The Western powers have Russia in their sights. Propaganda is at fever pitch. Sounds familiar? No, I’m not talking about 2019, but 1919, when Churchill was supporting military intervention against the Russian government.
One hundred years ago, World War I may have ended but the world was hardly at peace.
Then, as now, Russia was a target. Bolshevik rule, only established in late 1917, was threatened by a Western-backed foreign intervention to help the anti-Bolshevik White Army regain power.
Today, the biggest hawk on the scene in Britain is Gavin Williamson, the defense secretary. In 1919, it was one Winston Churchill, secretary of state for war. At least the titles they gave government ministers were more honest in those days.
In March 1919, Churchill went over to Paris, where the Versailles Peace Conference was taking place, to push for more war.
The great cigar-smoker denounced “the baboonery of Bolshevism” and, as historian AJP Taylor records, persuaded the Supreme Council to “try intervention on a large scale.”
Taylor details what the British brought to the anti-Bolshevik crusade. “Surplus British tanks and other munitions of war, to the tune of £100m, were provided for the ‘Whites.’ British volunteers fought with Kolchak, self-styled supreme ruler of all the Russians, in Siberia. A few served with Denikin in southern Russia. There were substantial British forces at Archangel and Murmansk… A British force occupied Baku, and another ranged along the frontier which divided Russia from Afghanistan.”
There was even, believe it or not, a battalion under the command of Colonel John Ward, a former trade union leader and the Liberal-Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent. Say what you like about Ward, but at least he led from the front, unlike the pro-war politicians and chick-hawk pundits of today who would emulate Usain Bolt if put anywhere near a war zone.
Overall, Churchill’s policy cost Britain around £73 million, according to one estimate. As his biographer Roy Jenkins points out, Churchill, “showed no comprehension of the war-weariness of Britain… His pulsating energy made him rarely weary, and almost never of war.”
The secretary of state for war was not alone in trying to topple the Russian government. The same aspiration informed the official positions of the US, France, and Japan. It was about destroying Bolshevism.
You could argue, in defense of Churchill and the interventionists, that the Bolsheviks themselves, and in particular Leon Trotsky, had been calling for a worldwide revolution. Communist ideals were spreading, and in 1919 as strikes and mutinies spread across the nation, many thought Britain itself was on the brink of revolution.
Even if one were to accept that as a valid reason for intervening, however, there can be no such excuse today for Britain’s hostile actions towards Russia.
There is no ideology now that the Kremlin is keen to export, unless we call respect for national sovereignty and international law an ideology. Yet Russia is still in the firing line, even though the Red Flag no longer flies in Moscow.
This tells us that the old Cold War was basically a sham. Russia’s great ‘crime’ is that it exists. In the last hundred years, the only time the Western elites weren’t regarding Russia as an adversary, or potential adversary, was in the period when the neo-liberal drunkard Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin, handing out state assets like confetti to Western-sponsored oligarchs, and acquiesced while NATO destroyed Yugoslavia.
However, whenever Russia stands up for itself, as it’s done of late, Russophobia is reheated by the elites.
Reflect on this: In 1919, the big ‘baddie’ who ‘threatened’ the ‘free world’ was Vladimir Lenin. In 2019, it’s Vladimir Putin. There’s only three letters difference, in a hundred years.
You could argue that the situation today is even more dangerous than a century ago. Back then, the left, and many left-liberals (Colonel John Ward excepted), broadly opposed intervention. In fact, Churchill’s policy, motivated by a desire to strangle Bolshevism, only succeeded in stirring up revolutionary sentiment at home. The Communist Party of Great Britain was formed in July 1920. By that time, the intervention against the Bolsheviks had taken a different turn: support for Poland and its campaign to conquer Ukraine. What happened next shows what workers can achieve if they stick together and refuse to support the elite’s foreign policy.
In May 1920, London dockers refused to load munitions destined for Poland onto the ship, the ‘Jolly George.’ As Taylor notes, the British government acquiesced, because Poland was winning. But by July, the Polish forces were in retreat and it was the Red Army on the advance. “The French were eager to intervene on the Polish side; Lloyd George (the British prime minister), pushed on by Churchill and others, seemed ready to go along with them,” Taylor records.
However, organized labor said ‘No.’ Councils of Action were set up and a general strike was threatened. The government did a U-turn. It was, as Taylor states, “a glorious victory.” There are lessons which can be learnt from it today.
Russia, it must be acknowledged, does not have the sympathy among broad ranks of the left that it did have in 1919.
Rabidly Russophobic hawks have successfully managed to coax support for their obsessive crusade from ‘politically correct’ left-liberals, who quite wrongly blame ‘Russian interference’ for Brexit. It’s revealing that the ‘Russia fixed Brexit’ fake news trope emanates from the neocons.
Nevertheless, what can be called the socialist left, and indeed the paleo-conservative ‘non-interventionist’ right, know exactly what the score is. Even though it no longer has a communist government, Russia is in the crosshairs of the imperialist powers. Russia thwarted neocon plans for regime change in Syria. Russia is an ally of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Russia is targeted because it hasn’t accepted the right of certain Western powers and their allies to act as if the whole world belongs to them.
The propaganda campaign against Russia, which also involves trying to get Russian media outlets such as RT and Sputnik taken off air in the UK, has consequently been unrelenting.
And, as in 1919, there are those willing to take big risks in pursuance of their geopolitical agenda.
In leaked documents from the shadowy Integrity Initiative (which has now ‘temporarily removed’ all material from its website), one of its head honchos recommended mining Sevastopol Bay.
Meanwhile, UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson, who last March told Russia to ‘go away’ and ‘shut up.’ Pledged that further Royal Navy ships would be sent to the Black Sea, a direct provocation to Moscow.
In 1919/20, the British public said ‘Hands off Russia!’ and ‘No to war!’ and scuppered Churchill’s plans. In 1922, the electors of Dundee showed what they thought of his policy by voting him out.
That’s something Gavin Williamson and indeed all the other hawks in parliament should reflect upon.
After all, we are the many. They are the few.