Ukraine and the ‘neutrality’ of the anti-NATOists

Ukraine Nato flag

I am one of the members of the commission preparing the Barcelona demonstration for peace and in solidarity with Ukraine on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion. This commission, Catalonia for Peace, includes many pacifist organisations, unions, NGOs and political parties. I attend as a spokesperson for La Aurora (a Marxist organization) and also as a member of the Catalan affiliate of the European Network for Solidarity with Ukraine (ENSU).

Since the creation of the “Stop the War” platform, the first around the Iraq war and other armed conflicts, there have been debates about these mobilisations, some of them very passionate. Likewise today. I remember, for example, how at the time of the Iraq War we had to debate a lot with a part of the movement that was opposed to the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) signing the manifesto against the war and taking part in the call for the demonstration. The argument was that the PSOE and its Catalan affiliate, the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), were NATOist, and if they did not abandon NATO membership, could not be in favour of peace.

Given that we finally managed to convince these ultra-left comrades (most of whom were men), the PSC joined in and supported the call for the demonstration. That did not change the pro-NATO and pro-armament policy of the PSOE-PSC. But, as we all know, that demonstration was huge — one-million strong — and US President George Bush referred to it when he said that he would not give in to street pressure like that in Barcelona. The success of that mobilisation was followed up in politics: PSOE leader José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero won the 2004 general elections against José María Aznar's People’s Party (PP), who had had his photo taken as part of the “Azores trio” with Bush and Blair. And shortly afterwards, Spanish troops began leaving Iraq.

This anti-NATOist sector, which places its fight against the United States and NATO above the facts and concrete policy for achieving real peace, still exists. And it continues to try to set conditions on unity and consensus with its demands. It does this by regarding all those who do not share its position as NATO partisans, a real aberration. Today it argues that we should be “neutral” between Ukraine and Russia: that is, between the victim and perpetrator of aggression. Denying the evidence as to who attacked and invaded another country, it insists on a narrative according to which “in reality” the war is “between Russia and NATO”.

Supporters of the position use other arguments, chiefly as ostensible proof that there can be no other position than the one they advocate: this is “to stop the war by any means” and “to stop sending weapons to Ukraine”. The first of these arguments is that “Russia cannot be defeated in the war”. Since we have seen in the last year that Russia has lost positions and had to withdraw from the territory it occupied, this argument gets linked to that of fear: “Russia, rather than losing the war, would start a nuclear conflict.”.

Therefore, Ukraine’s rights, and the fate of the Ukrainian people don’t matter to these lovers of peace “at any price”. Although they repeat incessantly that the Ukrainian people are a victim, that the Ukrainians are the ones who “provide the death and the destruction” and that this is the main motive for their concern to stop the war, what the people of Ukraine are doing there, why they are still fighting and dying, is of no concern to them. 

Deep down, this argument is hypocritical because what really matters is safeguarding Western integrity and security. Some blatantly admit it: "If we were Ukrainians, we would certainly fight like them, but we are not.” In our peaceful Europe on the Mediterranean coast, we don't want any nuclear missiles to reach us or any repercussions from the war that has already started many thousands of kilometres away…

Another argument, which came up at the last commission meeting, is that we must choose between solidarity and peace. “We are a committee for peace, not for solidarity with Ukraine.” Some of us could not help reacting to such an outrage. Should we choose a “peace” that is not in solidarity with the people of Ukraine? A peace that is “at the expense of Ukraine”? Would such a “peace” be that Ukraine capitulates, gives up occupied territory and accepts partition of the country, Russia's control of its sea outlets, no payment for its crimes and no reparations for the destruction? That would be the peace of the cemetery.

This kind of “neutrality” is very similar to what the 1931-39 Spanish Republic suffered from the Western democratic powers in the face of Franco's fascist troops and the bombing by the Nazis and Italian fascists. Fascism was preparing for war throughout Europe. The Spanish revolution stood in the way of these plans, but the Western bourgeois preferred a fascist Spain to a revolutionary Spain. Then came the invasions of Austria and Poland.... That policy of neutrality on the part of the imperialist powers allowed Hitler to prepare for the invasion of a large part of Europe.

Finally, there is the argument that sending arms to Ukraine is to encourage warmongering, divert social expenditure to military ends, and entails the subjugation of Ukrainians to the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. This is a common argument among many different groups and parts of the movement, pacifist or leftist. I am radically against increasing military budgets, but why couldn't a democratic, leftist government abandon NATO yet at the same time send weapons to defend the Ukrainians? Spain has Leopard tanks and missiles that are rusting away in warehouses — why not deliver them to Ukraine? They are certainly not needed here!

Another kind of fascism is now trying to forcibly impose its conditions throughout Europe and the world. Putin's dictatorial regime has not only reneged on Lenin’s respect for the right of nations to self-determination, but it is also trying to remake the Russian empire within today's globalised world. That is why it denies Ukraine's existence as a nation and as a state in its own right. The denial of human rights and of international law stems from this first denial. Putin has as his allies many of the fascist parties in Europe, including Vox. Today’s struggle of the Ukrainian people is a spearhead against this new kind of fascism.

Anyone who does not understand that Russia's occupation of part of Ukraine could be the beginning of military escalation and invasions around the world by existing imperialisms is blind. I was in Ukraine twice during this war, in May and September last year, and met with the leaders of the two main union organisations to ask their opinion and what they needed. Leaders of both the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) agreed that they had to fight the Russian occupier and drive it out of their territory. 

They thanked the Western unions for their support against the passage of anti-worker laws by parliament and the Zelenskyy government, but they wanted them to understand the reality of the struggle they are leading, at the front and in the workplace, “It is one thing to fight here with laws and policies that are neoliberal and which we don't want, but under Putin's regime we would have no rights and no freedom.”

So, justifying oneself for not supporting the nation under attack because of the neoliberal policies of the Zelenskyy government or the existence of the fascist Azov battalion (both true), is just another element in this hypocritical or blind neutrality.

Those of us who are now organising solidarity with Ukraine, along with other associations, are trying not to repeat the mistake of the first Barcelona demonstration in March last year, which the Ukrainian community was offended by and effectively expelled from because of a manifesto and slogans that talked about stopping wars in general but did not talk about Ukraine. 

Since then, Ukrainians and Catalans have gone their separate ways. This mistake must not be repeated. A united and peaceful Europe starts by supporting the victim of aggression and looking for the best way out of this war. Peace with justice and respect for international law and human rights. I think the best thing would be to hold a single demonstration, on February 24, if possible, the anniversary of the war and the invasion. I hope we will succeed.