Ukraine: nationalism, capitalism and human misery

The situation in Ukraine is alarming and seriously worrying for the prospects for peace in Europe and beyond.

The military intervention by Russian forces is, most frequently, being reported and analysed by the media as the crazed action of a megalomaniac and empire builder. The reality is, of course, much more complex.

The actions of the European Union, NATO, the United States and the government of Ukraine have contributed to this situation every bit as much as Putin’s government.

The conflict is being driven by competition between two capitalist blocs for Ukraine’s markets, natural resources and infrastructure. 

Neither will admit to that publicly. Instead, they, and their apologists, deliberately distract and confuse public understanding with talk of ‘defending democracy’, ‘self-defence’, the ‘freedom to choose alliances’ or ‘demilitarisation’ and ‘reclaiming national territory’.

The Russian air strikes and missile attacks together with the, almost decade long, armed attacks by the Ukrainian government against the Donbas region and their collaboration with neo-Nazi gangs has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians and military alike and untold human misery.

Our support must be with the progressive forces in both countries who struggle against the twin evils of nationalism and capitalism and with all those opposed to this war.

To fully understand developments in Ukraine they must be seen and analysed in a class context, The European Union, NATO and Russian nationalism are predatory and deeply reactionary forces. We are currently seeing the consequences of that being played out across Ukraine at the cost of the lives of ordinary people and of the armed forces of both states. 

Unless there is an immediate military de-escalation, the closure of military bases on foreign soil, a return home of all troops and the dissolution of offensive military alliances like NATO, then ordinary people, Ukrainian and Russian alike, will be sucked further into the meat grinder of imperialist war.

Nationalism and competing capitalist interests are currently tearing Ukraine apart. The ‘winner’ will take the spoils of war. The losers, of those who survive, will be the ordinary working people of Ukraine and Russia, of Europe and beyond. 

The imperative for progressive people everywhere is to expose the true class nature of this conflict and redouble our efforts to overcome capitalism and nationalism as we strive to build a just and peaceful socialist society.

The Empire Wants to Fight

Buiding an Empire with working class lives

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (right) has called on the EU
to develop its own military capabilities – an EU Army.

The issue has been around for some time but now there is increasing pressure for a formal military structure. Not that it was mentioned much by the Remain lobby during the referendum debate. They were obviously keen to avoid the subject.

All the evidence points to the EU wanting to extend its power and influence and formalise its empire. An EU flag, an anthem, a common currency and the final piece of the jigsaw an army of its own.

An EU army will, unquestionably, lead to interventions in other countries. The press release will claim humanitarian motives or bringing an end to ‘tyranny’ but the reality is that it will be about extending the EU’s influence and markets. The grimmer reality is that hundreds, if not thousands, of young working-class men and women from across the continent will be used as commercial cannon fodder and the peoples of countries subjected to “intervention” will be the victims of the devastation and horror of destruction and war One other thing is certain – Ursula van der Leyen will not be in the firing line.

The prospect of an EU army raises very serious questions for the Republic of Ireland and its record on neutrality

What kind of pressure will the EU Commission bring to bear on the Republic of Ireland to join an EU army? Don’t expect a principled stand from Fine Gael, Fianna Fail or from Sinn Fein, all of whom have shown that they will bend over backwards to curry favour with Brussels. 

There will be others who would welcome an EU army. The armaments industry, its suppliers and associates will profit massively, at public expense from the formation of such an army let alone from its “interventions”.

An EU army will have nothing to do with peace, peace keeping or making the world ‘a safer place’. It has everything to do with the contradictions between the capitalist states, the development and consolidation of the capitalist system, the pursuit of profit and the exploitation of working people to deliver it.    

 

The Protocol, Pills and Public Ownership

The threat being levelled by big pharmaceutical companies to cease supplying a range of essential medicines to Northern Ireland has to rank as one of the lowest forms of immoral blackmail and will impact directly on the ill, the vulnerable and the long-term sick”, says Nicola Campbell, Workers Party spokesperson in Newry & Armagh.

“It is outrageous that the health and well-being of some of the most medically vulnerable in society, can be held to ransom in the pursuit of grossly inflated profits”, she said

Nicola Campbell

Delivering up to 1,000 types of prescription medicines has been declared “commercially unviable” when the current exemption from the EU’s Northern Ireland Protocol expires in January.

This raises two major issues: the politics behind the Protocol and the power of the big pharmaceutical companies.

The border in the Irish Sea does not need to be there. The EU’s insistence that it remains is punishment for having had the audacity to leave and is being used to exert political pressure by disrupting trade, frustrating everyday cooperation and now by interrupting essential medical supplies.

It is impossible to ignore the manner in which the EU has and continues to conduct its negotiations. It is a bully and continues to intimidate. Its unilateral block on Covid 19 vaccines coming into Northern Ireland earlier this year is but one example.

Strange then that there is not common cause amongst the major parties in the Assembly. Sinn Fein, in particular, seem more comfortable jeopardising the health of children, the vulnerable and the long-term ill than they are in challenging, or even upsetting, the EU they so admire.

“The big pharmaceutical companies exist to make profits. They do not primarily function for the wellbeing of the world. Their refusal to make life saving drugs available to Third World countries typifies bother their morals and their motives”, said Nicola.

It is also past time that the research, development, manufacture and distribution of medicines was brought into public ownership. Major corporations making in excess of a 40% profit on life saving and life sustaining drugs is, at best, immoral.

“Almost £4 billion of public money every year goes to fund drug research by private companies. The NHS spends in excess of £20 billion a year to purchase those medicines for patients. We are paying twice over and on terms dictated by multinational drug companies”, Nicola added

The Protocol obstacles may yet prove easier to overcome than the financial stranglehold that these companies have on our health service and on our lives.

The EU, sea borders and the threat of violence

The border in the Irish Sea does not need to be there.

From the moment the result of the referendum to leave the European Union was announced the EU and the local ‘Remain’ lobby, spearheaded by the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance party, tried to scupper the outcome of the vote and even campaigned for a second referendum to reverse the result.

Between them they determined that the vote was invalid because it had been secured by ‘British nationalists’ and racists, and that people did not know what they were voting for – effectively saying that Leave voters were stupid and questioning their right to vote at all.

Blinkered View

Conveniently, this blinkered view of the result ignored the motives of the millions of Leave voters, many of whom had been pushed to the margins of society, who felt increasingly powerless and who were victims of economic inequalities and the centralisation of wealth in the greater London area.

Outside of Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the Remain motivation was, ironically, largely attributable to nationalisms, it was voters with low or no qualifications, and people with low incomes who rejected the EU project and voted to get out.

In the midst of the political posturing, the brinkmanship, the tensions between competing capitalist blocs, the political diversions and media smoke and mirrors, it is important that we remain focused on the principles of working-class unity and the efforts to construct a socialist alternative.

Years of EU wrangling later finally led to a leaving agreement that fell far short of the EU’s original plans. That does not mean that they will not stop trying to get their way.

Even the most ardent, or blinkered, EU fan cannot ignore the manner in which the EU has and continues to conduct its negotiations. It is a bully and continues to intimidate. Its unilateral block on Covid 19 vaccines coming into Northern Ireland in January is but one example.

The EU’s ambassador to the UK, insisting that  the Protocol is the only show in town, is another.

The EU’s punishment

The border in the Irish Sea does not need to be there. Their insistence that it remains is the EU’s punishment for having had the audacity to leave and is being used to exert political pressure by disrupting trade and frustrating everyday cooperation.

The violent reactions to the NI Protocol witnessed in recent weeks cannot be justified. Nor can the threat of future violence.

It was cowardly of the Loyalist Communities Council to recruit and then hide behind a 19-year-old spokesperson as they dangled the threat of further violent actions. Just as it was inexcusable of Leo Varadkar, and others, to dangle the threat of violence at the possibility of a land border.

If indeed goods brought into Northern Ireland potentially pose a risk or threat to the integrity of the EU single market, then those risks can be assessed and managed – just as they are at other EU land borders.

The disruption to trade and the political upheaval the Protocol is creating can be easily avoided by the EU acknowledging that the risks to single market goods is negligible and have the decency and integrity to withdraw its demands for land or sea borders, its threats of legal action and its resort to Article 16 at every turn.

That, of course, all assumes that the EU has any integrity or decency or that its Northern Ireland fan club will have the mettle to call it out, stop supporting its unacceptable and aggressive posturing and pull the rug out from underneath those whose response to every situation seems to be to throw petrol bombs at it.

Further reading

https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/brexit-vote-explained-poverty-low-skills-and-lack-opportunities

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/brexit-inequality-and-the-demographic-divide/

EU and vaccines: true to type

European Union attempts to block vaccine distribution

On one hand it is almost impossible to believe that the EU would deliberately and callously block the distribution of Coronavirus vaccines – or indeed any other medicines.

However, it would take a very short memory to forget the  EU’s aggressive, indifferent  and uncompromising treatment of countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain and the Republic of Ireland during the financial crisis just over a decade ago.

The EU imposed crippling  financial demands on those countries, insisting on the privatisation of public utilities,  and displaying total  contempt for national sovereignty, democratic rights and the welfare of working people.

Even its most ardent local supporters were taken aback by its latest aggressions over vaccine supplies but their talk of ‘a blunder’ and of ‘ a poor decision’ can’t mask the vicious anti-democratic nature of the European Union and its project.

The ever-growing threat of vaccine nationalism poses a real threat to people in poorer countries. 

Millions of people in those countries may have to wait until at least 2022 for the vaccine. The increase in competition between rich capitalist countries is monopolising the global supply and driving up prices for the vaccine.

This development, including the EU’s controls on vaccine exports, where the rich capitalist countries are endeavouring to procure more vaccines that they could possibly need and denying these to the rest of the world is an obscenity although entirely in line with a system which is based on exploitation. 

This is a global pandemic. Vaccines should be shared among the world’s most vulnerable people first, regardless of where they live. Clearly, we are not all in this together.

Leaving the European Union

Now that the details of Brexit have been finalised its timely that we remind ourselves of why we supported not a Brexit but a Left Exit – ‘Lexit’

At midnight on 31 December we are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.

We are as European today as we have ever been. Our social, cultural, political and our economic links remain. We will develop new relationships – but we are still Europeans and those of us who believe in the socialist project, still hold to the unity of working people in all countries and the overthrow of capitalism.

What we don’t believe in is the EU.

This is not a new position for the Workers Party We opposed entry to the Common Market in 1973 and again to the EEC in 1975. We have opposed every European treaty since, including the Maastricht Treaty, the Amsterdam Treaty, the Nice Treaties, the Lisbon Treaties and the more recent Fiscal Stability Treaty

We opposed them on the same basis that we opposed entry in the first place – because the founding principles, the direction of travel and the policies of the European Union were designed to strengthen and secure the capitalist economic, financial and social model and smother any radical socialist alternative to that system.

Here are just four reasons why leaving the European Union is a progressive step.

The EU is undemocratic

• The EU is not just undemocratic. Its centralised fiscal policy makes it inherently anti – democratic.

• We’ve witnessed the EU’s treatment of Ireland and Greece which demonstrated its contempt for national sovereignty, democratic rights and the welfare of working people.

• Membership of the European Union prohibits the socialisation of the economy, the nationalisation of strategic sectors of the economy and, of course, the banks, unless of course, the losses are to be socialised to bail out the bankers

• Countries joining the EU stop being sovereign states – they become member states of an increasingly monolithic structure designed to facilitate multi- national corporations, progress the modern capitalist project and prioritise markets, profit and control over working people.

The European Union is anti- worker

• The myth that the EU promotes and protects workers’ rights is exactly that – a myth. The EU is anti- worker.

 • The EU has cut living standards and economies have withered under forced austerity measures. • Thousands of people have been forced to move abroad to look for work.

 • One in four workers are now unemployed in Greece and Spain, with youth unemployment at double that.

• Three-hundred thousand Irish working people have left their homes to look for work overseas since the 2008 banking crisis

The European Union is an aggressor

• The European Union has taken part in the imperialist wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya together with the US and NATO, and has played a leading role in the intervention and threats against Syria and Iran.

• “Fortress Europe” ensures that those outside the EU cartel of nations are subject to vicious discrimination – if they are lucky – and drowning in the Mediterranean if they are not. Opposing the EU is an act of international solidarity with other countries and other workers world wide

International Solidarity

Socialists are primarily and instinctively internationalists. Voting to leave the EU was an international act of solidarity with the working class people of Greece, Portugal Italy and the many other European countries – including of course the Republic of Ireland – whose living standards, jobs, opportunities and democratic rights were trampled on by the Troika as the European Union bailed out banks and stretched the more marginal and weaker members states on the economic rack to pay for it.

 It was an act of international solidarity with all those who stood against the EU directives to sell off and privatise public utilities, including water and lay off millions of public sector workers.

It was an act of international solidarity with the many, many thousands of people who lost their lives on the doorstep of Fortress Europe as they were forced to flee from the economic and military adventures of the EU.