The local elections – another step to a united Ireland?

The local election results in the North of Ireland have given rise to more commentary that another step has been taken towards a referendum on Irish unity and a united Ireland.  The success of Sinn Fein in becoming the largest party at local government level in council seats and votes has provoked this reaction, as have its previous victories.  The two have almost come to seem synonymous.

At the same time the two are repeatedly separated by the selfsame commentators who argue that any vote for a united Ireland in a referendum would have to go way beyond Sinn Fein’s support.  If a vote for this party is an indicator of impending unity, then there is an obvious problem.  Its vote in the local elections was 30.9 percent of the ballot so even after an increase in its support of 7.7 percent it is not yet a third of those voting.

It is argued that other pro-unity candidates add to the forward movement of Irish nationalism, except that the other major nationalist party, the SDLP, is slowly dying.  Its vote fell by 3.3 percentage points to 8.7 per cent.  Together the two major nationalist parties gathered 39.7 per cent.  Even with the addition of the pro-unity parties on the left and right, People before Profit and Aontú, the total rises only to 41.5 per cent.  The total for the three main unionist parties is 38.1 per cent; Irish nationalism gained more votes than the these parties.

In the 2019 local government election the three Unionist parties plus smaller unionists gained 41.87 per cent of the vote while the comparable Irish nationalist and pro-unity parties won 37.73 per cent.  At this election the DUP was the largest party and the Unionist vote was higher than that of Irish nationalism.

Local elections, however, are the least accurate electoral indicator of the relative strengths of the two camps; the turnout in 2023 was only 54 per cent, an increase of 2 per cent on the 2019 vote.  Commentators have noted that the turnout in 2023 was higher in predominantly nationalist than unionist areas by as much as 10 percentage points in some places. Irish nationalism therefore won only 22 per cent of the electorate while many unionist voters stayed at home. During any referendum on a united Ireland it can hardly be expected that unionists will be so apathetic or demoralised, unless political circumstances make them so, unlikely to be a result of the vote itself.

In the 2022 Assembly elections, where the turnout was almost 63.6 per cent, the vote for the three Unionist parties was 40.1 per cent while the pro-Irish unity vote comparable to the most recent local elections was 40.7 per cent.  The recent local election results are not the first time the Unionist parties have fallen behind.

Twelve years ago in the 2011 Assembly elections, Unionism polled 47.65 per cent while Irish nationalism trailed behind at 42.81 per cent.  The decline in the Unionist vote over these years is therefore clear and it is this decline that has provided most of the impetus to claims that a nationalist referendum victory is a realistic prospect in the short to medium term.  The 2011 result however also reveals what the advance of Sinn Fein has hidden – that the nationalist share of the vote hasn’t increased:  42.81 per cent in 2011 and 41.5 per cent in 2023.

The missing piece of the jigsaw is the rise of the Alliance party: from 7.84 per cent in 2011 to  13.3 per cent in the recent local election.  The question then becomes the political nature of this party – unionist with a ‘small u’ or nationalist; or what it presents itself as – simply ‘other’.

So let’s start with the third alternative–that Alliance cannot be said to have a position on the national question.  Even if this were so the national question will face Alliance and its supporters with the choice sooner or later and ‘other’ will not be on the ballot paper.

Alliance is definitely not an Irish nationalist party, does not pretend to be or pretend to hide it, and while it has a significant Catholic support, this has consciously decided not to vote for Irish nationalism.  While it may be more likely than other Alliance supporters to vote for unity in a referendum, its existing vote is for the status quo and the status quo is continued British rule.

The party was originally set up as an openly unionist party that presented itself as non-sectarian; one that divorced its unionism from any religious identity.  It has moved from this to present itself as neither Unionist nor nationalist but with a soft, ‘small u’, unionist support that is repelled by the sectarianism of the Unionist mainstream, with many also rejecting Brexit.  In a referendum, all other things being equal, the majority of Alliance voters can be expected to support continued British rule, as will the party itself. 

The ’other things being equal’ is what will matter for many; the political circumstances will at some point be decisive.  These include the reality of what a united Ireland might offer and the configuration of the forces fighting for and against it.  This includes the approach of the British state and the extent of violent unionist opposition.  What the election results demonstrate is that this point is not yet near, whatever about Sinn Fein becoming the largest party and Irish nationalism garnering more votes than ‘big U’ Unionism.  This does not mean that nothing is really changing.

Unionism continues to decline.  Its support for Brexit and rejection of the deal negotiated by the British state with the EU indicates a political movement fighting against its own interests. These are still considered to include a sectarian supremacy that is no longer possible and opposition to economic forces that might make the Northern State more attractive, even while it strengthens the all-island character of potential economic prosperity.  No longer able to make its claims on the basis that it is the majority within the gerrymandered state, it simply declares its veto based on its own existence.  This existence has always been one of sectarian privilege.

The other significant change has been within Irish republicanism, which having ditched its armed struggle against British rule has found itself with no clothes it cannot discard.  From opposition to British imperialism it now stands foursquare behind the western imperialist  proxy war in Ukraine.  Its representatives have acclaimed its recent success as a result of its brilliant electoral campaign.  This put a united Ireland on the back-burner but purposively elevated its attendance at the British king’s coronation, ‘to show their respect’.

It seems not to occur to them that monarchy is the epitome of denial of democracy and deserves zero respect. When Celtic and Liverpool football fans demonstrate a higher level of awareness of very basic democratic and republican principles we can appreciate the level to which Sinn Fein has sunk (with all due respect to those fans).

If this seems a rather glib or flippant remark, we can recall the explanation by another Sinn Fein member who stated that its approach was anticipation of the mutually respectful attitude between an independent Ireland and Britain when it was united.  We are almost back to the original Arthur Griffith Sinn Fein that supported a Habsburg Empire-like dual monarchy.

What this illustrates is the relevance of the Marxist theory and programme of permanent revolution. This argues that the democratic tasks associated with the development of capitalism, such as national independence, should be part of a working class programme and struggle and that it was possible for this struggle to develop into one that went beyond purely democratic questions, and the limits acceptable to capitalism, to be a struggle for working class rule.

This does not mean that such struggles cannot be led by other classes, but that these could not be relied upon to advance the struggle in a thoroughly democratic way or for a consistent and comprehensive democratic outcome.  It matters who leads the struggle, because different classes will lead it to very different ends.

Marxists always defined Sinn Fein as a petty bourgeois organisation, which drew a reaction of complete incomprehension from republicans who were working class and living in solidly working class estates in Belfast, Derry or Dublin.  However, the movement’s political character was defined not mainly by its support considered in sociological terms, including its rural support or its ties to Irish American money, but by its politics.

This politics previously imagined a radically reconfigured capitalism, which the capitalist class opposed, while not seeking to overthrown the system itself, never mind forwarding real working class rule. The Irish capitalist class had no great interest in challenging British imperialism and the Irish working class has interests that go way beyond a united country that cannot provide for its needs.

As the possibility of a united Ireland is claimed to be approaching the democratic content to the struggle is more and more denuded of democratic content.  The obsequious kowtowing to British royalty does indeed show respect but not to democratic and republican principles.  The various scattered proposals to accommodate unionism in a united Ireland are also indicators of the inconsistent approach to a democratic outcome.

Many European countries have achieved unification after the defeat of the popular revolutions that sought to enact it in a more democratic way, such as Germany and Italy.  For socialists support for a united Ireland is a struggle to advance beyond a partitioned Ireland and not one that leaves every other component and trappings of the Irish and British capitalist states intact.

When measured against these tasks, the local government elections in 2023 are not even a minor tremble in the ground beneath the system that must be brought down.

The war in Ukraine (13) – the unity for democracy

Extraordinary Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government held in Brussels, Belgium on March 24, 2022. (Photo by NATO Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In the previous post we repeated an earlier review of two of the many indices of democracy in the world and the ranking of Russia and Ukraine.  These indices are, of course, ideological constructs that compare the real world with a bourgeois ideal that excludes what Marxists consider real human freedom. For these bourgeois indices freedom includes ‘economic freedom’, which Marx described as the freedom to exploit.  The freedom to own capital is also the freedom to exclude ownership to the vast majority, which without their own capital have to work for those that do, and without which those that do have capital would be able to do nothing with it.  A society in which the working class collectively owns and controls the means of production and has ended private capitalist ownership does not exist but would be one that would really be on the road to freedom.

There is therefore no point to a Marxist index that reported that in no country does the mass of the people, especially the working class, control its own destiny and impose its own will through its economic and social power, with whatever state organisation is still required to defend its collective ownership of the productive powers of society.  The left supporters of Ukraine however claim that there is something qualitatively different to ‘democracy’ in Ukraine in comparison to ‘authoritarianism’ in Russia.  The indices that we have quoted are simply a demonstration that there isn’t.

The point is not only that both are capitalist societies defended by capitalist states, which is the difference that socialists consider determinant, but that there is little difference between them in terms of the functioning of bourgeois democracy.  For socialists such democracy is mainly of value in order for the working class to develop its political consciousness and its organisation more freely.  For the pro-war left this is irrelevant, for while it complains about the attacks on workers’ rights and organisation by the Zelensky regime it nevertheless defends this regime and the state it sits upon. It betrays the cause of the working class at both the level of principle and immediate practice.

Its rationale for this has been argued against repeatedly on this blog, as we have noted the identity of its argument to that of the western capitalist powers, recited endlessly by their state and corporate media.  We see this again with a third index of ‘democracy.’ 

This third index is that of The Economist Intelligence Unit, which reported in its 2021 index that ‘Ukraine’s score declined from 5.81 in 2020 to 5.57 in 2021, taking it further below the threshold of 6.00, above which countries are classified as a “flawed democracy”. Russia’s score, already a lowly 3.31 in 2020, fell further to 3.24 in 2021.’  This meant that Ukraine was 86 out of 167 countries while Russia came in at 124.  The report stated that ‘Ukraine’s score registered the steepest decline among the four east European countries in this category’, (Hybrid regimes in Eastern Europe), and ‘declined in part as a result of increased tensions with Russia. Government functioning under a direct military threat usually restricts democratic processes in favour of the centralisation of power in the hands of the executive and the security or military apparatus with the aim of guaranteeing public safety. In Ukraine, the military played a more prominent role in 2021 and exerted more influence over political decision-making; government policy also became less transparent.’ In the 2022 report Ukraine has dropped only one place to 87 out of 167 countries while Russia falls to 146 place from 124.

’The Economist’ is a virulently opinionated ‘newspaper’ that champions capitalism and Western imperialist ‘values’ so its rationale for its open support for Ukraine is striking for its more or less perfect alignment with the justification of support for Ukraine by the pro-war left.  One is almost tempted to say that one of them hasn’t quite understood what is going on, but it is too easy to identity the mistaken party.

’The Economist’ reports that ‘Ukraine’s score in the 2022 Democracy Index declines compared with 2021, from 5.57 to 5.42. . . . Despite the overall decline in Ukraine’s Democracy Index score in 2022, there were also many positive developments, not least in the way in which the war has given rise to a sense of nationhood and national solidarity. Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion is a demonstration of how ordinary people are prepared to fight to defend the principles of national sovereignty and self-determination.’  

It goes on to say that ‘Russia’s invasion led to a strong “rally-around-the-flag” effect, after which trust in the country’s president, government and armed forces surged to all-time highs. Citizens’ engagement with politics and the news also increased. In response to the invasion, the Ukrainian government imposed martial law, which curtailed freedom of movement and placed sweeping emergency powers in the hands of the president, Volodymyr Zelenskyi. Checks and balances on Mr Zelenskyi’s authority were effectively suspended as normal political processes assumed a lower priority in the face of an existential external threat. The banning of pro-Russian political parties, such as Opposition Platform—For Life, as well as media outlets reporting pro-Russian views, is understandable in the context of the invasion and amid Ukraine’s attempts to consolidate and defend its national identity.’

‘However, in fighting a war that is widely understood to be existential, Ukraine’s leaders have sometimes curtailed the rights and freedoms of citizens, political parties and the media. Much of this is par for the course in wartime, but such extraordinary measures have inevitably resulted in downgrades in various indicators in the Democracy Index.’

‘The Economist’ index thus reports the continuing reduction in democracy with more sorrow than anger and reduces its impact on Ukraine’s overall score by increasing the score of the sub-category of ‘political participation’, which is not actually independent popular action but, as it says, a “rally-around-the-flag” mobilisation that subordinates the Ukrainian working class to its state.  That much of this has been voluntary simply emphasises the subservience.  It is no accident that this ‘political participation’ has been enthusiastically supported by the pro-war left as an example of working class mobilisation, another indication that it cannot distinguish between the power of the Ukrainian state and the power of the Ukrainian working class.

On one thing the magazine may appear obviously correct: ‘Every so often in history something happens that requires people to take sides as a matter of principle. In 2022 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine posed such a choice.’  The pro-war left has demonstrated that it agrees that it must ‘take sides’.

Boffy has ridiculed this idea, as if we must accept one of the alternatives presented by capitalism and the competition between its rival states; but the pro-war left has accepted this choice and in doing so has accepted the principles advanced by one of the alternatives, in its case the policy of the Western capitalist powers.  So, just like this pro-war left, ‘The Economist’ champions the centrality of ‘self-determination’, ironically also asserted by Russia and China in their own singing of the praises of national sovereignty: ‘Sovereignty and democracy are indivisible. Ukraine’s fight to defend its sovereignty has drawn attention to the importance of a principle that has been much denigrated . . .’

It then goes on to note, with total lack of self-awareness, that ‘Ukraine’s elections were marred by substantial irregularities that prevented them from being free and fair. There were serious constitutional flaws, with power being concentrated in the presidency rather than the legislature. The judiciary was far from being independent. Corruption was rife under a system dominated by oligarchs, who exercised huge influence over the main institutions of power. There was a pluralist media, but many outlets were owned by wealthy businessmen or controlled by vested interests. Public trust in government, political parties and the electoral process was very low.’

This however is blamed mainly on the influence of Russia, with the wishful thinking claim that the war ‘may have provided the shock that will ensure no return to the status quo ante in Ukraine. Russia’s war of aggression has raised the level of national consciousness and will amplify expectations of change afterwards.’

In fact, the opposite has already been the case, with nationalist radicalisation after 2014 being used as cover for the lack of economic and social progress and thorough democratisation.  Instead, national consciousness has amplified the worst parts of Ukraine’s past with its celebration of fascist predecessors who now play the most honoured role in Ukraine’s new nationalist revival.  Just like the pro-war left, this far-right is accorded no importance and the growth of nationalism celebrated.  Ethnic nationalism is endorsed through steps to erase Russian culture and define what is really Ukrainian, given a gloss on the left through stupid or dishonest claims that this is some sort of progressive decolonial project.

The pro-war left has therefore no essential difference with the ideological standard bearer of capitalism when the latter declares its verdict that:

‘Nothing that the Western powers did forced Russia to go to war in Ukraine. Russia had in late 2021 listed its grievances and concerns about NATO expansion, arms control and other matters, and the US’s door remained open for further discussion and diplomacy. The US made clear that it was ready to pursue negotiations with Russia. That Russia went to war in Ukraine is all down to the Kremlin.’

This Left holds this same view because its political conceptions are based on the same vacuous moralistic grounds declared by ‘The Economist’, which can be filled with whatever reactionary content is currently prevalent:

‘Democracy is a moral system as well as a system of government, and it is moral in the sense that it expresses an attitude towards people. The basic moral premise of democracy is the idea that all people are equal. Democracy is made for people, not the people for democracy.  From the idea of the equality of people follows the idea of the equality of nations: the principle of national sovereignty also has a moral dimension and is a bedrock of democracy.’ 

In expressing these political conceptions ‘The Economist’ faithfully grounds itself on the class interests of Western capitalism and can really only be charged with hypocrisy.  On the other hand, in basing itself on the same moral arguments and resulting political positions, the pro-war left betrays the class interests of those it claims to represent.

Back to part 12

The war in Ukraine (12) – democracy and authoritarianism?

The war is supported by the Western powers, its media and its pro-war left, and justified as a war of democracy against authoritarianism.  In several Facebook debates I engaged in with this left a version of Godwin’s law kicked in quite quickly as Russia was denounced as fascist, and everyone knows you can’t support fascism.  It appears that the logic is that you must then support Ukraine.  And if it turns out that supporting Ukraine also involves support for their significant fascist armed units, well, these apparently aren’t significant enough to matter.

None of this prevents the supporters of Ukraine also claiming that support for Ukrainian self-determination doesn’t depend on the nature of its regime!  The supporters of Russia take very much the same approach, on the grounds that US imperialism is the main enemy.  The nature of the Putin regime is entirely secondary to their support for a multi-polar world, although that did not really work out very well in the last century; particularly between the years 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945, never mind the numerous smaller wars that have continued over the past number of decades.

Any attempt to present Russia as any sort of democracy, as supporters of Ukraine have pretended with their favourite capitalist state, faces the difficulty that Western propaganda has enough raw material to advance the case that it isn’t.  For a capitalist country Russia is not a very democratic bourgeois democracy; ‘The Economist’ magazine democracy index classifies it as ‘authoritarian’ while Ukraine is classified as a ‘hybrid regime,’ which sits below the categories of ‘democracy’ and ‘flawed democracy’.

One way the lack of democracy reveals itself is at ground level, where it impacts most on the most vulnerable, who became even more economically insecure because of the mass privatisations following the fall of the Soviet Union. This left many people more dependent on local political and economic elites, who were often the same people.  These elites were then able to engage in vote buying and coerced participation in demonstrations in support of favoured candidates etc., achieved through threats to the payment of wages; threats of unemployment; and threats to access to benefits, health and education services and to infrastructure, for example to gas supplies and public transport.

In areas with large facilities such as factories, agricultural enterprises, hospitals and schools and universities, political officials could demand political support from their workers and even relatives, with the open or veiled threat that the factory might close, the hospital staff might lose their jobs, or the school might not get the funds to maintain ageing infrastructure etc.  In one region the intervention of local officials had become so reliable and acute that in 2017 upon the expected visit of such officials on the first day of school the parents formally begged that the visit might happen on the second day.

In rural areas targeting voters has been carried out on a more individualistic basis with what might appear relatively minor figures wielding significant influence, often under pressure themselves, and so on up the tree of vertical command.  In one village, the mayor’s secretary worked on her homestead while also having a second job.  In her secretarial role she had lists of young men eligible for drafting into the army, which many avoided through payment at a widely known price.  This price went up from 200 in 2010 to 1,000 in 2019, although because of currency devaluation there was actually no significant increase.  During the war however the price shot up ten or twelve times the normal level.  During an electoral campaign this power could be put to good use to ensure a high turnout, with the implication that if you didn’t participate “we’ll take your son into the army.”  In small towns and villages, the political operatives would seek to ensure their instructions were followed by demanding that people bring their mobile phones and take a picture of their ballot paper.

These threats to withhold rights and benefits, which should be entitlements but became privileges, could be withheld if votes were not cast as required. Achieving compliance became easier using state resources, including databases of those receiving a pension or other government assistance. State employees were expected to see themselves as working for the current political leadership.  When one chief physician at a district hospital, whose wife was head midwife, was challenged by activists over his wife’s poor record in new-born mortality and his vote buying, he replied “I am not a public servant! I am not a public servant!”

While this is how political corruption operates at the lower level, it could not work so easily on those with some personal independence and therefore not so vulnerable, or with those so poor they might have nothing to lose.  At a higher level, political support has been wrought through increasing nationalism, which conveniently would play the role of diverting attention from the economic and social conditions that facilitated such corrupt political practices in the first place.

These individual stories and description of the general landscape of corruption are taken from a book ‘Staging Democracy, political performance in Ukraine, Russia and beyond’.  The author states that ‘Russia and Ukraine are widely viewed as occupying different places in regime-type taxonomies.  Yet key instruments of explicit political manipulation and control over most people’s everyday lives, if not the frequency of their use, are similar in the two countries.’  The examples quoted are all from Ukraine.

 *                    *                   *

In a previous post I noted the narrow differences in the political complexion of Ukraine and Russia:

‘The right wing US think-tank The CATO Institute has an annual ‘Human Freedom’ index, a combination of separate indices for personal and economic freedom.  Its 2021 report shows that Ukraine is the third worst country out of 22 in Eastern Europe while the Russian Federation is the worst.  Over 165 countries Ukraine is number 98 while Russia is 126.  The freest country at number 1 is Switzerland, which scores 9.11 for human freedom while Ukraine scores 6.86 (75% of the Swiss score) and Russia scores 6.23 (or 68% of the Swiss score).  We are expected to support the war of Ukraine with 75% of the ‘human freedom’ of the freest against Russia with 68%.  The war of 7%. It is relevant to note that while in 2021 Ukraine ranked 98th, it ranked higher at 82nd in 2008, so that relatively it has gotten worse, but so has Russia from 112th to 126th.’

‘The second index is that of ‘Transparency International’ which reports the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 180 countries/territories around the world. It scores these countries out of 100, with the lower the score the more corrupt a country is perceived to be.  The 2021 publication reports that the least corrupt countries included Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, scoring 88 each.  Ukraine is 123rd on the list while Russia is 139th. A better indication of the difference is that Ukraine scores 32 out of 100 while Russia scores 29, meaning that the former scores 36% of Denmark etc. while Russia scores 33%.  Not a pile of difference; 3 to be exact.’

In both countries the degree of political freedom has shrunk even further over the past year, at exactly the same time some from the pro-war Left have invited us to support one or the other capitalist state. While socialists should not do so in peacetime, we have even less reason to do so in war.

Back to part 11

Forward to part 13

The war in Ukraine (11) – the final steps

In the diplomatic engagement two months before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia published its proposals on security guarantees on 17 December 2021. These demanded a formal end to NATO expansion and restrictions on western deployments of troops and weaponry in Eastern Europe.  Putin stated that it was “extremely alarming that elements of the US global defence system are being deployed near Russia . . . If this infrastructure continues to move forward, and if US and NATO military systems are deployed in Ukraine, their flight time to Moscow will be only 7-10 minutes, or even five minutes for hypersonic systems.”

He stated that Russia required legal guarantees, not verbal assurances that NATO expansion would stop, because “fine words and promises” had not stopped this expansion. If western states persisted, Russia would “take appropriate military-technical measures and will have a tough response to their unfriendly steps.” 

According to Russian sources Joe Biden expressed a willingness ‘to engage in a serious and substantive dialogue’ at negotiations in Geneva in January 2022, although by the end of the month Russia’s central demand for a written guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO had been rejected.

Putin responded in a press conference:

‘Listen attentively to what I am saying. It is written into Ukraine’s doctrines that it wants to take Crimea back, by force if necessary. This is not what Ukrainian officials say in public. This is written in their documents.’

‘Suppose Ukraine is a NATO member. It will be filled with weapons, modern offensive weapons will be deployed on its territory just like in Poland and Romania – who is going to prevent this? Suppose it starts operations in Crimea, not to mention Donbass. Crimea is sovereign Russian territory. We consider this matter settled. Imagine that Ukraine is a NATO country and starts these military operations. What are we supposed to do? Fight against the NATO bloc? Has anyone given at least some thought to this? Apparently not.’ 

‘The United States is not that concerned about Ukraine’s security. Its main goal is to contain Russia’s development. This is the whole point. In this sense, Ukraine is simply a tool to reach this goal.’

On the last point he is correct, which no doubt scandalises the pro-war left–that anyone would agree with Putin on anything, but their alternative is to claim that the United States is only interested in Ukraine’s welfare and not in Russian power, which is patent nonsense.

For them to accept that the US continues to act as the imperialist hegemon would mean accepting the last part of Putin’s statement–that Ukraine is simply a tool and that it is waging a proxy war.  Since the pro-war left supports Ukraine it too would become a proxy for US imperialism just as, in the old children’s rhyme – the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, the hip bone’s connected to the backbone, the backbone’s connected to the neck bone . . .  All separate but effectively joined as one.

Putin went on to say:

‘This can be done in different ways: by drawing us into some armed conflict, or compelling US allies in Europe to impose tough sanctions on us . . . or by drawing Ukraine into NATO, deploying attack weapons there and encouraging some Banderites to resolve the issues of Donbass or Crimea by force . . .’

In the past year this is what has happened. The provision of NATO weapons to Ukraine, along with intelligence resources, has drawn the country further into the alliance itself; Europe has been persuaded and bullied into sanctions; NATO weapons supplied have become more powerful and, of course, Ukraine’s fascists have employed them; all with the support of the pro-war left, showing, in other words, that they have become extensions of imperialism as well.

A year ago a leading spokesperson for this left declared that only the supply of defensive weapons could be supported and stated that ‘we must also oppose the delivery of air fighters to Ukraine.’ He swallowed the nonsense that ‘for now, NATO members are declaring that they will not cross the red line of sending troops to fight the Russian armed forces on Ukrainian soil’, and he parroted these imperialist lies with all the appearance of a rookie amateur while his followers inhaled the illusions like naïfs.

Since there is no real distinction between defensive and offensive weapons the reason for such delicate distinctions is only the brutal appearance of the real nature of the war that these steps would reveal.  Their position on the war has always relied on the superficial, with a studied disregard for its real and essential nature, but to accept the word of imperialism has opened these leftists to ridicule.

But now there is no hiding the proxy nature of the war for anyone except those who place their hands over their eyes.  Main battle tanks and fighter aircraft are being supplied by NATO and ‘the red line of sending troops to fight the Russian armed forces on Ukrainian soil’ has been crossed.  Over a year later all this is forgotten as the war proceeds, so that since the real character of the war must be ignored so also must the significance of the triumphant provision of imperialist weapons.  However, just as the road that brought us to war received no opposition neither has its results.

The much awaited Ukrainian offensive against Crimea threatens massive escalation should it look like succeeding and massive destruction of Ukrainian lives if it fails, and once again the degenerate pro-war left is on board.

*                 *                  *

When Macron visited Putin on 7 February 2022 he asked if he intended to invade Ukraine, Putin replied that ‘“We are categorically opposed to NATO’s eastward expansion…It is not us moving towards NATO but NATO moving towards us.” He also reiterated the point that Ukraine’s membership of NATO was dangerous because at some point in the future it might attempt to reoccupy Crimea and the Donbass by force and thereby spark a broader Russian-Western conflict.’ A few days later he complained that his proposals had not received a substantive response and stressed “the reluctance of the leading western powers to prompt the Kiev authorities to implement the Minsk agreements.”

In response to Western counter-proposals, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that in the absence of legally binding security guarantees Russia would resort to ‘military-technical means’.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but what is not wonderful is ignoring it. The Russian invasion was a surprise to many, including this author, and it immediately needed to be opposed. With hindsight however it could have been more readily anticipated.  The US and British intelligence services were more on the mark, but then the policy of both states was to provoke an invasion and they knew what the Russian red lines were.  The Ukrainians simply became fodder for western strategy to weaken Russia and thereby more easily isolate and neuter China.  The story of US policy regarding China would explain the progress to war much more than nonsense about it being Russian imperial ambition to change the borders of Ukraine etc.

Geoffrey Roberts argues that:

‘The final trigger for war might have been President Zelensky’s defiant speech to the Munich Security Conference on 19 February, in which he threatened Ukrainian re-acquisition of nuclear weapons. As Gordon Hahn has pointed out, there were no western protests at Zelensky’s threat to abrogate both the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Ukraine’s nuclear status and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Ukraine was also a signatory.’ 

‘Another crucial contingency was a significant uptick in ceasefire violations along the border between Kyiv-controlled Ukraine and Donetsk and Luhansk.’

On 21 February Putin stated that:

‘The information we have gives us good reason to believe that Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the subsequent deployment of NATO facilities has already been discussed and is only a matter of time. Given this scenario, the level of military threats to Russia will increase dramatically. At this point the risks of a sudden strike on our country will multiply.’ 

Seven months into the ‘special military operation’ Putin stated that Western states ‘have always been seeking the dissolution of our country – this is very true. It is unfortunate that at some point they decided to use Ukraine for these purposes. In effect . . . we launched our special military operation to prevent events from taking this turn.’

The following month he said that ‘What is happening today is unpleasant, to put it mildly, but we would have got the same thing a bit later but in worse conditions for us, that’s all.’ 

As long as Ukraine sought NATO membership and NATO was prepared to award it; as long as it strengthened its armed forces and was armed with a policy of regaining lost territory in Donbas, the leadership of the Russian state believed that war was inevitable, and it was better to have it before both Ukraine became more powerful and it had joined NATO.  To wait for the former would make a Russian invasion harder, just as it was much harder in 2022 than it would have been in 2014, and if it waited until Ukraine joined NATO it would have signalled war against the whole of Western imperialism.

This is of some consequence today.  The execrable Guardian columnist Simon Tisdall forecasts that the Ukrainian offensive will cause lots of casualties but may fail to expel the Russians, at which time Russia might agree a conditional ceasefire, while ‘Volodymyr Zelenskiy is obliged to temporarily postpone his drive to restore his country’s pre-2014 borders . . . The US and its west European Nato allies declare that democratic Ukraine’s sovereign independence, and the global rules-based order, are saved . . . Richard Haass, an influential former senior US diplomat, and Georgetown professor Charles Kupchan noted last week [that] “the west should do more now to help Ukraine advance on the battlefield, putting it in the best position possible at the negotiating table later this year. Ending the war while deferring the ultimate disposition of land still under Russian occupation is the solution” while a truce on this basis “could prevent renewed conflict and . . . set the stage for a lasting peace.”

Do the western powers really believe that they can pull another Minsk agreement that promised peace but was put in place to buy time to strengthen the Ukrainian armed forces for a renewed war? This time it is proposed that a ceasefire would involve NATO membership, as NATO powers have promised when the war is over.  After all that has happened why on earth would Russia agree to a ceasefire after it has defeated a Ukrainian offensive?

Undoubtedly if or when the Western powers believe there is nothing more to be gained from Ukrainian deaths, they will don the mantle of peacemakers and condemn continued Russian aggression, but Russia will be more interested in ensuring that Ukraine with NATO membership is unable to pose a threat.  By promising membership to Ukraine, the NATO powers have condemned Ukraine to further devastation, just as its history of intervention with this objective brought about the current war.

The workers of Ukraine will continue to be victims of rivalry among the biggest capitalist powers and their ruling class will continue to be complicit.  The only alternative is to oppose all these capitalist forces and the only solution to their war is socialism, as one other famous Russian called Vladimir put it.

Back to part 10

Forward to part 12

The war in Ukraine (10) – taking the red pill

In July 2021 Putin said that Russia remained “open to dialogue with Ukraine and ready to discuss the most complex questions . . . but it is important for us to understand that our partner is defending its national interest, not serving someone else’s . . . We respect the Ukrainian language and traditions. We respect Ukrainians’ desire to see their country free, safe and prosperous. I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia [which] has never been and will never be ‘anti- Ukraine’. And what Ukraine will be – it is up to its citizens to decide.”

It is possible to read these words with absolute cynicism, given the subsequent invasion, and as simply lies, but this is not quite the case.  Putin was not lying when he said that the ‘sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia’, by which he obviously meant–not part of NATO.

Left supporters of Ukraine will object to the limits of Ukrainian sovereignty being defined by Russia but this view is really to live in a world of illusions–that within capitalism it is possible for any state, never mind the smaller and weaker, to do what it wants.  Ukrainian membership of NATO, with the right of self-determination to site nuclear missiles, may be an exercise of the right of self-determination for Ukraine but a threat to exercise of the very same right by Russia.   Socialists do not set themselves the task to ensure that such ‘rights’ exist, only the most naïve nationalists believe such nonsense, or that there is some just and fair balance between states that legitimately constrains self-determination, only liberals pretend that this can be true.

Marxists support the freedom of humanity, to be achieved by the abolition of classes, which is itself to be brought about through the emancipation of the working class.  The struggle we support is therefore of the working class against capitalism–and the states that defend it–and establishment of its own power, the rule of the working class irrespective of sex and race etc. and the abolition of nation states, not proclamation of their inviolable rights. We do not determine the interests of the working class by accepting the rights of the states they live within and we do not confuse the interests or rights of people living within these states with the states themselves. We do not do it in relation to Russia or the United States and do not do it in relation to Ukraine.

The struggle against capitalism is an international one because capitalism is international.  To believe that any country can be independent within this international system is to ignore that the international capitalist system, which is understood as imperialism, cannot be returned to purely national forms that never really existed in the first place.  Opposition to imperialism is not therefore opposition to one capitalist state interfering in the affairs of another because this is the nature of the system; and it is not opposition to political interference (as opposed to economic) because the two are aspects of the same system.

In the past, the world capitalist system included large empires and numerous colonies, but this is no longer the case as the colonies achieved independence.  To repeat, it is not the job of socialists to achieve their ‘real’ independence since this is impossible, just as it is impossible–and not our job–to defend small capitals against bigger monopolies or small states at war with larger ones.   Socialists have historically supported anti-colonial struggles for a number of reasons.

First, these weakened the more developed capitalist states and weakened the obstacles to the struggles of the working classes within these countries, while also dealing blows against the rivalry between the empires that lead to war.  Secondly, in so far as these colonies had small and immature working classes (because they had limited and immature capitalist development), they furthered the development of these countries politically and economically and in so doing advanced their working classes political and economic progress.

In such countries the small nature of the working class often ruled out a more or less direct struggle by the working class for its own power.  In such cases tactical alliances with other classes was possible and necessary and socialists would support such tactical alliances provided the working class was separately organised to fight for its own interests and actually fought for these interests.  In some cases, through the process and programme of permanent revolution it could offer the promise of local and temporary victories until the larger working class of the advanced capitalist states could achieve their own victories. In all cases it sought to develop its own separate organisation as the promise of its future struggle.

All this history of the socialist movement has been dumped by the pro-war and pro-Ukraine left.

For them, Ukraine must be defended in its advance to membership of the major imperialist alliance even though this has led to war and its prolongation, with hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries and millions of displaced people.  Support for self-determination is not a policy that socialists can support in these circumstances and for these purposes. Not in relation to capitalist states that are already politically independent, that have already gained ‘self-determination’ in so far as it is available to them, and has availed of that self-determination to provoke a war in alliance with the biggest imperialist alliance, that will assuredly not take self-determination as its guiding light if victorious.

With a policy of ‘self-determination’ for already independent capitalist states it would be necessary to support all and every such state since all would have their freedom circumscribed by defeat in war, which today would mean supporting Ukraine and Russia.  In doing so one would have to dump the politics of socialism that sets out the class divisions of society as the lines of struggle and adopt entirely secondary, or bogus, criteria in order to support one capitalist state against another.  Once this is done it would be possible to defend your adopted capitalist state on the grounds of ‘self-determination’ and having done so, go along with all the nationalist crap which inevitably comprises its struggle, such as the imposition of nationalist myths and destruction of ‘alien’ cultures embodied in language and books etc.

This is the result of failure to come to terms with the world as it really is, as a Marxist; not as some believer in ‘justice’ or other moral good unhinged not only from the real world but also from any coherent alternative to the way it currently works.

In the course of outlining the view of the Russian state in the previous post and the actions of Ukraine and the United States/NATO we are left with the following situation as the year 2021 ended:

Ukraine vowed to regain Crimea and was making its armed forces stronger and stronger. Ukraine demanded, and NATO committed to, Ukrainian membership of NATO while the US decided to go ahead without the rest in developing political and military cooperation. Russia stated repeatedly that Ukrainian membership of NATO was unacceptable while it also argued that the Minsk agreements were irreplaceable in securing peace, although these had already been effectively rejected by Ukraine. Finally armed confrontations became closer with the massing of troops on the line of contact between both states, including increased shelling by Ukrainian forces immediately prior to the Russian invasion.

The answer to the question why the invasion occurred is clear as is some clarity why it occurred when it did.  Unless of course you have swallowed the blue pill and all this is irrelevant, and the invasion is about righting some historical wrong about the artificial character of Ukraine’s borders, or to convince Ukrainians that they are really Russian by making them so.

Back to part 9

Forward to part 11