Palestine, Ukraine and the crisis of empires

April 8, 2024

On the Easter weekend, on the latest gigantic march in London against UK complicity in Israel’s war on Gaza, a group of us took a banner that said “From Ukraine to Palestine, occupation is a crime”. We were welcomed by marchers around us, and people took up our slogan.

London, 30 March 2022, on the demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza

But beyond a slogan, what can we, in the labour movement and social movements in the UK, do about these conflicts that are transforming the world we live in, and heightening fears of bigger, bloodier wars?

Download this article, and a linked one, as a PDF

I suggest some answers here, based on the idea that we are dealing with the decline of two empires, American and Russian.[1] Of course neither is an empire in the strict sense of the word. By American empire, I mean the US’s economic dominance in world capitalism, and the military and political system that supports it, in which Israel is a key element. Russia, by contrast, is an economically subordinate, second-rate power, trying to reassert its dominance in the Eurasian geographical space.

My focus is on Russia’s war on Ukraine, and how it is changing, in the context shaped by the war in Gaza. The sections of the article cover (1) things I think have changed in the last six months, (2) how Russia has changed since 2022, (3) the prospects for Ukraine, (4) the role of the western powers in Russia’s war, (5) “democracy” and “authoritarianism”, (6) the dangers of a wider war, and some conclusions.[2]

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No path to peace in Ukraine through this fantasy world

April 8, 2024

The Russian army’s meagre successes in Ukraine – such as taking the ruined town of Avdiivka, at horrendous human cost – have produced a new round of western politicians’ statements and commentators’ articles about possible peace negotiations.

Hopes are not high, because the Kremlin shows no appetite for such talks. Its actions, such as nightly bombing of civilians and civilian infrastructure, speak louder than political and diplomatic words on all sides.

The desire and hope for peace is widely shared, and I share it too. How can it be achieved?

Download this article, and a linked one, as a PDF

Among “left” writers, the “campists” and one-sided “anti-imperialists”, who deny Ukraine’s right to resist Russian aggression, say that peace talks could start now … if only the western powers did not stand in the way. (By “campism”, I mean the view that the world is divided simplistically between a western imperialist camp dominated by the US, and another camp comprising China, Russia and other countries, in which some progressive potential resides.)

Mariupol, after the siege. Photo: ADifferentMan / Creative Commons

The “campist” case is made by literally ignoring what is actually going on in Ukraine, and Russia, and focusing – often exclusively – on the political and diplomatic shenanigans in western countries.

In this blog post I will look at seven recent articles by “campist” writers. All of them call for peace talks; and all claim that the main obstacle is the western powers.  

I will cover (1) the selection of subject matter by these authors; (2) what little they actually say about peace negotiations; and (3) why the claim that the western powers sabotaged peace talks in April 2022 is less convincing than they believe it to be.

The seven articles are: “Europe sleepwalks through its own dilemmas” by Vijay Prashad (Counterpunch, Brave New Europe, Countercurrents and elsewhere); “Exit of Victoria Nuland creates opportunity for peace in Ukraine” by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies (Common Dreams, Morning Star, Consortium News and elsewhere); “Ukraine: Pope pipes up for peace” by Andrew Murray (Stop the War coalition); “Where are the righteous Ukraine partisans now?” by Branko Marcetic (Brave New Europe); “Diplomacy is the art of compromise: that’s what’s needed for peace in Ukraine” by Alexander Hill (Stop the War coalition); “US repeatedly blocked Ukraine peace deals; is it rethinking its strategy yet?” by John Wojcik and C.J. Atkins (People’s World); and “The Grinding War in Ukraine Could have ended a long time ago” by Branko Marcetic (Jacobin).

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Zero fares: a way to act on climate and social justice

March 20, 2024

Free public transport “opens the city to all” and should be “provided as a public service, just like health, education and public parks”, a new Campaign Briefing from Fare Free London says.

Celebration of the introduction of free public transport in Montpellier, France, December 2023. With thanks to the Mayor’s office at Montpellier

Abolishing fares for public transport in London is “one of the drastic, demonstrative actions needed to tackle climate change globally and air pollution locally”.

Fare Free London, set up at a meeting of community, trade union and environmentalist activists last month, is calling on the city’s Mayor to adopt the policy, and commission research on how to implement.

It urges national government to support the fare-free approach around the country, and change local government finance rules so that it can be paid for.

The Campaign Briefing, supported by Fare Free London, the Greener Jobs Alliance, the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition and Tipping Point, argues:

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Women standing up for mining communities, forty years on

March 4, 2024

The women’s groups formed to defend embattled mining communities in the 1984-85 strike marked their 40th anniversary in Durham on Saturday.

The celebration was organised by Women Against Pit Closures, which brought together the local groups that sprung up across the coalfields as the strike wore on.

Veterans of Women Against Pit Closures led Saturday’s march of 400 people through Durham

The national strike started 40 years ago this week, the culmination of a tide of anger among mineworkers and their communities at the plan to shut pits, and break the National Union of Mineworkers, devised by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government.

It ended a year later, having slowed down but not stopped the pit closure programme.

The strike was a turning-point in many ways. Paramilitary police violence had been used in response to riots in predominantly black inner-city communities in 1981, but the sheer scale of the mobilisation against mining communities was unprecedented.

The Tories’ vengeful assault on the mineworkers’ union, which had played a central part in unseating Edward Heath’s government a decade earlier, was the first of a series of hammer-blows against organised labour. Then came the neoliberal offensive that dismantled chunks of the welfare state and drove down living standards.

But the strike also transformed the labour movement. The women of mining communities were central to that.

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‘Free public transport opens the city to all’

March 1, 2024

“Free public transport opens the city to all”, says Fare Free London, a campaign set up on 10 February at the Waterloo Action Centre. Free public transport “is provided as a public service, just like health, education and public parks, and is supported by public investment.

“It is central to a vision of London as a city where people, their health and the lives they live, come first”.

After the meeting, I did a podcast with Future Transport London, a long-standing campaign group. It’s here – please click and listen!

Fare Free London is following an international trend. The photo is from Kansas City in the US, which has had zero bus fares for four years – and where campaigners want to make this highly successful scheme permanent.

Asked on the podcast about the objectives of the proposal for free public transport, I said there are two:

“First, to make the system more socially equitable. London is more socially un-equal than any other part of the UK. A higher proportion of households is in poverty, 25%, than any other region except North East England.

“Second, to take drastic, demonstrative action on greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.”

On greenhouse gases, the mayor’s strategy is focused on electrifying vehicles. This can not produce results fast enough, as has been shown in detail by research published last year by a team based at Imperial College.

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Russia turns Ukraine’s occupied areas into an armed camp

February 21, 2024

After ten years of war, and two years of all-out invasion

Russia is turning the parts of Ukraine it has occupied into a giant military buffer zone, from which further assaults may be launched, the Eastern Human Rights Group (EHRG) has warned.

The expansion of military combat, training and transport infrastructure, and the forced mobilisation of local men, was documented in a recent report by the group, which champions labour and civil rights in the occupied areas.

‘Mobilisation’ in occupied Donbass, 2023. Photo: Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group / YouTube

While military institutions multiply, industry across the occupied territories stagnates. Russian passports are forced on young and old, imperial dogma on school pupils. A reign of terror continues against all forms of protest.

Here I try to outline the situation in the occupied areas, as the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine goes into its third year, with links to more sources. (See Note at the end for a reminder of the territories occupied.)


□ The establishment of four new military units in occupied parts of Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya regions.

Signs of the military build-up noted in the EHRG report, published last month, include:

□ The expansion of paramilitary higher education institutions, including the setting-up last year of a branch of the Nakhimov Naval School in Mariupol, the southern Ukrainian city where thousands of civilians were killed by Russian military action in 2022.

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‘Capitalism is anti-us’: ex-GKN workers champion ecological transition

February 6, 2024

On 9 July 2021, Melrose Industries announced the closure of its GKN Driveline (formerly FIAT) factory at Campi di Bisenzio, near Florence in Italy, which produced axles for cars. More than 400 workers were laid off. While in many such cases the workers and unions settle for negotiating enhanced redundancy benefits, the GKN Factory Collective took over the plant and kickstarted a long struggle against its closure.

But what makes the ex-GKN Florence dispute really unique is the strategy adopted by the workers, who sealed an alliance with the climate justice movement by drafting a conversion plan for sustainable, public transport and demanding its adoption.

This strategy engendered a cycle of broad mobilisations – repeatedly bringing tens of thousands to the streets – so that the dispute still continues, and the permanent sit-in at the factory remains until today.

The workers were meant to be finally dismissed on 1 January 2024. The GKN  Factory Collective had thus turned New Year’s Eve into a final call to action to defend their conversion plan. Such pressure from below probably played a role in a decision by the labour court, announced on 27 December 2023, to overturn the layoffs for the second time.

The workers’ current plan is to set up a cooperative for the production of cargo bikes and solar panels, as part of a broader vision for a worker-led ecological transition. This needs material solidarity, now. A popular shareholding campaign has been started, to launch this co-operative: so far more than 600,000 euros have been collected, towards a target of one million euros.

All information on how to contribute, individually or as an organisation, can be found at the website

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Crimean political prisoner Bohdan Ziza: ‘My anti-war action was a cry from the heart’

January 17, 2024

Bohdan Ziza, a Ukrainian artist, poet and activist, is serving a 15-year sentence for “terrorism” after pouring blue and yellow paint – the colours of the Ukrainian flag – on to a municipal administration building in Evpatoria, Crimea, his home town. He made and circulated a video of the action – on 16 May 2022, shortly after the all-out Russian invasion of Ukraine – and for that was also charged with “incitement to terrorism”.

Bohdan Ziza. From his instagram channel

This is Bohdan’s speech from the dock, before being sentenced by a Russian military court on 5 June last year.


Do I regret what I have done?

I am sorry that I over-reached, and that my action resulted in charges under the Article [of the Russian criminal code] on terrorism. I am sorry that my grandmother is now without the care and support that she needs. Apart from me, she has nobody. And I am sorry that I can not now help others who are close to me, who need that help now.

As for the rest: I acted according to my conscience.

And also, according to my conscience, I do not deny or disavow what I did. I behaved stupidly, and could have expressed my opinion in some other way. But did I deserve, for what I did, to be deprived of my freedom for ten years or more?

I would like to appeal to the court: do not follow the regime’s script, do not participate in these awful repressions. But obviously that would have no effect. The judges and other similar political actors are just doing what they are told.

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Italian car workers fight for alternative green production plan

December 22, 2023

Workers at a car parts factory in Italy, closed by the multinational GKN corporation, have made an international appeal to support their plan to launch a co-op producing cargo bikes and solar panels.

Climate activists’ action in support of the GKN workers. See “About the photo”, below

The factory, at Campi Bisenzio near Florence (Firenze), has been occupied since July 2021, when Melrose Industries, the asset-stripping corporation that took over GKN, announced it would close. Other GKN plants were also junked.

Negotiations with a possible new owner failed earlier this year. The 185 workers who remain at Campi Bisenzio are now threatened with the sack, and eviction from the building, on 1 January 2024.

They have issued an appeal to international supporters to help them raise 1 million euros for a co-operative that will keep the factory open: more than €315,000 has come in so far. Organisations are asked to buy 500 euro shares, and individuals to signify their readiness to contribute 100 euros and club together with others.

Details of how to take part are on the Insorgiamo (We’ll Rise Up) web site.

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Proposal to campaign for free public transport in London

December 6, 2023

Reposted, with thanks, from the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition web site. Also on Labour Hub

We have discussed this proposal in the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition, and now invite organisations, groups and individuals to join us in this initiative. We hope to have a get-together on this early in 2024. To indicate interest, please write to stopsilvertowntn[at]


Free public transport can help tackle climate change globally, and air pollution locally, while supporting households struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. Transport should be provided as a service, just as health, education and public parks are.

The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition on a trade union march to keep rail ticket offices open, in September

On climate, London is falling behind its own weak targets, and even further behind targets worked out by climate scientists. The transport sector is the city’s second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, after the built environment, and the sector that has made the least progress in cutting fossil fuel use over the last twenty years.

Drastic, demonstrative action is needed. Free public transport, implemented together with improvements to services, investment in active travel and ending subsidies to car drivers and the haulage industry, can help rapidly to cut the number of vehicles on the road. We need to make public transport Londoners’ first choice for getting around: make it enjoyable. This is the best way to reduce emissions.

Cutting down road traffic is also the best way to tackle air pollution that kills thousands of Londoners each year.

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