Much of the argument over the war in Ukraine hits their target but misses the most essential point.
So, it is important to know that the historical demand for self-determination argued by Lenin does not provide support to those who want to support the Ukrainian state and its victory in the war.
It’s vital to understand that the massive role of the United States and NATO in provoking and affecting the course of the war also determines the war’s character.
It is important to be aware of the wider agenda of the United States, which wants to diminish Russia, and necessarily therefore achieve a change of regime in order to encircle China and also diminish it – as the only state capable of seriously challenging US hegemony.
It is instructive to appreciate the role of ultranationalism in Ukraine, which countless photographs of fascist iconography on display by the Armed Forces of Ukraine makes impossible to deny, or so you might think.
It is also necessary to understand that there is nothing progressive about the Russian state or its invasion and that this necessitates opposition to it. To do otherwise, because Western imperialism also opposes it, is to accept that it is impossible for the working class to have an independent policy and that some indispensably correct positions must in effect be voluntarily surrendered. It’s origin arises partially from some similar considerations of the pro-war, pro-Ukraine left who abandon the socialist programme because we can only currently fight for it with weak forces, which means, of course, that these will always remain weak.
It is, finally, important to understand what constitutes imperialism so that we can understand how the world works, the better to change it.
However, as important as these all are, the most important issue to understand is that the working class must identify and fight for its own interests including against the various states of the capitalist class, which are weapons to defend their system. It is necessary to form a separate party of the working class to advance this understanding, including that such understanding categorically rules out support for any capitalist state, not only in war but especially in war. This means that it is impermissible to support either the Ukrainian or Russian state and every attempt to do so is bogus and a gross betrayal.
We all know that this has not stopped large numbers of self-described socialists from supporting the Ukrainian state; defending the role of NATO when not actually supporting it; ignoring the wider agenda of the imperialist hegemon; minimising or simply ignoring the reactionary ideology of the Ukrainian state, and claiming that the interests of the working class in a war that now defines world politics is aligned with fascist fighters in Ukraine, the Ukrainian state and US imperialism and its NATO allies.
You would think that some extraordinary arguments would need to be employed to make such a case remotely plausible. That it is not remotely credible is proved by the poverty of the arguments put forward in support of it, many of which have been addressed in previous posts. What this implies is that much of what describes itself as left, radical left, anti-capitalist or even Marxist is nothing of the sort, and no wailing about politically sectarian argumentation can wash away the significance of the division that now exists.
A friend sent me a link to an article that presented itself as a summary of the leftists who are actively supporting the Ukrainian state. What is noteworthy is their immediate emphasis on arming it:
‘Mick Antoniw and a group of British trade unionists went to Ukraine to deliver a car, military equipment and medical supplies to Ukrainian trade unionists currently in the Armed Forces.’
‘The statement calls, in particular, for the supply of military equipment and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as for the country’s foreign debt to be written off.’
‘As a reaction to the ‘pacifist’ left, the initiative has focused on promoting weapons supply, and solidarity with the people of Ukraine . . .‘
‘ENSU’s founders and members are opposed to all imperialisms, but support the right of oppressed peoples everywhere to seek military, economic and diplomatic support from their invader’s enemies.’
The authors make much of their opposition to imperialism but it is a strange sort of opposition that supports the intervention of the United States and NATO.
The Polish organisation has apparently distinguished itself by displaying its opposition to the country’s notoriously Russophobic political culture through having ‘unequivocally (sometimes even by Polish standards) taken a stance on the side of Ukrainians.’
From the text of the interviews it is clear that the solidarity of these associated groups comprises of the same analysis and perspective as most of the reactionary governments in the region:
‘This is an existential and fundamental issue. Not only for the Ukrainian left, but for the whole Eastern European and Nordic countries, for all countries that have been under the threat of Russian imperialism.’
‘This closeness of EE, Baltic and Nordic left is happening on the ground of the resistance to imperialism everywhere, solidarity with sovereign countries, with the people and working class who want to determine their own fate everywhere.’
So, the sovereignty of capitalist states; the ‘people’ and the ‘working class’ are all compatible, all allies in determining their own fate ‘everywhere’. So where in all this is opposition to the capitalist state, recognition of the division of ‘the people’ into classes, and identification of the separate interests of the working class?
The elimination of these independent interests leads to the witless belief that the capitalist state and ruling class will behave likewise and see things the same way. What else could be meant by the following?
‘We try to convince western left activists that Russia is in no way anti-imperialist and that Ukrainian society deserves our solidarity irrespective of our disagreement with the oligarchs or the ultranationalists, conservatives and neoliberals in the Ukrainian parliament. Unfortunately, some western leftists believe that only western imperialism is a problem, so their solidarity with Ukraine is weak if not absent.’
We are meant to support ‘Ukraine’ even if we disagree (is that all?) with those who own it, rule it and are fighting to preserve its alliance with imperialism! ‘Resistance to imperialism everywhere’ includes support for US and NATO backing for the ‘oligarchs and ultranationalists’ etc. How could socialists justify ‘solidarity . . . with the oligarchs or the ultranationalists, conservatives and neoliberals.’?
Blindness to the interest of the working class also leads to failure to see what is in front of their eyes. Apparently it’s not western sanctions or US sabotage of pipelines that is causing the shortage of energy in Europe:
‘We are worried that Russia will manipulate oil and gas issues as winter approaches, encouraging cowardly and opportunist politicians to call for the partition of Ukraine – ‘peace at any price’ in exchange for Russian gas.’
So we get this ridiculous alternative:
‘Therefore we recently started networking with environmental groups and consumer protection activists to argue for accelerating the green transition.’
A transition that will take decades to achieve is an answer to the energy shortage this winter; and this will be accomplished through pressure by ‘environmental groups’ and ‘consumer protection activists’! This is not serious.
The article we have been quoting starts with the following passage:
‘Since the beginning of the full-scale war, we have published numerous critical texts about those leftists who have got stuck in the past and keep seeing the war as just another confrontation between Western and Russian imperialism. Some adhere to this idea due to sincere beliefs; others simply choose a more comfortable position of not intervening or even searching for arguments against the support of Ukrainian resistance (‘nationalism,’ ‘protection of Russian-speaking people,’ ‘promotion of NATO,’ etc.). Westplaining helps them close their eyes to the whole picture.’
The author claims we must be ‘searching’ for arguments to justify opposition to the war and the Ukrainian state, and then gives us an (incomplete) list of what they might be! He thinks we are stuck in the past in opposing capitalist war, forgetting the socialist principles that have inspired this opposition and the lessons learned from the support of reformist parties for the mass slaughter of two World Wars.
This is not just another conflict between Western imperialism and Russia and no amount of covering for NATO or the ‘oligarchs ultranationalists, conservatives and neoliberals’ will change their role or the character of the war.
It is not ‘comfortable’ to choose to fight for the independent interests of the working class and against both the reactionary Russian invasion and the Ukrainian state and its imperialist sponsors. And as the author himself illustrates, we do not have to ‘search’ for arguments to defend our refusal to support the reactionary ‘Ukrainian resistance’, which no amount of leftists supporting will make progressive.
We are told that we are ‘Westplaining’ – ‘a form of gaslighting that imposes Western views through the heads of residents of Central and Eastern Europe, particularly Ukrainians.’
Given the support for NATO and US imperialism in much of Central and Eastern Europe, any ‘Westplaining’ that has occurred has been accomplished by all the forces – oligarchs, ultranationalists, conservatives and neoliberals who support NATO and the US. We in the western left are expected to show solidarity with all of them and through them to our own ruling classes and capitalist states, which we are supposed to encourage to arm the kleptocratic Ukrainian State. Just who is attempting the gaslighting?
Whatever socialist now believes that these forces are on our side is lost to socialism. Whoever in the West believes that their own state and ruling class can play a progressive role in the world has no right to proclaim themselves as socialist. They politically disarm their own working class and present it up on a plate for imperialism’s ‘progressive’ wars of the future.
The article referenced above is of use only to show the poverty of arguments of the pro-war left. That their authors believe them in any way credible reminds me of what the musician Prince is purported to have said of Michael Jackson’s album ‘Bad’. It should, he said, have been called ‘Pathetic’.