08/02/2023. Stansted , United Kingdom. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greets Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine as he arrives in the United Kingdom. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1214

A recent opinion poll, published in the right-wing Daily Telegraph, predicted that the Tories will win just 45 seats at the next election, leaving them in third place behind the Scottish National Party. Faced with a growing strike wave and plunging popularity ratings, Sunak must have sighed with relief last week when the visit of Ukrainian President Zelensky offered him a rare ‘good news’ story.

Putin’s barbarous invasion of Ukraine is not of course ‘good news’ for the millions suffering the terrible consequences of war – having their homes destroyed, being forced to flee, and losing their lives. The numbers killed are uncertain, but are clearly very high. At the end of January, General Eirik Kristoffersen, Norway’s defence chief, estimated that Russia had suffered 180,000 dead and wounded, while Ukraine had 100,000 killed or wounded in action along with 30,000 civilian deaths.

From Sunak’s point of view, however, it at least brought to the fore an issue around which there is still some public support for the government. Recent polling shows six in ten people ‘support Britain’s current role in the conflict’. This reflects the huge public sympathy that exists for the nightmare being faced by the peoples of Ukraine.

However, Sunak and the Tories are not motivated by the suffering of the Ukrainian peoples, or the working class and poor of any country. The Tories are now posturing as ‘standing up to the Russian oligarchs’, but over the last decade have presided over the City of London acting as the ‘laundromat’, sucking in and ‘cleaning’ the money of the same oligarchs. The Tory party has been rewarded for this service, with at least nine Russian oligarchs known to have donated substantial sums to their coffers. Nor is Tory hypocrisy on the issue a thing of the past. While Sunak demands that the working class in Britain suffers soaring energy costs, for which he claims the war is solely responsible, his wife continues to profit from Russian investments. Last year she collected £11.5 million in dividends from her father’s company which was still operating in Moscow.

For the Tories, and the capitalist system they defend, the rights of oppressed peoples, including the Ukrainians, are so much small change. They were happy to cooperate with Putin when he was conducting barbarous wars in Chechnya, for example, as was the pro-capitalist New Labour government under Blair. Had Putin remained willing to be subservient to western imperialism, above all the US, this would have remained the case regardless of the crimes his regime was committing. It is Putin’s attempt to assert Russia’s imperialist interests in its ‘near abroad’ that has pushed the West to shift its position in order to defend its own imperialist interests, by providing massive modern armaments to Ukraine.

The ‘West’, however, is not homogenous. US imperialism, having pulled out of Afghanistan without even consulting its NATO ‘partners’, is now using the Ukrainian war to try and unite the Western powers behind its leadership. This has only happened very superficially, however, with deep divisions remaining. Remember how, as recently as 2021, the announcement of the AUKUS military pact between the US, Australia and Britain, led to the French government withdrawing its ambassadors from the US and Australia!

As the Ukrainian war drags on, tensions between the NATO powers on the way forward are likely to come to the fore again. Within that Britain’s Tory government has, at every stage so far, played the role of pushing hardest for Western military aid to Ukraine. There is a big difference between the rhetoric and the facts, however. In reality it is the US that has supplied the vast majority of the military hardware. At the end of November 2022 the US had pledged $50 billion of total aid, including non-military spending, compared to $7.5 billion from Britain. US imperialism really is ‘calling the shots’, with Britain playing a very secondary role.

And while Sunak is happy to echo Johnson and Truss, cynically trying to gain popularity by warmongering, it is a very different question when it comes to supporting those fleeing the horrors of war. For those fleeing wars in Africa or Asia, the Tories have only brutal racist anti-refugee policies and propaganda to offer. The rhetoric, at least, is different for Ukrainian refugees.

However, eight million people, mainly women and children, have had to flee Ukraine. The Tory government is far down the rankings for the number of Ukrainian refugees accepted, with only 160,000, compared to 1.6 million in Poland and 1.1 million in Germany. What is more, the schemes under which most Ukrainian refugees entered puts the burden of looking after refugees on individual families. The inevitable result has been widespread homelessness and destitution of Ukrainian refugees when their ‘host families’ can no longer cope.

We can have no trust in the capitalist elites in any country to defend the interests of the Ukrainian peoples. Instead we need to step up our own struggle against them. Sunak’s attempt to cynically use Zelensky’s visit to distract workers in Britain from the fights we face here – to win decent pay rises, defend public services, and to get his hated government out of office – did not work even momentarily.

However, this nightmarish war does throw into high relief the need – in Russia, Ukraine, Britain and every country – for the working class to have its own mass parties, independent of all the rotten capitalist elites. Such parties need to fight for power to be taken out of the major corporations and banks that dominate the economy, so that society can be run democratically in the interests of the majority, based on socialist planning and cooperation, instead of capitalism’s ruthless pursuit of profit, which leads to poverty, environmental destruction and war.