I have argued that the Russian invasion has coloured the response of some on the left and defined their understanding of the nature of the war from which follows the socialist attitude to it. This might seem both natural and obvious but the threat of war was known well before the invasion, which most did not expect, so there was plenty of time to consider what the nature of the potential war was going to be.
Instead, the approach criticised in this series of posts relies on the fact of invasion itself to determine understanding of the nature of the war and the socialist attitude. Implicitly it ignores the view of Marxists, stated for example by Lenin in ‘Socialism and War’; that ‘for example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be “just,” “defensive” wars, irrespective of who attacked first.’
While the first impulse of Marxists should be to oppose one’s own capitalist state, this left has immediately rallied to it, and its position on the war is in no sense significantly different: both oppose the Russian invasion, support arming the Ukrainian state and make no distinction between the class interests involved either in Ukraine or in Britain itself. The only criticism is hypocrisy of the British Government over its restrictive policy on refugees.
Ire is directed against those who refuse to support the Ukrainian state or the intervention by the western imperialist powers. Facebook discussions have centred on how important it is not to be taken in by Putin’s propaganda, as if in the West we have not endured a deluge of propaganda informed by the Ukrainian side in the war.
We are expected to believe every statement by the Ukrainian regime when that state is one of the most corrupt in the world, as measured by Transparency International, ranking 122 out of 180 countries with a score of 32 and the worst in Europe with the exception of Russia, not far behind with a score of 29. The least corrupt countries measured by this index score 88 with the Irish state scoring 74 and the British 78.
Lately righteous indignation has followed reporting of atrocities by the Russian army, as if atrocity has not always been part of war but does not define its political character.
Achcar understands that in order to avoid opposing both capitalist states in the war and to support Ukraine he needs to show that the victory of one side is progressive in some way, or at least to be preferred. The argument he proposes invites an incredulous response:
‘The fate of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will determine the propensity of all other countries for aggression. If it fails in turn, the effect on all global and regional powers will be one of powerful deterrence. If it succeeds, that is if Russia manages to “pacify” Ukraine under Russian boots, the effect will be a major slide of the global situation toward unrestrained law of the jungle, emboldening US imperialism itself and its allies to resume their own aggressive stances.’
We are expected to believe that the support of Ukraine by the US and its NATO allies will leave them disempowered if they are successful! That victory would not add another country to the imperialist alliance and act as a deterrent to anyone who opposes the interests of US imperialism. We are asked to believe that on the other hand if Russia wins it will strengthen US imperialism, and that the US currently has no aggressive stance because it left Afghanistan suddenly, although having signalled it for a long time. A defeat for Russia will create a Vietnam syndrome – in the US?!! Did Russian defeat in Afghanistan have this result for the US? If Achcar’s argument were true why did recent US humiliation in Afghanistan not deter Putin’s invasion of Ukraine?
Elsewhere he says that ‘indeed, the United States and its Western allies have already benefited enormously from Putin’s action. They should be warmly grateful to the Russian autocrat.’ But does this not demonstrate the reactionary character of the invasion and confirm the aggressive character of US imperialism (regardless of Russian victory).
The whole argument is that the US and Russia do not assess their policy based on their geopolitical and economic interests and their capacity to enforce them, but simply as passive observers of the world, who will see enemies getting away with aggression and suddenly see that it works; as if neither had a long history of such actions. What is lacking apparently is simply some lack of will that will be remedied but only if Russia loses the war. Should it win, the US will suddenly discover the efficacy of invading other countries!
The next argument is that – ‘the demand of Russian withdrawal applies to every inch of Ukraine’s territory – including the territory invaded by Russia in 2014. When there is a dispute on the belonging of any territory anywhere in the world – such as Crimea or provinces in Eastern Ukraine, in this instance – we never accept that it be solved by naked force and the law of might, but always only through the free exercise by the people concerned of their right to democratic self-determination.’
So, invasion is undemocratic but in this case it is ok if it is carried out by Ukraine. The pre-2014 borders of Ukraine must be inviolate and claims as to the national character of Crimea as separate or Russian are either false or irrelevant, and certainly not worth addressing when proposing that the maximal war aims of Ukraine are supported, which more or less guarantees a longer war.
The third argument is that ‘we are in favour of the delivery of defensive weapons to the victims of aggression with no strings attached – in this case to the Ukrainian state fighting the Russian invasion of its territory.’ But what on earth is a defensive weapon? The same weapons currently used by the Ukrainian armed forces in their offensive against Russian positions were the same used in their defence against the original invasion. Some have argued against the supply of fighter aircraft to Ukraine because this is not a defensive weapon but if employed mainly over Ukrainian territory how is it not?
There are offensive and defensive military strategies and there are offensive and defensive wars but the latter is a political definition that rests on a characterisation of the war.
Achcar is inconsistent but his inconsistency doesn’t stop here. He claims that ‘we have no general attitude on sanctions in principle’ while they are in fact the continuation of a policy of war, as we have previously noted – ‘if war is the continuation of politics by other means sanctions are the result of political action to make economic measures the continuation of war.’
Instead Achcar notes that some sanctions’ may be harmful to the Russian population without much affecting the regime or its oligarchic cronies’ but that ‘we should neither support the latter’s sanctions, nor demand that they be lifted.’ It is impossible not to note the cynicism of such a position, which allows passivity while imperialism imposes sanctions and accepts them when they are imposed. It is now widely acknowledged even by their supporters that they will cause untold hardship across the world and the poorest will suffer the most. While Achcar is determined to take sides in the war he affects lofty indifference to defence of the world’s workers and its poorest sections.
Back to part 4
Forward to part 6