The British anti-war movement should be standing with anti-war protesters in Russia

The argument against Western imperialism can only be strengthened by a firm opposition to other imperialisms, argues Mike Marqusee

March 5, 2014 · 4 min read

antiwar-moscowAn anti-war protester being arrested on Sunday in Moscow.

It really should be easy enough to condemn Russia’s action in Ukraine while at the same time rejecting and campaigning against US-EU military intervention. Sadly, there are some in the anti-war movement who see this as an awkward proposition.

Russian imperialism is as unacceptable as US-EU imperialism. In this region it has a long and brutal history. The British anti-war movement should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with anti-war protesters in Russia, who face serious dangers, not equivocating about Putin.

The Maidan movement cannot be reduced to an imperialist plot. There were more than enough good reasons for people to be angry at the Yanukovich government; it didn’t need ‘outside agitators’ of any kind. There were and are various elements within the Maidan movement, including, but certainly not restricted to, far-right nationalists. Their actions in recent weeks have been frightening and their role in the new government does indeed make a mockery of Western claims to be defending human rights.

Nonetheless, the demand of the Maidan for an end to corrupt oligarchic government was just and necessary. That claim is not vitiated by the fact that at the moment a particular branch of the ruling class (as venal as those they have replaced) has reaped the spoils. Like other protest movements in recent years, the Maidan’s politics and ideology were and are ambiguous and inevitably still in formation.

Outside interference, from either Russia or the West, blocks or distorts this necessary process of political development. It solves nothing and generates only further problems.

The main enemy?

Those who want the anti-war movement in Britain to condemn Russia’s actions have been reminded that ‘the main enemy is at home’. The assumption seems to be that condemning Russia’s crime will undermine opposition to war. But what will undermine us far more are unreal descriptions of events, evasive positions and ‘special pleading’. If people are led to believe by our own behaviour that we are not really an anti-war movement but Russian apologists, ‘the main enemy’ will be strengthened.

It is perfectly possible to challenge Western imperialism without justifying the Russian variety. Making your own government the immediate focus of campaigning does not entail ignoring the rest of the picture. Yes, Western imperialism poses more dangers to more people, globally, but that does not make Russian imperialism any more acceptable or Ukraine’s right to self-determination any less urgent.

We will be asked in public, by the public: ‘What about Russia?’ In this context, to answer simply that ‘the main enemy is at home’ will be seen as stonewalling.

There’s a patronising notion that we can’t do ‘two things at the same time’, that we can’t handle complexity, that there must be a hierarchy of identifiable good guys and bad guys. The anti-war movement is seen as a fragile ensemble. Actually, it’s more robust and more sophisticated than that.

The need for unity is cited as a reason not to dwell on Russian misbehaviour. But will evading or exonerating the Russian action really enhance unity in opposition to US-EU war-making? It’s an approach that many are bound to find objectionable.

Western military intervention in Ukraine seems unlikely, but the rhetorical indignation of Western leaders plays an insidious role: part of a long-term effort to repair an imperial ideology discredited by Afghanistan and Iraq. When liberals lament the ‘impotence’ of the West, they’re setting the stage for a reassertion of Western ‘masculinity’ – as and when convenient. Mirroring Western rationales, Moscow characterises its military intervention as a humanitarian mission of protection. At this moment, in relation to Ukraine, imperial hypocrisies, Western and Russian, seem boundless.

We won’t be able to offer an alternative to this hall of mirrors by matching one double standard with another. It’s always a corrupting practice, as a left wing version of realpolitik takes the place of a politics of solidarity.

The argument against Western imperialism can only be strengthened by a firm opposition to other imperialisms. This is a common human cause, isn’t it?



Photo of Boris with his hand on his head

The crisis of Conservatism

The Conservative Party is in a process of ideological decline or even disintegration, argue James Butler and Richard Seymour.

photo showing posters for twt on colourful wall

Take part in building a people’s manifesto for the movement

Winning elections is not enough. To transform society we need to involve the people in policy making, argue Kerem Dikerdem and Annie Quick

photo of empty school desks and large window in classroom

This is how we build a National Education Service in the UK

Chloe Tomlinson lays out the battle lines for a more egalitarian, democratic and holistic education system. Essential reading ahead of The World Transformed education sessions


photo of people marching with placards

Nurses say: Patients’ rights have no borders

As a US-friendly no-deal Brexit inches closer, Bonnie Castillo of National Nurses United explains why US nurses have joined the fight against NHS privatisation. Recommended reading ahead of The World Transformed health sessions

A still from the film Bait

Film review: Bait and switch

Alex McDonald reviews new British film Bait, a socially engaged drama that uses lyricism to devastating effect.

Photo of the the Houses of Parliament over the river

It’s time the UK had real democracy

Under the UK’s constitutional monarchy, we are subjects not citizens. Rewriting the constitution should be an urgent priority for a Labour government, argues Hilary Wainwright