This was originally published on The Stirrer blog.
As indicated in a number of previous posts, when it comes to reports and analysis of what’s going on in Ukraine and Russia, it’s best to read / listen to the views of anarchists in the region. They have a grip on the complexities of the situation which has to be respected by those of us not directly involved in the conflict or living in one of the protagonist countries. By and large, that’s what the anarchist movement are doing. While we’ve had reason to criticise them on over issues in recent years, when it comes to the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, they’re getting it right as far as is possible in a complex situation.
What we want to do at this point is look at the reaction to the conflict so far here in the UK and more broadly across the West. The reaction ranges from some very sound examples of creditable, genuine solidarity from a range of anarchist and radical groups across to what feels like a worryingly widespread, unthinking level of virtue signalling and gesture politics from liberal elements and the establishment. It’s the virtue signalling that we want to focus on in this piece. Not just because it’s annoying but also because it’s dangerous.
It’s dangerous because it paints a very simplistic picture of Putin bad – Ukraine good. While we can agree that Putin’s incursion into Ukraine is out of order, to paint that country as the ‘good guys’ without even attempting to understand the messy complexities of Ukranian politics is dangerously naïve. As we stated in the piece – A headlong rush to a major war? – what has taken place is that a large gangster state, Russia, has invaded it’s smaller gangster neighbour, Ukraine. While we obviously extend our solidarity to the ordinary Ukranian citizens caught up in this conflict and the anarchists on the ground doing what they can to resist Putin’s incursion, it has to be recognised that there are some very dodgy actors in Ukraine. Which is why we get more than a little bit irritated by people who have fallen for the simplistic good vs bad propaganda with displays of virtue signalling.
With the last two years of the Covid crisis, we’ve seen too many people fall for what a fair few alternative commentators have described as a psyops. One that went beyond persuading people to socially distance, mask up and take the vaccines to actively pushing and bullying other people to do the same while vilifying them if they didn’t fully comply. A psyops that gave people the licence to hassle anyone questioning the narrative and asking searching questions about what was being done in the name of supposedly containing Covid.
Yet again, it feels that we’re in a situation where anyone asking difficult questions is being vilified. Ever since Russia started its incursion into Ukraine, anyone questioning the simplistic narrative of ‘I stand with Ukraine’ and pointing out the complexities of the situation is being vilified as a ‘Putin bot’. It’s almost like the last two years has brought us to the point where a significant number of people can be easily swayed into unquestioningly accepting a particular narrative. That’s deeply worrying… At this point we would like to emphasis that by and large when it comes to the crisis in Ukraine, this is not happening within anarchism – instead, there has been a lot of fairly deep discussion aimed at trying to understand exactly what’s going on while at the same time extending solidarity to those caught up in the conflict.
What forms are the virtue signalling taking and what damage are they doing? Let’s start with this: Breaking: Wales bans Tchaikovsky – Norman Lebrecht | Slipped Disc | March 9, 2022. A performance of music by a composer who died in 1893 has been cancelled because it would be ‘inappropriate’. This goes way beyond economic sanctions and well into the realms of cancelling the entire country of a country because you don’t like what their leader is currently doing. Cancelling the culture of a country is a step towards de-humanising its inhabitants. Is that really the route people in the West want to go down? If it is, we’re not in a good place…
Then there’s this: Finnebrogue to donate 50% of vegan chicken ‘Kyivs’ profits to Ukraine humanitarian relief – Grace Duncan | The Grocer | February 28, 2022. It’s the re-naming from Kiev to Kyiv that sticks in the throat as nothing more than virtue signalling. The donation of 50% of the profits from this line to humanitarian relief in Ukraine? For the record we’re fine with individuals and groups doing what they can in acts of solidarity to send material support to humanitarian relief efforts. That’s called solidarity. When a corporation does it, it smacks of nothing more than public relations and wanting to be seen to be ‘doing the right thing’. Basically, it’s blue and yellow washing…
#NewYork artists hold a campaign with a request to make a no-fly zone over #Ukraine️ Paper airplanes, calling to stop Putin, were thrown from all the floors of @Guggenheim museum ✈️ #UkraineRussianWar
Last weekend in Chicago, there was a demonstration https://twitter.com/Jenna_Barnes/status/1500586897755844615 making this demand:
Thousands of people marching on Michigan Avenue, yelling “close the sky” over #Ukraine
The absolute ultimate in feelgood protests where the participants appear to have f**k all understanding of the consequences of their demands actually being enacted. As we’ve written previously, should NATO chose to directly engage with Russia in any way, shape or form, Putin will read that as a declaration of war and hey presto, we’ll have World War Three just like that! What the f**kwits making demands like this in various protests need to realise is that the realisation of their demands will have massive life changing, possibly life ending impacts on millions of us outside the immediate theatre of conflict in Ukraine. As much as we’d like to see the reaction of these idiots once they have to own and experience the consequences of their demands, we sure as heck don’t want to get dragged along with them!
Finally, there’s this: Volodymyr Zelensky speech: Ukraine President channels Churchill after MPs give him standing ovation in Commons – i News | March 8, 2022. We’re not sufficiently well versed in the protocols of Parliament to comment on whether a head of state should be addressing either house. What really concerned us was the standing ovation given to Zelensky after he finished his address via a video link. It’s no secret that Zelensky would love NATO to get directly involved in the conflict. As things stand at the moment, the official UK position is that this is not going to happen. For the moment… However, when an entire legislative chamber gets caught up in a wave of emotion, we and many others can be forgiven for thinking that if enough emotional blackmail is applied, the UK and other governments could be flipped into supporting direct involvement by NATO. A situation like this calls for cool heads and rational thinking to avoid escalation, not emotive language and gestures giving rise to a course of action that will escalate and widen the conflict.
To conclude, we’re all for genuine solidarity that will make a meaningful difference to those caught up in the conflict. What’s winding us up is virtue signalling that’s big on being seen to ‘do the right thing’ but delivers nothing that will actually help people in the Ukraine and the Russian comrades protesting against Putin. What’s really winding us up is virtue signalling in the form of cultural cancellation and the demonisation of an entire nation. What’s making us f**king livid is virtue signalling which takes the form of calling for actions that will escalate and widen the conflict to dangerous levels. This is why as long as this shitshow lasts, we intend to call out and challenge virtue signalling that’s leading us further towards a dangerous escalation of hostilities.