People Before Profit Ireland: Policy on war in Ukraine

The following resolution was passed at People Before Profit’s Annual General Meeting in May 2022. Initially published on on June 16

Resolution 22: Ukraine

  1. The Russian invasion of Ukraine signifies the opening of a new period of world relations. It is one that will be marked by tension and conflict between different imperialist powers and where the prospect of open warfare between nuclear-armed powers is a present danger. Fundamentally this is a product of the relative decline of US imperialism from a position of absolute domination after the end of the Cold War, together with the rise of China.
  2. We share the horror of people at the brutality of the Russian invasion and the positive expressions of solidarity with Ukrainian people. As socialists we also have a responsibility to take a step back and analyse why this war is taking place, and consider how we can help build the biggest possible anti-war movement to put an end to the devastation.
  3. It is vital that People Before Profit seeks to put forward a principled socialist position, independent of, and in opposition to, all the imperialist powers and supporting the rights of all nations to genuine self-determination. Like James Connolly, we should explain that “war is a relic of barbarism only possible because we are governed by a ruling class with barbaric ideas; … the working class of all countries cannot hope to escape the horrors of war until, in all countries, that barbaric ruling class is thrown from power.” 
  4. Because of our principled anti-war and anti-imperialist stance, PBP is likely to continue to be targeted by slander campaigns that falsely attempt to portray us as in some way supportive of Putin. We should be proud of the stance taken by PBP in the Dáil – of standing for the Ukrainian people, but refusing to clap for the speech of Zelensky, who has effectively banned 11 opposition parties and repeatedly called for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would mean a battle for air superiority between the US and Russia above Ukrainian territory and threaten nuclear war. This symbolic statement was an important act to break up the illusion of “national unity” behind the drive towards aligning with NATO from the political establishment in Ireland. 
  5. The criticism we have experienced is nothing compared to the isolation of the principled socialists who refused to go along with “their own” ruling classes at the start of World War I. Famously, the 41 delegates attending the anti-war Zimmerwald Left conference in Switzerland 1915 could fit in four coaches. Two years later, opposition to the war was a crucial factor in the Russian revolution which overthrew the dictatorial Tsar and capitalism, opening up a period of uprisings against colonialism globally and revolutionary movements and opportunities across much of Europe.
  6. Compared to the outbreak of WWI, there is already far more opposition to imperialism, both in Russia and in western countries. This is seen with the impressive anti-war protests in Russia in the face of massive repression, and in the relatively widespread scepticism about the motives of US imperialism, reflected in the continued opposition to NATO membership in Ireland, for example. This is partly a consequence of the disastrous interventions of US imperialism in the Middle East over the past 20 years, which have undermined the credibility of western imperialism to portray itself as a humanitarian force.
  7. The famous speech of the socialist member of the Reichstag, Karl Liebknecht, who refused to vote for war in 1914 and declared “the main enemy of every people is in their own country”, should be an important guide for us. It does not mean that we should be silent on Russian and Chinese imperialism – it is crucial that we consistently oppose all imperialist powers. It does, however, mean that we should seek to counteract the propaganda of the ruling class in the western camp, including here in Ireland.
  8. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an imperialist invasion of a former Tsarist colony. People Before Profit is very clear in opposing the invasion unconditionally, standing in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and demanding that the Russian troops withdraw. We are horrified by the targeting of civilians and evidence of war crimes committed by the Russian army. The involvement of the mercenary and fascistic Wagner group on the Russian side underlines the brutal nature of the war. This is our starting point and we should continue to put primary emphasis on our total opposition to the invasion.
  9. The opposition to the invasion is extremely widespread across Ukrainian society including amongst Russian speakers. At the outset of the invasion, there were impressive popular mobilisations against the Russian invasion, including a demonstration in Kherson where 2,000 people chanted ‘Go home’ at the Russian troops. We support the right of the Ukrainian people to resist this invasion with weapons and to conduct an armed struggle against the invasion. Socialists in Ukraine would favour the development of democratically controlled partisan forces of Ukrainian workers, independent from the Ukrainian state and NATO, to resist the invasion. 
  10. As well as being an imperialist invasion of a former colony, the Russian invasion is also part of an inter-imperialist conflict between Russia and its allies on the one hand, and western imperialism, led by the US on the other hand. In this inter-imperialist conflict, we are against both sides. 
  11. Some sections of the left acknowledge only the first aspect of this war, denying that there can be any inter-imperialist conflict without direct military engagement between the US and Russia. However, that is to ignore the character of much modern warfare, which involves battles through proxies, and the mountain of evidence of US and NATO involvement. Around $4 billion of US military aid has been given to Ukraine so far, with a new proposal from Biden for an additional $20 billion in military aid! As the Russian army increasingly appears bogged down, western imperialism now sees an opportunity to deal it a significant blow, and is preparing to send heavy artillery to do so. The number of troops under direct NATO control in eastern Europe has increased tenfold from 4,000 in October 2021 to over 40,000 now. This is in addition to what the French Finance Minister described as “total economic war” against Russia, namely the extensive sanctions regime aimed at crippling the Russian economy and impoverishing ordinary Russian workers. 
  12. Other sections of the left see only the inter-imperialist character of the war, erasing entirely the justified struggle of Ukrainian people against imperialist invasion, and reducing them simply to a proxy of US imperialism. They exaggerate the influence of fascist forces within the Ukrainian state, which while real and dangerous are not dominant and do not determine the character of the state.
  13. In contrast, we acknowledge the reality of both aspects of the war and the fact that they are interrelated in a complex way. It presents People Before Profit with the challenge of how to avoid adding our voices to the pro-NATO clamour in the west, while supporting the legitimate struggle of Ukrainian people against imperialist invasion.
  14. We note that the Zelensky government has already brought Ukraine into a military-economic alliance with the USA; and that the process of military integration has been officially ongoing since 2014. We note inter alia:
  15. U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership. 10 Nov 2021:   “… The United States remains committed to assisting Ukraine with ongoing defense and security reforms and to continuing its robust training and exercises. The United States supports Ukraine’s efforts to maximize its status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner to promote interoperability.
  16. Joint Statement on the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership. 1 Sept. 2021:    “…The United States has committed $2.5 billion in support of Ukraine’s forces since 2014, including more than $400 million this year alone. … We intend to continue our robust training and exercise program in keeping with Ukraine’s status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner. Ukraine plans to continue taking steps to enhance democratic civilian control of the military, reform the security services, and modernize its defense acquisition process to advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”
  17. The “Fact Sheet – U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework.  31 Aug. 2021” offers further evidence of this integration. While the Ukrainian state has effectively joined NATO in all but name and without any popular mandate, and while we do not regard this as justification for the Russian invasion, it is an obvious military provocation that was likely to precipitate a military response and a clear indication of the inter-imperialist character of the current war.
  18. So while there is a national character to this war on the part of the Ukrainian state, it cannot be regarded as simply a struggle for national liberation.
  19. The Zelensky government unfortunately is not following the 1916 slogan from Connolly “We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser” because it has effectively joined the military alliance led by US imperialism. Joining the military alliance of the most powerful gangster state in the world is no solution to threats by a less powerful neighbouring gangster state.
  20. Highlighting the inter-imperialist character of the war does not mean that the PBP is in any way supportive of the right-wing authoritarian regime of Putin. While the western political establishment, including Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, was rolling out the red carpet for Putin while he bombed Chechnya, it was the socialist left which opposed that invasion. People Before Profit also opposed the Russian intervention in Syria as well as the attacks on democratic rights and LGBTQ+ people in Russia. We stand with the persecuted anti-war movement and socialists in Russia, who oppose Putin’s corrupt authoritarian capitalist regime at great risk to them and their families and together with them we stand for its overthrow by a socialist revolution.
  21. In the western camp, the capitalist classes and their political representatives have sought to utilise the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a sort of ‘shock doctrine’ to drive a pre-existing agenda of militarisation and support for western imperialism. In Sweden and Finland for example, there has been a quick march to join NATO. In Germany, the government announced that military spending would be more than doubled to €100 million, achieving the NATO goal of 2% of GDP on military spending. As ecosocialists we also have to point out the gross nature of spending hundreds of billions on weapons and doubling down on fossil fuels instead of rapidly transitioning to renewable energy, which is urgently necessary. 
  22. As part of the militarisation and pro-NATO propaganda in the west, they have cynically sought to abuse the justified outrage of ordinary people about the atrocities committed by the Russian invasion as well as speak about the rights of a “small nation.” We should expose their hypocrisy by pointing out the involvement of US-client state Saudi Arabia in the war on Yemen, responsible for the deaths of almost 400,000 people, as well as their silence about the continued crimes of the apartheid Israeli state against the Palestinian people. Even recently, the US administration has refused to rule out military action against the small nation of the Solomon Islands because they have concluded a security deal with China – so much for the sovereignty of small nations! Pointing out this hypocrisy is not “whataboutery” – it is adopting a principled position against all imperialist powers and refusing to go along with the selective outrage of “our” capitalist class. 
  23. Although not an imperialist state, the Irish state is clearly situated in the western camp, as illustrated by the use of Shannon airport by the US military, its membership of the EU and by the domination of US multinationals in the economy. In Ireland, this campaign for militarisation has taken the form of pressure to abandon military neutrality, to build a bigger military and to ally more openly with NATO and US imperialism. This is evidenced by Ireland’s participation in the granting of military aid by the EU to Ukraine (the first time the EU has given military aid to another country). It has also been displayed in the form of an offensive by right-wing columnists and politicians to undermine support for neutrality, with Michéal Martin stating that “neutrality is a policy matter which can change at any time.”
  24. The truth is that the Irish ruling class is not, and never has been, neutral. They are allied to western imperialism. The recent conviction of US army veterans for interfering with the operations at Shannon airport because they wanted to inspect US warplanes serves to remind us of this. The political establishment has been forced to pay lipservice to the idea of neutrality because of the anti-imperialist sentiment held by the majority. However, they have always sought to evade it, undermine it and ultimately, do away with it entirely. For example, Fine Gael’s policy document from 2003, ‘Beyond Neutrality’, quite honestly described their view of the ‘triple lock’ mechanism as a ‘political straitjacket’ that they wanted removed.
  25. Much to the annoyance of the pro-NATO commentators, support for neutrality and non-alignment of NATO amongst ordinary people has proven remarkably resilient despite the onslaught of the pro-militarisation propaganda. For example, 66% of people in a recent Irish Times opinion poll declared their support for military neutrality. 70% of people in a different Times Ireland poll were opposed to joining NATO. This will not dissuade the capitalist class in Ireland from their attempt to ditch the formal commitment to neutrality. It does highlight the strategic importance of building a broad movement in defence of neutrality, of which the launch of the Neutrality League is an important part. 
  26. We oppose the sending of military aid by western forces (including NATO, EU and the British and Irish government) to the Ukrainian state because this aid is part of the struggle of one imperialist camp against the other, and we oppose both. It also risks significant escalation and the drawing of the western camp into an actual hot war – meaning exchange of fire between NATO and Russia – which, by creating the possibility of nuclear war, threatens all of humanity. 
  27. Sanctions imposed on Russia by western powers are also an instrument of the inter-imperialist conflict. We therefore oppose sanctions imposed by western forces (including the EU, Ireland and Britain) on Russia. We oppose sanctions not just because of their humanitarian impacts, and their potential to escalate the conflict, but because fundamentally they are a weapon on the part of the western camp in this inter-imperialist conflict to assert its hegemony in the region. They also are used by the Russian elite to try to isolate and undermine the anti-war movement within Russia, which we seek to support in any way possible.
  28. Russia has now been hit by extremely tough and indiscriminate sanctions for over two months. What are the results? Putin’s approval ratings have increased, as he has used the sanctions and the war to create a sentiment that “everyone is against us” and to try to get people to rally around the Russian government. They have hit working class people in Ireland and across Europe who are faced with higher fuel prices as a result. Big Oil and fracked gas corporations in the US are the big winners at the expense of the environment – as the EU Commission has signed a deal with the US government to “ensure demand for 50 billion cubic metres of US liquefied natural gas until at least 2030.” 
  29. While voting overwhelmingly in favour of touch sanctions, NATO militarisation and investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, the European Parliament voted against an amendment calling for action against European tax havens which would have impacted Russian oligarchs. Why? Because the oligarchs from the EU and the US would have also been impacted. This shows how the class interests represented by the establishment political parties continue to be pursued aggressively – in times of war as well as peace.
  30. Instead, People Before Profit should continue to push for measures which would make a real difference to the Ukrainian people – an increase in the paltry amount of humanitarian aid that has been delivered so far, a cancellation of Ukrainian debt, and shutting down the shadow banking system in the IFSC, which would hurt the world’s oligarchs. The demand for the cancellation of Ukrainian debt, which the Irish government has dismissed because of the threat it would pose to the financial integrity of the IMF (!) is particularly important as it underscores the government’s unwillingness to challenge the rules of neo-liberal capitalism in order to materially assist the Ukrainian people. PBP has proposed a motion in the Dáil to do this. 
  31. In 2003, a mass anti-war movement was built which saw tens of millions on the streets on 15 February around the world. PBP members played a crucial role in building the Irish Anti War Movement. Today, such a mass movement is clearly necessary to resist the drive to increased tension and war, and to call out the utter hypocrisy of world leaders who are pouring billions into weapons manufacturing and continuing to fund fossil fuels despite the danger of societal collapse from climate disruption. It is crucial that we seek to build the anti-war movement on the basis of independence from all the imperialist camps – combining a call for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine with opposition to NATO escalation. 

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