Ukraine (4) – Supporting Ukraine and Opposing NATO?

People before Profit protest outside Russian embassy in Dublin

There is a second set of errors in what I have called the pro-war left, involving not only those who explicitly support the capitalist Ukrainian state but those who claim that in addition to this it is necessary to also condemn and oppose NATO.

A previous series of posts have demonstrated that the arguments put forward by Gilbert Achcar of the Fourth International are not consistent with a socialist approach to the war.  He and Catherine Samary consistently understate the significance of the role of NATO and the US, and in the case of Samary reach for arguments that are the equivalent of a magician’s misdirection.

The latter, for example, insists that the primary issue in the original enlargement of NATO following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 was concern among rival imperialisms to retain some sort of control over Germany, and not opposition to Russia. (It is, by the way, relevant to note that Germany is now claiming its role is to take the lead in European security and what role other than opposition to Russia?)

This argument by Samary is not serious but inadvertently revealing.  The unity of Germany under NATO firstly required removal of massive numbers of Soviet troops, and the later enlargement of it across Eastern Europe nails any illusion that this was not an anti-Russian move.  A united Germany was a concern, but all the more reason to strengthen the European Union and further the project of a single currency.

NATO membership would further constrain the independent initiative of Germany as Samary appears to admit, which tells against any argument that Ukrainian self-determination, in the sense that she argues it, is compatible with the current embrace of that country by NATO; an issue she wishes to render scarcely relevant to the nature of the war.

Similarly, she claims that Russia was not under threat from NATO and that Putin’s main concern was with the colour revolutions against corruption, including potentially against himself.  For her, the actions of Russia must never be framed as defensive in any way or a reaction to western actions.  So, the possibility of taking control of Donbas and Crimea was primarily to boost his popularity while strengthening Russia’s international position.  This happened when it did because Putin was not previously in a position to be aggressive, while the earlier catastrophic collapse of the Russian economy in the 1990s and its diminished geopolitical power were the result of Boris Yeltsin and an act of Russian self-determination. The war in Ukraine today is not therefore a reactive one but an active aggressive war explicitly against Ukrainian independence.

Some of these points are correct in themselves, it is a question of how far they go in explaining the origin and nature of the war.

Once again the selection of relevant factors ignores the blatantly obvious anti-Russian nature of NATO and its increasingly threatening enlargement, all the more possible and unnecessary precisely because of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact; the collapse of the Russian economy due to Western imported shock therapy; US  interference in internal Russian politics in favour of Yeltsin, and following him the initial attempts by Putin to form some sort of partnership with Western imperialism rather than confront it as an enemy.

And once more the argument is revealing.  Apparently Russian shock therapy was an act of self-determination and since her false application of this principle supposedly adds legitimacy to it, we are left with the view that this was an internal Russian matter. Nowhere is it viewed as arising within and out of the class struggle within Russia, almost always implemented by internal forces, but often on behalf of outside imperialist powers and institutions such as the US, EU or IMF.

Yet nowhere is the loss of political sovereignty by Ukraine through the demands of these organisations given any consideration as impairing the ‘self-determination’ of Ukraine, nor are classes within that country assigned responsibility for the imposition of austerity, repression, and submission to the demands of the IMF, EU and NATO.  Neither is the development and growth of separatist tendencies in the east of the country granted any legitimacy through their resulting to a great degree from the repressive actions of the Kyiv government.

Instead, the growth over the years of support within Ukraine for NATO membership is blamed on Russian aggression, which is only partially true, but with no account taken of the reactionary Ukrainian regimes that have pushed membership even when the majority of the Ukrainian people opposed it, or been so divided that its pursuit could only lead to deepening division and exposure to long-standing Russian threats.

The Fourth International (FI) In the shape of Gilbert Achcar has debated Alex Callinicos on the nature of the war here and here.  The international Socialist Tendency (IST) to which Callinicos belongs and which is represented by the Socialist Workers Network in Ireland, the political leaders of People before Profit, published an early statement on the war.

The IST is strongly critical of the FI’s refusal to condemn the intervention of NATO and its general disregard for its role. This leads them to make many valid criticisms and take a stand against NATO’s provision of arms to ‘Ukraine’ as well as to western sanctions.

Unfortunately, they share other positions with the FI that makes their overall position something of a contradiction.  Similarly with their support for Brexit it has the flavour of having your cake and eating it.  So, they claim that ‘for Ukrainians it is a war of national self-defence’ while ‘at the same time from the side of Western imperialist powers led by the United States and organised through NATO it is a proxy war against Russia.’  One is immediately propelled to ask – so which is it?

What is it from the side of the international working class – from those in China, India, Africa, Europe etc?  It’s difficult not to keep on recalling that Alex Callinicos wrote a book about Postmodernism, from which the IST position seems to be inspired – the nature of the war depends on where you are, i.e. reality is dependent on your viewpoint.

The IST statement says that ‘the war is both an imperialist invasion of a former colony and part of an inter-imperialist conflict between the US and Russia with their allies. We are against both imperial powers. We express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people, supporting their right to resist the invasion.’  Elsewhere Callinicos has said that the war is one of national defence by Ukraine and therefore is justified, and that ‘it would indeed be good if the Ukrainian people were able to drive out the Russian invaders.’

The only way to reconcile this contradiction of being both a justified war of national defence and an inter-imperialist one (and even this would not justify support for the Ukrainian state) is to claim that the Ukrainian state is somehow independent of western imperialism.  We have already seen in this series of posts that this is not credible.  Indeed, the IST statement itself claims otherwise: ‘The inter-imperialist character of this conflict is confirmed by the policy of the Kyiv government, which is to draw the West into the shooting war.’

So, the policy of the Ukrainian state is actually more reactionary and dangerous than that of the US and NATO.  So where is this war of national defence?

When it comes down to it, the approach to the war is not so different between the IST and FI, with the IST saying that ‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February was an act of imperialist aggression and a violation of the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination.  . . . We express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people, supporting their right to resist the invasion.’  The IST thus have the same mistaken take on the demand for self-determination as the FI, from which all else seems to follow.  Except for the IST all else doesn’t follow, which is good, but only because that makes their position more contradictory, if better than that of the FI for it.

If the war really was one of justified national defence, if it were some sort of colonial possession, it wouldn’t matter from whom ‘Ukraine’ got the weapons to fight its war, providing it could retain its interests independently of western imperialism, but the IST doesn’t make this distinction.  Instead, Alex Callinicos says that ‘. . . the Western imperialist powers are instrumentalising the Ukrainian national struggle against Russian imperialism for their own interests.’

On this the FI is more consistent but at the price of complete capitulation to western imperialism.  The FI also proclaims its opposition to NATO, just as does the IST, but neither thinks its role therefore makes the war by Ukraine a proxy one fought on behalf of western imperialism, using its money, its weapons and for its political objectives.

Of course, opposition to NATO arming Ukraine allows the IST to avoid the charge that NATO must exist for it to play this ‘progressive’ role and that is no small thing.  But willing the end – a Ukrainian victory – without willing the means is deceitful.

What would be the result of a Ukrainian victory but a strengthened reactionary regime in Ukraine and a strengthened western imperialism threatening Russia even more immediately and closely?  And this assumes that the perceived vital security interests of Russia would not have beforehand led to the use of tactical nuclear weapons and the potential for nuclear conflagration.

The politics of the IST are not so different from that of the FI.  Both start from ‘anti-imperialism’ and the ‘right’ of independent capitalist countries to their own reactionary policies even if, as I have said before, it lands them in the shit.  Neither start from the independence of the working class, including from the capitalist state no matter what its form. Lenin long ago gave the answer to those who think they can combine an imperialist war with national liberation as we set out in a previous post. 

Back to part 3

Forward to part 5

Ukraine (3) – Self-determination?

Photo: The Guardian. A demonstration in United States

We showed in the previous post that behind support for the demand for self-determination of Ukraine lies a struggle within that country about what that involves and over the choices that should be made.  The issue is not therefore whether Ukraine should be an independent state, because it already is, but what it should do with whatever independent policy it can determine.  In this case, whether it should join NATO.  Joining this alliance is not a decision that can simply be labelled ‘self-determination’ and accepted as such; it cannot help affecting the politics and security of other states while also involving subordination to US imperialism.

It is not therefore a question, as the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International, put it in an article published before the escalation of the war in January that ‘it is up to the Ukrainian people – and not to blackmail and negotiations between great powers – to decide on their membership or not of NATO.’

Ukraine joining NATO cannot involve anything other than negotiations and threats with the ‘great powers’ because it involves taking sides between them.  To cloak such a decision in the garb of some expression of democracy is a travesty of what is involved.  For socialists to advocate and defend the freedom of capitalist states to join NATO is like championing the right to be subject to IMF adjustment programmes or the right to site nuclear weapons pointing at your neighbour. Does this right to self-determination also include the right to suppress labour rights and opposition parties, as it has already done?

The right to self-determination understood by Marxists, and not in its bastardised version often employed by the pro-war left, is the right for an annexed nation to separate, which annexation or separation socialists can either support or reject, although always with a view to what most lends support to the unity and independence of the working class across the states involved, and further afield.

Once separation has occurred it is no business of socialists to demand that the separated state is successful; that the country becomes ‘really’ or maximally independent of others, or that it can adopt whatever reactionary policy it wants because it has the self-determining ‘right’ to do so.  This is absurd, but that is exactly what is being argued by the pro-war left in its support for the Ukrainian state.

This left covers its claims, or attempts to, by claiming that the objective of Russia is to end Ukraine’s existence as a separate state.  They refer repeatedly to the putative psychology of Putin and his Great Russian nationalist narrative of Ukraine as part of the Russian family; its existence as an artificial state whose boundaries were originally the creation of Lenin and whose enlargement was due to Stalin and Khrushchev.

Reference is also made to Ukraine as a former colony of Russia although one writer has compared Ukraine to Scotland and not Ireland – “ Anatol Lieven has likened Ukrainians’ role in the Russian empire to that of the Scots rather than the Irish— except that, in the legal and economic domains, it was ‘impossible to tell who were the “colonizers” and who were the “colonized”.’ In this Ukraine differed from the Central Asian and Caucasian Soviet republics, where something closer to a colonial relationship obtained.’

The pro-war left both inside and outside Ukraine is keen to defend the existence of a Ukrainian nationality but the history of the country, including the divisions within it – while confirming such a nationality – do not lend themselves to the creation of a single conception of what its history has involved or what it implies for political arrangements today and tomorrow.  Since internal elites, the far right and reactionary Western intervention is happy to impose the most reactionary variety of Ukrainian nationalism, and war polarises views in any case, the pursuit of any progressive and broad democratic conception of Ukrainian nationalism by the pro-war left is a fool’s errand.

The borders of Ukraine should be decided through the democratic wishes of the inhabitants, including those of Crimea and the Donbas, although this is subject to the qualifications that apply to that of the Ukrainian state as a whole, which we have already set out in this and the previous posts.  The Ukrainian state and Western imperialism are less vocal about these rights to self-determination and the wishes of these local inhabitants. Before the Russian invasion the Ukrainian Government had announced that it had approved a security strategy aimed at retaking Crimea while refusing to engage in a process that might offer some autonomy within Ukraine to the Donbas areas that had separated.  Of course, this does not make the nationalism of such areas, in whatever form, ‘progressive’.

The Russian invasion did not have enough forces to conquer and occupy the whole of Ukraine, but it is nevertheless true that the war has caused enormous damage and suffering to its people.  It is a fundamental reason why the invasion must be opposed.

The article in which the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International defends the prerogatives of the Ukrainian state says that ‘the withdrawal of foreign forces (Atlantic and Russian) and the military neutrality of Ukraine are the only protection of its independence. The problem is that neither US imperialism nor Russia intends disengaging from Ukraine and military neutrality is not the policy of the Ukrainian state.  If the authors of these words meant what they said they would be calling for an end to US and NATO arming of the Ukrainian regime; the declaration of military neutrality by the Ukrainian state and the withdrawal of Russian forces to the lines of 24th February.

Instead, supporters of this organisation support NATO arming the reactionary Ukrainian regime and the subordination of Ukrainian socialists to its fight against Russia, including the objectives of reconquering Crimea and Donbas regardless of the views of their inhabitants.  The claim that this is an immediate and concrete policy ignores what the policy is and whose interests it serves. 

Back to part 2

Forward to part 4

Ukraine (2) – reality behind the slogans

photo: The Guardian

The International Institute for Research and Education (IIRE) in Amsterdam, associated with the Fourth International organisation held a number of presentations on imperialism last week, including its relevance to Ukraine.  In the presentation by Catherine Samary she began by asserting that when looking at the situation we needed to subordinate concepts to the concrete and immediate situation.  In other words, in opposition to the approach put forward in our first post.

She then stated that Russian imperialism and the Ukraine nation exist and that there is an aggressive war of the former against the latter.  The war is one against Ukrainian independence and we must assert the self-determination of that nation, which includes its right to decide upon peace and the kind of society to be built afterwards.

So, we have the dismissal of theoretical concepts and reference to the requirement to follow some others. Concrete political positions must follow from concepts that are presented as axiomatic but are to be unexamined.  The right to self-determination is presented as involving the Ukrainian nation determining what sort of peace is to be accepted and what sort of society will be constructed thereafter.

We have shown that Lenin’s concept of self-determination was concerned with the self-determination of the working class, its own independence and unity as against the capitalist class and all varieties of its politics, including nationalism.  The demand for self-determination applies only to the right of annexed nations to separate from whatever empire or agglomeration of nation states it belongs to.  Since Ukraine has been an independent state since 1991 the advocacy of its prerogatives does not apply.  As socialists we are not interested in supporting the claims of capitalist states and certainly not to their claims to independence when they are already independent.

The view expressed a number of times that because Ukraine is a smaller and weaker power, we should champion its interests is no more valid than the claim that because Russia is a weaker power vis a vis the United States we should defend it against its more powerful rival and support its victory in the war.  What we have here is the primitive substitution of size for a political assessment of the class interests involved.

And this is where we find the origin of the failure of the pro-war left to defend a socialist position on the war.  Since a position on the war must involve some class standpoint, conscious or not, the one adopted by this left is a bourgeois one.  Not only does the pro-war left make its stand upon a bourgeois demand – of self-determination of nations– but it asserts this demand with a thoroughly bourgeois content.

Self-determination is presented as the right of the Ukrainian nation to determine the nature of any acceptable peace settlement and of that nation to determine its future character afterwards.

At this point let us get concrete, as we are advised to do, but without discarding the concepts required to understand what this means in reality.  So, it is  not the Ukrainian nation that will determine the point at which peace should be declared and what it will entail but the Ukrainian capitalist state, and given its dependence on US imperialism even this is not true.  Any decision on agreeing an end to the war will be a result of the machinations of outside powers, likely made in Washington as much if not more than Kyiv.

This is the concrete truth and the inevitable result of dependence of the Ukrainian state on US arms, the provision of which the pro-war left defends and supports.  Ukraine is going bankrupt and cannot pay its current bills, even with existing help of €2.5bn-€3bn per month, never mind its additional loans.  It is printing money that is devaluing the currency and will lead to increasing inflation.  It isn’t and can’t afford the war because it doesn’t have the requisite number of troops, weapons, or money.  These are not the grounds upon which it can by itself determine the terms and timing of the end of the war. 

Likewise with the view that it is up to Ukraine to decide what sort of society will be constructed after the war.  This too will to a great extent depend on US imperialism and its European allies. Even were this not the case and it were somehow to be determined by ‘Ukraine’, this country, like every other, is made up of classes with antagonistic interests and ambitions for what any new Ukraine should look like.  The character of the country is a subject of a struggle, the class struggle, and the demand that it be resolved by the nation has everywhere and always been the demand that it be made in the interests of the capitalist class.

The Ukrainian socialist Volodymyr Ishchenko has pointed out how Ukrainian elites have employed ‘silencing and repression’ to push a nationalist pro-imperialist agenda that deprives many Ukrainian citizens of a voice:

‘In reality, Euromaidan was a deficient revolution. It did not form any national unity, but the elite groups which benefited from it (together with ideological cheerleaders) need to sustain this illusion for internal and external legitimacy via combination of silencing and repression. It is, therefore, in their interest to paint the alternative positions on Ukrainian past, present and future as “non-Ukrainian” or even “anti-Ukrainian,” even though these positions are shared by many (if not most) Ukrainian citizens. As a result, these Ukrainians are more and more deprived of a voice in the domestic and international public spheres.’

‘Ukraine has not simply turned into an object of the Great Powers’ play. In an especially humiliating way, Ukraine is exploited to cover imperialist interests and misrepresent them as a noble endeavour. The pathos-laden references to Ukraine’s sovereignty parallel the reality of the state, which is more dependent on foreign powers politically, economically and militarily than ever before since the Soviet collapse.’

As Ishchenko goes on to point out:

‘In December 2007, on the eve of the infamous Bucharest summit that settled that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO,” less than 20 percent of Ukrainian citizens supported joining NATO.  The majority of Ukrainians were split between support for a military alliance with Russia or retaining the non-bloc neutral status.’

He notes the (partially prophetic) views of some:

‘Many other Ukrainians feel that NATO membership would forfeit more of Ukraine’s sovereignty to the West, which they feel has been happening since 2014, and, at the same time, would increase tensions with Russia, escalate internal tensions among Ukrainians, and drag the nation in one of the U.S.’s “forever” wars, one of which just recently ended in a humiliating defeat.’

Nowhere in the IIRE’s Samary presentation is a separate interest of the Ukrainian working class identified and defended. At most it is buried under formulations about the ‘Ukrainian people’ as if this country was not also divided by class.  Since the interest of the working class are not ultimately separable by nationality, this means smothering the common interests of the Russian working class as well as that of the working class in the West who are paying for the weapons to the Ukrainian state and sanctions imposed on Russia.

Identifying the separate interests of the working class involves opposition not only to the Russian escalation of the war but also to the war policy of the Ukrainian state, including its alliance with Western imperialism.  It therefore also involves opposition to the supply of weapons by imperialism and its sanctions. 

In the first presentation in the IIRE series Peter Drucker argued that the key dividing line is between imperialist and imperialist dominated countries, which are not necessarily colonies.  In doing so he says that the primary task is to be anti-imperialist and to support struggles for national liberation.

Since it is not conceivable that world capitalism could any time soon remove inequalities between nations, war of this character will continue to be a regular occurrence.  His suggestion amounts to socialists prioritising the struggles of weaker capitalist powers until perhaps the working class decides to prioritise overthrowing capitalism and creating its own rule itself.  The mistake is not significantly rectified by saying that Ukraine cannot rely on NATO, that we must continue to oppose NATO and must instead seek the solidarity of the Russian people.

Once again, the fundamental division of the world into classes is ignored and the working class and its own politics are simply not mentioned.  Without this we start in the wrong place and so inevitably end up in the wrong one.  To paraphrase an old Irish saying – if I wanted to get to a working class solution I wouldn’t start from the demands of a capitalist state.

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

Ukraine (1) – For Peace and For War

Photo: Counterfire

The war in Ukraine has been the object of an unprecedented media barrage in the West that has gone beyond propaganda and become a proselytising campaign to recruit the population to support for ‘Ukraine’.  The requirement not simply to justify but recruit is necessary not only because of the tarnished reputation of the Western powers when it comes to foreign wars, recently propelled into the headlines by the scramble to get out of Afghanistan, but also because the population is being asked to support war in new ways.

Personally, the most disappointing result of this is the otherwise sincere recruitment of many who are generally ‘for peace’ to a position of supporting the prosecution of war; a war that they have no control over and are kept uninformed of by the open bias of the main sources of information.  Support for war is declared as opposition to war in true Orwellian style;  but only to Russia’s war while supporting that waged by ‘Ukraine’, which through media censorship and bias is presented as essentially unblemished.   Through this prism their genuine and real support for war is facilitated by cognitive dissonance so that it sits comfortably with what they consider their core belief in peace.

Proselytising is necessary for them to accept the supply of arms that are daily reported to be effective means of killing, to provide accommodation to Ukrainian refugees, and to accept that, although sanctions imposed on Russia will have enormously damaging effects on themselves they must nevertheless support them. The prospect of unaffordable energy costs in winter should at the very least encourage questioning but has been employed to enjoin them in continuing to accept their governments’ sanctions on Russian gas and oil.

Any opposition is regarded as morally reprehensible and as deriving from ignorant or malicious support for Russia and its barbarous aggression.  No epithet is too charged not to be levied against it so that warlike bombast attempts to cover the failure of sanctions to quickly bring Russia to heel.

From the news reports by local radio stations with their human interest stories on the plight of Ukrainian refugees to the pompous briefings on national television by Rear Admirals discharging on the failure of Russian strategy, every angle and aspect drives home the obligation to support ‘Ukraine’ and its people.  Sympathy for refugees can only mean unilateral opposition to Russia and any deeper recounting of the history and context of the war is considered exculpatory of Russian aggression and immediately suspect.

The effects of all this on the political consciousness of workers in the West is a primary concern of socialists; only the most stupid, belligerent, or naive can believe that the war has resulted in an increase in political consciousness or that their support for ‘Ukraine’ is the expression of the recognition of an independent class viewpoint.

Western states and mass media have declared Ukraine a bastion of freedom, defending democracy in the rest of Europe from Russian autocracy.  The policy of the pro-war left is worse than the lies and hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, not only because it should be better but because it openly declares it doesn’t matter what the character of the Ukrainian state and regime is.  With its completely bourgeois understanding of the policy of self-determination of nations it openly states that neither of these matter.

This means it would itself be hypocritical, if it even had the interest, in pointing out to workers in the West the reactionary character of this supposed defender of freedom.  Using various indicators we can quantify (however unscientifically) some differences between the saviour of freedom and the autocratic threat.  Two indices are taken purely as examples. They do not illustrate the social character of the two states, both capitalist, which is the prime determinant of whether socialists should support either.   But for what it’s worth. 

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.

Source Financial Times

As the war has been articulated by the media there is no way to express any other position than to support the mainstream narrative or embellish it with democratic sounding phrases such as ‘self-determination’ that are the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.  It has been said that to win an argument you must rob the other of the language to articulate their disagreement.  With the language of ‘Ukraine’, ‘the Ukrainian people’ and ‘self-determination’ it seems obviously perverse to propose opposing ‘Ukraine’, ‘the Ukrainian people’ and ‘self-determination.’  How could you defend a position like that?

To stand in opposition to this war requires ideas and concepts that belong not to the hypocrisy of bourgeois politics but to socialism.  To relate these concepts correctly to the war in Ukraine is not to impose them as true because some selected facts can be held up as justification but to examine the war and the interests expressed within it to determine its character and therefore the political position one should take to determine a working class approach.

This is the position of Marxists because previous investigation has revealed that only the working class can rid humanity of exploitation, oppression and the ravages of a system that regularly and inescapably produces war.  It is not enough to hold these views at a general abstract level but to demonstrate that this is true in each individual case.  If it cannot be demonstrated, then Marxist ideas are either only partially correct or wholly wrong. 

We therefore need the language of class so that we can identify who the participants in the war actually are, what their core interests are and to what extent their actions reflect these interests.  We need this and the concepts arising from our understanding of how society works in order to construct a language that allows us to articulate what the position of the working class should be.

A first word here about language.  Supporters of Ukraine sometimes claim that Russia is an imperialist country and Ukraine is not and since the starting point of Marxists is anti-imperialism this points to opposition to Russia.  Sometimes the argument becomes infantile, as when it is argued that Ukraine is a smaller and less powerful country than Russia, as if political positions resemble the school playground where big bullies are condemned.  Others equally falsely claim that since the biggest imperialism supports Ukraine, we should support the smaller and weaker one.  Sometimes it is stated that Russia is not imperialist by Marxist definition so this too points to its defence.

Since imperialism is a form of capitalism it is not the role of socialists to support smaller or weaker capitalist states in competition with larger ones, whether imperialist or not (by whatever criteria agreed).  The starting point is not anti-imperialism or even anti-capitalism, because there are reactionary anti-capitalisms as well, but the independent interests of the working class.  This identifies our allies and our enemies and must include opposition to subordination to any capitalist state no matter how big or small it is or how much shit it finds itself in.  For the avoidance of doubt, Ukraine is not a colony, certainly not of Russia!, but an independent capitalist state.

This is the first task of socialists and the reaction to the war shows how drastically many of them have failed to properly determine its character.  This series of posts will address this failure and we will start with two examples beginning in the next post.

Forward to part 2

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! The President’s wife doesn’t support war?

Dunleer Co Louth

One can only react with a wry smile at the current kerfuffle over a letter by the wife of the President of Ireland regarding the war in Ukraine. After decades of hypocritical and sanctimonious sermons on the evil of violence, the urgent imperative for peace and negotiations to achieve it, the essential requirement now is for war; victory in war for Ukraine.

The President’s wife, Sabina Coyne Higgins, has written to that august publication ‘The Irish Times’ to express dismay and disappointment that an editorial in the newspaper did not “encourage any ceasefire negotiations that might lead to a peace settlement”. 

This led to indignant indignation among politicians that accused her of asserting moral equivalence between Ukraine and Russia and failing to follow the Government line of support for the former.  Ukrainians in Ireland were quoted as not actually understanding what she was trying to say or of accusing her of not understanding what was going on. One Ukrainian who has lived in Ireland for 15 years said that it is “very easy to call for peace when you live in safe and comfortable conditions for a very long time” although the uproar induced would seem to indicate that it is easier to call for war.

Another Ukrainian stated that “If Russia lays down its arms, there will be no war. If Ukraine lays down its arms, there will be no Ukraine. That is why Ukrainians have not wished each other peace for a long time — they wish only victory. And we won’t settle for less . . .”

The newspaper has recently run a long article extolling the nationalist narrative of Ukrainian history and the inevitable conflict between it and Russia and ‘the real explosion of Cossack identity that started with the Russian invasion in 2014.  Whole units, like the Azov battalion, wear similar [Cossack] haircuts, moustaches and earrings.  It’s popular.’  The headline quotes the Ukrainian interviewee as saying that ‘This is a war of destruction. Either we destroy the Russians or they destroy us.’

So, we read justification of a nationalist programme that would be pilloried as bellicose and reactionary were it presented in support of any other country.  The journalist responsible sees no need to interrogate the place of armed fascists in this resurgence of uncompromising nationalism or the meaning of proposed destruction of whole peoples.

She is not however to be singled out for blame.

What has been striking has been the almost universal acceptance of a tale of childlike simplicity: that Ukraine is the force fighting for freedom against an unprovoked invasion by evil Russia.  As the photograph above shows, the smallest Irish towns in Ireland parade their support for the second most corrupt country in Europe against the first.  In a war barely understood their simple truths have been substituted for the complexity of a messy reality.

But they too are not soleley to blame.  Much of the left has decided to incant Lenin’s policy of ‘self-determination of nations’ in order to apply a rusty Occam’s razor to the war so it too can support ‘Ukraine’.  In doing so they demonstrate that they have not got the first clue about what this policy meant never mind whether it is relevant today to the war in Ukraine.  Self-determination thus becomes support for an already independent capitalist state in a war with another so that it can codify its alliance with the world’s biggest imperialist military alliance.  Freedom to join NATO and to land your own people in a destructive war as a result is what it actually means.

This is what is clearly happening, and as Lenin said: ‘one of the basic principles of dialectics is that there is no such thing as abstract truth, truth is always concrete . . . ‘ This reactionary war on both sides is thus the expression of the reckless policy of seeking NATO membership by Ukraine and Russia’s determination to show that it meant what it said when it warned that this was a red line not to be crossed.

It matters not that Russia has no right to determine the policy of Ukraine.  What right has Ukraine to threaten Russia through membership of NATO on its doorstep?  Neither Ukrainian nor Russian workers have any interest in standing behind either ‘right’, never mind dying for it.  But the pro-war left has decided that the right of capitalist powers to defend their prerogatives is justified under some abstract argument about the principle of self-determination that the working class has to pay for.

Their complete inability to have any purchase on reality is repeatedly exposed.  So through their call for arming Ukraine they fail to expose or oppose the role of NATO and its share of responsibility for the war.  They say Ukraine (by which they must mean this country’s capitalist state) must receive arms to fight, so dependence on NATO weapons, i.e. imperialism, becomes the road to self-determination!  But since such arms as can be effective are only available from NATO they cannot, with any seriousness, now oppose the rearmament of the Western capitalist powers.  A strange sort of ‘anti-capitalism’.

They oppose transfer of offensive weapons but the steady ratcheting up of the weapons supplied leaves them as useless spectators awaiting the transfer of whatever they decide as ‘offensive’, at which point are we to believe this capitalist war will change its character?

In this article one spokesman states that ‘we should neither support the latter’s sanctions, nor demand that they be lifted.’  But it’s as if the European Union has read this and decided to take the piss out of such ‘lack of support’ by having round after round of sanctions (currently seven) that the pro-war left will not demand are lifted?  Are there no sanctions it would straightforwardly oppose in advance as opposed to accept after the fact?

This blog opposed western sanctions from the beginning because they could only hit working class Russians hardest.  Now we see that they are hitting workers in the west as well but is there now opposition to them among those for whom the ability of a capitalist state to determine its military alliance is paramount?

Across all the issues arising from the war, from the progressive content to Ukrainian nationalism to the primary issue being Russian imperialism, the pro-war left has simply parroted the mainstream bourgeois media. Like support for Brexit; support for total economic lockdown to deal with Covid-19, and now support for sanctions, various parts of the left have championed policies that have disarmed the working class when it comes to identifying the causes of the cost-of-living crisis to which these policies have contributed. 

We can expect that none will accept the slightest responsibility.  Just like the Tories who support Brexit and ‘Ukraine’ they want to have their cake and to eat it. To oppose the capitalist EU but ignore the effects of Brexit on freedom of movement and living standards. Demand more extensive and longer economic lockdowns but ignore the social consequences some of which, like economic dislocation and inflation, now hit them in the face.  Support ‘Ukraine’ but ignore the boost it has given to the NATO imperialist alliance and the effect of sanctions on living standards.

For a blog seeking to advance Marxist politics this is important, but not as important as the failings of the imperialist strategy to which some leftists provide a grotesque mirror image.

The bourgeois media asks us to believe that our ‘freedom’ is being protected by one of the most corrupt countries in Europe whose best fighters are fascists.  We are threatened that unless we support it against the evil Russians, which have such a useless army that Ukraine can defeat it, they will steamroller across Europe.  We must accept the possibility of freezing this winter because Russia has ‘weaponised’ gas supplies, even though the West has sent real weapons to kill as many Russians as possible and started the whole gas thing by preventing operation of the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline.  We are called upon to blame Russia for potential famine in a range of countries because of its war on Ukraine but ignore the effect of Western sanctions on the supply of Russian food to the world, something that has had to be implicitly admit by its lifting of some of them.

None of this is consistent with the claims of the western bourgeoisie and its yellow media.  In Ireland the homeopathic letter from the Irish President’s wife has opened up a small window for questioning support for the war.

Over the weekend I read the ‘Financial Times’ (FT).  It had a review of the book ‘Nazi Billionaires’ which records the largely hidden history of Germany’s richest capitalist dynasties who escaped punishment after the war for their collaboration with the Nazi regime.  This was the conscious policy of the major western powers for whom strengthening German capitalism was much more important than punishing Nazis for their crimes or imposing justice on behalf of their victims.  This has not stopped regular evocation of the enemies of the Western capitalist powers as the new Nazis with Putin as the new Hitler.  Just like after World War II, these states are not interested in justice but in their own power and that of their capitalist class.

The only consistent position opposed to the war is the socialist argument that workers have no interest in fighting for the system that exploits them, in wars that we pay for in money and blood. To do so we must oppose nationalist flag-waving and a media that on this occasion does not even seek to hide its bias. A certain Mrs Higgins has proved more in tune with such a task than many of the left.

Žižek and Ukraine

With 50 books in multiple languages, innumerable magazine articles, presence on ‘Foreign Policy’ Top 100 Global Thinkers list; dubbed the “Elvis of cultural theory” and “the most dangerous philosopher in the West”, the Slovenian ‘public intellectual’ Slavoj Žižek has often appeared to be all over the place. In his recent article on the war in Ukraine for The Guardian newspaper he really is.  To follow his arguments, such as they are, is to oneself get dizzy, but here we go.

His hook is John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ in which ‘the world can live as one’, which, according to Žižek, is ‘the best way to end in hell’.  Such pacifism ignores ‘brutal reality’ from which ‘it’s the time to awaken’.  Unfortunately Žižek’s own message to the Left beguiled by such pacifism is instead to imagine something even more incredible, including that it ‘need[s] a stronger Nato – but not as a prolongation of the US politics.’ 

It needs to support Ukraine with NATO weapons in a war that he says it cannot win, although he doesn’t linger to consider the wasted lives this would involve. Politically, this does not mean ‘that the Left should simply take the side of the west, inclusive of the rightist fundamentalists who also support Ukraine’, although since one ‘cannot be a leftist’ without ‘unequivocally’ standing behind Ukraine one struggles to understand why not. 

Like every other commentator he gets inside Vladimir Putin’s head to warn that we must stop him exploiting global warming to hijack the world’s food supply by routing it through an ice-free Artic Circle so that ‘Russia will dominate so much food production that it will be able to blackmail the whole world.’ This, he imagines, is the ‘reality beneath Putin’s imperial dream’.

How we are to believe that Putin is implementing his imperial dream to divide Europe with an invading army too small to occupy all of Ukraine is unexplained.

Through quotations from one speech he declares Putin’s intention to carry out a ‘brutal attempt to change our entire geopolitical situation. The true target of the war is the dismantlement of the European unity.’  But since he states that this is also the intention of US conservatives, and the war is a ‘proxy war between US and Russia’, why are we to support NATO?  

His concern over this unity of Europe rests on Putin’s belief that countries are either sovereign or subordinated colonies, when it is rather the case ‘that in today’s global world in which we are all haunted by the same catastrophes we are all in-between, in an intermediate state, neither a sovereign country nor a conquered one: to insist on full sovereignty in the face of global warming is sheer madness since our very survival hinges on tight global cooperation’. Again, what NATO has to offer as a model for the cooperation necessary to avoid catastrophes rather than create one is unexplained.

But even a glimpse of the ‘brutal reality’ he claims to perceive shows we do not need these confused and wild imaginings.

The world’s food supply is already being manipulated, endangering many of the world’s poorest people, through rising prices and blockade caused not only by the Russian invasion but by Western sanctions affecting Russian food supplies to the world and refusal to lift these sanctions in order to release the supplies from Ukraine.  We don’t need to wait for global warming to melt in ice cap.

We are invited to oppose the division of Europe and its conversion into a colony, but through subordination of the continent to a United States’ controlled NATO that will commit every country to follow the US lead in war under a protective umbrella that more resembles a protection racket.  The illusion is given that every country will, with Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, be supported by a commitment to war in their defence if any member is attacked, but the Article makes no such commitment.  What NATO does is make Europe the playground of US expansionism and the potential theatre of war, as the threat of Ukrainian membership has vividly demonstrated. The United States will enter only such wars as will satisfy its own imperial interest and will provoke the same with the intention of leveraging NATO membership to gain support for its wars of choice.

The US, supported by the lap dog, has pushed for Europe to sanction Russian energy imports in what can only be seen as invitation to an enormous act of self-harm; perhaps the ultimate definition of US hegemony in which the interests of the most powerful become identified as those of the subordinated.

For Žižek the point of his article is that, ‘Today, one cannot be a leftist if one does not unequivocally stand behind Ukraine . . . If the left will fail here, the game is over for it . . . from the leftist standpoint, Ukraine fights for global freedom, inclusive of the freedom of Russians themselves. That’s why the heart of every true Russian patriot beats for Ukraine.’

What type of Russian is to hold to their heart a Ukraine wedded to NATO is another philosophical mystery–to a regime that celebrates fascist heroes and incorporates fascist forces within its armed forces?

To envisage all this is to consider that John Lennon is almost positively grounded in his call for pacifism.  By calling on us to imagine an alternative John Lennon at least could see the reality that required it.  Žižek fails to properly to identify this reality and his imagined alternative is only a grotesque reactionary response to it.  His article adds a name to the declamation of the valiant role of the Ukrainian state in its heroic fight against the uniquely evil Russian dictator but it’s all been said before and his name doesn’t make the Ukrainian state any less repugnant or reactionary.

However unrealistic John Lennon’s imagined alternative is, its other advantage is that it is at least an agreeable one.  Žižek implies the possible existence of one of his own, through a separate working class interests when he says that:

‘When a country is occupied, it is the ruling class which is usually bribed to collaborate with the occupiers to maintain its privileged position, so that the struggle against the occupiers becomes a priority. The same can go for the struggle against racism; in a state of racial tension and exploitation, the only way to effectively struggle for the working class is to focus on fighting racism (this is why any appeal to the white working class, as in today’s alt-right populism, betrays class struggle).’

The collaboration of foreign occupiers with the ruling class of the conquered country demonstrates a fundamental identity of interests and thus their equally fundamental antagonism to the working class.  The fitting response is not to fight for this country and its state, which purports to represent the interests of all its people including its working class, but to recognise within it the ideology and mechanism that enforces ruling class authority and power. The equally fundamental identity of the interests of the working class across nations, in this case Ukrainian and  Russian, is demonstrated by the barbaric effects of the war and the willingness of the various states involved to sacrifice working people recruited to fight in it.  This cannot be done by supporting one or other side but only through class struggle.

But while Žižek appears to endorse such struggle when it is necessary to fight racism it evaporates when it comes to capitalist war.  Perhaps because even his recipe for struggle against racism is also misjudged.  While leftists should not pander to alt-right populism the struggle against racism will fail if it does not ‘appeal to the white working class’. Žižek thinks ‘any appeal’ is ‘a betrayal’ but who then is he hoping to unite?

Chomsky has apparently said that Žižek’s views are often too obscure to be communicated usefully to common people.  In this case, while they are frequently confused and confusing, they are also bald statements in support of ‘Ukraine’ and NATO so are very easy to understand.  In this he adds nothing.  For someone with so much to say he ends up saying nothing that hasn’t been said a thousand times before.

The war in Ukraine and the politics of evasion – 2 of 2

from BBC

The Independent Left writer states his purpose as follows:

‘The left arguments I want to address here are those of the groups and their supporters who express opposition to Putin, but who refuse to take any steps towards bringing about a military defeat for the Russian invasion and in particular, are strongly opposed to the people of Ukraine obtaining arms from the West.’

Let’s look at the two arguments he wants to take to task; the first that he objects to is that ‘Support for the resistance in Ukraine is support for NATO.’

The first point to note is that he makes no attempt to politically characterise this resistance.  Like others, he appears to believe that popular support for it, including from many on the left inside Ukraine, makes it progressive.  Support from the left itself is assumed to be proof of its progressive character, which is exactly what has to be proved in the first place.

He rejects this argument because ‘To say that the people of Ukraine need arms is not at all the same as saying NATO should send troops to fight in the war.’  Indeed not, sending arms is not the same as sending troops, but this argument makes another assumption: that this means that the war cannot be a proxy one with Ukraine being used as the tool of Western imperialism.  We have already dealt with this claim here and here so will not repeat these points again.

He rejects the argument against him that the US and NATO  ‘have their own imperialist goals’ by responding that ‘this observation about the US is, of course, correct, but do you really think people in Ukraine, especially the left, are under any illusions about the US interests at play?’

The answer to this, of course, is that with reference to imperialist involvement, it really doesn’t matter what these people believe; what matters is the objective forces in operation.  As we noted in the previous post, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians mobilised and demonstrated against corrupt regimes in 2004 and 2014 and succeeded, but still ended up with equally, if not worse, regimes afterwards.  The best organised and most conscious forces imposed their solution regardless of the desires of most of the participants. 

He argues that ‘the people of Ukraine’ are simply ‘taking advantage of inter-imperialist rivalry to obtain arms from NATO’ for which ‘there are very clear left precedents . . .  it is worth noting Lenin’s response when France and Britain offered to give military aid to Russia to fight Germany, when he wrote: “Please add my vote in favour of taking potatoes and weapons from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers.”

Unfortunately, this comparison doesn’t work for him.  Ukraine is capitalist country that isn’t ‘taking advantage of inter-imperialist rivalry’ but has allied itself with one of the imperialisms (and here we leave out in what sense Russia can be called imperialist). It seeks to formally become a member of one alliance that it has already de facto joined.  To compare this with revolutionary Russia, independent of both imperialist alliances in World War I and taking weapons from one of these imperialisms to defend itself, is off the wall.  Having taken weapons from NATO will Ukraine oppose NATO afterwards, as revolutionary Russia did with the British and French?  It’s complete nonsense.

The comparison with Solidarnosc in Poland, which the ‘CIA rushed to fund and influence’ and was ‘a genuine mass movement which socialists of the type now adopting the Evasionist position recognised and supported’ is hardly more compelling.  Just as in the previous example in which Russia was a workers’ state (however much deformed), so Solidarnosc was a workers’ trade union that socialists had a duty to join and to fight within for a socialist policy.  The attempt failed but this does not invalidate the requirement and duty to attempt it. The ‘Ukrainian resistance’ is a function of the capitalist state, not the independent organisation of the Ukrainian working class. Again, to compare the two as analogous is nonsense.

This capitalist state is in alliance with imperialism, which increasingly calls the shots and determines the aims of the war, which go way beyond defence.  Prominent figures in the US have declared the war goals as the weakening of Russia, with the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying that “the stakes reach beyond Ukraine and even beyond Europe.”  For the US this is not about Ukraine but all about Russia, with Ukraine as a tool that bleeds.  It has no more interest in the Ukrainians who take their children to school etc. than the Putin regime.

It is not therefore that ‘the people of Ukraine’ are ‘taking advantage’ of imperialism but that imperialism is taking advantage of Ukraine – to fight a war for imperialist objectives.  Typically, the US British lap dog yaps in advance of its owner that the war must go on until all of Ukraine is reoccupied, including Crimea, whose population almost certainly will not welcome either war or occupation.  The imbecilic London Government of Boris Johnson declares that China must ‘play by the international rules’; the same rules presumably that allows the US and Britain to invade Iraq and Afghanistan etc.

 So, the aims of the war will be determined not by the Ukrainian people, or its left, or their left supporters in other countries.  These forces will not use imperialism, imperialism is using them.

Kostick states that the ‘The contradiction in the Evasionist Left position – ‘we condemn Russia but we don’t support arming the resistance in Ukraine’ – is an unstable one.’  He says that the ‘effect of the Evasionist Left is to align their political energies with a victory for Putin.’

However, it is his position of support for ‘Ukraine’ that is unstable – how long can this be defended while it becomes more and more obvious that the war is being determined by the demands of US imperialism?  Biden has just announced he intends pumping $33 billion into Ukraine; after this are we still going to be told that Ukraine is not a proxy for Western imperialism? 

When will he realise that the alternative to supporting ‘Ukraine’ is not Putin but the working class, whose interest are international or they are nothing, and include the workers of Russia, the rest of Europe and, of course, Ukraine?

*      *      *

Socialists do not oppose workers defending themselves but, as noted above, Ukrainian workers have to defend themselves against their class enemies.  There is another war that never stops – the class war – and the actions of the regime topped off by Volodymyr Zelensky has already used the war with Russia to clamp down on workers’ rights and opposition parties.

What matters is the independent organisation of the Ukrainian working class; only on that basis can socialists call for the workers of each country to unite.  Such unity cannot come about through demanding support for the Ukrainian capitalist state in the guise of ‘Ukraine’; why, for example, would Russian workers oppose their own state and its war in order to support the Ukrainian state?

Conor Kostick claims that just such independent working class organisation exists – ‘Within the resistance to the invasion, the left are able to play an independent role.’

He informs us that ‘Some Social Movement activists, as well as many trade union members, have joined the TD [Territorial Defence] as volunteers. It is worth mentioning that dozens of anarchists and socialists have formed their own unit within the TD, called the Resistance Committee.’

Unfortunately, further inquiry does not support the claim that this left as described is able to play an independent role, either materially or politically.  The information provided in this article by Ukrainian Anarchists,  (which makes interesting reading for a number of reasons) explains their weakness, also something about their politics and their own division over the war.

On the last, it explains that ‘As for the attitude towards NATO, the authors of this text are divided between two standpoints. Some of us have a positive approach towards this situation. It is obvious that Ukraine cannot counter Russia on its own. Even taking into consideration the large volunteer movement, modern technologies and weapons are needed. Apart from NATO, Ukraine has no other allies who can help with this.’

On its weakness it states that ‘Anarchists do not have sufficient resources in Ukraine or elsewhere to respond effectively to the invasion of Putin’s regime. Therefore, one has to think about accepting support from NATO.’  It states baldly that ‘We still have very little influence on society at large . . . At this stage, our role can be described as the most radical approaches and views in the democratic camp . . . if a war breaks out, the main thing will again be the ability to participate in armed conflict.’

This weakness is not new and they honestly reflect on their previous experience in 2014:

‘In the end, anarchists participated in the Maidan revolution individually and in small groups, mainly in volunteer/non-militant initiatives. After a while, they decided to cooperate and make their own “hundred” (a combat group of 60-100 people). But during the registration of the detachment (a mandatory procedure on the Maidan), the outnumbered anarchists were dispersed by the far-right participants with weapons. The anarchists remained, but no longer attempted to create large organized groups.’

The other component of this Left seems not very different.  Neither has politically broken from the Ukrainian state and, given their size, they will be easily subordinated to it as members and participants in its armed forces.  It states that ‘We consider the slogans “Say No to War” or “The War of Empires” to be ineffectual and populist. The anarchist movement has no influence on the process, so such statements do not change anything at all.’

It therefore embodies all the weaknesses of the position of the Independent Left article, but for more appreciable reasons since the restrictions they suffer do not apply to socialists in some other parts of the world, including Ireland.  They do not demonstrate genuine political independence from their own State, its political regime, or its policy of NATO membership, which ultimately means their subordination to the interests of US imperialism.

*      *      *

The second argument that Kostick wishes to oppose is the one that states that ‘the war in Ukraine is an ‘inter-imperialist war’ and therefore has no affinity to the First World War.  This means that the principled opposition to the latter by socialists does not apply.  His policy is not anti-war but for the victory of one side.  He states that ‘You can’t negotiate any settlement with Putin, even a bad one for Ukraine that nevertheless de-escalates the threat of nuclear war, unless you stop his army and force him to realise he can’t implement his plan to eradicate Ukraine as an independent nation.’

Like others in the pro-war Left his war aims guarantee an extended war that ignores that it can only end with negotiation, which socialists should regard as potentially providing more favourable grounds for organising workers and conducting the fight against chauvinist nationalism on all sides.  By now it should be clear that Putin is not seeking the eradication of Ukraine but that the United States has dramatically increased the aims of the war to include defeat for Russia at a global level, which means strengthening the US against its most important competitor, China.

Kostick however is reluctant to take on board the wider significance of the war, hence the trope of a Russian convoy approaching a Ukrainian town.  He says that ‘the Russian invasion of Ukraine is nothing like the outbreak of the First World War. Within a week of Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia in 1914, all the European imperial powers were in a full-blooded war against one another. From the Russian invasion until now, we have not witnessed the equivalent to French and British armies crashing up against the German army.’

We have however, witnessed unprecedented sanctions that amount to economic warfare, that hit the weakest hardest but which he nevertheless supports.  Again, we have argued against them before and will not repeat our arguments here. We have witnessed a wall of propaganda that has been the cover for massive rearmament of Germany and the possible incorporation of Finland and Sweden into the western imperialist alliance.

His own Government has announced it intends increasing military expenditure by €500m from a base of around €1.1bn.  If the war in Ukraine is progressive, logically he should welcome this and demand the Irish Government use its additional capacity to start sending weapons. It is easy to see how supporting one foreign capitalist state can lead to supporting your own.

We have not seen direct fighting between the strongest imperialist powers but if Kostick wants to wait until that happens before declaring the war an inter-imperialist one then it appears he can only shake himself into opposition when nuclear annihilation becomes an imminent threat.

He recognises that ‘We should oppose US intervention of troops, ships, and aircraft, mainly because of the risk of nuclear war but also because of their own imperialist record’, but he doesn’t seem to recognise what this record implies for the nature of the intervention that has already taken place.  The intervention that he does want has to be significant enough to affect the outcome of the war, or why else would he call for it, but by this very fact it becomes undeniable that we have an inter-imperialist war.

He finds another analogy with Ukraine from history that is as false as those claimed with revolutionary Russia and Solidarnosc; this time with Ireland during the First World War:

‘Just as Connolly was right to take German weapons to support an armed rising against the British empire, so the Ukrainian people are right to take weapons from wherever they can to rise against the Russian empire.’

The difference is that Ukraine is not a colony and is already an independent capitalist state in alliance with the strongest imperialist alliance on earth.  Ireland was a colony, didn’t even have a state and obviously wasn’t an ally of imperialism; no imperialist powers entered on its side during the 1916 rebellion or during its later war of independence.

Adams Auctions

The aims of the Irish rebels were not determined by Germany and the slogan of the Irish Citizen Army made it clear where they stood – ‘we serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland’.  The Ukrainian state is not declaring – ‘We serve neither Russia nor NATO’.

*      *      *

Conor Kostick claims his policy stands on grounds of practicality, and any alternative to it must also – ‘These practical questions are a good way to judge the two key formulations that the Evasionist Left are using.’

It is indeed very practical for NATO to arm the Ukrainian state and for socialists to argue for imperialism to ‘do the right thing.’  But NATO giving weapons to Ukrainian armed forces is not any action of socialists or the working class and it involves no practicality from them at all.  Nor is calling for imperialism to ‘do the right thing’ the least bit necessary – it needs no persuasion to do what it is doing.

So, while extolling the practicality of his Ukrainian policy he genuflects to other causes but seems not to notice that these seem not to contain the same practicality, being simply influencing public feeling of solidarity.  He puts it like this:

‘The left can influence this public feeling of solidarity for Ukraine by making points about Western hypocrisy on refusing to cancel Ukraine’s debt; on refugees, on Palestine, and yes, on the imperialist role of NATO. But the best way to do that is to amplify the voices of Ukrainian socialists and anarchists who are putting their lives in the front lines against Putin’s army.’

So we are supposed to believe that solidarity with Ukraine will somehow lead to solidarity with Palestine, for example.  Calling for NATO to arm Ukraine will help expose its imperialist role! And we will do this by repeating the voices of Ukrainian socialists and anarchists? We apparently must subcontract our politics to them, including opposition to NATO, while they are simultaneously calling on it for support! What sense does this make?

These Ukrainian socialists and anarchists are unfortunately subordinated and dependent on the Ukrainian state, which is in turn subordinated and dependent on NATO, and what Conor Kostick proposes is that the rest of us join the club.

Back to part 1

The war in Ukraine and the politics of evasion – 1 of 2

An analysis has appeared on an Irish Left web site opposing the policy on the war in Ukraine that ‘one can read in Jacobin, or in statements by Chomsky, Corbyn, and the Stop the War Coalition in the UK’, and ‘in Ireland [where] we have the same type of response . . .  from People Before Profit and the Socialist Party of Ireland.’  The author, Conor Kostick, applies ‘the label Evasionist Left for this approach.’

It is not the purpose of this post to defend the positions of all or any of these journals, figures or organisations but to rebut Kostick’s own arguments.  He states that his ‘goal is to argue that these ideas are wrong and that if you take them seriously, you will find yourself on Putin’s side in the war. Often, when I try to discuss these points with their supporters, I hear only silence when I ask them to really think through the consequences of their formulations. But the war itself allows for no evasion’

His arguments are not new and the claim that if you don’t support ‘Ukraine’ you are a supporter of Putin is one that all those opposed to the Ukrainian capitalist state and its war in alliance with imperialism has had to face.  It contains the usual cheap shots that ‘“Opposing the war” is a comfortable position to adopt if you are on the other side of Europe to the columns of Russian soldiers.’

The only thing more comfortable however, is supporting the war in the West where you can preach in the slipstream of western imperialist states, their political parties, and the mass media propaganda blitzkrieg in which every word from ‘Ukraine’ about atrocity is asserted as gospel and Russian denials are dismissed out of hand.  Where videos of Russian POWs are shown being shot by their Ukrainian captors, we are not invited to denounce the Ukrainian state or its Army but to accept their denials of responsibility and promises of investigation, at which point we are directed to get back to the main story.

We are to ignore that the war didn’t start on February 24 with the Russian invasion and forget the findings of murder, torture and rape by Ukrainian forces, which have been asserted not by Russian sources but by the United Nations and the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – decidedly not Russian sources.  See, for example, here and here, where the crimes of both the Ukrainian state and the Donetsk people’s republic and the Luhansk people’s republic are set out.

All war involves atrocity, which is why socialists oppose it, but the propaganda propagated by the Western media and its capitalist class and state owners does not allow for attention to the stories told in these reports.  For the purposes of this article the importance of the evidence of brutality on both sides leading up to the current war is not simply to make this general point but to counter the use of the results of this media propaganda by Kostick, as we will see below.

*      *      *

The first sentence of the article states that ‘Wars are not light topics that can be dispensed of with simple formulas.’  But simple formulas is exactly what this article delivers; in fact, one simple formula.  This is a device that apparently has the merit of judging the war through looking at the ‘practical questions’.  It asks us to imagine that ‘A Russian convoy is approaching your town’ and asks what we would do – fight back or say “No. Don’t escalate. It will lead to more war horror. And potentially nuclear war. Instead, let’s appeal to the Russian anti-war movement to save us.”

From this simple illustration we are expected to determine the political character of the war, so that ‘a victory for Ukraine against Russia would be the best outcome for the left and the world generally and yes, we should support the people of Ukraine getting arms from wherever they can, including from NATO.’

The example is supposed to be so concrete and practical that those in opposition to supporting the Ukrainian state are reduced to ‘silence’.  But of course, this concrete and practical example is not concrete or practical at all.  It abstracts from everything that brought the Russian convoy to town in the first place.  If I told you that while I was typing this post I had looked out the window and saw a Russian convoy coming down my street, would you ask are you going to fight it?  I doubt it; yet you are invited to determine your political evaluation on the war in Ukraine from this little slice of information.

In the real – concrete and practical – world, you will have some idea why ‘a Russian convoy is approaching your town’ and what practical measures you can take, either to fight it or do something else.  And it is this choice among many that are in dispute, not just for those in the Ukrainian town but for everyone across the world; otherwise the author wouldn’t be writing an article boiling the whole issue down to how the residents of a Ukrainian town should react. 

But to answer this we have to go way beyond this attempt to reduce the issue to simple formulas that tell us nothing; even the author of the article has to go way beyond this scenario in order to attempt to deal with the issues.  The weakness of his argument however rests on this simplistic and abstracted formula that is an evasion of everything that went before the convoy coming down the road, that explains why it is there, and therefore informs future actions.

So in order to determine a political position on the war we need to know what happened before the convoy appeared.  Conor Kostick attempts to paint a pretty picture:

‘The majority of the world’s working class empathise with the people of Ukraine, who before Putin’s invasion were bringing their kids to school, going to work, planning their weekly shop, collecting the kids, going to the playground, chatting with friends. They were exactly like us and then the hell of war descended on them from Russia.’

Which is exactly the story presented by the western capitalist media that we noted above and which the author employs to bolster his political stance, which stance is exactly the same as this media and its corporate and political masters.  But as we have seen, there was a war already on before this convoy appeared and, in this war, the Ukrainian state was imprisoning, torturing, sexually assaulting and murdering those perceived as its enemies. Not such a pretty picture as kids going to school or playing, or adults doing shopping or going to work.

We could have rephrased the above to say that it was the Ukrainian people who were imprisoning, torturing, sexually assaulting and murdering those perceived as its enemies; but that would be to fall into the miserable mistake of the author, for whom there appears no difference between the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian armed forces etc.  In fact, this simple and abstract way is how nationalists talk about countries and nations, obfuscating the concrete reality to which Marxists speak – about Ukrainian classes, the Ukrainian state, the Ukrainian political leadership, the Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian fascists.  Just as we talk about the Russian armed forces, the Russian state and the working class of Russia etc.

So, before ‘the hell of war descended on them from Russia’, the Ukrainian state was forming an alliance with NATO; was receiving arms and training from NATO, was sending troops to Iraq to support the US imperialist occupation of that country, and was increasingly within the grip of western imperialist finance.  Internally the political leadership was still corrupt, still the tool of oligarchic interests, and still continuing to clamp down on free speech and to repress political opposition.

And yes, before ‘the hell of war descended on them from Russia’, Ukrainians ‘were bringing their kids to school, going to work, planning their weekly shop, collecting the kids, going to the playground, chatting with friends.’  But we don’t confuse these Ukrainians with the Ukrainians who own and run the country and its state and armed forces.  In other words, we have a class analysis that means that when we are asked to support Ukraine we ask – what Ukrainians are you talking about?

So, what we have in this article is not an argument against the ‘Evasionist Left’ but an analysis that evades all the issues in order to present a bourgeois morality play.  Behind support for Ukraine lies support for the Ukrainian capitalist state and as socialists we categorically do not support it.  We recognise that the Ukrainian working class has separate interests from the Ukrainian capitalist class and its state, and that these are the enemy of the Ukrainian workers, with the war being an example of it.

One of the first comments I made in reaction to the war was that the Zelensky political leadership, in so far as he actually is and not a front man for domestic capitalist and foreign imperialist interests, had walked the country into a war.  It was not in the interests of Ukrainian workers that their country join NATO or ally with it against Russia.  Their political leadership put the objective of such membership into the constitution in February 2019 when opinion polling showed only around 45 per cent supported joining it.  Privatisation and austerity has also been opposed by Ukrainian workers but again they have been unable to prevent the state and its oligarchic supporters from imposing both.

The Ukrainian working class has been damned by regimes that promised an end to corruption but just delivered more corruption by different actors.  They have taken to the streets repeatedly to bring down these regimes yet end up with the new boss the same as the old boss.  The tragedy of this war is that it has only strengthened their chains.  Such is the reactionary nature of the Russian invasion and of the Ukrainian state, the state much of the left, including Conor Kostick, has rallied to support.

Forward to part 2

What sort of Anti-War Campaign? (6) – the confessions of Gilbert Achcar

The arguments of Gilbert Achcar covered in the previous post are a melange of the ridiculous, hypocritical, nonsensical and indifference to working class interests.  It has received criticism from Alex Callinicos, which leads Achcar to double down on his argument.

‘There is no denial—and certainly not by me—that there is an inter-imperialist conflict behind the Ukraine war. But the argument you quote from me is not about that: it is about the fact that the war in Ukraine is not an inter-imperialist war, even though it very obviously takes place on a background of inter-imperialist conflict.’

So war is the continuation of politics by other means but not in this case.  The conflict between imperialism that he admits to apparently disappears when war begins as if it bore no relation either to its cause or its nature.  He supports arming Ukraine so that it can affect the outcome of the war but claims such imperialist intervention is not politically significant!  The ‘background’ has been foregrounded and both imperialisms are involved in a war but it’s not an inter-imperialist war!

How does he justify this?

‘What is the difference here? Quite straightforward indeed, from the Leninist perspective that you like to refer to—had the Ukraine war been an inter-imperialist war, internationalists should have advocated revolutionary defeatism on both sides. Since it is not an inter-imperialist war, revolutionary defeatism is on the order of the day on the Russian side only, whereas, as you yourself admit, “it would indeed be good if the Ukrainian people were able to drive out the Russian invaders”.

The fact that Achcar does not take a principled position is used as evidence that it is not required! A brass neck that a blowtorch couldn’t mark! So how does he justify this one? 

‘An inter-imperialist war … is a direct war, and not one by proxy, between two powers, each of which seeks to invade the territorial and (neo) colonial domain of the other.’

Aside from the fact that the only imperialist war this envisages is one that threatens world war and nuclear oblivion, it seems to say that imperialism cannot use surrogates as its weapon, which is absurd.  Every day that passes demonstrates US and NATO’s involvement in the war, with some NATO powers seeking to impose war aims on Ukraine and therefore determine its objectives as their own.  We have already alluded to the reactionary consequences of a Ukraine victory, which would also be a victory for the US and NATO.

But this war is not even a proxy war involving two states fighting each other with one supported by one imperialism and the other by its rival. In this case one ‘imperialist’ power is directly engaged, while the other capitalist state directly engaged seeks formal alliance with the other much more powerful imperialism.  It is already in partnership with NATO, in practical alliance, and is trained and increasingly armed by it.  This does not make it a one-sided imperialist war with a righteous adversary but makes US imperialism much more involved and interested in its outcome precisely because Russia is very directly involved. That’s why we have the unprecedented propaganda war; the unprecedented economic war through sanctions and the unprecedented arming of a belligerent. This ‘arms-length’ imperialist war is still an imperialist war.

This too is even inadvertently admitted by Achcar:

‘If Ukraine were to succeed in rejecting the Russian yoke, it is more than likely that it would be vassalized to Western powers. But the point is that, if it fails to do so, it will be enserfed to Russia. And you don’t have to be a qualified medievalist to know that the condition of a vassal is incomparably preferable to that of a serf!’

This, of course, should be seen as an argument against both sides but not for Achcar.  So what is a ‘vassal’ – that Ukraine will become if it is victorious – but ‘a holder of land by feudal tenure on conditions of homage and allegiance.’  Where does that put the nonsense that this is a fight for Ukrainian self-determination?  Is this policy of Lenin, so badly misunderstood, really a policy of vassilisation?!  Socialists in the rest of the world should support the Ukrainian state so it can pay homage and allegiance to US imperialism and NATO!  But still it is claimed this is not, most definitely not, an imperialist war!

Straight from the horse’s mouth we have a confession that the Ukrainian struggle is not in pursuit of a bourgeois democratic demand but in pursuit of pre-bourgeois feudal status! Of course the language employed is metaphorical but the metaphorical language reveals what all good metaphors do – it is representative and symbolic of reality, the very obvious fact that this is not a war by Ukraine against imperialism but against Russian imperialism and for US and European imperialism. The Ukrainian state has come down on one side and idiot anti-imperialists have followed them.

Achcar says that ‘to describe the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, in which the latter country has no ambition, let alone intention, of seizing Russian territory, and in which Russia has the stated intention of subjugating Ukraine and seizing much of its territory – to call this conflict inter-imperialist, rather than an imperialist war of invasion, is an extreme distortion of reality’.

Except of course militarily defensive wars are not by that fact politically defensive by Marxist criteria, otherwise we would it seems, according to Achcar, be dragged into support for whatever capitalist power proved weakest in battle.  In any case Ukraine seeks to join NATO and Achcar has already endorsed seizing back territory in Crimea, which reality would most likely present as aggression against the majority of its population.

He says that ‘in their fight against Great Russian imperialism, led by an autocratic and oligarchic ultra-reactionary government in Moscow that presides over the destinies of one of the most unequal countries on the planet, the Ukrainian people deserve our full support. This certainly does not imply that we cannot criticize the Kyiv government.’

Except Achcar hardly does criticise Kyiv and according to his rationale why should he?  He supports Ukraine in the war and since everything else comes second such criticism wouldn’t matter!  Of course, that country is also ‘led by an autocratic and oligarchic ultra-reactionary government in Moscow Kyiv that presides over the destinies of one of the most unequal countries on the planet,’ but that too doesn’t matter to Achcar.  What difference there is between them is simply that one is much stronger militarily, is defending its own interests by itself while the other seeks to do the same, in so far as it can, by seeking alliance with the strongest imperialist powers.

What is involved is a clash of two imperialistic powers in which Ukraine has decisively chosen the much more powerful, but which Achcar seeks to relegate as simply a background ‘conflict’ of no consequence.  That the weaker ‘imperialist’ power opened up the invasion but not the violence, which has been ongoing for a number of years in the East of the country, is explained by the fact that Ukraine is next door to Russia.  That the distance between Kyiv and Washington DC is over 7,500 kms, but there is only 750 kms between it and Moscow, demonstrates the reach and power of the respective imperialist powers and what the balance of aggression actually is.

Ukraine has for some time been a victim of this background ‘conflict’, but concretely this has resulted in the desire of sectors of the Ukrainian political class and its oligarchy and state to throw itself onto the side of Western imperialism.  This risked war and that risk has now crystallised, so that while oligarchs get offside Ukrainian workers will be the victims of this policy.  The reactionary character of the war is again demonstrated in the fact that it binds Ukrainian workers closer to those who gambled with their lives.

One final element of Achcar’s argument should be disposed of.  He quotes Lenin:

“The German imperialists shamelessly violated the neutrality of Belgium, as belligerent states have done always and everywhere, trampling upon all treaties and obligations if necessary. Let us suppose that all the states interested in the observation of international treaties declared war on Germany with the demand for the liberation and indemnification of Belgium. In such a case, the sympathies of Socialists would, of course, be on the side of Germany’s enemies. But the whole point is that the “triple (and quadruple) entente” is waging war not over Belgium, this is perfectly well known, and only hypocrites conceal this. England is grabbing Germany’s colonies and Turkey; Russia is grabbing Galicia and Turkey, France wants Alsace-Lorraine and even the left bank of the Rhine…”

This quote might seem to support the argument that imperialism will exploit ‘shameless violations of neutrality’ in order to advance its own interests.  In other words, it provides absolutely no support for his argument in support of Ukraine, just as it would have been wrong for socialists to rally to Belgium in World War I.  So why does he drag up this quotation?

‘I hope that this quote makes clear enough to you the importance of drawing a clear distinction between a war opposing an imperialist power to a country that it tries to subjugate, even when rival imperialist powers support the latter country’s resistance.’  He points to Lenin’s hypothetical scenario that other imperialist powers might rally to defend Belgian neutrality for its own sake as a possible excuse to now support Ukraine.  But the whole point of Lenin’s example, indeed his whole pamphlet, is to demonstrate that this is not how imperialism works.  Indeed ‘the whole point’ is that imperialist powers engage in war to further their own interests.

Even Achcar seems to admit this, since he adds ‘Lenin says even if they “declared war” on its behalf, which is a useless hypothesis in my view since other imperialist powers would only declare war for their own imperialist interests, whatever they pretended’, which is precisely what western imperialist intervention is doing now

Achcar finishes by saying that the point he makes is simple—’Had Russia managed to crush the Ukrainian resistance, control the whole country and implement “regime change” as was obviously Putin’s intention and calculation, our voices as forces that advocate a drastic reduction of military expenditure and NATO’s dissolution would have been completely drowned by a tsunami of jingoistic warmongering.’

But now that this hasn’t happened have his voices for ‘drastic reduction of military expenditure and NATO’s dissolution . . . [not] been completely drowned by a tsunami of jingoistic warmongering’?  Unfortunately not, among other reasons because while we have still had ‘a tsunami of jingoistic warmongering’ we have not heard much from him or his comrades about NATO.  Rather we have been told to consider how much more important is the threat of Russia, and the necessity to defend the country that wants to join the Alliance, which of course will do wonders to the project of its dissolution he claims to favour. In effect, the politics of Achcar are not an opposition to ‘jingoistic warmongering’ but its chorus line, to the left of the stage of course.

concluded

Back to part 5

What sort of Anti-War Campaign? (5) – the arguments of Gilbert Achcar

Gilbert Achcar

I have argued that the Russian invasion has coloured the response of some on the left and defined their understanding of the nature of the war from which follows the socialist attitude to it.  This might seem both natural and obvious but the threat of war was known well before the invasion, which most did not expect, so there was plenty of time to consider what the nature of the potential war was going to be.

Instead, the approach criticised in this series of posts relies on the fact of invasion itself to determine understanding of the nature of the war and the socialist attitude.  Implicitly it ignores the view of Marxists, stated for example by Lenin in ‘Socialism and War’; that ‘for example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be “just,” “defensive” wars, irrespective of who attacked first.’ 

While the first impulse of Marxists should be to oppose one’s own capitalist state, this left has immediately rallied to it, and its position on the war is in no sense significantly different: both oppose the Russian invasion, support arming the Ukrainian state and make no distinction between the class interests involved either in Ukraine or in Britain itself.  The only criticism is hypocrisy of the British Government over its restrictive policy on refugees.

Ire is directed against those who refuse to support the Ukrainian state or the intervention by the western imperialist powers.  Facebook discussions have centred on how important it is not to be taken in by Putin’s propaganda, as if in the West we have not endured a deluge of propaganda informed by the Ukrainian side in the war.

We are expected to believe every statement by the Ukrainian regime when that state is one of the most corrupt in the world, as measured by Transparency International, ranking 122 out of 180 countries with a score of 32 and the worst in Europe with the exception of Russia, not far behind with a score of 29.  The least corrupt countries measured by this index score 88 with the Irish state scoring 74 and the British 78.

Lately righteous indignation has followed reporting of atrocities by the Russian army, as if atrocity has not always been part of war but does not define its political character.

So, to defend this position on the war, more ‘elaborate’ arguments have been presented herehere and in a debate on these positions here by Gilbert Achcar and Alex Callinicos.

Achcar understands that in order to avoid opposing both capitalist states in the war and to support Ukraine he needs to show that the victory of one side is progressive in some way, or at least to be preferred.  The argument he proposes invites an incredulous response:

‘The fate of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will determine the propensity of all other countries for aggression. If it fails in turn, the effect on all global and regional powers will be one of powerful deterrence. If it succeeds, that is if Russia manages to “pacify” Ukraine under Russian boots, the effect will be a major slide of the global situation toward unrestrained law of the jungle, emboldening US imperialism itself and its allies to resume their own aggressive stances.’

We are expected to believe that the support of Ukraine by the US and its NATO allies will leave them disempowered if they are successful!  That victory would not add another country to the imperialist alliance and act as a deterrent to anyone who opposes the interests of US imperialism.  We are asked to believe that on the other hand if Russia wins it will strengthen US imperialism, and that the US currently has no aggressive stance because it left Afghanistan suddenly, although having signalled it for a long time.   A defeat for Russia will create a Vietnam syndrome – in the US?!!  Did Russian defeat in Afghanistan have this result for the US?  If Achcar’s argument were true why did recent US humiliation in Afghanistan not deter Putin’s invasion of Ukraine?

Elsewhere he says that ‘indeed, the United States and its Western allies have already benefited enormously from Putin’s action. They should be warmly grateful to the Russian autocrat.’  But does this not demonstrate the reactionary character of the invasion and confirm the aggressive character of US imperialism (regardless of Russian victory).

The whole argument is that the US and Russia do not assess their policy based on their geopolitical and economic interests and their capacity to enforce them, but simply as passive observers of the world, who will see enemies getting away with aggression and suddenly see that it works; as if neither had a long history of such actions. What is lacking apparently is simply some lack of will that will be remedied but only if Russia loses the war.  Should it win, the US will suddenly discover the efficacy of invading other countries! 

The next argument is that – ‘the demand of Russian withdrawal applies to every inch of Ukraine’s territory – including the territory invaded by Russia in 2014. When there is a dispute on the belonging of any territory anywhere in the world – such as Crimea or provinces in Eastern Ukraine, in this instance – we never accept that it be solved by naked force and the law of might, but always only through the free exercise by the people concerned of their right to democratic self-determination.’

So, invasion is undemocratic but in this case it is ok if it is carried out by Ukraine.  The pre-2014 borders of Ukraine must be inviolate and claims as to the national character of Crimea as separate or Russian are either false or irrelevant, and certainly not worth addressing when proposing that the maximal war aims of Ukraine are supported, which more or less guarantees a longer war.

The third argument is that ‘we are in favour of the delivery of defensive weapons to the victims of aggression with no strings attached – in this case to the Ukrainian state fighting the Russian invasion of its territory.’  But what on earth is a defensive weapon?  The same weapons currently used by the Ukrainian armed forces in their offensive against Russian positions were the same used in their defence against the original invasion.  Some have argued against the supply of fighter aircraft to Ukraine because this is not a defensive weapon but if employed mainly over Ukrainian territory how is it not?

There are offensive and defensive military strategies and there are offensive and defensive wars but the latter is a political definition that rests on a characterisation of the war.

Achcar is inconsistent but his inconsistency doesn’t stop here.  He claims that ‘we have no general attitude on sanctions in principle’ while they are in fact the continuation of a policy of war, as we have previously noted – ‘if war is the continuation of politics by other means sanctions are the result of political action to make economic measures the continuation of war.’

Instead Achcar notes that some sanctions’ may be harmful to the Russian population without much affecting the regime or its oligarchic cronies’ but that ‘we should neither support the latter’s sanctions, nor demand that they be lifted.’  It is impossible not to note the cynicism of such a position, which allows passivity while imperialism imposes sanctions and accepts them when they are imposed.  It is now widely acknowledged even by their supporters that they will cause untold hardship across the world and the poorest will suffer the most.  While Achcar is determined to take sides in the war he affects lofty indifference to defence of the world’s workers and its poorest sections.

Back to part 4

Forward to part 6