Thursday, December 29, 2022

Support Ukraine? – Why and How

The left – in Canada and internationally – has not responded in a coherent way to Russia’s assault on Ukraine.

The Social-Democratic left, such as Canada’s NDP, is sympathetic to Ukraine’s resistance but largely fails to dissociate itself from the government’s political support for the neoliberal Zelensky regime or Western imperialist designs.

Further to the left, there is a range of positions. At one extreme (fortunately, of minimal influence), there is a left that overtly supports Russia, echoing the Kremlin narrative on the war. Here is Radhika Desai, the main spokesperson for the International Manifesto Group, in her recent book Capitalism, Coronavirus and War:

“The conflict that the West calls Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Moscow its special military operations for Ukraine’s demilitarisation and denazification, is not a conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It is a phase in the hybrid war that the United States, usually but not always followed by other major capitalist coun­tries, has been waging for over a century against any country that chooses an economic path other than subordination to itself or the broader capitalist world. In its current phase, this war takes the form of a US-led NATO war against Rus­sia over Ukraine. In this war, Ukraine is the terrain, and a pawn—one that can be and is being sacrificed with the apparent cooperation of its West-oriented leader­ship.” [p. 183]

Some others, while critical of the Russian invasion if only on tactical grounds, portray the conflict as “a proxy war” between NATO and Russia. Like Desai, they treat Ukraine as a mere pawn of the Western powers and urge it to stop its armed resistance and accept whatever concessions will be forced on its territorial sovereignty. Yves Engler, a typical voice, criticizes the B.C. Federation of Labour for adopting in its recent convention a resolution expressing solidarity with Ukraine. This, he says, “highlights Canadian unions’ failure to challenge NATO’s proxy war with Russia.”

Still others, such as the Toronto-based Socialist Project, appear to share this approach. A recent article in its publication The Bullet calls on the left to “demand that the Canadian government push for an immediate cease-fire and the return to the negotiating table, something Moscow has continuously requested.” The reality, says the author David Mandel, “is that continued fighting can only add to the suffering of Ukraine’s working people, with no hope that it will improve the outcome of the war for them. The opposite is true.”

On the SP’s discussion list (in which I participate), a prominent member deplores the lack of “a relevant anti-imperialist socialist base within Ukraine” and tells fellow members like myself, who agitate in defense of Ukraine’s resistance, that this “makes it hard… to imagine how we’d work together on fighting the American empire.” A particularly vocal member proclaims that he doesn’t “have a stake in which gang of Ukrainian or Russian chauvinists and exploiters control that miserable strip of contested land bordering the two countries.” It is not, he says, “a genuine war of national resistance led by left-wing Ukrainian forces.”

Notable in all of these positions is a tendency to ignore or oppose the overwhelming opposition of ordinary Ukrainians to Russia’s illegal invasion, occupation and annexations and to deprecate their resistance on the grounds that it is not led by socialist forces.

One SP member (he also posts frequently on the Marxmail weblist) has repeatedly sought support for his opposition to Ukraine’s resistance in an historical antecedent, the inter-imperialist World War I. In that war, the socialist left, he says, opposed all sides in the war and resolutely refused to defend “poor little Belgium,” like Ukraine today occupied by an imperialist power (Germany), its plight cited by the opposing Entente powers to whip up war fever.

Historical analogies can indeed be useful in assessing the issues posed in contemporary events, provided of course that careful attention is paid to the particular circumstances and to what degree the differing situations and protagonists are comparable. As it happens, I have had occasion in the past to explore the left’s approach in WWI to the German occupation of Belgium and in particular what the revolutionary left had to say about it. Note, by the way, that what is said about “imperialist Belgium” applies a fortiori to capitalist Ukraine.

The following is what I wrote on the matter more than a dozen years ago in a discussion on a now-extinct Socialist Voice discussion list. The comrade I was addressing is identified by his initials; he never replied to me. I follow this with references to what Ukrainian socialists have to say to the Western “anti-imperialist” left about the war and their responses, which address and answer many of the concerns expressed above.

- Richard Fidler

* * *

Oppressor and oppressed: The case of ‘poor little Belgium’

In a post to this list January 9, “National oppression and Quebec independence”, JPR states, in reference to comments by Lenin on Norway’s secession from Sweden in 1905:

“It's worth noting that in 1905, Marxists were still applying the conceptions of national self-determination developed during the epoch of progressive national-bourgeois revolutions in the advanced countries of Europe. The analysis of national struggles in terms of oppressor and oppressed nations was developed somewhat later. Marxists were discussing the new phenomenon of modern imperialism in the first decade of the last century, but they did not immediately apply this analysis to the concept of self-determination. [...]

“When the First World War broke out, the ruling class of each warring country made a semi-plausible case that it was fighting in self-defense and that the nation's right of self-determination was imperilled. Outside Russia, the main socialist leaderships caved in to this argument and invoked their long-standing position for national self-defense. Given that fact, and the rulers' control of information, most workers supported or went along with the war effort--at least for a time. As the revolutionary forces rallied in opposition to the war, they refused to defend the ‘self-determination’ of any imperialist country--not even little Belgium, the salvation of which had been Britain's alleged reason for going to war.”

JPR cited this example in support of his proposition — a correct one — that “there are cases where demands for national self-determination express chauvinist attitudes current among dominant nationalities, and such demands do not merit support.”

JPR was not disputing Lenin’s view that Norway’s secession was a useful example of how the right of self-determination might apply in practice in the context of developed capitalist countries of Europe — by way of exception, as Lenin noted. JPR’s point, as I understand it […], is that in the epoch of imperialism the distinction between oppressor and oppressed nations is fundamental, that imperialist countries are oppressor states or nations, and that revolutionary Marxists do not recognize a right of self-determination for an imperialist country. Conversely, we support unconditionally the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, up to and including the right of secession and creation of an independent state.

These propositions are longstanding principled positions of our movement, and are a bedrock of our approach to the national question. However, JPR’s example of Belgium in World War I, as it happens, illustrates the point I want to make below: that the characterization of a country or nation as imperialist or oppressor does not necessarily determine the position we should take toward its actions in certain specific situations. Nor does it absolve us of the constant need to analyze concretely every situation of national oppression. In the age of imperialism, an epoch of wars and revolutions, imperialist nations can in fact in some circumstances themselves become the arena for progressive struggles for self-determination that are important components of revolutionary strategy. The Belgian example is a useful reminder of the importance of analyzing each national question in its context and avoiding undue reliance on abstract immutable principles, important as those are.

Belgium in 1914 was an imperialist oppressor power in its own right, a brutal colonizer of a large section of Africa, the Congo. At the outset of the war, in August 1914, Germany invaded and occupied Belgium. It threatened to annex the country, that is, make it part of Germany and thereby gain control of Belgium’s colonies. As JPR mentions, the plight of “poor little Belgium” was cited by Britain and its allies as one of the main reasons for going to war against Germany. Revolutionary Marxists, on the other hand, citing Germany’s seizure of Belgium as an example, correctly characterized the war as an imperialist war fought between the major imperialist powers primarily for the seizure of colonies. And on that ground they opposed it.

JPR says “the revolutionary forces” refused to support self-determination for Belgium or other imperialist nations invaded, occupied or annexed by one or another of the major imperialist belligerents. However, this statement needs to be qualified, as there were important exceptions among these revolutionary forces. In fact, contrary to what JPR says, many of the forces that rallied in opposition to the war and the imperialist defensism of the majority of the Social Democratic leaders not only opposed the occupation of Belgium and its annexation but defended its right to self-determination. And in their lead was Lenin, the most consistent and persistent defender of Belgium’s right to self-determination. In fact, Lenin did not hesitate to refer to Belgium, in the circumstances of the war, as an oppressed nation.

During the war, Lenin was developing both his analysis of imperialism and his understanding of the national question. His most important writings on both questions date from this period, in fact. It is well known that Lenin turned his attention increasingly toward the anti-imperialist liberation movements in the colonies and semicolonies as key components of internationalist revolutionary strategy. But his conception of the right of self-determination and the role of related democratic demands in the more developed nations of Europe, far from being supplanted by his analysis of imperialism, was incorporated within and enriched by that analysis as part of his strategy for revolutionary struggle in the imperialist countries.

I am not going to go through all the various articles, resolutions and polemics by Lenin and others in the revolutionary Marxist current that address the Belgian question and self-determination in this period. Most of these are available in the book JPR cites: Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International (ed. John Riddell), an excellent source. An easy way to locate the main documents is by consulting the index under “Belgium” and “Self-determination”. However, here are a few highlights, to indicate the general flavour of the debates and how they evolved (page references to the book):

The Manifesto issued by the Zimmerwald conference, the first major gathering of antiwar Marxists, stated that “entire nations and countries like Belgium, Poland, the Balkan states, and Armenia are threatened with the fate of being torn asunder, annexed in whole or in part as booty in the game of compensation.” Listing the tasks before the international working class movement, the Manifesto said “The right of self-determination of nations must be the indestructible principle in the system of national relationships of peoples.” (pp. 318-20) In a joint statement to the conference, the German and French delegations denounced “the violation of Belgian neutrality” and demanded “restoration of Belgium to its complete integrity and independence.”(p. 307) In a message to the conference from prison, the German antiwar deputy Karl Liebknecht called for “a peace that could restore unfortunate Belgium... to freedom and independence, and give France back to the French.” (p. 289) (Part of France was occupied by Germany.)

Lenin and some others (while voting for the Manifesto) were critical of it, but not for these positions. However, there were some sharp divisions within the Zimmerwald Left over the question of self-determination. For example, the Poles, including Rosa Luxemburg, argued that the right of self-determination could only be realized in a socialist society. As the editor’s notes explain (p. 353):

“Lenin thought that the Polish Social Democrats were correct in not raising the demand for Polish independence, [[1]]and in stressing instead the need for unity in action with the workers of Germany and Russia. But they went wrong in generalizing this attitude, and applying it to the workers of other nations — especially the dominant nations. ‘It is not indifferent to the Russian and German workers whether Poland is independent, or they take part in annexing her,’ he wrote.

"The situation is, indeed, bewildering, but there is a way out in which all participants would remain internationalists: the Russian and German Social-Democrats by demanding for Poland unconditional 'freedom to secede'; the Polish Social-Democrats by working for the unity of the proletarian struggle in both small and big countries without putting forward the slogan of Polish independence for the given epoch or the given period."

This is similar to the general approach Lenin had taken with regard to the issue of self-determination for Norway […].

In theses Lenin drafted at this time, entitled “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination”, he argued that “Increased national oppression under imperialism does not mean that Social-Democracy should reject what the bourgeoisie call the ‘utopian’ struggle for the freedom of nations to secede but, on the contrary, it should make greater use of the conflicts that arise in this sphere, too, as grounds for mass action and for revolutionary attacks on the bourgeoisie.”

Lenin also polemicized with fellow Bolsheviks over the issue of self-determination. As the editor’s notes explain (p. 362):

“The question of self-determination divided the exiled Bolsheviks as well. ... Yevgeniya Bosh and Yuri Pyatakov, the publishers of the Bolshevik journal, were won over in 1915 to Nikolai Bukharin’s position of opposition to the self-determination demand.... Bukharin based his criticisms of the demand for self-determination on the nature of the imperialist epoch as shown by the war.”

Lenin’s debates with Luxemburg, Bukharin and others were over the general validity of the slogan of self-determination and did not directly address the issue of whether occupied imperialist countries like Belgium could be said to have that right. In fact, in his theses on the socialist revolution, referred to above, Lenin had divided countries into three “main types”. The first was “the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe and the United States.” In these countries, Lenin said, “progressive bourgeois national movements came to an end long ago. Every one of these ‘great’ nations oppresses other nations both in the colonies and at home. The tasks of the proletariat of these ruling nations are the same as those of the proletariat in England in the nineteenth century in relation to Ireland.”

The other “types” of nations were the Eastern European countries where bourgeois-democratic reforms were incomplete and national movements were progressive, and “the semi-colonial countries, such as China, Persia and Turkey, and all the colonies....” There, of course, socialists were unconditional supporters of national liberation.

But what if an imperialist country of the first type was invaded, occupied and possibly annexed? Did it then have a right of self-determination? Lenin met this question head-on in his final document, “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up”. Only a small part of this document is excerpted in Lenin’s Struggle, and it does not include the part that interests us here. However, the entire document is available on-line at

In this document, Lenin describes “the forcible retention of one nation within the state frontiers of another” as “one of the forms of political oppression”. In the chapter entitled “What is Annexation?”, he states (all emphasis in the original):

“The concept of annexation usually includes: (1) the concept of force (joining by means of force); (2) the concept of oppression by another nation (the joining of ‘alien’ regions, etc.), and, sometimes (3) the concept of violation of the status quo. ... However you may twist and turn, annexation is violation of the self-determination of a nation, it is the establishment of state frontiers contrary to the will of the population.

“To be against annexations means to be in favour of the right to self-determination. To be ‘against the forcible retention of any nation within the frontiers of a given state’ ... is the same as being in favour of the self-determination of nations.”

At the same time, said Lenin, “It would be absurd to insist on the word ‘self-determination’.... The question is only one of political clarity and of the theoretically sound basis of our slogans.” A few paragraphs later, in the chapter “For or Against Annexation”, he returns to the question:

“In any case, hardly anybody would risk denying that annexed Belgium, Serbia, Galicia and Armenia would call their ‘revolt’ against those who annexed them ‘defence of the fatherland’ and would do so in all justice. It looks as if the Polish comrades are against this type of revolt on the grounds that there is also a bourgeoisie in these annexed countries which also oppresses foreign peoples or, more exactly, could oppress them, since the question is one of the ‘right to oppress’. Consequently, the given war or revolt is not assessed on the strength of its real social content (the struggle of an oppressed nation for its liberation from the oppressor nation) but the possible exercise of the ‘right to oppress’ by a bourgeoisie which is at present itself oppressed. If Belgium, let us say, is annexed by Germany in 1917, and in 1918 revolts to secure her liberation, the Polish comrades will be against her revolt on the grounds that the Belgian bourgeoisie possess ‘the right to oppress foreign peoples’!

“There is nothing Marxist or even revolutionary in this argument. If we do not want to betray socialism we must support every revolt against our chief enemy, the bourgeoisie of the big states, provided it is not the revolt of a reactionary class. By refusing to support the revolt of annexed regions we become, objectively, annexationists. It is precisely in the ‘era of imperialism’, which is the era of nascent social revolution, that the proletariat will today give especially vigorous support to any revolt of the annexed regions so that tomorrow, or simultaneously, it may attack the bourgeoisie of the ‘great’ power that is weakened by the revolt.”

Finally, in the penultimate chapter of this document, the famous polemic against Radek and others over the significance of the Irish rebellion of 1916, and following his eloquent statement that “The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements,” Lenin asks:

“Is it not clear that it is least of all permissible to contrast Europe to the colonies in this respect? The struggle of the oppressed nations in Europe, a struggle capable of going all the way to insurrection and street fighting, capable of breaking down the iron discipline of the army and martial law, will ‘sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe’ to an infinitely greater degree than a much more developed rebellion in a remote colony. A blow delivered against the power of the English imperialist bourgeoisie by a rebellion in Ireland is a hundred times more significant politically than a blow of equal force delivered in Asia or in Africa.”

And he continues:

´The French chauvinist press recently reported the publication in Belgium of the eightieth issue of an illegal journal, Free Belgium. Of course, the chauvinist press of France very often lies, but this piece of news seems to be true. Whereas chauvinist and Kautskyite German Social-Democracy has failed to establish a free press for itself during the two years of war, and has meekly borne the yoke of military censorship (only the Left Radical elements, to their credit be it said, have published pamphlets and manifestos, in spite of the censorship) — an oppressed civilised nation has reacted to a military oppression unparalleled in ferocity by establishing an organ of revolutionary protest! The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene.”

So, following Lenin’s reasoning — and notwithstanding the fundamental distinction between oppressor and oppressed nations — in the particular conditions of foreign occupation of an imperialist country a national struggle within the occupied country for liberation from that oppression could be considered progressive and an application of the Marxist theory of the right of national self-determination. This did not mean that the imperialist country had been turned into a colony or semicolony; it was still imperialist. But it could, for the duration of the occupation only, also be described as “oppressed” by the occupying power, and its struggle against the occupation could be characterized as a form of national self-determination. Lenin made no exceptions.

I think this is the correct approach. Needless to say, of course, that struggle against the foreign oppressor will be strengthened if conducted under independent proletarian leadership (that is, independent of “the reactionary class”, as Lenin puts it) and around a class-struggle program that includes the call for independence of the colonies. […]

Lenin’s 1916 writings on self-determination were not widely published at the time owing to censorship and, within months, the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. Some of the key documents were not made available until 1929, when they were published by Stalin, seeking Lenin’s authority in his campaign to discredit Bukharin and Trotsky (who had also differed with Lenin on the importance of the right of self-determination). In any event, their lessons do not appear to have been deeply absorbed by the revolutionary vanguard. The outbreak of the Second World War, in 1939, found the revolutionary Marxists in some disarray on how to relate to the mass resistance movements that soon broke out in the countries occupied by the Axis armies of Germany and Italy. The story is taken up in an interesting talk given by the late Ernest Mandel, “Trotskyists and Resistance in World War 2”, available on-line at

Mandel outlines the Leninist position I have just described and notes that the Second World War was “in reality a combination of five different wars” — a position he sets out at length in his excellent book, The Meaning of the Second World War (Verso, 1986). It was (1) an inter-imperialist war, (2) a just war of self-defence by the USSR, (3) a just war by the Chinese people against imperialism, (4) a just war of Asian colonial peoples for national liberation and sovereignty, and (5) a just war of national liberation, fought by the oppressed workers, peasants, and urban petty bourgeoisie against the German Nazi imperialists and their stooges, “more especially in two countries, Yugoslavia and Greece, to a great extent in Poland, and incipiently, in France and Italy.”

The French Trotskyists divided over their stance toward this “fifth war”. As Mandel describes it, the majority leadership, citing a statement by Trotsky in one of his last articles (“France is being transformed into an oppressed nation” under the German occupation), advocated a bloc with the “national bourgeoisie” against German imperialism — although, Mandel notes, “There was never any agreement with the bourgeoisie, never any support for them when it came to the point.” And in fact this opportunist error was reversed by 1942. Another wing of the French Trotskyists, however, took an ultraleft position, Mandel says; it “denied any progressive ingredient in the resistance movement and refused to make any distinction between the mass resistance, the armed mass struggle, and the manoeuvres and plans of the bourgeois nationalist, social democratic or Stalinist misleaders of the masses. That mistake was much worse because it led to abstention on what were important living struggles of the masses.” Mandel adds:

“Trotsky warned the Trotskyist movement against precisely such mistakes in his last basic document, the Manifesto of the 1940 emergency conference. He pointed out that they should be careful not to judge workers in the same way as the bourgeoisie even when they talked about national defence. It was necessary to distinguish between what they said and what they meant — to judge the objective historical nature of their intervention rather than the words they used.”

This ultraleft Trotskyist fraction, which included the group now called Lutte Ouvrière, “persists even today in identifying the mass movements in the occupied countries with imperialism — saying the war in Yugoslavia [by Tito’s Partisans] was an imperialist war because it was conducted by nationalists....” And Lutte Ouvrière continues to this day to invoke this division in World War II as a justification for its separate existence as a revolutionary Marxist current in France! […]

* * *

Further reading, all pieces appearing first on the website of the Ukrainian publication Commons.

US-plaining is not enough. To the Western left, on your and our mistakes, by Volodymyr Artiukh

A letter to the Western Left from Kyiv, by Taras Bilous

10 Terrible Leftist Arguments against Ukrainian Resistance, by Oksana Dutchak

Ukraine’s Socialist Heritage, by John-Paul Himka

[1] Poland was divided among three empires: the German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian. -- RF

Monday, December 12, 2022

Russian troops out now! Key to peace in Ukraine

  French trade unionists, left MPs, show the way

Paris ukraine demo dec 10

Demonstrators marched to Russian Embassy in Paris December 10 in response to a call issued by major unions and international solidarity activists

I noted recently[1] the mounting calls by a pacifist left for a ceasefire and negotiated “solution” to the war in Ukraine – significantly, calls that have escalated as Ukraine registered some victories in its armed resistance to Russia’s illegal aggression, occupation and annexations. As I said then, absent any call for Russian withdrawal from Ukraine such calls amounted to appeals for Ukraine’s surrender of territory and national sovereignty.

A quite different approach has been taken in France, centered on a call for “The withdrawal of all invading troops from the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”[2] Here is the statement published on the eve of the march:

Every war ends one day, any negotiation that would put an end to it will be welcome. But a just and lasting peace will not be established without conditions, it can only be envisaged on the basis of respect for certain elementary principles. A wide group of French politicians, civil society associations, trade unions, intellectuals, artists and representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora are calling for a demonstration for “a just and lasting peace” on Saturday December 10 at 2 p.m. Place du Trocadéro.

An unprecedented humanitarian crisis threatens the people of Ukraine this winter. The conditions of conflict that have prevailed in eastern Ukraine since 2014 has turned into an all-out, “high-intensity” war since the invasion of Ukrainian territory by Putin’s troops on February 24, 2022.

This “special operation” had the explicit goal of overthrowing the Ukrainian government and destroying the Republic of Ukraine as an independent entity. The failure of this first objective led the government of the Russian Federation to modify its objectives and to prolong a brutal war of conquest with the proclamation of the annexation of a large part of Ukrainian territory.

The victims number in the tens of thousands, the displaced persons in the millions, the damage in the tens of billions of euros. The invading forces commit war crimes, and, by their systematic nature, crimes against humanity – such as the destruction of vital infrastructure, the forced displacement and deportation of populations – including children. Not to mention the massive rapes.

In Russia, people are recruited voluntarily or by force to fight a war, which, in different ways, hundreds of thousands of them rightly wish to avoid or courageously oppose head on.

Every war ends one day, any negotiation that would put an end to it will be welcome. But a just and lasting peace will not be established without conditions, it can only be envisaged on the basis of the respect of certain elementary principles:

• The withdrawal of all invading troops from the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders;

• The safe return of all refugees and displaced persons;

• Respect for international law, both with regard to the rules of armed conflict (release of prisoners of war) and humanitarian law and the principles of the United Nations Charter and other international documents (including the European Convention on human rights and the founding principles of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe).

Other issues, such as reparations for war damage, possible criminal proceedings before the competent national and international jurisdictions, as well as guarantees of security, freedom of expression of populations and exercise of their individual and collective rights, can be clarified once the above principles have been affirmed and put into practice as quickly as possible.

Support of these objectives by public opinion throughout the world will be an essential element for a just and lasting peace for the peoples of Ukraine and Russia.

Amongst the signatories the trade union leaders, including Phillippe Martinez, of the CGT, Benoît Teste, FSU, Clémentine Autain, the radical left Ensemble! and La France insoumise deputy, Olivier Besancenot of the NPA, and the left philosopher Étienne Balibar, stand out.

France’s largest union, the Confédération générale du travail (CGT), historically associated with the French Communist party, published on September 22 a resolution calling for “stopping Russia in its escalation to total war”:

Since 2014 and in a vastly greater way since February of this year, the consequences of Russian imperialist and warlike aims have provoked:

• several tens of thousands of civilian and military deaths;

• more than 14 million people have left their homes, of which 6 million have found refuge outside the borders of Ukraine, which represents a figure higher than the populations displaced after the Second World War;

• billions of euros in damage to infrastructure and residential areas, with dozens of towns and villages virtually wiped off the map;

• more than half a million Russian citizens have also fled their country and more than 18,000 others have been arrested, including nearly 1,500 in yesterday's demonstrations. Most are awaiting trial, facing sentences of up to 15 years in prison for “expressing pacifist sentiments”;

• the instrumentalization of this war by Western governments, led by the United States, to strengthen armament budgets, the militarization and extension of NATO, instead of the vital investments needed in social and environmental transition ;

• in Belarus, let us recall that the entire leadership of the independent trade union BKDP has been imprisoned since April 19, and incurs very heavy penalties for the same reasons. At the end of last March, during a webinar organized by the CGT with more than twenty Ukrainian trade unionists, Alexandre Yaroshuk, the president of the BKDP intervened with a courageous and moving pacifist declaration. Since mid-April, we have had no news of our comrade Alexandre who was also present at the CGT congresses in Toulouse and Dijon. Let us recall that Belarus still applies the death penalty and that our comrades are under the charge of high treason;

• public and political freedoms in Russia today are non-existent after having been under constant attack throughout the mandates of President Putin;

• as for social and union rights, they are suspended everywhere in this part of the world, because of martial law and the turn towards a war economy;

• finally, the whole planet finds itself taken hostage on the economic level (with the return of high inflation and the uncertainties about access to raw materials and energy), ecological (with the nuclear risk both civilian and military) and humanitarian (with supply difficulties, particularly in agricultural commodities).

Accordingly, the CGT reiterates its support and solidarity with the Ukrainian people who are resisting Russian imperialism. It also stands alongside the Russian citizens who are courageously trying to oppose and demonstrate against the war and who recall these words of Lenin: “The working class, faced with a reactionary and imperialist war led by its government, cannot wish for any other outcome than the defeat of its government.”

Russian troops must leave Ukrainian territory and peace must be restored in the region.

In the following article, Federico Fuentes explains why the statements of support for a negotiated solution to the war by the respective protagonists point irrevocably toward the need for an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. It was published first in Green Left Weekly.

- Richard Fidler

* * *

Ukraine: 'We want genuine peace negotiations, not another “ceasefire” until the next invasion'

By Federico Fuentes, December 8, 2022

The liberation of the southern port city of Kherson in mid-November represented an important victory in Ukraine’s just war of resistance against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion.

The recapture of the only major city seized by Russian forces since February 24 followed the liberation of large swathes of eastern Kharkiv Oblast since September and represents the most significant gain yet of the Ukrainian counter offensive, which began in August.

Kherson locals celebrated and cheered Ukrainian fighters as they entered the city and raised the nation’s flag over Freedom Square on November 11. The images were a stark contrast to the courageous unarmed protests by locals against the arrival of Russia’s occupying forces nine months ago, protests that were subsequently suppressed.

While fighting continues in the Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk oblasts, and Russia tries to hold off further Ukrainian advances in Kharkiv and Kherson, Putin has sought to demoralise the Ukrainian people through a mass campaign of aerial destruction that has damaged the majority of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure amid the cold winter.

US open to negotiations

In this context, an increasing number of voices from the United States and Russia have emerged calling for negotiations.

On the US side, the growing cost of the war — in terms of financial aid and depleted military stockpiles — along with pressure from European leaders facing domestic turmoil over rising energy prices, has motivated desires for negotiations.

The most notable of these voices has been US Army General Mark Milley, the highest-ranking US military officer. In a speech to The Economic Club of New York on November 9, Milley said: “There has to be a mutual recognition that military victory, in the true sense of the word, is maybe not achievable through military means, so therefore you need to turn to other means.”

Milley said a window of opportunity for ending the conflict could come when the front lines stabilised in winter: “When there’s an opportunity to negotiate when peace can be achieved, seize it.”

The comments came just days after US President Joe Biden’s top national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, made an unannounced visit to Kyiv. Meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he raised “the need for a diplomatic resolution to the war”, according to a November 10 NBC News report.

Russia seeks ceasefire

Milley’s comments also came as news filtered out of “confidential conversations” between the US and Russia.

The Wall Street Journal reported on November 7 that Sullivan has been in ongoing talks with Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov and Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to guard “against the risk of escalation”.

Moreover, according to AP News, CIA Director Bill Burns and Russia’s SVR spy agency chief Sergei Naryshkin met on November 14 in the “highest-ranking face-to-face engagement between US and Russian officials” since the start of the war.

The meeting was hosted in Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after an approach by the US, “signalled a willingness to help broker a deal,” NBC News reported.

Back in mid-October, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said his country was “willing to engage with the United States or with Turkey on ways to end the war”. Absent was any mention of willingness to engage with Ukraine.

A week after Sullivan’s visit to Kyiv, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Russia was “still open to negotiations, we have never refused them, we are ready to conduct them — taking, of course, into account the realities being established at the moment”.

By “realities being established”, Zakharova was referring to Russia’s declared annexation of the Donestsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts following sham referendums organised by its invading forces in September.

At the same time, Russia has faced huge losses in terms of troop numbers and military hardware, and is confronted with rising demoralisation among soldiers on the frontline and growing opposition to the war at home.

Zelensky’s peace proposal

Responding to Sullivan’s calls for a “diplomatic resolution to the war”, Zelensky emphasised, according to NBC News, “that Ukraine had pushed for diplomacy with Russia in the initial months of the war and only took talks with [Putin] off the table following documented atrocities and alleged war crimes that the official said had made talks with Moscow in the near term unpalatable to the Ukrainian public”.

But Zelensky has also warned that, behind talks of negotiations, “Russia is now looking for a short truce, a respite to regain strength”. Addressing the Halifax International Security Forum on November 18, Zelenksy added: “Someone may call [a ceasefire] the war’s end. But such a respite will only worsen the situation.”

“Immoral compromises will only lead to new blood,” he continued, noting an “honest peace” can only be achieved by “the complete demolition of Russian aggression”.

Addressing the G20 summit on November 15, Zelensky laid out Ukraine’s proposal for peace: “To liberate our entire land from [Russia], we will still have to fight for a while longer ... However, if victory will be ours in any case — and we are sure of that — then shouldn't we try to implement our formula for peace to save thousands of lives and protect the world from further destabilisations?”

Zelensky’s formula is based on a ten-point plan that addresses: radiation and nuclear safety; food security; energy security; release of all prisoners and deported persons; implementation of the United Nations Charter and restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the world order; withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities; restoration of justice; countering ecocide; preventing escalation; and confirmation of the end of the war.

Zelensky said negotiations had “to be public, not behind the scenes” and that “this aggressive Russian war [had] to end justly and on the basis of the UN Charter and international law”.

“If Russia opposes our peace formula, you will see that it only wants war.”

Ukrainian socialists

In an article published on the website of Ukrainian socialist group Social Movement, Denys Bondar and Zakhar Popovych outlined their organisation’s view on prospects for peace negotiations.

“All wars, of course, end in negotiations. Ukraine has always clearly emphasised that it has no intention to march on Moscow and force a full and unconditional surrender.”

But they note that “there is a consensus in Ukrainian society that to achieve peace it is necessary to expel the Russian army from the country (by destroying it, if possible) and to ‘demilitarise’ the Russian Federation, at least until it can no longer shell peaceful Ukrainian cities and blackmail us by depriving us of electricity, water and heating…”

Furthermore, they add, those opposing “some territorial concessions for the sake of peace” has risen to 87% of the population, with the “overwhelming majority of respondents in all regions of Ukraine” and “representatives of all major ethnic and linguistic groups” included in this group, according to a recent Kyiv Institute of Sociology poll.

“Those people in the US, Europe, and the world who truly want peace talks to begin must, at a minimum, demand an immediate end to the destruction of Ukraine's critical infrastructure by Russian missiles and the restoration of normal electricity and heat to the population...

“Instead of wasting time talking about what the world needs to convince Zelensky of, it would be better to first convince the governments of the world to stop buying Russian oil and gas and provide Ukraine with missile defence systems and at least a couple thousand industrial transformers to restore normal electricity, water and heat supply...”

“It cannot be ruled out that if the Russians publicly offered to discuss a peace plan that would include the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and the prospects of restoring the territorial integrity of the country, Ukrainians might agree to some negotiations.

“But no proposals that include the withdrawal of Russian troops are currently being voiced. De facto, the Russians ‘offer negotiations’ only on the cessation of the Ukrainian counteroffensive until they can accumulate forces…”

Summarising the stance of the majority of Ukrainians, they write: “There is no certainty that Russian authorities even understand that Zelensky cannot simply sign whatever he wants, and that even Biden cannot force Zelensky to sign an agreement that will not be approved by the majority of Ukrainians…

“Ukrainians want peace, not another ‘ceasefire’ that will last until the next invasion. Campaigning for peace is actually being conducted even in mainstream Ukrainian media, but trust in peace negotiations and lasting peace are impossible without public discussion of its terms.

“Editor-in-chief of Ukrainian Pravda, Sevgil Musaeva, a Ukrainian of Crimean Tatar origin — despite what the postponement of the Crimea issue means for her personally — does not reject negotiations, but calls for a public formulation of fair peace terms, because if ‘Ukrainian society does not feel justice, any agreements are doomed from the beginning’

“We, Ukrainian socialists, must now watch carefully to ensure no one forgets that peace negotiations must be public and only public, and only on terms acceptable to Ukrainians. Only in this way can we count on a just and lasting peace.”

[1] See my introduction to “Navigating the Left’s Ukraine Debate,”

[2] Initial signatories: Union des Ukrainiens de France - Russie Liberté - Socialistes russes contre la guerre - – Association des Géorgiens en France - Géorgie vue de France - Collectif pour un Syrie libre et démocratique CPSLD - A Manca - Assemblée européenne des citoyens – Association autogestion - Aplutsoc - ATTAC France - Cedetim - Club Politique Bastille - Confédération générale du travail (CGT) - Coopératives Longo Maï – Éditions Syllepse - Émancipation Lyon 69 - Ensemble ! - Europe Écologie Les Verts (EELV) - Entre les lignes entre les mots - Fondation Copernic – Forum civique européen – Fédération syndicale unitaire (FSU) - Gauche démocratique et sociale - Gauche écosocialiste - L’Insurgé - Les Humanités - Mémorial 98 - Mouvement national lycéen (MNL) - Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) - Pour une écologie populaire & sociale (PEPS) - Rejoignons- nous - Réseau syndical international de solidarité et de luttes – RESU France (Réseau européen de solidarité avec l’Ukraine) - Réseau Penser l’émancipation - Union syndicale Solidaires.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Mass protests in China challenge Covid 19 lockdown restrictions


The following statement was published on Facebook by Hong Kong activist Lam Chi Leung.

Solidarity with the mass protests demanding the lifting of lockdown restrictions and for an anti-pandemic effort that is scientific, democratic and for the people!

By Some Revolutionary Communists in China

November 30, 2022


Since mid-November 2022, many mass protests demanding the lifting of lockdown restrictions have taken place in mainland China.

On November 14, tenants in Guangzhou's Haizhu protested against lockdown measures; on November 22-23, Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou protested demanding freedom of movement, subsidies and the implementation of promised reforms; on November 24, a fire broke out in an apartment building in Urumqi, but the rescue of fire engines was delayed by fences blocking the road, which eventually led to the death of 10 people and the injury of 9 others.

Subsequently, there were protests in Urumqi, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Wuhan, Lanzhou, Tsinghua University, Nanjing Media College and other universities to mourn the victims of the Urumqi fire and oppose the lockdown measures, and the protests are still ongoing.

Protesters chanted slogans such as “We don’t want lockdowns and we want freedom”, “End the lockdown!” “Freedom of speech!” “Freedom of the press,” “Democracy and the rule of law,” and even physically tore down iron sheeting and fencing in place as part of lockdown measures.

Many residents of urban communities mobilised to enter into collective negotiations with neighborhood committees for the lifting of lockdown restrictions on their communities and neighborhoods. These protests shattered the inactivity and passivity that had characterised the political and social movements of the past decade, tearing a gaping hole through the impenetrable web of the regime’s surveillance and control.

The ramping up of lockdown controls and tightening of pandemic surveillance seem to indicate that the Chinese state is taking the fight against the pandemic seriously, in stark contrast to the regime’s severe suppression of pandemic-related “rumours” at the beginning of the pandemic in January 2020. However, they are two sides of the same coin – that of the regime’s bureaucratic dictatorship.

Under a bureaucratic dictatorship, the measure of an official’s competence is the efficiency with which they can suppress dissenting speech. The be-all-end-all of the bureaucracy is the maintenance of its own power. The health, lives, livelihoods, rights and freedoms of the masses become fodder for the enrichment and self-aggrandisement of the bureaucracy. The entirety of the pandemic prevention and control measures were carried out from the top down, and the people were not only deprived of any decision-making power related to these measures, but even the basic channels of dialogue with the bureaucracy were blocked.

Regardless of any adjustments in policy, the regime has constantly lied and suppressed speech since the beginning of the pandemic. The cogs of the bureaucracy have ground many lives to dust: whistle-blower doctor Li Wenliang died after contracting the disease he had attempted to warn his colleagues about; more than twenty people died in a car accident en route to a quarantine camp in Guizhou; the fire in Urumqi consumed ten more lives; residents in Sichuan were prevented from escaping their homes during an earthquake. This is not to mention the many people who were prevented from accessing essential medical care due to the lockdowns, with some paying for it with their lives.

It is of course not the rich, but the working class and the grassroots, who have borne the brunt of the severe lockdown measures. They include airport janitors who are especially vulnerable to infection, and the information revealed by the tracking and tracing of many infected people evince their harsh working and living conditions, which have been exacerbated by the lockdown. To date, the harsh lockdown measures have exacerbated the hardships brought by the already depressed economy, leading to the massive unemployment of workers, the bankruptcy of small traders, and vast quantities of unharvested agricultural products rotting in the fields.

On the other hand, collusion between the bureaucracy and business continues, especially with some connected families monopolising industries such as nucleic acid testing to make a fortune aided and abetted by bureaucratic decree. Although entire swathes of the economy are suffering, the production and profitability of some big enterprises (such as Foxconn) are still protected by bureaucratic power. The fencing-off of entire districts, the stringent implementation of universal nucleic acid testing, and the construction of warehouse-style quarantine camps has all contributed to a serious waste of various resources, and in places has even facilitated the spread of the pandemic. Draconian containment measures shut down many social service agencies, increased the burden of housework on women, and made many women and children more vulnerable to domestic violence.

During the beginning of the pandemic, due to the high rate of severe illness and mortality caused by the new coronavirus and the absence of a vaccine and proven treatment protocols, we believe that it is necessary – the point of being an obligation – for the people to accept certain physical quarantine and lockdown measures to protect the health of workers, farmers, the vulnerable and the grassroots.

However, we oppose the strengthening of state or bureaucratic power for this purpose. In many countries, right-wing and far-right governments have promoted “herd immunity” without regard for the health and lives of workers and the underprivileged, resulting in the rapid spread of the pandemic throughout the world.

Today, however, the threat posed by the Omicron variant has significantly lessened, yet the government continues to ramp up increasingly-draconian pandemic control measures in disregard of basic scientific principles, simply to strengthen and maintain the stranglehold of the bureaucracy over society. Some local governments have relaxed their control measures under the pressure of mass movements (e.g., Urumqi, Chongqing, etc.), but these results are the result of people's spontaneous protests, not of government wisdom or benevolence.

To better respond to future changes in public health and epidemic prevention policies, we advocate:

1. Democratisation of pandemic control decision-making. We support the popular campaign for grassroots participation in pandemic control decision-making, as exemplified by residents’ collective negotiations with neighbourhood committees to relax lockdown measures while protecting the infected in Beijing and other places. Community residents, workers, employees, students, and rural farmers can spontaneously form autonomous pandemic control committees to negotiate with local governments, neighbourhood committees, village committees, etc. to decide on current and future epidemic control and prevention initiatives in various living and working places, and to decide on various economic and governance issues related to pandemic control and hygiene. In addition, the government should seek to holistically gauge the people’s opinion on pandemic control policy, based on their own interests, to inform pandemic control policy without completely ignoring the people's will and rights.

2. The release all those who have been arrested, and the cessation of all censorship and any action to suppress protests. We support the slogan of "We don’t want lockdowns and we want freedom" and demand the implementation of the rights to freedom of speech, procession and assembly. We demand the disclosure of information on nucleic acid testing, the number of deaths, the number of ventilators, the number of ICU beds and the extent to which they are occupied by COVID-infected patients, the number of positive antigen and nucleic acid tests, the age and gender distribution of the sick, the extent of the pandemic’s spread in residential areas, workplaces and schools, the state’s financial expenditure on nucleic acid and vaccines, etc. We demand the severe punishment of the crony capitalists and corrupt bureaucrats who have caused casualties due to their autocratic management of the lockdown. At the same time, we call on the public to protest rationally and not to engage in violent clashes with the police.

3. The abolition of the draconian lockdown and collective quarantine measures, which should be replaced by voluntary home-based quarantine of infected people, with the government bearing the cost of home quarantine. Rent and mortgage payments should be frozen for the locked-down areas, or should be waived for future periods based on the duration of the previous lockdown. Women's self-help activities against domestic violence should be supported. To reduce the spread of various infectious diseases, more investment should be made in education and public transportation to achieve small class sizes and easy and convenient public transportation.

4. The intensive investment into and development of public healthcare. To cope with the inevitable uptick of COVID infections following the loosening of pandemic control restrictions, the unvaccinated (especially the elderly) should be encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The extremely wasteful universal nucleic acid testing campaigns should be stopped. The huge amount of money currently spent on nucleic acid testing and lockdown and control measures should not be diverted to other uses, but should be invested entirely in the medical sector and vaccine development and popularization. Medical investment should be gradually increased according to economic development and people's needs.

The government should have as its goals the strengthening of preventative measures against various infectious diseases, the construction of new and accessible healthcare facilities ranging from small community clinics to large public hospitals, the training of many new medical students and healthcare workers, and the widespread promotion of basic medical and hygiene knowledge throughout society. In order to be able to respond more effectively to public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to demand an end to the crony-capitalist commodification and marketization of healthcare and establish a high-quality, free medical care system for all.

5. Give subsidies to unemployed workers and those who have no income because of the lockdowns and other pandemic control measures. Comprehensively improve the working conditions of workers, including improving sanitary conditions in the workplace, banning overtime work without reducing monthly income, and providing accessible healthcare by establishing community clinics in industrial areas. We demand that workers and employees who are put into mandatory quarantine be compensated for their lost wages. Workers should have the right to establish autonomous trade unions and participate in corporate decision-making and oppose the actions of some companies (such as Foxconn in Zhengzhou) that prioritise the continuation of production and the pursuit of profit above workers’ rights, wellbeing or concerns about their health and safety. Finally, workers must be guaranteed their right to sick leave and resignation at will.

6. The indiscriminate hunting and killing of wild animals must be stopped. There is a high probability that COVID-19 is transmitted from wild animals to humans, a consequence of the serious encroachment of capitalism on natural territories. We demand that the protection of wildlife be strengthened, that the encroachment of capitalist and bureaucratic interests on nature reserves cease, and that the current industrial farming methods, which are likely to lead to the spread of mutated and powerful diseases among animals, be ended and replaced by more ecological and environmentally friendly farming.

We believe that only a socialist democracy emancipated from the bureaucratic class’s monopoly on power and the profit-seeking behaviour of capital can truly give rise to a people’s campaign against the pandemic, a healthcare system that belongs to the people, and a life that belongs to the individual.

See also

From Urumqi to Shanghai: Demands from Chinese and Hong Kong Socialists

Thursday, November 24, 2022

For ‘immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces’ from Ukraine, says Sinn Fein congress

[I have edited this post to insert the actual text of the Ard Fheis resolution and the remarks by Mary Lou MacDonald as quoted in the text cited in the Comment below by reader Jim Monaghan. Thanks to Jim for this. – R.F.]

The Quebec  left website Presse-toi à gauche reports in this week’s issue that Sinn Fein, Ireland’s main progressive party, adopted the following resolution concerning Ukraine at its Ard Fheis (congress) held November 5, 2022:[1]

This Ard Fheis unequivocally condemns all forms of imperialism and colonial aggression.

We oppose the denial of national self-determination and all violations of national sovereignty throughout the globe, and without exception.

We assert that the primacy of international law must be upheld and enforced with respect to the exercise of national self-determination, sovereignty, and democracy of all nations.

On that basis, we call for:

– A complete end to the war in Ukraine;

– Full restoration of Ukrainian national sovereignty;

– An immediate withdrawal of all Russian armed forces;

– And, maintenance of all appropriate political and economic sanctions until these outcomes are achieved.

A few weeks earlier, PTàG reports, Sinn Fein MP John Brady had condemned “unequivocally” the “gross violation of international law” constituted by Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the (partially) occupied Ukrainian regions, and the nuclear blackmail of the Russian authorities.

Sinn Fein is now the leading party in both the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, following the 2020 election in the Republic (25% of the vote) and the 2022 election in the North (29%). A major item on the party’s agenda is the development of a strategy for achieving reunification of Ireland.

This was the first Ard Fheis since the end of the COVID lockdown. Also in attendance were several Palestine solidarity groups and collectives from Palestine civil society. The Ard Fheis’s keynote speaker was Omar Bargouthi, a founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which Sinn Fein supports.

In her final speech of the Ard Fheis, Mary Lou McDonald, the president of Sinn Fein, stated:

“We stand with Ukraine. We will support you until that day when your beloved homeland is free from Russia’s war. Russia must end its war. The journey to peace must start now. Ireland stands on the side of international law, against those who trample on the rights of others. Be it Putin’s war or Israeli apartheid.”

[1] All quotations retranslated from the French, as I was unable to find the original English or Gaelic. The PTàG report is republished from “Questions nationales, de l’Irlande à l’Ukraine …” The author, Bernard Dréano, is a member of the Center for International Solidarity Studies and Initiatives (CEDETIM) and of the European Citizens’ Assembly France (Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly France), member associations of the Initiatives for Another World Network (IPAM).

Friday, November 18, 2022

Navigating the Left’s Ukraine Debate


“Peace in Ukraine,” “a negotiated settlement,” and “diplomacy now” are demands being advanced by many ostensibly “anti-war and anti-imperialist” groups. Typical is a coalition based in the United States, with supporters in other countries including Canada. They define their objectives:

“We are a US-based coalition of peace and social justice organizations urgently mobilizing to end the war in Ukraine by demanding our government support an immediate ceasefire; negotiations, not escalation; and a freeze on weapons shipments that prolong fighting. We cannot control the actions of the Russian or Ukrainian governments, but we can influence our own government if we organize and mobilize.

“This war is a disaster for the people of Ukraine and Russia, and a terrible threat to us all, increasing the danger of more death and destruction, economic hardship, hunger, climate degradation, a protracted war or worse--a nuclear confrontation between the two most heavily armed nuclear nations in the world, the United States and Russia.

“We are anti-war and anti-imperialist. Our coalition opposes the Russian invasion while recognizing that the expansion of NATO led to this crisis. A provocation, however, is not a justification. We call for the removal of sanctions that harm ordinary Russians and call on all countries to welcome refugees fleeing from war, be it in Europe or elsewhere in the world.

“We need a negotiated settlement. We need diplomacy. We need the White House and Congress to come to their senses and stop fueling this proxy war between the US and Russia with billions of dollars in weapons.

“Our domestic needs are urgent. We need food for the hungry, healthcare and housing for all, fully-funded public education and a green transition to lessen the climate crisis. Every dollar we spend on weapons, ammunition, missiles and military training is a dollar stolen from our communities at home.

“Join us as we build a coalition that is ethnically and otherwise diverse to present a massive, unified response with peace-loving people around the world.

“Let us collectively say No to War in Ukraine; Yes to Negotiations and Peace.”

The coalition is promoting a book by Medea Benjamin, War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict. The Canadian Foreign Policy Institute recently sponsored a webinar featuring Benjamin and her supporter Dimitri Lascaris, a prominent member of the Green Party. The on-line magazine Canadian Dimension has posted a number of articles advancing similar arguments; typical is this piece by Yves Engler: “We need to challenge leftists supporting NATO’s dangerous escalation in Ukraine.”

These calls for “peace” in Ukraine are mounting as Ukraine scores some military victories while Russia persists in its aggression ­­– now escalating to the massive bombing of Ukrainian civilian infrastructures clearly intended to deprive the population of needed electricity and heating during the winter.

Also mounting is evidence that prominent U.S. and NATO military officers and politicians, unwilling to continue to fund and arm Ukraine’s costly resistance, are pressuring its leaders to offer concessions or to surrender sovereignty over some of its territory, 15% of which is still controlled by Russia. President Biden: “It remains to be seen … whether or not Ukraine is prepared to compromise with Russia.” (Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2022) Army General Mark Milley, the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, says “There has to be a mutual recognition that military victory… is maybe not achievable through military means, so therefore you need to turn to other means. There’s also an opportunity here, a window of opportunity, for negotiation.” (Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2022)

Leftist “negotiations now” advocates, accordingly, are finding themselves in some awkward company, along with some of the imperialist political and military forces they claim to oppose.

All wars end in negotiations. But what is to be negotiated, and by whom? This is a war between Russia and Ukraine: Russia invaded, Ukraine resists. Both sides profess readiness to negotiate a solution. But the Kremlin has invested enormous resources in its pursuit of the war, and barring its military defeat is unprepared to abandon its determination to establish control over Ukraine’s political and economic fate. It has already illegally decreed the annexation of Ukraine’s eastern industrial area of the country. Ukraine’s president Zelensky says he is open to peace talks with Russia, but understandably says his conditions for dialogue are the return of all of Ukraine’s occupied lands, compensation for damage caused by the war, prosecution of war crimes and “guarantees that it will not happen again.”

Ukraine is fighting for its survival as a nation. And at least some of its Western imperialist allies may well be probing the possibilities for a Great Power deal between NATO and Russia, to be imposed on Ukraine, that could mean agreement to Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine’s territory.

“The war has already led to Russian forces gaining control of at least $12.4trn worth of Ukraine’s resources in energy (coal), metals and mineral deposits, apart from agricultural land. If Putin’s forces succeed in annexing Ukrainian land seized during Russia’s invasion, Kyiv would permanently lose almost two-thirds of its deposits. Moscow now controls 63% of Ukraine’s coal deposits, 11% of its oil, 20% of its natural gas, 42% of its metals, and 33% of its rare earths…. If Russia maintains its control of existing gains, the reconstruction of Ukraine as an independent state funded by Western capital is put in jeopardy.” (Michael Roberts, “The economics of the Russia-Ukraine war”)

The following article by two prominent U.S. labour activists addresses the central issues in the war and in my view convincingly answers the assumptions underlying the views expressed by the “peace now” advocates on the left of the political spectrum. Bill Fletcher Jr. is a longtime trade unionist, writer and speaker. Elly Leary is a retired GM autoworker, and served as a chief contract negotiator. Their contribution was first published in the online site Convergence. – Richard Fidler

* * *

Q&A: Navigating the Left’s Ukraine Debate

By Bill Fletcher Jr. and Elly Leary

“Sovereignty and self-determination are important concepts to keep at the heart of Left analysis”—and can help orient us in the confusion and misinformation surrounding Russia’s war on Ukraine.

1. Why is the principle of self-determination so important to understanding the conflict in Ukraine? 

There are three aspects to the question of national self-determination. One, a recognition that “nations” of peoples have a right to assert their own identity and form a political unit separate from or included within a larger geo-political grouping. Two, that a recognized nation-state has the internationally recognized right to national sovereignty. Specifically, regarding national sovereignty, no outside power has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of another country (unless under terms agreed upon by the United Nations). And third, self-determination is a basic element of freedom that has tremendous power to forge unity as it resonates amongst a people.

In the case of Ukraine, the international borders of an independent Ukraine were recognized in 1991 in the context of the collapse of the USSR. Ukraine, however, did have a national-territorial status as a recognized nation after the formation of the USSR and, further, in the context of the formation of the United Nations. The internationally recognized borders of Ukraine were affirmed in 1994, with the signing of the Budapest Accords  whereby Ukraine turned over nuclear weapons on the condition that Russia pledged to never invade Ukraine and to always respect Ukrainian sovereignty.

Russia violated this agreement in 2014 with the invasion and annexation of Crimea, on the pretext of an alleged coup in Kyiv. Even if one agreed that a coup took place—and we do not—that would not justify a foreign intervention.

Sovereignty and self-determination are important concepts to keep at the heart of left analysis.

The US and others have a long and sordid history of meddling in the internal affairs of countries. The entire 1950s US regime of Allan and John Foster Dulles (State Department and CIA) was based on this principle. Ukraine has been the subject of much external plotting and conniving, certainly by the US.

Even with outside meddling from numerous forces, what took place in 2014 was a matter internal to the Ukraine—the result of its own internal contradictions. The political outcome was not favorable to Russia, but was in no way an attack on Russia. As such, it should not have justified any sort of intervention. Consider the US invasion of Panama in 1989. It was based on the pretext that Manuel Noriega was a criminal and that the US had to bring him to justice. While Noriega certainly was a criminal—and one who had regularly worked in cooperation with the USA—he was also the president of a sovereign nation. As with Ukraine, there was no internationally legal justification for a US invasion (of Panama).

National self-determination for Ukraine is of further importance given the semi-colonial relationship the country has historically had with Russia, despite the close linguistic and cultural ties. Asserting that Russia has no need to recognize Ukrainian sovereignty due to historic ties would be the equivalent of suggesting that the US has no need to recognize Canadian sovereignty given the close linguistic and cultural ties that go back at least two hundred years.

2. Is this a proxy war between the US/NATO and Russia?

It has become almost fashionable, among some segments of the Left, to call the Russo-Ukrainian War a “proxy war” between Russia and NATO: that is a war in which the principal contradiction is the instigation of war by foreign powers, and in which internal contradictions are secondary.

An excellent example of a “proxy war” would be the conflicts within the Democratic Republic of the Congo post-1997 wherein the domestic forces were largely eclipsed by or dominated by foreign actors, e.g., Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, multi-national corporations. While there was certainly an internal conflict, various militias were doing the bidding of foreign actors.

The Russo-Ukrainian War is no more a “proxy war” than was the Vietnam War. Yet it is important to remember that many liberals and right-wingers described the Vietnam War as a proxy war between the US, on the one hand, and the USSR and China on the other. They ignored the national question—the fact that the Vietnam War was about US aggression against the people of Vietnam (and, later, the people of Laos and Cambodia). A proxy war is taking place when there are bad actors on both sides, not when one side is fighting for their independence—even if the side fighting for independence seeks help from other nations.

The Russo-Ukrainian War is the direct result of Russia violating the sovereignty of Ukraine. About this there is little debate. The question is whether their violation was justified by acts of NATO.  Since there was no evidence that NATO has armed Ukraine with nuclear weapons and since there is ample evidence that several NATO member-states were actively opposed to the inclusion of Ukraine within NATO, the argument falls flat.

Putin’s stated objective is to end the national sovereignty of Ukraine. Any mention of the role of NATO is a red herring that hides the real aim of Russia to expand its sphere of influence.

3. What has been the role of NATO? Is it the aggressor in this current conflict?

Let’s be clear: the fall of the Berlin Wall offered a unique opportunity to reconfigure international relations worldwide. Leftists and progressives argued vigorously for the disbanding of NATO and for a new framework to be drawn based on mutual respect, democracy and security. That did not happen. Despite sufficient evidence that the US agreed or implied that NATO would not expand, without this being codified in writing all bets were off once the USSR collapsed.

The irony is that the invasion ended any hope for a new framework beyond NATO; in fact, it accomplished the opposite. There appear to have been major conflicts within the NATO community regarding what should unfold. What did happen, however, is that NATO expanded eastward towards the Russian border when countries that had been formerly in the Soviet bloc indicated that they needed protection against a potential Russian expansionist/hegemonist threat. NATO was not pushed on these countries, though NATO could have and should have stopped the expansion. The expansion largely stopped in 2004.

What changed was the 2014 crisis in Ukraine. Remember that that the Budapest Accords of 1994 did not have any sort of “exception” clause that would ever justify a Russian invasion. When the 2014 crisis unfolded, the so-called Maidan uprisings, a pro-Russian administration was chased out of the country by a broad coalition within which there were hard, rightwing forces. It is around this time that Ukrainian chauvinists began pushing anti-ethnic Russian politics, especially regarding usages of the language. The Putin regime utilized the internal Ukrainian conflict as a pretext for an intervention. This included seizing Crimea and supporting separatist regimes in the Donbas region.

It was in the context of the Russian intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine that the matter of NATO arose. Prior to 2014 there was little interest in Ukraine joining NATO. As a result of Russian interference in Ukraine, including but not limited to the seizing of Crimea, interest in NATO emerged.

In the lead-up to the February 2022 invasion, the Ukrainian government conveyed to Putin that it would not join NATO. This did not stop the invasion, largely because the invasion had little to do with NATO. Putin made the objectives very clear on the day of the invasion where he declared that Ukraine was “national fiction.” Thus, for Putin, the invasion was not about an alleged NATO threat and more about the destiny of Ukraine as a country.

4. Is it right to call for a world that is divided into spheres of influence so that peace can be maintained? Is this in the interest of the working classes?

There have been many sincere progressives and leftists who have argued that big countries, e.g., Russia, have a legitimate interest in a sphere of influence. Some on the Left specifically propose the notion of “multi-polarity” that says there needs to be several major poles—powers—to counter the hegemonism of the USA. This is a different definition from another one other leftists have used where multi-polarity means the upholding of sovereignty and independence of all nations. It is the former with which we take issue.

While most of the world, including some leftists and progressives, talks about spheres of influence, we believe the principle of self-determination must be our starting point. We have historically protested the US invoking the so-called Monroe Doctrine to justify endless violations of the national sovereignty of countries in the Western Hemisphere. Sphere of influence arguments have always been used by big powers to suppress national self-determination. US antipathy towards Cuba (since 1959) and Nicaragua (1980s) are both related to claims of spheres of influence. The Soviet invasions of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) were justified based on spheres of influence.

The argument regarding multi-polarity can sound, in a first hearing, to be a progressive demand to restrain US imperialism. But that is not always the case. The pre-1914 world was multi-polar as was the pre-1939 world. That did not make them progressive in the least. Certainly, the current expansion of rightwing authoritarian regimes across the planet leaves little doubt multi-polarity could easily result in a profoundly reactionary world.

Progressives support national self-determination and not spheres of influence. Our demand needs to be for national self-determination and a world guided by principles of international law.

5. Isn’t the USA being hypocritical in its stand? Doesn’t this explain why many countries in the global South have been reluctant to speak up?

The US has a history of profound hypocrisy. In the current war there is little question but that the stand of the US is hypocritical. In condemning Russian aggression, it ignores Israeli aggression against the Palestinians and Moroccan aggression against the Sahrawis, and our own illegal invasion of Iraq. And, yes, this is a reason that many governments in the global South have equivocated—at least until recently—in full condemnations of the Russian aggression. And there is the issue of food: Russia and Ukraine are the bread baskets of Africa. It is not too impolite to label this food blackmail.

That said, it is important to note that many governments in the global South are also influenced by trade and financial arrangements that they have with Russia as well as the West, leading them to be cautious in response.

It is important to add that US hypocrisy has not stopped progressives around the world from speaking out on other outrages. For example, the Indonesian atrocities against East Timor were called out by people of good will internationally and forced the US to back away from its traditional alliance with the reactionary Indonesian regime. Violations of international law and human rights were denounced because they were wrong.

In this sense, the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine by genuine internationalists is entirely consistent with approaches from the past. US supporters of Irish liberation did not remain silent about British imperialism just because the US was an imperialist power. And supporters of African liberation did not remain silent about European colonialism just because the US was also a colonial oppressor, e.g., against the Philippines.

6. Even if we oppose the invasion, is it correct to support weapons to Ukraine or doesn’t that just prolong the fighting and bring us closer to global war?

If one opposes the Russian invasion and supports Ukrainian sovereignty, the logical question is really this: how are the Ukrainians supposed to resist Russian aggression? With simply harsh language? An appeal to the United Nations?

Those who say that weapons should not go to the Ukrainians are insincere. They are, in essence, calling upon the Ukrainians to surrender. They may believe that the Ukrainians can carry out passive resistance against the Russians along the lines of the Danish resistance to Nazi Germany. The only problem is that the Danish were not resisting the Nazis in a vacuum. There was a world war underway.

When the Vietnamese were resisting the US, there were those who called upon the Vietnamese to make concessions and to hold off on their struggles. In fact, in 1954 both the USSR and China appealed to the Vietminh to accept the “temporary” division of Vietnam into two regions as a means of ending the conflict. We see where that ended.

The oppressed are regularly told that they should hold off on their demands and tone down their efforts. Such arguments were made to the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, arguments to which Dr. King responded, condemning white moderates who wanted the Black Freedom Movement to restrain itself. If we ask Ukraine to tone down their efforts, we are in essence telling them to submit to the demands of the aggressor, Putin’s Russia.

Is there a danger of global war? Absolutely. As long as there are imperialist powers such a danger exists. Yet that should not mean that the oppressed, and those victimized by aggression should restrain their resistance.

7. Why has it been impossible to achieve a negotiated settlement to this conflict?

Simply put, the Putin regime sees no reason to negotiate. As one is seeing now (October 2022), the Putin regime intends to implement the approach that it took toward the suppression of the Chechnyans, i.e., total suppression through massive, indiscriminate use of violence. This was also replicated in the Russian-backed assault on the Syrian revolutionary movement, e.g., barrel bombs, attacking hospitals.

Ultimately the Russian government will need to decide what is their bottom line. They may decide on a “Korean solution,” i.e., an armistice without a treaty and with a “cold war” continuing between Russia and Ukraine. This may not be acceptable for the Ukrainians.  Moreover, the Ukrainian experience with Russia in negotiations has been very problematic—starting with the Budapest Accords in 1994 which guaranteed Ukrainian sovereignty in exchange for the return of nuclear weapons to Russia and continuing with the Minsk Accords.

We should acknowledge that there has been a great deal of organized misinformation propagated by the Putin regime and their allies. These forces have suggested, from the beginning, that the US and the Ukrainian government have lacked an interest in a negotiated settlement. This is false.

There is an additional matter relative to negotiations. Those who argue that the matter of the Russo-Ukrainian War needs to be settled between the US/NATO and Russia treat Ukraine as a secondary player. They are acting, against all evidence, as if this is a struggle that is not about the national existence of Ukraine but is a battle between two imperialist powers. Any settlement not negotiated with the Ukrainians at the head of the table would be a settlement imposed on the people. This is a position which the global Left has never accepted.

8. Whereas other liberation struggles, such as the Palestinian, Kurdish, or American First Nations’ have tended to unite most of the Left, why has the debate over Ukrainian liberation seemed to have divided it?

There are several reasons:

  • Russian propaganda skillfully identified the 2014 events as a fascist/US-led coup.
  • A version of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” in this case meaning that insofar as the US supports the Ukrainian government this must mean, for some sections of the Left, that the Ukrainians are on the wrong side of history.
  • An inaccurate analysis of the Putin regime, including a tendency towards nostalgia by some regarding the old USSR. This can be seen in the fascination by some leftists that the flag of the former USSR has been used at different points by the Russian forces. Thus, a denial of the semi-fascist nature of the Putin regime, including but not limited to its active support for far Right forces globally.
  • As we have seen in a number of struggles, it is relatively easy for segments of the Western Left and progressive movements to become destabilized if a particular government waves the “red flag” and proclaims itself to be anti-imperialist. Rather than doing a concrete analysis, many of us are taken in by the rhetoric and tend to belittle charges against such governments as having been manufactured by the CIA and other nefarious players.

9. What do we know about the anti-war movement in Russia and anti-war sentiment more broadly? Is there any way we can support anti-war/pro-democracy forces in Russia without putting them in danger?

One of the first things Putin did after the invasion was to outlaw independent journalism and crack down on protests. Since then, things have only intensified. Anti-war actions have spread throughout Russia, sometimes appearing on mainstream news outlets, while in other cases, street actions or various forms of civil disobedience.

The question of supporting anti-war forces in Russia is complicated by the nature of the authoritarian Putin regime. What seems to be in order is calling attention to repression by the Russian government and giving support to Russian refugees who are leaving the country to avoid military service. Additional assistance can be rendered through support for legitimate trade unionists in Russia who are standing in opposition to the war. That said, the trade union movement is divided on the question.

10. Can the US government play a positive role that doesn’t undermine Ukrainian sovereignty? How can we best express solidarity with Ukraine? Are there social movement forces we can reach out to?

Let’s be clear. The US cannot negotiate on behalf of Ukraine. Ukraine is not acting as an agent of the US. The US can encourage both parties to negotiate and pledge that it would support any steps to guarantee security for both parties on the condition that there are no further acts of aggression. The US could cease arms delivery beginning when there is a legitimate Russian ceasefire and could stop them altogether upon the removal of all Russian forces. The US could also pledge to respect the neutrality of Ukraine and not support their entry into NATO.

The Left can be most helpful to the Ukrainians by insisting that the right of self-determination of the Ukrainian people is the principal contradiction here. Even as forces around the world suggest frameworks and conciliatory peace plans to stop the carnage, at the end of the day it is in the hands of the Ukrainian people to decide what to accept.

As once part of the USSR, “communist” parties have existed for decades inside the Ukraine. Pro-Russian forces, inside and outside the Ukraine including the contested oblasts in the East (Donbas, Crimea, Kherson), have effectively used the “banning of communist parties” and Russian language as examples of the anti-democratic (or even fascist) nature of the Ukraine regime. While these laws were passed prior to Zelensky’s election victory, and there has been some attempt to soften the language issues, ultimately this is an internal problem for the Ukrainian people to resolve. We can be in solidarity with those in Ukraine who oppose internal repression and neoliberal initiatives. But this should not confuse anyone, i.e., the main challenge facing Ukraine is the Russian invasion.

There are also small but vital anti-capitalist, egalitarian formations inside Ukraine, Sotsyalnyi Rukh for example. We, on the left, are obliged to listen to their voices. There is also an on-line journal, Commons that overlaps with SR.

These are tremendous resources, and we should look to them for information and guidance.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

A Ukrainian Left under construction on several fronts

The national conference of Sotsialny Rukh / Social Movement

Catherine Samary is a noted Marxist scholar, based in France, who has written extensively on Eastern Europe in such publications as Le Monde diplomatique. Among her books in English is Yugoslavia Dismembered. The article below is a timely introduction to the fledgling left now beginning to emerge in Ukraine, amidst the war. As Samary notes, this left will be sponsoring an on-line conference on Reconstruction and Justice in Post-War Ukraine on October 21-23. I have translated her report from Contretemps. – Richard Fidler

* * *

A Ukrainian Left under construction on several fronts

By Catherine Samary

On September 17, the Ukrainian socialist NGO Sotsialny Rukh (SR - Social Movement),[1] held a national conference in Kyiv. Far from a simple factual and make-shift report, the aim here is to shed light on the specific profile of this young left, based on how it operates at the heart of Ukrainian society and at odds with the dominant contradictory interpretations of the “Euro-Maidan” (2013-2014) which divide the left and are exploited by Putin. In doing so, it will also be a matter of reprising the long-standing differences within the Marxist left on the role a sovereign Ukraine had in the construction and dismantling of the USSRalso mobilized by Putin to legitimize his “military operation.” In the current context of a war with global implications, we will see that the questions facing SR are far from being only Ukrainian.

I attended the Sotsialny Rukh (SR) conference with two mandates[2] but a single goal, consistent with the positions defended in the various networks in which I participate: to consolidate the internationalist links from below with this new Ukrainian left. Links forged in the midst of the Ukrainian crisis of 2013-2014 and renewed in opposition to the Russian war of imperial aggression. Essential links, because they offer precious and fragile resistance to the dominant politics and ideologies that clash within the war and within the current imperialist world order.

This war, seen from Kyiv in mid-September, was both distant and very present: as we know and as we saw in the streets of the city, activities had resumed and seemed “normal” following the strategic withdrawal of Russian troops to the south and east of the country. And yet the war remains there in many ways — in addition to the fall in the standard of living (with an average salary of the order of 400 euros), millions of displaced persons or refugees, job losses, deaths, destruction and multiple forms of violence, especially against women. People were frequently reminded of the war by the emergency sirens that sounded whenever the Russian forces launched missiles although they were in the dark as to which strategic places of the country were being targeted. This happened several times in mid-September, when missiles targeted the hydro-electric power station and its dams in the Krivih Rih mining region, producing destructive floods. This proved to be the cause of the alarm that sounded in Kyiv at midday on September 16, forcing the closure of the bank where we wanted to exchange money. However, we were told that the foreign exchange services, forced to close at the street level, were still operating in the vast gallery set up in the basement, equipped with various shops and offices ensuring the continuity of activities. But in the period when the conference was taking place the alerts were clearly part of a certain “normalcy” in Kyiv: the conversations that had started on the terraces around us continued peacefully that day, like most other activities in the capital.

In the city, two other “traces” of the war were evident. For one thing, all the statues were bundled inside permanent shelters, sometimes covered with an image or a panel indicating the nature of the camouflaged work. For another, the anti-tank barriers erected at the start of the Russian offensive towards Kyiv in late February, were visible here and there, still ready for use but placed along the sides of strategic arteries. Given the way the war has progressed, the entry of tanks and troops into the capital now seems unlikely. Still, the country’s authorities plan to protect some ceremonies against possible missile fire (or remind some international personalities of the reality of the war) by holding them in the basement of the very deep and beautiful Metro of Kyiv (which resembles Moscow’s) — to the great displeasure of the population thereby hampered in its movements. Unfortunately, the very failures of Putin’s armies mean — especially after the setbacks suffered by Moscow in the Donbas and on the bridge that connects Crimea to Russia — real new threats of missile strikes on the major cities and strategic crossroads.

From one conference to anotherthe social anchoring of SR

But overall, in mid-September, the capital was still operating “normally” in the seventh month of the war, whereas last May the country’s political forces, trade unions, and other associations — as well as diplomats — still had their headquarters in Lviv, having deserted Kyiv following the late February invasion. So it was there that a first activists’ meeting had been co-organized on May 8 by Sotsialny Rukh (SR) and the left-wing European network ENSU.[3]

In Lviv, Ukrainians who were members or sympathizers of SR explained their wartime activities (political, trade-union, feminist, LGBT, ecological, etc.), in addition to their previous activities imposed by the urgent needs of solidarity from below in education and defense of the rights of everyone facing the destruction and social damage of the war. For their part, the ENSU delegates sought to publicize the work of these activists[4] and to organize with them actions combining defense of rights and self-organized humanitarian aid. The organization of trade-union convoys is the emblematic form of this type of action.[5]

The task was to help anchor a political, trade union, feminist left[6] within the overall resistance of Ukrainian society to the war when one of the major characteristics of the disagreements within the Western left is precisely to disregard this Ukrainian society — either by ignoring it (in favor of purely geo-strategic analyses ), or by reducing it to being nothing more than a victim and cannon fodder at the heart of imperialist agendas, or even identifying it solely with the reactionary currents of the dominant Right and extreme Right.

It was for this very reason — to publicize the existence of the Ukrainian left working within the popular resistance — that the conference held in Kyiv on September 17 was opened up to members of the Western left’s international solidarity networks in person or over Zoom. But SR had mainly internal aims in mind for the conference. Though unable to hold a “congress” (given wartime constraints on preparation and logistics, it was an opportunity for the organization to assess its strengths and weaknesses and the ways it has been dealing with challenges that are both general and specific to post-Soviet Ukrainian society — in particular, better equipping itself to collectively articulate and promote its political identity in a society where “the left” is synonymous with the Stalinist past and support for Putin’s war and regime.

In the event, Putin’s speeches on the eve of his “military operation” explicitly referred to two major issues dividing the left and which have shaped the political identity of SR: on the one hand, the characterization of the fall of the last so-called “pro-Russian” president of Ukraine in 2013-2014 – Viktor Yanukovych; on the other hand, the “raison d’être” of Ukraine independence.

I will now provide a brief overview of these two questions as a way to better understand Sotsialny Rukh’s profile. For this socialist NGO was created in 2015 on the basis of essential political demarcations that exist even today within the “post-Soviet” left in relation to the Maidan and the counter-Maidan.

The left and Maidan

The Ukrainian crisis of 2013-2014 refers to what has been called the “Maidan revolution” — named after the main square in Kyiv which was then the site of demonstrations, confrontations and occupations of public places and buildings which accompanied the fall of President Yanukovych. As we are always reminded by those who defend the thesis of a “fascist coup d’état supported by the West,” he had been democratically re-elected in 2010 as president of Ukraine.[7] However, it was the record of the Yanukovych regime after his 2010 victory and the evolution since then of Ukrainian society[8] and Russia that are central to the differences that have since divided the Ukrainian and international left.

I cannot expand in this article[9] on the background of the 2013 crisis with its various phases, on a Ukrainian society hit hard by the ongoing domination of “its oligarchs and its ‘Troika’” (the IMF, EU and Russia). Let us just state briefly what is often omitted in the reminders: on the one hand, the election of Yanukovych in 2010 came after the very serious financial and banking crisis of 2008-2009 which produced a massive flight of Western capital from Ukraine (which had been attracted by the change of regime of the “Orange Revolution” of 2004), the drastic fall in its GDP and a big increase of its external debt. The country faced a double squeeze: from the IMF and its conditions relayed by the EU in its neo-liberal criteria for “partnership” (increase in energy rates paid by the population, cuts to public services, etc.); and from the relations of domination that Russia tried to impose by wielding the “weapon of gas” (volumes and prices weighing heavily in Ukraine, an essential transit point for Russian gas towards the EU). Yanukovych’s election in 2010 had expressed a kind of mandate in favor of military neutrality and balance in international relations. The oligarchs themselves, including Yanukovych and his family, were pulling out all the stops in the direction of both Russia and the West, in the search for profit. Yanukovych’s democratic election said nothing about his subsequent practices. Basically, it was his unpopularity (like that of his predecessors and successors!) that brought about his downfall — coupled with corruption, anti-social policies and repression.

But it is in this context that the Ukrainian and international left saw the crystallization (after the ordeal of the NATO war over Kosovo in 1999) of contradictory political and geo-strategic visions pertaining to what could be called “neo-campism”[10] — which were extended, recomposed or radicalized in the face of the invasion of Ukraine launched by Putin on February 24, 2022.

The 2013-2014 Ukrainian crisis has thus been described on the one hand as a “democratic revolution” of the “Euro-Maidan” emphasizing the protests against Yanukovych’s decision not to sign the association agreement with the European Union (EU). At the opposite extreme, a part of the radical left in Ukraine and in Europe, has also evoked “Euro-Maidan” but in order to reject it as a whole. In both cases, the effect was to reduce the demonstrations (whether rejoicing or regretting it) to a “pro-European” movement, and to assimilate possible hopes of openings towards the EU with “anti-Russian” positions – in both cases simplistic reductions, erasing the self-organized and popular dimensions of the mobilizations, their rejection of a corrupt oligarchic regime and its repression. In fact, the initial protests against the break in the “partnership” with the EU were weak, but violently repressed. And it was this crackdown that triggered the massive occupation of Maidan Square and infuriated protesters pushing for the overthrow of the president and against compromise measures. And it was these mass mobilizations that produced the fall of the regime through profound rejection of Yanukovych’s family oligarchy, extending deep into his own region (so much so that he had to flee to Russia).

We then saw a convergence of a part of the anti-Stalinist left and neo-Stalinist currents or allies of the deposed president’s Party of Regions in their appraisal of “Euro-Maidan” as a simple instrument of Western capitalist institutions. It is important to stress the extent to which this type of conspiratorial approach has influenced anti-imperialist politics in the post-Soviet era. Not, of course, without kernels of truth: it is well known that the CIA and its organizations deployed considerable resources to corrupt Russian and Polish trade unionists during the crucial phase of the 1980s, a method used in more recent times on bloggers and organizations active within the Arab revolutions. But should this lead to denying the authenticity of popular uprisings — and the possibility that they learn from experience? In Ukraine this was how popular perceptions of the parties evolved between 2004 and 2014 — when the so-called “democratic” parties denouncing corruption in the Orange Revolution in 2004 were discovered to be deeply corrupt themselves. And more generally, as everywhere, we have observed the rise of abstention and mistrust towards the institutional parties, amidst terrible ideological confusion.

The tragedy on the left was and remains, on the one hand, the accumulation of great divisions over how we analyze the Soviet past and, on the other, tremendous ignorance concerning the events and radical transformations of the countries claiming to be socialist.[11] This further reinforced the de facto convergence of a part of this conspiratorial left with the propaganda of the autocratic powers of Russia and other former post-Soviet republics which had a radical fear of aspirations to self-determination (as in Chechnya) or of the real dégagisme [“down with all of them”] of the mass anti-establishment movements, particularly in the 2000s. The conspiratorial interpretation legitimated their turn to repression (as in Stalin’s time): any opposition was attributed to infiltration by “foreign agents.” When this “foreigner” is, moreover, the “main enemy” (imperialist), the logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” reinforces support for the Kremlin’s policy in opposition to the “color revolutions”[12] (considered as manipulated by the West) — including that of 2004 in Ukraine or Georgia in 2003, and again in Ukraine in 2014.

The Euro -Maidan of 2013-2014 was seen through this kind of lens, layering on top denunciation of the active role (real but exaggerated in such accounts) of the far-right militias in the popular mobilizations. The overrepresentation of these currents and their influence in the transitional government set up in Ukraine (before the new elections) after the fall and flight of Yanukovych served as “proof” of a “fascist anti-Russian coup d’état backed by the West” — which can be found in Putin’s speech preceding the “military operation” of February 24, 2022. A number of factors buttressed this narrative and heightened concern in the most Russian-speaking regions, in 2014 at least. [13] These included official glorification of the nationalist hero Stepan Bandera (who chose to ally with the Nazis against the Stalinist USSR); the questioning of the 2012 law on languages (adopted under the Yanukovych presidency and giving de facto joint official-language status to Russian and other regionally prevalent languages), and the affirmation of the Ukrainian language as sole official language. [14]

But this did not imply “separatism,[15] still less a war. Even in 2014, in the context of the anti-Maidan mobilizations and real mistrust of Kyiv, the population grouped within the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, dominated (without freedom of expression) by separatist forces, accounted for no more than 20-30% of the Donbas. As for the referendum organized in Crimea (which had an autonomous status within Ukraine) in the presence of the Russian armed forces, it certainly offered the “choice” of joining Russia or Ukraine — but the latter was presented as fascist (and “anti-Russian”). And, in truth, the fundamental issue for Putin was to reclaim Crimea in order to consolidate the military base of Sevastopol there (and the Black Sea fleet within it). By annexing Crimea, Russia violated the protocol it had signed with Ukraine in 1994 in Budapest (in the presence of the United States and Great Britain) according to which it promised to respect Ukraine’s borders in exchange for Russia’s recovery of all its nuclear weapons.[16]

At the same time, for those arguing that the country had experienced a “Western-orchestrated fascist-coup,” it meant that Ukrainian society had brought to power a Nazi government in the 2014 elections, backed by a consolidation of “pro-EU” parties. However, this “thesis” is contradicted by the recurrent difficulty all the institutional parties (particularly on the right and the far right) had in forming majorities or even entering parliament, as well as the successive scandals and crises affecting the Poroshenko presidency (2014-2019). One need search no further for proof of this than the surprise election of the Jewish, Russian-speaking actor, Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019, elected on a promise to defeat corruption and to negotiate with Putin for a peaceful settlement of the Donbas conflicts.

The currents that in 2015 formed Sotsialny Rukh took an independent stand in relation to these positions, which received powerful backing from state propaganda bodies. Independent of any power – in Kyiv or Moscow — the approach of SR, however marginal and fragile it may be, is precious for any critical view and internationalist resistance “from below.”

A New Left within the “Revolution of Dignity”

This left in construction had chosen in 2014 to join what it prefers to call a “revolution of dignity” with its aspirations for social justice and its dégagisme then impossible in Russia. Admittedly, this revolutionary dynamic had been unable to challenge an oligarchic system and the movement was traversed by reactionary ideologies. The current that had formed under the name “Left Opposition” fought these tendencies, seeking to turn popular egalitarian aspirations into progressive and anti-fascist responses, criticisms of the neo-liberal policies of the IMF and the EU — associated for example with the Ukrainian debt aggravated after the global and European financial crisis of 2008-2009.

Bringing together activists from various regions of Ukraine and from different political cultures (anarchists, Trotskyists and post-Stalinists especially), this left had also gauged the reasons for the popular mistrust expressed in the anti-Maidan of eastern and southern Ukraine toward the new power in Kyiv. Putin’s policy in 2014 — and since 2022 — has undoubtedly reinforced “anti-Russian “ sentiments but also the defense of a plural Ukraine.[17] This is also true on the left, among the anarchist currents identifying themselves with the fight of the anarchist leader Makhno, but also among the anti-Stalinist Marxists identified with Roman Rosdolsky, founder of the Communist Party in western Ukraine and close to the Trotskyist Left Opposition against Stalin.[18] Putin (in his February 2022 speech) denounced an independent Ukraine as a “creation” of Lenin. The centrality of self-determination of the peoples in the constitution of a free and egalitarian socialist union was fundamentally recognized by Lenin, in particular vis-a-vis the assertion of independent popular Ukraine — initially against the Bolsheviks.[19] But this obviously came into tension with several dimensions of the socialist revolutionary project – how to combine the sovereign rights of the peoples with redistributive planning from rich to less developed regions? What form of democracy to invent, combining individual and collective, social and national rights?[20]

But this entire past and its sources have been largely buried and need peace and democracy to be studied and shared. In the post-Maidan context, anarchists and more generally anti-fascists and anti-imperialists found themselves on both sides of the confrontations in which far-right “pro-Russian” or, on the contrary, virulently “anti-Russian” currents were working — also on both sides. In Ukraine, as elsewhere, a cloak of opaqueness shrouds political labels and concepts inherited from a bygone century.[21] If part of the left supports Putin as being “the enemy of my main enemy” (NATO dominated by the United States), Putin’s “anti-Western” course combines the questioning of all the revolutionary dimensions of the post-October 1917 USSR, support for Stalin’s great-power logic, contempt for any protected and egalitarian social status of workers, women, and LGBT people. And, as he explicitly stated in his speech prior to the February 2022 invasion,[22] an independent Ukraine is for him an artificial and aberrant creation of Lenin and his desire to create the USSR in 1922 on the basis of sovereign states. Global far-right currents can identify with an ethnic approach to the nation and the rejection of the “decadent” West — which should prompt some questioning among those on the left who see in Putin a support against Western imperialism.

The Maidan left that would establish Sotsialny Rukh was therefore led to identify itself in opposition to these various fronts — and therefore very marginal. It was fundamentally the expression of a new generation of activists (the average age is around 30) seeking to critically appropriate the revolutionary heritage of the 20th century while incorporating the contributions of the movements of emancipation (and “intersectional” logics crossing the oppressions of class, gender, ‘race’, sexuality, etc.) as well as environmental protection. Its need to build social roots in an “impure” society and movements and its intellectual references therefore place it at at odds with bookish and dogmatic approaches — without of course providing ready-made answers on subjects open to multiple controversies.

Its anticapitalist convictions, its concrete and critical analysis of Ukrainian society and its critical- Marxist knowledge of the Soviet past protected it from “campist” postures: it challenged as counter-productive (from the point of view of the fight against secessionist forces) the “anti-terrorist operations” of the government of Kyiv against the populations of the Donbas; but at the same time it denounced the role of Moscow and the Ukrainian bureaucratic-military apparatus in crisis behind the pseudo-referendum in Crimea against a “fascist Ukraine,” followed by the self-proclamation of the pseudo “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk (DPR and LPR). It sought to identify popular aspirations common to the whole of Ukraine and hoped for a ceasefire under the control of the OSCE or the UN, the dismantling of all paramilitary forces, and a rejection of any Russian interference as a precondition for updating the Ukrainian constitution on democratic bases and control of its choices and conflicts — against any logic of dividing spheres of influence between Moscow and Washington over and above Ukrainian society.[23]

I met this new and youthful left for the first time in Kyiv in 2013 and 2014, taking part in the debates of the conference it organized on “The left and Maidan.” I am indebted to it for my own articles on these events[24] for an “outlook” associated with its involvement against the current on several fronts at the heart of a “revolution of dignity” — an unfinished and impure revolution opening a phase of hybrid war that was radically transformed into outright war in 2022.

Putin’s Three Russian War Dolls

SR’s position on this war is consistent on the one hand with its analytical and activist approach in the 2013-2022 phase, but also with its commitment to a sovereign Ukraine as a component of a socialist struggle.

It was Putin’s aggression that shifted many questions and hesitations in the direction of the construction of a plural Ukraine — which will have to accept and overcome democratically (in a pluralistic way) its own internal conflicts and its conflicting readings of the dark pages of the past.[25]

Putin himself provided in his speech of February 22[26] the keys to interpreting his drive to war, which became clearer after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. They can be summed up in three nested Russian dolls.

The first is explicitly related to the “Great Russian” discourse of the 19th century on “one Russian people” in three dimensions (Russia, Belarus and Ukraine). Putin opposes it to Lenin’s decision to found the USSR on the basis of a questioning of the Russian Empire (and its relations of oppression), thus on an act of free union signed on an equal basis between republics (of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine) recognized as sovereign.

Like the first, the second Russian doll has nothing to do with NATO and feeds on far-right ideologies about the “Russian world” of Eurasia (against the feminist, LGBT and atheist decadence of the rest of the world). Putin fits together various ideologies in his own way. He pragmatically bases them on two projects that accommodate the newly achieved sovereignties of (autocratic and anti-social) post-Soviet non-Russian republics: the Eurasian Economic Union which seeks to counter the projects of the EU’s “Eastern Partnership”; and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a mini-NATO, which proved its effectiveness in the face of the social unrest destabilizing the autocratic government in Kazakhstan last year.[27]

Thus comforted in his “own space” of domination, Putin hoped to expand the dimensions of the third doll: his place in the Court of the great powers and facing NATO to negotiate from a position of strength the sharing of “spheres of influence.” The audacity of the Russian offensive (in defense of the imperial and imperialist interests of these projects) was catalyzed by the “brain dead” state of NATO after the painful retreat from Afghanistan and the overt disagreements between the EU, France and Germany on energy issues and relations with Russia. It is therefore not a threat from NATO, but on the contrary, its crisis which provided the basis for an offensive by Putin at the start of 2022 — reinforced by his assessment of the situation in Ukraine. He hoped to secure a boost in domestic popularity analogous to the one he achieved following the annexation of the Crimea.

Zelensky’s attempts to negotiate the fate of Donbas with Putin were met with contempt by the Russian autocrat. But they also confronted the Ukrainian president with threats from his extreme right. Turning then to Biden, he was rebuffed with an explicit refusal to defend Ukraine against threats of Russian intervention. All in all, the popularity of the Ukrainian president had fallen at the end of 2021. This confirmed Putin’s conviction of a fall-and-flight scenario in which Zelensky would be replaced by a Ukrainian Pétain within the framework of a nationwide display of force, especially directed at the capital — with the same type of narrative as for the referendum in Crimea: against a Nazified Ukraine, return to the Russian home.

Sotsialny Rukh and the war

Like the great mass of the Ukrainian population, and President Zelensky, the members of SR opted from the outset to resist the invasion, refusing to disappear in the straightjacket of the Russian doll. This position in no way suppressed their anticapitalist anarcho-communist profile or their critical independence from the Zelensky government. They consider that government to be “the lesser evil” on the Ukrainian political scene, endowed as it is with strong popular legitimacy as an expression of the defense of Ukrainian sovereignty — which implies, in wartime, that the critiques the left formulates must be (likewise) popular, concrete and not contradictory with the commitment to oppose the war.

The violence of the Russian invasion made it obvious even to the most pacifist that they had the right to defend themselves, to refuse to equate the weapons of the aggressor with those necessary for the people who decide to resist and defend their dignity, their rights, their life. Long-standing ties with the Russian Socialist Movement led the way to a common position issued on April 7, 2022[28] that confronted arguments from the Western left:

“We want to address a highly controversial demand, that of military aid to Ukraine. We understand the repercussions of militarization for the progressive left movement worldwide and the left’s resistance to NATO expansion or Western intervention. However, more context is needed to provide a fuller picture.

“First of all, NATO countries provided weapons to Russia despite the 2014 embargo (France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, and Spain). Thus, the discussion about whether weapons sent to the region end up in the right or wrong hands sounds a bit belated. They are already in bad hands, and EU countries would only be righting their earlier wrongs by providing weapons to Ukraine. Moreover, the alternative security guarantees that the Ukrainian government has proposed require the involvement of a number of countries, and probably can be achieved only with their involvement, too.

“Secondly, as numerous articles have emphasized, the Azov regiment is a problem. However, unlike in 2014, the far right is not playing a prominent role in today’s war, which has become a people’s war – and our comrades on the anti-authoritarian left of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus are fighting together against imperialism. As has become clear in the last few days, Russia is trying to compensate for its failure on the ground with air attacks. Air defense will not give Azov any additional power, but it will help Ukraine keep control of its territory and reduce civilian deaths even if negotiations fail.”

All requests for aid (military, material, financial) expressed by SR were accompanied by the rejection of any neo-liberal and anti-social conditions — a position which is also in the platform of the solidarity network ENSU. Witness the slogans and the concrete conduct of two SR campaigns (supported by ENSU), illustrating the reality of this front of social resistance within the fight against Russian aggression: on the one hand the denunciation of the causes and content of the Ukrainian debt (sparing the oligarchs and weighing on the country’s social budgets) accompanied by the demand for its cancellation, particularly in view of the disasters inflicted by the war. But also, the campaign launched more concretely at the trade-union level against the Zelensky government’s laws attacking the social protections inherited from the Soviet era. Always in the background was the question of what Ukraine was building (and rebuilding) in the wake of the war’s destruction. This is the theme of the conference to be held next October 21-23[29]: “[W]hat should the new Ukraine be like? Is there a chance to build a society based on solidarity, justice, and sustainable development? What is to be done with the ruins of the global security system? What is the role of global progressive movements in its restoration?”

These same questions — which challenge the international left without offering simple answers — were at the heart of the resolution adopted[30] by the September 17 conference in Kyiv, which begins as follows:

“The people of Ukraine have been facing hard challenges, yet they have proven their ability to fight for the right to decide on their own fate, and their determination to defend the country and to end the war as soon as possible. The authorities and representatives of market-fundamentalist ideology, together with big business, keep pushing through an economic model focused on benefiting a minority at the expense of the welfare of the absolute majority. In this model, workers are completely subservient to the will of their employers, while social and regulatory functions of the state are abolished for the sake of ‘business needs’, ‘competition’ and ‘free market’.”

Of the three texts put to the vote, the one adopted was the most developed presentation of SR’s identity. But there was little time for debate. The aim of this initial conference was to provide some theses and basic ideas for pursuing the tasks of training and collective development in the next period. Here are the “priorities” that the text puts forward for the reflections and actions of Sotsialnyi Rukh “in the struggle”:

1. Complete victory and security for Ukraine.

The Russian army must be defeated now, this is a prerequisite for the democratic and social development of both our country and the world.

Preserving independence and democracy will require, first and foremost, the development of its own defense capabilities. On this basis, a new international security system must be built to effectively counter any manifestations of imperialist aggression in the world. […]

2. Socially oriented reconstruction of Ukraine.

Neoliberal forces are trying to impose their vision of post-war Ukraine, a country belonging to big business, not to its people, and having neither social protection nor guarantees. Unlike that, we believe it is necessary to advocate for the reconstruction that emphasizes progressive development of the living standards of the majority of the population, and of our social infrastructure, provision of economic guarantees. Reconstruction must be ecological, social, decentralized and democratic, inclusive and feminist. […]

3. Social democratization.

Democratization of all levels of life, eliminating the influence of money and big business on politics, in-creasing the representation and importance of trade unions, national minorities and communities in power and their full involvement in decision-making. […]

4. Identity and inclusiveness.

The new Ukrainian identity, which is being born before our eyes, is multi-ethnic and multicultural, because most Ukrainians, who now defend our country, are at least bilingual. The multilingualism and diversity of Ukrainian national culture must be preserved and developed, focusing on the Ukrainian language becoming a universal means of exchange and production of knowledge in all areas of public life, culture, science, and technology. The entire cultural heritage of humankind should not only become available in Ukrainian, but Ukrainian should also be used to produce advanced works of literature and art, scientific and technical knowledge of a global level.

It is necessary to ensure the development of Ukrainian culture and language in all their diversity, socially oriented Ukrainianization, based on decent and competent public funding of education, publishing, popularization of science, festivals, cultural projects, cinema, etc. […]

5. International solidarity against imperialism and climate catastrophe.

Although Ukraine is the largest country on the European continent, it is thrown to the periphery of regional politics. Having no influence on decision-making, it is reduced to a marketplace for European states.

The growing contradictions between the centers of capital accumulation in the world capitalist system will not stop even after the complete destruction of Russian imperialist power. […]

The climate catastrophe unfolding before our eyes demands urgent action. Humanity must mobilize resources for the immediate and complete rejection of hydrocarbon fuel. […]

The aim of the conference was also to tackle the organizational tasks associated with this program.

The introductory report by the president of SR, the labor rights lawyer Vitalyi Dudin, emphasized that in six months SR had seen its membership double in size,[31] which did not take it out of marginality but posed new challenges for it: the movement had to find ways to function adapted to a greater number of members in their various fields of intervention — trade union, feminist, youth, socio-political research, Commons magazine, social and international media, etc. And, in doing so, it also had to face up to the responsibilities pertaining to its increased influence.

Indeed, SR came into its own as the left that opposes both the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine and the neo-liberal[32] and anti-democratic policies (for example, the “decommunization” law[33]) of the Zelensky government. This means that the question of political “representation” of workers is acutely posed on the Ukrainian political scene – as it often is elsewhere. Responding to this challenge, the task of building a “party” was raised in two ways. On the one hand, this objective is very much part of the political resolution adopted by the conference, which specifies in the introduction:

“A party is needed to implement an alternative vision of Ukraine — democratic, social, and socialist. This party would protect and unite the working class and the unprivileged, those who now lack political representation and suffer from constant abuse. Such a party must protect the absolute majority of the working population from the employers’ dictate.

“The ultimate goal of such a political force must be the emancipation of humankind and the radical democratization of economic, political, national, and social life.”

In addition, the question of the links between current activity in the trade unions (or social movements) and the party was addressed in a concrete way, after the introductory balance-sheet report. On this specific subject the SR president invited Vasilii Andreev, president of the building trades union, to address the conference. He reported on his experience in beginning to establish the necessary bases for legal recognition of a political party that he sees as an extension of his union. The SR organization has decided to assess more closely, in dialogue with Vasilii Andreev, the programmatic proximity between the two organizations and, on the practical level, to test in the various branches and regions the possibilities for functioning in common.

To follow up on the various tasks, the conference elected a new collective “Council” (or Rada) of seven members — including three linked to trade-union work (including SR president Vitalyi Dudin), three women heavily involved in feminist networks, and one of the organizers of the young “Direct Action” networks in student circles. In all sectors, the conference was a step toward more effective work together in a relationship “of trust,” as emphasized by Vitalyi Dudin. These various types of activities include those begun before the war, associated with the defense of rights (including popular education), but also the various forms of broad self-organization responding in solidarity to the damage and disasters of war — its destruction of jobs and therefore loss of resources, and often of roofs, but also the inadequacy of collective services and the many forms of violence against women.[34]

Dudin’s report itself underscored two tasks that SR will strive to take on. That of “translating” the socialist convictions expressed in the resolution into concrete formulations that are comprehensible, mobilizing, and pointing toward breaks with the existing order (a “transitional” logic, perhaps?). And that of building the confidence needed to function as a “collective intellectual” implementing this type of project. These are tasks challenging all left organizations globally, becoming more complex in their execution as the organization expands. SR is an organization which, while still small in size, is already very diverse (fortunately!) in terms of the political cultures of its members — predominantly ecolo-anarcho-communist, feminist, LGBT, anti-fascist. These are assets.

But what does it mean, as the texts of SR assert, to be in favor of a “democratic socialism”? The question was raised by one of the comrades present at the conference. And on digging deeper, it turned out that it was the content of the notion of “democratic” that was most problematic for him. Criticism of the Stalinist past has in no way resolved the questions that are asked not only by the Ukrainian left but by all the anticapitalist currents: how to organize the new society (what forms of democracy, and what institutions behind the socialization of planning, the market, ownership?). Moreover, how to move from the struggle in and against the existing system to the construction of other decision-making powers and other eco-communist rights and priorities. And at what levels should we be organized territorially to be credible and efficient? What to expect from the EU? The Ukrainian population has suffered the effects of a radical “peripheralization” in the capitalist order and has come up against the neo-liberal criteria of the EU in the “partnership” relationship established since 2009. The great mass of the population aspires to have the status, rights – and, it hopes, the protections (in every way) — of full membership. This is a debate that SR and its membership have not had in full — but it has begun, and it is a debate that (also) divides the European left. It fits into the global issues raised by the war. The resolution adopted by SR stresses:

“The left in Europe and around the world turned out to be helpless and disoriented when the Russian aggression in Ukraine occurred. Unless the international socialist movement realizes mistakes it has made and builds a new, truly internationalist cooperation and coordination, we simply have no chance of preventing the growth of inter-imperialist struggle in the future.”

The only perspective that opens up margins for progressive resistance against all forms of imperialism is that popular Ukrainian resistance (which makes effective use of the weapons received) will lead to the downfall of Putin. It can do so — by arousing in particular in the Russian Federation and in the former Soviet republics an identification of non-Russian nations with the Ukrainian decolonial cause and more generally a mass refusal to die for a dirty war. It is up to the internationalist left to raise awareness of the similarity of the decolonial challenges facing the Ukrainian and Russian left to those of the peoples of the “global South,” as the Indian feminist and communist Kavita Krishnan points out.[35] The decolonization of the Russian Federation is the key to making credible the agenda for the dissolution of NATO and the CSTO and the debates (initiated by Taras Bilous[36] within Sotsialny Rukh) on the need for another global “security” architecture, rejecting any logic of “blocs” and shared “spheres of influence.”

[1] See their presentation “Who we are?”:

[2] I was there, on the one hand, with three other members of the European Network for Solidarity with Ukraine, ENSU ( ) and as a member of the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA). See the collective report of the four ENSU members who were in Kyiv, But I was also mandated to attend by the leadership of the Fourth International to speak on its behalf ; see my intervention

[3] See the reports and videos on the ENSU website,

[4] See the short interview videos recorded by Olivier Besancenot, delegate (with me) in Lviv for the NPA, allowing “a week of solidarity” (and usable in the networks):

[5] See for example on the Solidaires website the inter-union actions for Ukraine: detape/ and, again, internationally this summer toward the Krivih mining site:

[6] Read the Manifesto of Ukrainian feminists “The right to resist,”

[7] It is quite true that Yanukovych’s election in 2010 against the so-called pro-Western candidate Yulia Tymoshenko went well — as all international observers testified, unlike the fraud denounced during the 2004 elections: Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the Party of Regions, said to be “pro-Russian,” was then for the first time a candidate for the presidency. The “orange revolution” mobilized against corruption and these frauds then forced him to organize a second round, which he lost to the “pro-Western” candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

[8] On the evolution of Ukrainian society between 2013 and 2022 read Daria Saburova, “Questions on Ukraine,” See also Denys Gorbach’s chapter on the political economy of Ukraine in this phase, in (collective book) L’invasion de l’Ukraine — Histoires, conflicts et resistances populaires, La Dispute, 2022.

[9] Read my analysis of “La société ukrainienne entre ses oligarques et sa Troïka” written at the turn of 2014 for the online journal of the Scientific Council of Attac, Les Possibles,

[10] On the context of the so-called “bi-polar world” at the origin of this notion, its evolution and that of the “anti-imperialists,” particularly in relation to the conflicts in the Middle East, read Gilbert Achcar, On a critique of “campist” approaches to the Kosovo crisis (1999) and that of Ukraine in 2014, see C. Samary, “What internationalism in the context of the Ukrainian crisis? Eyes wide open against one-eyed ‘campisms’,”

[11] Read in particular,

[12] The term evokes the symbolic color chosen by movements opposing corrupt regimes.

[13] Read the interview with the young historical researcher and editor of the journal Commons, Taras Bilous, a member of SR from the Donbas who explains his activity in the Donbas and the reality of the “people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk (DPR and LPR),” after Maidan,

[14] On the evolution of language policy and laws on languages see

[15] Let us recall what the current war, which is targeting in particular the more Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, underscores: the fact of speaking Russian does not imply a “separatist” political position towards Putin’s Russia. See the results of the referendums on the independence of Ukraine in 1991: more than 80% “for” in the Donbas — and even in Crimea about 55% (the latter obtained a statute of autonomy within the framework of the Ukrainian constitution — as well as, within it, the port of Sevastopol).

[16] A similar protocol was signed with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Yeltsin’s Russia (thanks to which the USSR had been dismantled), far from being in conflict with NATO, was supported by the United States, which preferred to see all the nuclear weapons of the former USSR under his control.

[17] See, in addition to the cited text by Taras Bilous (note 14), the article by Milan Milakovsky in The Guardian of October 7, 2022: “How Putin lost hearts and minds in eastern Ukraine,” commentisfree/2022/oct/07/vladimir-putin-eastern-ukraine-referendums-russian-moscow.

[18] His critique, Friedrich Engels and the ‘peoples without histories’. The national question in the 1848 revolution, was published in French by Editions Syllepse in 2018 with a preface and introduction of the perspective of his fight and his Marxist writings of great wealth. On the history of Ukraine and the positions of the Bolsheviks, in particular of Lenin and Trotsky in criticism of Stalin, read in particular Zbigniew MarcinKowalewski , “Pour l’indépendance de l’Ukraine soviétique,” Cahiers du socialisme, 2022. []

[19] This point is developed from different angles in two chapters of the collective book, L’invasion de l’Ukraine, La Dispute (2022): the one by Hanna Perekhoda on the Donbas (of which she herself is a native) and mine centered on the issue of self-determination, returning in particular to the divisions traversing the Marxists and the Bolsheviks in particular on the “national questions” at the heart of the past and future socialist project.

[20] These questions were restated — without being resolved — in the Yugoslav experience. I discuss these tensions and issues in the collection Du communisme decolonial à la démocratie des communs, Ed. du Cygne, 2018.

[21] To get a sense of this context, read this enlightening text on ESSF (October 4, 2022) of anarcho-syndicalist activists from eastern Ukraine highlighting the mostly Russian sources of information from western left currents, mostly ignoring the Ukrainian left:

[22] Read on this subject in particular Denis Paillard, “Héritage impérial: Poutine et le nationalisme grand russe,” 2022, online text published on his Mediapart blog, then on the Europe solidaire sans frontières website:

[23] Read Taras Bilous, a member of SR previously cited, “Moscow and Washington should not determine Ukraine’s future,” January 2022,

[24] See on my website in the section “Dés(ordre) mondial” 2013 et seq., real-time analyses Cf. (February 2014); in particular, reproduced on the Ukrainian site of the Left Opposition, in March 2014, faced with the “hybrid” war in Donbas, “Ukraine : une guerre innommable et des questions sans réponses claires,” http://www.europe- .

[25] On this level too, one should read the critical view of another young historian, a member of SR, Vladislav Starodubtsev, “Remembrance done wrong. Patriotic Narratives, Left-wing history and constructed imaginations of Ukrainian national remembrance policies,”

[26] Vladimir Putin, Address by the President of the Russian Federation, [official website of the President of Russia], published February 21 , 2022,

[27] See David Teurtrie, “Où en est l’Union économique eurasiatique ? Entre instabilité sociopolitique et ambitions géoéconomiques,” in Thierry de Montbrial (dir.), Ramses 2022. Au-delà du Covid, Dunod, “Hors collection,” Paris, 2021, p. 160-165 et “L’OTSC: une réaffirmation du leadership russe en Eurasie post-soviétique?,” Revue Défense Nationale, 2017, vol. 7, no 802, p. 153-160.

[28] “Against Russian Imperialism,”

[29] Watch and listen to the three-day conference on this theme organized in English and Ukrainian by the journal Commons in which members of SR and ENSU will be participating.


[31] About 40 active members (of an estimated total of about 80) were present at the conference and took part in the votes.

[32] See Vitaliy Dudin, “Ukraine’s recovery must benefit the people. The West has other ideas,”

[33] See SR’s statement against the (supposedly temporary) ban of several parties claiming to be leftist or socialist accused of supporting Putin, -parts /

[34] See the various campaigns on the ENSU site, including those mentioned at the trade union level; but also, in addition to the support for the Ukrainian Feminist Manifesto previously mentioned (note 6), the European petition supporting the reproductive rights of Ukrainian women in time of war, in particular refugees in Poland and the EU, -rights/ensu-abortion-petition-all-languages.

[35] Listen to or read her interview on this subject:

[36] Taras Bilous, “The War in Ukraine, International Security, and the Left,”, in response to Susan Watkins, “An Avoidable War?,” New Left Review, April 2022,