Thursday, June 9, 2022

War in Ukraine: Solidarity with Ukrainian resistance, against all imperialisms

The following statement by the executive bureau of the Fourth International, issued on May 24, three months into the Russian war on Ukraine, offers what I consider the clearest analysis to date of the class and geopolitical issues and principles posed for the Left in this war.             – Richard Fidler

Кампанія Солідарності з Україною – The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign seeks to  organise solidarity and provide information in support of the Ukrainian  labour movement

1. State of the war

– Today, three months have passed since the invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s troops. The Russian army has occupied parts of the territory, particularly in the East and South of the country, while suffering a serious defeat in the region of Kyiv.

– Ukrainians have opposed phenomenal and massive resistance, involving armed and non-armed struggle, the army, territorial defence forces, civil society organizations, and new forms of self-organization. They have received arms deliveries, humanitarian aid and intelligence from EU and NATO countries. The first successes of such resistance have radicalized Ukrainian hopes for a defeat of the Russian aggressor. Citizens in occupied regions continue to demonstrate against occupation, there are reports of partisan activities in some areas.

– The soldiers killed on both sides can be counted in tens of thousands, as can Ukrainian civilian victims. The war crimes committed by the Russian forces are multiple and proven, as in Bucha, Irpin and other cities. The siege of the cities by the Russian army has deliberately caused thousands of inhabitants to die of deprivation and starvation, particularly in Mariupol. Twelve million inhabitants have been displaced, five million to other European countries.

– The conflict has caused massive material destruction by indiscriminate bombing of civilian and military areas, some cities have been almost razed to the ground.

– A readjustment of the offensive was decided by Vladimir Putin at the beginning of April, aiming to annex the whole of Donbass and the industrial and port city of Mariupol, as well as the largest possible territory in the south, on the Black Sea. But in these regions also, Ukrainians continue to resist.

2. Our position: Support for the Ukrainian struggle for self-determination and independence against a background of inter-imperialist strife

– Putin’s invasion is a war of aggression, aiming to submit Ukrainian territory to Russian control, as part of the return of a Great Russian imperialist project.

– Ukrainians are fighting a national liberation struggle against the invasion. We support their right to resist, including militarily, and stand in solidarity with their choice to do so. We defend their right to arm themselves and thus to receive the arms necessary to resist against a much more powerful army,

– This war is carried on in the context of a renewed inter-imperialist strife. In this war, Western imperialism – represented by NATO and the EU – has taken sides, and is supporting Ukraine's resistance financially and materially. This has clearly reinforced the resistance and improved its prospects.

– We denounce the obvious aim of US and EU leaders to transform the war according to their own interests: the prospect of a second Afghanistan nightmare for Russia already opens huge opportunities for increased military budgets, the deployment of new military technologies, the expansion of NATO and the improvement of the US world geo-strategic position. They aim to use the battlefield of Ukraine for the realization of their geopolitical goals.

– For now, both imperialist powers, Russia and NATO, have avoided any direct confrontation that could escalate into an inter-imperialist war. No one is interested in such an escalation, but it could be the result of uncontrolled spiralling. Such a scenario of world war is an objective danger in the imperialist phase of capitalism. It would be catastrophic for humanity and the planet, and we oppose any escalation that could transform this war into a direct inter-imperialist confrontation.

– As revolutionaries and internationalists, we affirm that the way out of the logic of inter-imperialist conflict and escalation is the resistance of peoples from below: for self-determination and against foreign invasions. The choice of Ukrainians to resist has blocked the quick annexation that Russia was aiming for. The defeat of the Russian invader at the hands of Ukrainian people would be the best scenario for struggles for self-determination and against imperialisms of all kinds. The reinforcement of the Ukrainian resistance and of anti-war movements in Russia (and Belarus) are two necessary factors for this scenario to be realized.

– Putin’s invasion has provided a huge boost to NATO’s agenda of expansion, with Sweden and Finland requesting their entry. We oppose this dynamic: we reject the logic of military blocs and work for a new trans-European concept of security based on self-determination, egalitarian relations between peoples, including Russia, urgent treaties of denuclearization and the dissolution of NATO and CSTO.[1]

– In the same way, we reject EU treaties and financial institutions and policies, and denounce the way in which they are used to subject countries in Europe’s periphery to neo-colonial relations. The contradictions between the Ukrainian demand for “fast and just” European integration and the reality of the EU’s criteria should help us raise the issue of new treaties for European relations based on cooperation and not market competition, fiscal and social dumping.

– We aim to build a movement from below, for a just and lasting peace, in solidarity with the struggle of Ukrainian and Russian people against Putin’s invasion and NATO strategies, for a just peace and for the self-determination of Ukraine.

– We demand the urgent transfer of military budgets towards the vital needs of an ecosocialist transformation of the world based on social and environmental justice and against all neo-colonial relations.

3. Political trends in Ukraine

– Zelensky and his government are a neoliberal force, tied to sectors of the Ukrainian oligarchy. His unexpected electoral success in 2019 came on the basis of criticism of corruption and hopes for a peaceful settlement of the hybrid war producing more than 15,000 deaths since 2014, and in the context of a deep crisis of all political parties associated with growing social conflicts and activities of civil society.

– The Ukrainian population is united in resisting the Russian invasion by all means. Many socialist and anarchist militants have joined the Territorial Defense forces. As internationalist militants, we support comrades who have made this choice.

– At the same time, Ukrainians are self-organizing to provide support for victims of the war. Popular initiatives have been launched to provide shelters, social housing and childcare for refugees and internally displaced people, to provide free mental and other health care, transport and much else. These initiatives are an experiment in new ways of social organization, which could break with the neoliberal regression of the last 20 years; but they are still confronted with the dominant political and economic regime which protects oligarchs.

– In the current stage of the war, it is Russian-speaking Ukrainians that are suffering the most at the hands of the Russian army. They are massively engaged in the armed and civilian resistance. This debunks any claim by Putin that the “operation” aims to protect national minorities. We support the right of populations to democratic self-determination in the absence of national or foreign coercion.

– The building of a Ukrainian national identity is a dominant political trend, a historically progressive resistance against centuries of Russian domination. This sentiment has also often taken the colour of anti-communism, also due to oppression during the USSR period. This can only be overcome by a radical democratic movement to consolidate a peaceful Ukraine. The popular resistance and victory against Russian national oppression should allow for a collective appropriation of conflicting interpretations of black pages of Ukrainian history by historians and different political currents, dealing with all past oppressions and crimes. But that also needs the consolidation of a post-war Ukraine free of oligarchic capitalism and socially destructive policies.

– It is clear that the context of violence and increased national sentiment provoked by the invasion is favourable to “anti-Russian” and far-right nationalist ideology. At the same time, the massive engagement of Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Roma in defence of the country, as well as the direct mobilization of the citizens in armed and unarmed resistance, creates potential for a more progressive resolution of the cultural and linguistic issues that have been exploited by the far right in recent years.

– Many women have volunteered for armed service. As Ukrainian feminists say, they know what kind of future Putin’s regime offers to feminists and LGBT. That is why their first choice is to fight for his defeat.

– In the context of war and bellicism, the gender regime tends to shift to more patriarchal forms, which place women in the field of care and men in the frontline and increases sexist, violent and reactionary behaviours (against women and LGBT). Since 2014, the burden of social reproduction in a deeply neoliberal society has fallen more and more on women as social provision has been stripped away. This is a part of the context for the massive surrogacy industry that has developed in Ukraine. Since the Russian invasion the use of rape and sexual violence as war weapons has left women with traumatic after-effects, including unwanted pregnancies, for which they cannot access appropriate care. We support the feminist collectives that are working to help women in all the complex trauma they are facing.

– It is in such a context that the new socialist NGO Sotsialnyi Rukh (“Social Movement”) was established. We support their orientation, which includes their open criticisms of wartime emergency measures and labour law reforms that make it easier to dismiss workers, non-enforcement of labour law, and a corrupt legal system and civil service which enables oligarchs and other capitalists to avoid paying wages and taxes or respecting environmental legislation. They are building a popular resistance against the invader which is rooted in solidarity with workers’ struggles and egalitarian (feminist, anti-racist, anti-sexist) relations amongst the people. They are promoting an important campaign for the cancellation of Ukraine’s external debt.

– Independent workers’ unions are also a key factor in building resistance as well as an alternative to the bourgeois and neo-liberal project for Ukraine.

– The links of these progressive forces (in particular trade unions and feminists) with the anti-war movement in Russia and Belarus will be essential to open progressive alternatives to the dominant inter-imperialist conflicts and settlements.

4. The political climate in Russia and the antiwar movement

– The reactivation of Great Russian imperialism has also political consequences within the Russian state. Putin is also taking advantage of his Orwellian “special operation” to further stifle Russian society. His policy is as much aggressively ideological (Great Russian nationalist and “anti-Nazi”) as it is systematically repressive. He wants to put an end to any internal opposition in the long term.

– Education and media have been reformed to promote authoritarian, imperialist values and suppress dissent. Independent labour unions and activist networks, LGBT and environmental activists all face increased repression.

– These regressive tendencies are shifting Russia’s regime into neofascism,[2] in which formal democratic procedures are gradually suppressed.

– Despite this, some sectors of Russian society have shown great courage in opposing Putin’s war. In the initial days of the war, spontaneous demonstrations gathered in many Russian cities to oppose the invasion. These were severely repressed. Individuals continue to protest, and have been fined, imprisoned, and intimidated in their places of work and study.

– Some soldiers are refusing to take part in this so-called “special operation,” and desertion and breaks in discipline afflict the Russian army. Most soldiers serving and dying in Ukraine come from Russia’s ethnic minorities, who have fewer employment opportunities, and are less able to avoid military service.

– Today, the small feminist movement is playing a key role in denouncing the invasion and standing in solidarity with Ukraine, contributing to the coordination of initiatives nation-wide.

– The movement of mothers of soldiers is also an important factor, giving voice to those critical of Putin’s war and propaganda.

– In the meanwhile, sabotage actions, not clearly attributed, are also making it difficult for the Russian state and showing there is more opposition to the war than what is expressed publicly.

– There has also been impressive sabotage of Russian logistics in Belarus. The Minsk regime has reclassified such sabotage as terrorism, carrying the death penalty. Belarus activists are also supporting Russian deserters and demonstrating against Belarus collaboration or future participation in the Russian invasion. Independent trade unions, which have been leading anti-war protests, have been severely repressed, and their ability to function is in question.

– The socialist and revolutionary left in Russia, and in particular the Russian Socialist Movement, have an important role to play, building a militant opposition to the Putin regime, building solidarity links with Ukrainian militants and around the world. They face increasing repression and have to work in a semi-clandestine fashion.

– Some socialists, feminists and other activists have had to leave the country but continue to work from exile to build a radical alternative in Russia. We are committed to supporting them.

5. Our tasks outside Ukraine and Russia

– As radical left forces, we express and organize our support for Ukrainian armed and unarmed resistance while staying independent from and critical of our governments and their imperialist program and motivations. We do not stand in the way of any initiative that helps to reinforce the autonomous resistance of the Ukrainian people.

– We participate in mobilizations in solidarity with Ukrainians and against Putin’s invasion, trying to connect with Ukrainian refugees and people outraged by the aggression, bringing our slogans and ideas against all imperialisms, for socialism and self-determination.

– We support and build initiatives from below that bring material and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

– We denounce policies that aim to take advantage of Ukraine’s war to further the interests of Western imperialism. We oppose all conditionalities imposed by Western governments in order to make profits and subordinate Ukraine to their economic and military sphere of influence.

– We oppose the rise of military expenditure, part of an agenda of increased militarism that precedes Putin’s invasion. We stand against NATO and CSTO, for their dissolution, for each country to leave these alliances and we resolutely oppose their expansion.

– We express and organize our solidarity with refugees from Ukraine, calling for the end of all discriminations and a policy of open borders for migrants and refugees of all origins. The forced exile of the Ukrainians has been met with a great deal of popular, self-organized solidarity in the neighbouring countries, in particular Poland. The current EU’s treatment of Ukrainian refugees should be adopted as the standard practice for all new asylum seekers.

– We support direct actions taken against Russian oligarchs. They are protected by the opacity and unfairness of the global financial system, bank secrecy and institutionalized capital flight and tax evasion, of which all oligarchies take advantage, including the Ukrainian. We do not support long term sanctions aimed to “bleed” or “weaken” Russia, which result in increased poverty within the Russian population.

– We combat any Russophobia, which conflates Russia’s people or culture with the actions of its government.

– We point out the contradiction between the support for Ukrainian struggle by Western governments and their complicity with Turkey’s oppression of the Kurdish people and Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people and all other oppressed nations across the world.

6. Our main slogans and demands

– For the defeat of the Russian invasion. Russian troops out of Ukraine.

– Support for Ukrainian resistance, in all its forms.

– For the immediate cancellation of Ukrainian debt.

– Down with Putin! Support the Russian antiwar movement. Solidarity and refugee status for all deserters from the Russian army.

– Against NATO and the Russian-led CSTO expansionism and interventionism. Against all imperialist blocs.

– Solidarity with Ukrainian refugees of all origins, and provision of the practical short- and longer-term aid necessary, taking into account the fact that the vast majority are women and children.

– For a transition to renewable energies to put an end to dependencies and blackmail from oil and gas producers. Transfer of military budgets to investment into a quick decarbonization of the economy under popular control.

– For a socialist Europe free of military blocs and all neo-colonial relations. For an ecosocialist revolutionary alternative to capitalist exploitation and the destruction of life on our planet.


[1] Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance of some post-Soviet states led by Russia.

[2] “Neofascism” is a debatable characterization, in my view, and extraneous to identifying Russia’s increasingly authoritarian character. -- RF

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Internationalist Manifesto Against the War in Ukraine

Anticapitalist Organisations of Russia, Ukraine, and NATO Countries

April 12, 2022

ukraine_russian_control_areas_map-nc-768x720

The criminal war launched by Russian imperialism against Ukraine is the most serious threat to world peace since the end of the Cold War. It brings the world closer to a global conflagration than at any time since Mikhail Gorbachev’s peace initiatives.

The main culprit for this dangerous evolution is US imperialism, which took advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union in order to consolidate its global military network, expand its presence in various parts of the world and launch invasion wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington fostered in Russia and Eastern Europe the adoption of a brutal neoliberal program that created conditions for a far-right drift in most of these countries, especially Russia where it supported Boris Yeltsin’s antidemocratic coup in 1993.

To stress this historical responsibility of the Cold War’s victor does not in the least exonerate the far-right government of Vladimir Putin of its Great-Russian expansionist ambitions, its own militaristic drive and increased global reactionary interventionism and, above all, its murderous invasion of Ukraine, the most brutal invasion of one country by another since the US invasion of Iraq.

In addition to the terrible devastation and death that it brought to Ukraine, the Russian invasion has boosted the global militaristic drive and reinvigorated NATO after years of obsolescence. It is being seized as an opportunity for a sharp rise in military expenditure benefitting military-industrial complexes. This comes at a time when NATO governments themselves keep stressing that Russia’s force has been very much overrated, as proven by the heroic Ukrainian resistance, and when U.S. military expenditure alone is close to 40% of the global total, three times that of China and more than twelve times that of Russia.

As anticapitalist forces, we are as much in solidarity with the Ukrainian people’s resistance as we are radically opposed to this global militaristic drive. We therefore stand indivisibly for the following demands:

· Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine

· Support for the Ukrainian resistance and its right to get the weapons it needs for its defence from whatever source available

· Support for the Russian antiwar movement

· Russia should be forced to pay reparations for what it has inflicted on Ukraine

· No to any increases in military expenditure—we pledge to launch, as soon as this war ends, a new campaign for global disarmament, the dissolution of all imperialist military alliances and an alternative architecture of international security based on the rule of law.

· Open doors in all countries to all refugees fleeing wars in any part of the world

Signatories (by 11 April 2022):

Social Movement (Sotsialny Rukh) – Ukraine

Black Flag – Ukraine

Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) – Russia

Liberation Road – USA

Solidarity – USA

The Tempest Collective – USA

International Marxist-Humanist Organization – USA

Green Party of Onondaga County (New York) – USA

SAP – Antikapitalisten / Gauche anticapitaliste – Belgium

Midnight Sun – Canadian State

Anti-Capitalist Resistance – England & Wales

Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) – France

Fondation Frantz Fanon – France, Martinique

Elaliberta – Greece

Rproject-anticapitalista – Italy

SAP – Grenzeloos – Netherlands

International Marxist-Humanist Organization – UK

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Forty years ago: How Canada’s Indigenous Peoples rallied for constitutional recognition

It is now 40 years since the Trudeau Sr. government “patriated” Canada’s constitution, ending Britain’s vestigial control over changes in the country’s founding document, the British North America Act.

Much of the critical analysis at the time focused on how the 1982 Constitution Act marginalized Quebec’s status within the federation through explicit limitations on French-language rights in Quebec, denial of Quebec recognition as a distinct nation, and an amending formula that omitted a Quebec veto, etc. Above all, through the adoption of a “Charter of Rights” that recognized individual rights but failed to recognize the collective rights that would acknowledge the country’s plurinational reality. A valuable critique of what was involved in the “patriation” process and its result is contained in the late Michael Mandel’s book, The Charter of Rights and the Legalization of Politics in Canada.

Also marginalized in the new constitution were the Indigenous Peoples, despite a massive mobilization by their communities, in Canada and abroad, for recognition of their sovereign rights as First Nations. All they got, in the end, was a section of the constitution that formally recognized their “existing aboriginal and treaty rights” – it being left to the courts to define what that meant – and a promise of subsequent constitutional talks in which Ottawa and the provinces would determine “the identification and definition of the rights of those peoples.” Three such conferences in later years ended in failure, and there is still no constitutional recognition of the sovereign status and rights of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

A groundbreaking study of how and why the Indigenous Peoples mobilized in the early 1980s has been published in the current issue of BC Studies, the British Columbia Quarterly. Edited by Emma Feltes and Glen Coulthard, it is a retrospective account of the Constitution Express, the massive effort mounted by Indigenous leaders in the western provinces to fight Trudeau’s attempt to exclude from the new constitution any mention of their rights, treaties or the Crown’s obligation to them. cover_issue_183063_en_US

Emma Feltes is a legal and political anthropologist, writer, and organizer, now at Columbia University. Glen Coulthard is an associate professor in the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia; among his works is an important Marxist study Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition.

Published below are extensive excerpts from the introductory essay by the editors of this volume. (The full text is online.) Readers are strongly urged to purchase their own copies of this issue of BC Studies.

* * *

Introduction, The Constitution Express Revisited (excerpts)

By Emma Feltes and Glen Coulthard

“Today at long last, Canada is acquiring full and complete national sovereignty,” began Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau at the rainy ceremony marking the end of patriation on 17 April 1982 – exactly forty years ago this spring. He continued:

“We became an independent country for all practical purposes in 1931, with the passage of the Statute of Westminster. But by our own choice, because of our inability to agree upon an amending formula at that time, we told the British Parliament that we were not ready to break this last colonial link.”

On that day, he, along with Queen Elizabeth II and Minister of Justice Jean Chrétien, sat down at a desk set up on Parliament Hill to sign the proclamation that would bring the Constitution Act, 1982, into effect, formally transferring the Constitution from the United Kingdom to Canada. […]

For Trudeau, a personal ambition had been fulfilled. The Constitution belonged to Canada now.

Among Indigenous Peoples, however, the mood was a little different. The National Indian Brotherhood declared 17 April a day of mourning. In British Columbia, the Vancouver Sun quoted then Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) President Robert (Bobby) Manuel as saying that anyone who participated in the celebration of patriation would be committing a “treasonous act against the Indian nations and their citizens.” All the way along, Indigenous Peoples from across the province had been fighting to stop patriation from happening without Indigenous consent. As Herman Thomas wrote in an editorial for UBCIC’s newspaper, Indian World:

“The fight has been a long tedious one and shall not end here, the Indian people are presently planning how to further continue the fight not only nationally but internationally. Indian people have found no reason to celebrate patriation; in fact Indians are demonstrating across Canada stating that the Constitution is unconstitutional. If Canada’s version of democracy means stripping Indian people of their pride, dignity and depriving them of self-determination and self-government, then I shall not stand for thee O Canada, but continue to fight for democracy and freedom as we see it.”

The “fight” to which he was referring had begun in earnest about eighteen months earlier (though the seeds were laid long before), when UBCIC declared Canada’s plans to patriate the Constitution to be a “state of emergency” for Indigenous Peoples. Within five short weeks from this declaration, UBCIC would charter two full passenger trains from Vancouver to Ottawa, determined to derail patriation until it gained Indigenous consent. Thus launched a movement that would come to be known as the Constitution Express.

When Trudeau began pushing for patriation in the late 1970s, he touted it as a decolonial move – one that promised to rid Canada of any “residual colonialism.” Yet, at the same time, his 1978 proposal, “A Time for Action,” excluded any mention of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, treaties, or the Crown’s obligations to them. Meanwhile, his process for achieving patriation was equally exclusionary, relegating Indigenous Peoples to observer status. “Patriation,” a made-up word, perfectly captured this revisionist appropriation of decolonial sentiment – a bringing home of something that had never been here in the first place, while absolving Canada of any responsibility to the peoples whose lands and authority it had dispossessed. In addition, Trudeau promised to add a new Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the package – one whose liberal equality provisions, many worried, would have a kind of levelling effect, achieving the goals of the 1969 White Paper by effectively wiping away Indigenous Peoples’ collective rights and status. It was a tactic Canada had deployed repeatedly in the postwar period, weaponizing “equality” against Indigenous nationhood.

So, Indigenous Peoples across the country mobilized to stop this from happening. The Constitution Express, a movement led predominantly (though not exclusively) by Indigenous people from British Columbia, was a massive grassroots expression of this mobilization.

The train ride itself, from which the movement got its name, was a mammoth operation. Though initiated by then UBCIC President Grand Chief George Manuel, and coordinated by UBCIC, it was powered by community. For example, Tk’emlúpsemc historian Sarah A. Nickel writes in this issue about the incredible feats of fundraising – led mostly by women – that were performed to pull it off, as every community across the province was asked to support at least one representative to go on the journey (some, however, sent dozens). By the time of the trains’ departure from Vancouver Pacific Central Station on 24 November 1980, their passengers included Elders, community leaders, women, and children (lots of them, as they travelled for free). Further, the advantage of having two train routes meant that it would be easier for passengers from northern, and not just southern, communities to join in the ride. When the northern train stopped in such places as Clearwater, Vavenby, Avola, and Jasper, it gathered travellers from as far as Williams Lake, Bella Coola, and Kitimat before carrying on through Edmonton and Saskatoon. Meanwhile, the southern train stopped in Salmon Arm, Sicamous, Revelstoke, Golden, Banff, Calgary, and Regina. As they travelled, the movement’s spokespeople and UBCIC staff held roving workshops in each train car, discussing and honing their aims. In these meetings Elders began to bring forward oral history, deepening the discussion of their nationhood and law. The trains conjoined in Winnipeg, where, after a raucous night of rallying hosted by the Four Nations Confederacy of Manitoba, they carried on to the capital. Upon their arrival, they immediately delivered a petition to Governor General Ed Schreyer before joining the All Chiefs Meeting on the Constitution being hosted by the National Indian Brotherhood.

The message of the Constitution Express was clear: patriation could only proceed with Indigenous consent. To get to consent, the movement proposed an internationally supervised trilateral conference, at which Indigenous Peoples, Canada, and the United Kingdom would sit down together to work out their respective realms of authority, “define the terms for political existence” between them, and create the “conditions necessary to enable the Indian Nations of Canada to achieve self-determination within the Canadian Federation.” It was a proposal that would shake up the patriation process fundamentally, while remodelling the very Constitution being patriated. If Canada was unwilling to partake, they promised to seek other remedies:

“As the last recourse, we propose to take whatever other measures are necessary to separate Indian Nations permanently from the jurisdiction and control of the Government of Canada, if its intentions remain hostile to our peoples, while insisting the fulfillment of the obligations owed to us by Her Majesty the Queen.”

Predictably, Canada declined the invitation.

Over the next eighteen months, what began as a train ride grew to be a broad political movement with both local and international inflections. In fact, as this issue of BC Studies demonstrates, these facets were entirely intertwined. Court cases were launched in both Canadian and British courts. A smaller delegation went on from Ottawa to New York, where the movement’s proposals were put before the United Nations. A submission was made before the Fourth Russell Tribunal on the Rights of the Indians of the Americas, held in Rotterdam, Netherlands. A series of at least eight “Constitution Express Potlaches” was held in communities across British Columbia. And a second journey, dubbed the “Constitution Express II,” was made through Western Europe, where it initiated a massive popular education campaign on Indigenous self-determination in the heartland of former empires. Finally, the movement ended up in London, joining a major Indigenous political and legal lobby already under way.

By the time the Canada Bill came before British Parliament, Indigenous Peoples’ concerns dominated the debate, with new clauses being proposed by British MPs that reflected the kind of consent and self-government for which they had been lobbying. But ultimately, when the bill finally passed, what they got was section 35, a concession by the Canadian government that “recognized and affirmed” the “existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada.” What this section meant, and what it would do for Indigenous Peoples, was shrouded in mystery, yet to be defined.

Over the four decades since, the mystery of section 35 has taken on a kind of life of its own, evolving incrementally in law and policy in Canada (an evolution Kent McNeil expounds beautifully in his contribution to this issue). Yet the movements that brought it about – and that aimed for much more – seem to have receded from view, at least in scholarship, where they’ve received stunningly little academic attention.

The thinking behind this special issue on the Constitution Express was to create a kind of retrospective of the movement, and one that would look at two things simultaneously: what the movement did then and its significance now, forty years on. To achieve this, we set out to bring Indigenous scholars and community organizers who were directly involved in the movement together with other prominent and emerging scholars who might bring a unique perspective to it. In the end, through a combination of five academic articles and two personal reflection pieces, both of which foreground the voices of those who were there, we came away with a powerful collection – one that moves through the movement’s varied aims, the methods and theories it deployed to achieve them, and its resonant effect today, including its political, legal, intellectual, and inter-generational legacy. […]

Indigenous Internationalism and the BC Land Question

One of the things so keenly interesting about the Constitution Express – and something this issue tries explicitly to represent – was its interplay between national and international action. It was a movement grounded in the resurgence of Indigenous legal and political authority in Indigenous lands. It was a movement committed to upholding the kinds of international relationships, particularly jurisdictional relationships, that Indigenous Peoples had historically sought to establish with colonial polities through treaty and other political arrangements. And it was also a movement informed by anticolonial thought exchanged between the postcolonial “Third” and Indigenous “Fourth” Worlds on what decolonization – and constitution making – might look like. In this, it built upon a resurgent Indigenous internationalism that had been accelerating throughout the 1960s and 1970s, in which Secwépemc leader George Manuel was at the forefront. But Indigenous nations in what is now known as British Columbia have a rich history of international activism and diplomacy stretching back much longer than this. While it is beyond the scope of this introduction to delve into this history of Indigenous internationalism in detail, we felt it might be useful to hit on few of its touchpoints, grounding the movement in what came before it as a way to provide context for and intellectual continuity with the articles to come.

It is important to note that one of the core determinants of this activism was always the refusal of the BC government to satisfactorily resolve the “Indian land question” in the province. Unlike many other regions in Canada, very few historic treaties were signed between Indigenous Peoples and the Crown in British Columbia (save the Douglas Treaties on Vancouver Island and Treaty 8 in the northeastern corner of the province). From the perspective of the federal government, the purpose of signing historic treaties with Indigenous nations was to secure state sovereignty over what were previously the self-governed territories of Indigenous nations through a process called “extinguishment” – thought to be the most expedient way to eliminate Indigenous Land Title for the twin purposes of colonial settlement and capitalist development on Indigenous land. In most of British Columbia and many places across northern Canada, these mechanisms of legalized land theft were not historically implemented, thus leaving a black hole of legal and economic uncertainty over the unceded territories in question. Who owns the land in such circumstances? What are the rules that guide settlement and economic development in these places? Developers tend to like answers to these questions before they invest too heavily in infrastructure and extraction projects, especially in liberal democracies like Canada, so that Indigenous communities have no legal recourse when they disrupt profit margins by blocking flows of resource capital haemorrhaging from their traditional territories.

Treaties, of course, hold a radically different meaning for Indigenous Peoples – even for those communities that never entered into negotiations over them, such as many of those involved in the Constitution Express. Generally speaking, most of the historical treaties signed between Indigenous Peoples and the Crown describe exchanges whereby Indigenous Peoples agree to share some of their lands in exchange for payments and promises made by officials representing the Crown. They are often understood as sacred commitments to maintain a relationship of reciprocity that respects the way of life and relative autonomy of each partner over time, while sharing certain obligations to each other and to the land. As such, treaties are agreements that affirm Indigenous Rights and Title, not extinguish them. Seen in this light, treaties provide an international framework for ensuring “nation-to-nation” relations with Canada, and Indigenous Peoples have defended them as such. It seems to be this understanding that the movement deployed, for example, when it called for treaty, to “fulfill covenants and commitments made.”

Without an acceptable mechanism in place to secure their Rights and Title, the default position of Indigenous Peoples in the province and across Canada has been that the land remains theirs and, as such, still falls under their sovereign jurisdiction. Over the last century and a half, Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia have defended this stance, legally and politically, through numerous venues, including the sending of formal petitions and/or delegations to Victoria, Ottawa, and London to defend their case. […]

Though in each case they were turned away – with the British Crown insisting that their concerns regarding land title were a strictly domestic affair – these delegations demonstrate the persistence of Indigenous political organizing over the last century and also hint at the international character of such efforts. However, the federal government would soon make sure that these types of claims against the state would not happen without punitive consequence. To this end, in 1927, the government made it illegal, via amendments to its already racist and sexist Indian Act, 1876, to formally organize for political purposes or to solicit legal representation (or raise money to do so) to pursue claims against the state, thus undermining to a significant degree the foundation of Indigenous organizing during this period.

While the 1927 amendment to the Indian Act outlawing Indigenous legal and political activism had the expected consequence of significantly curtailing this work – it effectively destroyed the Allied Tribes of British Columbia, for instance – it did not stamp it out entirely. Indigenous Peoples continued to press their concerns through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, although often concealed or under different guises, via organizations like the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia (a First Nations fishing organization established in 1931), the Nisga’a Land Committee (which managed to carry on with its work in a truncated manner), and a variety of BC Native women’s “Homemaker Clubs” (which would eventually amalgamate in the formation of the British Columbia Indian Homemakers Society and the BC Native Women’s Society in 1968). In terms of the latter organizations, Indigenous women were able to effectively use openly patriarchal assumptions of the day regarding the domestic and apolitical nature of women’s labour in the home to discuss, formulate, and pursue their individual and collective political interests under the radar of an increasingly repressive settler-state surveillance apparatus. This latter point is beautifully expounded upon in Sarah Nickel’s contribution to this special issue.

For similar reasons, the politics of Indigenous labour organizing in early-twentieth-century British Columbia is also worth briefly noting here. As the work of labour historian Andy Parnaby demonstrates, this history has a long lineage of Native radicalism, especially on the shores of Burrard Inlet in North Vancouver, where Squamish longshore workers not only dominated lumber-related work on the docks but were also “pioneers of industrial unionism.” Essentially, the seasonal wage labour offered by “working the lumber” on the waterfront served as a temporary buffer for the Squamish as two distinct and asymmetrical modes of production were starting to come into violent conflict with each other: industrial capitalism, on the one hand, and the subsistence economy of the Squamish/Coast Salish, on the other. “Squamish men and women were important, if unequal, actors in this new industrial context,” writes Parnaby. “That all the occupational pursuits undertaken by Aboriginal workers were seasonal is important,” he continues, as it “hint[s] at the ways in which the temporal and spatial rhythms of a customary, kin-ordered way of life articulated with the logic of a burgeoning capitalist labour market.” At a time when it was becoming increasingly difficult to organize as Indigenous people, doing so as workers allowed Squamish men and women to selectively deploy their labour power through the seasonal wage to protect that which was most important to them: access to a life on the land and waters determined by customary law and tradition, not to a life dictated solely by the demands of colonial capital.

Protecting the fragile articulation of these modes of production by defending seasonal wage work became the focus of early Indigenous union activity on the coast. By our estimation, the most fascinating union to do so at the time was Local 526 of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), established in 1906 by primarily Squamish and Tsleil-Watuth log handlers. The local, formed a year after the Wobblies formed in Chicago in 1905, became known fondly by its approximately fifty to sixty Indigenous members as the “Bows and Arrows” chapter. As far as defending the type of people and labour in question, the IWW was a natural choice, given its progressive racial politics for the time as well as its reputation for serving “workers who did not fit well into the established craft union structures: the unskilled, the migratory, and the marginal.” While the local only lasted for two years, many of the Squamish workers involved in the Bows and Arrows went on to form the – again, largely Indigenous – Local 38-57 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). ILA 38-57, it turned out, would emerge as a launching pad for the next generation of Indigenous Rights advocates in the province, of which the most prominent was Squamish Chief Andrew (Andy) Paull.

Paull emerged out of his union days as a tireless Native Rights activist, fighting for the betterment of Indigenous people, land, and communities in British Columbia, Canada, and the United States through organizations like the previously mentioned Allied Tribes of British Columbia (he was a founding member) and then, after the latter’s demise, the North American Indian Brotherhood (NIAB), which he co-founded in 1944. During his tenure as president of the NIAB, Paull would serve as a friend and mentor to George Manuel, another emerging Indigenous political force in the province. Manuel would take over the presidency of the NAIB following the death of his mentor in 1959 and serve in this capacity until 1963, after which he moved on to serve in numerous other critically important provincial, national, and international political organizations, including as Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood between 1971 and 1976 (now the Assembly of First Nations), the founder and chair of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) from 1975 to 1981, and as president of UBCIC between 1979 and 1981, during which time he led the Constitution Express.

Manuel’s foundational 1974 book, The Fourth World: An Indian Reality (cowritten with Michael Posluns), details his life of Indigenous activism and leadership during this period. Republished in 2019 for the first time since 1974, The Fourth World is unquestionably one the core texts in the wave of Native literature that emerged out of the tumultuous politics of the global 1960s and 1970s. The text lays out the political and cultural foundation of Indigenous resistance to colonial domination over the last four centuries. He argues that colonization set in motion a Manichean struggle between the colonizer and Indigenous Peoples propelled by two fundamentally incommensurable “ideas of land”: land as a commodity – as something that can be “speculated, bought, sold, mortgaged, claimed by one state, surrendered or counter-claimed by another” – and land as a relationship, “The land as our Mother Earth.” Indigenous Peoples’ struggle to defend the latter against the violent globalization of the former is at its core the struggle of what Manuel calls the “Fourth World.” […]

Manuel’s international travels would eventually culminate in the historic October 1975 founding of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples in Port Alberni, British Columbia, which hosted Indigenous participants from nineteen different countries across four continents. The WCIP would go on to champion the Rights of Indigenous Peoples across the planet, with its advocacy work being instrumental to the eventual development of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Meanwhile, through the very same period Indigenous nations in British Columbia were fighting for their Title and self-determination at the local and regional levels. Though in 1951 the federal government repealed many of the most repressive legislative features of the Indian Act, decriminalizing Native People’s legal advocacy and political work, by 1969 it would launch another major assimilative offensive in the form of the White Paper. But instead of serving as a mechanism for accelerated assimilation and land theft, as intended, the failed 1969 White Paper helped to spawn a renewed national unity among Indigenous Peoples from coast to coast to coast. […]

While the 1970s were a hotbed for political action, influenced, of course, by Red Power and the American Indian Movement (AIM), the resurgence of jurisdiction at the community level in British Columbia is a lesser-known part of the story. For example, there was a string of road-blocks in the summer of 1975, including the six-week St’uxwtews blockade in Cache Creek, armed and backed by AIM. Fishing then became a “lightning rod,” spurring more blockades as well as an astounding legal winning streak as UBCIC lawyer Louise Mandell won sixty-four fishing rights cases in 1977 alone. But, as George Manuel reflected, “the real signs of the renaissance” could also be seen “in the resurgence of our languages, in the growth of political institutions both old and new … in the growing number of young people seeking out the wisdom of the grandfathers and finding ways to apply it in their own lives.” Against this backdrop, Trudeau initiated the patriation process, thus beginning his “constitutional offensive” against Indigenous Peoples.

This is all to say that, by the time of the Constitution Express, Indigenous people in British Columbia had already established themselves as skilled organizers, having defended their land and sovereignty in both national and international forums for decades. As Louise Mandell would later write for Socialist Studies, by the time the movement landed in London, and submitted a reference to the Privy Council, it “continued a process for the BC Chiefs which had begun in 1906,” referring, of course, to those early delegations. Indeed, it was this long history of expansive pan-Indigenous activism in British Columbia and beyond that ultimately contributed to the power and momentum of the movement, felt strongly across the set of articles and reflections contained here. What this collection shows is that, more than solely a movement for domestic constitutional recognition, it was also a movement for Fourth World self-determination and decolonization. By the same token, it might be said that the creation of section 35 was not entirely successful in domesticating its aims. The BC “land question” is still very much an active one – and one that Constitution Express participants, and the next generation of Indigenous activists, have continued to pursue from the local to the international level.

Outline of the special issue

With all of these preliminary remarks made, we now provide a breakdown of the structure and contributions to this special issue. Here we draw together five academic articles with two firsthand reflections, both of which feature the voices of those directly involved in the movement. The articles and reflections are more thematic than chronological, approaching the story of the movement from different angles and perspectives: its gendered dynamics, its internationalism, its legal arguments and implications, and so on. Some look at one facet of the movement. For example, the article by Emma Feltes and Sharon Venne homes in on its submissions to the Fourth Russell Tribunal on the Rights of the Indians of the Americas, while others, like those by Kent McNeil and Louise Mandell, take a more retrospective look at developments within policy, law, and political organizing. Meanwhile, the personal reflections link these together, providing small yet powerful vignettes inviting readers to imagine what it was like to be there and to be in on the action.

We begin with a powerful reflection by Mildred Poplar, a Vuntut Gwitchin Elder and central protagonist of the Constitution Express. Recounting her experience of the Express as one if its main organizers, she drives home not only the profound feeling of accomplishment – organizing, as they did, at breakneck speed – but also the stakes involved: this was a struggle for nationhood and self-determination, not for the inclusion of a truncated set of rights in a colonially imposed constitution. The history that Poplar retells also sheds important light on the character of the labour that went into the material and intellectual life of the movement, most notably that of Indigenous women.

The question of whose labour was central, yet too often buried or overlooked, is taken up explicitly in the contribution by Tk’emlúpsemc historian Sarah A. Nickel. Although Indigenous women were deeply committed to the struggle represented by the Constitution Express, their work also departed from its efforts through the creation of the Concerned Aboriginal Women splinter group (or CAW). According to Nickel, the “CAW used its own brand of grassroots and kinship-based activism to critique not only the relentless barrage of colonial violence Indigenous Peoples faced daily but also, at times, the patriarchal underpinnings and practices of Indigenous leadership and the settler state.” Nickel’s piece is crucial to understanding the gendered dynamics of settler-colonial violence and dispossession, which place Indigenous women on a necessarily dual-track struggle: that against the externally created structure of colonial rule and that against the nefarious ways in which the character of this structure can and has influenced Indigenous communities.

The next two articles and one reflection move from Canada into the various international venues, where the movement carried on its fight against patriation. First, a co-authored article by legal anthropologist Emma Feltes and Cree legal expert Sharon Venne (masko nohcikwesiw manitokan) delves into UBCIC’s submission to the Fourth Russell Tribunal on the Rights of the Indians of the Americas. Venne, a young articling student at the time of the Constitution Express, presented this submission at the tribunal, having produced the novel legal analysis upon which it relied. Recontextualizing the British Crown’s historic legal obligation to obtain and uphold Indigenous consent within international and Indigenous law, Venne argued before the tribunal that Indigenous Peoples should have access to the United Nations’ decolonization mechanisms – mechanisms normally held out to overseas or “Third World” colonies alone. Featuring Venne’s voice in a dynamic and layered analysis that transpires between the two authors, the article looks back at the Constitution Express’s deeply decolonial aspirations and, in particular, at the influence of Third World anti-colonialism on the movement.

Rudolph Rÿser’s article does an excellent job of unpacking the longer historical arch within which the Constitution Express formed, from the perspective of a key strategist in the movement. Here we see the patriation process as merely one attempt among three centuries of attempts at Indigenous dispossession and genocide. It then follows closely the movement’s multi-pronged political strategy directed simultaneously at the Government of Canada, the governor general, and the Queen, before picking up where Feltes and Venne left off: at the United Nations. Here the article elaborates on the movement’s diplomatic actions at the UN, drawing the under-secretary general for political affairs, trusteeship and decolonization; the under-secretary general for human rights; and twelve UN member state missions “into the political confrontation.” Ultimately, Rÿser’s piece offers a novel firsthand account of the movement’s local and international politics.

The reflection to follow, by Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams, also speaks of local and international politics. But it speaks intimately, as the story of “establishing the protest and assertion of Indigenous Rights in one community”: Mount Currie of the Lil’wat/St’at’yem’c Nation. Having sent a great number of people on both the original Constitution Express to Ottawa, and the second Constitution Express to Europe, Mount Currie was a hub of action, and Williams weaves beautifully between these international and community-based contexts as she remembers the movement with the help of other family and community members. With a feeling of being almost transported back to 1981, recollections about the importance of ceremony and song, about the teaching and learning that took place, and about relationships forged with media and other allies in Europe unfold.

The next two articles move the issue from its more historical and retrospective points of view up to the present moment. First, Kent McNeil’s article leads the reader through four decades of jurisprudence, asking, point-blank, from the legal perspective: “Has constitutionalizing Aboriginal and Treaty Rights made a difference?” With his trademark clarity and in succinct prose, McNeil compares Indigenous Peoples’ pre-section 35 treatment in the eyes of the law to post-1982 developments and the presumed “gains” since. McNeil casts his careful eye over almost the entire body of Aboriginal law in Canada, reflecting on what it does and doesn’t do for Indigenous Rights, Title, and Treaties. The result is one of the most lucid and methodical narratives of this body of law we have seen to date, concluding with some thoughts about the confounding contradiction between a rights clause that clearly falls short of what the Constitution Express lobbied for yet, at the same time, is an undeniable victory against unilateral extinguishment.

Finally, the issue comes to a close with an article by Louise Mandell, an in-house lawyer for the Union of BC Indian Chiefs at the time of the Constitution Express, and one of the movement’s key legal strategists. This piece draws on a previous chapter, written by Mandell alongside Mandell’s long-time legal partner, Leslie Pinder, another of the movement’s original legal team, who sadly died this spring. In her updated contribution here, Mandell delves deeply into her memories of the movement – from navigating the British legal and political system for the first time, and the intricacies of Imperial legal history, to her simultaneous introduction to Indigenous law over the course of the movement. But this article does more than detail these intersections of law: it is a profoundly personal story too, and one that moves back and forth to the present day. Mandell finds threads of hope in and among her many experiences in the field since – something that speaks both subtly and directly to the movement’s achievements and ongoing relevance.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Pierre Beaudet’s literary legacy

Pierre Beaudet, who died a week ago, left a rich legacy of published works, both books and articles, that will remain a valuable resource for present and future generations of socialists in Quebec, Canada and internationally. I cannot inventory all of them, but I do wish to draw attention to some materials of particular importance to today’s activists.

Unfortunately, few of Pierre’s writings are available in English. However, I will start with those that are readily available online. Most are translations from Pierre’s original texts in French, although he drafted a few in English, which he spoke fluently. An example: “In Search of the ‘Modern Prince’: The New Québec Rebellion,” in Socialist Register, 2017.[1]

His articles on issues of the day appeared extensively in a number of English Canadian online publications. Some examples:

Socialist Project: https://socialistproject.ca/author/pierre-beaudet/

Canadian Dimension: https://canadiandimension.com/articles/author/pierre-beaudet

Life on the Left: https://lifeonleft.blogspot.com/search?q=Pierre+Beaudet

He published prolifically in French. The online Quebec journal Presse-toi à gauche reports that Pierre, who in recent years provided a weekly column, authored 579 of its articles.

One of Pierre’s major projects was Nouveaux Cahiers du socialisme (NCS). Some years ago I translated (but apparently never published) an excerpt from an essay by Pierre Beaudet and others explaining its origins and how they saw the role of NCS. It is appended below. Pierre was without question the guiding spirit and foremost editor of NCS, although he relied on an editorial board representative of Quebec’s varied left tendencies and trajectories.Les socialistes et la question nationale (cover)

Pierre Beaudet wrote and edited many books, some of them voluminous collections of texts related to his academic disciplines, progressive economic and social development studies. He authored two books of an autobiographical nature: On a raison de se révolter: Chronique des années 70 (écosociété, 2008); and Un Jour à Luanda: Une histoire de mouvements de liberation et de solidarités internationales (Varia, 2018). He introduced and edited a collection of documents and articles by leading protagonists analyzing the rise and decline of the Quebec left in the 1970s and 1980s: Quel Socialisme? Quelle Démocratie? La gauche Québécoise au tournant des années 1970-1980 (Varia, 2016). And he co-edited a volume on the international workers’ and national liberation movements of the 19th and 20th centuries which, strangely, largely omits the experience of the Communist International: L’Internationale sera le genre humain! De l’Association internationale des travailleurs à aujourd’hui (M Éditeur, 2015).

Three texts authored or edited by Pierre are devoted to the national question and its importance in Quebec left politics. All three are available online:

Les socialistes et la question nationale: Pourquoi le détour irlandais? Kindle Edition https://www.amazon.ca/socialistes-question-nationale-Pourquoi-irlandais-ebook/dp/B01MCT5VJA

La question nationale Québécoise à l’ombre du capitalisme: Textes choisis des Cahiers du socialisme (1978-1982), Introduction et édition Pierre Beaudet. Full text online: http://media.wix.com/ugd/a54ab7_7f75347c75cc4435a04a21cde4bcd11f.pdf

Le Parti socialiste du Québec et la question nationale (1963-1967). Pierre’s introductory essay is online here: https://www.cahiersdusocialisme.org/le-parti-socialiste-du-quebec-et-la-question-nationale/

* * *

The Collectif d’analyse politique and Nouveaux Cahiers du socialisme: an initial balance-sheet (2009)

by Pierre Beaudet, Philippe Boudreau and Richard Poulin[2]

In 2007, the Collectif d’analyse politique (CAP) launched simultaneously a number of projects (workshops, documents, activities). We had an ambitious program that sought to “develop original research on the structural dimension of contemporary capitalism, work out some concrete and practical anti- and post-capitalist perspectives, and participate in the development of new alternatives to help energize the social movements and the political left.”

We also noted the paucity of left-wing journals in Quebec. The publications that were common in previous decades—Parti pris, Socialisme québécois, Cahiers du socialisme, Interventions économiques, Critiques socialistes, etc.—had, for all intents and purposes, disappeared. In fact, there were no longer any intellectual left journals in Quebec although there are a magazine, À bâbord !, and a web site, Presse-toi a gauche, which play an important and complementary role. One of our explanatory hypotheses was that the “scientistic” turn taken by the university-based social sciences periodicals, itself linked to changes in the conditions of production of “knowledge”, had worked to the detriment of their mission of stimulating intellectual thinking around the dynamics of social transformation. Nouveaux Cahiers du socialisme (NCS) specifically responds to this need: to partially overcome the vacuum engendered by the disappearance of a certain tradition of progressive thinking in Quebec, that of the left-wing journals.

Nouveaux Cahiers du socialisme

In January 2009, therefore, the CAP launched the first issue of NCS, on the topic of social classes. Four issues later, NCS seems to be off to a good start, with a readership of around one thousand per issue and an increasingly solid reputation among intellectuals and activists in the social movements. Each issue is prepared by a working group that includes some members of the CAP along with researchers and activists concerned by the featured topic. In addition to this bi-annual publication, there is a website updated daily with other articles and documents. In the coming months, NCS plans to deepen its thinking about ecosocialism, the work environment, health, education, the social movements and collective action, the unions and community movements, Marxism, the left in Quebec and North America, and many other topics.

Popular education

We initially explained that our perspective was a long-term one, and that we wanted to reconcile the need to participate in existing struggles with the necessity for critical thinking through some rigorous intellectual and political work. This is what we tried to do through some interventions, notably during the Quebec Social Forum where, in both 2007 and 2009, we hosted many workshops. The participation in these activities was excellent, validating our intuition about the need for deeper involvement within the social movements. This work was continued in the summer Université populaire, which we organized in August 2010: three days of intense discussions, hosted by more than 20 resource people, in which 150 people participated. In the fall of 2010, we also organized other events: a symposium on “40 years after October 1970” and a roundtable on “les rapports sociaux de sexe” [gender-based social relations].

A duty of diligence

From the outset we chose to identify ourselves with socialism, a banner (it must be said) that by the early years of this millennium was not unsullied. Beyond this proclamation, it seemed important to us to indicate that we were not reinventing the wheel, that we were part of a tradition of struggles and intellectual and theoretical work that had taken on many meanings and gone in many directions but that belonged to a “family of thought” inaugurated by Karl Marx and the communards, and which was developed subsequently by the great social movements of the 20th century. For historical reasons (to be explored and analyzed), a large part of this “family of thought” was subjected to a series of dogmas that later led many of the movements—identified with a certain “socialism”—to their downfall through some “adventures” and disastrous practical and intellectual authoritarianisms. There remain today innumerable lessons, insights, perspectives, that ought to be developed and modified, while creating some new ones. Nevertheless, these new perspectives require some intense work based on detailed empirical and theoretical studies, enquiries and explorations. In initiating the vast project of analyzing capitalism and post-capitalism, our “ancestors” gave us but few clues. Our program of work starts with these, but in the process it will open new trails not previously imagined.

At present the CAP has 30 members who come from the social movements, unions and the college and university teaching milieu. Not only is it inter-generational (which must still be improved) but it is also more multi-ethnic (to be improved) and it is trying to achieve parity between women and men. Above all, it is pluralist, bringing together individuals from the political and social left with a very great variety of nuances and currents, whether organized or not.


[1] Full text: https://socialistregister.com/index.php/srv/article/view/27136/20141.

[2] “Le Collectif d’analyse politique et les Nouveaux Cahiers du socialisme : premier bilan,” Nouveaux Cahiers du socialisme, no. 1, Printemps 2009, pp. 11-13.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Pierre Beaudet, Presente!

Pierre Beaudet

Pierre Beaudet, a Quebec leader in international solidarity and progressive scholarship, died in Montréal on the night of March 7-8. Pierre was for decades a central organizer, author and editor in a range of grassroots movements and left publications. His presence and inspiration will be sorely missed by many, both young and old, as Judy Rebick indicates in this tribute she published in rabble.ca, an online magazine she cofounded two decades ago.

I follow it with an article by Pierre, written less than a week before he died, that addresses the very issue Judy cited as one that she would look to him to explain. Bear in mind that this was written very early in the war before many implications were clear. Pierre wrote it in his capacity as director of Alternatives, the international solidarity organization he founded and to which he had recently returned. My translation. And I conclude by briefly recalling some of my own memories of Pierre as a friend and comrade. – Richard Fidler

* * *

Friends and colleagues remember Pierre Beaudet

by Judy Rebick, March 11, 2022

“Pierre was a great leader, an extraordinary thinker and had a big heart. The world will miss Pierre greatly.”

Just when we needed him most to explain how the global political reality will change with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pierre Beaudet, one of Canada’s most brilliant progressive thinkers and activists has died.

I met Pierre about twenty years ago when he invited me to sit on the board of Alternatives, a progressive international development NGO that Pierre helped found in Montréal in 1995. He introduced me to international solidarity work through Alternatives and the World Social Forum. In fact, he was part of the group that helped establish and grow the WSF, an extraordinary effort to build an alternative to corporate globalization.

He encouraged me to write about the struggle in Latin America and to go on a mission to Palestine. Pierre was a great leader, an extraordinary thinker and had a big heart. The world will miss Pierre greatly.

I went to several World Social Forums with Pierre in Brazil, Venezuela, and Kenya. Pierre was also central in bringing the WSF to Montréal and organizing a Quebec/Canada/Indigenous social forum in Ottawa. I’ll let him explain the importance of the World Social Forum, writing in Canadian Dimension:

“The WSF process was original because it was an open space where participants themselves were to define the agenda through self-organized political and cultural activities. Much of the work involved drafting an alternative economic program… At the same time, there was much discussion of how to ‘democratize democracy,’ for meaningful citizen participation within the framework of liberal democracy. These immense brainstorming sessions were carried out by many social movements that also took advantage of the WSF to create new international and action-oriented networks, such as Via Campesina and the World March of Women. The WSF methodology was also adopted by hundreds of national and municipal forums in which citizens had a chance to act, play, speak out and express their hopes. It thus helped to bring movements together, create new dynamics and give rise to new projects. One such successful forum was organized in Ottawa in 2012. The Peoples’ Social Forum brought together a critical mass of movements from Canada, Quebec and Indigenous communities for the first time in Canadian history.”

To pay tribute to someone I consider to be one of the most important thinkers and organizers of my generation, I spent the last couple of days interviewing a few of his closest comrades.

Monique Simard, a well-known Quebec feminist who went to university with Pierre and has been friends with him ever since told me, “His vision of international solidarity was unparalleled. He had a global vision of politics. Pierre knew everything about everywhere not only about the big picture, but he could tell you about the details in each country. The spectrum of his knowledge was so wide. It was amazing.”

Pierre’s international solidarity work started in South Africa where he got so involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, he moved there but had to return to Montreal because of his mother’s ill health. He put his expertise on Africa together with comrades who were involved with struggles in South Asia and the Arab world to found Alternatives in 1995, just as the anti-globalization movement was beginning. Not unlike the period we are in today, this was a moment where the global social and economic order was changing from the Cold War to neo-liberalism.

Robert David, who helped to found Alternatives and remained there in leadership positions until 2007, told me, “Every time you had a meal with Pierre, you’d get a lesson. He had a remarkable combination of political and strategic analysis and the ability to organize people around it and do it. A very rare quality.” Robert explained how Alternatives had a different approach to international work than most NGOs, with Pierre leading.

“He would tell the groups we worked with to write the proposal that would be accepted and then do what you really needed to do with it and explain later.” Rather than act as an enforcer of government funding rules, Alternatives would be a co-conspirator with local groups: solidarity not charity.

“The peak of our work at Alternatives,” said Robert, “was perhaps in 2001 in Quebec City where we organized, on behalf of a coalition of groups, the People’s Summit of the Americas, in protest of the government-held Summit of the Americas. It was an international gathering of some 5,000 activists and politicians to discuss our response to neo-liberalism in the Americas.” Hugo Chávez, then President of Venezuela, attended the People’s Summit and later, along with a three-day demonstration of thousands, helped to stop the Summit of the America’s plan to create a free-trade zone across all of the Americas.

Pierre was also one of the people in Quebec who worked hard to build solidarity between Quebec and English Canada. André Frappier, a long-time trade union activist and leader of Québec Solidaire, a left-wing political party in Quebec, worked with Pierre on many projects and wrote me about his fondest memories.

“Pierre was a theoretician who contributed greatly to political discussion and debate, but above all he was an organizer, a builder of networks and places of activism. A committed activist against the power of the oligarchy, he kept an indelible memory of a 1968 demonstration in support of taxi drivers striking against the airport monopoly of taxis and buses by the Murray-Hill company. He was proud of the embedded projectiles from riot police fire on his lower back that remained there all his life.”

André also noted that Pierre, while a supporter of the national liberation struggle in Québec, was no less an internationalist. Initiator of the Alternatives summer university, he participated in creating spaces for discussion about international politics and the links between the left in Canada and Quebec.

Pierre’s writing was featured in rabble.ca and Canadian Dimension over the years. In 2017, Pierre wrote in The Bullet a response to the Leap Manifesto. While supportive of the general idea, he pointed to a major weakness:

“However, there is a blind spot. Much like in the tradition of the Canadian left, the Leapists have ignored the fact that the Canadian state, from its creation till now, is not and cannot be the terrain of emancipation. This state is illegitimate. Its foundations are rotten, since it was erected on class and national oppression, whereas the First Nations on the one side, and the Québécois on the other side, have been dispossessed. To put it bluntly, this state has to be broken and eventually reinvented. Speaking about reforming Canada on the left does not make sense [unless], from the onset, there is clear and explicit commitment to work with the First Nations and the Québécois by recognizing their right to self-determination and their nationhood.”

Talking to Pierre’s old friends and comrades, one of my favourite stories came from André Frappier: “Pierre was a passionate being and a walking, talking political school. Two years ago, I worked for two weeks building a new fence in his back yard. Carpentry was not his strength, but while he held the boards I needed, he told me about his understanding of Lenin’s writings and the history of communism, as if he had a book in his hand.

“Pierre was a unique being, a builder, a weaver of networks, a hard worker who understood the importance of passing the torch. He continued the work of organizing World Social Forums in recent years with activists from the younger generation.”

And he also reached younger generations through his teaching at University of Ottawa and Université du Québec en Outaouais, his mentoring and his extensive writings.

Even though he received a PhD in 1990, he refused the comfort of an academic job until he decided to leave Alternatives in 2005. On Facebook, many of his students both in formal and informal settings talked about how much they learned from him.

Pierre is survived by his two sons Victor and Alexandre. His former partner, Anne Latendresse, wrote on Facebook:

“Pierre, the father of my son, my accomplice of more than 30 years, left us on the night of March 7-8. Death came to get him at home, without even waving at us. We weren’t prepared…

“His heart was so big, that he carried the whole planet and hugged these suffering men and women and fought to transform the world. With clarity, he was desperate for our inability to get there. But from Gramsci, he had learned to practice ‘the pessimism of the intelligence and the optimism of the will’.”

Thank you, Anne, and know that we share your mourning for this wonderful man.

The war in Ukraine

By Pierre Beaudet, March 2, 2022

This text is intended to introduce a debate within Alternatives. It argues that this conflict will change everything, including in our area of solidarity and international cooperation. As in any important debate, there are theories, strategic issues, choices to make in our practice. This text does not answer everything. It expresses a view that is not the only approach now being expressed. It will therefore be necessary to have a lengthy and in-depth discussion in the coming period, and this contribution will have achieved its objectives if it can simply break the ice. – PB

Ukraine, with a population of 43 million, is foundering in the war unleashed by Russia’s invasion. There are thousands of victims. A large part of the country’s infrastructure, including energy and communications facilities, has been destroyed. In the streets of Kyiv and the other major cities, the Ukrainian people are engaged in street battles with the powerful Russian army. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled into exile.

Meanwhile, the United States and its allies are imposing severe sanctions against Russia while organizing major military assistance but without willing to become involved on the terrain. There does not appear to be any possibility of negotiation, at least in the short term. The conflicts will likely increase, with further destruction.

The aggression

Russia prepared its attack over a long period. It was launched last week with the hawkish speech by President Vladimir Putin, who denied the very reality of Ukraine as the sovereign state and territory of a people with the right of self-determination. In the initial days, the Russian army destroyed with its short and long range missiles a major part of the military infrastructure as well as crucial energy and communications systems. Russia claimed it would spare civilians, which would exclude massive indiscriminate bombing. The Russian advances have continued, encountering as they reached the cities a strong Ukrainian resistance. In military terms, this resistance relies on small decentralized contingents with very effective weapons such as mobile anti-air and anti-tank missiles. It is also getting unlimited support in weapons and money from the United States and its allies.

If the war becomes bogged down in the cities, it will result in destructive combat in the midst of highly-populated regions. The collateral costs will be huge, and this may lead the United States and NATO to become more involved. That is what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is hoping, and in this he no doubt reflects the majority opinion that resistance to the aggression is the only outcome on offer. Russia, however, cannot easily back down, as this would be a terrible defeat for Vladimir Putin. So there is a great risk that the war will go on.

How did we get to this point?

The implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 profoundly destabilized what was then the second biggest power in the world. The vast majority of the republics that were part of the USSR broke free, including Ukraine which became independent in 1991.

Coming into office in the early 2000s, Vladimir Putin promised to be the “strong man” who would re-establish that power. First he focused on annihilating the Chechen rebellion. He turned then to what he defined as the “near exterior” including Georgia, Belarus and some republics in central Asia, combining threats and interventions with cooptation of local elites. This was relatively effective, and gave Putin the idea that he could expand his interventions, for example by supporting the regime of Bashar El-Assad in Syria, where he gambled on the weakening and failure of the US strategy. The “strong man” then followed this up with various measures to paralyze the opposition in Russia. Putin’s approach borrowed from the tradition of the USSR under Stalin in imposing a centralizing and repressive state along with attempts to carve out a place in the global arena.

Role of the United States

Since the demise of the Soviet Union thirty years ago, Russia has continued to be confronted by Washington, beginning with the latter’s reneging on the promise made to Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, that it would not incorporate the former components and allies of the USSR into NATO. Instead, the US has built a veritable iron circle with several of these territories, threatening Russia indirectly. There were some limits to this strategy, so the United States launched the terrible “endless war” in the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as its incursion in the Balkans. But its failure after some years resulted in opening up areas of conflict in which Moscow was able to insert itself, in Syria, as mentioned, and with Iran and other countries anxious to avoid the destruction experienced by Iraq. Little by little, Russia could see its horizon broaden by looking to China and other “emerging” countries aspiring to greater autonomy within the global system. The Russia-China convergence is of course a product of the explicit US strategy that seeks to prevent China from moving into the lead in capitalist globalization.

A fight to the finish

This gave Putin the impression that he could strike a major blow in Ukraine. When a staunchly anti-Russia government was imposed in 2014, Russia reacted by annexing the Sebastopol region and supporting the pro-Russia territories in eastern Ukraine. A “mini war” (with 14,000 victims, nonetheless) prepared the way for the present conflict. Demanding that the United States exclude any possibility of Ukraine membership in NATO, Putin was well aware that this issue was non-negotiable. Some European states (including Germany and France) had a more accommodating position, but lacked the ability to say explicitly what could have been an alternative project: acceptance of a sovereign Ukraine with neutral status (as were Finland and Austria in the past), establishing of a new European agreement involving disarmament of borders, Russia’s integration in the agreements, intra-European economies, etc. In the end, as Putin had expected, the US view prevailed.

Leap into the unknown

Now that Russia has attacked, there is no turning back. Either Putin wins his bet by the subjugation of Ukraine, which would allow him to “entrust” to a new government the job of “re-establishing order.” Or the situation will drag on into an endless conflict – unless Russia decides to wage war in the cities even if it means destroying them, with their people, as was done in Syria. In either case, the conditions will have been created to revive a new kind of cold war, fueled by fierce attacks on the Russian economy, increasing militarization of central Europe, the Baltic states and Poland, support to the Ukrainian resistance, etc.

This new Cold War 2.0 will represent an immense realignment of priorities and strategies. NATO, its relevance diminished in recent years, will return in force. The member states will be required to increase substantially their military spending and become directly involved in the strategy of counter-attacking and weakening Russia: harsh economic sanctions, military and political support of states and movements confronting Russia, a major “battle of ideas” to reinvent the monster that had created such fear in Western opinion for more than 30 years. And so on.

Consequences for Canada

No doubt the Canadian government will follow the US line, as it has done since the beginning of the conflict. With the immense polar frontier between Canada and Russia, this could have major consequences. Canadians’ reluctance to invest the billions needed for purchasing weapons of mass destruction will be seriously weakened, with a resulting surge in the military budget financed by severe cutbacks in other budget allocations. And Canada, eager to increase its oil and gas exports via huge pipeline projects to the Pacific and Atlantic, will be able to relaunch these projects on the pretext that they are part of the “war effort” against Russia. We will have to pay close attention to what is going to happen with the proposed LNG project designed to bring Alberta’s gas through Quebec.

This Canadian shift will of course be strongly encouraged by pursuit of the war, which, we repeat, was initiated by Russia. Public opinion in Canada, and not only among Canadians of Ukrainian descent (1.8 million persons) has understandably mobilized against Russia.

On solidarity and international cooperation

The area in which we are involved will be strongly affected. It is certain that humanitarian aid is going to be oriented towards the millions of Ukrainians who are in or on the way to exile. That is necessary, from a humanitarian standpoint. What is not is its discriminatory nature. There are at this point at least 10 million Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans (to mention only those) languishing in detention camps administered by states in the pay of NATO member countries. The great majority of these wretched of the earth know already that they will never be accepted as refugees. Meanwhile, some disregarded conflicts are breaking out in the Horn of Africa while the international (dis)order prevents the UN from seriously intervening.

No one should be surprised, therefore, if the humanitarian aid (administered by Foreign Affairs Canada) is not sharply reorganized to assist Ukraine – which is not dishonorable but will become so if the already very modest resources offered to other countries and peoples in crisis are reduced.

In the coming period, the new board of directors of Alternatives, with other NGOs and international solidarity movements, will have to look at how we can promote our views and act responsibly in the eyes of a population that is currently distressed by the conflict and its possible consequences.

Among the options now being discussed in our circles, we will have to develop ourselves our basis of action taking into account past experience and the uncertainties in the present context.

· Peace must be re-established as soon as possible, if only in the form of a ceasefire that gives those responsible some time in which to extricate themselves from the present impasse.

· This peace process should include the United Nations. While the European Union and NATO are major protagonists, they cannot be left to tackle this.

· We act in solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance that aims to re-establish an inclusive and peaceful sovereignty without abuses of national minorities. Our solidarity can be exercised in the area of humanitarian assistance wherever in the country people are suffering the impact of the war.

· Humanitarian aid, and development assistance to poor countries (especially in Africa) must not be reduced to meet Ukraine’s needs.

· Canada must not align its policies with those of the United States, via NATO or otherwise. It should promote disarmament and the peaceful resolution of conflicts while defending human rights without discrimination.

Russia invaded Ukraine four days ago in blatant violation of the UN Charter and international law. The United States and their NATO allies, including Canada, have plunged us as well increasingly into this war by a flurry of sanctions and outrageous statements.

[The text ends by announcing a demonstration in Montréal on March 6 in solidarity with an international day of action to protest both Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the expansion of NATO.]

* * *

A true friend and comrade…

Although I was long acquainted with his work I did not meet Pierre Beaudet until the World Social Forum in Caracas in 2006. We soon became good friends. Soon afterwards, Pierre found employment at the University of Ottawa, where he was instrumental in establishing the School of International Development and Global Studies. He invited me to participate in his efforts to establish an Ottawa section of the Collectif d’analyse politique (CAP), publishers of the Nouveaux Cahiers du socialisme, a semiannual review Pierre had cofounded in 2009. On three occasions he included me as a guest lecturer in his course on Latin American social movements and politics.

When teaching at UOttawa, and later the Université du Québec campus across the river in Gatineau, Pierre, who commuted from his home in Montréal, usually stayed overnight for a day or two per week at my home. He always brought with him books and magazines – Le Monde Diplomatique and the New York Review of Books were among his favourites – to leave with me and we often exchanged Marxist books we both found useful. Conversations with Pierre were a delight; he was knowledgeable and insightful on a vast range of subjects, and I enjoyed his ironic sense of humour.

My niece Nancy Burrows, who has known Pierre longer than I through her active leadership in the Quebec women’s movement (she coauthored a chapter in one of his books on L’Altermondialisme), mentioned to Pierre in an email exchange that she had heard he knew her uncle. His response captured our friendship rather nicely, I think:

“I spend two nights a week with your uncle, with whom I very much enjoy discussing late into the night why the Indonesian Communist party screwed up in 1966, or if Lenin had listened to the mutineers at Kronstadt, and other similar stories that have remained in the head of the unrepentant Marxist oldtimers like us. It has helped me endure Ottawa more easily…. We also discuss intersectionality in the Dogon country in Mali, the place of LGBTQs in the present Chilean movement, peaceful insurrections that get things moving more than petitions. What would have happened if Rosa Luxemburg had not been assassinated, etc., etc., it never ends between us.”[1]

- Richard Fidler


[1] “Je passe deux soirées par semaine avec ton oncle avec qui j’ai bien du plaisir à discuter tard dans la nuit sur pourquoi le Parti communiste indonésien s’est planté en 1966, ou encore si Lénine avait écouté les mutins de Kronstad, et d’autres histoires du genre qui sont restés dans la tête des pépés marxistes non repentis dans notre genre. Cela me fait endurer plus facilement Ottawa… Nous discutons aussi de l’intersectionnalité dans le pays dogon du Mali, de la place des LBGTQ dans le mouvement chilien actuel, des insurrections pacifiques qui font bouger les choses plus que les pétitions. Sur ce qui serait arrivé si Rosa Luxemburg n’avait pas été assassinée, etc. etc. ça n’arrête jamais entre nous…”.

Friday, March 11, 2022

What does Russia’s invasion of Ukraine tell us about 21st century imperialism?

“The immediate effect of Putin’s incursion has been to consolidate the Atlantic bloc under the command of Washington.”

Russia’s war on Ukraine has opened up debates regarding the nature of the invasion and what position anti-imperialists should take in the conflict. To discuss these issues and the state of 21st century imperialism, Green Left’s Federico Fuentes spoke with Argentine Marxist economist Claudio Katz, author of Under the Empire of Capital.

I follow the interview with a brief comment of my own. – Richard Fidler

* * *

There are various positions within the left regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. How would you characterise Russia’s actions?

I think we have to look at this on two planes. The first is to register that the invasion of Ukraine was a response to United States imperialism’s belligerence. The Pentagon has sought on countless occasions to incorporate Kyiv into NATO’s missile network. The Kremlin tried to halt this potential aggression by proposing negotiations, but never got a response.

It proposed a status of neutrality for Ukraine, similar to that of Finland and Austria during the Cold War. Russia also called for a resumption of the treaty regulating the deactivation of certain atomic weapons. These are legitimate demands, given Russia’s long and terrible history of suffering at the hands of foreign invasions and its population’s heightened sensitivity to any such threat.

On the other hand, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin exaggerates when he denounces a “genocide” is taking place in the Donbass [in eastern Ukraine], a reference to the violence carried out by reactionary militias. These are the sectors he is referring to when he demands “denazification”. Since 2014, these ultra-right gangs have blocked any attempt at a negotiated solution. They reject the re-integration of the east as autonomous regions with recognised rights for the Russian-speaking population.

But with Russia’s invasion, it is Putin who has buried the accords he was promoting seeking neutrality for Ukraine. This is where we move onto the second plane. Putin opted for an invasion, assigning to the Kremlin the right to overthrow an adversarial government. This decision is unjustifiable and functional to the interests of Western imperialism

It is true that the US had advanced in negotiations to incorporate Ukraine into NATO. But Ukraine has not taken this step, it has not installed missiles and fascist militias have not carried out large-scale acts of aggression. The decision to invade a country, surround its principal cities and change its government cannot be justification as a defensive action by Russia.

Putin has shown complete contempt for Ukrainians. Even if [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky heads a “government of drug addicts,” as Putin claims, it is up to the Ukrainian people to decide who should replace him. This is not a decision for the Kremlin. Russia’s attack has stirred panic and hatred towards the occupying force. This same opposition can be seen across the world.

Putin has ignored the main aspiration of all those involved in the conflict: a peaceful solution. He went even further and signalled that Ukraine did not have the right to exist as a nation. This characterisation is even more unacceptable. It is a direct challenge to the right of a people to decide their fate.

This outlook carries with it an implicit vindication of the old Tsarist oppressive model and indicates that the incursion was not driven solely by defensive or geopolitical motivations. It also derives from a despotic outlook, which Moscow assigns to itself, alleging that Ukraine belongs within Russia’s borders.

For these reasons, criticizing Putin’s actions is essential in any left statement. But this stance should be preceded by a firm denunciation of US imperialism, which carries the main responsibility for this bellicose escalation.

Putin’s actions are extremely counterproductive for emancipatory projects and have provided an unimaginable external impulse to Ukrainian nationalism. Whatever the final result of the war, the impact of the invasion will be terribly negative for popular struggles and consciousness.

Ukrainians have the same right as any other people to decide their fate. But self-determination will remain an empty phrase so long as forces associated with NATO or Russian troops maintain their presence in the country.

The first condition for advancing towards sovereignty is resuming the peace negotiations, withdrawal of foreign soldiers and the subsequent demilitarisation of the country with the granting of international status of neutrality. This is a dual battle against NATO and the Russian invasion.

What do the events surrounding the invasion tell us about imperialism today and the role played by different power blocs?

Ukraine offers us a panorama of the current geopolitical scene. It confirms, above all, that the US heads up the main imperialist bloc. It has been the instigator of the conflict through the expansion of NATO, which in 30 years went from 16 to 30 members. The encircling of Russia began by violating commitments to restrict US military presence to the German border. That line has been pushed forward time and time again.

Washington has also fanned talk of war to reinforce Europe’s subordination. In ambushing Russia, it has achieved the mobilisation of troops by Spain, Denmark, Italy and France. The Ukrainian crisis has reinforced Britain’s post-Brexit pro-US alignment and demonstrated France’s impotence, which attempted its own negotiations [between Russia and Ukraine], and in the end remained faithful to the White House.

Germany has been greatly affected given its industries need access to Russia’s energy supplies. Due to this, Berlin tried to de-escalate the situation. But at no point did it weaken its alignment with Washington, and ultimately chose to suspend the inauguration of the Nord Stream II gas pipeline [that would allow for a further increase of gas imports from Russia].

The immediate effect of Putin’s incursion has been to consolidate the Atlantic bloc under the command of Washington. Throughout the Ukrainian crisis, NATO’s imperialist profile has been reconfirmed.

Attempting to characterise Russia is more complex and any attempt can only be provisional. It is probable that the final result of the invasion of Ukraine will define the status of this country.

Russia is not part of the dominant Western imperialist bloc (headed by the US), nor is it an alter-imperial partner (such as Europe) or a co-imperial piece (such as Israel) within this broader framework. But it enacts policies of domination via intense military activities and various modes of internal colonisation.

On the one hand, Russia is harassed by the US, while on the other hand it carries out oppressive actions against its neighbours. Within this framework, it de facto operates as a non-hegemonic imperial power in embryonic form. It is located in a position that is counterposed to the centres of imperial power and, at the same time, due to its capitalist nature and its dominant position in the region, tends towards resuming its old traditional role of oppressive power.

These imperial tendencies, which until now appeared as embryonic possibilities, have deepened with the invasion of Ukraine. This episode marks a qualitative shift in Russia’s international status.

But we also need to underline the limits of this foreign intervention. Moscow’s military power is sweeping, but its effective capacity to sustain operations is minimal. Russia is an intermediate economy in global terms. Its GDP is not significantly different to that of Spain or Canada. Its level of capital exports is barely higher than that of Finland and lower than Norway.

The economic recuperation that Putin has achieved is significant when compared to the desert left behind by [former president Boris] Yeltsin, but it has not been enough to position the country among the club of great economic powers.

Finally, China is once again acting with great caution towards the war in Ukraine. Putin has negotiated various economic agreements with [Chinese President] Xi Jinping to counteract the West’s boycott, but no one knows how much effective convergence exists between the two giants challenging the US. It was very striking that China abstained on the United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion.

China’s careful conduct — which seeks to avoid involving itself in military-geopolitical conflicts outside its borders — confirms that the Asian giant, up to now, does not act as an imperial power.

China is already a key economy — ranked second in the world — but imperialist positioning is not defined by economic criteria. It is determined by observing foreign policy, interventions abroad and military deployments. On these grounds, the qualitative differences with Russia are enormous.

Some look to Russia and China as allies in the struggle against imperialism and for a “multi-polar world.” Should leftists support such an outlook?

Effectively, there exists an important tendency towards a multi-polar configuration, that is, towards a greater dispersion of global power, as a result of the crisis of US supremacy.

This scenario has been ratified in Ukraine by [US President Joe] Biden’s pathetic disorientation. He knew of Russia’s plan, but prepared no response. He discarded the idea of military escalation as well as Putin’s proposals for negotiations, without considering any other alternatives.

This disorder confirms the impact of the recent defeat in Afghanistan on Washington’s actions. The US State Department faces serious limitations when it comes to involving marines in new operations. The same resistance to committing troops can be seen in Europe. That is why NATO has restricted itself to emitting vague declarations.

Putin has promoted multi-polarity as a geopolitical alternative to US preeminence. But the outcome of the war in Ukraine could lead to a new situation, especially if the invasion stalls and Moscow digs its own grave like the USSR did in Afghanistan.

In the immediate term, the invasion perpetrated by the Kremlin has fuelled a resurgence of all the myths perpetuated by Western democracies that had fallen into disgrace due to the Pentagon’s accumulated failures. Putin has given Washington what it needed to reconstruct ideological fallacies that had lost appeal due to the devastation wrought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its adventure has revived the counterposition between Western democracy and Russian autocracy.

We do not know how the war will modify this framework of incipient multi-polarity. This framework opened up a more favourable situation for popular projects compared with the previous period of US unilateral domination. But we should not idealise multi-polarity, which contains within it a heterogeneous variety of regimes lacking any real progressive characteristics. Multi-polarity, moreover, does not imply resistance to imperialism nor actions that impede the suffering generated by capitalism.

I believe we should distance ourselves from outlooks that exclusively focus on observing geopolitical events from above. We need to focus our attention on popular movements and struggles against the dominant classes in each country.

One consequence of substituting political analysis with its geopolitical equivalent is the casting aside of social and democratic struggles. While the former emphasises the role of social forces in conflict, the latter outlook only ratchets up the dispute between powers for global supremacy.

March 9, 2022

My Comment:

“Ukrainians have the same right as any other people to decide their fate. But self-determination will remain an empty phrase so long as forces associated with NATO or Russian troops maintain their presence in the country.

“The first condition for advancing towards sovereignty is resuming the peace negotiations, withdrawal of foreign soldiers and the subsequent demilitarisation of the country with the granting of international status of neutrality. This is a dual battle against NATO and the Russian invasion.”

As the interview headline indicates, Claudio Katz is discussing primarily the profile of global imperialism today as revealed by the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. Pointing to the sequence of events, he concludes that the Left’s opposition to Putin’s actions must be “preceded by a firm denunciation of US imperialism, which carries the main responsibility for this bellicose escalation.” He calls this “a dual battle against NATO and the Russian invasion.”

I agree. However, that dual battle, in my view, must be focused on support of Ukraine. Putin has made this a brutal war of invasion and conquest, to overthrow the government in Kyiv and to subject Ukraine to the Kremlin’s diktat. As Katz says, it is not a defensive action by Russia. Ukraine resistance is a fight to defend the country’s sovereignty, its action is defensive. Ukraine has not joined NATO, “it has not installed missiles, and fascist militias have not carried out large-scale acts of aggression.” The people of Ukraine need our fullest solidarity in their fight for physical and national survival.

This war is not an inter-imperialist war like World War I, for example. As Gilbert Achcar reminds us, an inter-imperialist war is direct war, not by proxy, between two or more powers each seeking to invade the territorial and (neo)colonial domain of the other(s), a “war of pillage” on both sides, as Lenin said when he urged the Left to refuse support of any of the warring powers but to strive instead to turn the imperialist war into a class war, for proletarian power – which is what the Russian workers did, successfully, in 1917.

Ukraine, unlike Russia, has no ambition or intention of taking over its adversary’s territory. The fact that it is supported by Russia’s imperialist rivals the US and NATO does not in itself make this an inter-imperialist war, one in which we would withhold support for either side. Despite their sweeping sanctions and provision of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, the NATO powers have refused to deploy their own troops to confront Russia’s or to establish a “no-fly zone” as demanded by the Ukrainian president. They take seriously Putin’s threat of nuclear retaliation.

Ukraine’s cause is just, and it is just to help it defend itself against an enemy that is far superior in numbers and weaponry. The Left can therefore, in my opinion, support the delivery to Ukraine of defensive arms, such as anti-tank or anti-aircraft rockets, as well as other necessary provisions – while of course continuing to call for dissolution of the NATO alliance, campaigning to cancel Ukraine’s debts, and calling on our governments to open the doors to all refugees from the war (and not just Ukrainians), etc.

Sanctions, on the other hand, are not to be supported, for all the reasons outlined here. They simply do nothing to help Ukrainians, nor do they help to catalyze effective political opposition in Russia to Putin’s regime. The poor always pay the highest price for economic sanctions, as they invariably lead to hyperinflation and shortages of key imports needed for food and fibre.

And we should be alert to the many ways that Putin’s aggression, as Claudio Katz observes, serves the interests of Western imperialism. Capitalist governments have taken advantage of massive public outrage at the war to promote their own agenda of austerity and environmental devastation through boosting military budgets and building new pipelines, etc. They cannot be relied on to help Ukraine.

Richard Fidler