Seamus Milne's shoddy arguments for Putin

Submitted by Matthew on 12 March, 2014 - 11:17

In the Guardian of 5 March, Seumas Milne, associate editor of the paper, argued for blaming the conflict in Ukraine entirely, or almost entirely, on the USA and the EU. “The clash in Crimea is the fruit of western expansion”.

Of course the USA and the EU wish to pull Ukraine more fully into the capitalist world market, as a rich source of raw materials and cheap labour-power.

But Milne’s objection is not to the logic of the capitalist world market. He does not, for example, raise the call for the USA and the EU to cancel Ukraine’s crippling foreign debt and thus short-circuit IMF plans to impose drastic neo-liberal policies there as a condition for bail-out loans. Or give any reason why we should think that being under Russian domination would shelter Ukraine’s people from the withering blasts of the world markets.

Milne is concerned about threats to Russia’s position in the world, not about threats to Ukraine’s working class.

“The US and its allies have... relentlessly expanded Nato up to Russia’s borders, incorporating nine former Warsaw Pact states and three former Soviet republics into what is effectively an anti-Russian military alliance in Europe... That western military expansion was first brought to a halt in 2008 when the US client state of Georgia attacked Russian forces in the contested territory of South Ossetia...”

Milne sees it all as an anti-Russian plot.

In reality, US and EU capitalists want to do profitable business with Russia, but not to conquer it. The basic drive is much more that small states, recently escaped from the Tsarist then Stalinist empires, turn to alliances with the US and EU to bolster their new-found independence. (See for Georgia, and Milne’s comments at the time).

We don’t endorse or approve the smaller states’ alliances. But Milne endorses Moscow’s attempts to regain imperial power as just an understandable defensive reaction: “it is hardly surprising that Russia has acted to stop... Ukraine falling decisively into the western camp”.

He concedes that Putin’s excuses for invasion are “flaky” and that Putin’s “conservative nationalism” and “oligarchic regime” have little “appeal”. But to him those are secondary objections: “Russia’s role as a... counterweight to unilateral western power certainly does [have appeal]”.

Milne’s other argument, highlighted at the head of his article, is that the EU and US have “put fascists in power” in Ukraine.

It is true, and worrying, that fascists hold positions in the new government in Kiev. But a long roll call of writers and researchers into the far right in Ukraine, from across the world, have issued a statement warning that “The heavy focus on right-wing radicals in international media reports is... unwarranted and misleading”.

The fascists do not dominate. Opinion polls for the presidential election due in May show Svoboda on just 3%. Petro Poroshenko (an “oligarch” of slight social-democratic pretensions) and Vitaly Klitschko (close to Germany’s Christian Democrats, and, as it happens, someone who has Russian as his first language and is relatively hesitant in Ukrainian) lead the polls. Both are neo-liberals, but not fascists.

Far right figures in Russia, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, have at least as much weight in Putin’s circles as Svoboda has in Kiev.

Somehow, in the minds of people like Milne (a former member of the “Straight Left” diehard-Stalinist splinter from the Communist Party), Russian state policy always has an aura of leftism, or at least anti-imperialism, even when it is straightforwardly right-wing and imperialist.


Submitted by guenter on Tue, 15/04/2014 - 02:27

In the Guardian of 5 March, Seumas Milne, associate editor of the paper, argued for blaming the conflict in Ukraine entirely, or almost entirely, on the USA and the EU. “The clash in Crimea is the fruit of western expansion”.
well said! seems that AWL is much more on the rightwing side than this liberal guardian.

Submitted by dalcassian on Wed, 16/04/2014 - 15:22

In reply to by guenter

Guenter, are you serious? The idea that Putin embodies the left in this crisis is bonkers. Of course, you derive the idea that Russia here is the "Left" not from what positively you think about Russia or Putin, but from blind hostility to "NATO". Milne is a long-time Stalinist, not a Liberal! Ukraine was a viciously suppressed nation within the Stalinist Russian empire for many decades. Trotsky came out for Ukrainian independence in 1939. Whatever case can be made for local autonomy for Russians in the Eastern Ukraine, what is going on is Russian imperialist expansion. In the abstract, blotting out the imperialist framework, a very strong case could be made for Hitler's claim to the Sudetanland. The Sudetan German's were oppressed. In real poitics you could not ignore the predominant reality of German Imperialism. No honest socialist could back Hitler's "reasonable" claim to the Sudetanland. So now with Russia and the Ukraine. This is Russian imperialism throwing its weight about.

Submitted by Jams O'Donnell on Sat, 16/01/2016 - 18:31

Dalcassian: These comments are revisionist rubbish. The illegal overthrow of the Ukrainian government was organised by the US, NATO and the EU, helped by neo-nazi elements in Ukraine. These neo-nazis have no interest in the Ukrainian or any other working class. You don't sound as if you have any such interest either. The whole situation is aimed at weakening Russia, now just another capitalist state, but still seen as a competitor and enemy by the US.

Submitted by ann field on Sun, 17/01/2016 - 13:27

I know that it’s a long article.

And Jams o’Donnell also strikes me as someone who prefers vacuous sloganizing (“Illegal overthrow of government!” “US, NATO, EU, neo-Nazis!”) to trying to get to grips with reality.

But he could try reading:

(And since when have socialists supported the overthrow of a government only if it is “legal”???)

Submitted by Jams O'Donnell on Sun, 17/01/2016 - 17:29

In reply to by ann field

What actually happened was as I outlined before. If you want to "get to grips with reality" yourself, try going to Maidan Square and making a speech about "Worker's Rights" - you may find that the neo-nazis don't like such talk. As for the "vacuous sloganising" - you need to buy a good dictionary so that you can actually say what you mean - if you in fact do know what you mean. Finally, your glib quoting of "socialism" does not make you a real socialist, and neither does membership of the "Labour" party.

Submitted by Jams O'Donnell on Sun, 17/01/2016 - 17:49

From "workers liberty - ukraine.pdf"

"Those left-wingers who recycle Putin’s “Maidan-was-a-fascist-coup” propaganda end up as unpaid apologists and useful idiots for Russian imperialism."

Similarly, those who deny US/NATO/EU involvement in the coup end up as unpaid apologists and "useful idiots" for US imperialism (a far more widespread, anti-socialist and potent force than the Russian variety).

But of course, the "Labour" party and it's hangers-on here approve of the US variety, so that's ok.

Submitted by ann field on Mon, 18/01/2016 - 23:17

One thing that always fascinates me about a certain current of ‘left’ apologists for the SNP and supporters of independence for Scotland – epitomised by Jams o’Donnell – is their steadfast refusal to engage in any kind of political argument.

Instead, their political method consists of: plenty of bilious abuse; repetition of the same unfounded assertions, especially where they are demonstrably at odds with reality; logical and political incoherence; irrelevant and inaccurate denunciations of the Labour Party; and substituting fantasies for a political programme.

You can see how that ‘works’ in the comments on this thread, and in the comments by the same Jams o’Donnell on the thread about a recent article about the SNP in the Labour Research Department magazine.

Our articles are “the usual Old Labour shite”, “the same old blinkered claptrap” and “revisionist rubbish”. We should get Kezia Dugdale to write for us because “she’s always good for a wry laugh, like you.” We have no interest in the Ukrainian working class or any other working class. And as “hangers-on” of the Labour Party we’re happy to approve of support for US imperialism.

The overthrow of the Ukrainian government, we are told, was organised by the US, NATO and the EU, backed up by neo-Nazis. Confronted with a 14,000 word article which lays to rest such a spurious claim (and plenty of other articles on our website, and elsewhere, provide additional evidence), Jams o’Donnell imperiously proclaims: “What actually happened was as I outlined before.”

The ‘best’ that Jams o’Donnell can come up with to support his claim is the exhortation to “try going to Maidan Square and making a speech about workers’ rights. You may find that the neo-Nazis don’t like such talk.”

Of course neo-Nazis don’t like such talk. That’s because they’re neo-Nazis. And neo-Nazis in Ukraine are no different from neo-Nazis in the rest of the world. But this tells us nothing about the character of the Maidan protests of 2013/14.

In fact, the Trotskyists, the anarchists and the feminists who faced attacks by neo-Nazis (and right-wing conservative nationalists, which Jams o’Donnell has probably confused with neo-Nazis) have been the most vociferous in defending the character of the Maidan as a popular and progressive uprising.

For Jams o’Donnell, what we say about the Maidan has nothing to do with what actually happened in the Maidan protests but everything to do with … … the fact that we are Labour Party members! (“Of course, the ‘Labour’ Party and its hangers-on here approve of the US variety [of imperialism], so that’s okay.”)

And his rants about the Labour Party are actually even less coherent than what he has to say about Ukraine.

The Labour Party voted to bomb Syria, he tells us. No, the Labour Party conference voted against bombing Syria. And so too did most of its MPs.

The Labour Party won’t promise to repeal Tory anti-union laws, he tells us. That’s partially true. The Labour Party is committed to repealing the Tories’ current Trade Union Bill and to legalising solidarity action, but not to repealing earlier anti-union laws. CLP motions to last year’s conference calling for the repeal of all anti-union laws were kept off the conference agenda – by affiliated trade unions.

The Labour Party won’t promise to re-nationalise the public utilities, he tells us. Jams seems to have confused the Labour Party and the SNP. The Labour Party is at least committed to taking the railways back into public ownership, whereas the SNP recently handed a ten-year franchise for running the railways in Scotland to Abellio and Serco.

The Labour Party in Scotland, he continues, is “a morbid corpse”. It is “DEAD”. But membership of the Scottish Labour Party is increasing. It has a much closer relationship with trade unions than in years past. Jim Murphy has gone. John McTernan has gone. Gordon Mathieson has been ousted as Glasgow Labour Group leader. Its last conference voted against Trident renewal and against TTIP. That’s all signs of a pretty lively “morbid corpse”.

Living out a political fantasy, Jams o’Donnell writes that “when we achieve independence, they (the SNP) can be dispensed with.” But if the SNP can simply “be dispensed with”, why wait until independence before “dispensing” with them? Why not do it right now and replace it with a party which will jail bankers, etc., etc.?

Answer: Because Jams o’Donnell is hanging on to the coat-tails of the SNP, but fantasises that he is really in control and can “dispense” with them once they have served their purpose.

Jams o’Donnell’s concluding advice to the AWL is that we should “be useful” and “join the SSP or RISE”.

Be useful and join the SSP or RISE? Isn’t that the ultimate oxymoron?

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