Over 400 people joined a rally against the war in Ukraine in Conway Hall, central London, on Wednesday. The meeting was a show of defiance against the Tories’, Labour Party’s and mainstream media’s attempts to smear the left as apologists for Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The message from the hall was clear—no to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, no to Western escalation of the conflict. Organised by the Stop The War Coalition, it came ahead of a global day of action against the war on Sunday.
Lindsey German, Stop The War co-convenor, said, “I want to extend Stop The War’s solidarity to the people of Ukraine. And, speaking of the anti-war protests, she added, “I would also like to send solidarity to people in Russia who are showing tremendous bravery.” She said the demonstrations in Russian cities “send a message around the world for peace and against war”.
German argued that “we need to look at serious explanations” of the conflict in Ukraine. “Nato is expanding, not just in Europe, but in all other parts of the world,” she said. “If you look at the war in Ukraine and you see it simply as a conflict involving Russia and Ukraine, you are not looking at the whole picture.”
German blasted the “idea that Nato is a defensive alliance” as something that “simply doesn’t bear any reality”. She pointed out how “Nato has been centrally involved” in disastrous wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s and Libya in 2011.
The Ukraine conflict is driven by inter-imperialist rivalry between the West—the US, Britain Nato and EU—and Russia.
Alongside attacks on Stop The War, any opponent of the war drive is now smeared even when they’re taking workers’ action over jobs, pensions and safety.
The right wing Telegraph newspaper disgracefully ran a headline targeting Tube workers on Tuesday who are striking this week. It read, “The enemy underground: how ‘Putin apologists’ brought London to a standstill.”
A statement from their RMT union was read out at the meeting that condemned the Russian invasion and called for “long-lasting solutions” for peace.
The NEU education union wrongly withdrew its statement on Ukraine after a storm of attacks in the media earlier this week. It called for “Russian troops to leave the country”. But it contained a line of criticism about the expansion of the US’s imperialist alliance, Nato, into eastern Europe.
“The conflict between Russia and Ukraine must not lead to the expansion and consolidation of military alliances in Europe,” it said. They “can only threaten future stability for all and hasten the likelihood of future conflicts and wars”.
Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, speaking in a personal capacity, told the rally, “I want to speak out and I urge others to speak out. It’s vital we can hold democratic decisions.
“Stop The War itself is under huge attack and I believe it’s important to resist that attack. Military solutions, advocated by American presidents and British prime ministers, have a habit of not working out.
“I don’t trust Boris Johnson at home and I don’t trust him abroad. I completely condemn, as does everyone in this room, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—the Russian troops should withdraw immediately.” The NEU should stand by its original anti-war statement.
There were huge cheers for former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who urged people to “speak up for peace” and “stand up against this terrible war”. He told the crowd “there can be no justification whatsoever for the Russian forces’ bombardment of civilian targets” and “what looked like war crimes being committed.”
Corbyn reminded the room that “when we spoke out against going to war in Afghanistan in 20021, we were a minority”. He told the media to “also report the bombing that’s going on in Yemen” where “we have a direct responsibility in that we’re supplying arms to the Saudi regime”.
But he did not mention Keir Starmer’s disgusting moves to make Labour even more firmly the “party of Nato” and criticise the Tories from the perspective of the warmongering right.
Socialist writer Tariq Ali pointed to the cowardice of Labour left MPs. They withdrew their names last week from a Stop The War statement that criticised Nato after Keir Starmer’s leadership threatened to withdraw the whip. “Starmer says boo and they run for cover,” said Ali. He added that “Nato is a military organisation” that aims to “preserve the American order in Europe.”
Labour MP John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, was billed to speak at the rally—but withdrew earlier in the day amid speculation that he could lose the whip. He claimed it was because he didn’t want to “feed into the distraction” from the plight of people in Ukraine “by going tonight”.
In reality, McDonnell is choosing Labour Party unity with the right over socialist principles. He added, “My final comment is that, in the wider context of securing a socialist Labour government, and possibly inspired by my team Liverpool at Wembley at the weekend, I do believe it’s important for socialists to stay on the pitch for as long as it takes.”
In truth McDonnell has decided to stay on the pitch scoring repeated own goals while disowning his own anti-war supporters in the crowd.
This retreat came after Diane Abbott claimed the left wing MPs withdrew their name from the Stop The War statement willingly. And Abbott humiliatingly came out in support of Nato, saying, “Having a debate around Nato strategy is one thing, attacking Nato is another.” “Everybody in the Labour Party supports a defensive alliance,” said Abbott.
It makes clear, the Labour Party is no place for socialists who oppose war and imperialism.
It’s all the more important to get out onto the streets on Sunday. Socialists should oppose the Russian invasion—and uncompromisingly stand against any US and Nato escalation of the conflict.
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