Left-wing writer and commentator Aaron Bastani has described Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a “stake through the heart” of anti-war activism on the Left. The Novara Media editor told Freddie Sayers that across Europe, Left-wing figures are “terrified” of saying that they’re anti-war because of the feared backlash. Bastani added at the UnHerd panel on whether Putin has killed populism that he thought that this was “not necessarily a bad thing” since it would push the Left towards workplace organising and labour rights. Full comments below:
Freddie Sayers: So, the question on the ballot paper, has Putin killed off populism? Do you feel that the Populist Left is dented by this? Do you think that the movement that you’ve been part of will be harder to win votes for because of what we’re seeing going on in Europe?
Aaron Bastani: No, I think it changes the contours. It does in the short term, of course, change the contours of politics. We all know that politics is 5, 10, 20, 30 years — Marxists aren’t saying we want to persuade somebody next month. They’re thinking in decades, as does the Post-Liberal Right. And I think in terms of thinking in decades, not especially no, in the short term, you’re absolutely right.
The heartbeat of the 21st century radical Left has been anti-war activism. And so this is kind of like a silver bullet, a stake through the heart of that, absolutely. And you’ve got people in Finland, the centre-Left government and you’ve got the Left Party in Sweden, the Vänsterpartiet. They are terrified of saying that they’re anti-war. So clearly, in that respect, it’s changed. It is not necessarily a bad thing that the Left moves towards workplace organising and labour rights.
And I finish with this: look at the United States right now. You’ve got trade union struggles at Amazon, Apple, and Starbucks. These are iconic American brands now seeing workers asking for higher wages. So if that’s the future of Left organising, rather than anti-war activism, which I think has its place, then I don’t see that as a net loss for the Left.
I think that, in a strange way, we’ll take it closer to blue-collar workers. Don’t be ashamed of it. But we’re clearly in a different phase now. We’re not in this unipolar, post-9/11 moment anymore. And I think some people on the Left haven’t necessarily understood that, but I think those that do, will recognise anti-war activism plays a very different role.