Putin's regime is not the only one that is criminal
My first serious involvement in socialist politics began on the road between Aldermaston and London. Aldermaston in Berkshire was the site of Britain's Atomic Weapons Research Establishment.
The "Ban the Bomb" march was an annual Easter affair organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Along the route I saw a banner: "Neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism". My reaction was a mixture of relief and excitement.
Well, I was younger then. Excitement came easy. But the sense of relief had little to do with age, a lot to do with the difficulty many of us had with the assumption that "socialism" referred to the barracks societies of Eastern Europe, China, or North Korea, or at least that Eastern countries came much closer to the socialist model than the capitalist West and so had to be cheered on in any confrontation.
Watching the news from the Ukraine over the past few days, I considered checking in the attic to see whether any of the old placards had survived, but no. The slogan, however, remains as relevant now as back then.
Turning to Channel 4 News on Monday and the sight of William Hague giving out about Russia, followed by Russian premier Dmitry Medvedev giving out about Nato, I was reminded of Tacitus's narrative of the events of 69 AD, the Year of the Four Emperors, when Otho and Vitellius fought to the death for the throne vacated by Nero.
Tacitus was not, perhaps, the most reliable of historians, but he was probably the most entertaining, concluding his account of the imperial tussle and of the fervour of each man's plebeian supporters with the observation that, "The only thing certain is that whichever of them wins will be the worse".
And so it is in the Ukraine. Putin disdains human rights and democracy. He isn't averse to stoking sectarian tensions when it suits his purposes.
But, as far as constitutional legalities in the Ukraine and Crimea are concerned, he has a better case than the crowd which has ensconced itself in Kiev and their sponsors – Obama, Cameron, Hollande and Merkel.
Putin is right that the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych on February 23 had the character not so much of a popular revolution against tyranny, but more of a coup of sinister motivation to drag the Ukraine into the Nato military alliance in spite of every test of public opinion over the years since independence – elections, polls, vox pops – showing that a majority of Ukrainians favour non-alignment.
During the 2010 election, Yanukovych cited Sweden, Finland and the Republic of Ireland as states which the Ukraine might emulate. Whether we reckon him worthy of winning the election is neither here nor there. He won it fair and square.
But fair and square elections mean next to nothing to the architects of the new American empire and their satraps in London, Paris and Berlin.
In government prior to 2010, the parties now back in nominal charge in Kiev sent Ukrainian army units to take part in Nato military exercises and dispatched troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Again, making war without a mandate in a faraway land is unlikely to alienate the powers behind the current Kiev alliance.
Crimea was handed to the Ukraine by Nikita Krushchev in 1954. The legality of that transaction was dubious, to say the least. In terms of ordinary, respectable, bourgeois legality, with regard to Crimea, Putin has more right on his side than Obama.
Nevertheless, the propaganda mechanisms in Weste
rn countries are drumbeating it into the populace that the well-intentioned West, working might and main for democracy, peace and human rights, is confronted in the Ukraine by an evil empire willing to risk world war to get its way.
On Sunday, US secretary of state John Kerry described the Russian invasion of Crimea as "an incredible act of aggression. You just don't in the 21st century act in the manner of the 19th century and invade another country". This was reported straight-faced on the BBC.
Putin heads a criminal regime. So does Obama. What rule, or political principle, lays it down that we must support one or the other?
If it comes to open conflict, whichever of them wins will be the worse, because it will have won.
Time for the cardboard sheets and the marker pens, always remembering that the old slogans best meet the needs of the here and now, or there and now.
What all who regard themselves as on the Left should be saying is: neither Washington nor Moscow, but international socialism.