People before Profit challenges the President of the EU in Dáil Éireann, not.

As we have noted in a number of posts, including this one and a series beginning here, some socialists have argued that the war in Ukraine is both an imperialist proxy war and a war of national defence by Ukraine.

If it is the former, then socialists can support neither side and if it is the latter we are obliged to support Ukraine.  It can’t therefore be both.  As has been argued in these posts and others, there are not two wars going on; there are only two sides and the one involving the Ukrainian state involves an alliance with Western imperialism.

There is little doubt that the pretence of opposing the war while also supporting it through defending Ukraine is unsustainable.  It arises from inability to stand against the tide of the massive propaganda campaign waged in Western states by its mass media and the capitalist-controlled press and television.

The ability to sustain this balancing act against this strong head-wind is partially dependent in how sheltered a particular left organisation is from the attention of this media and their exposure to ‘public opinion’, which is pro-Ukrainian because of it.  Rolling with the punches however is painful and unprincipled; you can’t directly fight back on the central issue because you can’t establish an independent working class position consistently opposed to the supporters of the war.

People before Profit (PbP) in Ireland have been successful in getting representation in the Irish parliament but this leaves them exposed to the mass media and the ‘public opinion’ that it is able to manufacture.  Its politics are already weak, focussed as it is on parliament and maintaining their presence in it.  It is therefore no real surprise that when the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, spoke to Dáil Éireann on 1 Dec 2022, its nonsense position fell over, and equally unsurprising on which side it fell.

The response to von der Leyen’s speech by Richard Boyd Barrett started by thanking her and ‘Europe’s commitment to ensuring that there will be no hard Border on the island of Ireland or that the exit of Britain from the EU should not in any way adversely impact on the peace on this island.’  You wouldn’t think that PbP had itself supported Brexit, so giving rise to this concern in the first place. But that is a another story.

He went on to note the housing crisis in the Irish State, stating that – ‘while much of the responsibility lies with successive Governments failing to address it, a large component of the responsibility also lies with the decisions taken by the European Commission and the ECB, as part of the troika, to ram billions worth of austerity down the throats of the people of this country.   It is long past time that the EU acknowledged its mistakes in imposing that austerity and devastating consequences it has had.’

Asking for the political representatives of capitalism to say sorry for their policies is useful for what purpose exactly?  What meaningful difference to anyone was Tony Blair’s apology for Britain’s role in the Irish famine? Was this to acknowledge the baleful role of British rule in Ireland or to present it in a good light as it imposed another ‘solution’.  What use was David Cameron’s apology for the British Army murder of fourteen civil rights demonstrators in Derry in 1972, except to absolve the political leadership and pass the blame onto the grunts on the ground?  What use are requests for apologies for past sins when you support their current ones?

Boyd Barrett went on – ‘I also note that this week the President has called – I support her in this – for a tribunal to be established to investigate the undoubted war crimes of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. We all condemn the utterly barbaric and murderous invasion of Ukraine by Russia. We support the people of Ukraine in their struggle for self-determination.’

Of course, he noted some hypocrisy here – ‘I must say, however, in the week when there is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, for the President to not call simultaneously for an investigation into the ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by the apartheid state of Israel against Palestinian people makes me wonder about the consistency of the ethics of the EU’s foreign policy.’

He also criticised EU policy on Saudi Arabian and the ‘EU-Moroccan trade agreement, which involves essentially taking the fish and mineral resources of the occupied Western Sahara people.’

Summing up, he said that ‘If we are to condemn, as we must, the war crimes of Putin, we must simultaneously condemn all war crimes and all crimes against humanity, even when they are committed by people that the European Union perceives as allies, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia or those that arm and support them.’

But what has Boyd Barrett got to say about the war crimes of the Ukrainian state?  Does he not know about the continuing attacks on civilians in Donetsk City that have been going on since 2014?  Has he not seen the videos of captured Russian soldiers being shot in the head by Ukrainian armed forces?   If he wants to condemn the human rights abuses in the war in Ukraine, why does he ignore those carried out by the Ukrainian state?  Or is he too hypocritical in his selective condemnation, ignoring the crimes of the capitalist state he supports?

He finishes by declaring – ‘President, we must have consistency in our foreign policy, in our ethics and in our morality if we are to be taken seriously as defenders of human rights and opponents of war.’

He wants Western capitalist states ‘to be taken seriously as defenders of human rights and opponents of war’?  How is that going to happen?  Since when did it become possible for capitalist states to be consistent defenders of human rights and opponents of war? How can he even conceive that this is possible when every state in the EU is in the midst of supporting the biggest war in Europe since 1945!  Hasn’t Boyd Barrett noticed this support?  Or is it too like his own, as he too parades himself as against the war?

Maybe he should stop wondering about the ethics and morality of capitalism and its state machinery and try to recall some of the Marxism he claims to stand for; like Lenin suggesting that the only thing that will end war is socialism.  Maybe then he might become aware that it is not the inconsistency of capitalist states that is the problem; they are really pretty consistent in their foreign policy and support for war. He might also reflect on his support for Western imperialism adjudicating on the crimes of others, and its Ukrainian allies, when perhaps this is something only the working class can do! Just a thought he might want to consider.

This miserable speech is testament to what happens when socialists abandon principled positions and indulge in capitulation to their own rulers, leading them to the frankly idiotic nonsense that pleads for consistent progressive policies from their own capitalist states in the middle of them supporting a reactionary war.

New Left Review and the war in Ukraine (3)

The New Left Review editorial describes five aspects of the war as ‘different types of conflict—civil, defensive- revanchist, national-resistance, imperial-primacy, Sino-American.’

‘The fourth type of conflict, then, is the one being waged by the Biden Administration. A former CIA chief describes it as a proxy war . . . Leon Panetta, ‘It’s a proxy war with Russia, whether we say so or not’, (Bloomberg tv, 17 March 2022) . . . Yet the goal of Biden’s sanctions was not just to put an economic chokehold on the invasion of Ukraine; their aims, the Economist explained, are more sweeping— ‘to impair Russia’s productive capacity and technological sophistication’ and deter China.’

‘The character of the Biden Administration’s conflict with Russia is unambiguously ‘imperialist’, in the sense that it aims at regime change and the assertion of American hegemony over the Eurasian continent . . . In another sense, the Ukraine war is a massive distraction from the Democrats’ real priority: domestic revival to ensure American primacy in the strategic rivalry with China, where the US also hopes to see another type of regime installed in due course.’

This is where ‘the spectre of a fifth type of conflict intervenes, over-determining Washington’s reactions to Ukraine: the coming battle with Beijing.’

This analysis of the war as involving five, perhaps six conflicts; possibly seven if the ‘big gain in soldering Europe to Washington’ is included, is inspired by Ernest Mandel’s analysis of the various conflicts in the Second World War.  His analysis, however, involves separation of the war into distinct wars identified by their political character.  At its most simple, the New Left Review editorial identifies only three: a civil war within Ukraine, a war of national defence by the Ukrainian state and an imperialist war.

The conflict long ago (in 2014) left the terrain of a civil war and the war of ‘national-resistance’, which, in the language of NLR, might be described as ‘overdetermined’ by the US struggle to significantly cripple Russia–itself ‘overdetermined’ by the struggle against China–is therefore subordinated to the objective of ‘American hegemony over the Eurasian continent.’  This necessarily also entails subordination of Europe to US hegemony, achieved mainly through sanctions but spectacularly demonstrated by the almost certain US-determined sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines.

New Left Review argues that its five wars create an escalatory dynamic.  This has included the scuppering of peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia in March and April by the United States, acting through Boris Johnson, of all people.  This has been denied by supporters of Ukraine for whom the purity of its cause rivals that of the immaculate conception, made all the more luminous set against the evil of Russia.

Despite its turbulent and conflicted history and its renowned corruption, its cause is unblemished either by its internal politics or all this external realpolitik context.  To defend such a position an alien power can only be responsible for the tragedy on whose door all blame can be laid.  These defenders of the Ukrainian state thereby claim that ‘Russian diplomacy was always a smokescreen’ and nothing it says can be taken at face value.

Their argument is derived from the assertion “that the logic of Russia’s behaviour regarding Ukraine and the ‘collective West’ more broadly is driven by territorial expansion and the opportunistic use of violence.”  From this vantage point nothing Russia has done, or can do outside of capitulation, can be trusted and all actions can only be interpreted with this intent. An argument is thereby offered, which doesn’t prove that Russia has been insincere, but simply commits to no proof being necessary.

So, ‘Russia’s insistence on implementing the Minsk II Accords in Donbas’ was not ‘proof of [a] preference for diplomacy, and accepting it is only to make the mistake of taking ‘the Kremlin’s statements at face value.’

While it is claimed that support by Russia for the Minsk agreements was false, it is also claimed that ‘they weren’t a magic recipe for peace, but a tool of Russian military-diplomatic pressure whose meaning and use changed over time.‘

‘While in 2014-2017 the implementation of the Minsk Accords could have led to a negotiated reintegration of Donbas into Ukraine under international supervision, the international situation and Russia’s intentions have changed.’

Nowhere is it acknowledged that Ukraine had repeatedly rejected these agreements in practice and continued to treat the separate regions as the consequence of simple terrorism, hence its anti-terrorist operation to recapture them.

It is claimed that ‘the Ukrainian leadership pursued a ceasefire in Donbas from the summer of 2020’ while ‘the Kremlin used it as a bargaining chip to put pressure on Zelensky’s government and to create a flimsy pretext for an invasion.’  In fact the ceasefire was temporary and both separatist and Ukrainian forces carried out attacks, which increased just before the invasion.

The apologists for the Ukrainian state continue: ‘Zelensky’s last-ditch attempts to return to the negotiations in late 2021 were rejected by Putin, who tore up the Minsk Accords by recognising the independence of the breakaway regions.’  This claim may be a reference to the purported offer reported by Reuters, here and here for example, but which Russia has denied.

The authors state that before the invasion ‘the US and Europe made efforts to take Russia’s security preoccupations seriously, agreeing to make concessions in the areas of arms control and limitations on military exercises. Additionally, Joe Biden promised Putin that no missiles would be placed in Ukraine . . .’

Given the pre-history of NATO expansion; withdrawal from existing arms control treaties; the commitment of Ukraine to NATO membership; the endorsement of Ukrainian security policy by the US; increased participation of Ukraine in NATO exercises; a history of lying about NATO interventions in Eastern Europe and also, for example, in Libya; it is not credible to claim that at this late stage these US statements demonstrate that the war was avoidable through western good intentions.

The US claimed to know that the invasion would take place and made preparations for it; it cost nothing and was completely cynical to promise diplomatic talks involving concessions.  On the Russian part, it was equally cynical then to demand NATO concessions it knew would not be delivered and to deny that an invasion was planned.  Both were simply setting out positions just before war; nothing unusual in this.

Socialists need to cut through the lies of bourgeois diplomacy, not embroider it with nonsense that NATO ‘didn’t have a mechanism’ to agree steps that would prevent the invasion, or didn’t have time to do it.  This war was a long time in the making; that it was preceded by a propaganda war is how every such war commences.

The crux of the argument is over the collapse of the deal negotiated in April in Istanbul, of which these defenders of the Ukrainian state say: ‘we might never know what would have happened had it not [collapsed].’  In their long description of the context of the negotiations there is no rebuttal of the particular point they set themsleves to refute: that Johnson made Ukraine know of western opposition to the deal and it was thereby taken no further by it.

That Russia later conducted the war is also offered as proof of the argument that it was determined to have it in the first place; something of a non sequitur.  Like the Zelensky regime itself, these Ukrainian leftists conclude that they didn’t want this peace deal anyway – ‘It isn’t just any peace Ukrainians want.’  We are thus given to simply accept that no deal was possible because you can’t trust Russia: ‘Russia’s approach to the March negotiations likely wasn’t genuine.’

Since the war started the regime in Ukraine has taken part in negotiations, then walked away at the threat of a withdrawal of NATO support; has claimed it will not negotiate and then promised to pass a law enforcing this decision; then made a number of statements claiming it would negotiate on terms that it knows Russia will not accept.

The upshot of all this is the argument of the Ukrainian state that the war cannot end except through victory but that the cause of its continuation is not its fault in any way.  This position can only be embraced by socialists if they also embrace the Ukrainian state and its allies, which is why abstract principles are applied to the first and the second ignored.

The more and more obvious leverage that the US and NATO have over Ukraine makes it obvious that they will have a big say over the end to the war and cannot be ignored.

The most publicised element of support from western imperialism has been its provision of arms, which undoubtedly have played a significant role.  How significant is a matter to be determined.  Supporters of Ukraine, and Ukrainians themselves, have been keen to assert their own agency in this war, although not so keen to assert it in its creation.  It is Ukrainians who are fighting and dying, albeit with the support of Western military personnel to an undisclosed degree.  The quality as well as the quantity of military support has been denigrated by observers, but the greater demands of the Ukrainian state cannot be satisfied without certainty of serious escalation.

More important than this has been the financial support without which the Ukrainian state would be collapsing to an even greater extent than it is; its economic contraction is currently estimated as a reduction in GDP of around a third this year.  This points to the importance of the political support without which the Ukrainian state could not but accept it had no possibility of winning the war.  Without the potential for a political home within western imperialism there would be no alternative but agreement with Russia.  It is not enough to claim the right to self-defence in some physical sense when politically there is no viable project within which it could be effected, the alternative political resolution is therefore an agreement with the enemy.

Western imperialism, which currently means the United States, will determine how long the Ukrainian state continues to fight and for what objectives.  Ukrainians are therefore prisoners of the US, which means their leftist supporters are no less tied to it.  Ironic for a group constantly parroting the demand for self-determination.

New Left Review ends its editorial by noting that theoretically Europe could have balanced against the US but that ‘after fifty years of sapped sovereignty, European states lack the material and imaginative resources for a counter-hegemonic project.’  It concludes that ‘In the 2020s, the Europeans are wide awake, smiling and cheering, exulting in their ‘strategic autonomy’ as they are frog- marched towards the next global conflict for US primacy.’

The concern with the power of European countries to stand against the US is touching for a journal that is so committed to Brexit and opposition to the EU.  Does it really believe that a continent of independently organised states would have the material resources and thus the ‘sovereignty’ to counter US hegemony?  Does it believe that Brexit has allowed Britain to play a more independent role against the US?

*             *               *

In the meantime, the Ukrainian state doesn’t cease to be capitalist and recognises that the war will end at some point.  It therefore continues to implement its reactionary policies while its people fight for its defence.  So New Left Review describes how Zelensky has pushed forward removal of labour protections from up to 70 per cent of the existing work-force.  The unity of Ukraine celebrated by the Ukrainian left and its supporters in the west, and the former’s call for social peace, results in a one-sided suspension of the class struggle.  

As ever, prosecution of national war entails subordination of its working class, an example of what Marx meant when he said in the Communist Manifesto that ‘the working men have no country’, better rendered as the working class has no fatherland.  It should be recalled that during the Second World War British workers went on strike (in almost 9,000 stoppages between September 1939 and  April 1945), but I’m pretty sure many would no doubt be aghast at such a suggestion today.  Just like the Daily Mail, which has described them as  revealing a ‘disgusting lack of patriotism’, such suggestions would be regarded as the parroting of ‘Russian talking points’ by ‘Putin stooges.’

The New Left Review editorial describes five aspects of the war but says nothing about any independent role for the working class.  This is not a question of recognising that at present it plays no independent part but of identifying the role that it should play and the political basis on which this should rest.

Obviously, those supporting the self-determination of the Ukrainian state leave no role for it except cheering on the vehicle of its newly-adopted cause, while studiously avoiding any uneasiness at it also being the vehicle for the designs of western imperialism.  Similarly, those favouring a victory for Russia, as a defeat for the main enemy, have left no role for the working class since this is a job that can only be achieved by the Russian state.  I’m not sure these people will ever get around to removing such duties from the other enemies of the working class and in the meantime I assume they would oppose Russian workers taking action to stop the war being conducted by their state.

For socialists in the West, the task is to oppose the war, to seek its end and to oppose the interventions of its own states.  This means opposing the supply of weapons and the sanctions from which they are suffering, through campaigns and any direct action that workers can collectively organise.

The role of socialist analysis is to expose the wretched treachery of those who would proclaim that the Ukrainian capitalist state, supported by Western imperialism, is engaged in some progressive struggle that the working class should not only support but for which it should make extraordinary sacrifices.

The main enemy is at home. It is always at home and hasn’t suddenly become our vicarious ally.

Concluded

Back to part 2

New Left Review and the war in Ukraine (2)

Image: Valentyn Ogirenko/REUTERS

New Left Review states that ‘Putin’s war, the second type of conflict at stake, has an ambiguous double character, defined by its twin adversaries, NATO and Ukraine. On the one hand, Russia’s mobilization began as a desperate defensive gamble against the advance of US military power. On the other, the invasion is a neo-imperialist war of conquest or partition, wavering in scope, provoked by Kiev’s declared option for incorporation into the West.’ The editorial states that ‘the two aspects of the war are distinct in their origins, aims and ideologies.’

This argument, however, sustains only one real difference, which is the ideological cover given by Putin for the Russian invasion; in all other respects the two aspects are one. As I argued on Facebook to a member of the Fourth International (FI) who condemned Putin’s imperialist justifications regarding the validity of Ukrainian claims to nationhood – Marxists should not take ideological justification for explanation.

There are not two wars going on in Ukraine, only one.  That Ukraine is still fighting is due to Western support.  Its justification is for self-determination and its left supporters have rallied to this flag in wilful ignorance of its meaning for socialists. The self-determination demanded by Ukraine entails the right to join NATO, which obviously threatens the self-determination of Russia, not to mention those in Crimea and other areas of the Ukrainian state that no longer wish to be ruled from Kyiv.  Wilful ignorance exists for them too.

The result of a Ukrainian victory would be the subordination of minorities in a Ukrainian state. In the October issue of The Atlantic magazine the very pro-Ukrainian US journalist who visited the country notes that there is ‘a burning hatred of all things Russian, whether Putin or Pushkin, and open contempt for the Russian people, who are widely regarded as Putin’s slaves.’  What price the rights of those who see themselves as Russian in a victorious Ukraine?

A victory would see Ukraine join NATO as a subordinate member of that imperialist alliance. Militarily subordinated, already dependent on western arms, the Ukrainian state will have to sign up to new IMF or other lender conditions for help, for which the Ukrainian working class will pay.  And this is what is termed self-determination! There would not be two victories in this war because there are not two wars going on, only one.

Nevertheless, New Left Review (NLR) states that ‘Russia’s invasion generated a third type of conflict: Ukraine’s war of national self-defence’. This is the argument that the war has two political characters that I have repeatedly rejected here and the series of posts starting here.

The argument presented is that:

 ‘The trauma of the invasion has inevitably forged a new national consciousness in Ukraine . . . Pride in Ukraine rose from 34 per cent in August 2021 to 75 per cent a year later. This has come at the price of a visceral hatred for Russians—‘the orcs’—whose terms Zelensky shares: ‘Until they get smashed in the face, they won’t understand anything’, he told the Wall Street Journal.’

‘In August 2022, 81 per cent of Ukrainians reported they felt ‘cold’ or ‘very cold’ towards Russian people, and nearly half regarded the populations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics in the same hostile light. The proportion of people who think Ukrainian should be the only state language has risen from 47 to 86 per cent.’

The article notes one result – ‘Given the mixed genealogies and trans-border extended families in the region, this translates into innumerable strained or broken relationships; a third of Ukrainians define their predominant feeling as grief.’

A more pointed summary is expressed in The Atlantic magazine: ‘Ukraine’s present unity is unprecedented, but war – always intolerant of complexity and ambivalence – is pushing Ukrainians to construct an identity that is simpler than the country’s history.  The war will not resolve the abiding question of what it means to be Ukrainian.’

The purported war of national defence is intensifying an already reactionary nationalism that no amount of left apologetics can render progressive.  The Atlantic magazine author is correct that this ultra-nationalism does not reflect Ukrainian history, and the ‘new national consciousness’ is being built upon the worst history of the old.  This new consciousness is not progressive, no matter that some Ukrainian socialists claim: that the war is an opportunity to create a progressive nationalist consciousness.

Its reactionary character can be seen in the views of many Ukrainians reported by the NLR editorial:

‘After the Maidan uprising in 2014, two-thirds of Ukrainians thought the country was ‘going in the wrong direction’, with a brief exception for the peace moves in 2019; now, over 75 per cent think it is heading in the right one. An overwhelming majority believes Ukraine will win the war, even though they think it may take a year or more.’

So, tens of thousands have been killed with many more injured; millions have become refugees at home and abroad; the economy has contracted catastrophically and the country effectively bankrupt.  It faces a continuing war in which it either accepts defeat and loss of territory or it seeks to regain this territory against the wishes of much of the population it will conquer.  All this is set to continue.  This is not ‘heading in the right direction’.

Dig deeper, and it becomes clear that while the views of most Ukrainians may have been coloured by war, the long familiarity by many of the corrupt character of the state they are fighting for has not been forgotten. 

The highest support is for the armed and security forces of the state, the most common expression of war in any country.  Support for the President is also high.  Support for other organisations is much lower and when it comes to the state bureaucracy, courts and political parties it becomes strongly negative.  The expressions of hope among the majority of Ukrainians recorded in another opinion poll are not new; they have been raised many times before in the recent past, including, for some, after the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Maidan uprising in 2013/2014, plus the elections of various Presidents including Zelensky.

One of the most dramatic turnarounds in popularity is that of President Zelensky and this is the most marked illustration of the reactionary character of the war.  Elected promising an end to corruption and peace he has been exposed as having his own offshore account, like previous oligarchs and corrupt leaders, appointing his own supporters to positions of power, and delivering his country into an avoidable war, for which he should not be absolved of his share of responsibility.  His popularity is testament to the fact that he has, certainly he wouldn’t have had his picture in Vogue if he hadn’t.

Further evidence of the reactionary character of the war in legitimising the reactionary direction of the Ukrainian state are the words of one Ukrainian ‘socialist’ in a radio interview, who, while pointing out the regressive social policies of Zelensky, declares enthusiastic support for his policy of war, lamenting only that he does not unite the country to his satisfaction!  His words have been spoken before by every social-imperialist lamenting that his capitalist rulers do not reciprocate their own prostration to their class enemy:

‘What the Zelenskyy government does is absolutely awful and creates a lot more social instability [inaudible] in times of war by using the situation as a pretext for attacking the rights of trade unions, of the people who are in precarious conditions, attacking of housing rights, of social rights, depriving of basic social securities for the needs of advancing their market fundamentalist ideology.’

‘At the same time, they are progressing privatization laws. They are even privatizing the [inaudible] industry, so in times of war, where war economy is needed and social dialogue and social stability is absolutely necessary to enforce, they are pushing for awful neoliberal reforms.’

‘They’re actually using the situation of the war to push for the most horrible reforms in economic democracy and trade union rights that were introduced a few years ago, that they failed to push at that time. For them it’s a possibility to achieve their vision of Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that it’s a pretty good vision, especially in times of war. It’s absolutely compromising the Ukrainian defence.’

The war therefore, contrary to the view of New Left Review (NLR) is not one of ‘Ukraine’s war of national self-defence’, and the growth of Ukrainian nationalism preceding and during it has not been the expression of universal emancipatory beliefs.   As we have seen, the views are Russophobic even while presented by Ukrainian ‘socialists’ as ‘healthy’.  These views are a more accurate reflection of the nature of the war being fought by the Ukrainian state than the strident appeals to democratic values equally hypocritically trumpeted by the West.

The view that the war is the responsibility of the Russian people (no doubt while it is also illogically maintained that Ukraine is more democratic than Russia) is confirmed by the earlier opinion poll quoted above.  It recorded that while ‘86% of respondents believe that the Russian leadership is primarily responsible for the war in Ukraine 42.5% also believe that the same responsibility lies with the citizens of Russia.’  The poll, however, also records that ‘at the same time, about 20%, in addition, blame the Ukrainian leadership for the invasion, and 18% and 16%, respectively, blame NATO member states and the U.S. leadership.’  This shows a greater appreciation among a significant number of Ukrainians of the causes of the war than the left cheerleaders of the Ukrainian state inside and outside it.

This finding illustrates that there are still deep fissures in the Ukrainian population, even among those still part of the Ukrainian state.  The process of radicalisation of the population by ultranationalism has not been comprehensively successful.  This is one reason it is wrong to characterise Ukraine as either a fascist state or dominated by fascism.  Equally however, it is more than disgraceful that Western left supporters of the war have sought to minimise or downplay its importance, which they would, one would hope, not be so keen to do if similar influence existed in their own countries.

The growth of nationalism has gone hand in hand with the process of ‘decommunisation’, both of which have had the function of covering for the attacks on working class living standards and political rights resulting from the drastic imposition of capitalism into a previously non-capitalist society.  While directed at the symbols and history of Stalinism, decommunisation has been useful to discredit any left alternative to what is called neoliberalism.  Nationalism has repeatedly been employed by successive politicians and their oligarch sponsors to deflect from the failure of their austerity to deliver improvements for the majority.

The hegemony of nationalism has been demonstrated again and again as even popular uprisings against corruption have been exploited by the far right to advance its cause.  The inchoate strivings by many Ukrainians, for example in the Maidan uprising, have empowered the far right and its oligarch sponsors.  Their leading role has endowed them with legitimacy and witnessed their slogans become popularised outside their ranks.  Its historical figures, such as Stepan Bandera, have become the precedent for, and exemplar of, Ukrainian nationalism, to be celebrated in iconography, stamps, a national holiday, street names, demonstrations and re-writing of history.

This has also involved assimilation of prominent far right figures into other parties and into the armed detachments of the state’s security forces.  Far right violence has been tolerated and sometimes important in setting the limits to state action, such as its implementing the Minsk Accords.  The ideological influence of the far right has far exceeded their numbers.

The Atlantic magazine journalist interviewed a sculptor in Lviv who ‘could hardly keep up with requests from Territorial Defence units’ for busts of Stepan Bandera.  When asked what she thought of his views, the sculptor ‘had little to say’. He was just a symbol of resistance – “Don’t fuck with Ukraine.”

The problem is not that the majority of Ukrainians have thereby become fascists, the excuse is often offered that they are not aware of his views.  It is that his followers today have a standing that means they are not and cannot be challenged, and without challenge their reactionary views cannot be confronted. The post-Euromaidan civic nationalism of liberals did not therefore undermine ethnic nationalism but empowered it, helping exclude a radical socialist agenda.

The strength of the far-right reflects the nature and strength of Ukrainian nationalism, the latter is not a replacement for it.  The assimilation, prominence and legitimacy of it all reflects not so much the independent strength of fascism in Ukraine, which is real enough despite embarrassed attempts to now minimise it, but the particularly reactionary nature of a mainstream Ukrainian nationalism that can assimilate it, accept its precepts and prominence, and lend it legitimacy.  This is not simply an ideological problem, or even barrier to the left, but a threat to any idea of being able to reconcile to its rule to the populations of eastern and southern Ukraine the state wishes to reoccupy.

Ultra-nationalism influences the potential for continued war.  The opinion poll above states that:

‘. . . the question arises, what can be considered a victory? The majority of respondents (55%) say that the withdrawal of Russian troops from the entire territory of Ukraine and the restoration of borders as of January 2014 can be considered a victory. Another 20.5% are even more radical – a victory in the war for them would be the destruction of the Russian army and assistance to the revolt/breakdown inside Russia. A relatively small proportion of respondents would consider the end of the war with some kind of concessions from Ukraine a victory. About 9% would consider the withdrawal of Russian troops from all of Ukrainian territory except occupied Crimea a victory, 7.5% would consider the restoration of the status quo as of February 23, 2022.’

But war imposes a view of its own, whether dressed up as national defence or not. In a recent Irish Times article the author of a book on Russia’s ‘Near Abroad’ reports his findings in a survey during the summer in three Ukrainian cities close to the southeast battlefields.  He states that ‘almost half agreed it was imperative to seek a ceasefire to stop Russian killing Ukraine’s young men.   Slightly more supported negotiations with Russia on a complete ceasefire, with a quarter totally against and a fifth declaring themselves neutral . . . Those most touched by the war, namely the internally displaced, were more likely to prioritise saving lives.  Other research reveals that those farthest from the battlefields have the most hawkish attitudes.’

Maybe this goes some way to explaining the moral righteousness of those western leftists supporting the Ukrainian state’s war; that and their rotten politics.

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

New Left Review and the war in Ukraine (1)

The editorial of the most recent New Left Review covers the war in Ukraine. It attempts to ‘throw some light’ on the war through an analysis similar to that of Ernest Mandel’s examination of World War II.

Mandel claimed that the war could be defined as falling into five categories : an inter-imperialist war between the US, Japan, Germany and Britain; a war of a degenerated workers’ state – the Soviet Union – against German imperialism and its allies; a war of the Chinese people led by Mao Zedong against Japanese imperialism that also involved a social revolution against the Chinese nationalist regime; wars of national liberation in the colonies of European imperialist powers, and lastly wars of resistance against Nazi occupation waged in Yugoslavia etc.

All these involved imperialism on at least one side and were primarily the result of inter-imperialist competition arising from the forces of capitalist accumulation breaking out of existing national limitations.  It is therefore correct to state that the war was an imperialist one in which the Soviet Union, certain European workers and peoples in the colonies found themselves fighting it in various forms.

New Left Review begins by stating that ‘there is no avoiding the question of the civil conflict within Ukraine itself. On its own, this could not have generated an international war; yet the fighting could not have escalated without it.’ 

This is already an uncomfortable analysis for left supporters of Ukraine for whom there is only one type of Ukrainian – the pro-western one – with the pro-Russian minority usually ignored.  Their prime justification for support can’t allow that the nationalist demand for Ukrainian self-determination must exclude self-determination for this minority, since the Ukraine it supports is fighting against any such right that it claims only for itself.

It is of course argued, not least by anti-Russian Ukrainians, that their struggle is existential – the very existence of their country is under threat.  This, however, does not address the problem that the self-determination they seek does not allow for equal rights to its minority.

The potential for a Ukrainian polity that did so was excluded even before the invasion of 24 February through its rejection of the Minsk Accords.  This view also fails to recognise that Russia invaded with far too small a force to occupy all of Ukraine.  It would not be in Russia’s interests to attempt an occupation of such a large country and this has clearly not been its aim; clear anyway to those not seeking any and every argument to support the Ukrainian state.

This does not mean that this Ukrainian view has no validity; the war has, like all wars, changed the coordinates of all the parties to it through imposing its own logic.  Ukraine is the weaker party in any struggle against Russia and within these parameters would be expected to be unable to withstand the imposition of a new partition of the country demanded by Russia.  In this case the existence of the remaining Ukrainian state would not be in question and Russia would require only that it be militarily neutral.

The intervention of the US and NATO has given Ukraine the belief that it can win, despite the devastation caused by the war including mass emigration; the occupation of nearly 20 per cent of its territory; economic catastrophe and effective bankruptcy staved off only by western finance, and the nightmare of the loss of electricity in the coming winter caused by damage to the power system by Russian missiles and drones.

This belief has meant Ukraine rejected a peace deal brokered by Turkey and has followed the advice, if that is the right word, of western imperialist backers that it should fight on to victory.  This has meant a rejection of any negotiations with Russia and the setting of preconditions that it knows are unacceptable (such as regime change).  The US has, however, now become concerned that this weakens support around the world for its client and is seeking to modify this appearance of intransigence.

Like its fervent left supporters in the West who also seek ‘victory’, the Ukrainian state is claiming – according to The Guardian newspaper – that ‘Ukraine [is] winning the war and therefore to sit down at the negotiating table now would be “nonsense”.

The Guardian reports that ‘Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podalyak, told Radio Svoboda, that Ukraine will only negotiate with Russia once Russian troops have left all of Ukraine’s territory, including those it occupied in 2014. The secretary of Ukraine’s security council said on Tuesday the “main condition” for the resumption of negotiations with Russia would be the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Oleksiy Danilov said Ukraine also needed the “guarantee” of modern air defences, aircraft, tanks and long-range missiles.’

In relation to any call for “genuine negotiations”, President Zelenskiy is reported as saying that ‘Ukraine had repeatedly proposed such talks, but “we always received insane Russian responses with new terrorist attacks, shelling or blackmail”.  He went on to say that “Once again – restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the UN Charter, compensation for all damages caused by the war, punishment of every war criminal and guarantees that this will not happen again. These are completely understandable conditions.”

What is clear is that these war aims and conditions for negotiation guarantee only continued war.  It would appear this approach is supported by many Ukrainians because they believe they can win, which in turn is a consequence of western imperialist support.  The Guardian nevertheless records that ‘Kyiv would fight on even if it is “stabbed in the back” by its allies’.

In stating that the war is existential the Ukrainian leadership is unnecessarily making it so.  It would be impossible for Ukraine to win the war without Western assistance and they have so far been unable to do so with it, regardless of the over-hyped gains made in recent months.  The Russians have learned that they could not win it with the forces they initially employed so have carried out a ‘partial mobilisation’ of a reported 300,000 reservists with which they hope to establish what they would consider victory.

Since Russia long ago made it clear that a Ukrainian state as a part of NATO was unacceptable, victory would now be a buffer zone composed of annexed territory with enough local support to make it a relatively stable part of the Russian Federation.  This is its solution to the political divisions within Ukraine, which is no more than a mirror image of the Ukrainian one.

It would be a relatively hollow victory if the remaining Ukrainian state was to become the base for a western imperialist threat, and the end-of-the-war conditions proclaimed by the Ukrainian regime involve precisely that; even excluding recovery of all territory lost since 2014 this would not be acceptable to Russia.  The declared aim of “modern air defences, aircraft . . . and long-range missiles’ would establish exactly what Russia invaded to prevent.  An effective air defence along with long-range missiles, which could only be pointed at Moscow, is what opposition to Ukrainian membership of NATO has always been about.  Even now, in the middle of the war, the US has so far refused to supply long-range artillery shells.

The conditions set by Ukraine therefore imply that the objectives set by Russia can only be achieved by reducing the rest of the Ukrainian state unoccupied by Russia to one either incapable of representing a threat, with all the devastation that this would entail, or Ukraine declares its military neutrality and abjures any attempt to militarily recover lost territory.  Since Ukraine would not accept the Minsk Accords, this looks unlikely unless western imperialism decides it will reverse its support for these conditions. This, of course, could all be fudged, just as the Minsk Accords were, but that is what has brought us to full-scale war.

It started because Ukraine chose to ally with western imperialism and is now dependent on it.  The Russian invasion has turned the majority of its people even more decisively against it, to the extent that it appears that they will not agree to what they consider an unacceptable peace. They are prepared to continue a war that Russia considers involves its decisive interests, and in which it cannot therefore accept defeat because defeat in Ukraine would present a much greater threat and represent a much greater loss than that encompassed within the boundaries of that state.

In such a ‘stalemate’ the western left that supports Ukraine will no doubt demand a Russian retreat regardless of what that state conceives as its vital interests. It is as if the world could be remade according to some predetermined state of moral justice, and through the actions of western imperialism and its client state to boot! The full results of such a victory are scarcely considered.

They will likely go along with whatever support their own imperialist states provide until perhaps such escalation threatens more or less immediate face-to-face war with Russia.  Their opposition would then be, as the saying goes, a day late and a dollar short.

Forward to part 2

Paul Murphy TD and the socialist position on Ukraine – part 3 of 3

Irish politicians give a standing ovation in the Dail following a speech by Zelensky. People before Profit TDs stand but do not applaud.

Paul Murphy clearly recognises the problem posed by his analysis that the war in Ukraine is both one of national liberation and an inter-imperialist conflict.  He asks himself:

‘What is the balance of these elements of the conflict – national liberation struggle and inter-imperialist conflict? Unlike with Serbia at the start of World War I, this is certainly not a case of 99% inter-imperialist conflict and 1% national liberation struggle. It has not, at least yet, resulted in all out global conflict, with multiple countries being directly drawn in. The different aspects are more evenly balanced. However, the trend of development has been for the inter-imperialist element to predominate more over time, as more US weapons are sent, and the number of NATO troops in eastern Europe having increased tenfold since the start of the year.’

How does this help him decide?  He still declares that ‘supporting the right of Ukrainian people to self-defence is vital.’  Why? If ‘the trend of development has been for the inter- imperialist element to predominate more over time’ why is this still vital?  In what way is it vital?  For what purpose?  Is it some quantitative assessment that at some point tips 51% support for ‘Ukraine’ become only 49% and thus 51% support for . . . who exactly?

Given the approach he takes these are impossible questions for him to answer, or at least answer correctly, and this is because the wrong question is being asked.  The correct question is what the interests of the working class are, and repeatedly we have shown from numerous arguments that these do not involve support for the Ukrainian state, or US imperialism and NATO intervention.

Murphy gets himself tied up by formulas he has learnt but are precisely only formulas because he doesn’t stop to consider their basis in reality.  This leads to proffered answers that are equally unreal. 

He sets himself tasks that should be easy to answer.  He says that his analysis – ‘means socialists must attempt to disentangle, to the degree possible, the legitimate resistance to Russian imperialist invasion, and the inter-imperialist conflict which we oppose.’  And how would we do that if we claim it is a war of national liberation?  If we consider an already independent capitalist state must be supported in war because of the formula of self-determination?

The protection of the Ukrainian working class does not lie in the continuation of a war that continues only because of imperialism.  The desire to conquer Donbas and Crimea will deliver only more war and more suffering for themselves and the workers of these regions. Only an end to the war can offer the prospect of a peace that can begin to address their needs; war on behalf of the US and NATO offers nothing but more death and destruction for everyone except the western imperialists!  More or less arms from NATO does not affect this truth.

Murphy says that his ‘disentangling’ ‘means supporting the right of Ukrainian people to resist. We don’t blame people in Ukraine for getting weaponry from wherever they can source it, but we do encourage them to operate on the basis of complete independence from NATO’. But it isn’t the people of Ukraine who are resisting, it is the Ukrainian state and the political regime that walked them into this war despite all the warnings.  The majority of the Ukrainian people might believe it is their war, but if they have guns in hand, these have been provided more and more by western imperialism and it is not for themselves that they are killing and dying.

They cannot operate ‘on the basis of complete independence from NATO’ because the state they are under the command of is not operating ‘on the basis of complete independence from NATO’.  To do this, Ukrainian workers would have to be independently organised from their capitalist state.  This, of course, may be practically impossible but this doesn’t mean you ignore the terrible consequences of not being able to, or the price to be paid by being subordinated to your own state.  It certainly doesn’t justify thinking that the interests of the Ukrainian working class can be collapsed into the idea of a Ukrainian people without class distinctions, and a Ukrainian state that it is in their interests to oppose.  The fact this state and its political leadership has led them into this war while promising peace is proof of this.

Murphy claims that ‘If such genuinely independent forces existed, socialists could even fundraise to send them weapons. However, those of us living in the western camp, the dominant imperialist bloc in the world, cannot support NATO forces pouring weapons into Ukraine in the pursuit of an inter-imperialist conflict, risking an escalatory spiral that could lead to armageddon.’

If independent working class forces existed in Ukraine they would have opposed the war from the start and opposed the project of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists to re-occupy Donbas and Crimea.  They would have opposed NATO membership and sought to campaign jointly with their fellow workers in Donbas, Crimea and Russia.  That they were too small to do so does not mean they should adopt the alternative of joining those forces who prevented their doing what they should have done had they been more powerful.

What socialists in the west should do is oppose the war, oppose sanctions, and oppose the imperialist alliance in their own countries or attempts by their politicians, as in Ireland, to get them to join it.  This is impossible if you claim that there is some justified war going on that it is ‘vital’ to support and your own state is doing just that.

Murphy claims that ‘A just peace would only be possible on the basis of the withdrawal of these [Russian] occupation forces. Included in that should be recognition of the right of minorities within Ukraine to self-determine their own future. An essential condition for the fair exercise of that right in Crimea or the Donbas region for example would have to be the withdrawal of the invading army and the right of all refugees to return.’

‘In contrast to the calls for further militarisation, we should focus on demands which can assist the Ukrainian people. The demand for cancellation of Ukrainian debt, coming from social movements within Ukraine, may yet gather momentum, as it becomes clear that reconstruction will be impossible with the mountain of illegitimate debt that arose because of the oligarchisation of Ukrainian society. This debt has grown even further as a result of war loans from the Western powers, which have no intention of releasing Ukraine from debt bondage.’

The Ukrainian state has already rejected the rights of minorities within its state, which is why it refused to implement the Minsk agreements and continued, for example, shelling Donetsk city.  Victory for the state of Ukraine will quite obviously not change this.  Equally, so obvious is it that imperialism will exploit Ukraine should it win the war that Murphy himself notes that western imperialism has no intention of leaving it debt free.  What cannot be repaid will not be repaid but this means only that new debt will replace the old and the amount to be repaid will depend on how much can be squeezed from Ukrainian workers after ‘their’ victory.

The contradictions of Murphy’s position will either be resolved positively or sprout further confusion down the line.  From a theoretical point of view the way forward is to review handed-down formulas so that their meaning is properly understood.  From a practical point of view it is to join those in Ireland attempting to campaign against the war; and from a psychological point of view it is to stand 100 per cent against the policies and lies that bourgeois politicians and its media has poured into the heads of what passes for ‘public opinion’. 

Back to part 2

Paul Murphy TD and the socialist position on Ukraine – part 2 of 3

Paul Murphy states on four occasions that Ukraine is a former colony, for example, that ‘the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a brutal imperialist invasion of a former colony is clear.’  Repetition gives the impression of the relevance of the concept of national liberation and anti-colonial war, except of course, we are informed four times that Ukraine is not a colony.  So, if it’s not a colony it must be an independent capitalist state, in which case Lenin’s policy of self-determination obviously cannot apply in the way it is assumed it must.

The outcome of believing that some principle of self-determination applies to every capitalist state in a war, perhaps as long as it finds itself up against a more powerful adversary, could only promise future support for one capitalist state after another.  The possibility of an independent working class position is permanently lost. Ironically, both those who support Ukraine and those who support Russia (because it is defending itself and China against the US) surrender working class politics and just pick a different poison.

The ’reality’ of the Russian invasion he draws attention to ­– the death, suffering and destruction of war – does not lead to support for the Ukrainian state whether presented as synonymous with its people or not.  The way to deal with the reality of this obvious tragedy is to oppose the war, oppose the Russian invasion, and oppose its never-ending continuation promised by the Ukrainian state and their imperialist supporters’ demand for victory. This is the position that this blog has argued from the start.

In opposing those who do not support the Ukrainian state, Murphy says that these people ‘by declaring that western capitalism has already robbed Ukrainian people of social and national rights . . . effectively attempt to cover up their own denial of the rights of the Ukrainian people to self-determination.’  But if it is true that the Western powers have, through their intervention, denuded Ukraine of its rights then what independent role is this state now playing; how could it have become anything other than a tool of Western imperialism, and if this is so how on earth can it be supported?

Murphy accepts that ‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine cannot be divorced from the ongoing conflict between the US-led NATO alliance and Russia and its alliance’ but if this is the case then, given these geopolitical forces involved, this is what defines the character of the war.  It is not therefore in the interests of either the Ukrainian or Russian working class that it continues. 

But this is far from the position of those on the left supporting the war for whom the victory of Ukraine is the objective, an objective only achievable if it continues to fight, no matter what forces the more powerful Russian state throws at it.  Even if Ukraine with western imperialist support was able to achieve their improbable victory, it would involve the occupation of Crimea and Donbas against the wishes of the majority of its people, make Ukraine a NATO member, and allow the stationing of large conventional forces and nuclear weapons that would threaten Russia.

Whoever thinks that this will bring peace and stability probably still believes the Versailles Treaty was a good idea, that NATO really is a defensive alliance, and that Ukrainian ultra-nationalism will be satisfied. Unfortunately, if you already support a reactionary capitalist state that has armed its native fascists; sought the unlimited support of western imperialism; supported a regime that has demanded no-fly zones and ‘pre-emptive strikes’ on Russia that would lead to World War, then your illusions in the fruits of their victory is entirely consistent with this reactionary logic.  So why the attempt to support Ukraine and oppose its NATO allies, without whom it would already have collapsed?

Paul Murphy correctly notes that the weapons going to the Ukrainian military ‘which is increasingly integrated into NATO . . . are not being transferred by western imperialism out of concern for the Ukrainian people’s rights, but in pursuance of its own interests – which are not those of working class people.’  Again, if this is the case, how can those who are wielding these weapons be pursuing any other interest than those of the imperialist powers providing them?

The interests of US imperialism is to neuter Russia as a means of surrounding and subordinating China, and which – through the sanctions directed at Russia – also hobble the European Union as its largest economic Competitor.  The lengths it is prepared to go to are illustrated by its destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines that cut off Europe from cheaper gas supplies and make it more dependent on much more expensive US gas.  

Already European industry is closing and looking to relocate production.  The muted response from western media would not have occurred had Russia, for some inexplicable reason, decided to blow up its own pipeline and future source of revenue, but is another perfect example of the censorship that defines western media coverage of the war. How is the victory of Ukraine and US imperialism in the interests of European workers, unless you think a permanent cost of living crisis is a good idea?

Why on earth should anyone believe that there is also an identity of interests between the Ukrainian working class and US imperialism, and that the ever-increasing reliance and subordination of the Ukrainian state to imperialism will not be at its expense?  Already, even pro-war Ukrainian socialists complain about the effect of western imperialism on the country, through IMF demanded austerity and privatisation.  Yet their subordination to the Ukrainian state leaves them supporting the war and defending the opportunity for its intensification.

This left supports ever-increasing military and financial support by imperialism while flying the kite that this should not be paid for – that the debt of the Ukrainian state should be cancelled.  The potential altruistic intentions of imperialism are given another opportunity to disappoint as the pro-imperialist logic of their position works itself out.  Pretending to be based on ‘reality’ they require a belief in the incredible to make any sense.

Paul Murphy does not endorse some of these woeful illusions but support for the Ukrainian state requires going down this road, unless the contradictory nature of his characterisation of the war is resolved correctly.  He too calls for cancellation of the debt while noting that ‘the Western powers . . . have no intention of releasing Ukraine from debt bondage.’

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

Paul Murphy TD and the socialist position on Ukraine – part 1 of 3

The People before Profit TD Paul Murphy has written on the nature of the war in Ukraine and its importance for socialists. He makes clear that he supports a position I have already critiqued in a previous post but has something more to say than already argued; the critique therefore does so as well. 

On its importance he correctly notes that:

‘If we give succour to the idea that NATO can be a force for defending democracy and human rights, where will that leave us when its members engage in another blatantly imperialist anti-democratic intervention somewhere in the world? The question will be asked – if we accept that NATO is actually concerned with protecting democracy in Ukraine, then why not support joining NATO and expanding it further?’

This is absolutely correct and exposes the threat to any socialist opposition in the West to its own ruling class.  The ideas of some, who defend the Ukrainian state and the supply of arms to it by NATO, is such a departure from working class politics that one would expect some extraordinary arguments in its support.

What we have gotten instead is moralistic expressions of sympathy for the ‘Ukrainian people’ with no consideration of the class nature of the state waging the war, or explanation of how on earth US imperialism and NATO found itself on the side of the working class.

Paul Murphy is correct to say that if NATO is indeed playing a progressive role in the war there is no a priori reason to doubt its claims for its role in future.  These cannot be assumed to be necessarily reactionary but become subject to approval or acceptance on a contingent basis.  For all the wind expelled in claiming to uphold an an anti-imperialist position by the supporters of Ukraine, this becomes an open question; for if the greatest imperialist alliance can carry out progressive military and political actions, then it is not necessarily reactionary and to be opposed.

Unfortunately, it becomes clear in what he writes that Murphy can only avoid this fate himself if he abandons the position he goes on to advocate.  Given the enormous propaganda offensive in Ireland in support of the Ukrainian state, if People before Profit TDs were to abandon this current position, they would face even greater condemnation from manufactured ‘public opinion’, and would have to sit down as well as not applaud the Ukrainian President when he speaks to the Dail.

I will not repeat the arguments made in my previous post referenced above in relation to the statements of the International Socialist Tendency, to which PbP is aligned, but will take up directly what Paul Murphy argues.  I will not address his mistaken understanding on Lenin’s policy of self-determination of nations, which has also been taken up in a number of previous posts starting here.

It is impossible not to get fed up with this policy being held up as support for the Ukrainian state when it doesn’t fulfil this function. Again, unfortunately, left supporters of ‘Ukraine’ are so keen to offer such support they appear too lazy to read what Lenin has actually written.  No matter, this only demonstrates that it’s not what motivates their position in any case.

———————

Paul Murphy sets out three categories relevant to socialists characterisation of the war:

1) Those who have taken the side of Russia in the conflict, either because they see this as a conflict between US imperialism and a non-imperialist Russia, or because they consider Ukraine to be a fascist-dominated state;

2) Those who see the Ukrainian conflict simply as an example of an imperialist country invading a former colony and have taken the position of support for Ukraine;

3) Those who see two intertwined and sometimes contradictory aspects to this conflict: the Russian imperialist invasion of Ukraine – in which they take the side of the Ukrainian people, and an inter-imperialist conflict between the US-led NATO and Russian imperialism, in which they oppose both sides.

He seems oblivious to a position which (1) refuses support either to the Ukrainian state, in which case support for NATO does not arise, and (2) also opposes the Russian invasion.  The first statement on this blog along these lines was put up at the start of the war on 24 February.

While taking up this position it is of course necessary to evaluate the role of US imperialism and NATO, but from first principles it is impossible to support a capitalist state in war against another capitalist state; especially a state that has sought to join the primary imperialist alliance in the world led by the United States in an obvious move to assert its world-wide predominance.  Even if you start from the wrong place, it should be impossible to ignore this reality, thereby compelling an assessment of the role of the Ukrainian state in advancing it.

The right place to start is from the interests of the working class, which precludes support for either ‘Ukraine’ or Russia.  From this point it matters not whether the latter is imperialist or not, by whatever definition is considered correct, just as it is not of primary importance to what extent ‘Ukraine’ is home to, and consists of, far-right and outright fascist forces.  If the latter is noted, it is to illuminate just how awful the position of those supporting the Ukrainian state is and draw attention to the capitulation involved, as well as to pay attention to the political dynamics within that country.

The third position supported by Murphy is not therefore really a third alternative analysis but broadly just an addition of the first two, and it makes no sense, as our previous critique has argued.  He claims ‘two contradictory aspects’ to the war and claims to reconcile them in his third category above.  In fact, the contradiction involved is within his analysis of reality and not the reality itself that he seeks to explain.

Murphy realises the issue is a reoccurrence of a historical problem for socialists, stating it as similar to the those thrown up by World War II, although it more closely corresponds to the experience of the First World War. As Murphy notes: ‘For all who define ourselves as revolutionary Marxists, a common point of understanding is an appreciation of the disastrous consequences of the betrayal of the vast majority of socialists supporting their ‘own’ side with various justifications in World War’.

Through support for the state of Ukraine this is precisely the problem faced by the pro-war Left, which supports its own ruling class’s arming of that country: by one (not very distant) remove it is supporting its own capitalist class and state.  As an aside, the mass propaganda in support of Ukraine by the mainstream bourgeois media and full gamut of bourgeois politicians has caused them no embarrassment, never mind pause for thought.

If he continued this line of thinking he would arrive at the position of Trotsky that he mentions: ‘in consistently arguing against support for either side in such a clash and arguing that the end of the war which socialists should fight for was based on “the intervention of the revolutionary proletariat.’ 

Supporters of Ukraine leave no room for such a position and disarm the working class.  There is no need for its intervention if it is ‘Ukraine’ that must be supported, i.e. the capitalist Ukrainian state that is actually waging the war, not ‘the Ukrainian people’ who must fight it; while there is also no need for it since the arms relevant to Ukraine’s defence are those that can only be provided by NATO.

Murphy acknowledges that ‘the independence of the working class, with an emphasis on working class power and a socialist position is essential’ but this is precisely what is elided, through an appeal to ‘reality.’  But as we have argued before, support for ‘the Ukrainian people’ in war in the real world, as opposed to the imaginary one invoked by erroneous political formulations, involves support to the Ukrainian state actually fighting it. The Ukrainian armed forces do not cease to be a capitalist army just because it is composed of working class people, whether voluntarily enrolled or not.

Of the three types of war he mentions Ukraine does not seem to be included in any of them – not ‘Wars of national liberation or revolts against colonialism’; not Inter-imperialist wars (Ukraine is not imperialist in the sense that it subordinates other capitalist powers, though it is obviously capitalist); and not obviously a war ‘between post-capitalist or workers’ states and capitalist states.’

Murphy claims that the war in Ukraine is of the first variety:

‘The suggestion by some that there is no imperialist invasion of Ukraine, or no legitimate struggle of national liberation by Ukrainian people is not dealing with reality. To reach that conclusion, those who argue for this line are compelled to essentially ignore the fact of Russian troops invading and occupying Ukraine against the opposition of the Ukrainian people.’

But let us unpick the assumptions behind this statement.

Firstly, it is not true that all Ukrainians oppose the Russian invasion.  A minority supports Russia, and this is clearly the case in Crimea and Donbas.  A larger number has previously expressed support for greater autonomy for the Donbas but as citizens of Ukraine, and this was supposed to be the basis of the peace settlement based on the Minsk agreements.  One problem is that the Ukrainian state opposed such autonomy, partly due to far-right opposition, so this settlement became a dead letter and the Ukrainian armed forces continued to attack the population of the Donbas area.

The idea that there is one Ukrainian people with a unified political view is one spread by ultra-nationalists and by Western imperialism and its repetition by the Left in the West is but another illustration of its capitulation to these forces.  The political fracturing of Ukraine is testament not only to outside intervention by Russia and Western imperialism but also to internal divisions, a reality usually ignored in the western narrative.

Far from this proving the need for Ukrainian ‘national liberation’ it proves that Ukrainian nationalism cannot encompass all its people and that it is necessary to, not so much go beyond it, as replace it.  This is an example of why working class unity is required: as the only progressive alternative to nationalist division.

Undoubtedly part of the socialist programme to achieve this involves a fight for democracy, but this is primarily to assist the creation of working class unity and this is not made easier by either support for the Russian invasion or for Ukrainian ultra-nationalism.  This nationalism has been the banner under which the repression, censorship and banning of opposition political parties has been carried out by the Ukrainian state.

Forward to part 2

The crisis in British politics (2) – the mess on the left

Kier Starter, leader of the British Labour Party, flagging his alterrnative (Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Where does the current political crisis put the left?  I can’t remember a time when it has been so divided, not only over the causes of a crisis but what to do about it.  Brexit, Covid lockdowns and the Ukraine war have all contributed, as have years of printing money.  Yet many on the left have supported Brexit, demanded more severe lockdowns, supported war and western sanctions, and it even has its fair share of proponents of Modern Monetary Theory.

Even the minimum of policies raises division: against austerity includes opposition to energy price increases, which can be solved by ending support for war and removing sanctions. Opposition to the threats to workers living standards, and attacks on democratic rights opened up by the threats of removing EU laws, can be advanced by opposing Brexit.  This means giving focus to the awareness of the majority that Brexit has failed, by explaining the purpose of re-joining the EU.  

Photo: Morning Star

The Labour Party isn’t going to fight for these because it has, like some on the left, supported all the steps that got us here.  Some on the left have therefore said that it is better to face a weakened Tory government than a stronger Labour one committed to more or less the same agenda, so we shouldn’t call for a general election.

There are things wrong with this, although it has the merit of admitting that the left is chronically weak.  This should give it pause to recognise just how close, or rather how far away, it is to leading any revolutionary change, and to considering just what the preconditions for this would be.

Opposition to the call for a general election may reveal the belief that your alternative is weak but the weakness of your enemy will not make up for it.  Labour support for ‘balancing the books’, and therefore austerity, can easily permit their implementation by Sunak if he introduces the odd seemingly ‘fair’ implementation of pain, which would also prevent Labour from shouldering the blame. The effect of further Tory mistakes and division could either be to encourage opposition to austerity or usher in a Starmer government essentially wedded to the same project.

Calls for a general election to kick out the Tories should not be opposed but since we know that it’s not nearly enough the left should concentrate not on this but on what Marx would have called the momentary interests of the working class as well as its future.

This means supporting and generalising the strikes workers are taking to defend their living standards. It means politicising them, including with the demand to bring down the Tories with the purpose of also setting the expectations that will be placed on any alternative Government, including a Labour one.  It means organising in the trade unions to make them more democratic, which is easier to do when workers are engaged in union activity, and building the grounds for longer term rank and file activity.  It means similar activity in the Labour Party, and since this is mainly a defensive struggle against the leadership, it means defending existing rights and supporting the very few potential candidates who will get to stand in an election that support working class action.

If it is argued that the Labour Party is dead then such a view must be tested by the activity that can be organised within it; by the possibility of activating members and recruiting others through the strikes that are taking place, and some proof that the lessons of numerous attempts to organise a party outside it have been learnt.  It’s not enough to say that numerous battles have been lost if it is not clear to thousands of Labour members that the war inside it is over and definitively lost.  It’s not enough to propose some party that does not exist to something you claim is dead but will in some way have to be recognised as very much alive for millions who will vote for it.

Unity on the left is not enough.  There is no point blindfolding ourselves to Brexit, which cannot, like Starmer hopes, simply be parked, but has to be opposed.  Those who have supported it show no sign of recognising their mistake when it stares them in the face.  Likewise, what is the point of demanding protection from the enormous increase in energy prices while supporting war and the sanctions that make it inevitable?  The political struggle against these disastrous positions must continue.

The left, both in Britain and Ireland has put forward actions that the state must implement to address these problems: through nationalisation of energy companies, windfall taxes or price caps, increased state spending and taxation of the rich.  All of these rely on the state doing what the working class needs to do itself, and the state doesn’t exist for this purpose.  We have all just been given a huge lesson on who really controls society and what they are prepared to do even to a pro-capitalist Government that doesn’t play by its rules.

Nationalisation will not gain control over the supply of gas and oil so nationalising retail companies (known as suppliers in the industry) will not reduce prices; and you can’t nationalise companies in other countries.  This is also the case in Ireland, where much of the industry is already nationalised. You certainly can’t nationalise Russian gas, but you can pay a lower price for it, if you argue it’s generally good practice to buy from the cheapest supplier.

You can’t continue to increase workers income from state payments to make up for inflation when the financial markets won’t even support unfunded tax cuts for the rich.  While it’s an acceptable propaganda demand to increase taxation on the rich you won’t be able to make this the answer to the crisis. The underlying weakness of British capitalism is set to continue worsening, especially outside the EU, and redistribution of the tax burden isn’t going to change this.

The Tories have already overturned proposals to reverse corporation tax increases and there comes a point where significant increases would simply amount to a form of state capitalism, and one that is to the benefit of workers!  That’s not the society we live in, or one that could possibly exist.  Income taxes on the rich require a government to legislate it; require a capitalist class to accept it without shifting its incomes abroad, and a state willing to implement it.  The British tax authorities have proved time and time again their willingness to indulge tax avoidance and evasion by corporations and the rich. Tax incentives are as much a part of the code as levies and these always apply to the rich; workers don’t need an incentive to work since it’s the only way they can afford a tolerable or decent standard of living.

The recent crisis of the British state’s creditworthiness was caused not by proposed tax cuts for the rich but by increased debt caused by income payments during the pandemic, and early predictions of a £150 billion bill for energy supports to energy companies in lieu of consumers paying.  The idea that the financial markets will accept lending money to fill any gap left after screwing Britain’s rich, so that the incomes of the working class can be protected, ignores the political interests of the players involved in these markets. At the very least increased interest rates would be demanded if steps along this road were taken, which means they would get their pound of flesh one way or the other.

It makes no sense to offer alternatives that depend on actions by the state when you also argue any possible government won’t introduce them.  To paraphrase Marx again, the emancipation of the working class must be conquered by the working class itself.  So must the fight against austerity, the defence of living standards and against war.

Under capitalism the place of the working class is determined by its absence of property ownership – the means of producing goods and services.  If you create these by your labour but don’t own them, you can’t expect to receive the revenue arising from them, and especially from a state that is there to defend existing property rights.

This means that the income of the working class comes overwhelmingly from wages and if these are being reduced through inflation the correct response is to increase them, including through strikes.  The working class in many countries is now in the fortunate position of being in a period of low unemployment where it can take advantage of its position in the labour market to organise, demand wage increases and fight for them.  The longer term perspective is to take ownership of the means of production, and thus of the goods and services produced, so it can determine the distribution of the incomes derived from their use and sale.  In this it will obviously come up against the state determined to defend the rights of existing ownership.

It should be axiomatic for the left that the benevolence of the state is not the answer.  It takes the workers’ own money and then decides how much of it to give back, to whom and for what purpose.  It also borrows, then taxes workers to repay the borrowing.  In all this it buys the goodwill of workers with their own money, pretending it is that of the government.  The problem of lack of income then becomes one of demanding that the state gives you more, in the form of lower taxes, higher welfare and pensions, payments for not working (as in Covid) or subsidies to pay energy bills.

This analysis derives from very basic understandings derived from Marxism that many of its adherents accept in theory only to forget in practice.  The failure produces a phenomenon not unknown to Marx.

It produces an inverted reality in which workers seek salvation in actions by the instrument of their subordination.  It illustrates the grain of truth in accusations of the right that welfare dependency creates a culture of dependency, of which the politics of much of the left is a demonstration.  It is indeed ironic that the right often betrays a better appreciation of the role of the state than many self-described socialists.

This state-centred socialism has resulted in support for Brexit because it is believed that somehow the British state can be relied upon to be more progressive than any European one, and can become the vehicle to introduce socialism.

It fuelled demands for more stringent lockdowns during the pandemic because the state can miraculously give people money to buy goods and services it then prevents them from making and providing.

The Left’s “zero-COVID” strategy in operation in China (Chinatopix Via AP)

It now results in support for a notoriously corrupt capitalist state and its armed forces because it supposedly embodies the interests of Ukrainian workers; indeed the workers of the world, even while it acts on behalf of the most powerful states, together forming what is customarily called imperialism.

The Left joins supporters of the Ukrainian state who just happen to be fascists https://theintercept.com/2022/06/30/ukraine-azov-neo-nazi-foreign-fighter/ Photo:NurPhoto via Getty Images: veterans of the Azov volunteer battalion attend a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 14, 2020

From all this we can see that the task of the left in assisting the British working class in the current political crisis needs some work itself.  A lot of work.

Back to part 1

The crisis in British politics (1) – Brexit

For weeks my wife had complained about Johnson and his lies and wondered how on earth he had managed to survive.  How did he get away with it and when will we be rid of him?  

I explained that although he would go eventually I wanted the crisis caused by his repeated lying to continue as he was dragging the rest of the Tory Party down with him.  I also explained that his biggest lie was Brexit and Kier Starmer wasn’t calling him out on it.  In fact, he was repeating the lie by claiming he could get it to work.

When she wondered how long Liz Truss would last I ventured the opinion that the longer she stayed the more divided the Tory Party would become although I also said she was already toast.  Once again Brexit loomed large and about the only useful service she provided was to admit it in her very short, 89 seconds, resignation speech – ‘we set out a vision for a low-tax, high-growth economy that would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit.’

Indeed she did.  She demonstrated that ‘taking back control’ was a fantasy and that attempting the national road to growth the Tories planned for Britain was deluded.  The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee wrote that the Labour Party, Lib-Dems and ‘moderate’ Tories should now strike her ‘extreme brand of libertarian, state-destroying, Europe-baiting, austerity politics . . .  dead so it never resurrects, so no one ever tries it again any more than they would advocate Stalinism.’

Unfortunately, while she may prove correct about the Right, although I doubt it, she has already been proved wrong about similar nationalistic, Brexit-supporting ideas on the Left, which range from Starmerism to Stalinism, plus some ‘Trotskyism’, which spoils the alliteration, but that still makes for a strange unity of purpose. The opinion poll by Tony Blair’s think tank asked for one word that describes Brexit for its supporters and opponents.  For supporters it was the word ‘Freedom’. However, if such ‘freedom’ doesn’t make a nationalist capitalist programme possible how much more impossible is the idea of such freedom bringing about socialism?

The dominance of such a stupid idea arises not from the idea itself but from what it seems to allow – a much reduced role for the state or a much increased one; its reactionary character demonstrated by the fact it can succeed in neither.  Far from thinking it has been achieved by Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ Government, more believe it hasn’t that has, with only 6 per cent thinking it has been completely accomplished.  Sixty per cent think it has made the economy worse; in the North of Ireland its rating is negative 72 per cent and negative in parts of the so-called “red wall” in the north-east of England.

This doesn’t prevent about two-thirds expecting some benefits from Brexit, but since the most likely anticipated is new trade deals this has already been disappointed.  The prospect of ‘better UK laws’, ‘less immigration’, ‘better-funded public services’, ‘greater influence in the world’ and ‘lower prices’ are all being disproved.  No matter how blinkered its supporters may be, even with blinkers you can still see what is going on.

Where an alternative might come from explains a lot of the crisis in British politics.  Asked which option you would choose for the UK’s place within Europe in the next 10–15 years, only 23 per cent said inside the EU, while 36 per cent said some sort of new trading partnership outside, and 11 per cent said outside the EU but inside the single market.  In other words, almost half thought they could choose having your cake and eating it, or an arrangement that made Brexit pointless at best.  Only 45 per cent of Remain voters supported joining the EU.  That this is the case is suggestive of the role of political parties in setting out what appears possible; after all, if next to no one is saying it would even be a good idea then achieving it becomes, at best, something remote.

I informed my wife that the press were reporting some Tories saying that it would be better if the Labour Party took over; something that none of them would have claimed had Corbyn been leader, not altogether for rational reasons it must be said.  This told us that such a view was informed not just by the idea that the Tory Party needed a period in opposition to get their act together but by the view that the mess created would be better cleaned up by Labour.  Labour could then take the hit for all the unpopular decisions that the Tories are promising and still formulating.

Of course, allowing a general election when some opinion poll shows Tory support at 14 per cent means this is rather an unattractive position.  At this level they would seem to be justified in believing that the only way is up.  Instead, therefore, they will likely try to climb their way back with the new leader– the richest man in parliament, increasing taxes while his household has avoided a reported £20 million, and introducing austerity in which claiming ‘we are all in this together’ can only be seen as so much transparent nonsense.  Misguided attempts to suppress energy prices or reduce their impact will not so much be more targeted as just avoid aiming at most of them.  Inflation will continue and so will support for a war drummed up by unprecedented censorship and propaganda that has millions believing the righteousness of a state previously noteworthy for its corruption, internal division and endearment to fascists.

Having been trounced by the financial markets and the state, in the shape most obviously of the Bank of England, the new Tory leader will be on-side.  Despite being a supporter of Brexit, he will still be detested by the hard-right of the Party, although its traditionally good at hanging together instead of hanging apart.

Which brings us back to Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, which has to reckon on being the opposition, something it hasn’t been very good at.  Starmer’s Party has been characterised as a policy-free zone, but this does not mean policies will not, in the absence of an alternative, impose themselves.  In a longer time-frame, ‘making Brexit work’ will not work.  Immediately, calling for a general election only puts more pressure on it to set out an alternative, and the more we see of that the less alternative it looks.

We will look at that in the next post

Let the people sing their stories and their songs?

(Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Last week the Ireland women’s football team beat Scotland one nil to qualify for the World Cup, which is more than the men can do.  They celebrated by singing songs including ‘Celtic Symphony’, which includes a line ‘Ooh Aah Up the ‘Ra’ (repeated 23 times in case you missed it the first time).

Cue much declaration of outrage by a whole range of people forming a rather disorderly queue with much taking of offence.

For foreign readers, this phrase indicates support for the Irish Republican Army and in particular in its Provisional IRA incarnation, which is supposed not to exist anymore, and if it does, only in a much-reduced form that has no intention of renewing its previous armed struggle.  In fact, if the IRA was still blowing things up it is very doubtful the song would have been sung.  It therefore signals no meaningful endorsement of anything currently existing. 

Well, that’s not exactly true, since it is a football song and was written by the Wolfe Tones to celebrate 100 years of Glasgow Celtic which, unlike its Glasgow rivals, has never gone into liquidation and had to form itself into a new club. I’m not sure that all its listeners will understand its references to ‘Paradise’ or ‘the Jungle’ but the offending part is clear enough, although its meaning and significance is not.  As a football song it’s passable but even as a Celtic supporter myself it must be admitted that it will not win many Grammy awards.  I doubt it would even make a Eurovision song contest entry.

So, as explained above and for the avoidance of doubt, the IRA or ‘Ra in question is not the one which fought British rule in the War of Independence between 1919 and 1921.  That would not have caused offence, or at least not to the talking heads within the Irish State, which owes its existence at least partly to this earlier IRA.  Whether its violence was kinder, comparable, or even relevant is not something anyone wants to dwell upon lest it all get too complicated.  It’s harder to justify offence taken when it involves considerable deliberation and circumlocution to avoid explaining how some historical violence is ok and some is not.  For some if it’s not ok, well, it’s far enough in the past to consign to history.  The past is a foreign country as they say, so nothing to do with us presumably.

So, if it cannot be consigned to the past, even though, as I have said, the most recent IRA is mostly retired, this must be because the question is not really about this IRA directly but about the current embodiment of Provisional republicanism in Sinn Fein.  It’s about the present.  To quash even further doubt, it is not because anyone believes that Sinn Fein will seek to create the conditions in which a new IRA campaign can begin.  The party has shown often enough, especially in relation to dissident republicans, that it opposes armed action against the British state even if these assurances are laced with lies and hypocrisy.

No, it’s not about the prospect of renewed republican violence, not about the continuing argument over its historical legitimacy and not even about what reflection this has on the current representatives of republicanism.  It is more straightforwardly directed against Sinn Fein’s current project, which is actually light years from opposing British rule in Ireland through armed struggle, or any other political struggle if we think about it.  Today it is the major Party seeking to implement the favoured form of British rule in the North of the country, and if it has any complaint about the British, it is that they are not pushing this project hard enough against unionist opposition.

One can only imagine therefore how pleased Sinn Fein must be that the traditional expression of Irish nationalism through song is now associated so much with itself, knowing that nationalism dominates politics in the Irish State, as all its main parties are a variety of it, and its history of opposition to British rule is widely viewed, especially by the working class, as popular and legitimate.  We see this reflected in the fact that ‘Celtic Symphony’ reached number 1 in the iTunes chart and number 2, to be sure, to be sure that you can’t miss the message.

This shouldn’t be a surprise as controversy over a previous song – ‘Come Out Ye Black and Tans’ – followed attempts by the Irish Government to go a step too far in equating Irish nationalist resistance to British rule with the defenders of that rule.  Ironically, this song is also not a very good example of the better strains of the Irish nationalist tradition, but the continuing hold of this tradition was shown when it too reached number 1 in the iTune chart.  Perhaps the outraged were seeking some revenge but if they were they failed, again.

However, much of the reaction against the faux outrage of the various constituencies ‘offended’ by the singing of the song is also missing the point, or several.  While it is absolutely correct to dismiss the hypocrisy of the British media, which laughably thinks the women need to learn Irish history; and politicians who lament its damage to the ‘shared future’ with unionism, which requires for example that the mass slaughter of the First World War is commemorated by nationalists as a symbol of respect for their politics, it is also important to look at what the controversy means for those rushing to defend its use.

Yes, this ‘outrage’ and ‘offense’ is synthetic and if taken at its word would prohibit any expression of Irish nationalist opposition to British rule.  This tradition did involve violence, but nothing on the scale of that perpetrated by British imperialism.  Many of those lamenting the glorification of violence, and its traumatic effect on some who are still living, are wilfully blind to the violence of the British state.  Their sensitivity to its cruel effects is very discriminating.  Almost all of them are incapable of explaining why this violence occurred, which means their expressions of sorrow are objectively so much cant.

But some of the defensive reaction to it is unsatisfactory, to put it mildly.

One of the Wolfe Tones is reported to have dismissed complaints by saying that some of it came from people who ‘aren’t really Irish’, which if it refers to Northern Protestants, and who else could it refer to, is exactly the argument of Irish unionism. More apposite however, it is in perfect harmony with Sinn Fein’s policy of ‘respecting the two traditions.’

So, one republican said in response that “I feel very sorry that anyone died in the Troubles.  I feel very sorry that the troubles were visited on us.’  It’s as if the Provisional IRA played no active part in creating what has been called ‘the Troubles’, which simply paid a visit on it.  It too has played the victim along with every other participant, playing along with the idea that we were all responsible (so no one was) and that we all have to move on – together. And moving on together means partnership with unionism and continuing British rule, all washed down with the hope that the Catholics in the North will out-breed the Protestants and enough will be true to what is expected of them and support a united Ireland.  

It has been argued that the young women didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t actually mean support for the Provisional IRA.  Well, yes and no, or rather no and yes.  They knew what they were singing and what, to them, it signified, and that very likely didn’t mean support for an IRA armed struggle that’s over.

What is represented, what it was, is increasingly common – young people expressing their rebelliousness and defiance of the conventions of older generations, as always happens, through support for an Irish republicanism that is increasingly popular among younger generations.  It expresses both increased confidence and increased anger.  Confidence that being Irish is no longer to be in a backward country compared to its neighbour and confidence that comes from almost full employment and many working for big US tech companies.  Anger that despite this they can’t get a house and renting means queueing with dozens of others for a viewing and paying enormous amounts for sub-standard flats.  What often results is young people having to live with their parents – no wonder there’s generational friction. 

‘Up the ‘Ra’ is therefore what has been called ‘an umbrella toast to republicanism’ which is now the politics they support in the belief that it will sort out their problems.  It combines both youthful rebelliousness, a common generational cultural meme, and a declaration of confident national and political identity with the measure of each varying by individual.

Like much youth rebelliousness it’s not as radical as it thinks it is.  Such republicanism has its support among older generations too and actually has a long history in various forms.  Sinn Fein is not going to lead any revolution and is keen to project its pro-business identity, most recently by declaring its consensus with the rest of the Irish establishment parties by supporting Ukraine and damning Russia.  US multinationals in Ireland have nothing to worry about.

The song from the young footballers is a cultural refection of the fact that, as the last Irish Times Ipsos opinion poll reported, while support for Sinn Fein among all voters was 36 per cent, it was 44 per cent among 18-24 year olds and 43 per cent among 25-34 year olds.

That this rebelliousness of the young against the precepts of older generations draws upon such old traditions and aligns itself with a party that has ditched its own rebelliousness should tell us something about the nature of the ‘offensive’ behaviour,  about those ‘outraged’ and ‘offended’, and about how we should respond to it as socialists.

There was no call to apologise for the singing and no requirement to make more of it than was there by those in sympathy with it.