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Boris Johnson and Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, April 2022. Photo: Flickr/Number 10

Boris Johnson and Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, April 2022. Photo: Flickr/Number 10

Lindsey German on warmongers, Sunaks and Savile

Boris Johnson has apparently been desperate to make his trip to Kyiv. No doubt this is another iteration of his Churchill persona. There is nothing that he likes more than public appearances – in hospitals, building sites, and northern towns – where he can pretend that he is doing something useful. What better than a scenario where he can pose as a war leader at no cost to himself while at the same time making calls to keep the war going? Because beneath this latest stunt lies the fact that Johnson and the British government’s role in the Ukraine war has been to escalate it rather than call for peace or any attempted settlement. His announcement that Britain would send more weapons to Ukraine demonstrates how he is prepared to continue this escalation despite the human cost that it will involve.

Britain is sending 120 armoured vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems to Ukraine. This is on top of £100m of weapons agreed last week. These will include 800 anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft weapons, and ‘suicide drones’.

The past week has seen a dramatic increase in commitment both to the amount of arms sent to Ukraine from western governments, following in particular from the revelations about war crimes in Russian occupied towns near Kyiv. But there is also a change in the nature of the weapons, which have moved from being defensive to offensive. The call from Ukrainian government ministers for ‘weapons, weapons and more weapons’ has been made on the assumption that it will save lives. Unfortunately the opposite is true. The provision of these weapons and the imminent further conflict around the Donbas presages high casualties.

There has also been a stepping up of economic sanctions, with further pressure on Germany to stop buying Russian gas and with talk of a complete oil embargo on Russia. The impact of this is as likely to be on the states implementing the boycott since Russia will find further markets in China and other countries of the global south. This is particularly true of Germany, Europe’s largest economy. Already its government has acceded to US and Nato pressure to double arms spending, despite years of having resisted this. Now if supplies of Russian gas dry up this is likely to push the German economy into recession given the serious impact it will have on major companies. One estimate was that stopping supplies of Russian gas to Germany would cost 500 euros a head. On top of this, the effects of recession, unemployment, more money on military spending will impact on German working class people, leaving them considerably worse off.

Sanctions are a form of economic warfare which will harm ordinary Russians as well the wider economy. The escalation of weapons deployment will also come at a cost financially. While we have a cost-of-living crisis and the poorest are estimated to be considerably worse off as a result of pay and benefits not keeping up with inflation, the considerable sums spent on weapons for Ukraine will again be at the expense of conditions for working class people.

There is an alternative to this and it is to stop the war. There are peace talks going on, although you would hardly know it from the British government or media. It is obvious that the strategy particularly of the US and British governments is to continue the war because they think it will weaken Russia. A ceasefire and Russian withdrawal is the only option that will stop a war which is already costing the lives of many thousands of people, has led to millions of Ukrainians becoming refugees, and will lead to further devastation.

The very suggestion of this is too much for politicians and media – and even some of those on the left. Those who talk of peace have now become Putin apologists, we are told, and the only option is to continue and escalate the war. While this is not surprising from Johnson, it is poor politics for socialists. Calls to arm Ukraine miss a number of important points. This is not the Spanish civil war, where a left republican government was met with a rising by far right and fascist military. This is a war between states, where one has been invaded by another. The Ukraine government is fully signed up to the Nato–EU neoliberal agenda and is being sent the most sophisticated weaponry. We should all oppose the invasion and war and that means we should not aim to prolong it.

Are those advocating this line advocating endless war until Putin is defeated? Or regime change which has had disastrous consequences elsewhere and would probably have even worse outcomes if it meant further war with Russia? There are too many armchair generals who say these are the only options without any sense of what might follow. If these weapons do not succeed in defeating Putin, then what happens – a no fly zone or even battlefield nuclear weapons?

Most wars end in negotiation. That wouldn’t be the end of the story. This is part of a wider inter-imperialist conflict which is growing for a combination of economic and military reasons. So ending this war has to be the start of promoting alternatives – a society which is not based on accumulation of capital, on military and economic competition, and on the dominance of a few powers. But we are at perhaps the most dangerous time in world conflict since the Second World War, and further war will do everything to increase that threat.

The travesty of democracy at the heart of government

I can honestly say without hindsight that I never thought Rishi Sunak could become prime minister. He was too wealthy. It looks like his political career may be coming to an end in which case I guess he will also leave parliament to spend more time with his hedge funds. The revelations about his wife’s non-dom status, and his defence of this, show exactly the view of the super wealthy who think taxes are for the little people. The revelation that both of them held US Green Cards adds to the impression that they thought everything had a price. Let’s not assume that his fall from grace is about his family wealth alone, or the briefing which are no doubt emanating from his next door neighbour. That is to do with his heartless budget last month which benefited the better off while ensuring that millions would be considerably worse off.

It's not good for British capital that the two most senior politicians are widely perceived as corrupt and are unpopular. The fact that the Labour opposition is so weak and so much echoes many of their policies only depends this crisis of representation. A poll just published shows how deeply alienated from this supposed democracy many people feel, and how much worse it is among the young and those who voted Labour at the last election. But it is also considerable among over 65s and Tory voters. Large numbers think government decisions are made in the interests of donors or business groups and corporations.

This is only going to increase as the triple crisis of war, cost of living and Covid continue to impact on our lives. For a government which talks endlessly about defending democracy around the world it should perhaps look in its own backyard.

Savile scandal is about class

The Netflix documentary about Jimmy Savile tells again the story of how he sexually abused huge numbers of people while he was feted and rewarded by the rich and powerful. A few things struck me about it. It was overwhelmingly about class: working class people were abused and felt that they would not be listened to if they complained. Meanwhile the Royal family and politicians saw in him a popular figure who could communicate with people from whom they were totally remote. So they protected him and gave him access to an astonishing range of public institutions including Broadmoor prison. You can only describe what happened there as institutional sex abuse, where some of the poorest, most vulnerable and sick people were the victims. Savile made sure he was in a close relationship with the police and avoided prosecution. The BBC’s role in this was quite disgusting. His programmes targeted children or teenagers. Of course many people knew about this – it was widespread gossip among people with no contact to the BBC. It is inconceivable that managers there did not.

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Lindsey German

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’.

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