Wars are not light topics that can be dispensed of with simple formulas. I, for one, cannot imagine how the success of Russia would further the cause of democracy and socialism around the world. If you do, then say so, openly, so it can be debated in public. But don’t falsify tradition and history and hide behind pathetic slogans. To paraphrase Marx, we Marxists disdain to conceal our views and aims.
John Ganz, Ben Burgis’s Bad History: Jacobin’s anti-Jacobins
There is a type of left argument around the war in Ukraine which has arisen in the West. It is one that condemns Putin’s invasion, but refuses to offer practical support to the people of Ukraine in resisting that invasion. It is the position one can read in Jacobin, or in statements by Chomsky, Corbyn, and the Stop the War Coalition in the UK. In Ireland we have the same type of response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine from People Before Profit and the Socialist Party of Ireland.
I will use the label Evasionist Left for this approach. It’s not clear how representative this trend is internationally, as many on the left do pro-actively support the resistance in Ukraine, e.g. parties such Razem in Poland; those associated with the Fourth International like Left Bloc and the Danish Red Green Alliance; and the main left party in Japan, the Japanese Communist Party.
Of course, there are pro-Russian figures around too, who claim to be on the left: although why anyone would want to be associated with Putin makes no sense. Russia is not in any way a socialist society. In fact, as Russian socialist Ilya Budraitskis puts it, Putin can be understood to be developing a new form of fascism. Explicitly pro-Putin figures are relatively rare on the left, and while they are busy sharing Russian propaganda, are not hugely influential. 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.
The groups supporting the Evasionist Left position seem to be basing their approach on two ideas: 1) Support for the resistance in Ukraine is support for NATO and 2) The war in Ukraine is an ‘inter-imperialist war’. My 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.
Typical of the Evasionist Left position are features that speak out against the war in Ukraine and all wars, such as the Irish People Before Profit statement: No To War. Oppose Putin’s Invasion. Stop NATO Expansion. As with many articles by Jacobin and Stop the War (UK), the line taken by this statement is that Putin’s invasion should be condemned but the US are to be condemned equally.
The article concludes: “The real hope lies in an anti-war movement that crosses the border of East and West and opposes both Putin and NATO. We salute the actions of the Irish Anti-War Movement in calling people out to protest. We urge the international movement that came together to oppose the Gulf War in the past to rise again against the twin aggressors of Putin and NATO.”
World peace arising from a mass movement from below East and West would be lovely, but what is evaded here is the question of whether the left should support Ukrainian military resistance to the invasion. “Opposing the war” is a comfortable position to adopt if you are on the other side of Europe to the columns of Russian soldiers. But what does this conclusion mean for the people of Ukraine? Perhaps it means they should not fight back? Or perhaps there is room for supporting armed resistance to the Russian invasion, if it is decoupled from NATO? The point here is that in many cases, no one knows what it means. This is not a position that informs the people of Ukraine or those who want to express solidarity with them of what to do.
While we strive for international uprisings against war, should we want the people of Ukraine to defeat the Russian invaders in the meantime? Should we support or sabotage NATO armaments moving to Ukraine? Should we send money and perform solidarity actions that will allow Ukrainian anarchists and socialists to further their military resistance to the invasion? Or should we discourage them from fighting back, because they are unwitting tools of NATO?
These practical questions are a good way to judge the two key formulations that the Evasionist Left are using. And yet Marx’s claim that socialists don’t hide their views doesn’t seem to apply on the topic of Ukraine, where it’s difficult indeed to ascertain how these questions would be answered. Just to be clear, my own answers and those of Independent Left (and many other socialists and anarchists in Ireland) are yes, 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. As Taras Bilous, editor of the left-wing Ukrainian magazine Commons, puts it, “the Western left, which criticizes military aid to Ukraine are outrageous. Do they want us to fight with bows and arrows when we have shot all our bullets? Do they want the Russians to kill as many Ukrainians as possible? That there were more Bucha’s?”
Based on the limited number of publications and occasional social media post, including exchanges with me, many Evasionist Left supporters do not in fact welcome the Ukrainian resistance, do not support people like Taras Bilous in their efforts to defend their cities. And to justify this they have advanced the two arguments above. These slogans are crucial to the orientation of the Evasionist position, and I believe they are quite wrong.
1. Support for the resistance in Ukraine is support for NATO.
A rather bad-faith version of this argument was visible after a UCU-supported demonstration on 9 April 2022 in the UK, in which a call for victory to the Ukrainian people was described as being “for NATO intervention in Ukraine”.
Such comments echoed the misleading headline by the UK’s Socialist Worker reporting on the demonstration, where they interpreted the call for arming the Ukrainian people to be a call for NATO escalation. 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.
A Russian convoy is approaching your town. The people around you join the Ukraine territorial defence to fight, several of them form their own socialist and anarchist units which you have the option of joining. But those internationally making the same arguments as above 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.”
The position of these ‘left’ activists brings peace, but it’s the peace of a Putin victory, which not only means your town witnesses hellish scenes of rape and murder, that you could perhaps have prevented, but it also undermines peace for the future. Because understandably, when scenes of slaughtered civilians reach neighbouring countries there is a massive clamour for NATO assistance. Moreover, Putin will have concluded that after Syria and Ukraine, he can push on again, because fear of the horror of war, especially nuclear war, means the western left would prefer his victory to the victory of the resistance. And the Russian anti-war movement, that might have flourished as the Russian army was stalled and thrown back, is crushed by the wave of nationalism around the victorious Putin.
Fortunately, we are not yet in this scenario, above all because of the determination of the people of Ukraine not to surrender to the Russian invaders. Within the resistance to the invasion, the left are able to play an independent role. Here’s how Vitaliy Dudin, head of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organisation, Sotsyalnyi Rukh (Social Movement), described the situation from Cherkasy, Ukraine, on 6 April 6 2022:
“Some Social Movement activists, as well as many trade union members, have joined the TD as volunteers. It is worth mentioning that dozens of anarchists and socialists have formed their own unit within the TD, called the Resistance Committee.
“Secondly, a lot of leftists are helping as volunteers to supply the army or satisfy people’s humanitarian needs. One of the most effective initiatives in this regard is Operation Solidarity, which has managed to provide supplies to the militant left. We are also working to meet the needs of trade union members serving in the army.
“We have also worked with the nurses’ NGO Be Like Nina and helped them obtain medicines for hospitals that are taking care of wounded soldiers.
“Third, we see that a lot of people are protesting the invaders in occupied cities. We aren’t involved in such activity, but we support it. Of course, it is very dangerous because peaceful protests can be shot down by armed Russian soldiers. Such resistance proves that people are against the ‘liberation’ that seeks to turn their cities into grey-zones.
“Fourth, we as Social Movement continue to act as a political organisation. We seek to counter Russian propaganda and call on our people to fight for a free and fair Ukraine.”
By contrast, if the politics of the war in the Ukraine are resolved by the Evasionist Left approach, then we will see a Putin victory. 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.
There is a better-faith version of the argument against NATO weapons going to Ukraine, which is to say, “I do want Ukrainians to defend themselves, but I don’t trust the US. Whenever they arm a side in a war, they have their own imperialist goals.” 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? There’s a patronising assumption here that those demanding arms to prevent Russian soldiers from murdering their friends and families are dupes of US intelligence.
Similarly, I’ve heard socialists in Ireland say, “we have to weigh up different dynamics here, on the one hand, Russian imperialism, for sure; but on the other, US interests.”
If Ukraine is to defeat Russia the people there obviously need modern weapons. Anarchists have described how they are currently having to use machine guns from 1944.
If you are someone who wants Russia to be defeated, but doesn’t want NATO armaments to arrive in Ukraine, you really need to think this through. Are you asking communities to defeat the Russian soldiers using only home-made Molotov cocktails and Second World War weapons? This seems to be the position of the Socialist Party of Ireland, who at least do support workers in Ukraine arming themselves. At the same time, however, their supporters are told: “In the Western capitalist countries opposition to NATO militarism and expansionism must always be a central feature of our propaganda, even where this is not currently the mood among the mass of workers. We stand against all military intervention on the part of U.S. and Western imperialism — this includes opposition to the provision of weaponry by NATO powers to the Ukrainian military. This in and of itself increases the threat of the conflict escalating more widely.”
Similarly, in a feature on 25 April 2022, Ukraine: The United States are now fighting a proxy war with Russia Kieran Allen (Socialist Workers Network, Ireland) argues that the Ukrainian people, “have every right to resist”, yet is opposed to them using NATO weapons.
It’s not at all unreasonable to keep an eye on what the US is up to. No doubt there are US hawks who are thinking now would be a perfect time to take Russia on and smash Putin’s army while he’s weak. 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 that’s not happening right now: yes, NATO countries are supplying weapons to Ukraine but at the time of writing they have not entered the war with Russia with their own armed forces. Sitting on the fence now in fear of what the US might do in future, again means not supporting those currently fighting the Russian soldiers. The same question faces the good faith left person as the bad: when the Russian convoy is approaching your town, do you fight back militarily? You can’t say, “well, there’s a balance of imperial interests to consider and I’m going to be neutral until I get non-NATO weapons.” That neutrality will be finished by a Russian bullet to the head to you and anyone else you have persuaded of your position.
Moreover, those trying to dress up this recognition of the interplay of rival imperialisms as if it’s something new are missing the obvious point that throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, US and Russian imperialism always backed any movement that was fighting their rival. So when Solidarnosc rose up against the Communist Polish government in 1980-1, the CIA rushed to fund and influence the union. That didn’t stop it being a genuine mass movement which socialists of the type now adopting the Evasionist position recognised and supported.
Finally, on the legitimacy of the people of Ukraine taking advantage of inter-imperialist rivalry to obtain arms from NATO, there are very clear left precedents. For those of the Evasionist Left viewpoint who are champions of Lenin, 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.”
He later explained:
The North Americans in their war of liberation against England at the end of the eighteenth century got help from Spain and France, who were her competitors and just as much colonial robbers as England. It is said that there were ‘Left Bolsheviks’ to be found who contemplated writing a ‘learned work’ on the ‘dirty deal’ of these Americans.
2. The war in Ukraine is an ‘inter-imperialist war’.
A second justification for not supporting the people of Ukraine fighting back against Russia is based on the idea of ‘revolutionary defeatism’. The tone here for Rebel in Ireland was set by an article by Kieran Allen, entitled, James Connolly and War.
The parallels with World War One in 1914 are striking. Then and now it was the weaker imperial power than began a new era of global conflict. In 1914, it was Austria who made the first moves. Today it is Russia, a country with a commodity driven economy and a GDP that is one tenth that of the USA.
Just as James Connolly concentrated on challenging the propaganda of the Irish National Party and Britain, argues Allen, so socialists today should be revolutionary defeatists and recognise the main enemy is at home. Which means Irish socialists should concentrate on furthering the class war in Ireland.
Allen doesn’t spell out what revolutionary defeatism actually means in the context of the war in Ukraine: and the reason is surely that to publicly embrace the implications of his approach would be to declare that a Putin victory is the better outcome for those in the West. Again, let’s go back to the situation where a Russian column is approaching your town. A revolutionary defeatist position means that you should never give support to ‘our side’ in the war, even if that results in the other side obtaining military victories. That was the position of Karl Leibknecht in Germany and the Bolsheviks in Russia. They really did mean that they preferred to see their own countries defeated than support their own national elites in their war aims. And they were right. But transpose this policy to the soil of Ukraine and revolutionary defeatism can only mean a refusal to join the resistance and a refusal to support Zelensky, even if that means Russian victories.
The Evasionist Left position of condemning the Russian invasion, declaring support for the right of the people of Ukraine to fight back, yet taking a ‘defeatist’ approach toward Ukraine means giving no practical support for the resistance to the invasion. It is quite consistent with not wanting arms to get to Ukraine. Our main enemy (they say) is at home. It is our job to stop NATO. That might feel very principled from afar but it abandons the left in Ukraine and the population more generally to military defeat, with all that means for the massacres of civilians and the strengthening of Putin.
This is the contradictory but inevitable outcome of a flawed analysis. And the analysis is flawed for the simple reason 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.
The more obvious parallel to make with James Connolly’s world is that of British rule in Ireland. For centuries Britain tried to rule Ireland directly, eradicating the Irish language and crushing Irish culture. This is a clear parallel with Russia’s history in regard to Ukraine. 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.
In a related feature based on the same defeatist idea, John Molyneux argues the left should not support sanctions against Russia. Sanctions, he says, are a feature of NATO’s war against Russian. They are, “an integral part of a political offensive waged by one of the imperialist blocs in this conflict – the bloc which, as internationalist socialists and opponents of all imperialism East and West, we have a particular duty to oppose because they are the bloc to which our ruling class is affiliated.”
Again, the analysis is that this war is not one of Russian imperialism attempting to crush a smaller neighbouring nation but an inter-imperialist war in which the main enemy is at home. In which case, one should not call for sanctions against Russia, because Russia is not the main enemy for the Western left: NATO is. Yet let’s go back to our approaching Russian convoy once more. Are there sanctions which will help stop that convoy reaching its target town in Ukraine? Yes, plenty of them. A good example is the closure of the tank factory at Uralvogonzavod:
And another, potentially even more decisive closure arose on the basis of a fire at the Dmitrievsky Chemical Plant, Russia’s only internal source for vital chemicals.
The fire at the Dmitrievsky Chemical Plant threatens to leave Russia without additives needed for advanced rocket and jet fuels; treatments and solvents for servicing metal parts; core input chemicals for explosive and solvents, traces and washes needed to manufacture electronics and circuits. So long as sanctions prevent these from being delivered at scale, Russian military efforts will be seriously hampered.
Not all sanctions are appropriate, some are less concerned with assisting Ukraine than developing Western business advantages. But when the people of Ukraine call for Western sanctions focused on stopping the Russian war machine, they are right to do so, and the left should listen to them and support them. Ironically, the Evasionist Left position in fact supports sanctions against Ukraine, applauding actions such as those of workers at Pisa Airport, Italy, who refused to load weapons and explosives destined for Ukrainian forces. By hindering the military resistance in Ukraine and refusing all sanctions against Russia, the practical effect of the Evasionist Left is to align their political energies with a victory for Putin.
Both Anti-Imperialist and Inter-Imperialist?
In an article of 19 September 2022, Paul Murphy, an Irish TD and member of RISE, offered an analysis that attempted to bridge the position between those supporting Ukraine’s right to resist the invasion and those in the west who see NATO, not Putin, as the main enemy here. His conclusion was:
It means socialists must attempt to disentangle, to the degree possible, the legitimate resistance to Russian imperialist invasion, and the inter-imperialist conflict which we oppose.
It means supporting the right of Ukrainian people to resist. We don’t blame people in Ukraine for getting weaponry from wherever they can source it, but we do encourage them to operate on the basis of complete independence from NATO. If such genuinely independent forces existed, socialists could even fundraise to send them weapons. However, those of us living in the western camp, the dominant imperialist bloc in the world, cannot support NATO forces pouring weapons into Ukraine in the pursuit of an inter-imperialist conflict, risking an escalatory spiral that could lead to armageddon. We should support the Russian anti-war movement and demand the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine.
If a pure, revolutionary workers movement existed in Ukraine that was genuinely independent of NATO then RISE would not only support them, but would even fundraise for their weapons. It’s good to have such revolutionary credentials. Unfortunately for the actually existing socialists in Ukraine, such as Taras Bilous and those linked below, they aren’t sufficiently anti-NATO or in some other unstated way fail to pass the RISE test. Still, at least they aren’t to blame for their decision to fire guns and other weaponry supplied by the West and that will no doubt be comfort to their troubled consciences.
This ‘test-the-left’ position is evasionist in regard to the question of whether a victory for Ukraine under the neo-liberal Zelensky is preferable to a victory for Russia (or a peace with Russia having made territorial gains). The answer that Murphy skirts around seems to be ‘no’, because of the inter-imperialist aspect of the conflict. To achieve a Ukrainian victory risks armageddon.
The mistake here is to see the activity of the US and its goals in regard to Ukraine as being on a par to the those of Putin. There is a vast difference between the two. This is not a symmetrical inter-imperialist war where victory for either side would make no difference to the lives of Ukrainians and the fate of the world more generally. This is an imperialist invasion by Russia, where the defeat of Russia is by far the best outcome for everyone who dreams of a “just and humane world” as Boris Kagarlitsky puts it.
Victory for Russia or a settlement that gives it control of Ukrainian territory leads to ruthless military rule over the conquered people; it plays into the hands of the far right world wide; it increases the possibility of other land grabs by militarily strong powers; and, in particular, it keeps Putin in power. Defeat for Russia retains the space in Ukraine for trade unionists, social rights activists, and civil society generally to organise. It also has the potential to unleash revolution in Russia. Kagarlitsky believes, plausibly, that the defeat of Russia will bring about the end of Putin and deep changes in Russia.
Yes, defeat for Russia means temporary gains for the US but a free Ukraine would not be a satellite of the US, its people would not be under military rule and it might not even become a member of NATO. Moreover, as Kagarlitsky warns, there are those in the West who are deeply uneasy about the prospect of revolution in Russia. They would prefer Putinism without this particular Putin to a popular revolt.
The RISE position of seeing the war as both inter-imperialist and anti-imperialist separates that organisation from the Ukrainian left and any anti-imperialist revolts that develop as a result of Ukrainian military victory.
Can we draw any lessons for the international left?
The contradiction in the Evasionist Left position – ‘we condemn Russia but we don’t support arming the resistance in Ukraine’ – is an unstable one. Some members put more weight on the condemnation of Russia than others. Some even state online that they would welcome a victory for Ukraine. On the whole, though, the leadership of these parties place their emphasis on why we should not support Ukraine. Hopefully, the members who want to see Ukraine survive and throw out the Russian invaders will push back their leadership on the two formulations above (that support for Ukraine is support for NATO, and that it is an inter-imperialist war), that directly oppose support for the resistance.
There’s a lesson here for the left in how the wrong positions have been arrived at, which is that we are witnessing the consequence of a top-down approach to socialist politics rather than a bottom up. The reason I have repeatedly asked the reader to imagine the approach of a Russian column of tanks and to think through your response is that this is exactly how billions of people have thought about these issues. 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.
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. This ‘bottom up’ approach listens to the people of Ukraine and if you are on the left, to the voices of anarchists and socialists, such as: diary of an anarchist in Ukraine; also https://commons.com.ua/en/left-west-must-rethink/; or https://freedomnews.org.uk/…/interview-operation…/; or http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article62209 or http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article61988.
The Evasionist Left model is a top down one, where the leadership derive their positions based on past experience and their reading of canonical Marxists texts, then the party apparatus delivers the position to the members. This means blunders are inevitable.
The Evasionist Left are in the process of making a serious mistake now and one where the equivocation of condemning Putin while not supporting the military resistance of the Ukrainian people cannot be sustained. There can be no hiding from the question of what to do when the Russian soldiers are coming. And if you are a member of one of these parties or organisations who thinks the Ukrainian people are right to fight back, then you have your own battle to avoid your party coming out of this war with a lasting reputation for having adopted a position whose practical consequence was to disarm those facing the Russian invasion.
Pat Talty says
Excellent Article,articulating a principled and anti imperialist stand.
It is a sad reflection of the “left” in Ireland,reading the ill advised and poorly thought out response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Our support in every possible way should go to the Ukraine resistance opposing imperialism.
Anarchists and Socialists in Ukraine are pleading for our action to support their just armed defence of the working people,the left here in Ireland need to heed and act in solidarity with our comrades in Ukraine.
John O Brien says
I couldn’t say it better myself. Your article summed up my thoughts on this issue.
Simon Pirani says
Thanks for this article. I made some similar points here. https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/site-contents/supporting-the-ukrainian-resistance-six-questions/
Martin Comack says
It comes as a relief to read a rational and coherent comment on the Ukraine War. Keep it up.
Klassenkampf Treehugger says
Thanks very much for this contribution Conor, I’ve been thinking myself about what it means to support the Ukranian people’s right to self-defence against the Russian invasion in practice. Learning how it is for Ukrainians themselves at this moment is the way to avoid much of the theoretical, dogmatic and slogan-based thinking on the left.
Coming from a long held hatred of war, US and other imperialisms, of NATO as a projection of US military power masquerading as well as a defence alliance, it’s been difficult for me not to fall back into evasive and comforting dogma. Things have changed though with this war.
As you make clear, this war is simultaneously two wars conjoined, namely a war of national defence by the Ukrainian army and people against a brutal invasion, and a proxy war of the US/NATO against the Russian Federation. What you nicely call the ‘Evasionist Left’ likes to concentrate on the proxy war level, and those on the Left who refuse to contextualise this war fall into the mistake of thinking of it solely as a war of national defense.
Any brief contact with history will demonstrate that allies are very often allies of convenience and have different war aims.
The war aim of Zelensky and the Ukrainian military seems to be to drive the Russian armed forces out of all or some of the Ukrainian territory from Ukrain taken by enormously destructive force of arms. The war aims of the US/NATO seem to include the military defeat and humiliation of Russia, and the permanent isolation of the Russia in the world, so that they can get on with the business of Cold War II against China.
What kind of peace settlement is reached – all wars end with a peace settlement if they don’t end with surrender – will be shaped by war aims of Ukraine and the US/NATO.
I think some at the non-Evasionist Left, of which I’m a reluctant member, have a rather romanticised view of military resistance, which comes from the tradition of asymetric partisan warfare against an occupying power. The resistance groups are admirable, but this war is a symetric territory based war and as such will be decided by who comes out top in the intelligence, technology, logistics, communication and control, and information wars.
And the military tactics of Russia are those of urbicide, the laying waste of towns and whole cities, and the killing of the people caught in them. They are not there to occupy any more, just to destroy. Partisan war is less relevant, although it seems to play a small role behind Russian lines.
In that light of the military sophistication required by the Ukrainians to win this war I would say, to adapt one of your headings, “Support for the resistance is support for war through and signficantly by NATO”.
Intelligence in this war is gathered by Ukrainians on the ground but very significantly depends on the satellite technology and ability to analyse that intelligence in the hands of the US and UK.
The central technologies being used effectively by the Ukranians are anti-tank, anti-aircraft and once and anti-ship rockets, along with the radar to provide tactical intelligence on the field. All of these technolgies are supplied by NATO, mostly are manufactured in the US, and the US has done most of the training of Ukrainian troops in their use during the last eight years, since the invasion of Crimea by Putin. These weapons and technology needs continual replacement as they are destroyed or used up.
As soon as the Ukrainians attempt to take dug-in Russian positions where they have not decided to retreat, they will need massive attacking artillery weapons.
Logistically the US/NATO delivers weapons to the Polish and possibly Slovak border, and organises the sourceing and political context for the delivery of weapons systems in ‘the West’, and Ukrainian logistics take it from the border. The Russian military seem to have become better at disrupting Ukrainian logistics and are seeking to destroy railways and roads going east west in Ukraine. Russian logistics, meanwhile have been a disaster so far. Perhaps they have learned, let’s hope they haven’t or aren’t able to do logistics properly.
Russian communication and control has also been shite, in contrast with the Ukrainians who presumably have been supplied with properly encrypted and anti-jamming enabled comms systems. Again from NATO/US. I think this indicates that the gangster capitalism that has Russia by the throat since Yeltsin’s presidency, is even worse than neoliberal capitalism at developing effective military systems. In both versions of capitalism naturally at massively inflated prices and enormous profits.
And lastly the information war conducted by the Ukranians has been highly effective, much better than the Russians, but it again has been achieved through an agressive shaping of the media in ‘the West’ through the usual suspects.
All of the makes Ukraine highly dependent on NATO in their conduct of the war, to the extent that one could say that they can only conduct this war in a NATO support context. Their self-defence is only possible because of the active involvement of NATO short of supplying troops in Ukraine or imposing a no-fly zone, which would be an invitation to escalation. Support of Ukrainian self-defence is support of a NATO facilited war.
None of this is to minimise the tenacity and bravery of the Ukrainian professional and irregular armed forces, who have far exceeded the expectations of even their NATO trainers and weapons providers. They have demonstrated unexpected agency and effectiveness within the confines of their NATO dependency.
Anything other than a tragic facing up to a terrible situation seems to me exessive, including all the military porn and fan fiction that dominates the MSM. The planet and we, the humanist and ecological left, have already lost a great deal in this war.
We’ve seen NATO strengthened by Putin’s appalling miscalculation. We will see the diversion of funds away from social needs to military hardware in Europe – always a massively wasteful process in a capitalist context. Arms manufacturers are wetting themselves with delight. Much civil infrastructure in Eastern Ukraine has been flattened. ‘The West’ has become more dependent on fracked oil and gas – a major blow to attempt to prevent climate catastrophe. The only positive is that there seems to be a general consensus that developing non-fossil energy infrastructures would have made this war impossible for Russia to fund – which I hope will lead to more rapid investment in renewable infrastructure.
But the downsides far outweight the positives. Think of the millions who will go hungry from the interupption of Ukrainian grain supply (amplified of course by commodity price speculation). By supporting the Ukrainian war through NATO means we are complicit in this process. But that’s where we are, greatly to my dismay.
And you’ve glossed over the nuclear dimension here. If Putin looks like being defeated, his temptation will be to deploy firstly highly destructive ‘conventional’ weapons, and then to consider tactical nuclear weapons. Even scholars in the field of nuclear deterence find it hard to predict how likely this is, expecially as part of the nuclear madness is being deliberately unclear about your nuclear decision making. And since the US has been tearing down what remains of non-proliferation treaties. Nuclear weapons have become thinkable options for some armchair generals with political power and we are nearer the possibility of deliberate nuclear war than we have been since the Cuban missile crisis. And I’ve no idea how far Putin might be willing to go.
I’ve just dealt with the military aspects here, what you term ‘sanctions’ and I would term ‘economic war’ deserves another response.
Finally we should recognise that our support for Ukraine is not shared by much of the world. A large majority of the working class in India, China and the global South don’t see this as their fight, and why should they? Their experience of wars involving the US and Russia have been too bitter.
Conor Kostick says
Thanks for taking the time to write this thoughtful response. It really helps with getting to grips with the difficulties and the nuances of the situation. I largely agree with all your points but with this thought – not necessarily opposed to your views – that we should strive to hear and understand the perspective of our socialist friends in Ukraine. It’s their views that allow, for example, a lot of the obscufation about Ukraine being fascist to be set aside. Yes, fascism is still a problem but nothing like it was in 2014 or is today in France, say. I have some links in the feature to socialists and anarchists in Ukraine and there are regular updates on those websites. As powerful weapons concentrate in Zelensky’s hands, there will be a growing tension between the left and the right in Ukraine I’m sure, between a popular war of everyday working class people (the partisan type) and a more regimented one with US military advisors leaning on Zelensky. But at the time of writing (27 April 2022) there are no NATO forces directly in play, while Russian soldiers threaten to wipe out all space for the left in Ukraine. As our socialist and anarchist comrades from Operation Solidarity put it: “We are not charmed by the Ukrainian State (it’s neo-liberal rather than nazi or strongly authoritarian) — it has a lot of troubles like an oligarchic system, corruption, destruction of social safety nets, cop and nazi violence etc. At the same time Ukraine is a space of relatively low State control that is growing, from one side, but from other it’s also a space of uprising progressive social powers.
“So we resist because it’s a question of our future (physical and political). If Russia wins, all progressive things that we got through social struggle will be raped, trampled and annihilated. Just watch what Putin does to his people and our comrades also.”
Your point about the danger of a Putin nuclear strike is all too valid. But obviously that can’t mean our comrades and the people of Ukraine more generally must stop fighting back. It does emphasise the importance of arguing against direct NATO involvement and again, I would take the lead from the socialists in Ukraine as to how best to offer effective military resistance without giving any pretext for Putin to justify using a nuclear bomb.
Thomas Weyts says
Great article, and I also appreciated a lot the comment of the comrade above (and your response), with whom I can also identify myself. In Belgium we are very much confronted with the same debates, not helped by the fact that the PTB / Workers Party of Belgium (formerly ‘mao-stalinist), now well represented in parliament, local councils and inside the labor and social movements is taking a ‘fake pacifist’ position, quite close to the one of StWC in the UK f.ex.
Paul Feldman says
Excellent analysis. A section on self-determination could be a useful addition. In my view, if you support the Palestinians’ right to statehood, you are obliged to stand with Ukraine, irrespective of its government, leadership etc.
Greg Timony says
I note that the Japan Communist Party has a proud anti-Stalinist history which is to be commended, but their pro sanctions stance is very simplified (at least in English) and not elaborated on . Wisely they have said nothing about any stance on supplying arms to Ukraine so this is (it seems to me), populist Left rhetoric to appease Japanese fears of Russia and China, sensible in the circumstance. they are right to condemn Russia so strongly, but should have elaborated on sanctions much better. They could be accused of Evasionism of course.https://www.jcp.or.jp/english/jcpcc/blog/2022/06/japanese-communist-partysposition.html
As to the Evasionism of PBP to which I belong, this is sectarian point scoring on our sensible position (given the war is a horror story as is typical, emotive point scoring can always be made on any side sadly).
By the way it is in fact evasionist to ignore the erasure of the once large populist (no doubt neo-Stalinist to a degree) Ukrainian Communist Party. The sectarian stance of the tiny Ukranian nationalist Left (Conor seems to put so much faith in), in the face of neo-Nazi violence against this defacto Russian speaking Left was a small factor in supporters of this party and its orbit fleeing to Russian controlled areas where they sadly became apologists for Russian Nationalism. So now we have 2 nationalists ‘Lefts’ at defacto war with each other, a very regrettable occurrence (see also World War 1 ‘Left’ fiasco). The outlet of the Ukranian Nationalist Left, ‘Commons’ can be compared to the equivalents in Campist propaganda. I see it as a sophisticated RT for intellectuals. Very clever confusionist effort. Their main political organisation ‘Social Movement’ has Zero electoral support, how do they finance their operations? I imagine that there are some genuine Left leaning among them, but overall I do not trust them . There is too much of a Liberal element posing as Libertarian Left. I would urge supporting a ceasefire asap, instead of sectarian point scoring and trusting unknowable elements
Conor Kostick says
You say that my points in regard to PBP are ‘sectarian point scoring’, I’m sorry you think so as this must surely lead to you not engaging with my arugments. For my part, I believe I understand the PBP position and have presented it fairly here in order to challenge it. One new development since I wrote this feature is Sabina Higgins’ letter on the the need for peace talks, which PBP have eagerly championed and you endorse with your statement that you support a ceasefire asap. Obviously, a peaceful world is a goal of all socialists, ultimately, a world without any states or weapons and an international comradeship among all humans. For now though, unfortunately there are many wars and different types of wars, some of which are just and necessary. The SWP, who founded PBP, were not pacifists and perhaps you’d agree with me that Irish people were right to rise against the British empire and that a ceasefire in 1919 would have serveded only the British and the conservative nationalists. There are many other examples. Were the Vietnamese right to fight the USA in the late 60s? I think so. And socialists urging the Vietcong to introduce a cease fire and start peace talks ‘because all wars end in talks’ would have been completely wrong to do so, as this demand only would have helped US goals. Similarly, today, when you call for a ceasefire and when PBP oppose arms going to Ukraine, they are taking positions the Russian ambassador is only too pleased to agree with. Ceasefire and peace in the current circumstances means territorial gains for the invader. If the people of Ukraine were calling for this, fair enough, they have the right to decide they can’t continue the struggle against the Russian empire and must accept territorial loss. But at the moment, that’s not the case and who are PBP in Ireland to tell them to cease fire when they are overwhelmingly determined to prevent Russian rule over their towns? The only justification for a position that does not wish to see Russian imperialism defeated and self-determination for the people of Ukraine is if you see the conflict as driven not by a desire for national independence but the USA. That’s why I spent time examining and rejecting the notion that it is an inter-imperalist war. Just as the Vietcong were armed by China and Russia, without their struggle to free themselves from a US-backed undemocratic government becoming an inter-imperialist war Russia and the USA, so Ukranians can use weapons from the USA and still be waging a war against Russian imperialism. My main argument then, is that this conflict is a war of national independence against empire. Unfortunately, my experience of making this argument with some PBP and Communist Party members is that no amount of historial examples or discussion of Russian imperialism can lead to a reappraisal of their believe that a victory for Ukraine is undesirable. And if you are someone who is not receptive to my points, perhaps you would at least think about the following. If PBP are right, then there will be people in Ukraine who agree with you. What would it mean if there weren’t? If you couldn’t find them? Independent Left started with a very simple, but I believe powerful foundation for our views on this war: we listened to the people of Ukraine and especially our fellow socialists, anarchists and trade unionists. You dismiss these as unknowable elements. Have you actually tried to know them? The trade unions, in particular, are strong, independent and very amenable to making international connections (which before the war were growing e.g. with Unite construction branch in Ireland). If you won’t listen to me because you think I’m not serious about this, that I’m only out for sectarian gain, would you at least take the time to read the views of people like Oleksandra Povoroznyk here: https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1554179197618331648.html . There are thousands of socialists, anarchists, LGBTQ+ activists, trade unionists, etc. fighting against the Russian invasion. They ought to be the natural constituency for PBP to connect with, but you are isolating yourself from them in Ukraine and as a result, internationally, including here in Ireland.
Carl Peters says
Good reply, Conor.
Colm B says
The so-called Communist Party in Ukraine like the Communist Party in Russia, are homophobic, ultra-nationalist, mysogyinstic, reactionary outfits that are only left-wing in the sense that any red-brown or Strasserite movements are left-wing.
It’s ironic that a member of PBP which recently provided a platform for a Ukrainian organisation made up of roughly three people, at least one of whom is an anti-Semite, should criticise the radical left in the Ukraine for being unrepresentative.
Conor Kostick says
For a thorough dissection of the Irish Marxist Review’s response to this feature see https://tomasoflatharta.com/2022/08/22/a-strange-policy-is-reviewed-support-ukraines-resistance-against-an-imperialist-russian-invasion-politically-but-oppose-giving-arms-to-the-resisters-a-critique-of-iri/
“Zelensky is a pro-market liberal, sharing many of the beliefs of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. He has introduced anti-trade union legislation under cover of wartime emergency measures. The left in Ukraine are opposed to these but nevertheless continue to fight alongside state forces. Why? Because victory for Russia will crush them along with Zelensky. Victory against Russia will create a potentially revolutionary situation where the people can insist on a massive public program of rebuilding for need not profit after the war. The left can grow after a victory, but they will be buried under the rubble of any defeat.”
Conor Kostick says
For those wanting to hear from the left in Ukraine, this page has over 30 links to relevant interviews and features: http://links.org.au/special-coverage-understanding-putins-war-ukraine