The war in Ukraine – you say it best when you say nothing at all

Sometimes it’s not what you say but what you don’t say that is revealing.

From the start, the pro-war left has continually aped the bourgeois media in its denunciation of the obsession and madness of Vladimir Putin.

While Western imperialism needed some explanation that turned attention away from its own provocations and responsibility for the war, the left needed a cover for its effective solidarity with it.   How could it support western imperialist intervention unless this could safely be disregarded? And why deliberate on any wider geopolitical canvas when it could all be satisfactorily accounted for by focussing attention on the unknowable workings of Putin’s brain?

Not a word, or at least I haven’t seen any, on the workings of the brain of that other President so involved in the war, whose own obsession with Ukraine has been of long standing, and whose own cognitive functioning has been questioned long before the war.

And what about the Ukrainian President, whose popularity has apparently soared since the war started?  Does this in itself not raise questions?  How many reactionary leaders through the ages have gained (temporary) popularity through war and its glorification – Slava Ukraini?

Zelensky has called for a no-fly zone over Ukraine to be implemented by NATO, which even the most rabid supporter of the Ukrainian state must accept is an invitation to World War III.  But where were the denunciations from the pro-war left of Zelensky?

His latest demand is that the war now be declared, through a pre-emptive strike by the West on Russia.  The sound of denunciation by the cheerleaders of the war strains the ears of everyone trying to make it out.  Fixated on the supposed threats of nuclear war by Putin, while the Russian state declares no change to its nuclear policy, the pro-war left stays mum while Biden talks of ‘Armageddon’ and Zelensky calls for World War III. Even Macron rebukes Biden but the pro-war left sees its role as being the best defenders of the Ukrainian state, as it thinks it must be for every struggle it involves itself in.

And by the way, try googling ‘Zelensky calls for a preemptive strike on Russia’ and you will be rewarded with lots of articles claiming he didn’t mean what he said. Imagine the same speech and ‘clarification’ by Putin and you can appreciate the purely propagandistic character of Western media coverage of the war. While driving my wife to an appointment this morning I had to suffer RTE radio describe Russians as hyenas and express its disgust at some of them gloating over missile attacks on Ukraine. Presumably previous Ukrainian gloating over the Kerch bridge attack didn’t register; selective speech is always combined with selective hearing.

Since some of the pro-war Left claims to be inspired by Marxism, seeking the overthrow of imperialism and reactionary states like Ukraine, it might seem obvious to ask how they found themselves on the side of both. This was, after all, a choice freely taken; it was open to them to oppose the Russian invasion without supporting the Ukrainian state.

Their answer lies partly in their claim that it is necessary to support self-determination for the Ukrainian state and oppose imperialism, Russian that is, not the NATO one which Ukraine is now a supplicant of. But what will the pro-war Left do if or when it actually becomes an official NATO member? It’s alright to be armed and fight on behalf of NATO but not be an official member of the club?

Will the character of the war therefore suddenly change for them? How will they explain the transition, or will the ‘self-determination’ of Ukraine that presently justifies their support for this capitalist state and the role of NATO still determine their position?

Why would it not? If it is Russia that is waging an aggressive war and Ukraine a war of national defence, which of these would be changed by increased Western imperialist support? Having accepted that the reactionary policies and nature of the independent Ukrainian capitalist state does not invalidate support for it, why should this support not continue? Is this not inevitable when one supports the demand for self-determination of a state that is already independent and self-determines its objective of NATO membership?

The demand for ‘self-determination’ has thus been turned into a fig-leaf tat can excuse support for Western imperialism and any notoriously corrupt state.  But where in this can any part of the policy of Lenin be discerned so that it could justify support for an independent capitalist state at war?  Where is the denunciation of Ukrainian nationalism that Lenin would have demanded?  Where is the demand for an independent Ukrainian working class organisation and policy instead of loyal membership of the armed forces of the Ukrainian state?  Where is the demand for opposition to this state and its war within the Armed Forces of Ukraine?

Of course, the policy of self-determination of an already independent state is a million miles from Lenin’s demand, but then their application of it has more to do with that of Woodrow Wilson than Lenin. We have already explained at length that they either do not understand Lenin’s position or, more evidently, don’t care to understand it. But then, who reads for the purpose of changing their mind, especially to be convinced of something harder to fight for? They are not going to start now having just perverted and misrepresented his ideas.

Nothing for them has gotten in the way of supporting ‘Ukraine’ and the ‘Ukrainian resistance’.  Eyes are diverted when fascists are honoured by their President for their role in it.  We are given to concern ourselves more with fascists in places like France, while the Ukrainian variety is armed to the teeth, incorporated into the armed forces of the state, widely viewed as legitimate for its role in the fighting, and has its slogans adopted by ‘the resistance’.  We are meant not to recall its role in ensuring that the Minsk agreements to prevent the return of war were frustrated and ignored by the Ukrainian state, lest we question Russian sole responsibility.

So, the main question to ask of this left is not ‘why?’, but ‘with what consequences?’  With what result?

Failure to speak leads to, and is a result of, failure to notice what is actually going on, generating grotesque political positions.  We see self-proclaimed socialists ‘gloating’ over the success of offensives by the Ukrainian armed forces as it captures swathes of land in Kharkiv and advances in Kherson.  Their support for ‘the Ukrainians’ and defeat of the ‘Russian forces’ parrots the bourgeois media, which ignores the massive loss of Ukrainian lives from offensives only made possible through western arms and organisation, while ignoring that in Kharkiv it is not Ukrainians chasing Russians but Ukrainians primarily chasing other Ukrainians.

But of course, the view that there is a single Ukrainian people and a single ‘Ukrainian resistance’ can’t deal with the fact that this is not the case, just as it cannot start any analysis from the idea that there is a separate interest of the Ukrainian working class.  The collapse into nationalism is lit up in lights when support is declared for ‘Ukraine’ and the ‘Ukrainian resistance’ when the war is obviously one also within Ukraine and between Ukrainians. They have no answer to the obvious reality that many citizens of Crimea and Donbas etc. no longer have any wish to live under a political regime based in Kyiv.

It is not in the interests of working class people that they die in a war that only continues through Western support, objectively making them a proxy for imperialism.  The pro-war left, acting as leftist cover, also only seeks victory and is therefore silent on any demand for a democratic peace, or any sort of peace, never mind working class unity to overthrow the Zelensky regime. It has nothing to say to those other Ukrainian workers, whom their heroes are fighting, who seek salvation from the Russian state; no political demands to join in a peace agreement that puts their combined interests first. Such ideas are unspoken because they have never occurred to them.

Instead, the pro-war left celebrates offensives in which the meat-grinder of Russian artillery destroys Ukrainian workers in uniform, while failing to notice that Russian forces withdraw with minimum losses.

When one becomes a cheerleader one must continue to cheer because that is the job.  The pro-war left supports the prosecution of the war until Ukrainian victory when this can only come from a victory also of Western imperialism.  This necessarily entails escalation of the war and increased risk of it becoming a global one between NATO and Russia. Since the ultimate target is China, it too cannot remain indifferent to its encirclement, becoming more and more the target of US verbal attacks and sanctions.

To deny all this requires either stupidity or descent into the most rotten politics, hence the silence, as if all this will go away if we refuse to speak of it, at least until Ukraine and NATO win, Russian forces are expelled, and other workers who consider themselves Russian suffer occupation.

7 thoughts on “The war in Ukraine – you say it best when you say nothing at all

  1. You are right, we agree entirely. My point about conservative rather than reactionary is not just terminological, but political/ideological. Lenin, in his polemics against the Narodniks makes the point that the bourgeoisie was “progressive” as against the views of the petty-bourgeois socialism of the Narodniks, Legal Marxists and so on. The latter were certainly not subjectively reactionary, any ore so than was Sismondi or Proudhon. They honestly believed that they were engaged in a progressive struggle on behalf of small producers. They were just wrong about that.

    Similarly, I have no doubt that the various “anti-capitalists” and “anti-imperialists” today think they are also engaged in a progressive struggle. They, are however, just as objectively wrong, because the basis of their ideas is itself reactionary, or the same reasons that Lenin describes, and that Marx described in relation to Proudhon et al.

    So, its important to make the point that the bourgeoisie (particularly as understood as the representative of actual industrial capital, though, today that is really the working-class professional managers of that capital) is progressive viz viz the petty bourgeoisie, and its political representatives, including those that consider themselves socialists or even communists. They are progressive, because they represent, as you say the means by which existing capital is not merely preserved but developed, and that development is itself progressive, but also the basis of Socialism.

    Whether they desire it or not – and, of course they don’t – their very actions in preserving capital, by being forced to develop it, creates the conditions for Socialism. The EU, as a manifestation of that is also, thereby, progressive, in fact, probably the most progressive thing that man has produced in his entire history. So, although they are not progressive in the sense that the working-class is progressive – and concretely we also have to take into account that many of those workers are not consciously struggling for Socialism, but are taken in by the reactionary ideas of nationalism – they are objectively progressive, and currently, probably the most effective counter against reaction itself, as the defeat of Trussonomics is showing.

    As your countryman Edmund Burke said, conservative does not mean opposing all forward movement, only being very cautious about destroying what exists without seeing that what takes its place is better, and flows naturally from changed conditions. I think a Marxist can also agree with that sentiment, as it seems to coincide with the principles also of historical materialism, and opposition to the idea that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Burke, of course, used it inconsistently, supporting the American Revolution, but opposing the French Revolution.

    But, I think as a definition its more appropriate to describe the position of the bourgeoisie, and of the EU than is the term reactionary, implying an actual reversal from an already existing condition.

  2. There is much agreement with you when it comes to the most pressing issues of today and tomorrow. The disagreements I have are with the Marxist methodology of Ideas. A method that I think you are maybe too loyal to.

    In your previous posts you pointed out how Marx and Engels came to regard the revolutions of the mid nineteenth century. One lesson was that the newly minted capitalist class, the nascent bourgeoisie had lost the nerve for a bourgeois revolution. One way of framing this might be to say that the principles of liberalism were much too revolutionary sounding for the bourgeoisie as a social class. The principle of free determination is an example of a liberal principle that has proved to be very difficult for the most enlightened of the bourgeoisies to encode into political their political practice, the instance mentioned being how Woodrow Wilson backed away from forcing the empire States of Great Britain and France and others from conceding to his American liberal principles.

    The next point is key , what are we to make of those same Liberal Ideas about State, economy and personal autonomy that are often betrayed by the bourgeoisie? If we follow a strict methodology of class analysis, the Ideas in themselves are only secondary to the class situation and struggle, we can pass over the Ideas as if they were epiphenomenal. Yet even Lenin seems to make himself a prisoner of those liberal ideas looked at from his an anti-imperialist perspective, he makes use of the liberal -self determination principle to attack imperialism and undermine colonialism. This means that Ideas are to be assessed on the basis of what worth? The obvious answer is on the basis of an understanding of the march or direction of history.

    At this point I must some points made by Leo Strauss, he was on the European Right in the 1920s and 1930s, certainly an anti-communist, however there is more to him than that, he opposed Marxism for other reasons, because he was an anti-historicist in philosophy and in the study of Ideas. At a personal level I read some of his chief works at university, before reading Marx outside of the university. Some of his criticism of what he termed Historicist philosophy have stayed in the back of my mind.

    I am going to provide a rather long quote of Strauss to highlight what I mean, it is a section of an essay where he criticism an important book of Georg Lukacs called the Destruction of Reason 1954, of course Lukacs made big concessions to the Stalinist doctrine of Dialectical and Historical materialism.

    The destruction of reason was an attempt attempt to write the history of philosophical Ideas from the high point of Historical materialism, starting from the the philosophy of Hegel and the criticism made of his Idealism undertaken by by Marx, it is a history of intellectual decline and philosophical reaction, the philosophers who come along after the high point of Marx-Hegel are all reactionary ideologues, from Nietzsche, to Husserl and Heidegger to the logical positivists, including Russell and Wittgenstein, no school of philosophy escapes his slashing knife, only Max Weber is offered some faint praise, maybe because Lukacs had once studied under his supervision. This is what Strauss says about what Lukacs assumes to be the Marxist method of dealing with Ideas as expressing class ideology.

    ‘A MARXIST WRITER, GEORG LUKACS, has written a history of nineteenth and twentieth-century German thought under the title Die Zerstorung der Vernunft ( the destruction of reason).

    I believe that many of us Western social scientists must plead guilty to this accusation. For obvious reasons we must be especially interested in his critique of Max Weber’s conception of social science. One may summarise that critique as follows. Weber more than any other German scholar of his generation tried to save the objectivity of social science; he believed that to do so required that social science be made ‘value free’ because he assumed that evaluations are trans rational or irrational; but the value-free study of the ‘facts’ and their causes admittedly presuppose the selection of relevant facts; that selection is necessarily guided by reference to values; the values with reference to which the facts are to be selected must themselves be selected; and that selection, which determines in the last analysis the specific conceptual framework of the social scientist, is in principle arbitrary; hence social science is fundamentally irrational or subjective (p 484, 612-19)

    According to Lukacs, an objective and evaluating social science is possible provided social science does not limit itself to the study of arbitrarily selected facts or segments, but understands particular social phenomena in the light of the whole social situation and ultimately in the light of the whole historical process. ‘HISTORICAL and Dialectical materialism is that comprehensive view in which the progressiveness and the rationally knowable lawfulness of history are expressed in the highest form, and, in fact the only comprehensive view that can give
    a consistent philosophic foundation to progressivism and reasonableness ( p456, 576).

    Hegel’s attempt to demonstrate the progressive and rational character of the historical process was based on the premise that, the process is in principle (theory)
    completed; for if it were not completed, one could not know, for instance, whether the
    future stages would not lead to the self-destruction of reason. Yet according to MARX, the historical process is not completed, not to say that it has not even begun.
    Beside , MARX DOES NOT ADMIT TRANS-HISTORICAL OR NATURAL ENDS WITH REFERENCE TO WHICH CHANGE CAN BE DIAGNOSED AS PROGESS OR REGRESS. It is therefore a question whether by turning from Western relativism to Marxism one escapes relativism .’

    I could say a lot more about the relativism of reason implicit in historical materialism, the crux of the matter is that Marxism does not permit of trans-historical rational standards of judgement on the most important matters. To refer back to the self determination of nations, if this is not a trans-historical rational principle then what is it? The historicist answer is that it belongs to a changing period of history, how do we know when this passing era of history is over without invoking some higher rational vantage point, by drawing on some trans-historical rational point of view?

    Strauss argued that historicist philosophy was first drafted by Hegel, and reached a sort of perfection in the work of Heidegger, especially in his classic Being and Time. Every thing that we know, all that is Being must be understood in the light of the understanding of Time, in Heidegger there are no trans-historical truths or principles. What Heidegger argued for ontologically and determined to be into a superior insight is only lightly touched on by Marx. One thing that is often missing from the understanding of the late books of Strauss is his opposition to the various Historicist schools of philosophy, especially the thought of Heidegger. He does not make this obvious to the average reader. He asks us to reconsider Socratic like questions, can we know what justice is, not just for our time and place but for all times and places!

    To finish, is it proper to turn to a Marxist who wished to take the question of Marx and philosophy seriously, Karl Korsch writes in Marxism and Philosophy:

    ‘for the moment I merely record that historically this issue simply ceased to be a problem as far as most later Marxists were concerned. The manner in which they dealt with the question of philosophy can best be described in the vivid terms in which Engels once described Feuerbach’s attitude to Hegelian philosophy; Feuerbach simply ‘shoved’ it ‘unceremoniously aside’. In fact, very many later ‘Marxists, apparently in highly orthodox compliance with the masters’ instructions, dealt in the same unceremonious way not only with Hegelian philosophy but with philosophy as a whole’ Thus, for example, Franz Mehring more than once laconically described his own orthodox position on the question of philosophy by saying that he accepted; the rejection of all philosophic fantasises’ which was the ‘precondition for the masters (Marx and Engels) immortal accomplishments’.

    The phrase ‘immortal accomplishments’ is an odd choice expression. It seems to indicate that Marx transcended his own time.

    • In my earlier reply, when I mentioned that ‘the demand by Lenin was tailored to an increasingly bygone capitalism’, I elliptically pointed to an answer to your questions below:

      ‘To refer back to the self determination of nations, if this is not a trans-historical rational principle then what is it? The historicist answer is that it belongs to a changing period of history, how do we know when this passing era of history is over without invoking some higher rational vantage point, by drawing on some trans-historical rational point of view?’

      Since the demand for the self-determination of nations is a bourgeois democratic demand it is historically progressive in relation to the rise of this class and its consignment of pre-capitalist feudal or other relations of production to history. Since capitalism immediately gives rise to the working class, its struggle for this demand inevitably gives rise to the potential for permanent revolution, which the comment to this post by Boffy refers to.

      Thus, we have the notorious cowardice of the bourgeoisie in fighting for the political arrangements most appropriate to their new relations of production, which was learned by Marx and Engels, with these lessons systematised by Trotsky. I have written a couple of posts on Marx’s understanding of the term permanent revolution and will put them up soon.

      This process of the development of capitalism and the development of the nation state as the most useful political framework for its development gave rise to anti-colonial struggles. To the degree that such bourgeois democratic struggles took place without a proletariat because capitalism was so underdeveloped, the slogan of national self-determination was a valid demand that socialists should support, with whatever qualification necessary to defend the interest of the nascent or undeveloped working class and its movement.

      In some countries this working class, though a small minority, was nevertheless able to put its own class rule on the agenda through the process of permanent revolution. For reasons set out in the Boffy post this agenda could not be accomplished by a working class minority in the country of origin of the revolution without the rest of the world working class successfully joining its struggle.
      The development of capitalism has removed almost all colonies and most countries have large working classes that have relegated the primacy of purely bourgeois democratic demands to history. The demand for independent nation states is no longer progressive when international relations of production put truly international political architecture as the most appropriate superstructure for economic and social development.

      If we turn to the example of Ukraine, it is an already independent capitalist state, as I have said many times, and has a large, albeit divided, working class. The task for socialists in this case is not to support the prerogatives of this state or pretend to solve the unity of the working class through capitulation to its demands but to argue that the working class oppose its war.
      I hope all this explains the vantage point to be taken when examining the nature of the demand for self-determination.

  3. In might be intriguing to know how the right of national self-determination made its way into Marxist political thought. The conception of national self determination is clearly a modification of the liberal conception of a free society, founded on the solid ground of individual self preservation:’ We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’

    I doubt that Lenin ever agreed with the express terms of above declaration of Independence, though on what grounds and to what end his objection is might be hard to speak about. He would probably say that the terms above belong to bourgeois ideology, a ‘doctrine’ expression a class interest. The non- Leninist rejection would no doubt focus on the thought that the Rights mentioned are not self-evident truths, philosophers say that self evident truths these are confined to mathematical and logical matters.

    Woodrow Wilson made a play of forcing these self-evident truths on the British and French negotiators ‘ When the Peace Conference opened in 1919, its leading principle, or so the world thought, was to be self-determination of nations’ ( The Nation State and National Self -Determination by Alfred Cobban 1969) The phrase ‘or so the world thought’ is the operative one, for some of the visiting national delegations, including the Irish one who came seeking national self determination had the door closed in their faces. Apparently Ho Chi Minh turned up as well.

    Perhaps the ‘principle’ of national self-determination became more attractive to Marxists for the reason that the Great Powers of 1918 and after did not act on their own profession of principle, the political leaders of the firmly established nations were at best hypocrites. Demonstrating the hypocrisy of your political opponents has always been a useful tactic.

    There is an argument that maintains that the principle of national self – determination is outmoded on the basis of economic reasons alone. This would imply that in the recent past the economic conditions favoured Political independence of States and today the economic conditions are so much changed that Political independence is less relevant.

    If it is true that Political Independence is no longer relevant to the capitalist economy why is it said to be the cause of a war in Europe? It could be argued that the Ukraine Government is not genuinely fighting on behalf of Political Independence, since the declared aim is to become part of the EU. As I understand the recent history, it was the issue of application to join the EU that kick started all of the ‘trouble’ back in 2013 and 14, this is before NATO membership was a point of greater contention. If Ukraine did become a member of the EU it would hardly have achieved Political Independence. What are we to make of the EU with respect to the current conflict, is it on the side of progress or reaction?

    It sort of reminds me of the national movement of Scotland, fighting to leave the United Kingdom not to be free, but rather to be ordered around by the EU. Weird stuff.

    • The demand for self-determination for Lenin meant the right to form a separate state when a nationality was contained within an Empire, the most usual being colonies. This was to be part of the socialist programme in order to assuage national feelings of this nationality and persuade them of the good intentions of the working class movement within that empire in order to further the unity of the working class across it. Of course, the right to set up a separate state does not mean socialists advocate that this be done.

      As I set out in my series of posts the demand was therefore subordinated to the self-determination of the working class. Those leftists supporting the prerogatives of the already independent capitalist Ukrainian state therefore mangle Lenin’s conception to the extent that they end up supporting imperialism, the opposite of the policy! This shows how far they now are from genuine socialist politics.

      As you imply, there are few colonies today and the demand is now often advanced by nationalities or movements that could not conceivably be considered colonies or oppressed nations since sometimes they are better off than the rest of the state from which they seek to secede. Invariably they disrupt the project of uniting the working class in its own interests. The nationalist movement in Scotland you mention is a good example of the latter.

      The demand by Lenin was tailored to an increasingly bygone capitalism in another way, in that it applied often to societies dominated by the peasantry and other pre-capitalist classes within which the working class and its movement were small and the prospects of socialism longer term. This was true of the revolution in the Russian empire and ignored by those supporters of Ukraine who want us to support the Ukrainian state today.

      Since capitalism has moved on and small states are dominated by larger ones just as small capitals dominate smaller ones, the demand for separate states involves, as you say, subordination within the existing economic and political organisation of imperialism, of which the EU is an example. There is no political independence in any old-fashioned sense of the word and small countries by and large do as they are told. The EU allows such smaller states some framework for manoeuvre as members within it, where it has its own particular interests, but that is all.

      Stalinism prioritised socialism in one country (in reality to its own bureaucratic rule in the Soviet Union etc.) in opposition to socialist revolution, which entailed peaceful coexistence with capitalist countries. This required some sort of independence from US and the European imperialisms on behalf of ex-colonies and others. This was as part of its anti-monopoly alliance and stages perspective for the working class that led to subordination of the class to supposedly progressive nationalist bourgeois forces. This became known as anti-imperialism and the priority of it in the socialist programme.

      This anti-imperialism divorced from any perspective for the working class struggle for socialism became another avenue by which Leftists could capitulate to reactionary forces that came into conflict with US and European imperialism, and another way in which the demand for self-determination could be distorted from its original role and purpose. This continues today in demands for self-determination on behalf of capitalist states characterised as semi-colonies, which are really just small and subordinated parts of the imperialist system but with as much political freedom as they will ever likely get within capitalism. The demand on their behalf for a separate state is at best irrelevant and at worst another means of subordinating their working classes to the projects of their capitalist class.

      The Ukrainian state has sought to join NATO, even when the majority of its people have either not supported joining or has been badly split. To trumpet the right of the Ukrainian state to do so, as some pro-war ‘socialists’ have done, clearly therefore exposes their politics as pure capitulation to imperialism over the interests of the working class.

      It is abundantly clear that US imperialism especially has used Ukraine as a weapon against Russia. Its interventions into Ukrainian politics make all talk of it being a defender of Ukrainian independence a sick joke. It has now sought to fight Russia ‘to the last Ukrainian’, as it has been put. It is in the interests of Ukrainian workers that the war be brought to a speedy end in order to so end the destruction and loss of life.

      This requires the Ukrainian working class to have an independent organisation and policy that opposes US intervention, which aims to prolong and escalate the war, and also opposes the Zelenskyy regime, which is implementing a policy that suits only US imperialism.

      All this is lost on the pro-imperialist ‘socialists’ who seem to think that because the small Ukrainian socialist movement has capitulated it gives them a licence to do the same. If they can support a particularly unattractive capitalist state in a war, and one supported by the US imperialist alliance on top of that, there may be no end to their betrayal.

      As an aside, you ask is the EU on the side of progress or reaction? It is a piece of imperialist architecture so is obviously reactionary. We want to overthrow it; but our socialist alternative is an international one and not a nationalist one. So we reject the idea that we reach towards socialism by dissolving the EU into little separate capitalist states and think this is progress, instead of actually being the purest reaction and attempt to turn the clock back on development instead of driving forward to socialism.

      • A few points on your excellent response.

        1) For Lenin, Trotsky and the early Comintern, the slogan of support for the right of national self-determination could not be separated from the concept of permanent revolution for the following reasons:
        a) their goal was socialism not simply bourgeois democracy (Lenin, various on self-determination you have previously cited)
        b) the lead force in fighting for it would always end up being the working-class, which would end up having to fight for its own interests, bringing it int conflict with bourgeois-democracy (in fact, this ended up not being true in each case, because an imperialism based upon ending the old colonial form of imperialism could fulfil that role, the error flowing from Lenin’s mistake in his theory of imperialism). (Lenin April Thesis, Letters on tactics, Trotsky Permanent Revolution/Results and Prospects, Problems of The Chinese Revolution, The Civil War in Spain etc.)
        c) because their goal was socialism, and the greatest unity of the global proletariat, not simply the creation of bourgeois-democratic nation states, they insisted that communists could only give their support to truly revolutionary forces engaged, independently, in such struggles, and not not simply bourgeois, or petty-bourgeois nationalist forces (Theses on the National and Colonial Questions)
        d) precisely because Socialism In Once Country is a delusion, if a country did go through this process, led by a revolutionary proletariat supported by the peasantry, it could not simply end there. As Lenin and Trotsky described (indeed as Stalin initially wrote, see Trotsky Appendix to Revolution Betrayed) winning state power is only the start, and it would be forced to continue the process of permanent revolution, now on an international scale, which requires that it has built up that support internationally. That certainly can’t be done by bourgeois forces, let alone bourgeois forces acting as agents of imperialism.

        On all these counts there is no basis for Marxists to support the corrupt Ukrainian regime in its war with Russia, which amounts only to a war for defence of the fatherland, just as in WWI and II. If the Bolsheviks were right to adopt a defeatist stance after the bourgeois-democratic revolution of February 1917, despite he risk and reality of Russia being dismembered by Germany and other powers, then a defeatist stance for Ukraine acting as proxy for NATO is certainly justified.

        On the EU, I think the term “reactionary” is terminologically inaccurate. I think the term conservative is more accurate. Reactionary implies a desire to move back from the current status quo to some previous less mature form. Those that seek to break up the EU, and go back to the previous less mature form of nation states are reactionary, i.e. the Brexiters and Lexiters et al. Compared to them, the EU, and the forces of the bourgeoisie are progressive, because the logic of the former does lead back away from Socialism towards less developed forms of capital, and even to small scale commodity production and feudalism, whatever they might intend, whereas the logic of the latter leads towards monopoly, planning and Socialism, whatever they might intend. Lenin describes that in his polemics against the Narodniks, who were advocates of the former types of petty-bourgeois ideology.

        The EU and the bourgeoisie/ruling class are only reactionary as regards Socialism, but Socialism does not exist, and so its impossible to be actually reactionary compared to something that is still in the future, particularly when the logic of the social form you seek to develop itself leads via its own dynamic and contradictions to that future social form, as Marx and Lenin demonstrate is exactly what capitalism does. As Lenin points out in his polemics against the Narodniks if you compare a reality with all of its inevitable flaws with some idealised conception of some perfect other, but actually non-existent state, the fomer will always appear deficient.

        The EU is conservative, rather than reactionary, for the same reason that the ruling class is conservative rather than reactionary. It seeks to conserve the status quo, rather than go back to the former previous less mature forms (be it of the nation state, or of small-scale private capital, and free competition) which is the reactionary ambition of the petty-bourgeoisie, but it also seeks to avoid any further move forward, which the logic of the existing social forms requires, i.e. of an extension of planning and regulation, an extension of democratic control over such planning and regulation, to ensure that the actual capital is accumulated, rather than profits used for speculation in financial assets and so on. That forward movement is the goal of the working-class as collective owner of that real large-scale socialised capital, but an owner denied control of its own property.

        The backward movement, is in fact, impossible, for the reasons Lenin also sets out in “Imperialism”, and Marx sets out in The Poverty of Philosophy. If you break up monopolies and try to restore free competition, the competition simply results again in monopolies, but, as with the arguments over permanent revolution, any state that attempted to go backwards, or arrest that forward movement of capital, would become uncompetitive, and so become subordinated if not actually annexed and absorbed by larger, more developed states. The logic and dynamic of history and social development, driven by the Law of Value, which acts for Marx in his theory of Historical Materialism to explain the inevitable evolution of social forms, that the Law of Natural Selection plays for Darwin in his Theory of Biological Evolution, ensures that backward movement becomes impossible, whilst forward movement, whatever the desires of human actors and classes, becomes inevitable. And, its precisely for that reason that this material development then conditions the ideas in Men’s heads, and makes them the conscious vehicle for the forward development, bringing the legal and political superstructure into alignment with the actual development of the social forms and social relations that have gone on behind their backs.

        The clearest example of that is with socialised capital and cooperatives. As Marx sets out in Capital I, Chapter 35, and in Capital III, Chapter 27, competition is inherent to commodity production. That sets in place a process that inevitably transforms commodity production and exchange into capitalist commodity production and exchange. The same process leads to the concentration and centralisation of capital into ever larger capitals. The monopoly of private capital becomes a fetter on this development and is burst asunder. Private capital gives way in the second half of the 19th century to socialised capital in the form of the cooperative and joint stock company, which is what Marx describes as being the expropriation of the expropriators. But, none of this was done according to some conscious plan by human beings. It was the inevitable consequence of the laws of motion of capital itself. Yet, as this process unfolded, it inevitably shaped the ideas in human heads, hence the development of the cooperatives themselves.

        The cooperative, as Marx describes in Chapter 27 is obviously the rational expression of this development, whereas the joint stock company has failed to carry through that logic to its conclusion, because the capital is like the cooperative, the legal, collective property of the firm, i.e. of the associated producers within it, and yet they do not have control over it, but non-owners, shareowners, do! But, the logic as expressed by the cooperative form cannot be undone or unlearned, as Marx sets out in his Inaugural Address to the FI. Indeed, its partly incorporated into law, for example, co-determination was put into law as early as the Frankfurt Parliament, it is part of progressive social-democratic thinking, and continues to exist in Germany today, it was expressed in the ideas of progressive social-democracy in the 1970’s, such as with the Bullock Report commissioned by Wilson’s government, and in the EU’s, Draft Fifth Company Law Directive, developed in the 1970’s.

        As Marx and Engels also set out in Anti-Duhring, as you have described in some previous posts, this logic inevitably forces its way through, becomes at some point, it becomes unsustainable for all of this mammoth capital depending upon large-scale planning and regulation, and state intervention to be simply controlled by a handful of money-lending capitalists, be they share holders or bondholders, particularly when, as today, they deliberately destroy or hold back real capital, simply in order to inflate the prices of assets which form their sole form of wealth.

      • I take your point about use of the word ‘reactionary’ in relation to the EU and I do not see any difference between our views. I used the word in terms of the relation between the EU as a capitalist ‘state’ formation and the working class and its movement for socialism, in so far as it exists, and the struggle between them. In this sense the political struggle against the working class that does exist, and the potential future this class embodies, is reactionary since it prevents this future from freely emerging. I don’t know that there is a more suitable word for what I am trying to convey, maybe the Germans have one?

        An alternative is of course, as you suggest, to say that the EU is conservative in that it obviously seeks to preserve the capitalist relations of production that exist, although as you imply even this is in some ways misleading since the EU embodies the development and not merely the conservation of capitalism, through creation of more appropriate forms for its evolution at an international level and not within restricted national boundaries. Even in this case it cannot do so without contradictions and crises and reliance on the old weapons of the existing most powerful nation states.

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