For the past four months ever since Russia’s annexation of Crimea was sealed and the flames of war and bloodshed spread to the eastern reaches of Ukraine, I have been lost for words. The calamity of MH17 this week was no different in that respect for so many of us.
Last week, while wandering around the premises of the University of London, I came across a small poster pinned to a lamp post for an event titled ‘Reformist Left: shills for US/British imperialism over Ukraine – for the right of self-rule in Donetsk, Luhansk; Crimea is Russia!,’ hosted by the dubious Spartacist League. Initially tempted to deface it in Ukrainian, I desisted and thought the various concoctions I might hear at the meeting could make good writing material, perhaps serving as a first foray of sorts into science fiction.
Greeted as ‘comrade’ and explained upon arrival that the purpose of the League was to uphold the values of the October Revolution, that theirs was the only political group in Britain to have backed the Soviet Union through thick and thin and steadfastly support China, the world’s sole remaining mass workers’ state, I knew I was in for an awkward few hours.
It was explained to me in the ensuing ‘lecture’ how the Crimean referendum was a legitimate expression of popular will and that Putin’s intervention was only defensive in nature (yet that Putin was a chauvinist and an enemy of the working class due to his acceptance of capitalism). Such moves, I also heard, were imperative since NATO would have been only too eager to establish a Guantanamo Bay on the peninsula, a development this current Ukrainian government would have welcomed. I was told how present-day Russia could not be described as imperialist given that it boasts few state monopolies, has no financial leverage, imports most of its goods (and does not export luxury goods such as Mercedes-Benz cars, gracing the streets of world capitals such as London) and does not project military might around the world. I heard how Charles’ infamous comparison of Putin to Hitler might as well have also been a complement for Ukrainians, given that they all aspire to be like the Fuehrer. It was said that fascists in Russia are not approved of by the government nor bear substantial influence in the Donbass, but that Ukrainian nationalists are of particular concern, especially as during WWII they carried out tasks the Nazis camp guards ‘did not have the stomach for’ at Auschwitz. I left the meeting, after being challenged as to my views on the October Revolution, denounced as adhering to a ‘bourgeois’ interpretation of Red Terror and having ostensibly failed to satisfactorily reply to the question of ‘do you believe there will be a dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain?’
Sniggering further at a paltry number of hard leftists recounting the supposed, enduring wonders of events nearly a century ago would be petty and superfluous; my experiences at the meeting, however, reminded me of a wider frustration pervading throughout these few months, and especially at such a physical distance from developments in Ukraine. Though a fringe outfit, the Spartacist League’s attitudes to fact-finding and shaping opinions bear similarities to a considerable proportion of those following and commenting on faraway conflicts.
Unlike any other war that has taken place during the course of my lifetime, this one has by far felt the most personal to me. None have involved fighting or squabbling over territories and by parties as significant to me whether through family background or experience. I have also struggled to find a common language with many close ones, in fact preferring to avoid the topic altogether. Sifting through the wreckage of an all-out information war is dispiriting. Yet it has never ceased to amaze me how so many, with little background information and at such a distance from eastern Ukraine, rush to opine on this conflict as they do.
This war has though taught me, however incoherently expressed, some of the following. War is terrible, full stop. Aspiring to try and lecture another country and people as to their required development (for clarification purposes, I refer to Ukraine; some of the below may however be instructive for other scenarios) can at times be ineffective. If far removed from a conflict and a specific country, a little research as to its very roots and escalation, preferably free of your own dogmatic inclinations, could be advisable. And more often than not, think twice about the language you employ, colouring however carefully grounded your thoughts may indeed be. Because the thoughts you express, however carelessly done so or not, may just indirectly feed the flames of hate billowing in an outpost far removed from the relative comfort of your own surroundings or laptop screen, or do next to nothing to extinguish them. Striving to be an authority on all troublesome matters and issues in the world might not always look as good or noble as you think it is. At the same time, your voice, however legitimate or not, may just be unexpectedly powerful, but not always for the most positive of reasons. Whether by influencing a close one, some other lonesome stranger on social media or if capable of reaching out to a more considerable audience, your words may indeed have consequences more unimaginable than you really anticipated at the very beginning, particularly in this age of untrammelled communication.
Please think twice, whoever you may be, because you do have a voice of sorts. As a global citizen living in an interdependent world, you could be said to have a duty of concern, which is one you can exercise as you see fit. But with that duty comes great responsibility. If poorly handled, it may lead to misinformation, confusion and obfuscation, and encourage indifference, resignation and inaction among others. It is also capable of robbing those victims at the heart of a conflict of having their often more pertinent and heartfelt concerns heard, trumped instead by your seemingly expertly proclamations. As well as potentially leading to more needless bloodshed and hatred far away from you, which may not even affect you personally.
War is unspeakably dreadful and tragic, and at times it might be worth placing yourself in its real victims’ shoes before you upload that next uninformed tweet or read out another unenlightened lecture of yours. While the miniscule likes of the Spartacist League are a case in point, theirs is far from an isolated approach. For there may well always be consequences to deliberate ignorance.