Anti-war activists in Britain should oppose the war policies and preparations for war of our US aligned government argues Lindsey German
When Hilary Clinton starts talking about the new Hitler, it's time for all of us to recall exactly who has been on the receiving end of this epithet before.
In 1956, we were told that Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt was the new Hitler, when he had the temerity to nationalise the Suez Canal and resist an invasion by Britain, France and Israel.
In 1990, we were told that Saddam Hussein was the new Hitler, when he invaded Kuwait, which triggered the first gulf War.
The Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic was dubbed the new Hitler in 1999, during the Kosovo war. In 2002-3, Saddam Hussein became the new Hitler for a second time, as George Bush and Tony Blair banged the drum for their illegal war against Iraq.
Dictators, tyrants and autocrats many of these may have been, but new Hitlers they certainly were not, remembering that Hitler was the leader of one of the most powerful imperial powers in the world.
Those of us who have opposed wars justified on these spurious grounds -- from Kosova to Iraq, from Suez to Libya, from Argentina to Syria -- have been labelled as supporters of whatever regime was our government's enemy at the time.
So let me make clear: I have never been a supporter of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, General Galtieri, head of the Argentinian Junta at the time of the 1982 Falklands war, or Syria's Bashar al-Assad.
And certainly not Russia's Vladimir Putin, now deemed the latest Hitler in the Ukraine and Crimea crisis.
The Stop the War Coalition has always taken the view that its main role is to oppose the actions of the British government. That is why we focussed on criticising US and British imperialism, rather than taking an even handed approach which stressed opposition to both sides (despite some on the left wanting us to do so). We would not otherwise have been able to build such an effective movement.
This is not to justify the actions of regimes that find themselves in the gun sights of our government, but it is to say that we shouldn't be taken in by the narrative used by our own side to justify war or preparations for war.
I oppose foreign military intervention in other people's countries. I therefore do not agree with Russian military intervention in Ukraine. And I oppose Russia's anti-gay policies and its war in Chechnya. But simply to leave it at that is playing into the hands of our own rulers and their cheerleaders in the media. And it is an obstacle to understanding what is happening in Ukraine.
Faced with imperialism our essential starting point has to be, "the main enemy is at home". This was the slogan raised during the First World War by Karl Liebknecht, the only member of the German parliament to vote against Germany going to war. What was he trying to say?
Liebknecht was countering those who defended Germany's involvement in the war by citing the horrors of the 'enemy' countries. For example, the fact that Tsarist Russia was more autocratic than Germany was used to justify German militarism. Similarly, Britain used Germany's violation of 'poor little Belgium' to justify its mobilisation for war.
Liebknecht made the point that whatever terrible things were being carried out in the name of other countries, it was disastrous to side with our own rulers in such conflicts. Instead, we should oppose the war aims of our own leaders and not accept that these aims are in some way preferable to those of their enemies.
The very same point was made by one of the protesters who demonstrated last week in Moscow against Russia's current intervention in Ukraine: "I believe that anti-war activists in every country," he said, "should criticise their own government first."
This is especially true when we live in one of the major imperialist countries, but it should apply also if we live in a minor imperial power or in a minor member of Nato. It would be true even if we lived in Switzerland, the banker to the imperialists. Our central focus has to be on our own imperialist power, and not on the regimes with which our government is in conflict.
This debate has been revived in the media coverage of the First World War centenary. The BBC's recent series of programmes commemorating the war have almost without exception been apologias for the mass slaughter that killed around 20 million people. We have been told repeatedly that "the war to end all wars" was justified and necessary because Germany was the main threat to Europe. We are asked to see the British empire's bloody record as somehow preferable to that of rival empires.
And now we have the same arguments that were used 100 years ago being paraded in the Ukraine crisis. Russia is the aggressor: end of story. This fails to look at the relative weight of Russian and western imperialisms since the end of the Cold War, and how its territorial and military power have been weakened considerably since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disbanding of its military alliance, the Warsaw Pact.
The west's alliance Nato, on the other hand, has grown in power and expanded territorially. Crucially, it has expanded into nearly all of the former Warsaw Pact countries, which is itself an act of aggression. Today, countries in the Nato alliance extend right up to Russia's borders.
This is the reality ignored by talk of Russian expansionism. It takes no note of the far bigger expansionism of the Nato powers and of the role played by the world's largest imperial power, the United States. And it must be remembered that while US imperialism may be declining economically, it is not militarily, and it is still responsible for the majority of large scale wars.
The US is clearly up to its neck in the Ukraine crisis. Two weeks before prime minister Viktor Yanukovych was effectively toppled by a popular mass movement for change, a leaked phone conversation between US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, exposed just how implicated the US was in pulling the political strings. The mainstream media has highlighted Nuland's casual "fuck the EU" expletive. But the really shocking revelation in the four-minute call is how she and Pyatt effectively pick the new government of the Ukraine.
With Yanukovych's flight, America's favoured opposition leaders as discussed in that phone call are now leading the Ukraine interim government. No prizes for guessing which country will be the first to be visited this week by the new US-annointed prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk.
While US secretary of State John Kerry and UK foreign secretary William Hague talk loftily of the need to defend Ukrainian democracy, they conveniently turn a blind eye to fascist and far right groups which were at the heart of the demonstrations that toppled the democratically elected Yanukovych government. Seven members of the new unelected Ukrainian government are leaders of openly neo-Nazi, fascist or far-right organisations, which certainly do not give a fig for democracy.
Hand in hand with the instability of the region caused by expansion of Nato has been the enlargement of its complimentary economic alliance, the European Union. Accompanying this growth of the EU has been the drastic austerity plans and privatisation of public services which has helped drive down living standards across Europe, and significantly for those Eastern European countries whose governments have signed up to the pro-western agenda. As Seumas Milne writes, there is "an eye-watering austerity plan for the tanking Ukrainian economy which can only swell poverty and unemployment".
Economic crisis, austerity and militarism are a potent and possibly deadly mix. It is clear that the west cannot intervene directly and militarily in the Ukraine for geographical and political reasons, but it will continue policies which lay the conditions for future conflict. The stand-off over Crimea may not turn into a hot war, but it could be a staging post on the path towards one.
US imperialism has suffered some defeats and setbacks -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria -- and is divided about its future foreign policy. But there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded beast and neocon forces -- to which Victoria Nuland is clearly aligned -- are desperate to reverse US fortunes. The recent trips of US Senator John McCain to Ukraine and Syria can be seen as part of the right-wing campaign to shift the US towards a more openly belligerent intervention in those countries.
The role of anti-war activists in Britain should be to oppose the war policies and preparations for war of our government, which as ever is hitched to the coat tails of US foreign policy. We must build on the experience last year, when David Cameron was stopped by a historic vote in parliament from taking Britain into a war with Syria that the vast majority of the British public did not want. That vote by MPs was in no small way influenced by over ten years of anti-war campaigning -- ten years in which most people in Britain have said consistently that wars in foreign lands are "not in my name".
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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