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