What sort of Anti-War Campaign? (5) – the arguments of Gilbert Achcar

Gilbert Achcar

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.

So, to defend this position on the war, more ‘elaborate’ arguments have been presented herehere and in a debate on these positions here by Gilbert Achcar and Alex Callinicos.

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

1 thought on “What sort of Anti-War Campaign? (5) – the arguments of Gilbert Achcar

  1. Interesting how much of the commentary taking place has returned to a ‘Politics Alone’ sort of understanding, States and their Regimes talk. There is another conversation to be had about ‘Economic Realties’ that is rather under-represented. There is some talk about economic sanctions and how that might eventually play out but that is a restricted mode of economic understanding.

    If the battle over Ukraine is looked at from a longer perspective about recent economic realties then it looks more like part of the ongoing struggle between finance capital and industrial capital for world economic hegemony. Russia plus China represent industrial capitalism and socialism, while America and Europe represent Financial capitalism. In the West financial capitalism took command over industrial capitalism by making two broad sweeps of the broom, they de-industrialised the western economy and then moved what remained of the viable industrial economy to what used to be called the Third World. The economic facts show conclusively that bank lending in the West now invested almost exclusively into the support of real- estate assets and only a tiny fraction of financial lending goes to support new industrial assets. The second area of operations for finance capital flows into lending money to Government at a profit. Nearly all Governments around the globe are in debt to finance capital, most democratic States are in fact Debt slaves. The two big exceptions to the general course of State debt slavery are of course Russia and China.

    In Russia the finance sector is weak and hence still subordinated to industrial capital by current western standards. The enduring thing about industrial capitalism is that it is always only a few steps away from being reassembled as socialism, in the sense that the State Socialists or the Workers can in principle take command over it. The situation is something different with finance capitalism, the State Socialists and the Workers have not figured out how to take control over financial capital because of its its innate mobility of operations. So in the world of Economic Reality Finance capital very has the upper hand over both industrial capital and the dependent workers.

    However finance capital has not fully extended its control over all of industrial capitalism, especially of the industrial capitalism of Russia and China and this is what the economic struggle is all about. Just one year before shooting started the government of Ukraine had passed an economic plan for western investors to follow the ideal model set out by western neo-liberalism, to close down most of the Soviet era industrial sector (3000 industrial plants) and sell off the ‘viable’ leftovers to shareholder capitalists. In short industrial capitalism and State Socialism are the main enemy in the general consciousness of finance capital. During the Cold War the West itself represented itself as the progressive version of industrial capitalism, the enemy was the outmoded industrial socialism of the Soviet Union, an industrialism thought to be wasteful and inefficient of scarce resources.

    Now the West no longer fights cold and hot wars on behalf of its own industrial capital as it used to do, it fights them on behalf of finance, the buying and selling of real estate assets, and issuing debt bonds to any States that are willing to borrow and become potential democratic slaves, the specific instances of industrial capitalist are in fact no more than the instrumental fodder of General Finance, somewhat in the way individual soldiers were thought of as fodder for the Great Generals of the the great wars.

Leave a Reply to Paul Flannigan Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.