The war in Ukraine – support Russia?

A debate has been taking place on the nature of the war in Ukraine on the post put up immediately after it started.  Those familiar with this blog will be aware of the various arguments against those who would support the Ukrainian capitalist state and its western imperialist backers against the Russian invasion.

The supporters of Ukraine variously claim that it is a colony or simply a victim of invasion by a predatory imperialist power.  They demand that the working class stand with the Ukrainian capitalist state and excuse its alliance with western imperialism.  They are usually too embarrassed to argue direct support for US and NATO although they could claim that they are providing no political support to western imperialism but simply some acceptance of military commitment that can be distinguished from it.  This of course is nonsense.

The argument has been joined by the mirror opposite of this and it is claimed that because Russia is not an imperialist power in a ‘Marxist’ sense, and it faces an undoubted imperialist alliance that is imperialist in this sense, socialists must support Russia.

A number of questions are raised, including is the so-called ‘Marxist’ definition of imperialism employed correct and if it is, does Russia actually fall within it?

I am not going to address these questions which I have in other places argued are secondary.  I have contended that the support of one capitalist power against another in this war is a betrayal of the interests of the working class and of socialist principles.  It involves workers sacrificing themselves for either western imperialist interests or for Russian capitalism and it is nonsense to claim that because Russian capitalism is less advanced than western imperialism it should be supported!

It has been claimed that Russia is in some way analogous to Ethiopia in 1935 when Trotsky opposed the Italian imperialist invasion of that country and supported Ethiopia. However, Russia is not some underdeveloped country with a feudal monarchical regime being invaded by western imperialism in an attempt to colonise it; this argument will no more fly than the argument that Ukraine is a Russian colony, so there is no great point in attempting to shoot it down.   

The argument to support Russia is supported by appeals to Lenin and Trotsky but as it has been pointed out, they didn’t support Russia in the First World War.  At that time Russia was not an imperialist power by this ‘Marxist’ definition (in so far as it has been explained) and it faced in Germany an exemplar of finance-capital imperialism.  It is perhaps implied that they opposed Russia in the war because of its broader alliance with capitalist imperialist powers but Lenin repeatedly emphasised that Russian ‘imperialism’ was in respects worse than the others!

Far from supporting the argument that we should support the ‘non-imperialist’ capitalist states, they did the opposite and opposed both the imperialist and non-imperialist capitalist states (that is non-imperialist in the sense that it is employed to support Russia today).

The general approach of supporting less developed capitalisms against more developed forms is not only wrong politically but totally un-Marxist.  For Marx, socialism arises on the advances and development of capitalism and not from its backward forms.  It is what makes socialism possible.  The many posts on this blog on Marx’s alternative to capitalism explain this in detail.  It is the very definition of reactionary to believe that the road to socialism comes through defence and support for the most undeveloped and backward forms of capitalism.  Having stood Hegel on his head some want to turn Marx upside-down.

This relates to another problem reflected in both the appeal to Lenin and to the belief that opposition to imperialism today means support for non-imperialist capitalist states, just as previous socialists defended the right of nations to self-determination in the colonies and where nations were annexed to empires.

It was queried whether ‘anything qualitative has changed in the last hundred years to justify changing that approach’ to supporting non-imperialist states fighting imperialist ones.  I argued in return that:

‘When Lenin wrote on imperialism he said that capitalism had become characterised by monopolies and just as national economies were so dominated, so the world was divided up by imperialistic countries who turned each colony into their own property. The world was therefore divided into imperialist countries and colonies, between oppressor and oppressed nations.’

‘However, in the past one hundred years the Austro-Hungarian empire has disappeared, along with the Ottoman empire and by and large the European empires of Britain, France and Belgium etc. Almost all their colonies are politically independent capitalist states so the policy of self-determination does not apply, just as it is inapplicable to Ukraine today. It too is already an independent capitalist state and now with the backing of western imperialism.’

‘Many of these former colonies or dependencies are major capitalist powers in their own right including, for example, two of the biggest countries in the world – India and China. Capitalism has developed in leaps and bounds in many of these countries and with it the development of significant working classes. The role of socialists in these countries is not, as it was before, to seek to overthrow foreign imperialist rule so as to weaken the imperialist countries and thus advance the cause of socialism within them, but rather to advance the struggle of their own working classes to overthrow their own capitalism in unity with other previous colonies and the workers of the old imperialist countries.’

It was then queried whether the fact that ‘the colonies have achieved formal national independence?’ meant ‘subsequently that the political approach outlined in Permanent Revolution is also now invalid?’

Well, it must be obvious that if political independence has been achieved, and many of these former colonies have developed capitalisms with significant working classes, the scope of permanent revolution has in some respects changed.  For a start the bourgeois democratic tasks of the revolution – national independence, removal of feudal restrictions and classes – that were so prominent in permanent revolution are no longer so prominent.  To claim that they are, that in such developed capitalist societies the immediate tasks of the working class involve national independence etc. in some sort of joint struggle with native bourgeois forces would turn permanent revolution into its opposite and Trotskyism into Stalinism.

The argument to support Russia invites us to consider the big picture of what defeat for it would mean, presumably so that workers must rally to support it and prevent such defeat:

‘I think you might want to consider what is at stake for Russia in this conflict and what a victory for US/NATO imperialism in this conflict would mean for them. At the very least it is regime change in the Kremlin to install a compliant pro-imperialist puppet if not the actual dismembering of Russia into 3 or 4 smaller compliant states to better allow direct imperialist plunder of its resources.’

The same argument has been presented in favour of Ukraine and I have argued that it is not the job of socialists to come to the aid of capitalist powers just because they are losing.  Defeat undoubtedly inflicts misery and suffering and encouragement for the victor, but these are grounds to oppose the war, not to take sides in it.

Were the scenario above to transpire this would involve the dismemberment of the Russian state.  Russian military doctrine affirms that it could use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or an aggression involving conventional weapons that “threatens the very existence of the state”, which dismemberment would constitute.

The issue would then not simply be the subjugation of Russia but the immediate threat of nuclear war and the end of human civilisation as we know it.  I do not know at what point, if any, it would not become an issue of supporting the Russian capitalist state but ending the war through the activity of the working class.

Support for Russia is also argued for what might be seen as ‘positive’ reasons but personally I find this the most repulsive of all the arguments.

In arguing that Russia today is in some way comparable to Ethiopia in the 1930s the supporter of the Russian state inserts into the writings of Trotsky at that time the names of today’s combatants:

“If US/NATO and their Ukraine puppet triumphs, it means the reinforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism, and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of Putin, however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Western imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this.”

We are asked to believe that the victory of Vladimir Putin would act as a beacon for the oppressed people of the world and be a blow against imperialism as a whole!  Does the writer really believe that Putin will inspire the workers of Europe and Americas to overthrow their oppression?  That is overthrow capitalism?  Will he inspire Russian and Ukrainian workers to overthrow their oppression?  Does he believe that millions of other workers and oppressed in Asia and Africa do not just see Western imperialism as murderous and hypocritical but also see Russia as their leader in a fight against their oppression?  And what if many did?  Would that be a cause for celebration, something to earnestly seek and support?

For Marxists, the emancipation of the working class will be achieved by the working class itself and not on the coat-tails of kleptocratic capitalist leaders.

The arguments in favour of supporting Russia in the war in Ukraine involve claiming Lenin and Trotsky would support the opposite of what they actually did; involves turning Marx upside-down; ignoring the effects of one hundred years of capitalist development, and the elevation of Vladimir Putin to the inspirer of the world’s oppressed. As one group of so-called socialists trail behind Zelensky and NATO another follows Putin and Russia.

26 thoughts on “The war in Ukraine – support Russia?

  1. I think it would be useful to explore what our difference means in concrete political practice in the present period

    In Britain and the imperialist west generally socialists/communists need to build a mass anti war/ anti imperialist movement. The central demands of such a campaign should be 1) disband Nato 2) Stop the imperialist war drive against Russia and China. 3) Stop all weapon supplies to the region. 4) End all sanctions on Russia 5) with draw all british military forces from eastern Europe and stop all training of the Ukrainian army by Britain

    That should be sufficient for a broad based campaign opposing the NATO proxy war on Russia. A call for the defeat of British and US imperialism could be raised within the campaign but it should not form the basis of the campaign since we are willing to work with pacifist forces and those simply seeking to end the dynamic towards WW3 that the NATO attack on Russia represents

    So i think it is fairly clear what socialists in the imperialist west should be doing to create an anti war movement which opposes the US war drive against Russia. In Glasgow we have the Glasgow Campaign against Nato which is trying to do just that and link up with others in Britain on that anti imperialist basis. An example of the truth that the main enemy of the working class movement in Britain is the British ruling class and its war drive. In the tradition of the great socialist John Maclean and his socialist work in WW1

    Now what about socialists/ communists in Russia ? Should they be demanding an immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine. Should they be calling for an ending of all Russian military support to the Donetsk and Luhansk republics? Should they be building a mass movement with these demands?. That is certainly what US imperialism would like to see. In effect pro US forces coming to power in Moscow and a victory for imperialism in Ukraine. Such an out come would simply empower US imperialism in its campaign for war or regime change in China. It would represent a big win for the forces of US imperialism- the main counter revolutionary force on a world scale

    • You say that the main enemy of the British working class is its own state and presumably this is also the case for the US, German and French etc. But apparently not for Russian workers. Why not? Are they to defend the armed actions of their state because they must sacrifice their interests to those of the working class in the West?

      Do we refuse to oppose the less powerful counter revolutionary forces in Russia and China by not opposing their reactionary foreign policy? How do we convince Western workers we are against oppression and exploitation if we say that their reactionary actions should be defended? Are their actions the lesser evil we should downgrade opposition to? As you will know, supporting the lesser evil right away means supporting evil and usually ends in worse.

      So let’s consider if Russian workers were to successfully organise independently of the Russian state that oppresses them and managed to stop its war? Concretely, this would be a massive blow against the Russian state, which you are in effect saying should be defended, but a massive blow delivered by the Russian working class. This would enormously strengthen that class and inspire similar working class anti-war movements across the world. This advance would be of much greater significance than any victory for the US state. The working class can only advance through its own actions and its own victories, not by the crises of capitalism, which capitalism can always find some way out of.

      The demands you raise for an anti-war campaign in Britain are unobjectionable, but the central demand of an anti-war campaign is to be against the war! As you say – not from a pacifist position but from a working class position. Supporters of the Ukrainian state claim to be anti-war but are actually for the war – for war until Ukrainian, and therefore US & NATO, victory. Your position seems not much different, just reversed.

      Apart from the obvious difficulty of building a campaign in Britain and the rest of the West that refuses to oppose the reactionary Russian invasion, in fact excuses it, the correct socialist position is to identify the common interest of the whole working class – British, American, Ukrainian and Russian. This position is to oppose both the Ukrainian & NATO war and the Russian invasion as reactionary for the working class in all these countries.

      Socialism is international or it is not socialism. You know this from your opposition to left nationalism and its call to defend the interests of Scottish workers. Just as the issue is defence of all workers, whether Scottish, English nor Welsh, so in this war the interest of all workers should be aligned.

      • You say that the main enemy of the British working class is its own state and presumably this is also the case for the US, German and French etc. But apparently not for Russian workers. Why not? IM

        Because Russia is not an imperialist state seeking to main and extend its control of the planet through war. The Russian state and capitalist class does not live off the the super exploitation of the working class of the world. The Russian capitalist class lives off the exploitation of the Russian working class. Russia is under attack because it is not controlled by the imperialist hegemon – the USA. The USA seeks to get its hands on the vast wealth of Russian natural resources . This war has been planned and executed on the basis of the USA seeking to maintain its position as the imperialist controller of the world sandy

        Are they to defend the armed actions of their state because they must sacrifice their interests to those of the working class in the West? IM

        Communists/socialists give no support to the Russian capitalist state or its leaders. If the Russian working class is to defeat the imperialist attack on Russia it must come to power and mobilise for socialist revolution through out Europe and the world. It must appeal to the working class in Ukraine on the basis of workers unity against the oligarchs. Putin cant defeat imperialism. The best that the Russian capitalist state can do is hold US imperialism at bay while seeking negotiations to integrate on more favourable terms into the world imperialist system. sandy

        Do we refuse to oppose the less powerful counter revolutionary forces in Russia and China by not opposing their reactionary foreign policy? How do we convince Western workers we are against oppression and exploitation if we say that their reactionary actions should be defended? Are their actions the lesser evil we should downgrade opposition to? As you will know, supporting the lesser evil right away means supporting evil and usually ends in worse. IM

        We give no support to Putin policy either at home or abroad. We do support the right of the Russian masses to oppose imperialist attack on Russia sandy

        So let’s consider if Russian workers were to successfully organise independently of the Russian state that oppresses them and managed to stop its war? Concretely, this would be a massive blow against the Russian state, which you are in effect saying should be defended, but a massive blow delivered by the Russian working class. This would enormously strengthen that class and inspire similar working class anti-war movements across the world. This advance would be of much greater significance than any victory for the US state. The working class can only advance through its own actions and its own victories, not by the crises of capitalism, which capitalism can always find some way out of. IM

        The working class must organise to overthrow Putin and defeat the attack by imperialism on Russia. Any idea that the working class can come to power in Russia and not face hostile attack from US imperialism is ridiculous. Look what happened last time. The pro US forces in Russia want to surrender to imperialism. They want to return to the time of Yeltsin. Many oligarchs support surrender to US imperialism. For the working class the war against imperialism is relentless and only ends with the victory of world socialism. sandy

        The demands you raise for an anti-war campaign in Britain are unobjectionable, but the central demand of an anti-war campaign is to be against the war! As you say – not from a pacifist position but from a working class position. Supporters of the Ukrainian state claim to be anti-war but are actually for the war – for war until Ukrainian, and therefore US & NATO, victory. Your position seems not much different, just reversed.
        Apart from the obvious difficulty of building a campaign in Britain and the rest of the West that refuses to oppose the reactionary Russian invasion, in fact excuses it, the correct socialist position is to identify the common interest of the whole working class – British, American, Ukrainian and Russian. This position is to oppose both the Ukrainian & NATO war and the Russian invasion as reactionary for the working class in all these countries. IM

        Much easier to win the support of workers to an anti war anti imperialist movement by pointing out the truth that it is US imperialism that is promoting this war and the mass media are lying about who really started the war. Look to the 2014 coup and the attack byy fascist forces on the Donbas. If you go along with the imperialist propaganda and blame Russia for the war ( Russian troops out now- the main slogan of the stop the war group controlled by the labour bureaucracy and SWP) workers will tend towards full support for Ukraine in their fight against Russian aggression etc. The common interest of the working class of the world is to see the defeat of US imperialism and its Ukrainian proxy by the working class of the region. Sandy

        Socialism is international or it is not socialism. You know this from your opposition to left nationalism and its call to defend the interests of Scottish workers. Just as the issue is defence of all workers, whether Scottish, English nor Welsh, so in this war the interest of all workers should be aligned. IM

      • “Because Russia is not an imperialist state seeking to main and extend its control of the planet through war. The Russian state and capitalist class does not live off the the super exploitation of the working class of the world. The Russian capitalist class lives off the exploitation of the Russian working class.”

        That is total bollocks. The Russian ruling class is a part of the global ruling class, and that ruling class owns its wealth not in the form of industrial capital, as was the case in the 19th century, but in the form of fictitious capital, i.e. the ownership of bonds, shares and their derivatives. That fictitious capital extracts revenue in the form of interest/dividends from across the globe. It derives that revenue from the profits made by global corporations, and taxes levied by governments, which are all derived from the surplus value produced by workers, the vast majority of it, surplus value produced, not as you imply by workers in less developed economies, but workers in developed economies where the annual rate of surplus value is highest.

        Moreover, the idea that Putin’s vile regime is some kind of altruistic entity, not interested in extending its control of the planet by war or other means, requires a level of denial of reality that is astonishing. If a capitalist state does not have those ambitions, it is only because it currently lacks the ability to implement it. And, the performance of the Russian state in that regard gives reason to see why its ambitions would be limited. Still it has not prevented it from sending its military to Syria, nor did it prevent it invading Ukraine.

      • “If the Russian working class is to defeat the imperialist attack on Russia it must come to power and mobilise for socialist revolution through out Europe and the world. It must appeal to the working class in Ukraine on the basis of workers unity against the oligarchs.”

        But, that is precisely why Russian workers have to see Putin as their main enemy. It is why they can only unite with Ukrainian workers on the basis of mobilising themselves for the defeat of Putin, just as they appeal to Ukrainian workers to mobilise for the defeat of Zelensky. You cannot do that on the basis of a bourgeois defencist position for Russia.

      • “We give no support to Putin policy either at home or abroad. We do support the right of the Russian masses to oppose imperialist attack on Russia.”

        That’s totally meaningless, because in the real world, the Russian masses are not independently opposing imperialist attack, and the longer Putin’s regime continues, the more many of them may well themselves look to outside help to get rid of it. If there were a revolutionary force in Russia conducting such a struggle that would be different, but there isn’t, and if there were, Putin’s forces would be fighting it, not Ukraine!

      • “Any idea that the working class can come to power in Russia and not face hostile attack from US imperialism is ridiculous.”

        Quite true, but more importantly, even before it could reach that stage it would be under attack from Putin! Any idea that the Russian working-class could come to power, or have any chance of preventing or even limiting an attack on it from imperialism without first having built support from workers internationally, particularly those on its immediate borders, is fanciful, and a starting point of that is to win the support of those other workers by rejecting any kind of alliance with Putin and his regime in this war, and rather by taking up a position of revolutionary defeatism against it.

        The message from Russian workers to Ukrainian and other workers in the region must be, Putin is our main enemy not you.

      • “Much easier to win the support of workers to an anti war anti imperialist movement by pointing out the truth that it is US imperialism that is promoting this war and the mass media are lying about who really started the war.”

        If you believe that you are deluded. It is much easier to win the support of workers by telling the truth, which is that this is a war that is reactionary on both sides, and workers have no reason to back either reactionary capitalist camp. Its not necessary to “go along with” the imperialist propaganda that Russia started the war, to put that position, but nor is it necessary to act as apologists for Putin’s vile regime, by suggesting that it did not engage in its invasion for its own nationalist and expansionist reasons.

        “The common interest of the working class of the world is to see the defeat of US imperialism and its Ukrainian proxy by the working class of the region.”

        Its also in the interests of the global working-class to see the defeat of Putin and his vile regime, by the working-class of Russia. Unfortunately, its not the Russian working-class engaged in the war against NATO in Russia, its that vile Putin regime, with its huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, and nor is it the working-class in Ukraine fighting the war against Putin, but NATO and its Ukrainian proxy. That is why its reactionary on both sides.

    • “A call for the defeat of British and US imperialism could be raised within the campaign”.

      Defeat by who??? Practically, at the moment, it can only mean defeat by the vile reactionary, anti-working-class regime of Putin. Why would any Marxist, or any Russian or Ukrainian worker desire such a result??!

      • You ask defeat by whom? My answer is- defeat of the NATO imperialist attack on Russia by the working people of Russia and Ukraine and the reestablishment of the soviet union

      • Are you actually inhabiting Planet Earth? Its not the Russian working-class engaged in any such war, but the immediate oppressors of that class, i.e. the heavily armed and reactionary Putin regime! The road for the Russian working class to be able to perform the function you describe would have to run first through an overthrow of that very Putin regime, because there is no way that a) the Russian working class can perform the function you describe without first having formed itself into a large revolutionary force, and b) that would inevitably require a process of permanent revolution, in which that working-class then threw out Putin and established a workers’ state.

        If Russian workers made any moves towards establishing the kind of revolutionary force you propose – just as the same applies to the mirror calls from the apologists for Ukraine – Putin would be on the phone to Zelensky to do a deal, and turn his fire on the Russian workers! You have the process of permanent revolution arse about face, and have turned it into nothing more than petty-bourgeois, nationalism and Popular Frontism.

    • “Now what about socialists/ communists in Russia ? Should they be demanding an immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine. Should they be calling for an ending of all Russian military support to the Donetsk and Luhansk republics? Should they be building a mass movement with these demands?”

      Yes, it is, just as Lenin and the Bolsheviks argued that in WWI. It would represent a huge win for those Russian socialists and workers, if they built a mass movement around it, and won, just as it was for the Bolsheviks, who rejected the defencist calls of the Russian bourgeoisie that such a position was just what German imperialism wanted.

      How would such a win for Russian workers represent the win for US imperialism you claim it would be, any more than the success of the Bolsheviks represented such a win for German imperialism in 1917. You seem to have made the mistake that Trotsky describes of failing to learn to think, and instead determining your positions not on the basis of what is in the interest of workers, but by simply putting a minus sign wherever US imperialism places a plus sign.

      • Russia is not an imperialist state seeking to dominate the world. The war has been provoked by the desire of the world imperialist hegemon- the USA- to bring Russia under its control and thus help maintain US domination of the planet. The working class of Russia has a direct interest in the defeat of US imperialism and the overthrow of Russian capitalism

      • It is at least as much an imperialist state as it was under the Tsar, when it was still a backward, mostly agrarian economy, and at risk of being broken apart by competing more developed imperialist powers, including the then global hegemon Britain. Yet, that did not lead Lenin and the Bolsheviks to argue the bourgeois defencist line you are now shovelling for Putin.

        It was not NATO, nor even Ukraine that attacked Russia, but Russia that invaded Ukraine, demonstrating its expansionist nature, as also with its invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, its role in Syria and so on. It is not some downtrodden colony, in which a revolutionary force is waging a struggle against a colonial oppressor, but a developed capitalist economy, with a large army, and the most advanced, including nuclear weapons!

        The most immediate interest of the Russian working-class is not a defeat of US imperialism, and certainly not one brought about by the vile reactionary regime of Putin, but is in mobilising and defeating its own ruling class. In other words, its main enemy is at home. Anything else is simply Popular Frontism, and a call for it to abandon its immediate class interests in favour of throwing in its lot with its immediate oppressor and class enemy.

  2. The correct position for socialists/communists is to give support to the people of Russia in their struggle to resist imperialist conquest while giving no political support to Putin or the capitalist Russian state. To defeat imperialism a new soviet union is required. One that is minus the Stalinist bureaucracy. That means a struggle against Russian capitalism and imperialist conquest

    • I’m tempted to ask – what about the war? The Russian people aren’t fighting it, it’s the Russian state. Your position looks like repeating the arguments of the supporters of Ukraine, making specious distinctions. Their position is the mirror image of yours:

      ‘The correct position for socialists/communists is to give support to the people of Ukraine in their struggle to resist imperialist conquest while giving no political support to Zelensky or the capitalist Ukrainian state.’

      They haven’t been able to do this and I’m not sure you can either.

      • Ukraine is obviously acting as a proxy for the world imperialist hegemon- the USA. The war has long been prepared by the USA. Its aim is to bring Russia under the control of the USA and maintain US political control of Europe. The USA is trying to use its military might to overcome its economic decline and maintain its world domination. Russia is not an imperialist power seeking world domination. Putin is fighting a defensive war. If the working class was in power in Moscow it would have to led a struggle against US imperialism and NATO- the main counter revolutionary force on the planet. However communists/ socialists would fight this war on the basis of a call for working class unity against capitalism and imperialism and the reestablishment and extension of the Soviet Union minus the Stalinist bureaucracy. No to Russian and Ukrainian nationalism. For international communism. The best elements of the working class in Russia and Ukraine yearn for the workers unity established by the Bolsheviks in their struggle against imperialism

      • You are correct that the US is fighting a proxy war, but that is no reason to support the Russian invasion, which is reactionary and incapable of leading the world out of imperialist war. Whether Russia is imperialist by some definition or other is not decisive. This has been debated here before and need not be repeated now:

        https://irishmarxism.net/2022/12/15/the-war-in-ukraine-support-russia/

        The Russian invasion is reactionary, carried out by a major capitalist power and it would be a betrayal of the Russian working class, not to mention every other, to give it any support.

        That the US is the major imperialist power does not mean we support or defend its capitalist rivals. As has been said before – the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Getting this wrong will prove more and more dangerous as US imperialism declines and faces stronger rivals.

        Your counter-example of what the working class would do were it in power in Moscow shows that claiming the current war is defensive makes no difference to whether it can be supported. Were the working class in power it would not carry out this invasion but would do what you say and struggle for unity across Russia and Ukraine and further afield. This has nothing to do with, and is a million light years away from, what the regime in Russia is doing. The previous opposition to NATO in Ukraine (which is now being reversed) and the existence of many pro-Russian elements of the population show that a more progressive policy by a more attractive Russian state might have been able to rely on Ukrainian workers themselves to oppose NATO. Certainly we might hope and expect a working class state in Russia could do so.

        We will not get either Ukrainian workers opposition to NATO or a Russian workers’ state by supporting the Russian capitalist state and its invasion.

      • The Russian move into Donbas was a defensive move. The Ukraine army and far right were massing to invade Donbas and had stepped up shelling of the civilian population. Putin had resisted calls to intervene over the ;last 8 years. He had hoped that the Minsk deals would be implemented. The Russian move into donbas was not an imperialist grab for territory but a defensive move against imperialist aggression by the US which threatened mass killing of Russian speakers by the fascist far right . Of course the working class in power would have acted differently ( supporting mass working class self activity and calling for working class unity and the socialisation of production etc) but would also have had to intervene. Socialists should be the best fighters against imperialism and ethnic cleansing. We attack Putin because of his anti working class politics and his conciliation of imperialism not because he has been forced to confront US imperialism and fight.. For the working class to defeat imperialism they need workers power

      • The Russian state’s main concern has been to prevent Ukraine joining NATO and followed a policy of seeking a Government in Kyiv that would be at least neutral. Only when this appeared no longer possible did it intervene in 2014 when its hand was also forced by pro-Russian forces in Donbass. The Minsk agreements, which Russia supported involved continuing Ukrainian sovereignty with autonomy for the area.

        When Russia invaded it sought to make a deal with Kyiv that would not involve the annexation of the four oblasts, which goes beyond a purely defensive operation. Many of their inhabitants may welcome Russian rule but many will not and the question of the rights of Ukrainians under Russian rule and pro-Russians under Ukrainian rule will be decided by war and political deals at the end. The rights of the pro-Russian people in Ukraine have never been the priority for the Russian state.

        The US and Ukraine provoked Russia and Russia reacted. This does not warrant the support of the working class anywhere. Not only the rights of the workers immediately affected will be subject to the decision of a war between two capitalist armies but the division within the working class will be exacerbated in the rest of Ukraine, Ukrainian nationalism strengthened and the bitterness between Ukraine and Russian people established and increased. On top of that are the reactionary consequences for workers in the West and rest of the world. This is beside the death and destruction that war brings. None of this is progressive or justified by a claim to a sphere of influence, no matter how close. The prerogatives of capitalist states are not a right or privilege that socialists can support.

        You accept that a working class state would have intervened differently – precisely the point! The Russian state is incapable of rallying workers to organise and defend themselves and others. It cannot therefore be supported even if everything else you claim is correct. We do not sub-contract the tasks of the working class to others, and certainly not the corrupt capitalist state that is Russia; socialists will not be ‘the best fighters against imperialism’ if we supported it. The victory of one powerful capitalist state against another, even the biggest, will not advance the interests of the working class, as the move to a ‘multipolar’ world will demonstrate.

        Finally you say that the working class needs power to defeat imperialism but it will never get it by surrendering its independence and bestowing on the capitalist state the tasks of defending its interests.

    • “If the working class was in power in Moscow it would have to led a struggle against US imperialism and NATO- the main counter revolutionary force on the planet.”

      If my auntie had balls she’d be my uncle. You seem to have failed to notice that the workers are not in power in Moscow, and nor is it even a Stalinist deformed workers state, where its just a question of a political revolution. Its a powerful, expansionist capitalist state with enough nuclear weapons to destroy humanity, and an immediate enemy to workers in Russia and Ukraine alike. Any decent socialist will oppose it, without any need to support the corrupt, anti-working class regime of Zelensky or NATO either.

    • “The Russian move into donbas was not an imperialist grab for territory but a defensive move against imperialist aggression by the US which threatened mass killing of Russian speakers by the fascist far right.”

      Except Donbas is part of Ukraine not Russia, and even if it were defensive, it is part of a war between competing capitalist states that socialists should oppose. We never determine our position on a moralistic basis of who shot first, but on the basis of what is in the interests of the working-class as a whole. A war sparked by Putin’s invasion of Donbas is not in workers interests, less still the opening that gave to NATO to then respond in the way it has.

      When Germany invaded France in 1914 and 1940, it could equally be said that France’s response was defensive, but that didn’t change socialists position of opposing the war.

  3. The correct position is to give to support to the people of Russia in their struggle to resist imperialist conquest while giving no political support to Putin or the capitalist Russian state. To defeat imperialism a new soviet union is required. One that is minus the Stalinist bureaucracy

    • That’s like saying the correct position in WWI or II was to give support to the people (what does people mean, capitalists, petty-bourgeois et al, all of which are people) of Germany in their struggle to resist conquest, whilst giving no support to Hitler or the German capitalist state, and at the same time saying the same in reverse in relation to France, or Britain. Its practically meaningless, other than as another way of saying we favour revolutionary defeatism.

      The reality is that the war is not being fought by “people”, but by capitalist states, and the task of Marxists is to oppose it on all sides.

  4. Do you remember the Czech author Milan Kundera? His novels were popular for a time the 1980s leading to that film ‘The unbearable Lightness of Being’. He fell out of favour among the high brow types for being an alleged sexist and misogynist. I still have some of his novels resting on my book shelf.

    I thought him as a very astute literary critic and commentator on art and music. Now and again he would be asked to make know his understanding of Central European politics. He wrote an essay for that journal Granta, edited by Bill Buford. I have the issue number 11, called ‘Greetings from Prague’. The essay ON POLITICS AND CULTURE is called ‘ A kidnapped West or Culture Bows out’.

    Remember, the central European countries were still under Stalinist tutelage when the essay was published. Here is just one passage from an enduring piece of writing:

    ‘ And, to be frank, I feel the error made by Central Europe ( breaking up the Austrian/Hungarian Empire ) was because of what I call the ideology of the Slavic world’. I say ideology advisedly, for it is only a piece of political mystification invented in the nineteenth century. The Czechs (in spite of the severe warnings of their most respected leaders) loved to brandish naively their ‘Slavic ideology’ as a defence against German aggressiveness . The Russians , on the other hand, enjoyed making use of it to justify their own imperial ambitions. ‘ The Russians like to label everything Russian as Slavic, so that later they can label everything Slavic as Russian;, the great CZECH WRITER karel Havlicek declared in 1844, trying to warn his compatriots against their and ignorant enthusiasm for Russia. It was ignorant because the Czechs, throughout their entire thousand year history, have never had any direct contact with Russia. In spite of their linguistic kinship, the Czechs and the Russians have never shared a common world: neither a common history nor a common culture. The relationship between the Poles and the Russians, has never been anything less than a struggle of life and death. Joseph Conrad was always irrated by the label of ‘Slavic Soul’ that people used to slap on him and his books because of his Polish origins.’

    There is a good deal more in the essay about the Slavic ideology and its damaging political history. It has been taken too much for granted that the Slavic ideology belonged solely to the past history of Russia before the communists. Yet when you tune into the conversations of those in sympathy with Russia in this conflict, there is much of this ideology to be heard. Most of the support for Russia is coming from the European Right and even some of the Right wing Trump supporters are not free from its influence. To gave a practical instance, there is a youtube channel called the Duran, it hosts noisy critics of the current war, many of the contributions used to pop up all too on Russia Today, the News channel that never reported any news about Russia Today, all the news was criticism of the ‘West’. The Decadence of The West was a very typical trope of the Slavic ideology. In short the Slavic ideology is not as buried as deep as some would like to believe, many of those foreign volunteers fighting along side the Russian military are carriers of the Slavic ideology.

    So there is a general point to be made here about Imperialism and associated ideology. It is not always the case that the economy interest determines the direction of political travel, the ideology always creeping up in the rear, sometimes the ideology proceeds the economic interest. Marx was quite flexible about the positions of ideology, remember how he spoke about the French revolutionaries decking themselves out in the ideology of ancient Rome. We can find a seeming mismatch between ideology and economic, here at home, for the Orange ideology still is lively enough despite having little contemporary economic benefit.

    You are right to warn against denying the of right Ukraine only to fall into some sort of tacit support for the Russian State. The Russian State has revived the nineteenth century Imperial and Slavic ideology to help garner a wider European support. And it has gained some momentum on the European RIGHT. Many of those ex Russia Today dupes have fallen under the spell of the Slavic ideology, and may not even be aware of it.

  5. Great response. On the question of Permanent Revolution, where it does still apply is in relation to completing the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and also in relation to, say, fighting fascism, or petty-bourgeois reaction, i.e. Brexit.

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