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
Spot on. The quote I gave, here, previously, from Trotsky, in relation to why such wars of “national liberation”, in that case Czechoslovakia, can never be simply that, but must be imperialist wars applies perfectly to Ukraine. The release of the US Defence Department papers, including the confirmation of what we all knew, that NATO already had troops fighting in Ukraine, illustrates that point.
But, of course, its not just existing states, for which the principal of “The Main Enemy Is At Home” applies. Permanent Revolution, and The Theses On The National and Colonial Questions, also makes clear that for workers in colonial countries, and annexed territories that still remains the case. As Trotsky set out in relation to the Chinese Revolution – and Lenin says the same thing about the role of the bourgeoisie in the various nations within the Tsarist Empire – the domestic or comprador bourgeoisie is always more closely tied to the colonial bourgeoisie than it is to the workers of its own nation. It uses nationalist rhetoric solely to divide the workers and deceive them, diverting them from the class struggle.
That doesn’t mean that the workers can’t form temporary tactical alliances, in action, with them, just as workers formed such alliances to fight the old landed aristocracy, as part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, but it does mean our interests are not theirs, our goals are not theirs, and we understand that they will knife us in the back if they get the chance. In fact, this has been brought out in relation to Ukraine, by the response of the USC, who picked up on John McDonnell’s comments about the Left having supported the Viet Cong. The USC note that the VC were themselves an anti-working class force that murdered thousands of Vietnamese communists, and imposed a vicious anti-working class totalitarian regime.
That is quite true, but simply illustrates why “The Left” should not have been supporting the VC!!! Opposing the role of French colonialism or US imperialism, in Vietnam is not at all the same thing as actively supporting the VC. My enemy’s enemy most certainly is not my friend. “The Left”, as well as opposing US imperialism in Vietnam should instead have been supporting truly revolutionary forces in Vietnam fighting against both the French, the US and the VC. The idea of supporting the VC, as the main force opposing imperialism, is the position of Stalinism, not of Marxism/Trotskyism. It is the position the Stalinists took in China in arguing support for the KMT of Chiang Kai Shek, and then Wang Chin Wei. It was a position that Trotsky wholly rejected and actively opposed! Trotsky was proved correct, because Chiang organised a coup and murder thousands of Chinese worker communists in Shanghai, and later it was repeated by Wang Chin Wei, and the Left KMT, who then joined up again with Chiang Kai Shek.
Yet, “The left” in all the post war period has followed that Stalinist approach of “the bloc of four classes”, adopted in China, and the idea of the Popular Front, not only with bourgeois liberal forces, but even with reactionary petty-bourgeois forces, which is wholly against the Marxist/Leninist/Trotskyist position. In one case after another, be it Korea, Algeria, Vietnam, across Africa and Latin America, Iran, and in Ireland, “The Left” adopted a PF position of subordinating itself, and the class struggle to the bourgeois principle of national self-determination, and subordinated itself to these assorted bourgeois nationalist forces. It picked on one charismatic leader after another as its new hope, and each time was inevitably disappointed, confirming Einstein’s comment about the definition of idiocy. It has even done a similar thing in relation to the question of Scottish independence.
Could any Marxist basing themselves on Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky and the experience of the revolutions of 1848, of 1917, 1927, 1936 and so on, have been surprised when those bourgeois nationalist forces established anti-working class regimes? Of course not, which is precisely why contrary to McDonnell, and the USC, they should not have been giving support to, or forming any kind of bloc with those reactionary forces in the first place, and why they also should not be doing so with Zelensky now.