Sometimes it’s not what you say but what you don’t say that is revealing.
From the start, the pro-war left has continually aped the bourgeois media in its denunciation of the obsession and madness of Vladimir Putin.
While Western imperialism needed some explanation that turned attention away from its own provocations and responsibility for the war, the left needed a cover for its effective solidarity with it. How could it support western imperialist intervention unless this could safely be disregarded? And why deliberate on any wider geopolitical canvas when it could all be satisfactorily accounted for by focussing attention on the unknowable workings of Putin’s brain?
Not a word, or at least I haven’t seen any, on the workings of the brain of that other President so involved in the war, whose own obsession with Ukraine has been of long standing, and whose own cognitive functioning has been questioned long before the war.
And what about the Ukrainian President, whose popularity has apparently soared since the war started? Does this in itself not raise questions? How many reactionary leaders through the ages have gained (temporary) popularity through war and its glorification – Slava Ukraini?
Zelensky has called for a no-fly zone over Ukraine to be implemented by NATO, which even the most rabid supporter of the Ukrainian state must accept is an invitation to World War III. But where were the denunciations from the pro-war left of Zelensky?
His latest demand is that the war now be declared, through a pre-emptive strike by the West on Russia. The sound of denunciation by the cheerleaders of the war strains the ears of everyone trying to make it out. Fixated on the supposed threats of nuclear war by Putin, while the Russian state declares no change to its nuclear policy, the pro-war left stays mum while Biden talks of ‘Armageddon’ and Zelensky calls for World War III. Even Macron rebukes Biden but the pro-war left sees its role as being the best defenders of the Ukrainian state, as it thinks it must be for every struggle it involves itself in.
And by the way, try googling ‘Zelensky calls for a preemptive strike on Russia’ and you will be rewarded with lots of articles claiming he didn’t mean what he said. Imagine the same speech and ‘clarification’ by Putin and you can appreciate the purely propagandistic character of Western media coverage of the war. While driving my wife to an appointment this morning I had to suffer RTE radio describe Russians as hyenas and express its disgust at some of them gloating over missile attacks on Ukraine. Presumably previous Ukrainian gloating over the Kerch bridge attack didn’t register; selective speech is always combined with selective hearing.
Since some of the pro-war Left claims to be inspired by Marxism, seeking the overthrow of imperialism and reactionary states like Ukraine, it might seem obvious to ask how they found themselves on the side of both. This was, after all, a choice freely taken; it was open to them to oppose the Russian invasion without supporting the Ukrainian state.
Their answer lies partly in their claim that it is necessary to support self-determination for the Ukrainian state and oppose imperialism, Russian that is, not the NATO one which Ukraine is now a supplicant of. But what will the pro-war Left do if or when it actually becomes an official NATO member? It’s alright to be armed and fight on behalf of NATO but not be an official member of the club?
Will the character of the war therefore suddenly change for them? How will they explain the transition, or will the ‘self-determination’ of Ukraine that presently justifies their support for this capitalist state and the role of NATO still determine their position?
Why would it not? If it is Russia that is waging an aggressive war and Ukraine a war of national defence, which of these would be changed by increased Western imperialist support? Having accepted that the reactionary policies and nature of the independent Ukrainian capitalist state does not invalidate support for it, why should this support not continue? Is this not inevitable when one supports the demand for self-determination of a state that is already independent and self-determines its objective of NATO membership?
The demand for ‘self-determination’ has thus been turned into a fig-leaf tat can excuse support for Western imperialism and any notoriously corrupt state. But where in this can any part of the policy of Lenin be discerned so that it could justify support for an independent capitalist state at war? Where is the denunciation of Ukrainian nationalism that Lenin would have demanded? Where is the demand for an independent Ukrainian working class organisation and policy instead of loyal membership of the armed forces of the Ukrainian state? Where is the demand for opposition to this state and its war within the Armed Forces of Ukraine?
Of course, the policy of self-determination of an already independent state is a million miles from Lenin’s demand, but then their application of it has more to do with that of Woodrow Wilson than Lenin. We have already explained at length that they either do not understand Lenin’s position or, more evidently, don’t care to understand it. But then, who reads for the purpose of changing their mind, especially to be convinced of something harder to fight for? They are not going to start now having just perverted and misrepresented his ideas.
Nothing for them has gotten in the way of supporting ‘Ukraine’ and the ‘Ukrainian resistance’. Eyes are diverted when fascists are honoured by their President for their role in it. We are given to concern ourselves more with fascists in places like France, while the Ukrainian variety is armed to the teeth, incorporated into the armed forces of the state, widely viewed as legitimate for its role in the fighting, and has its slogans adopted by ‘the resistance’. We are meant not to recall its role in ensuring that the Minsk agreements to prevent the return of war were frustrated and ignored by the Ukrainian state, lest we question Russian sole responsibility.
So, the main question to ask of this left is not ‘why?’, but ‘with what consequences?’ With what result?
Failure to speak leads to, and is a result of, failure to notice what is actually going on, generating grotesque political positions. We see self-proclaimed socialists ‘gloating’ over the success of offensives by the Ukrainian armed forces as it captures swathes of land in Kharkiv and advances in Kherson. Their support for ‘the Ukrainians’ and defeat of the ‘Russian forces’ parrots the bourgeois media, which ignores the massive loss of Ukrainian lives from offensives only made possible through western arms and organisation, while ignoring that in Kharkiv it is not Ukrainians chasing Russians but Ukrainians primarily chasing other Ukrainians.
But of course, the view that there is a single Ukrainian people and a single ‘Ukrainian resistance’ can’t deal with the fact that this is not the case, just as it cannot start any analysis from the idea that there is a separate interest of the Ukrainian working class. The collapse into nationalism is lit up in lights when support is declared for ‘Ukraine’ and the ‘Ukrainian resistance’ when the war is obviously one also within Ukraine and between Ukrainians. They have no answer to the obvious reality that many citizens of Crimea and Donbas etc. no longer have any wish to live under a political regime based in Kyiv.
It is not in the interests of working class people that they die in a war that only continues through Western support, objectively making them a proxy for imperialism. The pro-war left, acting as leftist cover, also only seeks victory and is therefore silent on any demand for a democratic peace, or any sort of peace, never mind working class unity to overthrow the Zelensky regime. It has nothing to say to those other Ukrainian workers, whom their heroes are fighting, who seek salvation from the Russian state; no political demands to join in a peace agreement that puts their combined interests first. Such ideas are unspoken because they have never occurred to them.
Instead, the pro-war left celebrates offensives in which the meat-grinder of Russian artillery destroys Ukrainian workers in uniform, while failing to notice that Russian forces withdraw with minimum losses.
When one becomes a cheerleader one must continue to cheer because that is the job. The pro-war left supports the prosecution of the war until Ukrainian victory when this can only come from a victory also of Western imperialism. This necessarily entails escalation of the war and increased risk of it becoming a global one between NATO and Russia. Since the ultimate target is China, it too cannot remain indifferent to its encirclement, becoming more and more the target of US verbal attacks and sanctions.
To deny all this requires either stupidity or descent into the most rotten politics, hence the silence, as if all this will go away if we refuse to speak of it, at least until Ukraine and NATO win, Russian forces are expelled, and other workers who consider themselves Russian suffer occupation.