Photo: Rhododendrites/cc
Photo: Rhododendrites/cc

The Socialist Party is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). The material below is mostly taken from a statement produced by the CWI immediately following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Socialists and the wider working-class movement must condemn Putin’s military invasion of Ukraine, which will bring the death of many innocent civilians, create potentially millions of refugees, and cause widespread destruction. We stand resolutely opposed to all capitalist warmongers and reactionary nationalist chauvinism that pits workers against workers.

We also oppose Nato and the western capitalist powers, which are also responsible for the ratcheting up of military tensions in the region that have now resulted in a new war in Ukraine.

It is the working class of Ukraine, Russia and beyond who will pay dearly for the war, not the oligarchs and ruling elites in Moscow, Kyiv and Washington.

The international workers’ movement needs to mobilise against the war, independent of the ruling classes and pro-capitalist political parties. We must oppose any attempts to set aside the struggles of workers and youth, and the class interests of the workers’ movement, because of pressures to follow the approach of pro-capitalist forces regarding the war in Ukraine.

Why should the working class have any faith in the motives of pro-capitalist governments, which have presided over Covid policies that have left millions dead and are now trying to make workers pay the economic cost of lockdowns?

The western powers act from the class standpoint of the ruling elites and billionaires both at home and abroad.

When it is in the interests of western imperialism, it has not hesitated to invade and occupy smaller countries as we have seen over three decades.

Working-class people have no interest in supporting US-led Nato, the main imperialist military force in the world, or the smaller but brutal imperialist power of Russia.

  • Stop the war in Ukraine
  • Withdraw Russian troops and end the bombing
  • Withdrawal of Nato troops from Eastern Europe
  • Build an international movement of workers and youth against the war
  • We will not pay for capitalist wars. Cap energy and heating costs and nationalise the energy sectors under democratic workers’ control and management
  • Expropriate the wealth and property of the oligarchs and ruling classes. Bring the main sectors of the economy under public ownership, with democratic management and control by the working class
  • Expropriate the arms industry and transfer production to public ownership for social use
  • For the building of independent trade unions and mass workers’ parties in Ukraine, Russia and the region
  • No to ethnic division and cleansing; for the right to self-determination and full democratic rights for all minorities
  • For workers’ unity and a common struggle against warmongers, oligarchs and the system of capitalism that creates poverty, joblessness, ethnic divisions and wars. For a socialist society

International rivalry and conflict

The Ukraine conflict has to be seen in the context of the ongoing rivalry between the relatively declining economic power of the US, which is still the largest military power, and the rising economic and increasing military power of China. Biden partly took a hard line against Russia in recent weeks because he wanted to send a strong signal to China. Indeed, Chinese president Xi Jinping supports Putin over Ukraine, with an eye to claims on Taiwan and its eventual ‘reintegration’ into China.

Russia is Beijing’s biggest recipient of loans from official sector institutions, worth as much as $151bn between 2000 and 2017. According to the Financial Times, China will probably help Russia weather sanctions “mostly through resource deals and lending by several state-owned banks, while seeking to avoid damage to its own economic and financial interests”. Beijing will continue to try to strike a balance between backing Putin and its own self-interest in the region’s stability and regarding its worldwide trading links.

Nato powers have stated that they have no intention of militarily intervening in Ukraine and directly confronting Russia. Such an intervention would clearly not be in the interest of both nuclear arms-holding Nato and Russia, despite Putin placing Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert.

Yet many workers and youth are understandably fearful of the Ukraine crisis leading to a wider war. There is a danger that other forces can be drawn into skirmishes. Western forces’ leaders are concerned that the Russian air force may chase the Ukrainians into Polish airspace. That, according to  Financial Times journalist Gideon Rachman, could lead to a direct clash between Russia and Poland, a Nato member.

The war in Ukraine is yet another dangerous escalation of the development of hostile military blocs on a world scale. The main task of socialists and the workers’ movement is to oppose all imperialist powers and their warmongering ruling class at home; to struggle for workers’ unity and against the coercion and oppression of all nationalities and minorities, as part of the programme for a socialist society.

Build international working-class solidarity

While the working people of Ukraine have the right to live free of Russian military threats, coercion, and attacks, they can have no faith in the Zelensky government. In response to Putin’s military operation, Zelensky proclaimed ‘martial law’. This comes on top of a 30-day state of emergency, which gives the president far-reaching powers, including banning political parties and protests.

Under these conditions, workers’ rights will be quashed. Since a bloody coup brought a pro-Western regime to power in 2014, Ukraine has been ruled by right-wing, authoritarian governments, involving far-right nationalists and fascistic elements, which have curtailed democratic rights and are no friends of the workers’ movement. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine face discrimination,

International working-class solidarity is essential to build a mass anti-war movement everywhere. We should support any attempts at genuine cross-community unity taking place on the ground in Ukraine, including democratically organised self-defence.

 All possible action should be taken to aid the building of genuine independent workers’ organisations in Ukraine, Russia and throughout the region. This includes constructing independent trade unions and mass parties of the working class with bold socialist policies. A socialist programme can unite workers across all national and ethnic lines, to oppose the local warmongers and oligarchs and the outside imperialist powers.

Sanctions: A blunt tool that will mainly hurt ordinary workers

Having ruled out direct military intervention into Ukraine, western governments have instead increased weapon supplies to Ukraine’s government and applied punitive economic sanctions on the Russian state.

These new sanctions are targeted at oligarchs and Russian banks, including barring the latter from the Swift international payment system. The Nord 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany has also been put on hold by Berlin. Although it seems that western governments will not block Russia’s profitable oil and gas exports.

Nonetheless, cutting off financial and technical links to world markets will hurt Russia’s economy. However, sanctions are a blunt instrument that will hurt ordinary Russians more than Putin and the oligarchs that surround him. Already Russian banks have massively increased domestic interest rates as the rouble collapses in value internationally.

The workers’ movement internationally should oppose sanctions by capitalist states, which will hit working-class people in Russia hardest. Russia has a smaller GDP (total output) than Italy, and has an average standard of living of less than a quarter of that of people in the UK.

Crippling sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s failed to unseat dictator Saddam Hussein, but they did pauperise ordinary Iraqis and undermined their health system.

In recent years, Moscow has taken action to alleviate further possible sanctions. The economy is more self-sufficient after meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy exports were banned when sanctions were imposed in 2014 following the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by Putin’s military.

The Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China is another example of diversification by the Russian state, with Power of Siberia 2 already approved by Putin.

Russia has also used earnings from oil and gas exports to build substantial financial reserves. It has foreign currency reserves of about $500 billion and very low levels of national debt by international standards.

Sanctions against Russia can cut both ways. Russia provides 40% of the EU’s oil and coal, and 20% of its gas. Western countries are looking for alternative sources but a cut in supplies would lead to even higher energy prices for businesses and homes, accelerating existing deep problems in the European and world economy.

Disrupting wheat exports from Russia would also increase prices and food insecurity worldwide. Russia is also a supplier of key components for global manufacturing, including car parts, and cutting these supplies will have far-reaching consequences for both industry and the economy.

Russia: anti-war protesters take to streets

Despite Russia’s repressive regime, and its tightly controlled media, thousands of anti-war demonstrators have taken to the streets in nearly 50 cities.

Some independent media sources say up to 6,000 anti-war Russians have been arrested by heavy-handed police since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

Although most are released after a few hours, protesters can be held for two weeks.

These protests, although relatively small so far, nonetheless show the potential for workers’ unity against the Russian state’s imperialist aggressions.

There have also been reports of hundreds arrested in Belarus, where Putin’s dictatorial ally, president Lukashenko, stole the 2020 election and then brutally supressed mass opposition to the result.

Putin has orchestrated carefully constructed propaganda to portray the invasion of Ukraine as a ‘humanitarian act’ to save Russian-speaking Ukrainians from a ‘drug-taking, neo-Nazi, Nato-friendly regime’ in Kyiv. However, it is clear from the anti-war protests in Russian that this message is starting to fall flat.

Moreover, news of Russian armed forces deaths and casualties are increasingly seeping out in the public domain, thereby further undermining Putin’s authority.

Guarantee safety for refugees

Seize the wealth of Russian oligarchs to fund jobs and homes for all

The human tragedy unfolding in Ukraine could lead to up to four million people fleeing the country looking for safety, according to UN estimates. Boris Johnson’s promise to “receive those who are fleeing in fear of persecution” is, like most of what he says, hypocritical and hollow.

At the time of writing, fleeing Ukrainians can only find safety in Britain if a close relative is already resident, or by applying to work under a seasonal worker visa. Displaying the Tories’ real attitude to refugees, Tory minister Kevin Foster dismissively told Ukrainian workers fleeing for their lives that they should be applying to be fruit pickers!  At the same time, the Tory government  is pushing the Nationality and Borders Bill through parliament, which will criminalise refugees fleeing war and disaster.

A safe passage for all those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine must be made available, regardless of their nationality, professional qualifications, or whether they have close family members in Britain. Under the democratic control of workers and the trade unions, immigration policies should be decided in the interests of workers, not the exploitative bosses who seek to divide.

And there must be decent conditions on arrival, including the right to work and an end to the horrific conditions asylum seekers in Britain are currently subjected to. The billions of pounds of assets held by Russian oligarchs in Britain could be seized, and the wealth used to provide decent housing and secure jobs on trade union-agreed rates of pay for all workers.

Russian oligarchs in bed with the Tories

Liz Truss, foreign secretary in Johnson’s Tory government, recently said: “There would be nowhere to hide for Putin’s oligarchs or Russian companies involved in propping up the Russian state.”

Perhaps she should have added the rider: “Apart from the Tory party’s coffers, and the property and financial markets in London.”

Donations from Russian oligarchs, some with links to Vladimir Putin, have amounted to an estimated £2.3 million since Johnson became prime minister.

At the time of the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury in 2018, the widow of Alexander Litvinenko – the British-naturalised Russian defector, allegedly murdered on orders from Moscow – called on the Tory party to return money donated by various super-rich Russians. The Tory party refused.

Back in 2015, the Tory government under PM David Cameron claimed to have halted the ‘Golden Visa’ used by Russian oligarchs to buy British residency and citizenship. Prior to this, between 2008 and 2015, some 700 wealthy Russians entered the UK on ‘Tier 1 investor visas’ in return for £2 million, and with no questions asked.

However, since the 2015 ‘clampdown’ more than 200 Russian millionaires, plus family members, have bought their way into the UK using ‘golden visas’. According to Transparency International, London-based oligarchs are among the 0.01% of Russians who own more of their country’s wealth than the bottom 99.8%.

These oligarchs have obtained so much property in the capital – more than 85,000 properties in the UK are owned anonymously by companies and trusts registered abroad and not subject to sanctions – that the exclusive Eaton Square in London has been nicknamed ‘Red Square’.

The lightly regulated City financial markets have also provided a welcoming haven for Russian oligarchs’ loot.

The government’s much vaunted ‘unexplained wealth orders’, giving the National Crime Agency powers to investigate dirty money laundering from rich oligarchs, failed miserably when, in 2020, the daughter and grandson of former Kazakh dictator president Nursultan Nazarbayev won their court case against the Agency.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has pushed the Tory government into saying it will tighten up on oligarchs’ unexplained wealth, but seeing is believing. The solution is simple, nationalise their money and assets, and then use this wealth to tackle social problems such as the shortage of affordable housing.