Performative Nuance

The UK left is failing at basic solidarity

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine finishes it’s second day, and refugees are beginning to arrive en masse on the fortified borders of the European union. Many white Ukrainians with documents are being allowed to safety- Many Ukrainians will not be.

The most vulnerable will not, and will sit in camps(at best) the freezing cold winter with the refugees from across Africa and the Middle East.

The UK(and broader “western”) left has extensive debates already over whether the UK state should be providing arms to Ukraine, over whether NATO is to blame, over whether the labour party is a lost cause because they’re using NATO and STW to purge the left. We’re finally beginning to talk about refugees and the border.

Some people are sharing links to send money, to a country which has had massive queues outside banks for days.

And there’s some demonstrations, occasionally shared by the UK left, called by Ukrainian national organisations, outside Russian embassies.

In other words- We are talking, obsessively, constantly, about Ukraine- not even Ukrainians- and we are doing sweet fuck all.

For clarity: The UK left also runs a talking shop(at best) and fails to give real solidarity to people effected by all sorts of other imperialist wars.

The reasons we’re paying attention to Ukraine is in part because it’s a white, European nation. And it’s in part because Russia is the aggressor, so we get to have all the debates over the soviet union and NATO again.

And lastly, a big chunk the immediate effects on the UK(in the form of rising living costs- Because Ukraine and Russia both supply gas and wheat) in and physical proximity- Kyiv was a popular city break location. You can get on a coach there. People know it.

Palestine and Syria will never have an impact like that, and they’re just the next closest conflicts- Massacres in Myanmar, or “security assistance” across Africa, from three different colonial powers, never stood a chance of the attention Ukraine is getting, for reasons entirely about the UKs, and the UK lefts, deep rooted colonialism.

But the proximity of Ukraine is just as stronger an argument for engagement with it. A few people driving shifts in a minibus full of supplies could start at 6am tomorrow and arrive at the border by midnight.

They could drive back the next day with a bus full of people in need of safe homes. Maybe they never make it across the channel because of the closed border, but why aren’t we focusing on fixing that, right now?

Why can we charter coaches to demonstrations against the war but not to pick up people fleeing it?

What the fuck is wrong with us?

Eastern European community organisations and networks are stepping up- Delis, corner stores and restaurants are becoming collection points for supply vans to support refugees.

Religious groups will be acting soon too, and Ukrainian national organisations have been raising funds for organisations supporting displaced civilians, formal military organisations, and partisans.

Solidarity and mutual aid are far stronger outside the formal left than they are within the community which claims to hold it as a core principle. This is true of every oppressed group, from eastern europeans within the UK to disabled people through the pandemic.

Mutual aid is a core part of humanity, and the lefts only claim to it is that we position it within broader analysis which says we should extend it to those we are trained not to empathise with.

Our analysis of the importance of mutual aid is not the only one: Undoubtedly, because of the nature of the UK and groups which organise around nationality, some of these organisers will be fascist, or racist, or homophobic- And hoping to spread their ideas.

Fascists see mutual aid as a tool for building the borders around their communities stronger, and the ties within them tighter.

We see the opposite- An opportunity to tear down borders and extend our networks to those who our enemies would turn our backs on, and who would turn their backs on us.

This is all the more reason for the left to be on the ground, now, making these arguments with deeds rather than statements.

A real refugee solidarity movement shows that there are ways of reacting to the horror of this invasion which are about opening communities and helping, rather than arguing in an echo chamber about whose fault it is, about whether to ship more weapons, or about the fucking labour party.

Here’s where I’m collating practical steps to help Ukrainian people, including some drop off points for supplies to refugees.