Opinion: Peace should be our priority for the new year / by Andrew Murray

New tombs in a cemetery in Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles, in the Donetsk region

The anti-war movement needs to assert its deeper solution to the imperialist agenda of endless conflict, argues ANDREW MURRAY

2022 did not want for drama and important developments in British political life.

The chaos in the Tory Party leading to three prime ministers in two months speaks to an elite which no longer pretends to know what it is doing, beyond default defence of property and privilege.

Mounting working-class resistance to the wage cuts with which capital is compounding more than a decade of pay stagnation also marks a watershed, and is replete with promise for further advance.

Nevertheless any retrospective of the passing year must acknowledge that even these signal issues are overshadowed by the continuing war in Ukraine.

As ever, war has tested all political movements and actors across the world and occasioned the usual torrent of competing propaganda.

If there is a unifying theme to most of these narratives it is that they seize on one aspect of the war and make it the whole pivot of a complex conflict.

Thus, there is no doubt that the escalation of the war in February was an unjustified initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin for which tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers have died, millions made refugees and destruction visited on Ukraine’s basic civilian infrastructure.

Equally it is indisputable that the war actually started in 2014, when a fragile Ukraine was pitched into a full-on great-power struggle.

This led to the deposition of its democratically elected president, the ascension to power of Ukrainian nationalists, the annexation of Crimea by Russia and a popular uprising against the new Kiev regime in the Donbass, later suborned by Putin as the price for its survival.

Moreover, those who deny that the relentless expansion of Nato eastwards since 1991, years in which the supposedly defensive alliance has waged aggressive war against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya, has menaced Russia do not deserve to be taken seriously.

Recognise these facts together, and they form the basis for a settlement. But a settlement does not seem to be at hand.

Russia declares a willingness to negotiate but it is not clear what an acceptable peace for Moscow would look like. Clearly annexing another state’s territory absent gold-standard democratic evidence that such corresponds to the will of the people resident there is no basis for stability.

Russia’s position is weakened by the inadequate performance of its military, exacerbating the political misjudgements Putin made in invading.

As for Nato and the Ukrainian government, bleeding Russia dry while asserting maximalist positions is the prevalent policy.

Some demand that Russia withdraw from all internationally recognised Ukrainian territory, which would include all of the Donbass and Crimea, before negotiations start.

Others, slightly more sane, urge a return of the Russian military to its positions of February 24. However, neither look likely to happen absent either protracted war or the overthrow of the Putin government in Moscow.

The first remains fraught with danger for the world, while the second is purely speculative. Some commentators want a Nuremburg-style trial of Russian war criminals, but that would require the collapse of the Russian state. The planet would not survive the drive to implement such a programme.

International social democracy, with British Labour in the van, has remained true to its bloody past and enthusiastically supported Nato’s proxy war.

For Starmer’s Labour even that is insufficient, and it has effectively prohibited any dissenting opinion on the merits of Nato or expression of support for the anti-war movement. Support for imperialism and authoritarianism go hand-in-hand.

Indeed, something like war fever has gripped sections of the movement. The TUC’s vote to campaign for increased military spending, at a time when so many of its affiliates are fighting tooth-and-nail to preserve living standards and against Tory austerity, was one bleak measure of such derangement.

Since even the bellicose but cash-strapped Sunak Cabinet has frozen plans for arms spending hikes — bankers beat brass-hats in Tory top trumps — this misbegotten resolution places the TUC to the right of the Conservatives.

The only new year’s resolution worth making is to fight to bring this war to an end. Some form of military deadlock looks to be the prospect for the rest of the winter.

That gives the space to build a movement for a ceasefire and negotiations, something that is unlikely when one side or the other believes it is prevailing on the battlefield.

Peace talks are what most of the world wants. The nuclear brinkmanship, the risk of the conflict extending, the economic disruption bearing heaviest on the poorest, all mandate a push for peace.

The Ukrainians would rather fight, we are told. It is hard to judge when opposition parties, independent media and trade union organisation have all been repressed by Volodymyr Zelensky’s government.

But even were that the case, the understandable emotions of Ukrainians enraged by the attack on their country, the devastation of their cities and the abuses of the invader cannot dictate an endless continuation of war, which in any case depends entirely on Nato, primarily US-British, armed support.

It is not for the left anywhere else to prescribe the outcome of such negotiations. A lasting peace will depend on security arrangements acceptable to all and a genuinely democratic determination of the destiny of contested regions. Russia will need to purge itself of nonsense about the Ukrainian nation or state being somehow illegitimate.

However, anything that compromises the holy principle of US hegemony is likely to be unacceptable to Washington — the real counter-party to Moscow in any talks. And Sunak and Starmer will stay in step with the US.

That then is the challenge to the anti-war movement — breaking through the wall of political consensus for continuing this war indefinitely.

The immediate demand is peace. The deeper solution lies in working-class solidarity and the assertion of its own programme of international socialism, the lasting alternative to imperialist war.

This was the year when it could be said that “the working class is back.” It will truly be returned when such things can be the policy of our movement. That would indeed mean a happy new year.


Morning Star (UK), December 30, 2022, https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/