Liz Truss (the Conservative Foreign Secretary) appears to have announced the British state’s support for British civilians travelling to Ukraine to participate in the fighting.
Speaking on the BBC on the 27th February, Truss was asked:
“President Zelensky has asked for people from abroad to join an international force, would you support that?”
“I do support that, and of course that is something that people can make their own decisions about. The people of Ukraine are fighting for freedom and democracy, not just for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe, because that is what President Putin is challenging, and absolutely, if people want to support that struggle I would support them in doing that.”
In an understandably shocked tone, the BBC reporter interviewing the Foreign Secretary clarified her question:
“So you support people from Britain going over to Ukraine to help in the fight?”
“Absolutely, if that’s what they want to do.”
Many on the anti-fascist and anti-imperialist left maybe stunned to hear this, or maybe not stunned at all.
Whilst the British state is certainly no stranger to illegal interventions in other people’s conflicts, both the state in general and current government have spent the last few years harassing and even prosecuting those brave volunteers who travelled across the world to fight the fascist-Islamist forces of the Islamic State and their Turkish-aligned allies.
The justification for this persecution was a mesh of legalities and moralities. The Foreign Enlistment Act 1870, combined with the Terrorism Act 2000 criminalises the act of British civilians travelling to participate in foreign wars, where that country is at peace with the Britain, thus forming the basis for many of the prosecutions.
Alongside the legal attacks, there was a considerable amount of rhetorical moralising being done, amounting to; “If we don’t condemn you for going to fight against IS, how can we condemn those going to fight for them?”.
The reality is that the British state has always been prepared to pick and choose when to support and when to condemn this kind of activity. The establishment feared the revolutionary potential of the Kurdish resistance to IS.
The British state has also prosecuted individuals who travelled to fight against Ukraine in the separatist East. Perhaps most famously, the fighters of the International Brigades were the subject of endless state persecution for travelling to Spain to fight against fascism, with traitors like George Orwell handing lists of volunteers to the authorities.
Britain has a long history of ignoring or even supporting British civilians travelling to fight in wars, when it suits the state’s agenda. British volunteers (as well as British military personnel) fought alongside fascist Croatian militias, as well as British jihadists fighting for Bosnian paramilitaries during the same war. Sympathetic Brits were ignored by the state when joining Loyalist paramilitaries in Ireland.
Perhaps most importantly for Manchester, the government and other security agencies all but encouraged British Islamists to travel to Libya to participate in the war against the Libyan government. Evidence strongly suggests that the father of one of these jihadist volunteers, appears to have been had trained and funded by British and American security agencies before returning with other Islamists in the now failed state of Libya. One of his sons would later go on to blow himself up in the middle of a crowd in the Manchester Arena.
Whilst it is no great surprise that the government is willing to tolerate civilian participants in foreign wars when it suits the state’s agenda, it is deeply unusual for a serving minister to come out and not only acknowledge that it is happening, but to actively encourage it. Stranger still is that anyone following Liz Truss’ advice would fall foul of the law that her own government has used to prosecute people who do what she is now calling for people to do!
What all of this goes to suggest, is that our politicians and the state that they serve cannot be trusted. Truth is an abstract concept to them. Laws are not the moral code of a society, but simply tools to be used or ignored, depending on the task at hand.
As anti-imperialists and anti-fascists, what we learn from this is that we must discard the moralism of the ruling class, and the legalism of their state. The working class must develop communities and structures to bring about social and economic change, do not depend on the hypocrisy, inconsistency and outright lies of the establishment.