What sort of Anti-War Campaign (4) – a question of defence?

Ukrainian soldiers in an Independence Day parade in Kyiv Credit Sergei Gapon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As we have noted, the politics of the anti-war campaign supported by the Anti-Capitalist Resistance group starts and ends with the invasion of Ukraine and support for its defence.  Not simply, it must be said, self-defence.

Trotsky, in ‘War and the Fourth International’, was blunt:

‘A “socialist” who preaches national defence is a petty-bourgeois reactionary at the service of decaying capitalism. Not to bind itself to the national state in time of war, to follow not the war map but the map of the class struggle, is possible only for that party that has already declared irreconcilable war on the national state in time of peace.’

The ACR will claim that Ukraine is not an imperialist power so this admonition does not apply.  It is however undeniably capitalist and a particularly corrupt one at that.  It has moved closer to collaboration with the imperialist NATO military organisation through participation in its activities and is now armed and trained by the biggest western imperialist powers

This alliance with western imperialism involves the imposition of unprecedented sanctions that is a form of warfare itself and which will have devastating effects on the majority of the Russian population and will exacerbate problems for the majority of working people in the countries imposing them.  The Ukrainian state has called for greater sanctions and greater support from imperialism.

In these circumstances, to attempt to deny the application of Trotsky’s judgement is without merit and is baseless.  As we have already noted: to defend the integrity and prerogatives of any independent capitalist state in war against another is precisely to renege on any responsibility to declare ‘irreconcilable war on the national state.’  It is to be permanently at the beck and call of capitalist powers seeking ‘self-determination’.

During World War 1 the social-democrats who supported their own state in the war were also loud in proclaiming the right to self-determination of those oppressed by its enemies

‘Thus, for example, the German and Austro-German social democrats missed no opportunity of denouncing the brutal treatment of national minorities and the ‘indigenous population’ in Tsarist Russia, the British Empire, etc. But what happens to the Italians, Rumanians and Slavs in Austria, and in the German Empire (the Posen province!) is systematically suppressed. But in this respect the attitude of the social-patriotic press in England, France, Russia and Italy was just the same. Everywhere the same lying and hypocrisy.’

The ACR group no doubt opposes British imperialism, but not when it arms and trains Ukraine with its fellow imperialists; nor does it oppose its sanctions, which, we have averred, are not an exercise in self-defence.  Imperialism becomes, not the economic and political forms of advanced capitalism, but the policy of the individual powers which one might even sometimes support, without of course honestly proclaiming it directly.

The organisation might claim that Ukraine is not a free and independent state and must be allowed to be so. But the independence it seeks is impossible; it says ‘the people of Ukraine must be allowed to exercise freely their right to democratic self-determination, without any military or economic pressure.’  No capitalist state can fulfil this requirement because capitalist competition entails and requires military and economic pressure.  

As Lenin explained in 1916:

‘Our “peace programme” demands that the principal democratic point of this question – the repudiation of annexations – should be applied in practice and not in words, that it should serve to promote the propaganda of internationalism and not of national hypocrisy. To do this, we must explain to the masses that the repudiation of annexations, i.e. the recognition of self-determination, is sincere only when the socialists of every nation demand the right of secession for nations oppressed by their own nations . . . ‘

Ukraine became an independent state in 1991. The current conflict arises precisely because it is impossible for it to attempt to continue to balance between Western imperialism and Russia.  Its reliance on the IMF and its free trade agreement with the EU demonstrates the impossibility of it developing autonomously ‘free of economic pressure’.

The Copenhagen Criteria on entry to the EU requires that the ’candidate country . . . [has] the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union.  Membership presupposes the candidate’s’ ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.’

Reactionary socialists may claim this dilutes, if not removes the self-determination of nations and so, to a degree, it does.  By championing the independence of Ukraine in wholly unrealistic terms the ACR ignores the historical and continued constraints on Ukraine and the answers chosen to address them by the political leadership of this capitalist state. But ‘self-determination of nations’ cannot be working class support for the maximum freedom of their ruling classes to advance their own class and state interests in relation to competitors.

It should be noted that ‘competitive pressures and market forces’ do not disappear outside the EU and the obligations of membership are the obligations of a capitalist club that can at least partially set the rules as opposed to have to follow them.  

What is left of the demand for self-determination of Ukraine is its defence against a capitalist rival; the policy of self-defence for Ukraine is then simply the policy of ‘national defence’, which is that of ‘a petty-bourgeois reactionary.’

In contrast to the policy of the Ukrainian state Trotsky goes on to say that:  

‘The working class is not indifferent to its nation. On the contrary, it is just because history places the fate of the nation into its hands that the working class refuses to entrust the work of national freedom and independence to imperialism . . . Having used the nation for its development, capitalism has nowhere, in no single corner of the world, solved fully the national problem. . . . The task of complete national determination and peaceful co-operation of all peoples of Europe can be solved only on the basis of the economic unification of Europe, purged of bourgeois rule.’

This socialist and internationalist policy is light years from the pursuit of utopian freedom for a particular capitalist state as it seeks subordination under an imperialist alliance.

Trotsky then goes on in remarks applicable to Ukraine today:

‘The concept of national defence, especially when it coincides with the idea of the defence of democracy, can most easily delude the workers of small and neutral countries . . . which, being incapable of engaging in an independent policy of conquest, impart to the defence of their national borders the character of an irrefutable and absolute dogma.’  So, for example, will ACR join in demanding that the self-determination of Ukraine requires incorporation of Crimea, and the whole of Donbas and Luhansk regardless of their local populations’ wishes?

In words also apposite today – ‘for a revolutionary party, the moment of declaration of war is especially critical. The bourgeois and social-patriotic press in an alliance with the radio and movies will pour out upon the toiling masses torrents of chauvinistic poison.’

‘Our attitude to war is determined not by the legalistic formula of “aggression” but by the question of which class carries on the war and for what aims. In the conflict of states, just as in the class struggle, “defence” and “aggression” are questions only of practical expediency and not of a juridical or ethical norm. The bare criterion of aggression creates a base of support for the social-patriotic policy of Messrs. Léon Blum, Vandervelde and others, who, thanks to Versailles, are given the possibility of defending imperialist booty under the guise of defending peace.’

The ACR wish to defend against aggression by supporting the national interests of a corrupt capitalist state in war against another while seeking incorporation into the world’s biggest imperialist alliance with a roll call of aggressive wars that would make Putin blush.

Again to Trotsky: ‘If in time of war it is necessary to reject the class struggle for the sake of national interests, it is also necessary to renounce “Marxism” in the epoch of a great economic crisis that endangers “the nation” no less than war. Back in April 1915, Rosa Luxemburg exhausted this question with the following words: “Either the class struggle is the imperative law of proletarian existence also during war … or the class struggle is a crime against national interests and the safety of the fatherland also in time of peace.”’

Back to part 3

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