The left needs to find its anti-war voice and stop trailing liberals
People opposed to the war in Ukraine demonstrate in Montreal, March 6, 2022. The left must be stronger about embracing and broadcasting an anti-war message. | Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press via AP

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this article, reprinted from Morning Star, veteran British trade unionist and journalist Andrew Murray takes on what he calls “moralizing liberals” on the left—those who are so afraid to stray from the establishment and corporate media line on the Ukraine war that they end up repeating mainstream propaganda. Though Murray is dealing with the British context, the same problem exists in the U.S. and other Western countries. Some on the left are terrified to even mention the word “NATO” out of fear they will be called Putin apologists, but Murray makes the point that the danger to humanity is too great in this moment—the anti-war left has to speak out.

War has always been the acid test of politics. It shines a clarifying light on the essence of parties, tendencies, groups, and even individual politicians. The Ukraine conflict does not involve Britain as a direct combatant yet, and we must hope that remains the case.

Nevertheless, such has been the war psychosis whipped up by the Russian invasion that it has had the same effect—everyone has been put on the spot.

Perhaps we have learned little about Boris Johnson’s government that we did not already know. Posturing belligerence, a firm alignment with Washington, and an attempt to weaponize the crisis for domestic purposes have been the hallmarks.

Willing to fight Vladimir Putin to the last drop of Ukrainian blood, the Conservatives in Britain stand as the party of the prosecution of inter-imperialist conflict through sanctions, armaments, and confrontation.

They are not alone, however. The Labour Party has offered no policy distinct from the government. Obsessed with embracing the Establishment and the flag, and with attacking the left, its only contribution has been to head up the witch-hunt against the anti-war movement.

On Ukraine—as on Palestine, arms spending, and the AUKUS nuclear submarine pact, the Labour Party’s policy is…the Tory policy.

Labour is once again, after a hiatus, carrying water for British imperialism. This is obscured by the fact that it is Russian aggression it is opposing, but there is diminishing room for doubt that, were another act of Anglo-U.S. brigandage to instead be the issue, Labour under party leader Keir Starmer would be on board.

But where is the left? Its voice, too, has gone unheard, at the parliamentary level at least, in the crisis. After Starmer’s crackdown on any view deviating from the NATO line, left MPs have been mostly mute on the most vital issue of world politics.

Little or nothing has been heard criticizing the government’s role in bringing us to the present pass. Nor on the expansion of NATO and Ukraine neutrality, even as President Volodymyr Zelensky makes them central to any peace agreement. Not even on the huge dangers of letting a new Cold War divide Europe.

Indeed, much of the left, and not just in Parliament, has become terrified even to mention the word “NATO” lest they be damned as Putin apologists.

Some who claim to be on the left are afraid to even mention the word ‘NATO’ and confuse the nature of the danger currently facing the world. Here, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg arrives for the military pact’s summit in Brussels, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. | Olivier Matthys / AP

The spotlight of war has not been flattering. Trade unions have done better, with several uniting denunciations of Russia’s invasion with clear acknowledgments of Western responsibility and opposition to NATO enlargement.

That is the least that is needed to secure a possible lasting peace in Europe and avoid a spiraling arms race and the economic dislocation of endless sanctions and confrontation. That is the position of Stop the War and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

It needs, at very least, parliamentary articulation or the left will risk looking redundant in a situation of mounting crisis.

Putin apologism is, in fact, a tiny problem on the left, reduced—in the words of one correspondent to this paper—to asserting that Russia’s capitalism is “irrelevant,” as if the class nature of a state could ever not matter in assessing its international conduct.

Putin’s supporters are far more numerous on the far right—they at least can tell the difference between a great-Russian chauvinist and a communist.

The greater danger for the left is marginalization, of mutely tagging behind a bipartisan consensus to entrench a new Cold War. Time for left MPs to speak up.

One law for them…

If one needs lessons in why class power is important, consider two events last week.

First, some squatters occupied the property of a sanctioned Russian billionaire in London, suggesting it be used to house Ukrainian refugees. Within minutes, dozens of tooled-up police were outside, taking time out from strip-searching Black teenagers to defend the sanctity of private property, however corruptly acquired.

Second, a few days later, the transport company P&O fired by video message 800 crew working onboard their ferries. To tackle this crime against working people, the police were nowhere to be seen. The only security presence were goons hired to ensure that the workers were removed from the vessels.

Here is the fact—the state exists to protect the property and perquisites of the rich and can mobilize in the blink of an eye to do so.

It also ensures for those same rich as fragmented and compliant a labor force as possible, including turning a blind eye to private enforcers when necessary.

Tackling the roots of oligarchy and the attacks on working people’s rights alike means addressing state power—who it is exercised for, how, and why.

A state power that rests on, and serves the interests of, labor and not private property, would house the homeless in billionaires’ mansions, expropriate callous shipowners, keep workers in their jobs, and stand down the private security team.

And none of it would be unpopular.

Dangerous punditry

If war is a test for politics, it is also a test for journalism. It is a moment when the professed values of the trade are important—accurate information presented as free of spin as possible.

Dream on, at least as far as the British media are concerned. Straight-forward reporting on Ukraine has been entirely swamped by posturing, virtue-signaling, and unabashed propaganda. And as for the commentariat…

It is difficult to identify the most deranged pundit. But pushed to, I would plump for the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall. He has written one column after another urging a military response, of an unspecified nature, to Putin’s invasion.

In the same articles, however, Tisdall repeatedly asserts that the Russian president is immune to logic or reason—mad, in effect. The basis for this diagnosis, comforting for Western liberals, is unclear. Its consequences are not.

If you are urging military action against an opponent who cannot respond rationally, and who, moreover, has a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons, you are essentially urging a policy with a very high risk of nuclear war, leading to tens of millions of deaths and the possible termination of human existence.

Lesson: A moralizing liberal can be just as dangerous as a chest-beating chauvinist.


Andrew Murray
Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray is a British trade union and Labour Party official and activist. He was an adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, from 2018 to 2020. Murray was chair of the Stop the War Coalition from its formation in 2001 until June 2011 and again from September 2015 to 2016. He is the author of several books and contributes to Morning Star, the social daily in the U.K.