Two enemies, one fight: climate disaster and frightful energy bills

May 16, 2022

Two clouds darken the sky. A close-up one: gas and electricity bills have shot up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and millions of families are struggling to pay. And a bigger, darker, higher one: the climate disaster, and politicians’ refusal to tackle it.

Ultimately, both these threats have a single cause: fossil fuels and the systems of wealth and power that depend on them. We need social movements to link the fight to protect families from unaffordable bills with the fight to move beyond fossil fuels, and in that way turn back global warming.

Here I suggest ways to develop such a movement in the UK, starting by demanding action on home heating.

Two linked crises

Since the government lifted the price cap on energy bills on 1 April, the average energy bill for 18 million households on standard tariffs rose to £1971 per year, from £1277. Another 4.5 million households on pre-payment schemes are paying an average of £2017 per year. And in October, bills could well rise above £3000.

There are now 6.3 million UK households (including 2.5 million with children) in fuel poverty, meaning that they are unable to heat their home to an adequate temperature. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition says that could rise to 8.5 million by the end of this year.

The main fuels for UK homes are gas, and electricity produced from gas and nuclear power. Retail prices have been driven up by a rise in gas, oil and coal prices on world markets – which started rising last year, as economies recovered from the pandemic, but shot upwards faster from March, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war, and sanctions on Russia by western powers, could keep fossil fuel prices high for years. They have also driven global food prices upwards. This is the biggest bout of inflation worldwide since the 1970s.

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‘The deeper we go into war, the more Putin stands to lose’

April 27, 2022

An Open Letter to my Brazilian friends and colleagues about the invasion of Ukraine, by FRANÇOIS CHESNAIS 

Download this letter as a PDF

In this letter I would like to explain to Brazilian friends and colleagues my position on the war in Ukraine, namely that it is a unilateral aggression by Russia. I received a message from a friend in which I detected the idea that the war can be understood as a legitimate response to a situation created by NATO. This “campist” position is encouraged by the fact that four Latin American countries that are at the forefront of the fight against the United States – Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and El Salvador – abstained in the vote in the UN General Assembly resolution condemning “aggression against Ukraine”. A dozen formerly colonial African countries did the same. The pro-Russia stance taken by the Monthly Review may also encourage the “anti-imperialist/anti-US camp” position.

Members of the independent miners union at the front, 12 April. Photo from the Confederation of Free Trade Unions

A deep hostility towards US imperialism (nurtured by more than a century of history dating back to the invasion of Cuba under President McKinley in 1898), which is shared with many militants of the South American left, risks making some of my friends and colleagues agnostic about, or even tolerant of, the invasion; unclear about its aims; and indifferent to the methods of warfare directed against civilian populations that are employed by the Russian military. Named a “special operation” by Vladimir Putin and his ministers, it is an aggression on the part of Russia with the aim of ousting the Volodymyr Zelensky government from power; perpetuating the separation of the Donbas regions in the east of the country; vassalising the central and western part of the country; and bringing the whole population to heel.

I recognise that my position is shaped by the fact that Russia falls within my geopolitical framework of thought as a European. The Stalinisation of the Comintern at the turn of the 1930s, and the international influence of Stalinism through the vassalisation of the countries of Eastern Europe, meant that revolutionaries in France, as in Italy and Spain, had to deal with powerful Communist Parties bound by the foreign policy of the USSR.

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Solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance. Six questions

April 19, 2022

People & Nature today publishes a discussion article about the Ukrainian resistance and international solidarity with it, here. It is structured around these six questions. Please read and share.

1. What does the “national question” mean, if anything, in the 21st century, and specifically with respect to the “Maidan revolution”?

2. What is the character of Russian imperialism, and of the Russian political elite around Putin?

3. What has been the character of the Russian wars of the 21st century, and of the forces against which Russia has fought? What is the character of Ukraine’s defensive war now?

4. What is the place of this war in the crisis of capital internationally?

5. How do we understand the danger of a wider war, arising e.g. from the western powers’ involvement in the conflict?

6. What to do?

To read more, go here.

London, 26 February. Photo by Steve Eason

War in Ukraine: reflections and proposals for internationalist union action

March 31, 2022

From the Solidaires Union web site. These notes from the Solidaires Union bureau set out its approach to building solidarity with Ukrainian working-class resistance to Russian military aggression. They are a useful starting point for discussion. Please copy and circulate

This statement is based on the assessment made during the Solidaires national board meeting in March, the contributions of our member organizations, the work of our international commission, and inter-union exchanges both nationally, through the inter-union CGT/FSU/Solidaires, and internationally, through the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles. All of this has also been fuelled by the exchanges and reflections held within larger unitary frameworks in which we take part.[1]

Beyond producing assessments and analyses, union commitment is about action. The following proposals are based on the international work that Solidaires has been doing for years and are expressed in the initiatives, connections and publications of recent days. They aim to respond – on the basis of concrete actions and not useless polemics – to the sectarianism displayed by some statements from other trade union organisations, and especially to the hypocrisy of government and employers’ declarations.

Protest against the Russian army’s kidnapping of the deputy mayor of Enerhodar, 20 March. From Ukrainska Pravda

The introductory statement to the debate of the national board the 9th March recalled the position of the Solidaires union from the first day of the war (actually even before the start of this war, since all that follows is part of the tradition and practice of internationalist unionism that we
try to implement):

□ The immediate withdrawal of Russian troops – the right of peoples to self-determination – the need for an immediate ceasefire and for building a negotiated peace – supporting people fighting against war, especially in countries at war – the dignified and massive reception of all refugees, regardless of their origin, and the fight against all inequalities and discrimination – taking part, on our own terms,  in mobilisations and demonstrations for peace – (joint) participation in the initiatives of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, such as the “union convoy” which aims to provide Ukrainian workers with relief supplies – denouncing nationalism and capitalism as the causes of war – internationalism, as an alternative to nationalism – fighting to end tax havens – the urgency of an ecological transition towards the end of the massive use of fossil fuels.

It is Russian power, Putin’s regime, which bears the responsibility for this war. We must start by acknowledging this. This is, after the annexation of Crimea, a new imperialist military intervention by a dictatorial regime that severely represses (or even crushes) popular movements, including the independent labour movement (Ukraine, Belarus and, most recently, Kazakhstan).

This acknowledgement does not detract from the fact that we have long been involved in collectives and initiatives calling for the dissolution of NATO. There is no reason to question this commitment, as it is one of our roles as an organisation in a NATO member country. However, the demand to dissolve NATO should not be used as an argument aimed – deliberately or not – at “equalising” responsibilities for what is happening in Ukraine.

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French trade unions plan workers’ convoy to Ukraine

March 29, 2022

Solidaires, a French trade union confederation, is organising a convoy to take aid to workers’ organisations in Ukraine.

“We know that the real victims of war are the people, the working people”, a statement from Solidaires says. It is Ukrainian workers who are under attack today, but “it could be us tomorrow”.

Solidaires is appealing for cash donations from union organisations to buy whatever Ukrainian union organisations need. A list of necessaries – from medical equipment to bulletproof vests – is being drawn up by activists in Kyiv, mainly from affiliates of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (CFTUU) and the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FTUU).

Solidaires is a syndicalist union grouping, also known as Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques (SUD), with strong links to anti-capitalist movements.

Ukraine: international solidarity. Union convoy – appeal for donations

Solidaires is made up of federations of national, local and regional unions; it was formed in 2003 but has roots going much former back. It began with strong organisations among postal and telecoms workers in particular, but is also very active in the health care, education, transportation and other sectors.

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Trade union convoys for the working people of Ukraine

Statement by Solidaires – please copy and circulate. (French original here.)

The Solidaires union is taking part in the organisation of union aid convoys for Ukraine. We are working on this project together with other trade unions organisations in France and with the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggle.

Why union aid convoys?

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Russian army unleashes terror in occupied cities

March 24, 2022

On Monday 21 March Russian soldiers fired at demonstrators shouting “go home” in the main square in Kherson, south eastern Ukraine, injuring several people.

Thousands of people have demonstrated with Ukrainian flags every day since the city was occupied on Thursday 3 March.

Monday’s violence began after demonstrators found that the town’s monument to the “heavenly hundred” – Ukrainians who died in the 2014 uprising against former president Viktor Yanukovich – had been defaced.

Russian soldiers versus a demonstrator in Kherson, 21 March. From Vchora’s facebook feed

Someone, presumably Russian soldiers, had spray painted “the ZSU [Ukrainian armed forces] murder children in Donbass” on the monument. People started cleaning off the spray paint, and were attacked with grenades, teargas and live rounds. (The local newspaper Vchora put a film of the incident on line here.)

The resistance to the Russian army in Kherson – a largely Russian-speaking city of 290,000, and the only major city to be occupied – highlights Russia’s deep dilemma in Ukraine. Not only has the population not greeted its army, but mass popular resistance is playing a central part in the military conflict.

Although Russian state TV has broadcast reports of plans to set up a Kherson “people’s republic”, similar to those established in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014, these have been rejected by the Kherson regional council.

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Putin has sacrificed Russia’s economy for this war on Ukraine’s people

March 24, 2022

By SIMON PIRANI. Reposted, with thanks, from Truthout

The Russian army, having failed since invading Ukraine to take a single major city, has turned to besieging and bombing civilians, and to terrorizing opponents in the areas it controls.

This ruthless, anti-popular character of the Russian war is the key to understanding what motivated the Kremlin to launch it in the first place, turning upside down its relationship with Western powers, and Russia’s own future, for decades to come.

Demonstrators chanting ‘go home’ while walking towards retreating Russian military vehicles in Kherson

In Kherson, Melitopol, Berdyansk, and other occupied towns in southeastern Ukraine, Russian troops have faced crowds of thousands calling on them to go home. Mayors who refuse to cooperate with the Russian army have reportedly been kidnapped. Along with other Ukrainian activists, they have been taken to Luhansk — one of the two eastern Ukrainian “people’s republics” established with Russian support in 2014 — and reportedly prosecuted there. The “republics,” unrecognized even by Russia until last month, suppress dissent with abductions and arbitrary detention free of meaningful judicial constraint.

The war looks very different to the one Russian President Vladimir Putin described on the day of the invasion. The Russian army would “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine, but there were no plans to occupy or to impose anything by force, he said. Occupation has since become a central focus.

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Is this monstrous war of aggression really between two equal sides?

March 21, 2022

An open letter in response to the Manifesto Against War

Dear comrades,

I write in anger and sorrow about your Manifesto Against War, to which I turned in the hope of learning from you about how we can situate the anti-war movement in the wider struggle against capital.

Enumerating the causes of military conflict, you refer, first, to “the growing rivalry between the greatest imperialist powers”. Third is “Islamic fundamentalism”. But before that, second, comes that “the US government has positioned its military alliance system, NATO, against the Russian Federation to prevent the integration of the defunct Soviet empire’s successor into an enlarged, stable and peaceful European order with mutual security guarantees”.

Demonstrations in Ukrainian cities occupied by the Russian armed forces are part of a people’s war

You don’t explain why you think that, in this age of the deep crisis of the capitalist system – which in your words “unleashes ever more violent struggles for geostrategic zones of influence” – such a “peaceful European order” could ever have been possible.

That hope, embraced by Mikhail Gorbachev and many social democrats in the 1990s, was surely dashed as the economic crises of neoliberalism (1997-98, 2008-09, etc) multiplied, as the Russian bourgeoisie emerged in its 21st-century form on one hand, and the alliance of western powers pursued their murderous wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere on the other.

Download this letter as a pdf.

You don’t explain why you name the US government and NATO, and Islamic fundamentalism, as causes of the current war … but not the Russian elite, which actually started it.

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‘No war but the class war’. Not a very useful slogan

March 14, 2022

A guest post by BOB MYERS

In a discussion I took part in last week, a comrade ended a piece he wrote about Ukraine with the following:

The left slips into the two opposing camps quickly (pro-Putin/ pro-independence), and the tiny voices that call for working class unity and system change are hardly heard. What kind of actions – of self-defence, support etc – facilitate that this voice is heard and what kind of actions drown it out or contradict it?

The devil is in the detail. As he says, what kind of actions? But your actions will flow from your understanding of the situation. I want to go back over our experience in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to show that many of the people who started  with “no war but the class war” ended up either totally irrelevant to the working class or even worse, on the side of reaction, because of their  inability to understand the working class kernel wrapped up in a “national flag” shell.

An anti-war demonstrator being detained in Moscow

The problem is that all inter-imperialist wars always contain within them the war between classes.  In each situation, militants have to try to understand how these two different wars are overlaid – and this can be very difficult in situations where the working class has no clear voice of its own.

And trying to unravel these two wars is necessary, not just to write nice “analysis”,  but to know what to do as a working class militant. 

I read  many pieces at present which ask the question, what should workers in Ukraine do, and then proceed to give them advice. I’m not saying thinking about this is forbidden, but it seems back to front.  The Ukrainian worker has made his or her decision, maybe to get out, maybe to stay and fight. Our question, first and foremost, is, what are we going to do in response to their decisions?  But the answer to this is inevitably dependent on the first question – where is the class war within the inter-imperialist war? 

No war but the class war, without real investigation, is meaningless.

I want to stress that the situation in Bosnia in the 1990s was different from Ukraine, and you can not simply transfer our experience of the one on the other.

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Why Ukraine is a Syrian cause

March 9, 2022

By YASSIN AL-HAJ SALEH, a Syrian writer and political dissident. Republished, with permission, from the DAWN website

In the week since Russia’s invasion began, Syrians opposed to President Bashar al-Assad might come second only to Ukrainians themselves in following every horror of the war that Vladimir Putin’s regime is waging in Ukraine. The reason behind this curious situation, of course, should be quite apparent. Russia has been occupying part of Syria since late September 2015, brutally supporting Assad’s regime, whose highest priority is to stay in power forever, even if he has to submit the country to expansionist outside forces like Iran and Russia itself.

A member of the Russian military police stands guard, before posters of Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad. Damascus, Syria, 2018

For six and a half years, Russia has held a major military base in northwestern Syria, called Hmeimim, to which Assad is usually summoned when Putin or his defence minister visit their troops there. In 2019, Russia secured a 49-year lease for the port of Tartous, where it can now base warships in the Mediterranean. Russia’s defence minister has boasted of successfully testing more than 320 different weapons from its military arsenal in Syria. Putin himself praised the combat experience that more than 85 percent of the Russian army’s commanders gained in Syria.

Syria was a testing ground for Russia’s military. It used phosphorus munitions, thermobaric bombs and cluster bombs—banned by international treaty—against civilian facilities, targeting hospitals, schools and markets. It labelled all those who opposed the Assad regime as terrorists (just like Assad did too). This simply means that their lives are ungrievable; that killing them is not a crime. It is even a good thing that should be rewarded, at least with praise. Indeed, Putin was praised by Islamophobic right-wing organizations in the West, and supporters of authoritarianism everywhere, for his imperialist war in Syria, responsible so far for killing some 23,000 civilians.

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