Editorial – Whatever happened to the Peace Dividend?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many believed that Russia having abandoned ‘communism’ (really state capitalism) and embraced free market private capitalism, a new age of freedom and prosperity was beckoning. Any threat of a global nuclear war was buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall. If any such illusions still lingered, they were cruelly shattered when Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. With President Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons and President Biden’s warning of the possibility of a third world war, the spectre of a global military conflict between major capitalist powers is back on the agenda.

Putin’s pretext for what he calls the ‘special military operation’ is to ‘de-nazify’ the country and to rescue the Russian speaking population in the so-called ‘independent republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region from ‘genocide’ by the Ukrainian forces. The Western capitalist media offers us a tale of the Ukrainian David gallantly battling the Russian Goliath. The Ukrainian state is presented as a plucky defender of democracy, despite the fact that it is little more democratic than Russia. All this obscures the rather sordid reality that this war, like any other war, is a conflict between rival capitalist powers over the wealth looted from the working class.

The Russian capitalist class, which includes the oligarchs and senior members of the military and the state, has been striving to become a major player in the world capitalist markets. Part of their strategy is to regain their sphere of influence in the former state capitalist countries that border Russia. However, the Western capitalist powers, the US, UK and EU, will never be too enamoured with a resurgent Russian capitalist class muscling in on their turf. Since the 1990s NATO has been expanding eastwards close to the Russian border. The EU has also moved eastwards bringing membership to Eastern European countries which effectively removed them from Russia’s economic orbit. After the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by the Euromaidan protests in 2014, the new Ukrainian government sought closer relations with the West. The Russian government responded by annexing the Crimea. Alarmed by the Ukraine government’s interest in joining NATO and the EU and sensing weakness and division on the Western side, particularly after the ignominious retreat of the US and other western powers from Afghanistan last August, Putin decided to make his move and attempt to forcibly return Ukraine to the Russian capitalist fold. The Western powers retaliated by supplying arms to the Ukrainian armed forces and imposing economic sanctions against Russian business interests.

As always it is members of the working class who have to pay the bloody price of capitalism’s wars, whether they are civilians or members of the armed forces. The Socialist Party has consistently maintained that workers have no interest in supporting capitalism’s wars and that their only interest is in abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism. It is encouraging that not all workers in Russia accept the government’s pro-war propaganda and many have come out to protest. If strong socialist movements existed in both countries, then the ruling classes would have found it more difficult to mobilise their populations to wage war.

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