Sunday, 27 February 2022

Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste

The first casualty of war, they say, is the truth. Anyone trying to follow Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine knows exactly what this is about. Past footage of actions in the east of the country are posted up and badged as recent fighting. A scene from a video game has purported to be a Ukrainian jet fighter in action. And then there are all sorts of claims about casualty figures, where Russian troops are, and the whereabouts of Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. It's a complete mess, but what we should expect from the fog of war.

There are others taking advantage of the situation too. As the crisis broke on Thursday, the Labour leadership found time amid a hot war to issue threats against Labour MPs who signed Stop the War's latest statement. Pull the signatures or we pull the whip, said the party's leadership. The 11 names were duly dropped. The letter focuses its criticism on Britain and the bellicose role the Tories played in the lead up to Thursday's invasion. On the question of Ukraine's right to defend itself, let alone whether it deserves solidarity in the face of Putin's aggression, nothing is said. By focusing its critique on Britain, they say "In taking this position we do not endorse the nature or conduct of either the Russian or Ukrainian regimes." A weak statement then whose advice leaves those who take their cue from it rudderless on the central question of the conflict, in my opinion. But even this was too much for Labour's new management, who are ostentatious about their pro-NATO enthusiasm than the Tories.

On Sunday morning, the Labour right stepped up its war on the left with the comments made by Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy on Times Radio. He accused Jeremy Corbyn of "effectively parroting the lines that are coming from Vladimir Putin that suggest that this is because of threats from NATO, or NATO expansion." Yes, because "no to war in Ukraine" is the slogan emblazoned across every Russian tank as it heads into battle. Another example of using Corbyn to put what they think is electorally favourable distance between the party of its leftwing interlude and now? Yes, and they don't care if it, by insinuation, portrays people they share the green benches with as "traitors". It's not as if two MPs have been murdered in recent years or anything.

But there's also more to it than the usual rank manoeuvring. It's done with an eye to recasting politics. Starmerism, as much as it is a thing, isn't "Toryism" in a red rosette nor, for that matter, a rebranded Blairism. It is an authoritarian project that treats the party like a managed democracy. It has no time for members who expect to be more than leafleting and canvassing fodder because, in the best traditions of Fabianism, the big brains at the top have all the answers. They will make people's lives better by spending a bit more money here, a technocratic fix there, and getting on with the complicated business of government while everyone else carries on with their lives. For it to succeed, this project requires two things. A restitution of trust in state institutions. And new enclosures around what is "permitted" political debate. That is shutting down the spaces the Corbyn moment opened up and squeezing it into a circumscribed range of views. By shrinking the mainstream and forcing it down prescribed channels, Starmerism is working to restructure politics more broadly in a reverent direction. It's not about Blair-style cults of the personality, but ultimately closing off future avenues of dissent that will be politically costly to deal with. It's a politics of preparing ground for having faith in the leader and the state, and one that will allow him to govern as he sees fit.

Whether Russia achieves its objectives or Ukraine exacts a heavy price from Putin's forces, politicians away from the theatre of conflict are determined to have a good war. Keir Starmer is one of them.


gastrogeorge said...

Official Green Party policy is anti-NATO, and yet ...

Jim Denham said...

The trouble is, much of what Starmer and the Labour right say about Stop the War and their wretched statement, is correct.

Kamo said...

The Stop the War statement was gutless opportunism. Russia launches a deliberate, brutal, imperialist, ethno-centric war on it's neighbour and Stop the War decides to focus it's criticism elsewhere; tells you all you need to know about the charlatans behind the scenes.

Anonymous said...

"It's not about Blair-style cults of the personality, but ultimately closing off future avenues of dissent that will be politically costly to deal with." - if it hadn't been the Stop the War statement, it would have been something else.

Anonymous said...

Yes, because calling for Russia to stop the invasion, withdraw its troops and then for there to be negotiations over the substantive issues, which was the very first paragraph of the Stop The War statement, is, of course, opposed to the policies of Starmer's Labour Party.

Anonymous said...

"Stop the War condemns the movement of Russian forces into Ukraine and urges that they immediately withdraw. We call for an immediate ceasefire alongside the resumption of diplomatic negotiations to resolve the crisis."

Anonymous said...

"They simply cannot comprehend that campaigners can oppose wars and the foreign policy of their own government while at the same time opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yet that is the position of the Stop the War Coalition. We condemn Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The people of Ukraine and Russia — and elsewhere in Europe — are the ones who will suffer as a result. It will also lead to much greater instability, both military and economic, throughout Europe and more widely."

(In case anyone is interested in Stop the War's actual position, rather than misrepresenting it).

Jim Denham said...

Anonymous's description of the Stop the War statement is naive at best, willfully misleading at worst, and completely ignores the record of that organisation prior to the Russian invasion.

In the run-up to the invasion, Stop the War consistently trivialised the build-up of Russian forces and the risk – now reality – of an invasion.

In early February an article on the STW website dismissed the build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders as media melodrama: “Some of the public sources indicate that many of the troops are at least 200km from Ukraine, but 100,000 massed on the border ready to strike sounds better.”

An article by STW luminary Tariq Ali likewise dismissed the build-up of Russian troops as “aerial photos of tents in a field.” It poured scorn on the idea of a Russian invasion as “a highly orchestrated media campaign, trumpeting at top volume the ‘massive’ and ‘imminent’ Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

His article is dated 16th February. Russia invaded Ukraine a week later.

While Russia finalised its plans for invading Ukraine, falsely claiming that it was withdrawing its troops, the STW directed their criticisms at … NATO: “NATO should call a halt to its eastward expansion and commit to a new security deal for Europe which meets the needs of all states and peoples.”

Inconvenient facts were simply ignored. The fact that the threat of war came from Russia, not NATO. The fact that there were no NATO troops in Ukraine. The fact that no NATO troops would be sent to Ukraine if Russia invaded. And the fact that there was no prospect of Ukraine being fast-tracked into NATO membership.

(In September 2021 the US State Department had even said that there was no prospect of Ukrainian NATO membership before 2031. But three months later an article on the STW website claimed: “Today it is NATO that is trying to sieze Ukraine.”)

The statement calls for the implementation of Minsk 2: “Stop the War believes that Russia and Ukraine should reach a diplomatic settlement of the tensions between them, on the basis of the Minsk-2 agreement already signed by both states.”

But Minsk-2 had been killed stone-dead by Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk so-called ‘People’s Republics’ as ‘independent’ states. And Russia’s invasion would make Minsk-2 deader than dead.

According to the statement, “Our focus is on the policies of the British government which have poured oil on the fire throughout this episode. In taking this position we do not endorse the nature or conduct of either the Russian or Ukrainian regimes.”

But Ukraine was being threatened (and has now, of course, been invaded by) by Russia, not Britain or Western imperialism. Its cities are being pulverised by Russian artillery and rockets, not NATO ones. It is Russia, not the West, which seeks to physically destroy Ukrainian self-determination.

The STW now call for Russian withdrawal from Ukraine to try to gain a hearing. But their actual campaign consists of empty generalities and obfuscations about inter-imperialist rivalries, devoid of any relevance to the war now underway. All this was entirely predictable when that shameful, dishonest and evasive statement was drawn up and the useful idiots (including, unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn) signed it.

In his writings on the Balkan Wars Trotsky wrote of people who picked their noses while men, women and children were being slaughtered. That is the tradition in which the STW/SWP now stand.