Not in my name Not in my name. Photo: Alisdare Hickson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked below article

Kevin Ovenden on a week of war in Ukraine, attacks on the anti-war movement and the struggle for peace

One week into Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the outlook seems grim.

It is impossible in these circumstances to get an accurate picture of casualties. But they must certainly run into the thousands. Even the Russian military accepts it has lost 500 troops. The number of civilian dead Ukrainians must be many times that given how modern warfare is fought.

There is likely to be an escalation in the coming hours and days despite a second day of negotiations taking place in Belarus. You would hardly know there are negotiations, though news of them and China’s suggestion it can help broker a ceasefire is better known in Ukraine than in Britain and the EU.

Here, there is a frightening escalation of rhetoric from many governments and politicians. But there is also a growing concern among ordinary people. In many places there is a gathering again of the peace movement and anti-war forces.

In Greece, for example the right-wing Mitsotakis government has cited the Ukraine war as retrospective justification for a decision to spend a further 2.5 billion euros on rearming the Greek navy with state of the art warships. He said Greece needs them to deter Turkey, who he claims will use the ongoing crisis to seize Greek islands in the Aegean. The logic of this imperialist war is spreading.

But Tuesday saw a very large demonstration in Athens uniting the whole of the left, including supporters of the main opposition party Syriza, against war and against Nato and Greece inflaming the conflict. Sincere anti-war sentiment is spreading.

Health workers fighting for jobs, pay and to restore the service following its near destruction in the years of the Eurozone crisis are raising the slogan “money for health not for warships”.

After the first wave of a propaganda barrage aiming to throw back or destroy the anti-war left across Europe, there are now more prepared to speak out (while others collapse) in favour of peace not escalation.

Opinion polls will be volatile. But YouGov found 48 percent of all voters in Britain are against Britain engaging in airstrikes – a consequence of a no-fly zone – and just 29 percent in favour. Among Tory voters it was 50 percent. The average Tory voter has better sense than the Tory and Labour warhawk MPs.

A second development is growing alarm among a lot of people who are united in opposing the Russian invasion – as are the vast majority of people – but frightened by the attempts to witch-hunt anti-war opinion and also to demonise ordinary Russians, who are not at all responsible for their leader’s actions.

So Andy Beckett in the Guardian offers his criticisms of the anti-war movement but argues strongly against the attempt to drive the Stop the War coalition out of national political life.

The febrile anti-Russian bans – from Dostoevsky to plays and concert performers, to taking vodka off bar lists – have rightly alarmed a lot of people who know national-chauvinist hysteria when they see it. In the US and Canada progressive athletes are opposing attacks on sportspeople of Russian heritage.

Irrational chauvinist bans have nothing to do with undermining Putin and his circle. And even here, we have a new hypocrisy. The other side have “oligarchs” we have businessmen. They are corrupt, ours are… well? Are we never to recall what happened to 37 billion pounds of public money spent on a failed test and trace system, let alone billions more that has just gone into the pockets of the rich?

Then we are told that the Russian oligarchs are special. They are kleptocratic oligarchs. So British, Saudi, US, Israeli, Indian billionaires got it all through hard work?

We now know it is possible to seize a yacht from a billionaire. So let’s take all of them from the whole of the 1 percent.

The sooner this war is brought to an end, that there is a ceasefire, and the Russian forces withdraw, the better.

But it has already brought a dangerous shift in the course of what was already a crisis-wracked world.

Today French president Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking re-election next month, called for the massive rearmament of Europe. He said,

“We can no longer depend on others to feed us, care for us, inform us, finance us.

“We cannot depend on others to defend us, whether on land, at sea, under the sea, in the air, in space or in cyberspace. In this respect, our European defence must take a new step forward.”

He warned French and European working-class people will have to endure the pain of further economic hardship as the prices of not just oil and gas, but of wheat, basic foodstuffs and essentials rise even if there is a quick end to the actual fighting in Ukraine. That pain will be harder in poorer parts of the world.

The government of Britain – and the Labour opposition – share that message. So does the government of Russia to its people.

So let’s keep our eyes on what we know to be happening whatever the chaotic course of events and the “fog of war”. More and more people are dying in Ukraine.

We have to do what we can where we are to stop the war. The enemy is not the Russian people. They are braving arrest to oppose their government. Meanwhile there is a war at home against the anti-war movement, but also now hitting even middle-of-the-road people told they must shut up and not even ask questions let alone voice a criticism.

Governments start wars. People bring them to an end. 

In struggling to do that now, we are also fighting to stop a descent into further wars and a world where there will be many more guns, and a lot less butter for ordinary people.

Before you go

If you liked this article, please consider getting involved. Counterfire is a revolutionary socialist organisation working to build the movements of resistance and socialist ideas. Please join us and help make change happen.

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.

Tagged under: