The following statement of the Russian Socialist Movement is an example of how socialists oppose the imperial ambitions of their own ruling class - one the Left in Britain should emulate
On the morning of 1 May 1916 a voice suddenly rang out on Potzdamer Platz in Berlin: "down with the War! down with the government". The speaker was member of the German Parliament, the Reichstag, Karl Liebknecht, who was quickly bundled away by police.
Only a few hundred had taken part in this the first public demonstration against the war in Germany, but the state could not silence opposition to the war. Though imprisoned, his action had reminded ordinary people in both Germany and in the countries it was fighting that they had no interest in siding with their own rulers.
East and West, then and now, still 'the main enemy is at home'
Liebknecht had taken with him but a few people from the left of his party, the SPD (the German equivalent of the Labour Party) into the Square that day.
The leadership and the right of the party had decided to back the war, arguing that in times of war all Germans should support their own government, irrespective of other differences.
The left of the party had not participated in the demonstration either, arguing that the "time is not right" and that there "isn't support for it".
Liebknecht, and those in the Party who were maintaining the true tradition of internationalism, argued that in times of war it was the duty of socialists to oppose their own imperialist government. The only way to break workers from their own government’s militarism was to oppose it, not to become the general’s mouthpiece in the working class.
Likewise, the only way to encourage workers in other countries to break with their rulers is to show them that German workers were opposing the war.
Arguments about "who started it" were irrelevant. The war was for the imperialist division of the world. All the ruling classes were guilty, and no workers had any interest in the war's continuation.
He coined the slogan that will forever be associated with his name: "the main enemy is at home".
The present conflict brewing in the Ukraine is a product of inter-imperialist rivalries.
The US and the European powers have been pushing expansion of the Nato and EU into the former Easter Bloc, and increasingly up to borders of Russia.
This is neither in the interests of the peoples of those countries, or ordinary people anywhere else. The consequences of previous "colour revolutions" have not been happy.
Furthermore successful imperialist intervention in Eastern Europe will only act to encourage such action elsewhere in the world, with the Middle East the top of that target list.
The US and Europe used and manipulated a movement driven mostly by anger with a corrupt and ineffectual government in hock to oligarchs and dependent on Moscow. It was, it must also be noted, democratically elected and widely supported in the East and South of the country.
It has now been replaced with a government in hock to the oligarchs and dependent on Washington (don't take our word for this, take Victoria Nuland’s).
The new government also contains fascists and Russophobes of the Svoboda party, while other neo-Nazis now seem to set to infiltrate sections of the state.
If these people had not been propelled into power by US and European powers then there would be no base of support for Russian sabre rattling.
The US is the global hegemon that is seeking to maintain its reach around the world. It has managed to prove its global stretch by winning this round of the struggle in the former Soviet bloc. Russia, on the other hand, is not trying to subvert the government of Mexico.
Russia invaded a corner of Georgia, the US and Britain invaded and occupied both Afghanistan and Iraq. It is clear who is the greater threat to world peace.
It is the duty of socialists in the West to expose the undemocratic machinations of out ruling classes and their desire to expand the power around the world and to find new economies to exploit.
The oppression of Ukraine
If the immediate cause of current problems is inter-imperialist rivalries, the background is the century's old oppression of Ukrainians by the Russian empire.
Millions of Ukrainians look to the US and EU out of fear of Russia, which, whether in tsarist, or later Soviet disguise, oppressed and discriminated against them. It is a fear that is deeply ingrained and based on bloody experience. Given the increasingly authoritarian and nationalistic nature of the Russian regime, the fear domination is understandable.
It is this fear that is the basis of the growth of the nationalist right. Nothing feeds this like continued Russian attempts to dominate the country.
Such imperial revanchism and reactionary nationalism each find their justification in the other.
Russian opposition to Russian militarism
It is the duty of Russian socialists to oppose their own state's imperialist ambitions. It is their duty to defend the right of the oppressed nationalities of the former empire to self-determination.
Some on the Russian left seem to have got the wrong end of the stick in joining the clamour about the rise of "fascism" in the Ukraine.The conditions for growth of ultra right is fear of Russian oppression.
The former imperial oppressor, the Russian state, is the greatest guarantor of Ukrainian fascism’s future growth.
The Russian state has no general interest in stemming the rise of far right. If they did they would take action against their own home-grown varieties of neo-Nazi.
This false anti-fascism should be exposed, not have concessions made to it dressed up with internationalist phraseology.
Talking about the need to defend a "common Soviet heritage" can only be counter-productive if to millions of Ukrainians this means the Great Famine, the Purges and the Gulag.
It is the duty of Russian socialists however to oppose their own states imperialist ambitions.
The main enemy is still at home
A hundred years on from the demonstration in Potzdamer Platz imperialism is sadly still with us, and though may take a different form,has not changed in its essentials.
It is as true today, as it was when Karl Liebknecht coined the slogan, that for socialists the "main enemy is at home".
His was a lonely voice that day. But when he was imprisoned, workers across Berlin struck in solidarity with him. Two years later his prison door was flung open by the German Revolution, as millions rebelled against the slaughter and the regime which had brought it.
That is why we are proud to publish the statement of the Russian Socialist Movement and send solidarity greetings to them and socialists and internationalists of all the nations of the former Soviet Union in this difficult time.
No war with Ukraine! Statement by the Russian socialist movement
War is starting. In order to protect and increase the assets of Russian tycoons and oligarchs of the Yanukovych grouping the Russian leadership is preparing a military invasion in Ukraine.
This aggression is fraught with disastrous consequences for the Ukrainian and Russian peoples and, above all, for the populations of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the Ukrainian industrial regions in the southeast.
For Ukraine, it also means the escalation of ethnic conflict; for Russia - strengthening of dictatorship, repression and chauvinist hysteria with which the ruling elite seeks to neutralize public anger against the backdrop of a deepening economic crisis.
We share the concern of residents of South -east [Ukraine] over the nationalistic tendencies of the new Kiev authorities. However, we are convinced that is not Putin's tanks but self-organization and the people's struggle for their civil, political and socio-economic rights will lead to freedom.
The peoples of Ukraine, of course, have the right to self-determination, to any degree of autonomy or independence. However, what we are seeing today has nothing to do with the democratic choice of the population. This is a blatant and cynical operation by Russian imperialism, aimed at the seizure of foreign territory, transforming Ukraine or part of it into a protectorate .
Today, the struggle for freedom in Russia is a struggle against the ruling regime's foreign policy adventures, seeking their help to end it.
RNC calls on all genuine left and democratic forces to organize anti-war protests with the demands:
- No Russian- Ukrainian war!
- No provocation bloodshed in Ukraine!
- No intervention of the Russian army and the armies of other countries in the affairs of the Crimea!
- For free peaceful, self-determination of the peoples inhabiting the peninsula!
- Yes struggle of workers against the Ukrainian oligarchs and corrupt bureaucrats! No to inter-ethnic conflicts!
The Central Council of RSD [Russian Socialist Movement] , March 1, 2014
Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.