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Stop The War teach-in debates how to oppose Russian invasion—and Nato escalation

Building the anti-war movement is vital to stopping the horrors of the war in Ukraine
Issue 2798
Protesters hold green SW placards on the Stop The War demonstration in London

On the Stop The War demonstration in London earlier this month (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Around 400 people joined an online teach-in on Saturday analysing the roots and consequences of the war in Ukraine. It was organised by the Stop the War Coalition, which opposes the Russian invasion but also calls for no Nato escalation. 

The size of the meeting shows there is an audience for those who do not go along with the dominant idea that the only villain is Vladimir Putin and that Nato is some sort of humanitarian body. The meeting was supposed to be a physical event, but the spread of Covid forced it on to Zoom. This restricted the opportunities for interchange of views, but it was still a useful event.

Vijay Prashad, director of Transcontinental—Institute of Social Research, said war was always terrible. But he went on that the way that Ukraine was reported showed that “some people are seen as more human than others”. 

He demanded, “Where was the moral outrage when Russia was destroying Chechnya? Where is the outrage at British arms suppliers making money from pulverising Yemen?”

Prashad added that Nato is “Washington’s instrument, a trojan horse for US power”. He ridiculed the idea that European countries were allowed to develop their own policies. At the recent Nato summit, US president Joe Biden had told European governments to “get in line”. 

Nato was not simply a method of subordinating Europe to the US but also a way of pushing Nato members into wars in Asia, the Middle East and the rivalry with China, Prashad said.

Chris Nineham, the vice-chair of the Stop The War Coalition, said the invasion had been a “disaster for the people of Ukraine but also for those in the region and across the world”. 

But he challenged the idea that it was a battle between “Western civilisation and Russian degeneracy”. Instead he argued the need to recognise that “rivalries of big power competition” are central. He said the West’s propaganda was “shockingly hypocritical, Eurocentric and amnesiac, an attempt to bury the history of what they have done”. 

He said the anti-war movement in Britain had been on the streets and would “need to do it again”. But he said that there was also a need for “education and organisation—public meetings and teach-ins”. 

Socialist Worker editor Charlie Kimber, speaking in the discussion, said that Nato should be abolished. And that “whatever happens in the immediate future it will only freeze the situation before another outburst of war that flows from imperialist rivalries”. He added that the Labour Party had lined up with the warmongers and that “the Labour left was also suppressing anti-war voices by its retreats”.

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, emphasised the potential for escalation.  She told the teach-in that the nuclear weapon that the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 had a power of 15 kilotons of TNT and it killed 200,000 people. But some of today’s weaponry has a power of 800 kilotons, and the British nuclear warheads are 100 kilotons each.

Hudson said that a no-fly zone was the most direct route to nuclear war. And she repeated a plea from a Ukrainian peace activist who opposed “reckless demands to close the sky”. 

Rob Ferguson, a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Stop the War Coalition steering committee, spoke. He said that the West’s manoeuvres had intensified the divisions and hostilities in Ukraine. He particularly pointed to the Bucharest Nato summit of 2008 that welcomed Georgia and Ukraine’s “aspirations for membership” and had led almost immediately to war in Georgia.

Rob said that for Ukraine “Nato weapons come with a price tag” of political subservience and that the present war was “as much a consequence of imperialist rivalries as the wars that preceded it”. He added, “no to Nato escalation is indispensable for the anti-war movement because if the house is on fire you don’t pour petrol on the flames”. And our guide has to be “the main enemy is at home”.

In the discussion, Nebojsa Milikic said it would be hard to break people in Europe from Nato because it “guarantees their colonial heritage and accumulated spoils”. But Rob said, “The population of Nato countries do not benefit from Nato’s wars”. He added that, although it might be hard at first to build a mass movement, this could change.

Ukrainian activist Oksana Solomou said her home city of Chernihiv had been “60 percent destroyed by the Russian invasion” and that “40 percent of houses had been destroyed”. But she opposed Nato intervention. 

She said she was “proud of those who picked up rifles in Ukraine, proud that the queues for rifles had been longer than those for bread”. Solomou added, “We need your help in Ukraine, not financially or with weapons but geopolitically”.

Ukrainian peace activist Yuri Sheliazhenko from Kiev said there was “no recognition of conscientious objection in Ukraine” and that the government wanted to “turn the population into soldiers”. He said there was a similar message of “blame and hate and holy war” in both Russia and Ukraine. 

He said he had made a video called “don’t lie like Boris Johnson” in response to Johnson’s blinkered and one-sided view. Sheliazhenko said his hope was “non-violent global government”.

Andrew Feinstein, a South African activist now a board member of investigative website Declassified UK, denounced the “militarist mindset” which saw “conflict as the way to resolve differences”. This was expressed in the US military budget of well over $1 trillion.

”This requires conflict,” he said. Global trade in weapons, the most corrupt trade, plays a crucial role in enriching individuals and oils the political process of legalised bribery.”  He said a “global military elite” would benefit massively from the “circle of avarice” flowing from the further boost to arms spending from the Ukraine war.

Russian activist Asya Maruket said those opposing the war had to use “creative ways to express their voice” because of repression. She said that feminist anti-war activists had proved hard for the authorities to close down because of their non-hierarchical structure.

She pointed to an action where activists produced Russian flags without the red stripe—“a symbol of blood and imperialism”. Activists face harsh repression, said Maruket, but there is still a determination to oppose the war.

In the discussion, Socialist Worker online editor Tomáš Tengely-Evans said, “Arms are not supplied by Nato without strings attached. Nato is not a neutral actor.” He stressed the “importance of the Russian anti-war movement” that offered hope. Tomáš also said activists had to “expose the hypocrisy of the US and Nato that condemn the bombings and destruction unless they are doing it themselves”.  

Martin Hall said there was a crossover from those who’d prioritised staying in the EU over achieving a Corbyn government and those who said it was crucial to defend Nato. He said this was the politics of defeatism and he encouraged activists to raise anti-war resolutions in their trade unions.

Several contributors said it was important to combine agitation against the war with action over the cost of living crisis.

It was disappointing that those elements of the left who oppose any criticism of Nato did not come and argue their position. And there were no high-profile Labour Party or trade union figures present.

During the 2003 war in Iraq, even though it was pushed by Labour prime minister Tony Blair, an anti-war event such as this would have been stuffed with Labour and trade union people. Now, because it’s tougher and the movement is smaller, top figures have fled. Their compliance and silence makes it much easier for Boris Johnson to peddle his fake national unity,

Teach-ins and meetings, combined with action on the streets, are important to develop the anti-war movement.

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