for working people.  A piece in the Guardian pointed out that while British troops may not be fighting, the country is on the “economic front line” of the war.  This will get worse as sanctions bite further, and worse still as arms spending is increased further.

We must spare no effort in making these connections, which are more powerful than they have been in the previous wars we have campaigned against.  The costs of the war are a key issue to take into the trade unions in the first place.

Britain’s Role

As already noted, the British government has taken one of the most aggressive and belligerent positions on the conflict, aided and abetted by the hapless and hopeless Starmer leadership of Labour, entangled in “patriotic” bipartisanship as it is.

Britain is pouring arms into Ukraine and is training Ukrainian troops.  Johnson has twice flown to Kyiv to pour cold water on any prospect of peace negotiations.  He is willing to see the suffering in Ukraine prolonged for British imperial interests.

And Britain has dragged its heels in assisting Ukrainian refugees, although it needs to be underlined that Ukrainians fleeing the war are at no risk of deportation to Rwanda unlike the victims of other UK-instigated wars – the racism of Johnson’s government is blatant.

Now the Chief of the General Staff, Britain’s top solider, is saying that the army must once again be prepared to fight a land war against Russia in Europe.  This is more than just jostling for more cash for the army, it is a earning that new wars are being prepared.  Rather than embrace the need for a new European security architecture, guaranteeing all and under the domination of none, we are offered the prospect of continuing NATO-inspired conflict and great power confrontation.

Stop the War

Our focus has to stay on shifting British government policy and opening up thereby prospects for a negotiated end to the war.  The outline of a deal are reasonably clear.  The key elements are Putin abandoning his aggression, Ukrainian neutrality and sovereignty, a democratic solution to the national question in Ukraine’s east with some form of agreement on the status of Crimea.  NATO expansion should be abandoned and new European security arrangements agreed, to avert repetitions of this crisis.

We must carry our message onto the streets and into the trade unions, while pushing back against all the attacks on us from the Starmer-state bloc and its sordid facilitators.  Looking at our history, there is no doubt that we can rise to the challenge.

23 Jun 2022 by Andrew Murray

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