Socialist Worker dismisses pro-Ukrainians as “NATO trolls”

Socialist Worker (SW), paper of the Socialist Worker Party (SWP), is ecstatic.

At last it has found a trade union (the UCU, which organises workers in post-school education) that has passed a motion at its annual congress backing the Stop the War Coalition (StW) line on Ukraine.

True, the motion was passed by just nine votes. True, the motion contained an antisemitic trope jumbling up Ukraine and Israel as imperialist outposts. True, Jewish UCU members critical of the motion have been targeted for antisemitic abuse. True, another, and far better, motion on Ukraine was passed by a much larger majority.

All that is true — but, with the exception of the antisemitic trope (which SW, of course, supports), all of it goes completely unmentioned in SW’s coverage of the UCU congress vote.

True also that the passing of the motion has triggered a wave of revulsion among broad swathes of the UCU membership, with many members taking to social media to condemn the motion and, in some cases, resigning from the UCU in protest.

This applies in particular to people who know what they are talking about. Such as Ukrainian members of the UCU and other academics who specialise in the study of Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe.

In the best traditions of Stalinist slander, however, SW portrays the backlash against the motion as a ruling-class conspiracy.

The backlash, says SW, was the work of “a vast army of pro-Nato trolls. No one should imagine that this was a spontaneous reaction.” NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Latvia, explains SW, recommends “using pseudonyms to mislead social media users”.

SW and its readers should take a reality-check. A statement condemning the motion issued and signed by UCU members (some of them now former members) at the University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies has attracted nearly 300,000 views.

That institution really does exist. Those signatories really do exist. No-one needs to “imagine” this was a spontaneous reaction — it simply was a spontaneous reaction.

SW asks the question: “Why should UCU of all unions break the pro-war consensus [by a majority of just nine votes]?”

Its answer: “Five years of class confrontation has had a radicalising effect.” The vote, says, SW, “reflected a struggle between the imperialist propaganda machine and grassroots radicalisation.”

True, the UCU has been engaged in a protracted dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions.

Other unions in the public sector, most obviously the NEU and the PCS, have also struck recently and repeatedly. But the “radicalising effect” of their “class confrontation” has certainly not led them to turn their back on the trade unions and people of Ukraine, as the UCU motion did. This year’s NEU conference decisively rejected a StW motion on Ukraine. So too did this year’s PCS conference.

So, the SW’s mindless chain of argument “more strikes, more radicalism, more support for the politics of StW” does not stand up to scrutiny.


And SW’s claim that the UCU vote “reflected a struggle between the imperialist propaganda machine and grassroots radicalisation” is another Stalinist slander.

Those who voted against the StW motion were neither the agents nor the dupes of “the imperialist propaganda machine”. They were simply members opposed to Ukraine being left defenceless in the face of Russian genocidal aggression.

And many of them have also been leading figures in the “grassroots radicalisation”.

SW’s neat counterposing of an (imaginary) imperialist propaganda machine in the UCU to a UCU grassroots radicalisation does not square with reality. But nothing SW writes about Ukraine squares with reality.

SW’s coverage of the adoption of the StW motion by UCU congress is also an opportunity for it to repeat, at some length, its own version of what the war in Ukraine is supposedly all about.

It condemns Putin’s invasion — but puts the blame for the invasion on NATO: “It was NATO that escalated the tensions that ultimately led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

It talks at length of NATO’s post 1990 expansion — but says not a word about Russian imperialism and its centuries of oppression of Ukraine. The digression about NATO climaxes with the claim: “NATO has recently drawn supposedly neutral states like Finland into its alliance.”

But Finland has traditionally been neutral, not “supposedly neutral”. And it has not been “drawn into” NATO. Whatever we think of NATO — we’re against it — the push for NATO membership came from the people of Finland, fearful after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

SW even manages to point the finger of guilt at “NATO” or “the West” for the destruction of the Nova Kahkovka dam:

“Neither side has clean hands and both have carried out equally appalling acts in the past. The British ruling class has just finished celebrating the anniversary of the Dambusters raid of 1943.”

(“Siri, find me an example of when the RAF blew up dams. Any example will do, no matter how ahistorical or irrelevant.”)

The antisemitic trope inserted into the StW motion by its Socialist Workers Party proposer and seconder is not only defended by SW but expanded upon on: “Zelenskyy gave away that his vision is of Ukraine as an armed outpost of imperialism — like Israel.”

(See here for an analysis of the significance of role played by that antisemitic trope in securing enough votes to get the StW motion passed — by appealing to the left antisemitic culture in the UCU.)


As usual, SW denies agency to the Ukrainian people: “The Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination has been wholly subsumed by the conflict between Russian and US imperialism. Ukrainians are used by the West as cannon fodder.”

The fact that Ukrainians — including Ukrainian trade unions and socialists — demand that Ukraine be supplied with the weapons which it needs to defend itself is dismissed as an irrelevance:

“Just because people in a country under attack say they want imperialist forces to pour more weapons into the state doesn’t mean the left has to agree.” (True. But in this instance the people under attack have a legitimate case.)

“Some Ukrainians,” SW continues, “understand that more weapons will cause more deaths — although we accept this is a minority view.” It is such a “minority view” that neither the SWP nor StW can find a single one of the Ukraine’s population of 43 million to express that view on a SWP or StW platform.

(But the SWP’s “Marxism 2023” event will have as one of its speakers Volodymyr Ishchenko, a Ukrainian academic based in Berlin. Ishchenko is not popular on the Ukrainian left, and with good reason.)

In any case, SW is not even correct to argue that “more weapons will cause more deaths”. This is a genocidal war in which the existence of the Ukrainian nation is at stake. If more weapons prevent that genocide, then they will result in less deaths, not more.

The SW’s coverage of the vote at UCU congress pompously concludes by likening the SWP’s position on the war in Ukraine to the Scottish socialist John Maclean’s opposition to the First World War:

“At the outbreak of the war Maclean faced the wrath of workers who disagreed with him. Four years of horror later those same workers celebrated his anti-imperialist stance. After the horrendous nature of the war and the impact on the economy, they understood that he, and others like him, were right.”

But this is not comparing like with like. Maclean was proved right because he was right. The SWP, by contrast, is simply wrong and therefore always will be wrong — however much it may try to cover this up by Stalinistic slanders of its political opponents.