Stop the War and CND banners Stop the War and CND banners. Photo: Garry Knight / Public Domain

As the crisis in Ukraine escalates, the anti-war movement must urgently organise to pull our leaders back from the brink, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

It’s looking increasingly likely that the situation in Ukraine will continue to escalate in coming days. The decision by Putin to advance troops in eastern Ukraine follows weeks of failed negotiations, during which time Western powers have repeatedly opted to exacerbate tensions by refusing to compromise, talking up war instead of diplomacy, and sending military equipment to Ukraine.

The need to organise against war and to demand our leaders step back from the brink could not be more urgent.

Having done some research on anti-war activity in the last few decades (and having participated in it actively since 2002), here are a few points to consider:

1It’s hard to make anti-war arguments once a war starts. It was hard even after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, even after millions took to the streets to stop the war. Partly, this is because the intensity of pro-war propaganda reaches a high pitch, and the implication is you are a traitor if you don’t support your country. That’s a powerful sentiment that is not easy to counter.

2It can be even harder when the enemies of the west are the ones seen to make a first move. We are already hearing a lot about Russia breaking international law. Forgetting all about their own breaking of international law in Yugoslavia, Iraq etc, Western politicians will want to paint a clear picture of Russian aggression, forgetting the West’s own role in the form of Nato expansion in bringing about the crisis in Ukraine. They will be pointing to only part of the reality, but they will try present it as the sole reality.

3For the anti-war movement, the task will be to bend the stick in the other direction – in the spirit of saying the ‘main enemy is at home’. While condemning Russia, we will need to point out that the West is an aggressive, expansionist set of powers led by the US, which actively contributed to creating the crisis and which has no real role in solving it by continuing to bash Russia.

4While this will doubtless be difficult, as the highest circles will do all they can to break anti-war activity (see the attacks on Stop the War by the leader of the opposition and Tory MPs recently), it will be imperative to put the anti-war movement’s case. History teaches us that this is important. Very few stood against the West’s role in the wars following the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But anti-war activity crafted arguments and networks on the ground which fed into the emergence of the more successful anti-war movement in the 2000s. Which too faced initial hostility and difficulties.

5There will be a lot of sniping from some on the left – but let’s remember they were there in the 1990s and 2000s. Those who began to see Europe/Nato as the civilising force fighting against barbarism/fascism/evil (Saddam, Milosevic, the Taliban, etc). The latter were clearly not progressive regimes but they did not have the global capacity to wreak havoc as the US and its allies did and continue to do. Seeing through the sniping from those elements of the left will be important, particularly for new activists. Reading up on the debates in previous anti-war movements would stand us in good stead.

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Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.

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