Paul Murphy TD and the socialist position on Ukraine – part 3 of 3

Irish politicians give a standing ovation in the Dail following a speech by Zelensky. People before Profit TDs stand but do not applaud.

Paul Murphy clearly recognises the problem posed by his analysis that the war in Ukraine is both one of national liberation and an inter-imperialist conflict.  He asks himself:

‘What is the balance of these elements of the conflict – national liberation struggle and inter-imperialist conflict? Unlike with Serbia at the start of World War I, this is certainly not a case of 99% inter-imperialist conflict and 1% national liberation struggle. It has not, at least yet, resulted in all out global conflict, with multiple countries being directly drawn in. The different aspects are more evenly balanced. However, the trend of development has been for the inter-imperialist element to predominate more over time, as more US weapons are sent, and the number of NATO troops in eastern Europe having increased tenfold since the start of the year.’

How does this help him decide?  He still declares that ‘supporting the right of Ukrainian people to self-defence is vital.’  Why? If ‘the trend of development has been for the inter- imperialist element to predominate more over time’ why is this still vital?  In what way is it vital?  For what purpose?  Is it some quantitative assessment that at some point tips 51% support for ‘Ukraine’ become only 49% and thus 51% support for . . . who exactly?

Given the approach he takes these are impossible questions for him to answer, or at least answer correctly, and this is because the wrong question is being asked.  The correct question is what the interests of the working class are, and repeatedly we have shown from numerous arguments that these do not involve support for the Ukrainian state, or US imperialism and NATO intervention.

Murphy gets himself tied up by formulas he has learnt but are precisely only formulas because he doesn’t stop to consider their basis in reality.  This leads to proffered answers that are equally unreal. 

He sets himself tasks that should be easy to answer.  He says that his analysis – ‘means socialists must attempt to disentangle, to the degree possible, the legitimate resistance to Russian imperialist invasion, and the inter-imperialist conflict which we oppose.’  And how would we do that if we claim it is a war of national liberation?  If we consider an already independent capitalist state must be supported in war because of the formula of self-determination?

The protection of the Ukrainian working class does not lie in the continuation of a war that continues only because of imperialism.  The desire to conquer Donbas and Crimea will deliver only more war and more suffering for themselves and the workers of these regions. Only an end to the war can offer the prospect of a peace that can begin to address their needs; war on behalf of the US and NATO offers nothing but more death and destruction for everyone except the western imperialists!  More or less arms from NATO does not affect this truth.

Murphy says that his ‘disentangling’ ‘means supporting the right of Ukrainian people to resist. We don’t blame people in Ukraine for getting weaponry from wherever they can source it, but we do encourage them to operate on the basis of complete independence from NATO’. But it isn’t the people of Ukraine who are resisting, it is the Ukrainian state and the political regime that walked them into this war despite all the warnings.  The majority of the Ukrainian people might believe it is their war, but if they have guns in hand, these have been provided more and more by western imperialism and it is not for themselves that they are killing and dying.

They cannot operate ‘on the basis of complete independence from NATO’ because the state they are under the command of is not operating ‘on the basis of complete independence from NATO’.  To do this, Ukrainian workers would have to be independently organised from their capitalist state.  This, of course, may be practically impossible but this doesn’t mean you ignore the terrible consequences of not being able to, or the price to be paid by being subordinated to your own state.  It certainly doesn’t justify thinking that the interests of the Ukrainian working class can be collapsed into the idea of a Ukrainian people without class distinctions, and a Ukrainian state that it is in their interests to oppose.  The fact this state and its political leadership has led them into this war while promising peace is proof of this.

Murphy claims that ‘If such genuinely independent forces existed, socialists could even fundraise to send them weapons. However, those of us living in the western camp, the dominant imperialist bloc in the world, cannot support NATO forces pouring weapons into Ukraine in the pursuit of an inter-imperialist conflict, risking an escalatory spiral that could lead to armageddon.’

If independent working class forces existed in Ukraine they would have opposed the war from the start and opposed the project of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists to re-occupy Donbas and Crimea.  They would have opposed NATO membership and sought to campaign jointly with their fellow workers in Donbas, Crimea and Russia.  That they were too small to do so does not mean they should adopt the alternative of joining those forces who prevented their doing what they should have done had they been more powerful.

What socialists in the west should do is oppose the war, oppose sanctions, and oppose the imperialist alliance in their own countries or attempts by their politicians, as in Ireland, to get them to join it.  This is impossible if you claim that there is some justified war going on that it is ‘vital’ to support and your own state is doing just that.

Murphy claims that ‘A just peace would only be possible on the basis of the withdrawal of these [Russian] occupation forces. Included in that should be recognition of the right of minorities within Ukraine to self-determine their own future. An essential condition for the fair exercise of that right in Crimea or the Donbas region for example would have to be the withdrawal of the invading army and the right of all refugees to return.’

‘In contrast to the calls for further militarisation, we should focus on demands which can assist the Ukrainian people. The demand for cancellation of Ukrainian debt, coming from social movements within Ukraine, may yet gather momentum, as it becomes clear that reconstruction will be impossible with the mountain of illegitimate debt that arose because of the oligarchisation of Ukrainian society. This debt has grown even further as a result of war loans from the Western powers, which have no intention of releasing Ukraine from debt bondage.’

The Ukrainian state has already rejected the rights of minorities within its state, which is why it refused to implement the Minsk agreements and continued, for example, shelling Donetsk city.  Victory for the state of Ukraine will quite obviously not change this.  Equally, so obvious is it that imperialism will exploit Ukraine should it win the war that Murphy himself notes that western imperialism has no intention of leaving it debt free.  What cannot be repaid will not be repaid but this means only that new debt will replace the old and the amount to be repaid will depend on how much can be squeezed from Ukrainian workers after ‘their’ victory.

The contradictions of Murphy’s position will either be resolved positively or sprout further confusion down the line.  From a theoretical point of view the way forward is to review handed-down formulas so that their meaning is properly understood.  From a practical point of view it is to join those in Ireland attempting to campaign against the war; and from a psychological point of view it is to stand 100 per cent against the policies and lies that bourgeois politicians and its media has poured into the heads of what passes for ‘public opinion’. 

Back to part 2

2 thoughts on “Paul Murphy TD and the socialist position on Ukraine – part 3 of 3

  1. “If independent working class forces existed in Ukraine they would have opposed the war from the start and opposed the project of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists to re-occupy Donbas and Crimea. They would have opposed NATO membership and sought to campaign jointly with their fellow workers in Donbas, Crimea and Russia. That they were too small to do so does not mean they should adopt the alternative of joining those forces who prevented their doing what they should have done had they been more powerful.”

    Correct, and you can see where the alternative, nationalist, as opposed to socialist approach leads. Its easy to see why the AWL, for example, have bowdlerised Lenin’s position on national self-determination, so as to make it mean defence of the fatherland, because, as self-professed Zionists, that is their position for justifying the horrific actions of the Zionist state in Israel, i.e. it has the right to determine its borders as with any other state, to defend its borders by military aggression and so on. It has been led into that inevitable position, precisely because it adopted the position of Glotzer and other Third Campists in supporting Zionism in creating the state, rather than seeking to unite Jewish and Arab workers, for a socialist solution.

    The result, of course, was not security for either jews or Arabs, but increased division of the working-class in the area, and a condition of permanent war. As Trotsky had put it,

    “On the other hand the Jews of different countries have created their press and developed the Yiddish language as an instrument adapted to modern-culture. One must therefore reckon with the fact that the Jewish nation will maintain itself for an entire epoch to come. Now the nation cannot normally exist without a common territory. Zionism springs from this very idea. But the facts of every passing day demonstrate to us that Zionism is incapable of resolving the Jewish question. The conflict between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine acquires a more and more tragic and more and more menacing character. I do not at all believe that the Jewish question can be resolved within the framework of rotting capitalism and under the control of British imperialism.”


  2. “How does this help him decide? He still declares that ‘supporting the right of Ukrainian people to self-defence is vital.’”

    He should also ask if the “people” of Donbas also have this right, and how it might conflict with that of the “people” of Ukraine. Do “the people” of Russia also have this right, so that if they perceive that Ukraine is merely a Trojan Horse for NATO, does not that also justify a pre-emptive war on their part for such defence, in the same way that NATO argues a right to bomb anywhere in the world as a pre-emptive measure against terrorism, for example.

    As Lenin points out, every capitalist state can justify defence of the fatherland on that basis, under cover of national self determination. Its why the Bolsheviks dropped the demand for national self-determination, because it was being abused by bourgeois nationalists and social chauvinists, and instead adopted the slogan of the right of free secession.

    Also rather than the experience of WWI in the Balkans, Murphy should have looked at Trotsky’s analysis of the Balkan Wars themselves and how that led into WWI.

    I have covered it in this post, which also examines Trotsky’s attitude to the question of the progressive nature of “liberation” wars from above, and yet, why Marxists cannot support them –

    In particular reference to Ukraine, and this question of national self-determination is this, in response to the Russian liberal imperialist Kirilovich

    “Well, but who are the allies of yesterday liberating now?…

    And do you think that by that vigorous outburst you exhaust the question? Don’t you agree that between this ‘disgraceful’ war and the war you called a ‘liberating’ war there is an indissoluble connection? You don’t agree? Let’s look at the question more closely. The emancipation of the Macedonian peasantry from feudal landlord bondage was undoubtedly something necessary and historically progressive. But this task was undertaken by forces that had in view not the interests of the Macedonian peasantry but their own covetous interests as dynastic conquerors and bourgeois predators. A usurpation of historical tasks such as this is not at all an exceptional happening. The emancipation of the Russian peasant from the fetters of the village community of the epoch of police rule and serfdom is a progressive task. But, it is not at all a matter of indifference who undertakes this task and how. Stolypin’s agrarian reform does not solve the problems set by history, it merely exploits these problems in the interests of the gentry and the kulaks. No, there is consequently no need to idealise the Turkish regime or the regime of Russia’s village community in order to express at the same time one’s uncompromising distrust of the uninvited ‘liberators’ and to refuse any solidarity with them.” (p 325)

    Kirillovich replies again in words that could have been issued today by Murphy, the AWL, ACR, USC and other social imperialists.

    “I admit that it would have been better if the liberation of Macedonia had taken place by other means, and not by the cruel means of war. However, that has this advantage that it is real and not imaginary. Whatever aims were pursued by the Balkan kings and ruling parties, as a result of the war Macedonia has been freed from the yoke of the Turkish beys, the Turkish taxation system, and Turkish tyranny. We Liberals consider it our duty to define our attitude to the war not in accordance with who was conducting the war but with the principle cui prodest, who will gain by it. As politicians living not in some indefinite future but today, and tomorrow, we were resolutely for a war that brought freedom to Macedonia and Old Serbia.” (p 326 -7)

    To which Trotsky replies,

    “If you don’t see the link between today’s disgrace and yesterday’s ‘glory’, that’s because you imagine that in the Balkans somebody is conducting a policy and answering for its reasonableness. In actual fact, policy is making itself down there, just like an earthquake. It was precisely the first war, the ‘war of liberation’ that reduced to insignificance, to a negligible quantity, all the factors of calculation and political discretion. Blind, unthinking spontaneity came into its own – not the benign spontaneity of awakened mass solidarity, which already has so many good deeds to its credit in history, but malign spontaneity, the resoluteness of which is only the other side of blind despair.” (p 327)

    And, there seems plenty of blindness and despair to go around when it comes to Ukraine, and the position of the left and in conditions where, this time, the spontaneity and spiral out of control leads to the destruction of humanity itself.

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