Ukraine: Neither King nor Kaiser

Opinion Piece: A young Socialist Republican expresses their opinion on the situation in Ukraine and outlines their belief on the position Socialist Republicans should take.

Author’s Note:

I wrote “Ukraine: Neither King nor Kaiser” on the night of the 24th of February, effectively as soon as possible after news of the Russian offensive in Ukraine broke out. Due to the rapidly developing nature of this event, many further developments have been observed in regarding the weathering away of Free State neutrality. Ukraine’s embassy has been freely allowed to recruit for its “Foreign Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine” in the Free State. ‘Volunteering’ is being openly endorsed and promoted with bravado on state-owned programs such as the Claire Byrne Show (where during the end titles of the episode in question, a Ukrainian Nazi chant was aired).

Furthermore, countless more recent statements attacking the Free States flimsy neutrality have been aired by politicians from almost all corners of Leinster House. The Free State has now already, as feared, acted on its extremely non-neutral stance, having sent military aid (albeit “non-lethal”) to the Ukrainian front lines, and falling in line behind the sanctions of the British and American imperialists. As you can gather by the above description of RTÉ’s latest coverage of the war, Free State media has been busy sowing the seeds of wartime hysteria among the population. Several Russian cultural and sporting events have been senselessly banned. I have never seen first-hand such a charged response from this state on any foreign affairs issue. It should go without saying that this kind of rampant heartstring-tugging and fury was noticeably absent when Ukraine bombed Donbas for 8years.

Only time will tell how successful their efforts will be. Perhaps this Redmondite media campaign may succeed in luring a significant amount of Irish blood into this “Foreign Legion” to fight alongside the likes of the Azov Battalion thugs. Anyone swept up by the Ukrainian embassy’s promises of “heroism” in a battle “against evil” is going to come face to face with the monstrosities of inter-imperialist warfare just as those of the “National Volunteers” did in 1914. Also, it is possible that we may see the final abandonment of “neutrality” even in name judging by the ferocity of the pro-NATO messages flying from the mouths of Free State ministers and opposition, and even possible moves to join NATO. These predictions are pessimistic, but if left unchecked, they could easily become a reality.’

As the Russian military offensive rages in Ukraine, Ireland has seen a tsunami of interventionist sentiment and hysteria. While under ordinary conditions, the Free State and its ruling class have attempted to maintain at least a thin veneer of neutrality, we have now seen an unprecedented drive from the State’s leadership to utterly gut Irish neutrality of all meaning. “Ireland is a neutral country – we are militarily nonaligned – but we are certainly not neutral on an issue like this” said the Free State’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney, in a comically self-contradictory statement [1]. “In this conflict Ireland is not neutral at all” claimed Leo Varadkar [2]. Even these remarks, among many, have only highlighted this neutrality’s shallow and fragile nature, and the weight, or lack thereof, it carries in the Leinster House.

Owing its origins to Article 49 of the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State [3], this policy of phoney neutrality has faced decades of curtailment and sidelining in the interest of British, American, and European imperialism. From its conception as the constitutional article of a dominion of the British Empire, the Irish Free State’s conception of neutrality has never been able to live up to the standard set by revolutionary republicans such as James Connolly and the Irish Neutrality League, when they put forward the slogan “We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland” in 1914.

Take for example, the ongoing use of the Shannon Airport to transport American military personnel. Ever since 2001, up to three million soldiers of the United States’ military have passed through the Shannon airport, using it as a gateway to mainland Europe and warmongering missions in the Middle East. 71,263 troops passed through the airport in 2020 alone. This means that US imperialists have been allowed to freely use Irish soil as a stepping stone for their wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia (where the US launched another airstrike at the time of writing [4]), Pakistan, and Syria.

The conversion of an Irish airport into a de-facto US military base and its violation of the Free State’s neutrality was a focal point of the colossal 2003 anti-war protests in Dublin which attracted anywhere from 80,000 to 150,000 participants [5], making it one of the largest protest actions in Irish history. But despite these large movements mobilised in defence of the Free State’s supposed neutrality in foreign conflicts, commitment to this principle has clearly remained just as flimsy as it was 19 years ago.

The rapidly escalating situation in Ukraine is the product of a long line of inter-imperialist aggression between NATO and the Russian Federation since 2014. On one hand NATO’s expansion into Ukraine has come in the form of a build-up of military forces along the Russian and Belarusian borders, the setting up of naval bases in Ukraine [6], and the financing of Ukraine’s brutal proxy war against the rebels of the Russian-speaking Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics including the supplying of FG-148 Javelin missiles [7]. On the other hand Russia’s bullyish diplomatic tactics have sought to maintain the status quo and keep Ukraine away from NATO through show of force, with provocative actions and now its recent escalatory military actions.

These recent Russian actions have provoked an extremely hypocritical warmongering response from British and American imperialists who, in their fury over “Russian aggression” have now seemingly forgotten their own history of constant meddling in Ukraine which began with “Euromaiden” in 2013. Happy to beat the war drums over the cause of Ukrainian sovereignty, it is worth remembering that these same NATO leaders were not so valiant when they abandoned the people of Kazakhstan this year during their attempt to protest the Tokayev-Nursultan regime. The progressive-democratic protests were met with a force of 2,500 Russian soldiers [8] sent to quell the dissent. Despite President Tokayev’s gross violation of human rights through his “shoot to kill order” [9], and the blatant atrocities of the Russian imperialists, the United States, now posturing as holy crusaders against Russian tyranny, actually sent a statement describing Kazakhstan as a “valued partner” and condemning the protests [10].

The reason for this is simple. The United States and other Western powers own tremendous foreign direct investment stocks in Kazakhstan alongside Russia and China. Britain, who actively trained the Kazakh military [11], owned 336.5million USD in Kazakh foreign direct investment stock in 2019 [12]. In January 2021, foreign direct investment stock into Kazakhstan from the United States totalled in 38 billion USD [13]. As Kazakhstan is one of the world’s largest producers of crude oil, Kazakhstan’s protests hurt the profit margins of imperialists both East and West, and thus both sides were more than willing to play as either cheerleaders or participants in their brutal suppression. The imperialists of NATO have also been equally happy to ignore, or even support, blatant Turkish aggression against Syria or Zionist aggression against Palestine.

It should be clear from these examples that imperialism only acts to serve its own interests. Russia and NATO are not fighting for the self-determination and sovereignty of their allies, or for human rights, or any kind of just cause. The cause that motivates them is the same as it was in Kazakhstan or Iraq, the same cause that fuels the European Union’s, United States’, Russian Federation’s, United Kingdom’s, and People’s Republic of China’s rampant arms sales to genocidal governments in India, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines. This cause, which lies at the root of all inter-imperialist conflicts such as this one, is the drive for profit.

Even the utterances of “self-determination” that have now come from the lips of NATO leaders fall flat when you consider their longstanding violations of and proxy war against the sovereignty and self-determination of the people of the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, who voted to secede from Ukraine in 2014 [14] after discriminatory actions such as when their language was effectively banned in courts and schools with the repeal of the 2012 languages law that same year [15]. For the people of the two breakaway states, invasion, and bombardment by NATO-backed Ukrainian troops (including the infamous neo-Nazi “Azov Battallion”) has been a daily reality for nearly a decade.

It is traitorous for the Free State to push for Ireland’s further involvement in the escalation of imperialist warfare. The demands and sabre-rattling of the subservient comprador class, and even its so-called “opposition” in Sinn Féin, stinks of John Redmond and the Home Rule movement’s support for the British war effort in 1914. It was Redmond who made similar calls to young Irish men when recruiting his National Volunteers to fight for the British Empire in the First World War, playing on sympathy for small nations such as Belgium to sacrifice Irish blood in imperialist slaughter.

Socialist Republicans stand in the tradition of the heroes of the 1916 Rising, who were ostracised by the Redmondites for their choice to stay behind and take the fight to the British Empire instead of with a foreign enemy in France.

Socialist Republicans must oppose the calls for escalation of this inter-imperialist conflict, and respect for the self-determination of the peoples of Ukraine and the LPR and DPR. The only armed struggles that Socialist Republicans can and should support are the just revolutionary wars, by the oppressed peoples and nations for national liberation and the revolutionary people’s wars in the Philippines, Peru, Turkey and India and those yet to be launched. Socialist Republicans stand always with the right of all people to use resistance in the anti-imperialist struggles for national liberation and in the revolutionary Peoples Wars fighting for Socialist Revolution.

At the same time Socialist Republicans must also extend our sympathy to the ordinary people who will suffer the immense hardship of finding themselves in the middle of an imperialist battleground. Contrary to the sentiments of the modern-day Redmondites, Socialist Republicans must strive to take no side in inter-imperialist conflict, understanding that our enemy is not fighting in Ukraine or Donbas, but sleeping and drilling in the British military bases of the occupied 6 counties.

Down with NATO imperialism! Down with Russian imperialism

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