At the AGM of the official Momentum group in Lewisham, south London, on 7 May, several people were proudly wearing, and handing out for others to wear, Russian military insignia: the ribbon of St. George.
This isn’t the first time Stalinoid elements within the left have worn this symbol of Russian militarism: Eddie Dempsey (an RMT member who declared as a platform speaker at a “Full Brexit”event that the working class hated, and was right to hate, “the liberal left”) wore it while visiting pro-Russian gangsters in eastern Ukraine. Nor the last. A few days after the AGM, London Young Labour put out a tweet with an image of the ribbon. The tweet was deleted a few hours later.
Before trying to understand why loads of people who bragged about their anti-imperialism thought wearing the military St. George ribbon was a good idea, we should start with the history of the ribbon.
First designed in 1769, under Catherine the Great, the ribbon was used for the Order of St George, a Tsarist military award. There are many who claim that the colours come from the Romanov coat of arms which, given that it consists of a double-headed black eagle on a golden background, with an image of St. George at its centre, is fairly likely. After the October Revolution in 1917 it was banned alongside all other Tsarist awards. It was revived by Stalin during World War Two and named “the Order of Glory” (while the Soviet Union created some military orders named after Tsarist generals, even Stalin didn’t go as far as naming any orders after saints).
It wasn’t particularly used as a symbol for Russian or Soviet patriotism again until the Putin era revived it, especially after the Euromaidan events in Ukraine. Currently the symbol is hugely controversial in Ukraine and considered clearly a sign of pro-Putin sentiment.
During the Lewisham Momentum AGM one person declared that they chose to wore it in order to praise the role of the Russian people who fought bravely against Nazism. Putting aside that loads of non-Russian nationalities also fought bravely (including Belarusians, Ukrainians, Georgians etc.), praising the role of people who fought, Russian and non-Russian, should not mean wearing militarist emblems, and certainly not emblems that have been revived by Russian chauvinists to enhance nationalist sentiment in Russia.
The St. George Ribbon was also worn by Russians who collaborated with Nazi Germany, such as members of the “Russian Liberation Army”, as well as White-Cossacks such as Peter Krasnov! The ribbon-wearers are either very ignorant of history, or willing to go along with the Putin-ist interpretation of World War Two, in which the Soviet Union was a wonderful force of antifascism and modern Russia is its inheritor in the role.
The Stalinist government infamously spent a third of World War Two in a virtual alliance with Nazi Germany, signing a peace treaty with it which included a secret protocol that divided Eastern Europe between them. It invaded and partitioned Poland jointly with the Nazis. It held joint NKVD-Gestapo military exercises. It even held talks to discuss possibly joining the war on the side of the Axis (talks that were broken off by the Nazis). War crimes (such as the Katyn massacre, the execution of an estimated 22,000 people, including the Polish intelligentsia), committed in full knowledge of the Stalinist government, have never even been acknowledged let alone apologised for.
Putin himself has declared that the Nazi-Soviet Pact was a good and necessary treaty. It is appalling to see self-proclaimed leftists thinking that there is no better way to oppose fascism than to wear a symbol of Russian militarism and become “useful idiots” for Putin’s revanchist foreign policy.