The war in Ukraine and the politics of evasion – 2 of 2

from BBC

The Independent Left writer states his purpose as follows:

‘The left arguments I want to address here are those of the groups and their supporters who express opposition to Putin, but who refuse to take any steps towards bringing about a military defeat for the Russian invasion and in particular, are strongly opposed to the people of Ukraine obtaining arms from the West.’

Let’s look at the two arguments he wants to take to task; the first that he objects to is that ‘Support for the resistance in Ukraine is support for NATO.’

The first point to note is that he makes no attempt to politically characterise this resistance.  Like others, he appears to believe that popular support for it, including from many on the left inside Ukraine, makes it progressive.  Support from the left itself is assumed to be proof of its progressive character, which is exactly what has to be proved in the first place.

He rejects this argument because ‘To say that the people of Ukraine need arms is not at all the same as saying NATO should send troops to fight in the war.’  Indeed not, sending arms is not the same as sending troops, but this argument makes another assumption: that this means that the war cannot be a proxy one with Ukraine being used as the tool of Western imperialism.  We have already dealt with this claim here and here so will not repeat these points again.

He rejects the argument against him that the US and NATO  ‘have their own imperialist goals’ by responding that ‘this observation about the US is, of course, correct, but do you really think people in Ukraine, especially the left, are under any illusions about the US interests at play?’

The answer to this, of course, is that with reference to imperialist involvement, it really doesn’t matter what these people believe; what matters is the objective forces in operation.  As we noted in the previous post, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians mobilised and demonstrated against corrupt regimes in 2004 and 2014 and succeeded, but still ended up with equally, if not worse, regimes afterwards.  The best organised and most conscious forces imposed their solution regardless of the desires of most of the participants. 

He argues that ‘the people of Ukraine’ are simply ‘taking advantage of inter-imperialist rivalry to obtain arms from NATO’ for which ‘there are very clear left precedents . . .  it is worth noting Lenin’s response when France and Britain offered to give military aid to Russia to fight Germany, when he wrote: “Please add my vote in favour of taking potatoes and weapons from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers.”

Unfortunately, this comparison doesn’t work for him.  Ukraine is capitalist country that isn’t ‘taking advantage of inter-imperialist rivalry’ but has allied itself with one of the imperialisms (and here we leave out in what sense Russia can be called imperialist). It seeks to formally become a member of one alliance that it has already de facto joined.  To compare this with revolutionary Russia, independent of both imperialist alliances in World War I and taking weapons from one of these imperialisms to defend itself, is off the wall.  Having taken weapons from NATO will Ukraine oppose NATO afterwards, as revolutionary Russia did with the British and French?  It’s complete nonsense.

The comparison with Solidarnosc in Poland, which the ‘CIA rushed to fund and influence’ and was ‘a genuine mass movement which socialists of the type now adopting the Evasionist position recognised and supported’ is hardly more compelling.  Just as in the previous example in which Russia was a workers’ state (however much deformed), so Solidarnosc was a workers’ trade union that socialists had a duty to join and to fight within for a socialist policy.  The attempt failed but this does not invalidate the requirement and duty to attempt it. The ‘Ukrainian resistance’ is a function of the capitalist state, not the independent organisation of the Ukrainian working class. Again, to compare the two as analogous is nonsense.

This capitalist state is in alliance with imperialism, which increasingly calls the shots and determines the aims of the war, which go way beyond defence.  Prominent figures in the US have declared the war goals as the weakening of Russia, with the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying that “the stakes reach beyond Ukraine and even beyond Europe.”  For the US this is not about Ukraine but all about Russia, with Ukraine as a tool that bleeds.  It has no more interest in the Ukrainians who take their children to school etc. than the Putin regime.

It is not therefore that ‘the people of Ukraine’ are ‘taking advantage’ of imperialism but that imperialism is taking advantage of Ukraine – to fight a war for imperialist objectives.  Typically, the US British lap dog yaps in advance of its owner that the war must go on until all of Ukraine is reoccupied, including Crimea, whose population almost certainly will not welcome either war or occupation.  The imbecilic London Government of Boris Johnson declares that China must ‘play by the international rules’; the same rules presumably that allows the US and Britain to invade Iraq and Afghanistan etc.

 So, the aims of the war will be determined not by the Ukrainian people, or its left, or their left supporters in other countries.  These forces will not use imperialism, imperialism is using them.

Kostick states that the ‘The contradiction in the Evasionist Left position – ‘we condemn Russia but we don’t support arming the resistance in Ukraine’ – is an unstable one.’  He says that the ‘effect of the Evasionist Left is to align their political energies with a victory for Putin.’

However, it is his position of support for ‘Ukraine’ that is unstable – how long can this be defended while it becomes more and more obvious that the war is being determined by the demands of US imperialism?  Biden has just announced he intends pumping $33 billion into Ukraine; after this are we still going to be told that Ukraine is not a proxy for Western imperialism? 

When will he realise that the alternative to supporting ‘Ukraine’ is not Putin but the working class, whose interest are international or they are nothing, and include the workers of Russia, the rest of Europe and, of course, Ukraine?

*      *      *

Socialists do not oppose workers defending themselves but, as noted above, Ukrainian workers have to defend themselves against their class enemies.  There is another war that never stops – the class war – and the actions of the regime topped off by Volodymyr Zelensky has already used the war with Russia to clamp down on workers’ rights and opposition parties.

What matters is the independent organisation of the Ukrainian working class; only on that basis can socialists call for the workers of each country to unite.  Such unity cannot come about through demanding support for the Ukrainian capitalist state in the guise of ‘Ukraine’; why, for example, would Russian workers oppose their own state and its war in order to support the Ukrainian state?

Conor Kostick claims that just such independent working class organisation exists – ‘Within the resistance to the invasion, the left are able to play an independent role.’

He informs us that ‘Some Social Movement activists, as well as many trade union members, have joined the TD [Territorial Defence] as volunteers. It is worth mentioning that dozens of anarchists and socialists have formed their own unit within the TD, called the Resistance Committee.’

Unfortunately, further inquiry does not support the claim that this left as described is able to play an independent role, either materially or politically.  The information provided in this article by Ukrainian Anarchists,  (which makes interesting reading for a number of reasons) explains their weakness, also something about their politics and their own division over the war.

On the last, it explains that ‘As for the attitude towards NATO, the authors of this text are divided between two standpoints. Some of us have a positive approach towards this situation. It is obvious that Ukraine cannot counter Russia on its own. Even taking into consideration the large volunteer movement, modern technologies and weapons are needed. Apart from NATO, Ukraine has no other allies who can help with this.’

On its weakness it states that ‘Anarchists do not have sufficient resources in Ukraine or elsewhere to respond effectively to the invasion of Putin’s regime. Therefore, one has to think about accepting support from NATO.’  It states baldly that ‘We still have very little influence on society at large . . . At this stage, our role can be described as the most radical approaches and views in the democratic camp . . . if a war breaks out, the main thing will again be the ability to participate in armed conflict.’

This weakness is not new and they honestly reflect on their previous experience in 2014:

‘In the end, anarchists participated in the Maidan revolution individually and in small groups, mainly in volunteer/non-militant initiatives. After a while, they decided to cooperate and make their own “hundred” (a combat group of 60-100 people). But during the registration of the detachment (a mandatory procedure on the Maidan), the outnumbered anarchists were dispersed by the far-right participants with weapons. The anarchists remained, but no longer attempted to create large organized groups.’

The other component of this Left seems not very different.  Neither has politically broken from the Ukrainian state and, given their size, they will be easily subordinated to it as members and participants in its armed forces.  It states that ‘We consider the slogans “Say No to War” or “The War of Empires” to be ineffectual and populist. The anarchist movement has no influence on the process, so such statements do not change anything at all.’

It therefore embodies all the weaknesses of the position of the Independent Left article, but for more appreciable reasons since the restrictions they suffer do not apply to socialists in some other parts of the world, including Ireland.  They do not demonstrate genuine political independence from their own State, its political regime, or its policy of NATO membership, which ultimately means their subordination to the interests of US imperialism.

*      *      *

The second argument that Kostick wishes to oppose is the one that states that ‘the war in Ukraine is an ‘inter-imperialist war’ and therefore has no affinity to the First World War.  This means that the principled opposition to the latter by socialists does not apply.  His policy is not anti-war but for the victory of one side.  He states that ‘You can’t negotiate any settlement with Putin, even a bad one for Ukraine that nevertheless de-escalates the threat of nuclear war, unless you stop his army and force him to realise he can’t implement his plan to eradicate Ukraine as an independent nation.’

Like others in the pro-war Left his war aims guarantee an extended war that ignores that it can only end with negotiation, which socialists should regard as potentially providing more favourable grounds for organising workers and conducting the fight against chauvinist nationalism on all sides.  By now it should be clear that Putin is not seeking the eradication of Ukraine but that the United States has dramatically increased the aims of the war to include defeat for Russia at a global level, which means strengthening the US against its most important competitor, China.

Kostick however is reluctant to take on board the wider significance of the war, hence the trope of a Russian convoy approaching a Ukrainian town.  He says that ‘the Russian invasion of Ukraine is nothing like the outbreak of the First World War. Within a week of Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia in 1914, all the European imperial powers were in a full-blooded war against one another. From the Russian invasion until now, we have not witnessed the equivalent to French and British armies crashing up against the German army.’

We have however, witnessed unprecedented sanctions that amount to economic warfare, that hit the weakest hardest but which he nevertheless supports.  Again, we have argued against them before and will not repeat our arguments here. We have witnessed a wall of propaganda that has been the cover for massive rearmament of Germany and the possible incorporation of Finland and Sweden into the western imperialist alliance.

His own Government has announced it intends increasing military expenditure by €500m from a base of around €1.1bn.  If the war in Ukraine is progressive, logically he should welcome this and demand the Irish Government use its additional capacity to start sending weapons. It is easy to see how supporting one foreign capitalist state can lead to supporting your own.

We have not seen direct fighting between the strongest imperialist powers but if Kostick wants to wait until that happens before declaring the war an inter-imperialist one then it appears he can only shake himself into opposition when nuclear annihilation becomes an imminent threat.

He recognises that ‘We should oppose US intervention of troops, ships, and aircraft, mainly because of the risk of nuclear war but also because of their own imperialist record’, but he doesn’t seem to recognise what this record implies for the nature of the intervention that has already taken place.  The intervention that he does want has to be significant enough to affect the outcome of the war, or why else would he call for it, but by this very fact it becomes undeniable that we have an inter-imperialist war.

He finds another analogy with Ukraine from history that is as false as those claimed with revolutionary Russia and Solidarnosc; this time with Ireland during the First World War:

‘Just as Connolly was right to take German weapons to support an armed rising against the British empire, so the Ukrainian people are right to take weapons from wherever they can to rise against the Russian empire.’

The difference is that Ukraine is not a colony and is already an independent capitalist state in alliance with the strongest imperialist alliance on earth.  Ireland was a colony, didn’t even have a state and obviously wasn’t an ally of imperialism; no imperialist powers entered on its side during the 1916 rebellion or during its later war of independence.

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The aims of the Irish rebels were not determined by Germany and the slogan of the Irish Citizen Army made it clear where they stood – ‘we serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland’.  The Ukrainian state is not declaring – ‘We serve neither Russia nor NATO’.

*      *      *

Conor Kostick claims his policy stands on grounds of practicality, and any alternative to it must also – ‘These practical questions are a good way to judge the two key formulations that the Evasionist Left are using.’

It is indeed very practical for NATO to arm the Ukrainian state and for socialists to argue for imperialism to ‘do the right thing.’  But NATO giving weapons to Ukrainian armed forces is not any action of socialists or the working class and it involves no practicality from them at all.  Nor is calling for imperialism to ‘do the right thing’ the least bit necessary – it needs no persuasion to do what it is doing.

So, while extolling the practicality of his Ukrainian policy he genuflects to other causes but seems not to notice that these seem not to contain the same practicality, being simply influencing public feeling of solidarity.  He puts it like this:

‘The left can influence this public feeling of solidarity for Ukraine by making points about Western hypocrisy on refusing to cancel Ukraine’s debt; on refugees, on Palestine, and yes, on the imperialist role of NATO. But the best way to do that is to amplify the voices of Ukrainian socialists and anarchists who are putting their lives in the front lines against Putin’s army.’

So we are supposed to believe that solidarity with Ukraine will somehow lead to solidarity with Palestine, for example.  Calling for NATO to arm Ukraine will help expose its imperialist role! And we will do this by repeating the voices of Ukrainian socialists and anarchists? We apparently must subcontract our politics to them, including opposition to NATO, while they are simultaneously calling on it for support! What sense does this make?

These Ukrainian socialists and anarchists are unfortunately subordinated and dependent on the Ukrainian state, which is in turn subordinated and dependent on NATO, and what Conor Kostick proposes is that the rest of us join the club.

Back to part 1

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