Unthinking conservatism

12th February 2022

Poland calls on NATO to send more forces amid concerns about Russia | Stars  and Stripes

NATO troop build up in Poland continues

Kier Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party sank to an all time low yesterday when he took the opportunity in an article for The Guardian (My party’s commitment to NATO remains unshakable – 11/2/22) to lambast the Stop the War movement for being critical of the approach of NATO in relation to Ukraine.

Starmer went further and nailed his leadership of Labour firmly to NATO’s mast by proclaiming the formation of the military alliance, during the post war Labour government of Clement Attlee, as being on a par with the formation of the NHS.  Starmer concluded his article with the assertion that.

“…I regard both the Ns – NATO and the NHS – as legacies of that transformational Labour government that we need to be proud of and to protect.”

On one level it appears that Starmer falls into the trap of the politically naïve, assuming that the opposition of those who see NATO as an aggressive military alliance, designed to protect imperialist interests around the globe, are automatically supporters of the ‘enemy’, whether that enemy is deemed to be Beijing or Moscow.

The put down of the ‘liberal Leftie’ who is soft on authoritarian regimes, does not understand the need for defence and security and is, by inference, on the wrong side, has been a standard trope of the capitalist press and right wing Labour leaders for decades.   In that sense Starmer is not being naïve but is following a long tradition of demonising the Left in order to burnish his own credentials to be seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’ when the prospect of a General Election looms.

The more sinister undertone to Starmer’s position is the implicit and at times explicit anti-communist tone to his words, commenting that,

“Attlee, Bevin and Healey saw communism for what it was and were prepared to stand up to its aggression.  Today’s Labour party has the same clear-eyed view of the current regime in the Kremlin.  We know as they did, that bullies respect only strength.”

The Russia of the 21st century is not the Soviet Union of the 20th century, though it is convenient for Starmer and his ilk to convey that impression, as it serves their one dimensional view of the world as divided into simply the good guys and the bad guys.  Hence, the anti-Sovietism of the late 20th century has been transformed into the anti-Russian propaganda of the 21st century by those seeking to present the world in simple black and white terms.

That is not the position, whatever Starmer may assert, of those who support Stop the War or who regard both NATO and Britain’s membership of it as problematic.  True, many have regarded NATO as an aggressive military alliance since its inception.  Its initial stand to refuse membership to the Soviet Union was an early indication that it was not “a consecration of peace and resistance to aggression” but a defence of imperialist power against the threat of the spread of communism.

The creation of NATO was arguably the first act of the Cold War and precipitated a nuclear arms race which sucked resources away from the needs of working class people across the world, only making rich the arms manufacturers and warmongers.  

NATO forces have been deployed across the globe to defend imperialist interests in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen.  They continue to establish advanced forward bases in Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states; all of these moves are regarded as a threat by Russia.  Adding Ukraine to this perceived encirclement is the source of Moscow’s fear for its own security in the present stand off.     

To characterise NATO as the guarantor of “democracy and security”, as Starmer does, is simply to fly in the face of history.  Those in the peace movement opposed to war in Europe are no more in favour of Russian aggression than NATO aggression but the evidence of where such aggression has usually been initiated in recent history is clear.  Starmer further caricatures the Left as being guilty of unthinking conservatism, stating,

“The kneejerk reflex, “Britain, Canada, the United States, France – wrong; their enemies -right”, is unthinking conservatism at its worst.”

Correct, if true, but the only unthinking conservative in this instance is Starmer himself, who fails to grasp the world in its complexity and insists on the classic good guys, bad guys scenario.

The fact is that the Ukraine situation is one of bad guys versus bad guys.  There is no more to commend the Putin regime and its gangster politics than there is NATO’s defence of its imperialist interests and desire to extend those.  The issue is one of assessing where the threat of initiating conflict is more likely to come from and what the consequences would be for world peace should such a conflict erupt.

There can be little doubt that the reach and firepower of the combined NATO arsenal far outweighs that of the Russians but also that Russian firepower is sufficient to inflict significant damage should a conflict erupt.

Rather than unshakable commitment to NATO it would be good to hear Starmer proclaim his unshakable commitment to peace and conflict resolution, to de-escalating tensions across the world, to wanting to see Britain in the forefront of arms reduction and banning arms sales to dictatorships.

As for equating the formation of the NATO military alliance with the life saving NHS, Starmer really is plumbing the depths.  The objectives of both could not be more diametrically opposed.  The comparison is a shameful one and an insult to all of those NHS staff working tirelessly to save lives and who have been at the forefront of doing so over the past two years in particular.

The same cannot be said for NATO, its Generals or its many apologists.

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