Conflict and War in the Ukraine: A Socialist Response

War and the Working Class

Question: Why do wars, like the one in Ukraine, happen, given that everyone you ask says they are against war, that wars only cause destruction and distress, and never solve any problems?

It is quite a paradox. Politicians all declare they detest war. Governments spend a small fortune on diplomacy in attempts to prevent wars. Look at the tens of thousands of pounds ferrying politicians from London to Ukraine or Moscow. World institutions, like the United Nations, are funded at vast expense in order to prevent wars happening -something they always fail to do.

Wars are extremely destructive. They cause terrible waste - waste of human lives, waste of economic resources, and destruction of whole cities. There are long-term consequences too: survivors who are disabled, or scarred mentally and emotionally by the trauma. The effects of war may handicap them, both socially and economically, for the rest of their lives.

The list is a long one, but you get the point. So the question is: who could possibly benefit from war?

Or, put another way, in whose interests are wars fought? To answer that we need to show how the capitalist system operates. It is the socialist contention that modern wars are fought because of the rivalries between various sections of the capitalist class. War beings the last resort to resolve these rivalries. So what of Putin and the war in Ukraine?

For a start, politically Putin represents the Russian ruling class although their interests are often divided. He makes decisions, along with other government officials, of what they think is right for Russian capitalism in a world of competing nation states.

We are given acres of copy exploring what is in his mind. With global warming, he may be thinking ahead about food supplies – Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat (no. 3 in the world) - especially to the Middle East and North Africa. Then there are the industries and distribution points which can be plundered. Or he might simply seeing a chance, long-term, to manipulate key world markets and governments, by destabilising commodity prices, like oil and gas, so creating political instability. Then there are the minerals, coal and gas reserves in Ukraine. He states his main goal is to stop Ukraine joining NATO and in creating a buffer zone between hostile NATO countries in the Baltic and in East Europe.

If you read Putin's HISTORICAL ESSAY about Ukraine on the Delphi Initiative website, first posted on the RT /RUSSIA TODAYsite. It's historically tendentious, clearly propagandist. It is a fantasy politics looking back to the days when the Soviet Union was a Superpower.

Putin's speech In February 2022 blamed Lenin for the Ukrainian problem, he ignored Stalin except for praising him in the 'Great Patriotic War' and suggested that the 1930s famine - seen by the UN as genocide, the Khlodomor (hunger-death) was not caused by Stalin's genocidal policy but by nature.

Putin also falsely accuses Ukrainians of being Nazis - talk of the pot and the kettle! Putin likes to be seen on a black motor-bike, with a club of black-clad bikers - a neo-Nazi thuggish group, often flaunting the swastika, like the Trumpist bikers in the US.

Putin's aim has been for a long time to restore Greater Russia - to recover Russia's power over all Eastern Europe, including Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States. No more than a fantasy entertained by Trump to make "America Great again". In the face of Chinese imperialism or Boris Johnson wanting the UK to be a new "super powerhouse" on the world stage, harking back to its former imperial prestige. All countries are imperialist, expansionist and in violent competition with other capitalist countries.

Today Putin says he respects the sovereignty of former Soviet republics, that Ukraine is "an exception". But just yesterday he was saying he had no intention of invading Ukraine - and overnight his forces were trucking into the two new Peoples Republics - Lukhansk and Donetsk. Now Putin announces a 'military operation' in Ukraine's Donbas region.

Boris Johnson has a similar mindset - he loves to talk of "Global Britain!" All countries want to be the big fish in the global pond, to be seen as a super power with 'exceptionalism' pretensions. There is a famous painting by Pieter van der Heyden of 'Big Fish at Little Fish' (1557) - an image of the large fish eating the smaller fish, that adequately symbolises the bitter competitive rivalry of capitalist nations. Johnson, in the House of Commons, rebuked Putin for wanting a Hobbesian world of 'all against all'. Well that is capitalism with its competition, conflict and war.

As the various propaganda machines spew out their nationalism/ democracy/ demonization of the enemy, it's interesting that in the USA FOX NEWS, (owned by Murdoch) appears to be taking the "isolation" line: "What business is it of ours where the border between Ukraine and Russia is?" he thinks So the American capitalists don't all have "a gung ho, go get'em attitude. Even in Russia, we suspect not everyone is behind Putin's military adventure in the Ukraine. The capitalist class in Russia will have to pay for Putin's war through taxation out of their profits. As our late comrade Hardy used to put it, warfare is expensive, and much socially produced wealth is literally destroyed, not even changing hands. As for the workers, it is they who will lose their lives in conflicts and suffer the after effects on behalf of their masters.

Capitalism is a system where competition is the rule. At one level, there is commercial competition between companies. At another level, the capitalists of one country are in competition with the capitalists of other countries. They compete at every turn: to gain control of key raw materials or mineral resources, to economise on transport and distribution costs, and to organise production so as to produce their commodities as cheaply as possible. They spend a lot on advertising and marketing to ensure that customers will choose their products or services as against those of their competitors.

At times commercial competition heats up, boiling over into armed conflict - war. To find out in whose interests wars are fought you need to know what they are about - that is, what they are really fought over, not what the politicians say they are about.

The socialist position is that every country, the whole world, is divided into two classes with opposing interests. There is the vast majority who own little except their ability to work, and there is the small, but powerful, minority: those who own and control the land, factories, mines, oil wells, transport system etc. and the commodities produced.

So when wars break out, over raw materials, trade routes, or markets, it is obvious that they are being fought in the interests of some section of the capitalist class, not in the interests of the working class. Wars are fought over the employers' interest, not the workers'.

That is one reason why The Socialist Party of Great Britain has consistently declared that workers should recognise that they have no interests at stake which would justify getting involved in wars. We are also opposed to war because war propaganda is used to distract the working class from recognising their class interests. In wartime workers are bombarded with hyped-up propaganda about the so-called 'national interest' and the ideology of nationalism. Workers are urged to see the workers of other countries as the enemy, whereas their real enemy is the worldwide capitalist class.

In short, socialists oppose war because we object to being forced to kill our fellow-workers in the interests of the employers, and also because war propaganda drowns the issue of the class struggle, the worldwide struggle of labour against capital.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.