Kevin Bean’s article (thanks to a Tendence Coatsey blog post for bringing it to my attention) on the 16 March for the Weekly Worker, “Silent and supine,” critiques the official Labour left over their response to the war in Ukraine and perceived capitulation under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership. Nonetheless, this oversimplified perspective does not take into account the intricacies of the situation, highlighting the need for a more nuanced approach, maintaining party unity, and embracing pragmatism within a complex political landscape. Though Starmer’s Labour Party may not fully satisfy the left, it offers a marginally better alternative to another five-year term under the Tories. Emphasising the ‘marginal’ improvement, it is essential for a future governing party like Starmer’s Labour to prioritise party unity and avoid internal disputes, as the Tories will inevitably exploit any discord.”
A more comprehensive perspective on the Labour Party’s response to the war in Ukraine reveals the importance of balancing support for Ukraine’s self-determination with resistance to aggressive foreign policy that might lead to further escalation (US-NATO forces directly involved to an actual nuclear exchange). The party’s internal divisions on the left, exemplified by the divergence between Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, represent the ongoing struggle within the party to establish its stance on foreign policy issues (that differ from the Starmer clique). This poses a considerable challenge as the left contends with determining the extent to which it can effectively shape policy under Starmer’s Labour Party leadership.
Bean’s article criticises Corbyn’s former colleagues in the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) for their silence or differing views on the war in Ukraine, which it seems do not align with that of the Communist Party of Great Britain. However McDonnell’s support for NATO and the Ukrainian war effort must be seen as a vocal attempt to foster working class solidarity around Ukraine’s right to self-determination rather than a direct endorsement of imperialism. The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign (USC) is accused of having murky origins (why do the campists always see malign CIA influences everywhere they look?) and acting as an agent of imperialism (you automatically get this badge if you offer a counter narrative to the campists), but this simplistic view fails crucially to consider the evolution of organisations over time. The USC, along with the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (Workers’ Liberty) and Anti*Capitalist Resistance (A*CR), contribute valuable perspectives to the political discourse (countering the reductive views of the campists), raising awareness of the challenges faced by the working class in the context of global geopolitics.
The USC, Workers’ Liberty, and A*CR remain steadfast in their support for Ukraine (and its people) against the threat of Russian imperialism, recognising that the war’s intricacies surpass a one-dimensional narrative of CIA-backed coups and US/NATO imperialism. These organisations are acutely aware of the perils posed by Putin’s Russian imperialism (and NATO/US hegemony does not get a free pass) and strive to address the multifaceted nature of the conflict. Following Tony Cliff’s principle of “Neither Washington nor Moscow,” these organisations strive to chart a balanced course that acknowledges the multifaceted nature of the conflict but upmost defends the rights of the Ukrainian people. One particularly disconcerting aspect of this conflict is the armchair pacifists comfortably ensconced in the UK, who seem to believe their opinions hold greater importance than the lived reality of Ukrainians who continue to endure daily Russian missile attacks. Cliff’s principle at its most simplistic underscores the significance of preserving an impartial and measured standpoint when examining global conflicts, steering clear of unquestioning allegiance to either the United States or Russia. However Cliff’s approach also called for a sophisticated comprehension of the intricacies involved in international relations, which helps avoid reductionism and fosters a more enlightened and efficacious approach to foreign policy.
Furthermore, and to draw the post to a close, the article’s portrayal of the Labour left’s leadership as playing a disgraceful part in disarming the workers’ movement does not paint the full picture. The diversity of opinions and strategies within the party can contribute to a more dynamic and effective political force capable of addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by the working class. By presenting a range of viewpoints, the Labour Party can (this is an important “can”, and is only if dissenting views are not proscribed out of the party) better navigate the complexities of contemporary geopolitics and develop policies that align with the interests of the working class.
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