(Reproduced from Znet with permission from the author.)
Last Sunday a reply to a blog piece by Newport West MP Paul Flynn appeared on Znet. An e-mail to him elicited a reply, which was replied to enquiring after further details of his views and putting some counter-points, expanded on below.
As no further response was forthcoming (other than to agree to the use of the first response here) this seems to be the end of this brief debate for now. Below is Flynn’s response, along with some more commentary.
Thanks for getting in touch. I have read your comments. Your interpretation of recent events is open for debate. I have been a member of the Council of Europe since 1997 and I have followed these crises at close quarters and I know many of the personalities involved. A friend of mine, Ukainian and Russian speaker, contributed an article recently to the Morning Star. It was authoritative and based on two very recent visits to his motherland. The paper refused to publish the article because he did not accuse the new regime of being ‘fascist’. He told them he did not meet or see any fascists in the new Government. His very valuable views are gagged. I knew well the two people in the two previous regimes. The new one is probably the best yet. In the interest of fairness it should be remembers that the Independence for Crimea Party in the recent free election amassed only 5% of the vote. The referendum this time made it impossible to vote for any alternative. This indicates a new intolerant Stalinism in Europe. The threats to use the Russian mother tongue population of several neighbouring populations is real. Only NATO can make a stand against it. The NO TO NATO campaign is over hyping their strength, talking of biggest marches ever. Most are too young to remember Anti-Apartheid and CND protest in the seventies. They are predominately anarchist of fragments of Marxist parties – the unelectable in pursuit of the impossible. As a protest group they are maneuvering themselves into futility. The last anti EU protest in Newport was invisible to all the delegates at Foreign Ministers Conference in (I believe) 2005-one protester to every 25 police. The future power struggle in Europe will be NATO versus Putin. I have made my choice. Thanks for letting me expand on my views.
On Kosovo and Chechnya
Flynn gives no substantial response to the arguments of Curtis and Chomksy that I summarized. Readers can judge whether they make strong and coherent arguments that deserve to be addressed. I can only say that I have never seen a direct rebuttal of any part of these arguments, and moreover I have never seen any arguments on the matter that tend to undermine what they say, even without directly addressing them. I would be interested to hear about it if anyone has ever come across such a response, from anyone.
On the Ukraine
First, fascist influence. As of March the Svoboda party held “a larger chunk of its nation’s ministries (nearly a quarter, including the prized defense portfolio) than any other far-right party on the continent” (see this article). They still hold many cabinet positions. Flynn tells us that his friend did not meet any fascists when he was in the Ukraine. Perhaps he happened not to bump into any members of this party. Or perhaps the original name of their party, Social Nationalists, has nothing to do with National Socialists. Maybe the “Joseph Goebbels Political Research Centre” set up by one of their MPs was named after some other Joseph Goebbels. Another MP for this party has celebrated the Ukrainian SS units who took part in the holocaust.
These facts are hardly some far-left fantasy; most are from the US magazine Foreign Policy, which is by no means the equivalent of the Morning Star.
As for elections, in the election Flynn mentions “only 18% of polling stations opened in Luhansk and 31% in Donetsk” according to USA Today. The results plainly have nothing to say about the opinions of the people in the affected regions. A report by Pew Research later found that 54% of Crimeans wanted the region to secede compared to 12% against, supporting the view expressed earlier that the earlier referendum reflected something about the views of the people concerned.
There is a lot more that should be said about the situation in the Ukraine in order to get a good analysis of what is going on, in contrast to the mainstream media framing of events, but I will not attempt this here. To briefly answer the above, no-one doubts that Putin is capable of massive crimes. However, the dichotomy Flynn poses between current Western policy (crucially involved NATO) and Putin is false. Without constant aggressive moves to pull eastern European states into the economic orbit of Western powers (see e.g. here) things would be quite different in the Ukraine, not to mention the rest of the world. To stand for true self-determination for all is to stand against NATO, as the references in the original article bear out. Back at home, billions of pounds wasted on militarism, all to serve the purposes of a tiny elite, could have been turned to domestic needs.
As for the coming events in Newport, the size of the protests remains to be seen, but the scale of activity so far obviously dwarfs that surrounding the EU demo that Flynn recalls (not that there is any relation between the two). Other anti-corporate globalization protests outside the big cities have drawn many thousands in recent years.
It’s true that a lot of the people working for No to NATO are also in groups like Counterfire, and many of those who share Chomsky’s political persuasion will be there too, more likely as part of Stop NATO Cymru. They will stand alongside many others, of various political creeds, on the mass demonstration and other actions.
Are they trying to achieve the impossible? Almost everyone took a similar attitude in the early days of the Vietnam protests in the States. As Howard Zinn documents in People’s History of the United States, the movement that was at one time dismissible as a “loony fringe” struggled for years before going on to critically influence US policy. For example, in a leaked report on the reasons for turning down 200,000 extra troops for Vietnam, officials wrote that “this growing disaffection, accompanied as it will certainly be, by increased defiance of the draft and growing unrest in the cities because of their belief that we are neglecting domestic problems, runs great risk of provoking a domestic crisis of unprecedented proportions.” This shows that it was not just the demonstrations that scared officials. It was the threat of an aroused public putting severe costs on the continuance of the war, and perhaps damaging the privileges of elites even further.
This example, along with countless others, shows how unpredictable social change can be. When it comes to constraining and ultimately overturning the present bloody pattern of international relations, we cannot know the probabilities. But we do know one crucial thing about them: they depend on our actions.