Tony Blair – Yesterday’s Man in Tomorrow’s World

If you read the speech by Sir Anthony Charles Lynton Blair KG on “After Ukraine – what lessons for Western leadership” , take a moment or two to contemplate his photograph. Right down to the washed out tones, this is the face of a man who has split his soul into many parts and scattered them like depleted uranium shells all over the world; a tightened mask showing the strain of a twenty year struggle to suppress the self awareness of the consequences of his decisions that is nagging away at the back of his mind. As a practicing Anglo Catholic, he must have confessed to some of them, and worn out a few rosary beads, all the better to double down on the world view that led him to make them in the first place.

His central argument is that, like 1945 and 1980, 2022 “the West is at an inflection point”. He says “the West” because the rest of the world is defined in relation to it and only comes into the picture as an object for “Western Strategy” to manipulate. As always with Blair, his use of language is designed to obscure as much as it illuminates. “The West” is a shorthand phrase that he uses because it has largely positive associations (in “the West”). Try substituting “The Global North” throughout, and there is a jarring dissonance in his message. The “Global North” is redolent of Global inequities in wealth and power, ruthlessly maintained by its members, is therefore a more accurate label for the powers he is talking about, and this undermines the foundations of his argument; which is why he doesn’t use it.

This can be seen in his opaque description of 1945 as his first “inflection point”. At this time “the West had to create new institutions of international governance, of defence, of European cooperation in place of not one but two world wars caused by conflict between European powers”. This awkward phrasing is designed to skim over the nature of those World Wars – as inter imperialist conflicts between Global European Empires, the result of which was the crushing of a challenge from Wilhelmine, then Nazi Germany and replacement of the weakening Global dominion of the British Empire with the Pax Americana. Nor does he examine the beginning of a breakdown in global imperial dominion in the Russian revolution and foundation of the USSR, nor growing movements for colonial freedom. Nor the way that the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was dependent on the Red Army and largely Communist led Partisan movements in Europe; and the people of China in Asia; both Nationalist and Communist. This is the context for the West’s strategic choices at that point. Blair’s “new institutions” were those required to coral weaker European imperialisms beneath the USA’s new dominion. In 1945, the USA was producing 50% of global GDP and was able to afford to rebuild its rivals as subordinate powers, drive the Communist Left out of post war coalitions in Western Europe by 1947, and cement them into NATO by 1949. These were the initial moves in the first Cold War; predating the formation of the People’s Republics in Eastern Europe in 1948, and the formation of the Warsaw Pact in 1955.

Blair goes on to argue that the strategy for the 1945 “inflection point” in Europe was broadly Social Democratic, building welfare states, modern infrastructure for health and education “to make available to the broad mass of the people what had hitherto been restricted to a privileged few”. He can no more bring himself to say “for the many not the few” than he can note the nationalisation of significant industries, but this is broadly right. What it misses is why this was done. Marshall Aid was not charity. The calculation in the USA was that if the US did not rebuild Western Europe on its own model, and provide some hope and prosperity, the civil war against Nazi collaborators led by Communist Partisans in countries like Italy would re- erupt and the USA could “lose Europe” in the way it “lost China” by 1949.

In 1980, by contrast, the “inflection point” overturned that settlement. “In 1980, after years of nuclear proliferation, we (sic) sought the final collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of liberal democratic values.” This was via the Reagan/Thatcher “revolution in favour of markets and private enterprise” against “a burgeoning state power that seemed to hold back the enterprise of the people, not nurture it.” It should be noted that Blair declares himself quite agnostic about the character of the strategy launched at these inflection points, so long as there was “a governing project” whatever it might be “, a plan, a way of looking at the world which sought to make sense of it and provide for the advancement of the people.”

His problem here is that the results of the “triumph of liberal democratic values” and “revolution in favour of free markets and private enterprise” has been a shift in wealth and power from “the broad mass of the people” to “the privileged few”. As he notes, “living standards are stagnating”, while “inflation is causing real wages to fall” and public services like the NHS are “pretty much on its knees”. We could add that in countries like the UK and USA, life expectancy is now actually declining. He further notes that the 2008 crash led to emergency economic measures that “rewarded those with assets” while “penalising those without.” The polarisation of wealth has become dizzying. The mass of young people today do not expect to live as well, or as long, as their parents. Even leaving aside climate breakdown, the future looks less like a promise than a threat. Needless to say, Blair doesn’t propose anything that would change this.

Instead, he bemoans the way that “the broad mass of the people” have become susceptible to “rampant populism” and “laying the blame for the condition of the people onto ‘elites'” Perish the thought that the stagnant living standards of the many should have anything to do with the grotesque over accumulation of the few. With no answers, Blair simply bemoans the decline of centrist, consensual managerialism of the sort he embodied in government.

He goes on to argue that the “partisan, ugly and unproductive” domestic politics is destabilising for “the West’s” projection of power internationally; but with no answers to provide hope or decent living standards and, in fact supporting polices that will make the economic attack on “the broad mass of the people” worse, he has simply put his finger on an unresolvable conundrum for anyone with his politics.

He argues that as US global engagement is “determined” by domestic politics, it lacks consistency and coherence. “Foreign policy looks unpredictable”. This is nonsense, as there is a direct continuity in US foreign policy in the “tilt to Asia” and preoccupation with containing China. The tactics may change, but the strategic objective has been consistent.

In ringing the alarm that “domestic politics appears dysfunctional” he does not reflect that the economic basis no longer exists for it not to be. In an attempt to stimulate the economy to prevent it being outgrown by China, the Biden administration put in a huge economic stimulus package – $1.9 billion in 2021 – 96% of which went on consumption and only 4% on investment. The net effect of that has been stagflation; GDP growth of 0.4% in the first quarter of 2022 with inflation eating away at wages and pensions at 9.1% and a dramatic knock on effect destabilising the rest of the world. It should be noted that 75% of the price increases in the US predated the start of the war in Ukraine. With the “American dream” faltering for so much of its population, the approach of the increasingly fabulously rich billionaire class is to fund massive campaigns of online distraction designed to divide the unity of the population; racism, “anti woke”, encouraging nationalist militias like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, alongside poisonous anti feminist currents like the Incel movement, and spiced up with wild conspiracy theories like QAnon; with its tepid British echoes in the debacle of the Brexit delusion. This “turmoil” is a function of the gross inequality that Blair is unwilling to challenge, because the people pulling the strings are the milieu he moves in now. Whether he did or did not have an affair with Wendi Deng, the rumour that he might have illuminates the world he lives in.

Blair has no answers to the reasons for this crisis, so he moves swiftly on to something “new”. “Western democracy needs a new project. Something which gives direction, inspires hope, is a credible explanation of the way the world is changing and how we succeed within it”.

Now, what might that possibly be? Is there an existential threat facing the whole of humanity that’s crying out for global leadership, that countries with wealth and technology have contributed to more than anyone which requires urgent and immediate action if the despair felt by the 54% of young people who feel that “humanity is doomed” is to be turned to hope, respond to the credible explanation for why the world is heating up and give direction to everyone in overcoming it? A look out of his air conditioned apartment at the Red Heat conditions, or a quick look at the wild fires across Europe, the drought that has reduced the Po to a trickle in places and lowered the water level in the Rhine to a point that shipping barges up and down it is now in question might give him a clue. You’d think Climate Breakdown would be a no brainer. There is no bigger issue. It has the potential to unite humanity in creating a better world, because we will need one to keep temperatures down and survive it. Blair does not go for it. This is not because he is dim, but because the sort of leadership required from the world’s wealthiest countries would be as difficult for them as a camel threading the eye of a needle; as its the polarisation of wealth, domestically and internationally, and the over consumption of the top global 10% – most of whom live in “the West” – that is accelerating us beyond 1.5C. Rather than take that on, Blair, and the class he represents, ducks the biggest issue of our time. These people are no longer even in a position to pretend to be leading humanity.

He rather lamely mentions climate change in one other place, saying “we should continue to lead in the climate debate.” Debate?! How about leading in climate action? His problem here is that the West/North seeks to carry on with its current “way of life” and hopes to get away with its gigantic carbon footprints by dumping the costs of transition onto those parts of the world that have done least to cause the problem and are already suffering the most from it. Now that Senator Joe Manchin has finally scuttled the last feeble twitchings of Joe Biden’s massively watered down Green New Deal – killed it stone dead – the United States is now naked in the COP Conference Chamber; and, again, can no longer get away with even pretending to lead on the greatest challenge facing us. The prospect of a Republican controlled Congress and Presidency after 2024 (whether it is the horror of a disinterred Donald Trump or a smoother Trumpite like Ron Desantis) means that the US may be moving back to outright denial and sabotage of Global cooperation. Blair averts his eyes from the reality here, because, for him, being in a bloc with the USA is an imperative, averting climate breakdown somehow optional.

So, having ducked the global imperative, Blair fishes around and decides that the West’s domestic mission has to be “all about harnessing the technology revolution”. As Eccles once said in the Goon Show, “I’m the anti-climax”. This is no more than a re-tread of Harold Wilson’s “white heat of the technological revolution” as the solution to all ills in the 1960s. So, not so new.

Its also quite clear that its more about making the world safe for Google, Facebook and surveillance capitalism in general than providing a genuine global vision, as, having make a token genuflection to “legitimate concerns around data protection and privacy” he confirms that these concerns should not “shackle innovation or lose us competitive advantage”.

The attraction of a technological/technocratic way forward for Blair is that the “20th-century politics of right and left don’t really fit with it”; which is a wonderfully confident declaration that simply isn’t true. His problem here is that investment in general, and in R&D in particular, in neo liberal capitalist economies is very low. UK business investment is still below what it was in 2008 for example. Technology is only deployed when it is profitable to do so. Without “a burgeoning state power” to “nurture” investment, on the Chinese model, there won’t be enough of it to break out of Blair’s doldrums. But doing so would require a break with the “triumph of liberal democratic values” and “revolution in favour of free markets and private enterprise” that Blair is in favour of. So, snookered.

So far, so stuck.

Moving into foreign policy its impossible to read a sentence like “Ukraine should be a pivot point, reviving our sense of mission” without realising that – far from learning anything from Iraq – he wants to do it all over again, all over the world.

His lack of self awareness is illustrated by his argument that the Russian invasion means that “we” can no longer believe in “big power rationality” ; as the Russian invasion is “a brutal and unjustified act of aggression…on the absurd pretext that (Ukraine) somehow threatened the aggressor”. Let’s go back to 2003. The UK, along with the USA and others, invaded Iraq, on two pretexts. 1. That it was involved in the 9/11 attacks – which everyone knew it wasn’t – and 2. That it had “weapons of mass destruction” capable of being deployed against the UK in 45 minutes. These WMD turned out to be a work of fiction concocted by our Intelligence Services to make the invasion sellable to the public; which should make us take anything else they say with at least a pinch of salt. More to the point, this was precisely an “absurd pretext that (Iraq) somehow threatened the aggressor” (in this case us). When you compare that with the Russian fear that 1. NATO, the most powerful military alliance in the world, spending over 60% of global arms spending, and $19 to every $1 spent by Russia, has expanded right up to their borders and 2. has started the process of incorporating Ukraine, training its troops from 2014 on, and 3.has refused to discuss mutual security guarantees and 4. NATO missiles stationed in Ukraine could hit Moscow in less than 5 minutes (not 45) you might begin to wonder whose fear of being threatened was more “absurd” and whose “big power rationality” should be subject to question. For Blair, of course, reason is compliance with the most powerful force. All else is subordinate to that.

His view that Ukraine should be seen as a “pivot” is, however, not primarily directed at Russia, but China. After all, as he says, inadvertently revealing how how “absurd” are NATO claims that Russia is poised to steamroller all over its neighbouring countries, Russia has an economy “70% the size of Italy”.

China is a different kettle of fish. China has an economy already larger than the US in PPP terms and is growing significantly faster, which means “We are coming to the end of Western political and economic dominance.” Even on Blair’s chosen field of the technological mission, “China has caught up with America in many fields of technology and could surpass it in others”. 5G a case in point.

Us dominance is already unravelling. As Blair acknowledges, “China…has pursued an active and successful engagement with the world, building connections in respect of which, as far as I can witness, there is a deep reluctance, even on the part of traditional American allies, to give up” whereas “the West and the international institutions it controls have been bureaucratic, unimaginative and often politically intrusive without being politically effective”.

So, the difference with 1945 and 1980 is that the West is no longer ascendent and “for the first time in modern History the East can be on equal terms with the West”. This is a bit exaggerated. We’re not there yet, but Blair can see the writing on the wall.

What concerns Blair is that after 2008, President Xi has “re-established the supreme power of the Communist Party”. We should note that this is a Party of 90 million members and enjoys around 95% support from the population, according to studies from Harvard University; which has no reason to inflate or prettify these figures.

The 2008 crash was indeed a moment at which a lot of people in China took a hard look at the neo-liberal model and saw through its failings, supporters of being more like the US, and accepting a role within a US dominated global system, got a lot quieter and, as Blair notes, now “China will compete not just for power, but against our system, our way of governing and living.” Given that “our way of living” is unsustainable, that’s probably just as well.

Again, Blair argues “we cannot rely on the Chinese leadership to behave in the way we would consider rational”. This translates as, we can’t rely on them to do what we tell them, and they are big and powerful enough to be able to get away with that sometimes.

His argument that an invasion of Taiwan should not be ruled out because peaceful re-unification is inconceivable shows a poverty of imagination, unable to project forwards to a point at which China is constructing a prosperous “ecological civilisation”, as Xi puts it, and becomes a relatively attractive prospect for people on that island.

His presumption that divisions can be fostered and pro Western/Global North forces cultivated would require “the West” to be able to offer a more positive alternative. The example he chooses is almost surreal. “As his Covid strategy has shown, strongman leadership carries inherent weaknesses when people fear to challenge what should be challenged.” As China’s Covid policy has kept deaths there below 5,000, compared to over a million in the US and 200,000 in the UK, you might be forgiven for wondering who should be challenging what. Had China modelled its response on the chaotic insanity of Donald Trump and busines first approach of Joe Biden and had a similar death rate, they have lost over 4.7 million people by now. Clearly people must be mad not to be demonstrating in the streets to follow “our way of governing”.

Blair’s strategy for dealing with a world in which “China is not rising, its risen” is to consolidate primarily around core military alliances, NATO SEATO, AUKUS, 5 eyes, increase military spending, invest in cyberwarfare and attempt to promote “soft power”. Increasing military expenditure at a time of declining wages and life expectancy, is likely to be unpopular in the medium term. Hence his statement that “we need political leaders prepared to stand up to domestic political pressure”. There is an undemocratic logic in this, as one way of standing up to domestic pressure is to restrict and remove the levers available for people to express it.

He favours hanging tough. Once committed to an intervention, whether in Afghanistan or Libya or Iraq, it becomes imperative to sustain it. There is a strong whiff of wishful thinking about this. Permanent occupation propping up corrupt puppet regimes was unsustainable in Afghanistan and Iraq, and not primarily for domestic reasons. An armed forces permanently bogged down in two, three many Afghanistans, is not going to be capable of intervening elsewhere when needed. Blair wants his cake and eat it.

His resounding liberal human rights mission also falls foul of some of his key alliances. Even taking “the West” at its own self estimation, Joe Biden fist bumping Mohamed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia underlines the point that the USA has never been squeamish about the regimes it allies with, promotes and defends. As FDR said of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s OUR son of a bitch”. As Blair puts it “if we have disagreements about human rights we should say so, but that shouldn’t prevent us supporting them when they’re faced with threats common to all of us”. “All of us” here meaning the Global 1%.

As Blair notes, “the human spirit wants to be free”. In large parts of the world that takes the form of wanting to be free of US sponsored coups and the conditions of IMF finance that act a lot like pay day loans and sabotage development.

His final point is that “the craziness in our own politics has to stop”. He cites the influence of Nigel Farage (an agent of Trump) and Jeremy Corbyn (a rare blast of sense and decency) in the UK, but is oddly silent about Donald Trump. With the US Supreme Court on an evangelical end of times rampage against abortion rights, environmental protection, and gun control, he does not mention the January 6th attempted coup, nor the pending Supreme Court case slated to hand State Legislatures the right to ignore the popular vote in the next Presidential election and choose their own slate of electors just like Trump wanted them to last time; nor the measures being driven through Republican controlled States to disenfranchise global majority voters. The “craziness” in the USA is just getting started. Blair will no doubt find a way to accommodate to that, but those who have thought like him in the past, confronted by the increasing “craziness” and rogue state aggression coming from the USA, will have to resolve a political crisis of their own.

Class Struggle inside Ukraine

Two recent articles in Open Democracy report responses from Ukrainian trade unions to the “Lugano Declaration”, which came out of a conference between high Western and Ukrainian officials in Switzerland last week and sets out plans for economic reconstruction “after the war is over” by the Ukrainian Oligarchy* and its major imperial sponsors; the US, UK and EU.

This exposes the way that Ukrainian Oligarchs are ruthlessly using the war to entrench their position against the working class.

Natalia Zemlyanska, head of Ukraine’s Union of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs commented, “No representatives from Ukrainian trade unions, nor our social partners from the employers’ side, were invited to help develop the reconstruction plan.

Thus, Ukrainian unions are not considered by their ruling class to be a significantly valuable part of their nation to deserve any voice in discussions about helping shape its future economy. This is not new. As Zemlanskya noted, the principle of social dialogue “died in Ukraine long before the Russian invasion”.

Its worth bearing in mind what the pre war baseline they are “reconstructing” was. Overall, Ukraine was a country in structural crisis and decline. In 2019 the population was down 10 million from the level of 1993, declining at about half a million a year. Its GDP was lower than it was in 1989, with an aging population despite a low life expectancy of just 71.76 years (67 for men) and the shortest healthy life expectancy in Europe. Unemployment was consistently around 9%. It was 88th out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index – well below Russian and Belarus, just below China, Ecuador and Azerbaijan; and just above the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and Tunisia.

The reconstruction planned at Lugano will entrench these trends by consolidating the liberalisation of labour legislation that has accelerated since the Maidan events in 2014 – which has now been entrenched by emergency wartime regulations – to further squeeze the space for trade unions to operate, to give employers a free hand, and remove state oversight of the labour market.

This has been supported by countries like the UK for some years. Alongside the military training delivered since 2014, in 2021 the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office funded a propaganda project to make labour deregulation popularly acceptable; in a clear demonstration of what making “development” subordinate to foreign policy imperatives looks like.

This highlights something that at first sight looks paradoxical. While seeking EU membership, Ukraine is moving sharply away from EU labour standards. In October 2020, eighteen months before the Russian invasion, the joint report of the Ukrainian unions and the European TUC , noted that obligations to enshrine “international labour norms in law and in practice, ensure freedom of association and collective bargaining in particular, strengthen social dialogue and capacities of social partners, and gradually align its legislation with the EU Acquis in the field of employment, remuneration, social policies and equal opportunitieswere just not being done. As they noted, “no reasonable progress has been achieved“.

Now that the EU powers like Germany and France, which previously might have aimed for a modus operandi with Russia, both militarily and economically, have been brought to heel by the US and will be paying the economic price both for increased arms expenditure and being forcibly weaned off relatively cheap Russian energy supplies, negotiations on labour standards with Ukraine could well be used by neo liberal forces in the EU to leverage a weakening of its own current levels as an unaffordable luxury in straightened times – in an odd mirror image of the downward pressure exerted by the UKs trajectory of a post Brexit race to the bottom.

Before the war, wage levels were already among the lowest in Europe, with one quarter of the population receiving an income lower than the actual living wage, fuelling a persistent and massive exodus of younger workers in a search of better pay in the EU, particularly in the neighbouring countries, and avoiding being conscripted to fight in the Donbass at the same time.

It has got worse since. Employers are now able to suspend employment contracts: so employees do not receive wages, but are still considered employed. And this is being widely used. By 1 April, roughly five million citizens had applied for income loss benefits – 16 times more than the 308,000 registered number of unemployed at the end of May.

This gives carte blanche for ‘shadow employers’ who do not employ people officially. The state now no longer monitors wage debts – a long term problem in Ukraine.

In response to the war Parliament has further suspended parts of workplace protections and collective agreements, put forward legislation to take employees of small and medium-sized enterprises – 70% of Ukraine’s workforce –outside of the scope of current labour legislation and given employers the right to terminate employment contracts at will.

Wages fell by an average of 10% in May, compared to the pre-war period. Wages in raw material extraction, security and manual labour have almost halved.

Future Faking?

Right now, under the impact of the war, six million people, mostly women, have left the country. In Europe, many of them are now living in countries where wages are higher, laws are largely obeyed, and housing and Nurseries are affordable. Their return en masse gets less likely the longer the war goes on, and, after the end of martial law, which forbids men under the age of 60 from leaving the country, many who can will leave the country to join them. A long war will create tensions on this front too.

In the immediate term the state wants to develop microbusinesses to relaunch the economy: which amounts to lending to micro-entrepreneurs or training people in IT skills. This will be hampered by the destruction of Ukraine’s infrastructure, low purchasing power and general instability which present small businesses with enormous problems in setting up supply chains or finding customers.

The Lugano Declaration rests heavily on ‘A Blueprint for the Reconstruction of Ukraine’, published by a group of international economists in April, which aims to:

1) introduce more flexible employment contracts and eliminate labour legislation that precludes the development of liberal economic policy;

2) provide government subsidies for foreign companies;

3) large-scale privatisation, including Ukraine’s biggest banks;

4) priority credit support for export sector;

5) use of low-skilled and labour-intensive public works to fix infrastructure;

6) establish a technocratic agency that will distribute international aid.

The kind of future society envisaged here is quite clear.

And this is beginning to generate tensions. As Vitaliy Dudin notes, “Ukrainians were ready to endure any difficulties in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion. But as the tide of the war has changed, not everyone thinks the current situation – where business has advantages over workers – is fair”.

The extent to which this finds expression remains to be seen. This is a very important perception. “As the tide of the war has changed”. A spirit of unquestioning national unity might be viable in the immediate shock of an invasion, or when it looked, briefly, as though the Russian withdrawal from Kyiv might be the prelude for a general victory for Ukraine in the short term. But, the longer the war drags on, and the more Russia advances, the more the class contradiction on the Ukrainian side is likely to find expression.

Dudin’s argument that an alternative based on state investment to create secure, sustainable jobs, with popular engagement and trade union involvement, skills training, proper state scrutiny and regulation of employer practice because, as he puts it post-war Ukrainian society needs integration, and that will be ensured by the development of state-owned and cooperative enterprises that do not make profits to the detriment of society and environment, and this requires policies of redistribution through taxation and the confiscation of surplus wealth from Ukraine’s richest people runs counter the interests of those running the state – who are precisely “Ukraine’s richest people” – and contrary to the kind of society they are fighting the war for; in alliance with the most predatory imperialisms on the planet.

Achieving a programme like Dudin’s won’t be done with the Oligarchs in power, nor with NATO backing them. Zemlanskaya’s argument that “The most important thing is to win – and then to see in what form Ukraine has ended the war, and what the future will look like,” is declaring a class truce while the war lasts – a truce that is not being respected by the ruling class. It also begs two questions

  1. Is the neo liberal dystopia the Oligarchs and NATO have in mind worth fighting and dying for?
  2. When and in what circumstances will the war be over, and what interest do the working class in Ukraine have in the circumstances in which that happens? The US, UK and the gung ho wing of NATO are for fuelling it for as long as possible, years not months; and are quite insouciant what might be left of Ukraine at the end of it. They are pre-emptively opposing diplomatic negotiations.

This is also a question for the international labour movement, being hit increasingly hard by the economic blowback from the war itself and, more severely, the sanctions the US has imposed to pursue it by other means. None of us has an interest in this war continuing.

Arguing against negotiations on the grounds that this would “reward” Russia should bear in mind the consequences for all concerned if the war continues. And that peace on the Russian terms – Crimea and Donbass not part of nationalist Ukraine, Ukraine not in NATO, Mutual Security arrangement (or even long drawn out negotiations around them) – would be better than a resolution on NATO’s terms – forcible reconquest of Crimea and Donbass, Ukraine fully integrated into a triumphant and triumphalist NATO with rapidly increasing military budgets, readying its new 300,000 strong strike force for interventions further east against countries they would consider ripe for plucking.

*Ukraine, we should note, had more politicians named in the Pandora Papers than any other country; 38, twice as many as Russia’s 19. President Zelensky was one of them.

Don’t mention the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

In his latest piece for Labour Hub, Mike Phipps argues that it would be better to have an anti war movement that is not actually against the war aims of our own ruling class. His argument, and attempted intervention into the anti-war movement, rests on two dubious assertions.

  1. That NATO expansion and US militarism have nothing to do with the origins of this phase of the war in Ukraine and therefore the anti war movement should ignore it.
  2. That Ukrainian nationalism is a progressive “anti-colonial” current fighting for liberation from Russia as an imperial oppressor and therefore the anti war movement should support it.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

1 NATO

The NATO summit that has just concluded has agreed to expand its membership, increase its arms expenditure, get 300,000 troops at a permanent state of “readiness” and forward deploy more of them to the frontier with Russia and to sustain a long war in Ukraine.

This is motivated as a way to “defend” members of the alliance from a Russian threat that they are very careful not to quantify. That is because Russian military expenditure is less than Britain’s and one twentieth that of NATO. The projected expansion of the alliance and large increases in expenditure will make NATO’s military dominance even more extreme. So, a reasonable question might be, who is threatening whom?

So, when the new chief of staff for the British armed forces, Sir Patrick Sanders, argues that we have to be ready to fight World War 3 in on land in Europe, its quite clear what that “readiness” is for, and who is on the offensive. His argument that if you want to preserve the peace you have to prepare for war, was exactly what all sides were arguing in 1914. It was an argument that worked very well. Until it didn’t.

Mike doesn’t engage at all with what NATO has been doing in Eastern Europe since 1991, or more particularly in Ukraine since 2014. Simply ignores it and tries to waft it away with an airy “I don’t see this as a central factor at all”. Jens Stoltenburg, NATO Secretary General, however, is very proud of what they have done and quite candid about it. “The reality is that we have been preparing for this since 2014…that is the reason we have increased our presence in the eastern part of the alliance, why NATO allies have started to invest more in defence, why we have increased our readiness”. My emphasis. I suspect that Stoltenburg has a better grasp of what he’s doing – and the significance of it – than Mike does, unless there is some conscious disavowal going on; seeing, understanding, but choosing not to acknowledge.

Stoltenburg’s comment is underlined by the remark of Sir Richard Shirreff, former NATO Deputy commander, on Radio 4 recently that “this war started in 2014”.

2014. Not on February 24th 2022. It has been noted widely that while Ukraine has not been in NATO, NATO has certainly been in Ukraine: training, re-equipping, getting the Ukrainian army ready to go beyond the shelling of the Donbass to try to retake it.

It takes a real act of will not to look at NATO, or the USA, and what it is trying to do, and how the war in Ukraine fits into it. Mike draws rage from the horrors of the war – in a determinedly one sided way that implies total barbarity on one side and saintliness on the other (because no lies have been told, butter wouldn’t melt in the Azov battalion’s mouth, issuing a decree to arm civilians en masse doesn’t erase the distinction between them and combatants, and no oppositionists have been “disappeared” or assassinated) – and is averse to looking up at the strategic picture because it is so obvious what’s happening when you do.

He reflects least of all on what NATO is.

NATO is a military alliance of the world’s major predatory imperial powers, under the aegis of the United States, pledged to defend a “rules based” imperial world order in which the rules are written in Washington. The European powers are part of it because they can’t take the US on, and do better being subordinate members of its global gang than trying to act as lone wolves. This maintains domination of the Global South, with $2 trillion flowing from it to the Global North in 2013 alone. NATO is the armed guarantee that that will keep happening. That’s why people like Paul Mason, who thinks that the working class in the rich countries should prosper at the expense of the peoples of the majority world, support it.

That means that taking active steps to join NATO – as US influenced Ukrainian governments have done -is not a neutral act. It is the repudiation of neutrality by definition. It is also a self limitation on national sovereignty. It is ganging up with the USA – essentially taking up a job as a henchman – and will be understood as a threatening act by any country in its sights, especially any nearby.

NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe to pressure Russia serves two purposes – setting up the preconditions for a regime change colour revolution in Russia itself, so a more compliant Yeltsin like leadership can be brought in – and in the immediate term also to decouple Russia from the EU; the better to cement control of the rest of Europe, particularly Germany.

This explains the refusal of the US and NATO to even discuss Russia’s proposal for mutual security guarantees when the Ukraine crisis started brewing up from November last year onward. You’d think we’d all have an interest in that. But mutual security and reduction in tension – which would be good for all of us – would increase Russia’s weight in Europe with the EU, and make it harder for the US to dominate it. No chance to deploy those troops, sell those arms, export that fracked Liquid Natural Gas. So, we can’t have that, can we?

The demonstrative mobilisation of the Russian armed forces throughout the winter in response, was an attempt to show how seriously they took what they saw as an existential threat. It seems to me that what triggered the actual invasion was the NATO summit the week before in Munich, at which those European powers, principally Germany and France, that had been pushing for easing off on confrontation and continued negotiations within the Minsk framework, were very visibly brought to heel by the USA. A partial withdrawal of Russian forces in Belarus that week was taken not as a welcome gesture that could lead to a reciprocal step towards negotiation; but a sign of weakness to be exploited. Watching the news of that, I had a real sinking feeling. It sent a very clear message. Crowing on the news combined with Russian fears that the Ukrainian military build up in the Donbass heralded an imminent intervention to snuff out the Donbass republics with NATO backing. It seemed that war was inevitable. It was just a matter of when, and who struck first.

This war was generated in neither Kyiv nor Moscow, but Washington.

2 Ukrainian Nationalism

Mike’s attempt to ignore the entire geo-political context of the NATO build up and the self subordination to it by the Ukrainian government, means that he simply buys into the narrative of Ukrainian nationalism – effortlessly erasing from historical significance the large Russian population living in what is now part of Ukraine, but was Noviya Rossiya (New Russia) from the eighteenth century onwards – that the whole Ukrainian people have been engaged in a long term struggle to liberate themselves from Russian oppression. Small left currents in Ukraine put this in anti-colonial terms, and Mike quotes one of them. But the mainstream dominant tradition here is not anti colonial, but pro colonial; the far right. These were the hegemonic street forces in the Maidan movement. They have since become entrenched in the Ukrainian military; and wield an influence on the streets far greater than their formal electoral representation.

Again, it requires real disavowal to ignore this, to look and not see. But to give an indication of just how bad this is, here are some headlines from western media from before February 24th, when they weren’t trying to cover this up.

Ukraine celebrates Nazi collaborator; bans book critical of pogroms leader.

Ukraine’s got a real problem with far right violence (and, no, RT did not write this headline).

Hundreds march in Ukraine in annual tribute to Nazi collaborator.

Violent Anti-Semitism is gripping Ukraine – and the government is standing idly by.

Ukraine conflict: “White Power warrior” from Sweden.

Ukraine conflict: child soldiers join the fight.

Far- Right fighters from Europe fight for Ukraine.

Nazi symbols. salutes on display at Ukrainian nationalist march.

Yes. Its (still) OK to call Ukraine’s C14 neo Nazi.

A new Eurasian far right rising.

Far Right extremists in Ukrainian military bragged about Canadian training.

German TV shows Nazi symbols on helmets of Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukraine designates national holiday to commemorate Nazi collaborator.

Kiev’s far right groups refuse to disarm.

FBI: Militia trained by US military in Ukraine now training US White Supremacists

Ukrainian Neo Nazi C14 vigilantes drive out Roma families, burn their camp

Ukraine underplays role of far right in conflict

New “Glory to Ukraine” army chant invokes nationalist past

Britons join neo Nazi militia in Ukraine

Neo-Nazis and the far right are on the march in Ukraine

How the far right took top positions in power vacuum

Ukraine’s far right menace

With axes and hammers far right vigilantes destroy another Romany camp in Kyiv

“Defend the White Race” American extremists being targeted by Ukraine’s far right

Paints a picture that the BBC and others are now trying to consign to the memory hole.

A leader of the C14 far right militia group expressed a core belief of this movement when he said that the problem in Ukraine is that “certain people” had too much power and money. When pressed on who he meant, he said, “you know, Russians and Jews”.

Nationalism takes many forms. When fighting imperial domination, it can be progressive. When allying with a dominant imperialism against others, it is reactionary. Ukrainian nationalism – in its dominant tradition – lionises Stepan Bandera; who was a Nazi collaborator. Since 2014, he has, grotesquely, been celebrated as a hero across the country, had statues put up and the road leading to Babi Yar named after him. This is like, but even more offensive than, renaming the Finchley Road up to Golders Green Sir Oswald Mosley Way. Similarly, the renaming of the Molotov Cocktail as the Bandera Smoothie, is comparable to an Italian movement calling them Mussolini Milkshakes. Ukrainian nationalism, in its conscious subordination to greater imperial powers, Austria Hungary, Nazi Germany and now the USA, is not a progressive movement; and the small left wing currents that tried to take part in the Maidan were smashed out of it as surely as a Lexit contingent would have been on an EDL march.

It was when they took this south and burned down the trade union HQ in Odessa, killing 42 people, that the Donbass rebelled, Russia annexed Crimea with overwhelming local popular support; and the war in the East started.

The debacle of the “broad anti war movement”

In pursuit of the “broad anti war movement” that Mike proposed, a demonstration was called for 9 April with Paul Mason, recently exposed for having connections with the intelligence services, Peter Tatchell and others speaking, and supported by currents like the AWL. This was intended to eclipse Stop the War, so there could be an “anti war” movement at peace with the ruling class. One of the main chants was “Arm! Arm! Arm Ukraine!” – which is exactly what the British state is doing, what the Tory government and Labour front bench want to carry on doing. This is not “anti war”. It is pro war. A comparable position in 1991 would have been to support the 1991 war after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, and organise demonstrations with chants of “Arm! Arm! Arm Kuwait!” Despite having the formal support of a number of unions, it was very small. A couple of hundred. This is not a “broad anti war movement”. It is a fig leaf for the ruling class and has no independence from it.

As such, it is comfortably aligned with the Labour front bench which, instead of calling for a ceasefire, a negotiated settlement, and a redirection of “defence” spending to meet the cost of living and climate crises, never misses an opportunity to try to polish its patriotic credentials by calling for guns not butter. John Healey, Shadow Defence Secretary bemoaned a short term cut in army numbers like this.

“Now, this is embarrassing. It’s not responding to the growing threats we face, and it is putting into question Britain’s ability to fulfil our NATO obligations when I want Britain to continue to be the leading European nation within NATO” noting that the 1,000 additional soldiers committed to NATO’s new 300,000 strike force “might not even be based on the border with Russia, but back in Britain”. Forward, he cried, from the rear.

The Left – all of it, whatever its views on this war – should be opposing these increases in military expenditure and the deployments that go with them.

As the NATO war drive ups a gear, with no end in prospect, with the UK an enthusiastic participant, with “war austerity” already with us, and hitting the Global South very hard indeed, the anti war movement here will gain strength from opposing it, and clarity from analysing it. Hopefully we will build up enough strength to divert it from killing us all.

Post Script

I sent this Blog to Mike suggesting that it could go up on Labour Hub as a contribution to debate. This was turned down on the grounds that the views expressed were very much a minority on the Hub WhatsApp: which begs the question; who do you debate if not a minority? We had a thoughtful exchange of emails over whether I had misrepresented Mike’s view. I don’t believe I have. This Blog is open for any comments Mike, or anyone else, wishes to make.

Stats for Socialists: Public support for the Rail Workers

Government attempts to divide the Rail workers from others are falling flat. An independent poll by Opinium shows strong public support for the workers’ case.

On pay, there is overwhelming support for rail workers to get a pay rise that reflects the increase in the cost of living. This is an interest we all have in common and its becoming increasingly plain that the government does not agree. They now explicitly state that wage claims should be BELOW the rate of inflation. This is the death knell for any claim that they want to “level up”, or believe in a “high wage economy”.

Three out of five support the right to go on strike if negotiations fail. Government sabre rattling about restricting the right to strike is not cutting with the grain.

The weakest part of the government’s case is their belief in privatisation and the sacrosanct character of profits and dividends, with overwhelming support for profits from rail services to be reinvested in protecting jobs and improving services. This reflects a growing awareness that the share of the economy being taken by owners of capital is rocketing at a time that the rest of us are being squeezed until our pips squeak.

This takes a specific form in large majorities opposing cuts to jobs on trains and stations.

And even more opposing cuts to staff inspecting and maintaining safety on the tracks.

Given that the government is very evidently intervening to make sure that the rail companies do NOT meet the concerns of the workers, they are doing the opposite of what the public wants them to do.

Labour should take note. We are heading into a summer and autumn in which the rising costs of food and energy are propelling workers to turn to their unions to try to stop themselves being forced under. This affects all of us. Most of of the public support the workers taking action. If Labour front benchers give “a categorical no” to support for that action, as David Lammy did for airline workers in UNITE and GMB on Sunday, the Party will be acting as a human shield for the government (and giving it a lifeline).

See you on a picket line some time soon.

Park and Street Life ’22.

On the blasted tree in the middle of Kingsbury Mall roundabout, a grim posse of brooding pigeons stare down, playing at being vultures.

In the Park in the drizzle, a young black woman from the Charismatic Evangelical Church on Princes Avenue is singing into her phone while shimmying along the path by the High School, wearing a striking magenta dress that is a celebration of life; and would therefore be considered suspect in staider denominations. Very gospel. Hands and eyes looking up to heaven, hips swaying, open lunged and full throated. Religious high. Looks more fun than the C of E.

A new Oak sapling has been planted near the kids playground. A plaque identifies it as being part of the Jubilee Green Canopy and to have been donated by the Jewish Refugee Council in memory of the refugees allowed in from Nazi Germany. This is in the same weekend that all the commentators on The World In Westminster on Sunday night congratulated themselves on how comfortably diverse we have become, the Queen took tea with Paddington Bear (a refugee who somehow managed not to be held in a detention centre by “Border Security”) and the flights to Rwanda for refugees from other countries were postponed to the following week. So, we have become symbolically accepting of diversity, while taking ever stronger measures to stop it increasing; our border policy now as enlightened and deserving of a pat on the back as Australia’s. How Priti Patel and her ilk could look at a tree like that without a flicker of conscience is beyond me. No self awareness, some people. And no one should comfort themselves that the UK had a better record in the 1930s; with anti Jewish refugee campaigns in the Daily Mail and such just as virulent as their campaigns today. Many thousands were kept out, and died as a result. The tree, nevertheless, looks hopeful. As trees tend to do. They take root. They grow. They provide peace and shade.

We have very broad pavements in the High Street, and happily the upgrade from TFL money in the last couple of years managed to keep the cars confined to a narrow stream in the middle; though they missed the trick of paving over the entrances to side roads with distinctive surfaces so they force cars to slow down and give pedestrians priority. The saplings put in at the time are beginning to have healthy crowns, so in a few years, if we get through them, the High Street will look positively bosky. Just down from Bombay Spice a temporary open seating arrangement has been put in for the Summer – and just in time for four successive days of heavy rain. Seemingly modelled on the pop up parks that are used to take over parking spaces in low traffic neighbourhoods – clawing back more space for people from the dominance of the motor vehicle – or sometimes outside Shisha bars – it is made of narrow removable wooden flower beds arranged in a rectangle with seating around the inside. It has already been colonised by the old Gujerati guys who previously gathered in circles outside the library to put the world to rights. A few more of these and we’d have a very different vibe along the street. The opposite of the seating in malls that is deliberately made uncomfortable so shoppers get on with their shopping quicker.

The earthwork mounds the Council dug up along the Kingsbury Road side of the Park that looked so ugly last year, like an unfinished building project with no purpose, are now covered in an uplifting rush of poppies and other wild flowers that proclaim life in a wild riot of colour and shapes waving in the breeze as the buses swoosh past.

Neither Moscow nor Kyiv, but Washington

The commitment by the US of $40 billion to funnel war fighting material into Ukraine makes it clear that this war is being driven by neither Moscow nor Kyiv, but Washington.

$40 billion is ten times Ukraine’s 2021 military budget.

Figures from Wikipedia

If the aid were a country on its own, it would be the tenth biggest military spender in the world, not far below Japan and Saudi Arabia, well above Italy and Australia, and double the budget of Canada or Israel.

Figures from Institute for International Strategic Studies, using average market exchange rates.

This comparison can be seen even more clearly if we leave off the USA and China, as the two countries with an expenditure in a different league to all the others – the US especially.

It is also noticeable on this graph that the UK spent more on its military in 2021 than Russia did.

It is clear from this that the US is pushing for a long war, that it will sabotage peace negotiations and keep sanctions in place even if a ceasefire is achieved. The knock on effects on the rest of the world are already grim and will get worse unless a peace deal is reached.

The UK’s role as the USAs most bellicose supporter will be discussed at an online meeting – Opposing the New Age of Militarism – on June 15th organised by No Cold War Britain.

To stop a bad guy with a gun – you need to stop him getting the gun.

Warning. Writing this makes me feel simultaneously weepy and nauseous, so this contains material that might make you feel the same.

The rifle used to kill 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde Texas on Tuesday was an AR15. This is a devastatingly lethal semi automatic weapon that anyone over the age of 18 in Texas can just buy privately with no restrictions, or walk into a store and buy, with a minimal “real time” background check, no permit required and no record of sale; thanks partly to the seven relaxations of gun safety rules by Governor Gregg Abbott last year. There is no registry of firearms in Texas. People over 21 can “open carry” hand guns. In fact, gun laws are so lax in Texas that smugglers ship guns from there into Mexico. Texas Governor Abbott described the mass shooting on Tuesday as “inexplicable”. Perhaps he can’t join the dots that the rest of the world seems to be able to manage.

The NRA likes to say that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Which is as asinine as you can get, because its a lot easier to kill people if you have a gun. Especially a gun like an AR15. Oddly enough, no one is allowed to carry a gun – openly or otherwise – at the NRA convention this weekend in Houston. Given that they see themselves as “the good guys with guns”, you might think this would cause protests. After all, if a “bad guy with a gun” gets in, how are they going to defend themselves?

This is how what the AR15 can do is described in a post that is evidently enthralled by it, and paints a sickening picture of why it is that the remains of those killed on Tuesday had to be identified with DNA tests.

A remarkable feature of the AR 15 rifle is its lightning speed when it is being fired, and even if peradventure the bullet fired does not hit its mark, the gun can get reloaded in a very short and fast amount of time. The reloading speed of the AR 15 mimics those seen in the military rifles being used in war situations requiring combat action. A feature that enhances the firing speed of the AR 15 gun is the fact that the rifle possesses a muzzle of very high velocity. This high velocity muzzle contained in the gun when used with a .223 bullet round can successfully guide the bullet fired to hit its mark (possibly an animal) while also producing a powerful rebound action if the bone of the animal is hit.

The firing speed of the AR 15 can leave a devastating and destructive mark on its target and this is hugely because when the gun is fired, the bullets are ejected out of the muzzle at a high speed. If the bullets come in contact with an animal, they are bound to cause great damage to the bones and internal organs of the target. An AR 15 can fire around 2 to 3 bullet rounds per second, this means that in 15 seconds, an AR 15 can fire about 30 to 45 bullet rounds, so in a minute, an AR 15 rifle can fire up to 120 or even 180 bullet rounds (depending on how fast the shooter is to reload the gun with bullet rounds while continuing to squeeze the trigger).

You might want to take a deep breath after reading that. Or go for a walk. Or have a weep. It really should be enough to read that and know that these weapons should not be on sale. No one should feel under threat from them. But, in the US, those who stand for “the right to bear arms” react with self righteous fury when this is even suggested. When Beto O Rourke stood up at Governor Abbott’s Press Conference this week to make the connection between the dead children and the gun that killed them, the cry from the platform that he was a “sick son of a bitch!” was vehement. A similar proportion of Republican voters oppose an assault rifle ban as believe in the Great Replacement Theory (and there will be some overlap). Their notion of “law abiding citizens with guns” is that the “law abiding citizens” are people like them, “protecting themselves” from dangerous others. Its unfortunate for that argument that some of the mass shooters are “Second Amendment People” who have gone the whole hog into white supremacy, like the Buffalo shooter last week.

To get this onto the emotionally safer ground of devastating statistics.

  • Since 2017, firearms have become the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the United States, and the curve on the graph is continuing to go up.
  • World Population Review stats from 2009 -2018 show the USA had 288 school shooting incidents in that period. The next worst country was Mexico with 8.
  • In 2018, CNN reported that the U.S. had 57 times as many school shootings as the other major industrialized nations combined.
  • The frequency and deadliness of all kinds of mass shootings in the US has gone up 33% since 2010.
  • After mass shootings, gun sales go up because people are frightened, with 63% of gun owners citing “personal protection” as their motivation for buying one. So, the main reason for owning a gun is that other people have them and might threaten you with them; so mass shootings are good for business. Three times as many guns were manufactured in the United States in 2020 as it 2000. Good for business. The gun stalls at the NRA Convention will do a brisk trade this weekend.
  • Assault rifles – at an average price of $800 each for an AR15 – are their most profitable line.
  • There are 120.5 guns per 100 people in the US, more than double the next most gun saturated country, which is Yemen at 52.8 guns per 100 people.
  • There are 400 million guns in total in the United States. Half of them are owned by just 3% of the population (10 million people with an average 20 guns each).
  • 40% of Americans live in a house with a gun, but 70% do not own one.
  • Gun owners are more likely to be men than women (39% : 22%) White than anyone else (36%) rural than suburban or urban (41% : 29% : 20%) older than young and Republican than Democrat (44% : 20%). Some of these categories overlap.
  • There has been no Federal Gun Safety Legislation since the 1990’s, even though 89% of US citizens support universal background checks and 67% an outright ban on the sale of assault rifles.
  • Senator Ted Cruz has received $176,00 from the NRA, which works out at $37,000 for every child killed on Tuesday. He sells himself cheap. Marco Rubio has had $3,303,000.

The line from the NRA and contemptible figures like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is that, rather than remove, or control, or even register weapons capable of killing whole classrooms full of children – schools should be “hardened”, teachers should be armed so the “bad guy with a gun” can be stopped by a “good guy with a gun”.

The problems with this argument are obvious; which is why no one is allowed to carry a gun into the NRA Convention centre.

There were a lot of “good guys with guns” at Uvalde. There have been “good guys with guns” at other incidents and it hasn’t done a lot of good. A “good guy” with a hand gun has almost no chance at all against a “bad guy” with an AR15, or any other kind of rifle.

This is not new. I remember that in the Buffalo Bill Annual, that I read avidly time and time again when I was 8, an inquest jury in the 1880s brought in a verdict of “suicide” for man who tried to take on an opponent armed with a rifle by drawing a handgun on him.

In the case of the police at Uvalde, there is also a serious question about the motivation of the “good guys with guns”, given that it took them an hour to get in, and they were screaming at, handcuffing and shoving parents who were imploring them to do something in the meantime. The school being overwhelmingly Latino, the Police tending to the Right and seeing them as the sort of people Trump wanted to build a wall to keep out, might be an explanation that won’t be peculiar to that locality. Whose lives matter?

So, are Trump and the NRA proposing to have armed guards in schools with assault rifles to even up the odds? Are the teachers supposed to have an assault rifle propped up by their whiteboard, primed and ready to go, just in case? Are they supposed to devote time to training so they can “safely” take out an armed intruder without hitting anyone else? What are the chances of these weapons being seized and used in a massacre themselves? Nothing like having the tools for the job close to hand. How jumpy would these teachers and schools get? So, what does this do to the school? And the students? Turning a school into an armed camp is a hidden curriculum for Dystopia.

The question for them is actually a simpler one. If it had been illegal to buy a gun in Texas, would those children and their teachers still be alive? That they would is so obvious that the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the NRA and its supporters think that their cold, dead hands are a price worth paying for their “Second Amendment Rights”.

To contrast that with what has happened here.

  • After Dunblane, there were two responses. One was to tighten up laws on gun ownership. This was a political consensus. Major and Blair went up to Dunblane in a show of unity. It had overwhelming popular support.
  • The other was to tighten up security at schools. This had been quite relaxed until then. At the school I used to teach at, local people used to use the playground as a short cut between the estate and the shops. You’d be on playground duty and nod to the parents you knew, strolling past with their shopping bags. After Dunblane, the gates were shut and the security buzzers put in. There was an additional control door put in between the reception area and the rest of the school and all other doors were made so they could only be opened from the inside. That was replicated across the country and there have been no mass shootings in schools since; more because the guns are hard to come by than the schools are harder to get into, but both help.

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France there was a lot of concern because a school next to the Magazine’s Offices had implemented its emergency procedures, which meant that everyone trooped out into the playground like they would in a fire drill, making them more vulnerable to being shot – had the killers been interested – than if they’d stayed where they were. Local Authority Health and Safety Committees had to draw up Emergency Procedures in the event of such an incident. There had been plenty of school shootings – like Columbine in the US – that did not spark this response, so I think there was an aspect of this that was about fitting schools into their place in the “war on terror” and – had the procedures drawn up become the basis for regular drills like the “duck and cover” exercises that brought the Cold War into every US classroom in the 1950s – they would have had a purpose well beyond safety procedures. In the event, while teachers were given INSETs about what to do – essentially lock the door and get everyone down behind a brick wall – and distinctive alarms set up and tested once a week as a reminder, most schools that I know of did not do drills with the kids. This was for obvious psychological reasons. The chances of such an incident were and are vanishingly low. But the chances of psychological damage from safety drills done often enough were very high.

Parents here feel safe sending their kids to school. As they should. In the US this is no longer the case. The rage, fury and despair on display in US media and podcasts this week shows a society that is tearing itself apart. Its now the long holidays in America. Schools are shut. How is everyone going to feel in late August when its time to go back?

On the far right/QAnon sites, the conspiracy theories are already starting. This was fake. Actors. Staged. Because the Libtards want to take away your guns. The NRA, with its weirdly appropriate symbol that looks like a steer skull with an entry wound in the middle of its head – will pull its usual strings and press its usual buttons, pushing for more guns as the cure to the guns that are already out there – the profits will pile up at Smith and Wesson and Colt and Olin Corp – and the spiral of US self destruction will take another turn – even as it pushes to recover its military mojo in its European front yard -while we wait for the next mass shooting; unless there’s enough of a surge from the majority that don’t own guns and want them under better control; and they vote out every “sick son of a bitch” that takes money from the NRA and pushes their line.

“No one in the West will believe you”.

Evan Davies, of the BBC Radio 4 PM programme, is so deeply bought into ruling class ideology that he sometimes gives the game away without realising it. My all time favourite is when he commented, on the impending French Presidential election in 2007, that the 35 hour week really had to go because although “it is really good for the people, its really bad for the economy. Which begs the question of what, or who, “the economy” is supposed to be good for, if its not for “the people.”

He did it again when interviewing the Russian Ambassador to the EU on 26th May. Having asked what Russia’s aims in Ukraine were, and being told that they are

  • an end to military threats against the Donbass
  • and demilitarisation and denazification in Ukraine

and that a Russian perception of an imminent threat of a Donbass invasion set for March 8th, as far as they could make out, was the trigger for the preemptive invasion on Feb 24th; his response was not to challenge any of the assertions or argue whether they were right or wrong, but simply to state, with a sneer you could almost cut, “no one in the West will believe you”.

Before looking at the validity or otherwise of the Ambassador’s statement, it is significant that Davies said “no one in the West, not “no one in the world. While “the West” tends to mistake itself for “the world”, or at least, as the only part of the world that matters, this does give the game away that the perception of this war in “the West” is not the same as that in the rest of “the world”; which Davies must be at least subconsciously aware of. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The countries imposing sanctions on Russia are the United States and its direct allies: the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand – all of them part of the Global North. The Global South has not joined in.

So, taking “the West” as the aberration that it is, could the tendency to dismiss anything the Russians might say as “just what you’ve been told to say”, as Davies put it, have anything to do with the almost complete lack of dissenting voices on our media?

Taking the points one at a time and examining them…

Militarisation of Ukraine and military threats against the Donbass.

Vyacheslav Tetekin, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (the largest opposition force in the country) details the sharp and sustained increases in military spending by Ukraine after 2014, at a time in which living standards are still below the level they were at the time of the break up of the Soviet Union, the involvement of the US and its allies in training and arms supply, and the huge build up of forces focussed on the Donbas, particularly this year. This is cited in an article by John Ross on the military turn of the US in Monthly Review that is well worth reading. As has been remarked, Ukraine is not in NATO, but NATO has certainly been in Ukraine.

After the 2014, “the country’s finances were redeployed from the tasks of improving the welfare of the nation to strengthening the armed forces. Ukraine’s military budget has grown from $1.7 billion in 2014 to $8.9 billion in 2019 (5.9% of the country’s GDP)… Ukraine… spent three times more [as a percentage of GDP] for military purposes than the developed countries of the West…

Hundreds of instructors from the United States and other NATO countries participated in training of the Army. Ukraine was preparing for war under the supervision of the United States.

Huge funds were spent on the restoration of military hardware. During the war against Donbas in 2014-15, Ukraine has not used air combat support, as all combat aircraft required repair. However, by February 2022, there were already about 150 fighters, bombers and attack aircraft in the Ukrainian Air Force. Such a buildup of the Air Force would make sense only for the capture of Donbas.

At the same time, powerful fortifications were created on the border of Donbas and Ukraine… the salary of soldiers at the end of 2021 tripled, from 170 to 510 dollars. The Government of Ukraine has been dramatically increasing the size of its Armed Forces.

The first stage of Ukraine’s preparation for war was successfully completed by the end of 2021. The combat capability of the Ukrainian army has been restored, military equipment has been repaired and modernized…

the United States has planned two options for using the new, militarized Ukraine… The first one was to capture Donbas and, in case of a successful combination of circumstances, proceed for invasion to the Crimea. The second option was to provoke Russia’s armed intervention…

…Ukraine being under the heel of the United States creates a very real danger. In December 2021, Moscow put forward a demand to the NATO on measures to ensure Russia’s legitimate interests. The West…. ignored these demands, knowing that preparations for the invasion of Donbas are in full swing. The most combat-ready units of the Ukrainian Army numbering up to 150,000 thousand people were concentrated on the border of Donbas. They could break the resistance of the People’s militia of Donbas within 2-3 days, with the complete destruction of Donetsk and spill so much blood of the defenders of the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic]…

Ask yourself if this assessment, by the main opposition Party in Russia, is more or less plausible than the explanations in the media here, and why it is that we hear it so little. Is this because the accepted wisdom here, the cod psychology version; that its all down to a belated mid life crisis for President Putin, or the version that plays up timeless fears of an eternal Great Russian chauvinism, always just itching to expand and reconquer the old Russian Empire, are so weak by comparison?

The Freudian slip by President Bush last week did shed a little light on the way adverbs are used. “A brutal and unprovoked attack on Iraq…err.. Ukraine”. Of course, the Iraq invasion was never described in such terms. we were taking part, so how could it possibly be?

We should not forget that, in this country, at the time of the second Iraq war, there was a majority FOR the war when people believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction capable of being deployed against the UK within 45 minutes. This was on the say so of our Intelligence Services, who told us what it was useful for us to believe, who we are expected to believe that they and their co workers in politics and the media are now telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Ukraine. It was only when it became clear that we had been lied to, that there were no WMD, that majority opinion turned against the war.

In the case of Russia and NATO, there is no doubt that NATO possesses WMD. Were Ukraine to join and they were deployed on its territory, flying time to Moscow would be a few minutes. A small fraction of the 45 that were considered a good enough reason for war in our case.

Denazification.

This is generally dismissed here with a scoffing reference to President Zelensky being Jewish and then the subject changed as quickly as possible. It is seen as absurd hyperbole. Given the tendency for the media here to label any target enemy, from General Galtieri to Saddam Hussein, as the new Hitler, and that we have used that as cover to intervene in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya since 2000 alone, a little self awareness might be in order here too. The airbrushing of the role of the far right in Ukraine goes as far as the BBC and the Guardian rubbishing their own previous reporting (without mentioning it of course, because what is instrumentally useful now must always have been “true”). A glance back at their previous coverage shows how absurd this is.

Here are some headlines from media here before the war started, from the BBC, Politico, Bellingcat, the Guardian and other sources, that have now been consigned to the memory hole because it is now embarrassing to acknowledge reality.

Ukraine celebrates Nazi collaborator; bans book critical of pogroms leader.

Ukraine’s got a real problem with far right violence (and, no, RT did not write this headline).

Hundreds march in Ukraine in annual tribute to Nazi collaborator.

Violent Anti-Semitism is gripping Ukraine – and the government is standing idly by.

Ukraine conflict: “White Power warrior” from Sweden.

Ukraine conflict: child soldiers join the fight.

Far- Right fighters from Europe fight for Ukraine.

Nazi symbols. salutes on display at Ukrainian nationalist march.

Yes. Its (still) OK to call Ukraine’s C14 neo Nazi.

A new Eurasian far right rising.

Far Right extremists in Ukrainian military bragged about Canadian training.

German TV shows Nazi symbols on helmets of Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukraine designates national holiday to commemorate Nazi collaborator.

Kiev’s far right groups refuse to disarm.

FBI: Militia trained by US military in Ukraine now training US White Supremacists

Ukrainian Neo Nazi C14 vigilantes drive out Roma families, burn their camp

Ukraine underplays role of far right in conflict

New “Glory to Ukraine” army chant invokes nationalist past

Britons join neo Nazi militia in Ukraine

Neo-Nazis and the far right are on the march in Ukraine

How the far right took top positions in power vacuum

Ukraine’s far right menace

With axes and hammers far right vigilantes destroy another Romany camp in Kyiv

“Defend the White Race” American extremists being targeted by Ukraine’s far right

When the media here talks about the Azov battalion as though they are heroes, this is who they are talking about.

In the context of climate breakdown, the impasse of neo liberalism and the rise of China, politics in the Global North will increasingly squeeze down the democratic space that exists for the left and the labour movement, and the rehabilitation of the far right will advance in leaps.

This issue is explored in further detail in the No Cold War Britain webinar here.

Problems with waste disposal.

Arguments between allies can sometimes be fiercer than those with the enemy. Especially in conditions of defeat, in which consolation prizes – and dealing with an opponent our own size – can loom very large. Having gone over the top myself on a number of occasions – not least during the 2019 Green New Deal composite meeting at Labour Party conference (which lasted 12 hours and became more heated as the scale of the differences shrank) – I don’t want to claim immunity from this, nor that everything I ever said, nor everyone I ever said it alongside, was completely right – but would like to argue that a style of debate framed in Manichean moralism is not the best way to get light, and is guaranteed to generate more heat than is useful.

In the current argument over the Edmonton incinerator, there is a tendency for both sides to talk past each other, and neither side to acknowledge difficulties raised by the other. That is a good way to make sure that the fewest possible lessons get learned, while alliances that are needed to go forward on a broad front become fractured. Rhetorical excess, a Waltham Forest Councillor claiming that the campaign thinks that waste can be turned into “unicorn farts” and campaigners arguing that Councillors on the North London Waste Authority are guilty of “social murder” – makes rifts personal and painful and hard to overcome on other matters.

When I visited a far flung rural part of South Africa in 2005, one of the many things that struck me about it was the complete absence of waste disposal services at a Municipal level. On one level, anything that could be reused was. Organic waste was fed to the pigs. Toy cars were made from wire, tin cans and bottle tops. Old crisp packets were wrapped around twigs and sewn together to make beautiful table mats that glowed like stained glass. But, a growing amount of the overpackaging from a newly opened supermarket that could not be found an alternative use ended up just discarded. When I asked the head teacher of the local primary school what they did with excess rubbish he said, “We throw it into the Bush.” Household by household, at the ends of people’s backyard plots there would characteristically be a hole in the ground which contained the burnt out remnants of the household rubbish. So, charred tin cans jumbled among melted plastic and a lot of ash; partially covered with soil.

In the UK, and other “advanced”, “developed”, wealthy imperial predator countries, waste disposal is a collectivised version of that. The waste that we can’t, or fail to, reuse or recycle, we bury or burn.

Or, we dump it on countries in the Global South. Out of sight, out of mind. This is cheaper than developing a proper recycling structure in the home country.

  • In 2020, the USA exported 620,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste to developing countries.
  • The EU exported 2.37 million metric tonnes of plastic waste as part of a total waste exports of 38.4 million metric tonnes. This is a 70% increase since the turn of the century.
  • The UK exported 525,000 tones of plastic waste last year (12.7% of its total plastic waste), with about 40% of it ending up in Turkey.
  • All this counts towards “recycling” targets in the exporting countries, even though, in practice, once the shipping containers arrive and the importer has been paid, with recycling facilities even less developed than in wealthier countries, they are often get rid of it as cheaply as possible, dumping it or burning it. No one is checking. Win, win for the traders, lose, lose for the rest of us.
“Plastic bottles and garbage on the bank of a river” by Horia Varlan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Push back from the stronger parts of the developing world, principally China, is leading to pressure on the exporting countries to get their house in order, but in immediate terms is leading to a fall in plastic recycling rates in the USA and an increase in incineration.

Between 1992 and 2021, China took 106 million tonnes of plastic waste, more than half of the world’s total; mostly from the USA, UK, Germany and Japan. Starting slowly in 2010, then accelerating in 2017, when 24 different types of recycled waste were banned as imports, China has now banned all solid waste imports.

Reduce

I think everyone can agree that the sheer quantity of waste has to be restricted at source. The UK generates 23 million tonnes of household waste every year (394 kg per person – more than four and a half times our average body weight). Commercial and industrial waste is greater. 43.9 million tonnes in 2018. Household, Commercial and Industrial combined, however, amounts to just 31% of the total of 222.2 million tonnes generated in 2018; with Construction Demolition and Excavation accounting for 62% of the rest of it.

Reuse

A bottle deposit scheme has been delayed and delayed by the government. Reusable nappies and milk deliveries using glass bottles tend to be the preserve of people who have the time or money to use them. Local authority initiatives can and do dent totals, but national legislation can make a more significant difference.

Recycle

In the UK overall, recycling is slowly increasing, at around 45% of the total; better in Wales and Northern Ireland than England and Scotland. The quantity of residual waste has, however, been at a plateau since 2013 (inching down from 551 Kg per household to 537Kg in 2019- after almost halving from 1046 Kg per household in 2000/2001).

In North London, recycling rates are stuck at around 30%. Islington has a target to get up to 36% by 2025. London overall is aiming at 65% by 2030. This is partly through improving capacity to deal with contaminated loads.

Residual waste from North London is currently incinerated at Edmonton, and has been since 1969. It is the plan to replace the old, clapped out, incinerator with a new one that has led to a ferocious debate about whether this is the right way forward.

The campaign against a new incinerator makes a number of forceful points that

  1. Rates of recycling can and must be increased and we need to construct a circular economy.
  2. Building an energy from waste facility cements in a demand for an ongoing supply of residual waste and reduces the incentive to increase recycling.
  3. A Mixed Waste Recovery Plant could get recycled waste levels up qualitatively; and a Review might enable this to be developed instead.
  4. Incineration produces GHGs and particulate pollution, at 1 tonne of CO2 for every tonne of waste burnt.
  5. No one would even contemplate siting such a facility in, say Belgravia.

Councillors supporting the proposal argue that –

  1. Rates of recycling can, must and will be increased, and this is part of the waste management plan, but, even with the London target being met by 2030, which is by no means guaranteed, there would still be 35% of total waste unrecycled and having to be disposed of, either in landfill or incinerated. At present 70% of waste is residual. Even state of the art Mixed Waste Recovery Plants still leave about 26% of residual waste, which still has to be disposed of.
  2. The currently unrecoverable waste has to be dealt with now; and no one is campaigning for the current incinerator to be shut in the absence of an alternative. The rate at which the current incinerator is breaking down makes its replacement a matter of some urgency. A decision to scrap the existing plans and go back to the first stage of a lengthy planning process would both increase costs and delay a viable replacement; and either keep a clapped out and technologically outmoded facility burning waste for longer than it needs to, or consign hundreds of thousands of tonnes of residual waste to landfill while the discussion goes on, in the absence of anything else concrete to do with it.
  3. Each tonne burnt saves 20Kg of CO2 per tonne of waste compared with use of landfill. This is just 2% of the total, but its clear that landfilling is worse (and everyone agrees on that).
  4. The IPCC figure for what they consider to be “climate relevant” CO2 emissions from incineration is actually significantly lower than the campaign’s figure of 1 tonne for 1 tonne. “Assuming that carbon dioxide emissions from MSW incineration average 1 Mg per Mg of waste, then of these CO2 emissions 0.33 (0.50) Mg are of fossil and 0.67 (0.50) Mg are of biogenic origin. In subsequent calculations, the proportion of climate-relevant CO2 is figured out as an average value of 0.415 Mg of CO2 per Mg of waste.” Nevertheless, this is still a lot of emissions. Around 294,000 tonnes a year.
  5. This will be dealt with in the medium term by Carbon Capture and Storage. CCUS capacity has tripled in the last decade, mostly in heavy industry, but is still massively below target, at 40 megatons globally, not the 100 megatons projected in 2010. However, at present, there are 24 CCUS facilities working or being constructed, and another 35 being planned globally, each with an average capacity of 2.6 million tonnes a year: so CCUS looks technically feasible, though the cost – construction capacity and timescale for affordability – is another matter.

Both these sets of arguments have force. For Waste Authorities beginning to plan a way forward, Mixed Waste Recovery looks a very positive option, though it does still have a residual waste element and most such plants incinerate it. I have not heard of any other options. The pollution and carbon emissions produced by this make it a matter of urgency to shrink this through reduction at source, maximum reuse and maximum recycling.

In the immediate situation, the decision to build the new facility has been made. The extent to which the campaign’s prediction that this will stall attempts to increase recycling or reduction of waste at source is fulfilled depends on the extent to which this is built into the next set of waste management plans and campaigns to change behaviour en masse can be made to stick.

Stop the War. Cut the Bills

From Labour List this morning, with my emphasis.

Ofgem’s chief executive Jonathan Brearley told MPs today that the energy regulator expects to increase the cap on energy bills by more than £800 in October. The cap is currently £1,971, having increased by £693 in April.

He said, looking beyond October, Ofgem are “managing between two extreme versions of events.

One where the price falls back down to where it was before – for example, if we did see peace in Ukraine. And one where prices could go even further if we were to see, for example, a disruptive interruption of gas from Russia,” he said.

So, a continuation of the war, and deepening the sanctions on Russia, leads directly to energy bills that are increasing 23 times greater than wages and 38 times greater than benefits, and could, as Brearley states quite clearly “go even further”.

The UK government’s bellicose interventions against peace negotiations will come back to bite it. As it will bite Labour too unless it starts mobilising for peace.