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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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

Solidarity appeal for Ukrainian victims of Russian army abductions

April 4, 2022

Local councillors in the UK have launched an appeal demanding “an end to the use of kidnapping, arbitrary imprisonment and other violence” against elected officials, journalists, civic activists and others in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

The statement condemns “attempts by the Russian army and security services to destroy elected local government structures and replace them with their own appointees”.

Demonstration against the Russian occupation in Kherson, Sunday 3 April

The appeal was drafted after mayors and elected officials in Enerhodar, Melitopol, Kherson, Berdyansk and other towns in south-eastern Ukraine were abducted, often in the course of Russian army attempts to force local administrations to collaborate.

The abductions in the occupied areas are part of the same terror campaign whose cutting edge – summary executions, mass graves and wholesale terror against civilians – has been exposed in Bucha, Irpin and other areas near Kyiv from which the Russian forces withdrew last week.

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Ukraine: filtration in Russian-occupied areas is “a way of terrorising civil society”

April 4, 2022

Some insights into the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, where “people’s republics” were set up by Russian-supported armed militia in 2014, are provided in these excerpts from an interview with PAVEL LISYANSKY of the Eastern Human Rights Group. It was published on 25 March by Tribun, a Luhansk-based news group

Q: Do you think that the Kremlin’s aims have changed in the month since the invasion started?

PL: I am convinced that Putin’s aims remain the same. He wants to destroy Ukraine, having split it into pieces. Now, for example, he is trying to set up a “Kherson people’s republic”, which he would then recognise in future. Then, I reckon, they will try to set up something like a “union of people’s republics”. Putin will not touch the territories that border Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, for the simple reason that the Russian federation needs an external enemy in the shape of the regions that stay within Ukraine. Putin’s main aim is that the Ukraine of 2014-2022 – the free and independent Ukraine – should disappear.

Q: You have spoken before about the danger of the Russian federation issuing passports to Ukrainians. How actively is this policy being pursued now?

PL: It’s more operational than ever. Now that the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” have been recognised by Russia, no-one now has to travel to Rostov region [of southern Russia, to apply for a passport]. “Migration departments” have been set up in the occupied territories for passports to be issued. And now they [the Russian authorities] are increasing the numbers on account of the areas of Luhansk and Donetsk they have recently seized [i.e. areas that remained under Ukrainian government control between 2014 and 2022].

Demonstrators gathering in Enerhodar. Zaporizhiya region, on Saturday 2 April to protest at the Russian occupation. After this photo was taken they were violently dispersed by the occupation forces

And the approach has changed. Now those who refuse [a passport] are intimidated on account of it being war time, and threatened with legal cases for “collaboration with Ukraine”. A little more than a million such passports have now been issued.

Q: Now the Russians are “evacuating” citizens of towns they have occupied in Starobelsk and Svatovo. What are their aims?

PL: They need to create a “picture” for domestic consumption in the Russian federation, showing that “our brave army is saving peaceful civilians”. Unfortunately there are cases where they have evacuated people from Rubezhny and Svatovo to Rostov region. Where they go from there, we don’t know. Communication breaks down.

I suspect that our citizens could be sent, for example, to Vorkuta [a mining town north of the Arctic circle] or to the Far East [of Russia]. Remember that the Russian federation has a big problem of a great deal of territory that is sparsely populated. This is one way of trying to address it, where the “fellow countryman” programme of the Russian foreign affairs ministry failed. No-one really wants to move to those places voluntarily.

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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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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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Ukraine: the sources of danger of a wider war

March 21, 2022

More than three weeks into Russia’s assault on Ukraine, the dangers of a long-drawn-out conflict, or of a wider war, or both, hang in the air.

To gauge these dangers correctly and to build an effective ant-war movement, it is important to understand the war’s character.

Ukraine’s defensive war is both a war by the state and a “people’s war”, in my view; Russia’s war is an imperialist one, increasingly aimed at the population. I’ve commented on these things elsewhere (e.g. here, here, here). Here I focus on the western powers and their relations with Russia and Ukraine, and the deep crisis of capital that underlies these.

“Women in black”, an action inspired by Feminist Antiwar Resistance at the weekend. Participants in cities across Russia carried white flowers to remember victims of the conflict in Ukraine

Those western powers have levied massive, unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia. Their leaders have stated repeatedly that, while they will supply Ukraine with weapons, they fear an escalation of the conflict and will not introduce a no-fly zone – for which they have been repeatedly denounced by president Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Russian president Vladimir Putin has been equally insistent that NATO threatens Russia; his declared war aims include “demilitarisation” of Ukraine and the end of “NATO expansion”.

In the western anti-war movement, the issue of NATO expansion comes up in two ways.

On one hand, politically: post- or proto-Stalinist tendencies, and some others, taking their cue from the Kremlin, not only accept (without much explanation) that NATO expansion is a major threat, but also argue that NATO bears more responsibility than Russia for causing the war (yes, you read that correctly), and is at least as significant a political target as the Kremlin. I have written about these corrupt, damaging arguments elsewhere, and Ukrainian socialists have answered them (e.g. here, here and here).

On the other hand, there is genuine fear that the war could escalate beyond Ukraine, and that the western powers could become involved militarily, producing a disaster even greater than that now enveloping millions of Ukrainians.

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Worker activists call for solidarity against war

March 3, 2022

A statement by the Global Labour Institute Network, published yesterday, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian military forces from Ukrainian territory and for solidarity against war

The full-scale invasion of Ukrainian territory by Russian military forces on 24 February 2022 has unleashed a murderous war at the centre of Europe. Not only soldiers on both sides, but also peaceful civilians, will die. War is turning into a nightmare the lives of those on whose land it is being waged. In these conditions, trade unions and other organisations of working people can not stand on the sidelines or act as neutral observers. We must do everything we can to bring an end to the military aggression, to war, as soon as possible.

Anti-war protest in St Petersburg yesterday. A Reuters photo from the Kyiv Post twitter feed

The Ukrainian people, in defending their independence and freedom, need solidarity in practice. The subordination of Ukraine to Putin’s authoritarian regime, or its proxies, would destroy democratic institutions, including the workers’ movement – as has already happened over the last eight years in the Russian-controlled puppet Donetsk and Luhansk “peoples’ republics”.

The Russian state propaganda machine’s claim, that the invasion’s aim is to “liberate” Ukraine, which is supposedly ruled by “drug addicts and neo-Nazis”, is a cynical lie. In contrast, it is true that Putin and his party “Yedinaya Rossia” have friendly relations with extreme right wing parties in Europe and worldwide. Just as deceitful are the spurious justifications of the attack on the grounds that a threat to Russia’s security lurks on Ukrainian territory.

The Kremlin’s real aim is to seize territory from Ukraine, which Putin and his henchmen have declared to be an artificial construct put in place by the Bolsheviks. Slogans about “the struggle with Nazism” are a cover for an attempt to conquer “living space” for “the Russian world” and restoration of the Russian empire. Just as in the 20th century the international workers’ movement defended the Spanish republic from fascism, and supported resistance to totalitarian dictatorships, so today it must defend democratic Ukraine!

The current war is not a conflict of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. War has been unleashed by the dictatorial regime that rules in Moscow, under which the whole Russian people is suffering. Continuing the traditions of Russian tsarism and Stalinism, preaching archaic imperial ideology, this regime hates Ukraine not only for its aspiration to independence but also for its revolutionary traditions.

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Climate change: disruptive mass civil disobedience is our only hope

March 2, 2022

Sarah, a member of Extinction Rebellion Greenwich, was found guilty in court last week of offences under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. This came as a result of her arrest during XR’s rebellion in August last year. XR blocked a road junction in London with a big pink table, with an open invitation for all to “come to the table” for crisis talks on action to prevent climate breakdown. This is the mitigating statement Sarah read out in court.

In the statement of my arresting officer there is a hysterical-sounding quote from me about not wanting the world to burn. At the time of my arrest, there were huge wildfires burning out of control in Algeria, France, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Canada.

In the US there were over 100 fires burning simultaneously, including the Dixie fire – the second largest ever recorded in the notoriously fire-prone state of California. Firefighters and park rangers were battling to save giant redwoods that had stood for over 2000 years. The most extensive fires on record were sweeping across Siberia.

XR in London, 23 August 2021. Photo by Gareth Morris

The images of these fires were all I could think about, as the police walked alongst the protestors telling us we’d “made our point” and were being “too disruptive”.

People all over the world were losing their livelihoods, homes and lives. Wildlife was being decimated. Ecosystems were being destroyed. In central London, a few hundred protestors were blocking a junction to call on our government to take action to tackle climate breakdown – and this is the disruption we can’t accept.

I didn’t want to be arrested. I don’t want a criminal record. I’m worried about the my job, which is extremely important to me. I’ve worked in safeguarding for the last 16 years, trying to protect children at risk of harm in order to ensure take they have a future to look forward to.

But that will all be for nothing, because none of our children will have a future if we as a species don’t do something to change the trajectory we’re on. There has never been a bigger safeguarding risk than climate breakdown.

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