The Russian invasion of Ukraine

The invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces should be opposed by all socialists.  It will deliver death and destruction and strengthen division between the workers of each country; not to mention division within Ukraine between its majority and Russian-speaking populations, and within Russia and its millions of Ukrainian residents.

Initial reports are of opposition by many Russians to the invasion and this must be supported by workers everywhere.  If we seek to support these voices we must not rally to our own ruling classes and states in their aggression towards Russia, which will inevitably hit ordinary Russians most rather than the oligarchs who have been so royally entertained in the West for so long.

We must oppose NATO and its expansionism and demand no Western involvement in the war.  The future of Russia must lie in its workers opposing the repression of Ukraine, which will be a foil to resistance to their repression from their own state.  They will bear the cost of the war in the lives of their fathers, sons and brothers and the cost of bombs, shells and missiles as well as incurring the wider enmity created.

Similarly in Ukraine, while the Ukrainian people have the right to defend themselves and to seek support from Russian workers and workers in the West, they need to ask what sort of state and Government it is that has led them into this war.  The higher living standards of the West have understandably attracted many in Ukraine, but the route to economic and social unity with the West does not lie through an alliance with NATO, which has demonstrated its aggressive and war-like nature in Afghanistan, in Libya and previously in Europe.

The promise of independence of Ukraine within NATO was a promise that could not be kept and could exist only as an increasing threat to Russia.  NATO membership would simply make Ukraine a hostage to NATO – in reality US – foreign policy and its intentions. This does not excuse the Russian invasion but damns the policy of the Ukrainian Government and the lies of Western powers.

Self-determination for Ukraine today means opposition to the war and to NATO.  At some point the fighting will stop but it will not be the Ukrainian people who will determine their future, just as the prelude to war has involved the US, EU and China arguing over their fate.  Real self-determination can only be accomplished by the unity of the peoples of the region, of Russia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Europe as a whole.  Who will achieve this?

Only the working people of Ukraine and Russia have an interest in denying the territorial ambitions of their respective states and ruling classes.  Only they have a joint purpose in removing their own corrupt governments from power and denying their wider geo-political ambitions.  The so-called end of the cold war and the Soviet Union has demonstrated that war is intrinsic to the existing regimes in both Russia and the West, and of most benefit to its strongest power the United States. The demand for peace will be hollow if it does not recognise this glaring fact of recent history.

In Ireland we are asked to join the hypocrisy of Western powers with blood on their own hands, to oppose Russia in its copying their own actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia etc.  The call to join NATO is getting louder and the demand for a bigger Irish military is now prominent.  Ukraine has demonstrated that neither of these is a contribution to peace or security.

The unity of the peoples of Eurasia can only be achieved over the body of capitalist state rivalry and the billionaires and oligarchs who have benefited from the existing political and economic system. The working class movement of each country must reject the aggressive policies of its own states and leaders and seek to build real unity of its working people.

Against the War! Against the invasion! For immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine!  No to NATO! For the unity of working class people – Workers of the World Unite!

see also here

27 thoughts on “The Russian invasion of Ukraine

  1. Pingback: The war in Ukraine – support Russia? – 🚩 CommunistNews.net

  2. There is a difference between a condition in which the world comprised colonial powers and colonies, alongside territorial empires, such as Tsarist Russia, in which different nationalities were annexed and oppressed by a dominant nation, as against a condition in which colonial empires have been dismantled. Its why Lenin made this distinction about the role of nationalism in different periods of capitalist development. Lenin’s “Imperialism”, written as a polemical work against Kautsky in 1916, although it bases much of its economic analysis of imperialism on the work of the liberal Hobson, and on the work on finance-capital and monopoly of Hilferding (and was basically pretty shaky even at the time) is actually a description of a world in which imperialism took the form of such colonial empires, and their division and subdivision of the world into such geographical blocs. Its one reason he saw those colonial powers being unable to submerge their differences to forge a United States of Europe.

    He was wrong. The age of colonial empires was over, and the empires were dissolving. Even by the 1920’s, Lenin himself came over to the demand for a United States of Europe, a project he had always supported, but had thought not possible for the reason set out above, short of Socialism. In fact, the failure to recognise that led both Lenin and Trotsky astray. WWI and II, in Europe were not about competing colonial powers seeking to redivide the world, and build up their own colonial possessions, but were about the need of Europe to forge such a large single state to compete with the US (and later Japan), and the means of it being achieved by one or the other main industrial power (Germany or France) dominating that process, with Britain trying to hold on to its position by trying to frustrate it, as it had done in opposing Napoleon’s similar ambitions a century earlier.

    In an era where there are still countries embarking on the transition to capitalist economies, along with which goes the formation of a capitalist nation state, the nationalism that goes with that could still be progressive, Lenin notes. Even then, as Marx and Engels noted, many of those smaller nations that had not already achieved that stage had already missed the boat, and become “non-historic people”, and their national struggles, became themselves reactionary. For example, Engels wrote,
    “Again, I do not propose to go into the question of how the smaller Slav nations have come to look to the Tsar as their only liberator. Let it suffice that they do so; we cannot alter the fact and it will rest at that until Tsarism has been smashed; if there’s a war, all these interesting little nations will be on the side of Tsarism, the enemy of all bourgeois progress in the West. So long as this remains the case, I can take no interest in their immediate liberation here and now; they are as much our declared enemies as their ally and patron, the Tsar.

    We must co-operate in the work of setting the West European proletariat free and subordinate everything else to that goal. No matter how interesting the Balkan Slavs, etc., might be, the moment their desire for liberation clashes with the interests of the proletariat they can go hang for all I care.”

    Note Engels concern, here, at not supporting anything that would be “the enemy of all bourgeois progress”, which, of course, for Marx and Engels, as much as for Lenin and Trotsky was key to creating the conditions for Socialism. When it came to how to resolve such issues Lenin and Trotsky argued for these small nations not to argue for independence but to join with the revolutionary working-class in the larger states, and, for the creation of voluntary federations of states.

    But, this was all to do with revolutionary strategy at a time when these states were still in the process of formation, undertaking anti-colonial struggles, bourgeois-democratic national revolutions and so on. That process is now long past. The bourgeoisie in soe of these small states, however, continued to use the language of nationalism, and of national self-determination, in order to split the working-class. Even as they made deals themselves with the bourgeoisie of the very states they were calling on the workers to oppose, alongside them, actually meaning dividing the workers of one nation against another. And, every bourgeoisie used the same language, as is happening now, in Ukraine and in Russia, as cover for the demand for defence of the fatherland, on the basis that any war on its territory would result in it potentially losing control over some or all of it. That is why the Bolsheviks dropped the demand for national self-determination and adopted the position only of a right to free secession, because that clearly cannot apply for already existing states.
    For existing states, our position is, is, as it has always been, the main enemy is at home, and so for revolutionary defeatism. In Iraq, therefore, prior to the US-UK invasion, our position was to support Iraqi workers in their struggle against the reactionary regime of Saddam, as their main enemy. In terms of the role of imperialism, it has to be divided into its economic role, and military role. Trotsky argued against liberal intervention in the Balkan Wars, but not the role of imperialism in developing the region, and he makes the same position clear in relation to Mexico in the 1930’s, arguing the need to encourage large-scale imperialist investment in the country, as indeed, Lenin had done in relation to Russia.

    Following the invasion, then its necessary to consider who it is that you are talking about, because the role of Marxists outside Iraq is, then, clearly different to that of those inside Iraq. For those outside, it is to argue for an end of the occupation, and to mobilise support for the “truly revolutionary” forces inside Iraq, which meant the advanced section of the Iraqi working-class. It did not mean the Iraqi jihadists, and Sadrists etc. As the Thesis states,

    “the need for a struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries;

    third, the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc.”

    For the Marxists inside Iraq, it becomes necessary to operate flexibly and tactically, in order to maximise their effects. Unfortunately, such “liberation” struggles have been influenced by Maoist and Guevarrist ideologies, rather than those of Marx, Engels and Lenin and Trotsky, which focussed on the primacy of the working-class, and the need for working-class unity between workers in the oppressed and oppressor states. The main power of the working-class comes from its position in the labour process, and its in that area that its main advance can be made, and everything that facilitates that strengthens its position. Its weapon is not that of the peasant or middle class of guerilla struggle, but of the strike, and particularly the General Strike, and the building up of its militia around such activity. Indeed, COSATU in South Africa was far more effective in ending apartheid than was all the guerilla actions of earlier times.

    A look at Trotsky position on China – after taking in consideration what he says about his earlier concessions to the United Opposition – illustrates the point. The communists had to maintain political and organisational, i.e. military independence from the KMT, but that did not prevent them, being open to potential joint military action against Japanese imperialism. But, its hard to see how any such joint activity with the Sadrist would have been possible, or indeed with the remnants of Baathism (many of whom become the bedrock of ISIS), as these forces are more reactionary than imperialism, and the immediate enemy of Iraqi and other workers in the region!
    The way you have framed your various options is all about the working-class having to back one national bloc or another, the imperialist bourgeoisie or national bourgeoisie, whereas my position is based upon the independent interests and activity of the working-class, irrespective of questions of the nation, so I find it hard to see the justification for your comment that,

    “the approach you are arguing for seems to me to be highly influenced by nationalist considerations rather than internationalist ones.”

  3. “As regards the rest of this post you are conflating military support with political support. Certainly there is nothing like a Popular Front involved when taking a position of favouring the military victory of one enemy against another.”

    Of course there is, because favouring the military victory of one ruling class and its state is simply a call for defence of the fatherland, of supporting the given bourgeoisie and its state, and of, thereby, subordinating the interests of workers to that immediate end, whereas the international socialist position is not for a policy of lesser-evilism or “my enemy enemy is my friend”, but of “the main enemy is at home”, and for proletarian revolution.

    If you support the military victory of one bourgeoisie and its state that necessarily involves giving political support to it in the process, otherwise you have to prioritise political opposition to that state and ruling class, on the basis of “revolutionary defeatism”, and revolutionary defeatism is contrary to the notion of giving military support. So, the former involves, for example, voting for war credits to finance the war. What is that other than political support? Marxists oppose any such support, and instead argue for the independent action of the proletariat on the basis not of a struggle for national self-determination, but for Socialism.

  4. “Out of interest what was your position during the US-led imperialist war against non-imperialist Iraq? Were you neutral or did you favour the military victory of Iraq?”

    Being in favour of the defeat of the US invasion is not the same as being in favour of the victory of Saddam and his regime. To put it in that context is to fall into campism, and tie the working-class into tailing its own bourgeoisie, and defence of the fatherland, which the Bolsheviks opposed. Its why the Bolsheviks dropped the formulation of supporting the right of national self-determination, and instead called for the right of nations to secede.

    The US invasion could be defeated by the revolutionary struggle of US workers, and also by the revolutionary struggle of Iraqi workers, joining forces with them.

    • “And in this regard the balance sheet is pretty clear about Russia – despite its military strength it is NOT imperialist in the Marxist sense of the term.”

      but, then, nor too was Tsarist Russia in 1914, and Lenin and Trotsky argued agsint a defencist position in relation to it.

  5. “Actually Lenin and the Bolsheviks did consider Russia to be an imperialist state at the time of WWI. Of course it is possible to argue against that for the reasons you outline.”

    They certainly did not consider it to be imperialist in the sense that Lenin describes in “Imperialism”, as an exporter of capital, which is the basis that supporters of Russia today use as their justification. Russia was “imperialist” in the sense of being expansionist, and having annexed other nations, but then that can be applied to Russia today.

    As I said, its why Trotsky made the comparison of Spain in the 1930’s with Russia in 1914, in arguing against the Popular Frontist position of the POUM and the anarchists. Trotsky rejected any such Popular Frontist position. The position set out in Permanent Revolution and in The Theses on The National and Colonial Questions is not support for the nationalist bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, even against an imperialist state, but only support for the truly revolutionary forces engaged in a struggle for Socialism, of which the struggle against imperialism forms a subsidiary part.

    So, as far as Iraq is concerned, would I have favoured the military victory of Saddam’s regime, no. I would be in favour of workers opposing the US/UK war against Iraq, as part of a struggle to overthrow the capitalist regimes in those countries. I would be in favour of them encouraging the development of truly revolutionary forces in Iraq to undertake the war against imperialist attack, whilst continuing to see the main enemy at home in the shape of the Iraqi state and ruling class. If those revolutionary forces, formed any kind of military alliance with the Iraqi bourgeoisie, it would be purely on the basis of maintaining political and political independence from them, and with an eye fully on the need to be ready to fight against them, as for example, Trotsky proposed in relation to China in the 1920’s.

    “the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations.”

    The Iraqi state was not even bourgeois-democratic, let alone revolutionary, and the same applies to that of Putin. Nor currently is Russia being invaded, but rather it is Russia that has invaded Ukraine. So, using your argument, you should then be supporting the Ukrainian state against the “imperialist” actions of Russia! That is equally nonsense, and nothing to do with socialist internationalism, but is just campism, having the workers tail their own respective bourgeoisie, rather than pursuing their own class interests against them.

  6. Well if we are going to play quotes then how about this by Trotsky:

    “1. Maxton and the others opine that the Italo-Ethiopian war is “a conflict between two rival dictators.” To these politicians it appears that this fact relieves the proletariat of the duty of making a choice between two dictators. They thus define the character of the war by the political form of the state, in the course of which they themselves regard this political form in a quite superficial and purely descriptive manner, without taking into consideration the social foundations of both “dictatorships.” A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history; for example, Oliver Cromwell, Robespierre, etc. On the other hand, right in the midst of the English democracy Lloyd George exercised a highly reactionary dictatorship during the war. Should a dictator place himself at the head of the next uprising of the Indian people in order to smash the British yoke – would Maxton then refuse this dictator his support? Yes or no? If not, why does he refuse his support to the Ethiopian “dictator” who is attempting to cast off the Italian yoke?

    “If Mussolini triumphs, it means the reinforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism, and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of the Negus, however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this.”
    – “On Dictators and the Heights Of Oslo” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/04/oslo.htm)

    If we replace the the combatants as follows it might help you see what drives the Bolshevik position on the current conflict:

    “If US/NATO and their Ukraine puppet triumphs, it means the reinforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism, and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of Putin, however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Western imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this.”

    • You misunderstand Trotsky’s point. He was arguing against those who differentiated between “democratic imperialism” and “fascist imperialism”, so as to side with the former. And, are you really wanting to compare Ethiopia in 1936 with Russia today, or even Iraq?! If so, I’d suggest that the next part of Trotsky’s comment should be considered by you.

      “McGovern puts the “poor little Ethiopia” of 1935 on the same level with the “poor little Belgium” of 1914; in both cases it means support of war. Well, “poor little Belgium” has ten million slaves in Africa, whereas the Ethiopian people are fighting in order not to be the slaves of Italy. Belgium was and remains a link of the European imperialist chain. Ethiopia is only a victim of imperialist appetites. Putting the two cases on the same plane is the sheerest nonsense.”

      In 1936, large parts of the globe were still at the stage of being colonies seeking political independence, and so the conditions set out in Permanent Revolution, and in The Theses applied that the struggle for such independence and the bourgeois-democratic revolution was subsumed within the struggle for proletarian revolution. But, those conditions ceased to exist 50 years ago! Neither Russia nor Iraq were colonies, seeking national independence. To the extent that a bourgeois-democratic revolution is required in either, it is one that confronts its own bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, not some external governing power! Unlike Ethiopia in 1936, both Iraq, and currently Russia have designs on annexing other territories, as did Argentina in 1982.

      So, to quote Trotsky back at you, “Putting the two cases on the same plane is the sheerest nonsense.”

      • I think the key to this is in your comment

        “I would be in favour of them encouraging the development of truly revolutionary forces in Iraq to undertake the war against imperialist attack, whilst continuing to see the main enemy at home in the shape of the Iraqi state and ruling class.”

        You have misinterpreted my position – probably due to my not explaining it properly.

        The Bolshevik position is based on projecting what concrete action a “truly revolutionary force” with the military capacity to intervene as a real factor in a conflict between an imperialist attack on a non-imperialist state would carry out.

        There are three general frameworks for such a military contingent to take.

        1. Take whatever military actions they could against either of the capitalist forces as opportunities arose.
        2. Seeing the main enemy as being their own rulers to concentrate their military fire against their own state forces, only militarily acting against the imperialist forces when attacked by them.
        3. Seeing the main enemy as being the imperialists to concentrate their military fire against the imperialists, only militarily acting against their own state forces when attacked by them.

        To use my terminology frameworks 2 and 3 are concretely in terms of actual military actions something like

        2. Being in a military bloc, or giving military support to, or favouring the victory of, the imperialists in their conflict with the non-imperialist state.
        3. Being in a military bloc, or giving military support to, or favouring the victory of, the non-imperialist state in their conflict with the imperialists.

        I would argue for the “truly revolutionary force” to use framework 3 because as internationalists they would recognise that the imperialists represent a qualitatively greater danger to the international working class and oppressed, both in immediate terms of the horrific day to day misery and suffering the imperialists parasites cause and also the impediment they present to the prospects of world socialist revolution.

        I had been thinking your view would have been 1. But this recent comment I have quoted would seem to indicate that you might argue for use of framework 2 given who you apparently think is the “main enemy”.

        Although you have argued strongly against a nationalist approach it is ironic that the approach you are arguing for seems to me to be highly influenced by nationalist considerations rather than internationalist ones.

      • Am I correct in thinking that you see the world as existing, for the past 50 years, in a different epoch than the imperialist epoch now that most of the colonies have achieved formal national independence? And subsequently that the political approach outlined in Permanent Revolution is also now invalid?

        I think you might want to consider what it at stake for Russia in this conflict and what a victory for US/NATO imperialism in this conflict would mean for them. At the very least it is regime change in the Kremlin to install a compliant pro-imperialist puppet if not the actual dismembering of Russia into 3 or 4 smaller compliant states to better allow direct imperialist plunder of its resources.

        This is not to mention the international impact with the emboldening of the imperialists to act against any other non-imperialist states seeking any degree of an independent path and placing the drive to overthrow the Chinese deformed worker’s state directly front and centre on the agenda.

      • The world is clearly in a different epoch to that of the old colonial empires. It is an age of imperialism based upon the dominant role of industrial capital, and its manifestation as multinational, socialised capital, and creation of a world economy.

        If colonial empires do not exist then clearly that element of Permanent Revolution doesn’t apply either, but Permanent Revolution is about more than just anti-colonial struggles.

        I don’t disagree about NATO’s intentions in respect of Russia. That is a reason for Marxists to oppose NATO, not to support Putin and his vile, reactionary regime! Germany, Britain, France and the US and Japan, would have carved up Russia as an outcome of WWI, but that didn’t lead Lenin and Trotsky to argue a defencist position in 1914. Germany had already taken Russian territory, as had Japan in 1905. The only consideration that Lenin and Trotsky had when it came to adopting a defencist position was when Russia became a workers state, not a capitalist state.

        If Putin were to win, what would that say to all of those smaller states that also abhor Russian expansionism and interference in their affairs, and its support for reactionary forces, as with the support for Farage, le Pen and so on? My concer is with the activity of the working-class not backing one group of reactionaries as against another.

        On what rational basis can the Chinese imperialist state be termed “a deformed workers’ state”?!

        The basis of a workers state is that the working-class constitutes the dominant social class, and controls the state. Trotsky termed the USSR a degenerated workers’ state, but its quite clear that, in reality, it was always a deformed workers state. It was a workers state, much as was the case with the later Stalinist states, only on the negative basis that the other classes – bourgeoisie, landlords – had been liquidated, and their social roots in the respective property forms landed property and capital, had been ripped up.

        That most certainly is not true in China today. Capital abounds in China in the form of private industrial capital, commercial capital, large-scale socialised industrial capital, financial capital, and is personified by a huge capitalist class. That class controls the state, it is a capitalist state pure and simple, and the huge overseas investments of Chinese capital, demonstrate it to be an imperialist capitalist state at that!

  7. “This is directly at odds with the approach of Lenin and Trotsky who understood that imperialist capitalist states posed a qualitatively greater danger to the prospects for world revolution than non-imperialist states and this was irrespective of the political characterisation of their regimes (be that “progressive”, “democratic”, “reactionary”, “dictatorship” or whatever).”

    That’s not true, as Trotsky sets out in The Programme of Peace.

    “For the revolutionary proletarian the peace programme does not mean the demands which national militarism must fulfil, but those demands which the international proletariat intends to impose by its revolutionary struggle against militarism of all countries…

    Capitalism has transferred into the field of international relations the same methods applied by it in “regulating” the internal economic life of the nations. The path of competition is the path of systematically annihilating the small and medium-sized enterprises and of achieving the supremacy of big capital. World competition of the capitalist forces means the systematic subjection of the small, medium-sized and backward nations by the great and greatest capitalist powers. The more developed the technique of capitalism, the greater the role played by finance capital and the higher the demands of militarism, all the more grows the dependency of the small states on the great powers. This process, forming as it does an integral element of imperialist mechanics, flourishes undisturbed also in times of peace by means of state loans, railway and other concessions, military-diplomatic agreements, etc. The war uncovered and accelerated this process by introducing the factor of open violence. The war destroys the last shreds of the “independence” of small states, quite apart from the military outcome, of the conflict between the two basic enemy camps…

    The independence of the Belgians, Serbians, Poles, Armenians and others is regarded by us not as part of the Allied war programme (as treated by Guesde, Plekhanov, Vandervelde, Henderson and others), but belongs to the programme of the international proletarian struggle against imperialism…

    If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to “autonomous” national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.”

    And, this is also consistent with the position adopted by Lenin in “Left-wing Childishness”.

    “To make things even clearer, let us first of all take the most concrete example of state capitalism. Everybody knows what this example is. It is Germany. Here we have “the last word” in modern large-scale capitalist engineering and planned organisation, subordinated to Junker-bourgeois imperialism. Cross out the words in italics, and in place of the militarist, Junker, bourgeois, imperialist state put also a state, but of a different social type, of a different class content—a Soviet state, that is, a proletarian state, and you will have the sum total of the conditions necessary for socialism…

    In order to convince the reader that this is not the first time I have given this “high” appreciation of state capitalism and that I gave it before the Bolsheviks seized power I take the liberty of quoting the following passage from my pamphlet The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It , written in September 1917.

    “. . . Try to substitute for the Junker-capitalist state, for the landowner-capitalist state, a revolutionary-democratic state, i.e., a state which in a revolutionary way abolishes all privileges and does not fear to introduce the fullest democracy in a revolutionary way. You will find that, given a really revolutionary-democratic state, state-monopoly capitalism inevitably and unavoidably implies a step, and more than one step, towards socialism!

    “. . . For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly.

    “. . . State-monopoly capitalism is a complete material preparation for socialism, the threshold of socialism, a rung on the ladder of history between which and the rung called socialism there are no intermediate rungs ” ”

    Lenin and Trotsky most certainly did not see imperialism as anything other than the rung below socialism, its precondition, and most certainly did not fetishise less mature forms of capital, either in the form of small businesses, or small states in relation to it.

  8. Am I correct in reading this to mean you consider the imperialist or non-imperialist to be irrelevant in coming to a position on the war?
    Also do you now, in the wars 10th month, recognise that this a proxy war of US/NATO imperialism against Russia.
    This surely changes the dynamic of the war for Marxists standing in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky such as yourself.
    And thus the question of Russia’s imperialist, or not, status takes on significant political importance.
    Russia is not imperialist, at least not according to the Leninist understanding of the term (see for instance Michael Roberts analysis on this question) and therefore Marxists should favour the military victory of this enemy as against the victory of our imperialist enemy.
    Do you agree?

    • I don’t have time at the minute to answer this fully but previous posts on the war in Ukraine make my fundamental position clear. In short , Russia is a capitalist power and the working class should not support it whether it conforms or not to some definition of imperialism derived from Lenin one hundred years ago.

      • I personally find it difficult to understand the world without understanding the role imperialism plays in it and what that means for revolutionaries in taking positions on military conflicts between capitalist states.

        Rejecting the idea that some capitalist classes primarily plunder not only surplus value from the working class within the boundaries of their own state power but also through their domination of other capitalist state powers is quite a big step in Marxist understanding. At least on the surface it seems to me to have more in common with anarchism than it does with Marxism.

        Which of course does not mean it is not true.

        Can you point me to any material which is able to present the case for this development in Marxism in a clear and coherent way?

      • The war in Ukraine raises lots of important questions, the most important of which is what principled position should be argued to the working class? On the importance of the various questions raised the following post presents my general approach:

        https://irishmarxism.net/2022/10/18/the-war-in-ukraine-the-blind-leading-the-blind/

        The immediate post on the day of the invasion presents the necessity for working class unity in the face of the war, while the many later posts develop and refine the position:

        https://irishmarxism.net/2022/02/24/the-russian-invasion-of-ukraine/

      • Thanks for that. I do of course agree with much of your critique of the pro-Ukraine/NATO left.

        However I remain unclear on your reasons for not taking a military side with Rissia or, to put it mire accurately, consider the victory of Russia to be qualitatively superior to a victory for US/NATO and their Ukrainian proxy in terms of the impact on the prospects for international socialist revolution.

        You don’t use the term “proxy war”. Is that because you consider the US/NATO involvement to be merely one of providing support rather than being directive/controlling of the conflict?

        Or perhaps you consider the attack by Russia to be outside of the wider US/NATO aggression towards Russia and so the Ukraine v Russia conflict must be judged on its own terms?

        I note that you don’t directly use the term imperialist in relation to Russia. Is that because you don’t consider Russia to be an imperialist state?

        If you don’t consider Russia to be imperialist would your position on the conflict change to favouring the military victory of Russia if there was to be a direct military confrontation between Russia and US/NATO?

        Comradely regards.
        Alan

      • The Russian state is a capitalist state with great power pretensions and its geopolitical projection of its power can be considered ‘imperialist’ in a general sense, without reference to the definition of Lenin. Its invasion has no progressive content and its consequences wholly reactionary. For any socialist to support the Russian state is a betrayal of the most basic interests of the working class – of Russia, Ukraine and of the world.

        There is nothing progressive about this state and the international socialist revolution will succeed by bringing it down and replacing it with a workers’ state just as it will do every other capitalist state. The victory of Russia will not advance the cause of the world working class, which cannot be subcontracted to it or pass through it, but achieved only through the self-emancipation of the working class itself – independent of all capitalist states. This is an ABC of socialism.

        The question of whether this capitalist state takes the form of some sort of imperialism is entirely secondary and to raise it to primacy in order to prioritise some sort of ‘anti-imperialist’ programme would result in the working class signing up to subordination to one capitalist power as opposed to another, just as the supporters of the Ukrainian capitalist state support it against Russian ‘imperialism’. The working class does not take the side of small against big capital but seeks to replace both and does not defend smaller and weaker capitalist powers against the stronger. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend and opposition to western imperialism does not require support for its capitalist rivals whether they fulfil some definition of imperialism or not.

        Were there a war between the US/NATO and Russia the task of the working class would be to bring it to an end as quickly as possible and if able through socialist revolution. The dangers of nuclear oblivion are obvious. Victory for Russia would not be ‘qualitatively superior’ and such a victory would simply record its greater power than its adversary. Why on earth would the working class sign up to this?

        All this is clear from the posts I referenced in my previous comment. On the proxy nature of the war in Ukraine see the following posts:

        https://irishmarxism.net/2022/09/21/ukraine-5-the-role-of-western-imperialism/

        https://irishmarxism.net/2022/09/26/ukraine-6-a-proxy-imperialist-war/

      • I’m afraid this leaves me wondering why you bother using the term “imperialist” (in the Marxist, rather than general, use of the term) to describe some capitalist states at all given that it would seem to have no operational programmatic purpose for you.

        It seems you view a position of favouring the military victory of non-imperialist states when they are in conflicts with imperialist states (either directly or through a proxy) as necessarily involving some form of political support to the aims and intentions of the governmental/state regime of the non-imperialist state.

        This is directly at odds with the approach of Lenin and Trotsky who understood that imperialist capitalist states posed a qualitatively greater danger to the prospects for world revolution than non-imperialist states and this was irrespective of the political characterisation of their regimes (be that “progressive”, “democratic”, “reactionary”, “dictatorship” or whatever).

        The role of imperialist states was not a secondary issue for them with very real consequences for when they came into military conflict with non-imperialist capitalist states. I an not convinced that anything qualitative has changed in the last hundred years to justify changing that approach.

      • The numerous posts on the war in Ukraine demonstrate the programmatic purpose of the understanding of imperialism. It explains the role of the US and NATO and their intervention in defining the nature of the war. Operationally it reinforces opposition to the capitalist Ukrainian state, refusal to join the pro-war left in supporting it, and defending the interests of the working class in refusing to go along with the mass propaganda campaign in favour of the hypocritical and bogus demands that we support its self-determination.

        As Lenin said, it is necessary to study the nature of each war separately, and support for the Russian invasion necessarily involves some form of political support to the aims and intentions of its governmental/state regime; a reactionary capitalist regime to which political support would mean betrayal of the interests of the working class.

        Lenin opposed Russia as a great power in the First World War mainly because of its military and feudal nature and not because of its conformity to some definition of capitalist imperialism. Whether the great capitalist power of Russia today conforms to some original or updated definition of imperialism does not determine whether socialists should line up the working class in support of its war.

        That Russia has invaded Ukraine not for profit but for geo-political reasons to protect its great power status does not prevent its invasion being termed imperialist in this sense. To demand working class support for it based on this distinction is to make a similar mistake as those who support one capitalist state over another because it is more “progressive”, “democratic”, “reactionary”, a “dictatorship” or whatever.

        Russia is not just some ‘non-imperialist state’ but a large and important capitalist power. That it is weaker that the major capitalist power in the world cannot lead socialists to support it. As I have said, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. The independence of the working class requires opposition to the Russian invasion. Lenin ridiculed the idea that a just war could be waged by ‘a slave-owner who owned 100 slaves warring against a slave-owner who owned 200 slaves’.

        You write of potential conflict between imperialist states and non-imperialist capitalist states and that you are not convinced that anything qualitative has changed in the last hundred years. When Lenin wrote on imperialism he said that capitalism had become characterised by monopolies and just as national economies were so dominated, so the world was divided up by imperialistic countries who turned each colony into their own property. The world was therefore divided into imperialist countries and colonies, between oppressor and oppressed nations.

        He therefore argued the need to support the right of colonies and nations incorporated into empires to secede, their right to self-determination. Had nothing qualitatively changed in the last one hundred years this demand would retain its critical importance and we would have to seriously take into account the right of Ukraine to self-determination, as it was one hundred years ago.

        However, in the past one hundred years the Austro-Hungarian empire has disappeared, along with the Ottoman empire and by and large the European empires of Britain, France and Belgium etc. Almost all their colonies are politically independent capitalist states so the policy of self-determination does not apply, just as it is inapplicable to Ukraine today. It too is already an independent capitalist state and now with the backing of western imperialism.

        Many of these former colonies or dependencies are major capitalist powers in their own right including, for example, two of the biggest countries in the world – India and China. Capitalism has developed in leaps and bounds in many of these countries and with it the development of significant working classes. The role of socialists in these countries is not, as it was before, to seek to overthrow foreign imperialist rule so as to weaken the imperialist countries and thus advance the cause of socialism within them, but rather to advance the struggle of their own working classes to overthrow their own capitalism in unity with other previous colonies and the workers of the old imperialist countries.

        None of this means that we live in a world free of inequality between nations, but we don’t by and large live in a world of empires and colonies. These existing inequalities render it even more important to study the nature of any war separately and to start the analysis from the point of view of the independent interests of the working class.

        We thus have a massively expanded working class in these more recently developing capitalist powers for whom the promotion of the primacy of ‘anti-imperialism’ is a way of foisting on them unity with their capitalist rulers. The primacy of opposing the US by lining up the workers of the world to support whatever capitalist competitor, challenger, or country that simply gets in its way is just another version of the subordination of the working class behind its exploiters.

      • Out of interest what was your position during the US-led imperialist war against non-imperialist Iraq? Were you neutral or did you favour the military victory of Iraq?

        Certainly Russia is the most powerful, at least militarily, non-imperialist state in the world today (leaving aside the Chinese deformed workers’ state which is in a separate category) but the Marxist understanding of the term “imperialist” is more than just big and powerful capitalist state. It is to do with its role in the world and the extraction of value from other countries around the world, primarily through the mechanisms of finance capital.

        Now all but the very weakest non-imperialist states have some capitalists who have an international reach in their extraction of surplus value but it is a matter of assessing to what extent this is decisive in understanding the international role of the capitalist states.

        And in this regard the balance sheet is pretty clear about Russia – despite its military strength it is NOT imperialist in the Marxist sense of the term.

      • I personally find it difficult to understand the world without understanding the role imperialism plays in it and what that means for revolutionaries in taking positions on military conflicts between capitalist states.

        Rejecting the idea that some capitalist classes primarily plunder not only surplus value from the working class within the boundaries of their own state power but also through their domination of other capitalist state powers is quite a big step in Marxist understanding. At least on the surface it seems to me to have more in common with anarchism than it does with Marxism.

        Which of course does not mean it is not true.

        Can you point me to any material which is able to present the case for this development in Marxism in a clear and coherent way?

    • As far as I am aware, neither Lenin nor Trotsky considered Tsarist Russia to be imperialist “in the Leninist sense” either, given that, in 1914, it was still a backward, largely peasant economy, itself in danger of being divided up by imperialist powers, and subjugated in a similar manner to China. However, that did not lead Lenin or Trotsky to adopt a defensive position towards it in WWI. Quite the contrary, and Lenin threatened to split the Bolshevik Party when, after February 1917, Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev did adopt a defencist position.

      In 1936, Trotsky writing on the Spanish Civil War attacked Nin and the POUM and Anarchists who argued in favour of the Popular Front on the basis that Spain, a former colonial power, was by then a backward economy. Trotsky notes that Spain most certainly was not as backward as Russia in 1917, and so, even if the argument had any validity – which he said it didn’t – if the Bolsheviks found no reason to support a Popular Front policy with bourgeois forces for its defence in 1914 or 1917, then there was certainly no case for it in relation to Spain!

      The position set out by the Comintern in the Theses on The National and Colonial Questions, and in Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, gives no requirement for Marxists to support a nationalist bourgeoisie or petty-bourgeoisie in any such conflict, including in a genuine struggle for national independence, but only to support truly revolutionary forces within the country whose struggle is not only against any imperialist adversary, but remains primarily, one against its own ruling class on the basis that “The main enemy is at home”.

      • Actually Lenin and the Bolsheviks did consider Russia to be an imperialist state at the time of WWI. Of course it is possible to argue against that for the reasons you outline.

        While it is speculation it seems to me that if they had considered Russia not to be imperialist then they would have taken a different position. Though given that WWI was a contest between two imperialist blocs with each bloc containing non-imperialist states subordinated to the imperialists leading each bloc operationally it would not have made a difference unless non-imperialist Russia had not taken a side between the two imperialist dominated blocs.

        As regards the rest of this post you are conflating military support with political support. Certainly there is nothing like a Popular Front involved when taking a position of favouring the military victory of one enemy against another.

        Did you for instance prefer the military victory (unlikely though it may have seemed) of Iraq against US imperialist attack?

  9. Pingback: The War in Ukraine and the Left – 🚩 CommunistNews.net

  10. just been listening to a virtual talk by John Mearsheimer about the Ukraine conflict. He is in no doubt that Nato which is dominated by the USA is largely to blame for the crisis. The analysis is not a Marxist one though, it is based on the realism of accepting the national interest of the powerful states, in short his method is positivist or neo positivism. Nevertheless his account of the genesis of the conflict is worth knowing about. His solution is that Ukraine returns to the status it had before 2014, a neutral buffer State between Nato and Russia, this solution is not that far away from your own declaration that Russian forces should withdraw and Nato should also be kept out of Ukraine for now and forever.

    you readers can catch the talk on you tube: professor john measheimer; the situation in ukraine and russia; Kings politics. It is worth watching for the detailed genesis of the crisis, details that most of us don’t know much about.

  11. Putin is making too many enemies at home for his own regime too remain stable. At the very least there will be economic repercussions for his own supporters. I suspect he already believes some of his circle are secretly disloyal and he is using the national conflict in the disputed region of Ukraine to flush them out, you are either with me or against me style. I don’t see this as the start of an international conflict, though it might get out of hand if the three Baltic States act foolishly and of course if Boris seeks to save his own political reputation by getting GB more involved. the french have not even announced any economic sanctions and Germany will know the Americans are going all out to sabotage their oil and gas pipe line deal with Russia. Only the mad cap Brits are kicking up a sound of noise of fury to probably no particular end.

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