Sunak greeting Zelenskyy at Stansted Airport, February 2023. Photo: Number 10/ Simon Dawson Sunak greeting Zelenskyy at Stansted Airport, February 2023. Photo: Number 10/ Simon Dawson

Lindsey German on why anti-imperialism remains core politics

The consequences of war and climate change have been demonstrated graphically with the Libyan flood disaster. The Nato-led bombing in 2011, which resulted in an estimated 30,000 dead and regime change which overthrew the country’s then president, Muammar Ghaddafi, plunged the country into chaos. The destruction of infrastructure and the descent of the country into civil war laid the basis for the destruction of the two dams and the horrors we are now witnessing.

This isn’t the story the media or government in this country want you to hear. Instead we are still told that bombing was justified on humanitarian grounds, and that David Cameron’s was a good war.

The convenient loss of memory over the interventions of the past two decades was also in evidence at the TUC last week, in what marked a bad development for the wider left movement. The right-wing GMB union was able to get through a composite motion about Ukraine which supported sending arms to the war there, tried to put preconditions on any peace talks, and astonishingly made not a single mention of any role played by the British government or Nato, in the current situation there or in any of its previous wars.

Interestingly, the motion was only passed because its most overt commitments to sending arms to Ukraine were removed, and most of the speeches in its favour concentrated on the humanitarian effects of the war and the need for solidarity, rather than looking at the wider causes of the war, the role of Nato or the record levels of arms spending worldwide as the cold war with China hots up, as I wrote here. And the TUC general secretary, Paul Nowak, felt he had to add an ‘explanation’ to the motion, saying that the general council did not see it as putting preconditions on talks – although that is what it says.

But it nonetheless marks a setback for the trade union movement and one which needs to be reversed. It also shows the weakness of much of the left on questions of war and imperialism: they display a level of amnesia over the west’s continuing role in wars and warmongering, while implying that Russia’s belligerence is uniquely awful, rather than one part of the conflict between imperialist powers. In order to do this they are increasingly attacking those of us who do take the fight against our own imperialism seriously.

They echo the right-wing line that those who oppose the war must be Putin apologists or using ‘Putin talking points’. Yet it was clear from the one speech opposing the GMB motion at the TUC that absolutely no concession was given to Putin; rather the argument was that we have to oppose our own imperialism as well. That is of course anathema to the Labour leadership, and to those on the right of the movement who want more defence spending and more weaponry produced – the line of the GMB.

We have seen these divisions inside the working-class movement before – most notably during the First World War, but also in wars such as the Falklands/Malvinas where workers were encouraged by Labour to put nation before class in order to justify killing Argentinian workers. That led to a strengthening of Thatcherism, not its weakening. Today, there is no fundamental separation between government domestic policy and foreign policy. It’s not possible to oppose what it is doing over the cost-of-living crisis or migration and support what it is doing over the wars and arms production.

The Stop the War Coalition fortuitously held its annual general meeting where we elected a new steering committee, passed resolutions, and generally agreed that we weren’t about to disband. Instead, we supported resolutions on a range of issues, including one in defence of Russian anti-war campaigner Boris Kagarlitsky and Ukrainian pacifist Yurii Sheliazhenko, both of whom face prosecution from their respective governments. We also committed to increasing our campaigning against our government’s proxy war in Ukraine and its arms build-up in the Pacific. The tide is beginning to turn over this war. The Ukrainian counter offensive has so far failed, casualties on both sides are very high, and there is a growing sense that the war will drag on with neither side breaking through.

As one of the great speakers at the conference, Irish MEP Clare Daly, argued, there is no enthusiasm for the war among most European politicians as there was 18 months ago. There is growing opposition to it among the people of Europe. We have to build that opposition here.

In the end of the day, there will be some sort of a peace deal over Ukraine. It might not be what either side really wants. But the real question is, how much more will Ukraine look like Libya by that time? And how much more dangerous will the world be?

This week: I will be organising to get as many people as possible to the People’s Assembly demo on 1 October in Manchester, and especially on the anti-war and peace bloc. There’s also the doctors’ strikes which I will be supporting, and discussing with my union branch what we are doing about industrial action next week. And I will be going to see George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion at the Old Vic, which has a lot to say about class and social engineering.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.