Protests against the Iraq War in 2003 are among the earliest memories I, and many other YCL members, have of political action. Yet, as we approach the 20th anniversary of these demonstrations next month, the peace and anti-war movement is as fragmented, and ineffective as ever.
Those many millions of people across the world who protested the invasion of the Iraq in 2003 did so, not out of any love for Saddam Hussein or of Ba’athism, but because they understood that ordinary workers almost never win when war breaks out –– certainly not when the war is being launched by a murderous zealot like Dick Cheney.
Last week, the decision from the US and German Governments, to send dozens of tanks to Ukraine, reaffirmed the need to revive the anti-war movement, not just in Britain, or Europe but across the world. This move from two of NATO’s most critical members, indicates that Western forces are determined to escalate this conflict into an all-out global war.
The Morning Star reproduced a statement by Sevim Dagdelen, MP with Die Linke (German Left Party), who said: “Until just now, supplying heavy battle tanks was considered absolutely taboo and had been a red line for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. In this context, it is extremely worrying how the war propaganda in Germany is picking up speed.
Immediately after the federal government’s decision to deliver heavy battle tanks, there are now calls for the delivery of fighter jets. In this logic of military escalation, the delivery of fighter jets is followed by the delivery of warships, ballistic missiles and, in the end, our own troops.
In order to stop the war in Ukraine and prevent an escalation towards a third world war, we urgently need diplomatic initiatives.”
She is absolutely right and her comments further reinforce the need for an international consensus to combat the escalating conflict. We cannot allow ourselves to be sucked into a false dichotomy of right and wrong in a proxy war between NATO/EU Interests and that of an arguably imperialist nation led by an oligarch in the form of Vladimir Putin.
Never before, in my lifetime, have I seen charities so openly fundraising for mercenary groups and militias for a foreign war. Such is the dogma around the current conflict, those looking to aide these initiatives no longer have to hide behind the guise of foreign aid or international foundations. The Azov Battalion are able to fundraise in Britain, not just through dodgy backroom deals, but through public campaigning and even a dedicated website which boasts about raising money for armoured cars and night vision goggles. A current campaign is looking for 15 million Ukrainian Hryvnia for armoured vests for soldiers.
A stall on the same street as my regular Communist Party Stall in Glasgow recently was selling handmade bracelets purporting to be supporting Ukrainian refugees. Upon closer inspection they said the money would be going to the Azov Battalion. Such is the cognitive dissonance of much of the liberal left whereby they continually call for an end to the war, and to support Ukrainian refugees, whilst propping up these organisations determined to keep the conflict going.
No war in history has ended in anything but annihilation or diplomacy. Nearly a year into the conflict, and with NATO War Dogs flooding the country with military aid, it is clear that we have to step up our efforts to end the war in Ukraine by reinitiating peace talks between the two parties independent of NATO warmongering.
The Anti-War Protests in 2003, which remain some of the largest demonstrations in history, were ultimately ineffectual in stopping the invasion of Iraq from taking place, but that does not mean they do not serve as a valuable lesson for us in the midst of yet another war nearly two decades on.
If there was a protest called by Stop the War and others in central London or in Glasgow this weekend to protest the war in Ukraine, the chances of it achieving support from close to a million people are virtually nil. The protests against the war in Ukraine that we have seen in Britain have been more about showcasing support for Ukrainian patriotism, than any principled position in favour of peace.
The Labour Party appear intent on impotency when it comes to any kind of progressive politics, both domestic and international, making parliamentary efforts for peace more difficult. As in 2003, we have to create an extra-parliamentary movement capable of challenging the narrative that we can’t do anything unless the left of the Labour Party are in power.
So, the question then is how do we go about building a genuine class-conscious movement in favour of a diplomatic resolution of the war in Ukraine?
The answer, for me, has to centre around reigniting the relationship between trade unions and the peace and anti-war movement. Nearly a decade on from the fascist massacre of nearly 50 trade unionists in Odessa, we owe it to these people, to dedicate ourselves to a future free of war and far right terrorism.
Trade Unionists should be able to support calls for an end to the conflict without fear of retribution or questioning over support for the Ukrainian people. The only position that defends both the Ukrainian and Russian people is that which calls for peace. As the famous saying, often attributed to Lenin, goes “A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at both ends”, and it is both Russians and Ukrainians that are suffering, and will continue to suffer, as a result of this continued influx of weapons into the region.
Putin’s Government have been ramping up their efforts to clamp down on dissent, focusing on independent journalism and opposition to the war effort. Independent international coverage on domestic politics in the country is hard to come by but its clear that ordinary Russians are suffering from the dual prongs of international economic sanctions, and authoritarianism at the hands of Putin’s All Russia People’s Front.
We have to be clear in our analysis of the conflict and I think the line of the Communist Party is correct, but there is no use in being correct if no one in the room is listening. A national demonstration has been called by Stop the War and CND under the slogan “Stop the War in Ukraine – Peace Talks Now!” on the 25th of February. Almost exactly 20 years on from those seminal protests against the Iraq War in February 2003, we should use this demonstration as a catalyst for reigniting the anti-war movement in favour of a peaceful resolution. They may not be as large as the protests then, but they may prove to be more important.
Peter Stoddart, is the YCL’s Treasurer