There is a second set of errors in what I have called the pro-war left, involving not only those who explicitly support the capitalist Ukrainian state but those who claim that in addition to this it is necessary to also condemn and oppose NATO.
A previous series of posts have demonstrated that the arguments put forward by Gilbert Achcar of the Fourth International are not consistent with a socialist approach to the war. He and Catherine Samary consistently understate the significance of the role of NATO and the US, and in the case of Samary reach for arguments that are the equivalent of a magician’s misdirection.
The latter, for example, insists that the primary issue in the original enlargement of NATO following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 was concern among rival imperialisms to retain some sort of control over Germany, and not opposition to Russia. (It is, by the way, relevant to note that Germany is now claiming its role is to take the lead in European security and what role other than opposition to Russia?)
This argument by Samary is not serious but inadvertently revealing. The unity of Germany under NATO firstly required removal of massive numbers of Soviet troops, and the later enlargement of it across Eastern Europe nails any illusion that this was not an anti-Russian move. A united Germany was a concern, but all the more reason to strengthen the European Union and further the project of a single currency.
NATO membership would further constrain the independent initiative of Germany as Samary appears to admit, which tells against any argument that Ukrainian self-determination, in the sense that she argues it, is compatible with the current embrace of that country by NATO; an issue she wishes to render scarcely relevant to the nature of the war.
Similarly, she claims that Russia was not under threat from NATO and that Putin’s main concern was with the colour revolutions against corruption, including potentially against himself. For her, the actions of Russia must never be framed as defensive in any way or a reaction to western actions. So, the possibility of taking control of Donbas and Crimea was primarily to boost his popularity while strengthening Russia’s international position. This happened when it did because Putin was not previously in a position to be aggressive, while the earlier catastrophic collapse of the Russian economy in the 1990s and its diminished geopolitical power were the result of Boris Yeltsin and an act of Russian self-determination. The war in Ukraine today is not therefore a reactive one but an active aggressive war explicitly against Ukrainian independence.
Some of these points are correct in themselves, it is a question of how far they go in explaining the origin and nature of the war.
Once again the selection of relevant factors ignores the blatantly obvious anti-Russian nature of NATO and its increasingly threatening enlargement, all the more possible and unnecessary precisely because of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact; the collapse of the Russian economy due to Western imported shock therapy; US interference in internal Russian politics in favour of Yeltsin, and following him the initial attempts by Putin to form some sort of partnership with Western imperialism rather than confront it as an enemy.
And once more the argument is revealing. Apparently Russian shock therapy was an act of self-determination and since her false application of this principle supposedly adds legitimacy to it, we are left with the view that this was an internal Russian matter. Nowhere is it viewed as arising within and out of the class struggle within Russia, almost always implemented by internal forces, but often on behalf of outside imperialist powers and institutions such as the US, EU or IMF.
Yet nowhere is the loss of political sovereignty by Ukraine through the demands of these organisations given any consideration as impairing the ‘self-determination’ of Ukraine, nor are classes within that country assigned responsibility for the imposition of austerity, repression, and submission to the demands of the IMF, EU and NATO. Neither is the development and growth of separatist tendencies in the east of the country granted any legitimacy through their resulting to a great degree from the repressive actions of the Kyiv government.
Instead, the growth over the years of support within Ukraine for NATO membership is blamed on Russian aggression, which is only partially true, but with no account taken of the reactionary Ukrainian regimes that have pushed membership even when the majority of the Ukrainian people opposed it, or been so divided that its pursuit could only lead to deepening division and exposure to long-standing Russian threats.
The Fourth International (FI) In the shape of Gilbert Achcar has debated Alex Callinicos on the nature of the war here and here. The international Socialist Tendency (IST) to which Callinicos belongs and which is represented by the Socialist Workers Network in Ireland, the political leaders of People before Profit, published an early statement on the war.
The IST is strongly critical of the FI’s refusal to condemn the intervention of NATO and its general disregard for its role. This leads them to make many valid criticisms and take a stand against NATO’s provision of arms to ‘Ukraine’ as well as to western sanctions.
Unfortunately, they share other positions with the FI that makes their overall position something of a contradiction. Similarly with their support for Brexit it has the flavour of having your cake and eating it. So, they claim that ‘for Ukrainians it is a war of national self-defence’ while ‘at the same time from the side of Western imperialist powers led by the United States and organised through NATO it is a proxy war against Russia.’ One is immediately propelled to ask – so which is it?
What is it from the side of the international working class – from those in China, India, Africa, Europe etc? It’s difficult not to keep on recalling that Alex Callinicos wrote a book about Postmodernism, from which the IST position seems to be inspired – the nature of the war depends on where you are, i.e. reality is dependent on your viewpoint.
The IST statement says that ‘the war is both an imperialist invasion of a former colony and part of an inter-imperialist conflict between the US and Russia with their allies. We are against both imperial powers. We express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people, supporting their right to resist the invasion.’ Elsewhere Callinicos has said that the war is one of national defence by Ukraine and therefore is justified, and that ‘it would indeed be good if the Ukrainian people were able to drive out the Russian invaders.’
The only way to reconcile this contradiction of being both a justified war of national defence and an inter-imperialist one (and even this would not justify support for the Ukrainian state) is to claim that the Ukrainian state is somehow independent of western imperialism. We have already seen in this series of posts that this is not credible. Indeed, the IST statement itself claims otherwise: ‘The inter-imperialist character of this conflict is confirmed by the policy of the Kyiv government, which is to draw the West into the shooting war.’
So, the policy of the Ukrainian state is actually more reactionary and dangerous than that of the US and NATO. So where is this war of national defence?
When it comes down to it, the approach to the war is not so different between the IST and FI, with the IST saying that ‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February was an act of imperialist aggression and a violation of the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination. . . . We express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people, supporting their right to resist the invasion.’ The IST thus have the same mistaken take on the demand for self-determination as the FI, from which all else seems to follow. Except for the IST all else doesn’t follow, which is good, but only because that makes their position more contradictory, if better than that of the FI for it.
If the war really was one of justified national defence, if it were some sort of colonial possession, it wouldn’t matter from whom ‘Ukraine’ got the weapons to fight its war, providing it could retain its interests independently of western imperialism, but the IST doesn’t make this distinction. Instead, Alex Callinicos says that ‘. . . the Western imperialist powers are instrumentalising the Ukrainian national struggle against Russian imperialism for their own interests.’
On this the FI is more consistent but at the price of complete capitulation to western imperialism. The FI also proclaims its opposition to NATO, just as does the IST, but neither thinks its role therefore makes the war by Ukraine a proxy one fought on behalf of western imperialism, using its money, its weapons and for its political objectives.
Of course, opposition to NATO arming Ukraine allows the IST to avoid the charge that NATO must exist for it to play this ‘progressive’ role and that is no small thing. But willing the end – a Ukrainian victory – without willing the means is deceitful.
What would be the result of a Ukrainian victory but a strengthened reactionary regime in Ukraine and a strengthened western imperialism threatening Russia even more immediately and closely? And this assumes that the perceived vital security interests of Russia would not have beforehand led to the use of tactical nuclear weapons and the potential for nuclear conflagration.
The politics of the IST are not so different from that of the FI. Both start from ‘anti-imperialism’ and the ‘right’ of independent capitalist countries to their own reactionary policies even if, as I have said before, it lands them in the shit. Neither start from the independence of the working class, including from the capitalist state no matter what its form. Lenin long ago gave the answer to those who think they can combine an imperialist war with national liberation as we set out in a previous post.
Back to part 3
Forward to part 5