Only the working class has the ability, the will and the organisational ability to stop imperialism. It has done it before, and it must do it again...
May Day is a time of peace, a day for the workers of the world to celebrate their common interests. And this year it takes place at a time when peace has rarely seemed so threatened.
The flashpoint now is Ukraine. Nearly sixty years after the defeat of fascism in Europe, imperialism has once more brought the threat of war to the very borders of Russia.
But not everything is going imperialism’s way. The counter-revolution in Ukraine is fast becoming a disaster for its main backers, the US and the EU. Also Syria has not yet fallen to the forces of feudalism, and indeed the government there appears to have been reclaiming lost ground.
Amid the threats of war, British workers this year can indeed celebrate one signal victory – that evening last August when the pressure from the people led to MPs defeating the government’s motion to take military action in Syria.
That vote not only stopped British imperialism in its tracks, it led directly to the US abandoning its own interventionist plans. At the time commentators said that MPs had signed away British influence in the world. On the contrary: for the first time in history Britain stopped the US launching an imperialist war. That’s real influence.
President Assad is still the bogeyman. US and British politicians have been lining up to denounce the planned elections in Syria, but even they have been giving up on the idea of winning. All they can do is prolong the ghastly war there, despite the dreadful human cost.
Things have changed since March 2011, when – driven by weakness or lack of clarity, or a bit of both – Russia and China allowed the US and Britain to drive a resolution through the UN Security Council authorising the use of force to “protect civilians” in Libya.
That resolution led to direct military involvement and the overthrow of the government. The current disaster in Libya, with the country being torn apart by armed groups, should be a lesson for anyone who thinks US, British or French bombers can be instruments of progress.
Libya is no longer under what most of us would call government. The mandate of the current Congress (parliament) ran out in February, but it is still sitting – without most of its members. Elections are due some time this summer, but no date has been set. British Airways, Alitalia, Lufthansa and others suspended flights to the country last month after rockets hit the runway at Tripoli.
Question: What is formerly vocal foreign secretary William Hague saying about all this? Answer: Nothing. That’s the same William Hague who said in July 2012 that Libya was “a tremendous success story”.
Barricade outside administrative offices in April, Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.
In the past year, though, Russia and China have stood firm against UN-authorised intervention to topple the Syrian government. And in the current Ukraine crisis China, India, Brazil and South Africa have refused to be drawn into a US-orchestrated condemnation of Russia.
Ever since the coup that ousted Victor Yanukovych in February, the self-proclaimed government in Kiev has been unable to assert its authority in large swathes of the country.
Crimea has left to join Russia, and Russian president Vladimir Putin has emerged stronger than ever. The special forces sent from Kiev to eastern Ukraine have killed some of their own citizens, but far from reasserting control have so far achieved little more than the delivery of extra firepower to locals resisting Kiev, as many troops either defect or hand over their weaponry.
The European Union, having stoked the Kiev coup by encouraging the idea that Ukraine should partner with the Brussels-based bloc, is now exposed as powerless to do anything constructive. Its High Representative on Foreign Policy, Catherine Ashton, is a woman who has risen without trace, a nobody put in charge of a foreign policy that even most EU members ignore.
Ashton revealed her calibre in a leaked telephone call in March with the Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Paet. When Paet told her that the snipers in Maidan Square were probably part of the opposition, her response was, “Gosh!” No wonder no one takes any notice of her.
NATO is increasingly being seen for what it has always been: expansionary and aggressive. For decades we were told that NATO has kept the peace in Europe in the face of the “aggressive” Soviet Union. Then in 1994, not even three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO fighters were flying sorties over Bosnia, leading to a bombing campaign the next year.
And in 1999, without even the fig leaf of UN authorisation, NATO launched a wave of bombing against Yugoslavia, dropping 14,000 bombs. So much for peacekeeping.
Now NATO’s Supreme Commander, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, is stirring the pot with talk of 40,000 Russian troops on the border “ready to go” into Ukraine. On 9 April he even released a set of satellite photos taken by commercial imaging company Digital Globe purporting to show evidence of this – photos promptly labelled by the Russian military as having been taken in August last year.
Note: Ukraine is not a member of NATO. But that doesn’t put the alliance off its stride. It is looking for war, partly as a means of regaining a role for itself. Given peace, just about everyone will conclude that NATO is an expensive waste of time.
But not everyone. “The electorate need to understand there is no point in having hospitals and schools and welfare unless the country is safe,” said Britain’s third most senior army officer in a blatantly political intervention at the end of March. So let’s strip our hospitals and schools to keep NATO on life support.
The combined manoeuvrings of the United States and the European Union have failed so far to foment civil war – though not for want of trying. Doublespeak reigns. US Secretary of State John Kerry calls the government of Ukraine legitimate, meaning the mixture of reactionaries and fascists who staged the coup.
US representatives talk darkly – but with no proof at all – about the Russian-speakers seizing buildings in eastern Ukraine as being too organised for anyone but the Russian government to have organised them. US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told a congressional panel that the building seizures in eastern Ukraine were “very carefully orchestrated, well planned, well targeted moves”. She warned of consequences if the “aggressive actions” went unchecked.
The Ukrainian parliament voted in March to set up a 60,000-strong National Guard recruited from military academies and activists in the Kiev coup – though given its track record of ineffectiveness so far, whether it actually manages to set up something on this scale has to be in doubt.
But the ambitions of the rulers in Kiev are clear. In charge of the National Guard will be the new security chief, Andriy Parubiy, a founder of the neo-Nazi Social-National Party of Ukraine. His deputy, Dmytro Yarosh, is the leader of the paramilitary Right Sector. On such scrapings from the barrel of reaction rest the hopes of the US.
Still armed, still dangerous
In South America, where election after election has yielded governments opposed to US hegemony, the US is desperately trying to foment counter-revolution in Venezuela. In April President Maduro told the Guardian newspaper that the US was trying to replicate the Ukrainian counter-revolution in Venezuela by blocking roads to the capital in the hope of removing the elected government. Here, as everywhere, working class unity will be the key to success in the fight against reaction.
The relative weakness of imperialism should give heart to all workers throughout the world. But its weakness does not mean it is any less vicious, nor any less dangerous. The US is still the world’s premier holder of weapons of mass destruction.
This summer will see attempts to use the centenary of the outbreak of World War One to glorify the armed forces, and generals in particular. We will be told it was a great sacrifice, but one that had to be made, and one that was made willingly. The old, old lies, remade for the Internet age with mobile apps.
We say that only the working class can be a force for peace, in Britain and throughout the world. Where it fails to live up to its potential, as in 1914, disaster ensues. But when it exerts its will, as the Russian working class did in 1917 in the midst of the slaughter, it can enforce peace. That’s the real message for May Day. ■