Sunday, May 1, 2022

May Council Election Statements (2022)

Party News from the April 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Party is standing two candidates in May’s local elections, one in Clapham East ward of Lambeth Borough Council and one in the Pantiles & St. Marks Ward of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Here are the election statements.
End Capitalism

The other candidates in this election don’t want change. Instead they will be wittering on about how they propose to fix the faulty system we live under – capitalism – so it’s maybe a tiny bit better for you and yours. But every politician says this. In every party. In every election. And they never really fix anything.

The reason they can’t fix capitalism’s problems is because capitalism IS the problem.

Why? Because it only works for the tiny minority who own most of the wealth.

Capitalism has revolutionised our science and technology so that we can now produce enough for everybody worldwide. That means we could make everything free if we take the world back from the rich and run it collectively as a communally owned resource.

What’s causing poverty, inequality, wars and global warming is that we have a 21st century planet being trashed by an obsolete 19th century economic system that puts profits before meeting needs.

The natural and industrial resources of our planet Earth are the common heritage of all humans.

Universal free access would be simpler, faster, and smarter. And it’s an upgrade the world badly needs, so show your support by voting for the Socialist Party (World Socialist Movement) candidate, Danny Lambert.

Offers to help in the campaign: 02076223811 or text 07922025764.


Fit for Purpose? Or fit for Change?

Democracy can seem abstract when your ability to make changes to your community feels limited to choosing between a small number of political parties every few years. And how can any winning party really represent the needs of all 119,000 residents in Tunbridge Wells borough?

Party politics will always get in the way of local residents being able to make changes that help build a better community for all. The main parties are limited by decisions and views made centrally, and conflict between them distracts from the need to work for improvements that benefit the greatest number of people. Two councillors this year alone have resigned from their parties for failures in both local administration and at the very top of government. Whether Liberal Democrat or Tory, it is not the party but the political system they wish to maintain which causes these issues. We must strive to create a political system that ensures all members of society are listened to and can contribute. And this must start at the very grass roots of politics, not the top.

In Tunbridge Wells, there has been a disturbing number of cases of women’s drinks being spiked in bars and clubs. This problem won’t be resolved until every woman is safe and secure while out at night. We should ask what leads some people to violent and antisocial behaviour, and aim for a culture which treats everyone with respect.

Community projects which work to safeguard and support our community never have enough funding, part of a wider problem of neglected public services which has led to problems such as the lack of NHS dental care. Capitalist society is shaped by money, with most wealth ending up with the elite and the majority left to cope with dwindling resources and high prices.

The Green Party would have you believe capitalism can be managed to mitigate the effects of industry on the environment. Locally, efforts to maintain and protect our green spaces, stop developments outside of brownfield sites, reduce traffic, and efficiently renovate properties are constrained by the economic system. The main parties merely attempt treatment of the symptoms; we propose treating the cause by advocating for a socialist society built to satisfy everyone’s needs, and those of the planet.

Shannon Kennedy, the Socialist Party candidate, Pantiles & St. Marks Ward.

Offers to help: Phone or text 07971 XXXXXX

Statement on the War in Ukraine (2022)

From the April 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Russian Federation has launched a full-scale attack upon Ukraine.

The World Socialist Movement is not concerned with the so-called rights and wrongs of this war, whether the niceties of international law were breached or if the sovereignty of Ukraine was disregarded. As workers, we are painfully aware that it will be fellow workers who will pay the blood price of the geo-political games played out by the Great Powers.

Ukraine isn’t the ‘democracy’ that Western politicians and media like to give the impression it is. In fact, the political and economic superstructure of Ukraine is not very much different from that of Russia. So the argument that it is ‘democratic’ while Russia isn’t and that ‘we’ must support it to defend ‘democratic values’ is false.

The trouble for our fellow workers living in Eastern Europe is that history has dealt them a bad hand — no choice but to be dominated either by the EU-US or by Russia. For the governments of either side, people in Ukraine are pawns to use to further their interests.

Not a drop of working people’s blood should be shed in supporting either side of this capitalist conflict of which bloc can claim territory as part of its sphere of influence. Whether it is the Ukrainian nation or the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, it is not worth the sacrifice of our fellow workers’ lives.

The WSM condemns the attitude of all those prepared to see towns and cities littered with the corpses of men, women and children. For what? To fight for or against what would be in the main merely a change of rulers, with each side sacrificing our Ukrainian fellow workers and Russian Donbas fellow workers for such spurious claims as acting for ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’.

Ill-gotten gains (2022)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his State of the Union message on 1 March President Biden told the Russian oligarchs: ‘We are coming for your ill-begotten gains’, ‘your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets’. The audience, including billionaire senators, rose to their feet in a standing ovation. Watch them at: tinyurl.com/2bbd5683. This side of the Atlantic, Sky News (28 February) reported that ‘Boris Johnson says Russian oligarchs will no longer be able to hide “ill-gotten gains” in UK’ and Liz Truss, the very undiplomatic Foreign Secretary, had said:
‘There are over 100 billionaires in Russia. We have compiled a hit list of oligarchs. We are working through and putting the cases together, and every few weeks we will sanction new oligarchs. We will be targeting oligarchs’ private jets, we will be targeting their properties, we will be targeting other possessions that they have and there will be nowhere to hide.’
In the House of Commons, a Tory MP, Bob Seeley, referred to the Russian capitalists as ‘kleptocrats’ (Times, 2 March).

The present Russian capitalist class amassed their wealth in the first instance when after the collapse of the USSR the new Russian government, as advised by free-market ideologues from the US, decided to sell off the state-owned industries. A small group, mainly members of the ruling nomenklatura but also dodgy businessmen who had flourished on the margins of soviet state capitalism — such as Roman Abramovich — were able to acquire these assets on the cheap, often via bribery and gangsterism (incidentally, the same happened in Ukraine). But this was just the ‘primitive accumulation’ of their capital, akin to what happened in England when capital was originally accumulated through overseas plunder and the slave trade.

Once accumulated in this sort of way, capital becomes respectable and is invested and used up but is then renewed and expanded through the productive activity of wage-workers, with by far the greater part of what they produce being appropriated by the capitalists as surplus value, the source of profits, and of the dividends and bloated ‘salaries’ that afford them a luxurious lifestyle. This taking of the unpaid labour of the producers is the source of the wealth of the Russian capitalists. That’s how they ‘got’ their ‘gains’. But this is no different from how billionaires everywhere get theirs, including in Britain and America. Their wealth, too, is ‘ill-gotten’, being legally stolen from the producers.

Anyway, what is an ‘oligarch’? What is a ‘kleptocrat’? In what way, if any, do they differ from a Western capitalist or billionaire?

According to the dictionaries, oligarchy is rule by a few (from the Greek word for few ‘oligos’) and ‘kleptocracy’ is power in the hands of thieves (from the Greek word for thief). Socialists used to call capitalists ‘plutocrats’ (as in Clause 6 of our Declaration of Principles), with power in the hands of the rich (from the Greek ‘ploutos’). All three terms are equally apt, alternative descriptions of the ‘1 percent’. They are rich. They are few. And they are thieves.

The Western billionaires cheering on the expropriation of the wealth of their Russian cousins should be wary. It might set a precedent and the day come when a delegate of the socialist majority will mount the rostrum to tell them: ‘We are coming for your ill-gotten gains, not just your yachts, your luxury apartments and your private jets, but your land, your factories, your means of transport and communications, all the means for producing wealth that you have appropriated. And you will have nowhere to hide.’

Material World: COP26 cop-out (2022)

The Material World column from the April 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

When COP26 took place last November, we warned our audience about the optimistic sound bites of the politicians and to be wary of the promises they make. Of course, we were not alone in our scepticism for any success in solving the climate crises. Many environmentalists shared our doubts that COP26 would produce either sufficient or effective policies. However, we identified the problem as not being one of political will but arising from economic necessity because of the inherent rules of capitalism – priority will always be for the accumulation of profit and people’s and the planet’s well-being shall be merely a secondary consideration.

Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund management firm with about £7.4tn in assets, said pushing climate policies was about profits:
‘Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke’ We focus on sustainability not because we’re environmentalists, but because we are capitalists and fiduciaries to our clients.’
The Glasgow conference was full of ‘net zero pledges.’ There were many, from India’s desire to be carbon neutral by 2070, China’s by 2060, to the EU’s goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by the year 2030, to US commitments to cut emissions by 50 percent by the same year. These are all illusory climate action measures. ‘Net zero emissions’ does not actually mean bringing emissions down to zero. Rather it refers to policies that aim to compensate continued emissions with projects that absorb carbon elsewhere. These policies are supposed to help remove the extra emissions from the atmosphere through measures like tree planting, enhanced forest protection (ie, preventing deforestation), and costly carbon capture and storage technologies.

Less than 6 months after COP26, countries and corporations have back-tracked or broken their pledges. The compromises and concessions have led to accusations of ‘greenwashing’ once the finalised COP26 statement was published. Given the division of the world into competing capitalist states with different economic interests, it’s surprising that there was any agreement.

Just three months after the event even the UK MP who chaired the summit, Alok Sharma, accepted that there is a danger that the vital pledges made will ‘wither on the vine…We will have mitigated no risks. Seized no opportunities. We will have fractured the trust built between nations. And 1.5 degrees will slip from our grasp.’

Meanwhile China’s President Xi Jinping said that low-carbon goals should not come at the expense of ‘normal life’, and that ‘Reducing emissions is not about reducing productivity, and it is not about not emitting at all’. His American counterpart, Joe Biden, has conducted one of the largest oil drilling lease auction in recent times.

The case for fossil fuels to begin to be phased out, such as reliance on coal-burning power stations, was the earliest to be reneged upon with very little change on the use and subsidies to coal as an energy source. Coal production has reached record levels in a number of countries.

Reducing deforestation was another key element in climate-friendly policies yet these too were sacrificed to the altar of capital. Barely was the ink dry on Indonesia’s signature, along with more than 100 countries, on a plan to stop cutting down trees on an industrial scale in under a decade, than Siti Nurbaya Bakar, its environment minister, was saying ‘forcing Indonesia to zero deforestation in 2030 is clearly inappropriate and unfair’ and that any deal could not halt economic growth.

Climate nationalism in the name of ‘national interest’ has resulted in so many loopholes in all the promises, pledges and policies to reach the 1.5C of the Paris Agreement, it has turned into a sieve. For all the language of it being a global problem, and requiring world action, we heard very little about doing away with the nation-state.

Previously, our detractors saw socialism as an answer for the far-off future and the reform of capitalism as realistic. They squabbled among themselves for what is the ‘better’ strategy but socialism simply did not appear on their radar. The Socialist Party’s message is utterly drowned out by continual capitalist media propaganda.

The second instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sixth assessment report compiled by 270 scientists who assessed over 34,000 studies is described by Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC, as ‘a dire warning about the consequences of inaction.’

The final sentence of the IPCC report reads: ‘The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.’

Socialism, which our critics customarily presented as an unrealistic, utopian pipedream, can now begin to be acknowledged as the only alternative to the possible collapse of human civilisation. We need to stop centring attention on the false ‘solutions’ the wealthy and powerful are offering. Anything less than socialism is distracting smoke and mirrors.
ALJO

See also:
  • Countdown to COP26 - Part 1 (August 2021 Socialist Standard)
  • Countdown to COP26 – Part 2 (September 2021 Socialist Standard)
  • Countdown to COP26 – Part 3 (October 2021 Socialist Standard)

Voices of the Russian and Ukrainian Left (2022)

From the April 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard
This is an internet-based survey of what leftist organisations (or those perceived as such) in Russia and Ukraine are saying about the war in Ukraine.
Russia: the intra-system left
The main division in Russian politics is between the four parties ‘inside the system’ that on crucial issues are loyal to President Putin and other groups ‘outside the system’. Two of the intra-system parties – the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and Just Russia – are considered leftist. In foreign policy, however, all four intra-system parties adhere to various forms of Russian great-power nationalism.

The CPRF website (cprf.ru) presents ‘Information Materials’ on the war, dated 14 March and prepared by Vyacheslav Tetekin, a historian, former parliamentarian and member of the party’s Central Committee. He argues that ‘the events in Ukraine are yet another American war for control of the world’; the military operation is in ‘the historical interests of the country and the people’ while ‘sanctions will have a beneficial effect’ by making Russia less dependent on the West.

Nevertheless, a few prominent members of the CPRF have expressed opposition to the war, including three deputies of the State Duma and Yevgeny Stupin, a defence lawyer who sits on the Moscow City Council.

Also on March 14, Sergei Mironov, leader of Just Russia, calls for an international tribunal to try Ukrainian Nazis as well as ‘murderers and sadists from the Security Service of Ukraine’ for ‘crimes against peace and humanity’. The trial must be held in Odessa’s House of Trade Unions, for it was there that anti-Maidan activists were burnt alive on May 2, 2014. ‘The date will be set later’ – presumably after Odessa has been occupied (bit.ly/3D2L9gw).

An anti-war resolution
Part of the extra-system left has been more willing to oppose the war. On 24 February participants at a round table of left activists signed an anti-war resolution. On February 26 the Central Organizing Committee of the ‘social-democratic’ organisation ‘Left Socialist Action’ (LSA) officially approved the document and published it on their website (bit.ly/34Sy7W2).

The resolution condemns the decision to invade Ukraine, which it attributes to ‘the unhealthy foreign-policy ambitions of a narrow circle of persons in the country’s leadership’ and a wish to ‘distract attention from the domestic failures of Russia’s government’, demands ‘an immediate end to aggression against the fraternal Ukrainian people’ and calls upon ‘all citizens of Russia who hold left-wing and democratic views to conduct anti-war agitation’. The final point declares that ‘if the existing regime is unable to secure peace’ then ‘the whole socio-political system’ will have to undergo ‘radical change’.

Three of the resolution’s ten signatories are unaffiliated public figures:
  • Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements
  • pollster and columnist Grigory Yudin
  • Sergei Tsukasov, member of the Council of Deputies for the Ostankino Municipal District (Moscow)
The other seven are:
  • historian and lecturer Nikita Arkin (LSA)
  • Yevgeny Stupin (CPRF)
  • mathematics lecturer Mikhail Lobanov (trade union ‘University Solidarity’)
  • historian Alexei Sakhnin (Left Front)
  • Vladimir Avramchuk (Revolutionary Workers’ Party)
  • Nikita Novichkov (Union of Marxists)
  • musician, author and publisher Kirill Medvedev (Russian Socialist Movement)
It is unclear whether any organisation besides LSA has officially adopted the resolution. It does not appear on the website of any other group. Two of the signatories definitely do not represent the organisations to which they belong. Stupin does not represent the CPRF (see above). Nor does Sakhnin represent the Left Front, even though he was one of its founders and first coordinators. Left Front calls itself ‘a left-patriotic public organisation’ and supports the invasion of Ukraine. Its leader, Sergei Udaltsov, is a self-styled ‘Soviet patriot’ who managed the campaign of CPRF presidential candidate Gennady Zyuganov in 2012.

Russia: Trotskyists
The Revolutionary Workers’ Party, which has a Trotskyist orientation, models its position with regard to the current war on Lenin’s ‘revolutionary defeatism’ during World War One. According to their spokesman Vladimir Pisarev, the war between Russia and Ukraine is ‘imperialist on both sides’; however, Russia’s defeat is to be welcomed as it will bring the Putin regime to an end (bit.ly/3KYsK7i).

The Russian Socialist Movement is also Trotskyist. At the time of writing no commentary on the current war has appeared on its website (bit.ly/34UMysT).

Anarcho-syndicalists

On February 25, the Russian section of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association issued the following statement in several languages:
‘The war has begun.

What people were afraid of, what they were warned about, what they did not want to believe, but what was inevitable – happened. The ruling elites of Russia and Ukraine, instigated and provoked by world capital, greedy for power and bloated with billions stolen from the working people, came together in a deadly battle. Their thirst for profit and domination is now paid with blood by ordinary people — just like us.

The first shot was fired by the stronger, more predatory and more arrogant of the bandits – the Kremlin. But, as always in imperialist conflicts, behind the immediate cause lies a whole tangle of disgusting reasons…. Today these (interstate conflicts) give rise to local wars. Tomorrow they threaten to turn into a Third World Imperialist War.

Whatever ‘humanist’, nationalistic, militaristic, historical or any other rhetoric justifies the current conflict, behind it there are only the interests of those who have political, economic and military power. To us, working people, pensioners, students, it brings only suffering, blood and death. Bombing of peaceful cities, shelling, killing people have no justification.

We demand an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of all troops to the borders and lines that existed before the start of the war.
We call on the soldiers sent to fight not to shoot at each other, and especially not to open fire on the civilian population.

We urge them to refuse en masse to carry out the criminal orders of their commanders.

STOP THIS WAR!
BAYONET TO THE GROUND!

We call on people in the rear on both sides of the front, the working people of Russia and Ukraine, not to support this war, not to help it – on the contrary, to resist it with all their might!

Don’t go to war!

Not a single ruble, not a single hryvnia from our pockets for the war!
Strike against this war if you can!
Someday — when they have enough strength — the working people in Russia and Ukraine will demand the full responsibility from all presumptuous politicians and oligarchs who set us against each other.

NO WAR BETWEEN WORKING PEOPLE OF RUSSIA AND UKRAINE!
NO PEACE BETWEEN CLASSES!
PEACE TO THE HOUSES – WAR TO THE PALACES! 
(bit.ly/3CSUck3 – I have omitted the authors’ analysis of specific causes of the war. Following criticism by the Kharkov anarchists, they clarified and revised their analysis).’

Irina Shumilova
Assambleya (Assembly), online journal of the Kharkov anarchists, expresses general agreement with this statement (bit.ly/3MXsXtf) They also report an anti-war protest in the Russian city of Kostroma by law student Irina Shumilova, author of The Black Book of Capitalism. Her placard read: ‘If you’re a vegetable at home, you’ll be fertilizer abroad.’(Link).

In an interview with Spanish comrades, the Russian anarcho-syndicalists make it clearer that they oppose both sides in the war:
‘The current war is solely a confrontation between two states, two groupings of capitalists, two nationalisms. It is not for anarchists to choose which is the ‘lesser evil’. We do not desire victory for either side. All our sympathy is for the ordinary peaceful working people who are perishing today under gunfire, missiles and bombs’ (bit.ly/3N7h3Nh).

Ukraine: the Left
The ‘Old Left’ parties in post-Soviet Ukraine – the Communist Party of Ukraine, the ‘social-democratic’ Socialist Party of Ukraine, the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, Borotba (Struggle) – were oriented toward the former Soviet Union, Russia or ‘Eurasia’. Their offices were destroyed by Ukrainian nationalists during the Maidan of 2014 and they were banned in 2015 by the ‘de-communisation’ law.

A Trotskyist group called the Party of Social Revolution managed to survive the upheaval by professing support for the Maidan protests despite their liberal and nationalist character and by giving their organisation a more ‘respectable’ name — ‘the Social Movement’ (bit.ly/3Ip4w48). Apart from the anarchists, this seems to be the only viable leftist organisation in Ukraine today. In the current war they support ‘the fight of the Ukrainian people for self-determination’ but are opposed to NATO (tinyurl.com/mu3sxs6m). Some small leftist groups are among the eleven parties suspended by the Zelensky government on 20 March 2022 for alleged ties to Russia.

Anarchists in Ukraine
While the Ukrainian Left is weak, anarchists have a significant presence in the country, partly due to interest in the legacy of Nestor Makhno and his ‘insurgent army’ during the Russian civil war.

In 2014 the Ukrainian anarchist movement split in two. One group gave whole-hearted support to the Maidan protests and then helped the new authorities fight the separatists in the Donbass. The other – smaller – group tried to formulate a more ‘internationalist’ position.

Three tendencies are now identifiable within the anarchist movement:
  • ‘National-anarchists’, such as ‘Nihilist’, ‘Revolutionary Action’ and the Arsenal football fan club in Kiev and ‘Autonomous Resistance’ in Lviv, lend full support to the Ukrainian state and are willing to join its armed forces. They even man an ‘anarchist battalion’.
  • The Kharkov anarchist group ‘Assembly’ exemplifies those who condemn both sides, though they do consider Russia a more dangerous and reactionary state than Ukraine. They do not fight or urge others to fight, but work to help the civilian population, especially victims of bombing and bombardment.
  • ‘Black Flag’ in Kiev and Lviv occupies an intermediate position. They blame the war on capitalism and on the rulers of both states, but participate in ‘territorial self-defence’ – local volunteer light-infantry units.
It may seem strange for people to claim to be nationalists and anarchists at the same time, inasmuch as nationalism is usually considered the doctrine of the nation-state while anarchists are against the state. However, ‘national-anarchists’ distinguish between the nation-state, which they oppose, and the national community, which they value. They regard the nation-state and the national community as separable. Thus even if the Ukrainian state is defeated they hope to continue ‘autonomous resistance’ on behalf of the national community.
Stefan

Ukraine: Good Against Evil . . . Or More Complicated Than That? (2022)

From the April 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The war in Ukraine has led to much sympathy and solidarity from people across Europe and beyond. And in a way, this is both understandable and heart-warming. Few want to see innocent people bombed out of their homes and turned into refugees, fleeing mass killing. The assistance people have been prepared to give Ukrainian refugees has been a testament to the basic solidarity and mutual support socialists have always said we are capable of as human beings.

The media have largely portrayed this war as a battle of good against evil. Socialists know that wars in modern capitalist society are never quite that simple. Sometimes the motivations for war are transparently economic (eg the Gulf Wars), while at other times there is a complex geo-political element, with states manoeuvring for political advantage and seeking to extend or defend their spheres of influence (the Falklands War was closer to this).

The Ukraine situation is complicated and most people (including us) did not expect armed conflict to actually break out. The ‘good versus evil’ scenario that is the dominant narrative doesn’t quite fit and as usual other factors are at play.

Democracy?
Over time, political democracy, imperfect though it always is within capitalism, has emerged as the dominant and favoured way for the ruling classes of nation states to manage their affairs. This has come about for a number of reasons – some because of political pressure from the working class wanting a say in how society is organised and run (e.g. the Chartists in Britain in the nineteenth century), but also because the owning class is rarely united. It is typically a mass of competing interests, not just between states but within them as well. Financial capital (such as the banks) often has different interests to industrial capital for example, and political democracy is a good way of the state arbitrating between competing interests.

Many states though take years to develop this type of democratic practice and culture as they have little by way of a tradition in it. Indeed, since the Second World War, while numerous states have gravitated towards elements of political democracy across much of the world, some have done it much more successfully than others. This is the story of many of the states that either emerged or reinvented themselves after the collapse of the old Soviet Union in the early 1990s, including both Russia and Ukraine. Both have elements of capitalist political democracy but in an obviously deformed way, and the type of political corruption that tends to exist at the fringes of more mature capitalist states like those in Western Europe, North America, etc tends to be more entwined with the state apparatus at a deep and fundamental level. Their past authoritarian cultures have had a lasting impact.

The think-tank Transparency International (not above controversy itself) produces an annual Corruptions Perceptions Index which ranks countries according to general perceptions of corruption and theft in their state machinery and operations. In 2021 Russia ranked a lowly 136th out of 180 listed states. Interestingly, Ukraine was little better at 122nd in the world as graft, corruption and client-politics there are legion. This manages to put both Russia and Ukraine even lower than dictatorships such as Cuba (64th) and China (66th).

Most politics in Ukraine is dominated by ethnic and nationalist considerations, with what could be described as the right/left political spectrum associated with more mature democratic states barely in existence. This situation is blurred slightly by the fact that Ukraine currently has a government led by a president (Zelenskyy) and party (Servant of the People) that have an orientation that is at least broadly aligned with some conventional notions of Western parliamentary democracy, including aspirations towards membership of the European Union.

Russia on the other hand has more obviously still struggled to shake off decades of authoritarian control and culture and is run by what appears to be an ever-smaller clique led by President Putin, an elected dictatorship in all but name. Checks and balances on authoritarian actions and adventures are low and Putin has long hankered after recreating what some would refer to as the old Soviet Union without much of the associated Leninist politics. It could be seen even more easily as a recreation of Tsarist Russia, an empire which also included most of what is now Ukraine and parts of many other Eastern European states.

Whenever Putin sees an opportunity to embark on a military adventure in pursuit of this goal he has a tendency to move fast, with few if any challenging voices around him in the Russian hierarchy. The usual manoeuvrings and diplomacy around these situations by other states effectively become cast as an excuse to do what he most likely wants to do anyway (as with NATO expansion into the East). This then – at least in theory – strengthens his internal and external position as the leader of an empire trying to regain its ‘rightful’ position among the nations. This worldview has been exacerbated by longstanding grievances, both related to Russia’s historic standing and defeat in the Cold War, and also personal slights such as when his mooted interest in Russia itself joining NATO over two decades ago was rebuffed by both Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

Economic interests
In addition, Russia has its own clear economic interests too. As such, in 1994 it sought to set up its own trading bloc which came to full fruition in 2011 when seven other countries agreed to join it in a free trade area. These were Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine. But the orientation of Ukraine along with many other Eastern European states towards the EU led it to sign a ‘Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement’ in January 2016. Since then, Russia has suspended its free trade agreement with Ukraine and Ukraine retaliated by passing trade restrictions on Russia.

Russia has long created issues for the West that it has struggled to resolve. Doing deals with the oligarchs while watching Putin help rip up various geo-political agreements made in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Bloc has created a certain cognitive dissonance, but until recently it was the money that largely won out. Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the oligarchs who stripped the state of many of its assets for a massive profit have found a welcome home for the most part, particularly in the UK. The debutant balls that take place in Mayfair each summer are no longer arranged for Sloane Rangers but for the sons and daughters of the Russian elite. Many of the top FTSE 350 resources companies quoted on the London Stock Exchange are Russian – such as Evraz, Polymetal International and Petropavlovsk. The oligarchs and their families who own football clubs and newspapers had become ever more integrated into Western capital and it is hardly surprising, as they have qualities, connections and money admired by the elites in the West.

According to The Economist, 41.3 percent of Russia’s exports come to the European Union and the UK, while 34.5 percent of its imports originate from the EU and UK. The massive sanctions that have now been imposed as a result of the war in Ukraine will hit this considerably and it is clearly something the West would not have otherwise countenanced.

Arguably, the move to expand both the EU and NATO to the East have ‘provoked the Russian bear’, but it is a bear they have been prepared to happily play with for quite some time. This too despite the Russian invasions of Chechnya (1995), Georgia (2008) and Crimea (2014). And many on the political left have been closet apologists for Putin on the grounds that an enemy of an enemy must be a friend, irrespective of the discrimination and human rights abuses of the Putin regime and the fact that most of them would most likely end up in prison there just for promoting the views they have.

Murky business
So, one way or the other the war in Ukraine has interrupted business as usual, as wars tend to do. The previous Russian invasions of adjacent territory were not welcomed by the West but not proactively resisted either. Ukraine is too big, too close and the situation now perhaps too grotesque in some aspects for them to turn the other cheek completely. They will not wish to get involved militarily (at least not in an active sense) as that might provoke an even worse escalation, so the retaliation will be economic in essence, building on Ukraine’s own sanctions against Russia since 2016.

It is a mess, but the sort of mess capitalism delivers all too frequently. Socialists have sympathy with the oppressed and those struggling for basic democratic rights everywhere but don’t take sides in conflicts between elites. We know all too well that the victors soon become the oppressors (as happened in Russia itself post-USSR). To put it bluntly, we are on the side of both the Ukrainian people getting bombed out of their homes and the Russian soldiers getting murdered in battle because of the imperial fantasies of the leader who ordered them there.
DAP

A Future Worth Living For (1960)

Editorial from the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in a most paradoxical world. We live in an age of science, an age in which man has become more and more the master over nature. The spectres of disease, starvation, and death, beat a steady retreat before the onslaught of test tube and microscope. Fire, water and the atom are being steadily harnessed to the whims and will of man. The mysteries of the past have become the studies of the present. What man feared in his ignorance has been conquered by his understanding. And yet amidst this possible Eden of peace and plenty rears the ugly head of destruction and poverty.

Before us lies a world of highly developed national interests, stilled in a web of its own making. A society based upon production of commodities for profit continues as an economy which cannot adjust itself to the complications of the highly technical relationships of the 20th Century. Because of its inherent contradictions, Capitalism finds itself, constantly faced with war. It is not democracy or dictatorship but expansion or extinction of capitalist interests that are at stake. In new markets from which profits may be reaped, in new territories to exploit, lies the cause for which men die.

The new advances in the means and methods of production, which provide capitalism with its claim to greatness, have become a Frankenstein. Technological progress has outgrown and is being strangled by the restraints and limitations of our private-property society. The small production units of early capitalism have given way to a complicated, highly socialised organisation. Despite this, control still remains in private hands, typified by individual, corporate, or state ownership. It is this glaring contradiction that results in wars, crises and misery.

Poverty amidst plenty has no justification. Man can produce food, clothing and shelter, more than enough for all, and yet many go hungry, homeless and unclad. Within his power lies a world of peace and plenty. Yet Man appears reluctant to make it possible in his political ignorance.

It is a current prejudice that man’s inhumanity to man, his selfishness and greed, are the core of all social ills. The pious are devout in their claim that man’s difficulties are due to his lack of faith and ungodliness. The “intellectuals” are equally insistent in maintaining that the working class are not only incapable but also unwilling to lead a better life. The “practical” men insist that a rigid and authoritative leadership is necessary to control the ignorance and stupidity of the mob.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain opposes all these contentions. If we want to understand the human behaviour of the present-day, we must seek for an explanation in the organisation of society. We live in a commodity system in which everything has a price, including man. Goods are not produced primarily to satisfy the needs of people, but to be sold on the market for profit. The means of production are concentrated in the hands of a few who live by virtue of their ownership. On the other hand, we have the overwhelming majority of the world whose only means of livelihood is the selling of their energies, physical and mental, to those who own the machinery of wealth production. The few live in splendour and luxury; the many dwell precariously.

It is not a change of heart that is needed, but the establishment of Socialism, a social system that will be in harmony with man’s needs. There is but one way to speed the day: that is by banding together to destroy the barriers of national patriotism and race hatred;, to organise into a movement that stands for the establishment of a world in which war will give way to peace, scarcity to abundance, and nationalism to world cooperation. Only such a movement can be an inspiration and rallying point for the working class everywhere.

The common ownership and democratic control of the means of living, by and in the interest of society as a whole, is the only insurance of a future worth living for.

Right to Strike (1960)

From the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Arising from an article appearing in the Sunday Times headed “The Right to Strike" on the 14th February, 1960, there appeared in the correspondence column on the following Sunday a very interesting letter, also under the heading “The Right to Strike.” Amongst other things, the contributor made the following observations: “I personally believe that in a free society, the rights of an individual to apply or withhold his labour must be maintained in all but the most exceptional of circumstances, such as a major threat to the life of the community.” He also said: “Thus in a tightly integrated society, where interdependence characterises all major spheres of activity, any one of a large number of small groups could by the irresponsible use of rights, affect the very ability of the population to live.” He then went on to quote as examples, “The medical profession and workers in sewage disposal, water supply, power supply, and other vital services.” It would seem that although trade unionists should have the “right to strike,” under no circumstances should they use it.

His conclusion, however, deserves close examination: he said, “The only solution lies in a much greater attention by the management to all aspects of human relationships and—preferably at an early age—the inculcation into the minds of working people their duties and responsibilities as trade unionists and citizens living in the second half of the 20th century.” It reminds one of the Jesuit claim that a child of seven taken into the Roman Catholic Church remains a Catholic for life.

This argument of “responsibility” has been used in the past, for instance, in connection with the recent threatened railway strike. But throughout his letter the contributor, except for his reference to the management's greater attention to “all aspects of human relationships," puts no responsibility whatsoever on the capitalist class. This is understandable, for as a section of society who produce nothing, their responsibility is only to themselves. Their responsibility is to profits not to people. These profits can only be maintained at the expense of the working class, and when, because of the refusal of sections of the capitalist class to meet demands for increases in wages, trade unionists take action by using the strike weapon, the whole force of the capitalist class, through the medium of the Government, Press and sometimes trade union leaders, is used to prate about “responsibilities" to society. No-one, of course, talks about the responsibility of the capitalist class to workers trying to raise families on £7 to £8 per week (e.g., the railway workers). No, their plight is conveniently forgotten "in the interest of the country.” What humbug!

However, one thing should be clear to trade unionists on these issues. The capitalists cannot do without us, but we can dispense with their services, for they do not sow neither do they reap; they are, in fact, a useless, parasitical class who are a permanent brake on society.

Now, back to our contributor. One would think he was a pillar of capitalism—perhaps Mr. Macmillan, the Tory Prime Minister, or the Tory Minister of Labour. But anyone who thought this would be wrong. It was Mr. Carron, President of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Trade unionists may be surprised at this—we are not.

We are very sceptical of the statements and attitudes of trade union leaders, for we can remember that many trade union leaders supported the capitalist Labour Government and their wage-freeze policy in the years 1947 to 1950, much to the detriment of the workers.
Johnny Edmonds