Thursday, March 16, 2023

A Ukrainian Socialist Lays Out the Aims and Struggles of Her Country’s Left

Leftists in Ukraine are simultaneously resisting Russian imperialism and the domestic imposition of neoliberalism.

By Ashley Smith, Truthout

On the anniversary of Russia’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian left faces a dual challenge — resisting Russian military attacks while also fighting against their own government’s imposition of neoliberalism and austerity. Meanwhile, the global left remains deeply divided in its approach to the war and its relation to Ukrainian leftists’ appeals for international solidarity.

Alona Liasheva is a sociologist, researcher of urban political economy, and works at The Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen. She is a co-editor of Commons: Journal for Social Criticism and member of Ukrainian democratic socialist group Sotsialnyi Rukh (The Social Movement).

In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Ashley Smith speaks with Liasheva about the nature of the war, the conditions faced by her country’s working-class majority, the popular and military resistance and the Ukrainian left’s strategy in wartime and for reconstruction.

Ashley Smith: Russia has launched waves of missile attacks on Ukraine. What impact has that had on people’s lives? How has it impacted popular consciousness? What effect has it had on people’s determination to resist the invasion?

Alona Liasheva: Russia started launching this latest round of missile attacks on October 10. They were supposed to weaken the Ukrainian army, but it didn’t work. Here in Lviv, they seemed to hit everything but the military buildings. While civilian buildings lost their electricity and suffered blackouts, the military buildings were up and running either with regular electricity or generators.

So, the victims of these missiles were civilians and civilian infrastructure. Many lost heat in the middle of winter and had to endure extremely cold conditions in their houses and apartments.

The attacks knocked power out at hospitals, turning off refrigerators that keep the COVID vaccines cold. We couldn’t get vaccines for a while as a result. All sorts of people and organizations mobilized to get us new vaccines, get generators to key places, and get the electricity back on.

I think Russia hoped to break the will of the Ukrainian people. But the opposite has happened. In surveys, popular support for the military resistance to Russia has remained steadfast.

Many on the Western left persist in calling the war a proxy one between the U.S./NATO and Russia. They also call for an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated settlement to end the war. What are the problems with these positions?

Really this is an easy question. Just listen to what Putin just said in his state of the union address. He declared that his goal is to conquer Ukraine and subsume it into the Russian Federation. At the same time as he was speaking, the Russian Army was attacking and killing civilians.

So, both Putin’s rhetoric and his military’s action demonstrate that Russia does not recognize Ukraine as an independent nation, let alone a negotiating partner. He is certainly not interested in a just peace. With his regime dedicated to our national eradication, we have no choice but to defend ourselves.

Unfortunately, it’s that simple. Most everyone understands this in Ukraine. In sociological surveys, I’ve asked people what they think of a ceasefire and negotiations. Almost without exception, they say that Russia cannot be trusted in any talks.

That is especially true of people who have lived in the occupied areas of Ukraine. They describe living under a regime which they did not choose, which did not represent them, and which violently rejected their right to think of themselves as Ukrainians.

That regime imposed terrible economic conditions, discriminated against women and LGBTQ people, and abducted children and sent them back to Russia. That’s why Ukrainians would not accept Zelensky saying, “we’re not going to fight anymore, we’re going to agree to a ceasefire, and negotiate away occupied territories.”

All of this has changed my own view about diplomacy, which I had advocated over the last eight years. I supported the Minsk agreements as a way to freeze if not resolve the conflict.

Putin shattered my illusions, violating the agreement and launching this invasion. Negotiating with him at this point would be the height of naivete. It would be shooting ourselves in the foot.

I know that the left tends to look for a nefarious U.S. plot behind everything. Of course, I think it’s important to analyze every conflict to understand all the players, the dynamics, and who’s culpable.

In the case of Ukraine, it’s far simpler than many on the left think. Ukraine was attacked by an imperialist army, and as a result we are in a struggle to defend our lives and our very right to exist as a sovereign nation.

Those on the left in the U.S., especially straight white men who tend to be those most vocal in opposition to Ukraine’s right to self-determination, should take a moment and reflect on their privileged position.

They are not being attacked by an imperialist army. They have not been denied the right to say, “I’m Ukrainian. I want to live in my city. I want to peacefully do my job.” They have not been told you cannot be gay, or you cannot get this or that job because you’re a woman.

Instead of listening to us about our experience, instead of identifying with our struggle, too many on the left construct complicated narratives about geopolitics, which frankly do not hold up under close examination. The main problem is that 44 million people are being denied their nationhood, political subjectivity, and agency.

Why is it important for the international left to support Ukraine’s struggle for self-determination? What are the stakes of Ukraine’s victory or defeat in the war?

In reality, everyone in the world has a stake in Ukraine’s struggle for liberation from invasion and occupation. After the Second World War in Europe, countries agreed to have a red line that they would not cross; they would not invade and occupy other countries.

But increasingly, imperialist powers started crossing this line around the world. Russia did the same first in Chechnya and then Syria, Georgia, Donbas and Crimea. If Russia were to succeed with its invasion of Ukraine, it would set a precedent for other imperialist powers and states to do the same — invade, occupy, shoot and kill civilians with impunity.

That’s why the invasion is not simply a regional conflict; Russia is setting a process in motion that could lead to higher and higher levels of imperialist interventionism and potentially a Third World War between nuclear armed powers. So, solidarity with Ukraine is in everyone’s interests.

Really it should not even be a question. Support for struggles for self-determination from Palestine to Ukraine is a principle for the international left, or it should be. At its best, the left has always defended the right of oppressed nations to struggle for their liberation.

Any compromise of that principle discredits the left in the eyes of oppressed peoples. By contrast, international solidarity with all struggles of the oppressed strengthens our collective power to resist all imperialist powers and fight for progressive social change throughout the world.

This is not an abstract question for us. The international left can make a material difference in whether we are able to win or lose. The more solidarity with us, the more humanitarian aid, the more support for our unions, and the more support for our left will strengthen our capacity to resist Russian imperialism and fight for a progressive future in Ukraine and indeed in all of Eastern Europe.

Betrayal of that internationalism will weaken our struggle and it will discredit the left inside Ukraine and internationally. Who would join a left that justifies and excuses imperialist war or ignores the struggles of the oppressed for liberation?

Can you talk more about your experience with the international left? Have you found support? Have you been able to forge ties with Russian socialists and anti-war activists?

Unfortunately, many in the international community used a Cold War framework to understand the war. Most of these ended up ignoring or refusing to support our struggle for self-determination.

They variously sided with Russia, excused its aggression, or wrongly portrayed the war as an inter-imperial one between the U.S./NATO and Russia. The worst of these have gone so far as to blame Ukraine for being attacked. That is like blaming a woman for being raped because she wore a short skirt.

Others on the left sought out Ukrainians to talk with or read our books and articles to understand the war from our point of view. Whether they knew it or not, they were adopting a method that should be a principle on the left — listening to those who are being oppressed.

They built solidarity with our struggle for self-determination. Such leftists, trade unionists, and particularly international feminist networks, which I am part of, have played an important role. They have lobbied for Ukrainian interests, including supporting our right to secure weapons, which are essential for our ability to defend ourselves.

They have also provided humanitarian assistance, joined our international campaign to get our debt canceled, supported our unions’ struggle to defend our labor rights, and helped with many other campaigns. In Eastern Europe we have gotten lots of support from Razem in Poland in particular. They have played a pivotal role in our struggle for debt cancellation.

We have also gotten support from many Russian organizations and activists. Some, however, adopted the position of those on the Western left that blamed Ukraine for the war or the U.S. or NATO. They recycle Putin’s talking points verbatim.

But for most of our Russian allies, it was really an easy question. Being in an imperialist country, it was not a complicated theoretical problem. They saw that Putin ordered an invasion of another country, Ukraine, and said the solution was simple — Russia had to get out.

Those Russian organizations and activists, especially Feminist Antiwar Resistance, organized protests right after the invasion. But the Russian regime has repressed them, jailed many and forced huge numbers of activists to leave the country or go into hiding.

As a result, we cannot say that there is an antiwar movement in Russia now. Despite this we maintain close relations with Russian organizations and networks of militants both abroad and in Russia itself.

One of the challenges the Ukrainian left faces is how to support the struggle for liberation and at the same time protest the government’s neoliberal policies and attacks on the labor movement. How have your group, Sotsialnyi Rukh, and others navigated this?

It is not as hard as it would seem. In reality everyone criticizes the government. That vibrant political discussion is a result of the war itself. The horrible truth is that when bombs are hitting your house, you are forced to ask why this is happening, how to resist it, what the government is doing to defend you, how they can do it better, and what you can do to make the resistance more effective.

Fear and anger have motivated people to do everything from volunteer to fight to organize mutual aid to help one another through the catastrophe of war. People gravitate to one another in emergencies. No one wants to be alone; you want to join a collective and improve your conditions.

Inevitably such politicization spills over into every other arena of Ukrainian society. People start thinking about their rights as workers, as women, as LGBTQI people, and so on. That’s why a lot of Ukrainians are joining different political groups and organizations. Some people have gravitated to right wing organizations and their traditionalist ideas or religious ideas.

At the same time, the left has grown as people search for progressive solutions. Our organization has recruited a lot over the last year. We have way more members to do way more work. People are more active, ready to organize, and eager to mobilize for all kinds of initiatives.

Left-wing student groups have developed. They organized protests against universities being closed, raised demands about their rights, and built international solidarity with student organizations around the world.

Trade unions have also raised their demands and built new organizations. Some of these grew directly out of war conditions. For example, when Kherson was occupied, some turned to one another to protect themselves against the Russian forces. Others fled together to other parts of the country where they knew few people except each other.

In both cases, people relied on one another for mutual aid, building networks in the process. These became the basis of union organization in the case of medical workers, most of whom were nurses. They have formed a union to fight for their interests and for those of their patients.

As a result of all this ferment in civil society, many, not just the left and feminist groups, have made criticisms of how the government leads the war and its class and social policies. Of course, a majority support Zelensky as the leader of the government and military resistance, but not uncritically.

In that context, the left can both stand on the same side as Zelensky in the resistance and oppose his reactionary neoliberal laws and attacks on union rights. We are gaining an increasing audience based on this approach.

We write articles explaining why his neoliberal policies are unjust, undermine morale and compromise the resistance. We send these to government ministries and parliamentary committees. Sometimes our viewpoint is heard and has an impact.

Sometimes we’re ignored. That’s why we publish our positions on our website, send them to the media, and share them directly with unions and social movement organizations. We also share them internationally and draw on our allies to pressure the government.

One of our key tools is petitions. If a proposed law gets 25,000 signatures on petitions, it must be brought to the president’s attention. For example, we helped with a petition for a law legalizing gay marriage. It quickly got 25,000 signatures, forcing Zelensky to publicly state that he agreed with the proposal. The government has not passed it yet, but we have helped spur a public discussion about gay marriage.

Such campaigns are how the government was forced to crack down on corruption. It was not the result of a journalist just writing an article that exposed it, but the result of long-term activity by liberals and anti-corruption activists.

Already there are discussions about the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war. Many are concerned that it will be done along neoliberal lines, using debt and dependence as means to deepen free market reforms. What kind of reconstruction do you advocate and how does the fight for that grow out of the liberation struggle?

There will be an enormous struggle over the terms of reconstruction, just as there has been an enormous struggle over the neoliberalization of Ukraine since the 2008 global financial crisis. I’m not naïve enough to believe that after our victory, Ukraine will rise up and support social democratic reforms. But we can help lead a fight for as progressive a reconstruction as possible.

There is no doubt that Zelensky and the international financial institutions have a neoliberal reconstruction planned. The Western powers and the IMF and World Bank will give out loans on the condition that Ukraine implement further free market reforms like deregulation, cuts to the welfare state, and an opening to global capitalism.

We have a great deal to defend, especially our health care system. I can go to the hospital and get basic medical services like blood work and vaccinations for free. Of course, it’s underfunded, so you have to wait for some services. Because of that, people who have money go to private clinics.

But it’s still better than in the U.S. Some of my friends are refugees in New York City. They have been shocked by advertising for health insurance, the cost of health insurance, the co-pays on medical visits and how much people pay for services even when they have health insurance.

Debt cancellation should be the first thing done to help a country reconstruct itself after war, occupation and economic crisis.

I’m confident that the struggles we have seen emerge during the war will make it possible to stop the worst of neoliberal reconstruction. We don’t want to end up like neoliberal America!

For example, the new organization of medical workers will be able to fight for better pay and working conditions and defend the entire health care system. Through such struggles, we will make the case that another, socially just reconstruction is possible.

Instead of loans we should get direct aid and most importantly reparations from Russia to rebuild our country. Our existing debt should be canceled. It would be insane to use reparations from Russia to repay debt to the international financial institutions and western banks.

Our campaign for debt cancellation should be a global precedent for all indebted countries. Debt cancellation should be the first thing done to help a country reconstruct itself after war, occupation and economic crisis.

Free of debt and more loans, Ukraine could then invest in a progressive reconstruction of the country, defend our welfare state and invest in the public sector. Our whole economy will have to be rebuilt from our agriculture to our military industry, which will be essential so that we can defend ourselves against future attacks from Russia. Such a reconstruction would be in the interests of the country’s vast working-class majority.

The new fight will be similar to the one after 2008. The Ukrainian government took loans from the IMF and agreed to their neoliberal conditionalities. But people rose up against them, forcing the government to balance between the popular pressure from below and the international financial institutions.

The same pattern will happen in reconstruction. Zelensky will take the loans and agree to neoliberal terms, but then face domestic opposition. The results of that struggle will be determined by the balance of power both domestically and internationally.

That’s another reason why we need solidarity from the international left, indebted countries in the Global South and international unions. Our fight is against imperialism and the entire model that has been imposed on nearly every society.

If we can win liberation and a progressive reconstruction we can set a positive example for struggles of the exploited and oppressed throughout the world.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Copyright, Reprinted with permission.

Ashley Smith is a socialist writer and activist in Burlington, Vermont. He has written in numerous publications including Truthout, The International Socialist Review, Socialist Worker, ZNet, Jacobin, New Politics, and many other online and print publications. He is currently working on a book for Haymarket Books entitled Socialism and Anti-Imperialism.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Left, Ukraine and Russia

The current issue of the Quebec online weekly Presse-toi à gauche publishes this article by Marxist ecosocialist Daniel Tanuro and others, published first in the Belgian publication Le Vif.  My translation. -- Richard Fidler

* * *

What the war has revealed about the nature of Ukrainian and Russian societies

Looking back on the year that has passed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we would like to take a break from the military and/or geopolitical considerations, the usual analyses devoted to this war, and focus on what it has revealed about the nature of the societies involved.

Over the past year, we have been involved, through the European Network for Solidarity with Ukraine, in numerous solidarity or information actions which have enabled us to get to know Ukrainian realities better. The numerous contacts that we gained have confirmed the existence of a plural and diverse civil society. All of its branches, in all their diversity, are fully enrolled in the resistance to Russian aggression, a resistance that they conceive not as a strictly national cause but as a fight of society itself for the preservation of its way of life, its values, etc. A year ago, if Putin’s Blitzkrieg failed, it was above all due to the resistance of the population, the countless initiatives by ordinary citizens to repel the invader. The state in Ukraine is weak, inefficient and deeply infected with corruption, as Zelensky’s recent sweeps also illustrate. Without the miracles performed by networks of popular self-organization of all kinds, the very survival of the country would have been more than improbable.

Ukrainian society is pluralistic and the “Maidan Revolution” in 2014 gave rise to a quite remarkable flourishing of cultural and artistic production, particularly in the field of cinema. The Russian invasion, however, created a paradoxical situation. The first victims of the abuses of the occupiers are Russian-speaking Ukrainians and the resistance in the occupied zones in the East and South is mainly due to them. But as a result of the aggression, nationalist feelings have developed which reject all that is Russian, sometimes attacking Russian culture and language as a whole in an indiscriminate and irrational way. It is likely that only a common victory over the aggressors will establish a more balanced situation.

Russian society, on the other hand, is characterized above all by two things: fear and enfeeblement. Putin’s regime has moved from illiberal authoritarianism to open dictatorship, and repression continues unabated. While his war arouses little more than a contrived enthusiasm, public demonstrations of opposition require great courage and remain sporadic. A majority of Russians prefer to look elsewhere and avoid talking about the war.

André Markowicz, a poet and writer who is the most eminent and passionate renovator of the French translation of great Russian literature has published a brief essay “Et si l’Ukraine librait la Russie?” [What if Ukraine were to liberate Russia?]. This goes to the heart of the matter. Ukraine is fighting first for its freedom, but it is also necessary that “Ukraine win the war so that the Putin regime collapses and there is in the ruins of this regime a democratic possibility.” As indeed shown by the precedents of the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), the Great War (1914-1917) and the Afghan War (1979-1989). There is a recurring history in Russia of military defeats becoming the opening for revolutions or reforming upheavals. The beautiful motto of the Polish insurgents of 1830, “For your freedom and for ours,” remains current.

Putin’s regime is national-conservative and neo-imperialist, with special reference to the legacy of Nicholas I, the most reactionary of all 19th century czars. His alleged populism boils down to the accents used to castigate liberal opponents or disgraced public servants. But in his international policy as in the exercise of Russian soft power, Putin combines with gusto the simultaneous support and use of the most diverse currents and personalities, from the extreme right to the extreme left, to weaken other powers and disseminate his propaganda.

This is one of the reasons[1] behind the major split that the war in Ukraine has created in the ranks of the left, especially the radical left. While anti-fascism and anti-colonialism are supposed to be part of its DNA, we have seen a part of it, the importance of which varies depending on the country, take up all or part of Putin’s arguments, most often in the name of extremely sketchy geopolitical considerations (Russia is said to be surrounded!!). Seasoned militants or intellectuals who have spent their lives promoting “armed struggles for national liberation” in the four corners of the globe, now refuse, in the name of a “peace” imperative, to distinguish between the aggressor and the attacked and to support the latter.

Our action, in contrast, foregrounds the right of peoples to self-determination and therefore respect for the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. But we also want to help strengthen the entire democratic and emancipatory potential that we see expressed in multiple forms within Ukrainian social life. This support we bring above all to the resistance pitted against the imperial will to annihilate it, but we address it as well to the progressive social forces which in Ukraine itself seek, for example, to thwart the ultra-liberal socio-economic policies of the government or the seizure of precious natural resources by certain highly-favoured oligarchs.

[The authors close with a call to readers to participate in a demonstration convened by groups promoting solidarity with Ukraine’s resistance, which was to be held in Brussels February 25.]

France Blanmailland (lawyer)

Daniel Tanuro (ecosocialist writer)

Jean Vogel (ULB professor)

Laurent Vogel (European Trade Union Institute researcher)

[1] The other reason being the obsession with “American imperialism” alone, as a result of which any bloodthirsty dictator becomes a champion of the people the moment he finds himself in conflict with the United States government.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Ukraine: Some Issues and Answers

The British website Labour Hub, which says it “shares a socialist vision of a radical, transformative Labour Government for the 21st Century,” promotes debate and information of interest to socialists in the Labour Party. It recently published a statement on the Ukraine war by John McDonnell, shadow Chancellor (foreign minister) under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party. Labour Hub has now published a response to criticism by the Stop the War Coalition. It merits republication as a compelling statement on the issues from a socialist perspective. – Richard Fidler

Ukraine: Some Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

John McDonnell’s article on this site last week generated a lively debate on social media and provoked a response from Andrew Murray of the Stop the War Coalition. Andrew Murray takes issue, not with the Ukrainians’ right to defend themselves, which he says Stop the War has “always supported” – which may come as a surprise to some – but with the fact that any weapons will be sent to the “Zelensky regime” which has banned political parties and attacked trade union bargaining rights – measures of a “regime being sustained by NATO.”

He also complains that the policy that John “urges is essentially the same as that of the Tory Party.” Replying to the argument put by defenders of Ukraine that they are against all imperialisms, Andrew Murray says they are effectively aligned with NATO: “Washington and London will call the post-war tune in Ukraine, and it will not be socialist.” Furthermore, any arms sent “will simply prolong the conflict and the suffering.”

Many supporters of Ukraine would undoubtedly respond that their support for the country against unprovoked military invasion, for Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign nation-state, is unconditional, not dependent on the political outlook of the Ukrainian government of the day, nor on the posturing of Western governments. It’s simple: without arms, Ukraine’s ability to resist would be greatly weakened. The conflict would then indeed not be prolonged, as Andrew Murray fears: rather it would result in the victory of a militarily superior Russia – but the suffering of the Ukrainian people would thenceforth be very prolonged indeed.

And not just the Ukrainians: if Russia achieves its war aims there, it will feel emboldened to re-extend its empire into all the other nation-states in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe that became independent when the Soviet Union collapsed, arguing, as in Ukraine, that the borders drawn were arbitrary and that these territories historically belonged to Russia. That would be very bad news not only for the citizens of those states but also for global peace and stability.

All of this ought to be obvious to socialists and internationalists. Yet the character of the Zelenskiy government, the influence of the far right, the role of the US and NATO and a range of other issues are frequently raised as reasons to reject assistance to Ukraine’s need to resist its invasive imperialist neighbour. Below we address some of the most frequently raised objections to supporting Ukraine.

1. Ukraine’s record on political expression and unions

Q: How can you support Zelenskiy’s government which has banned trade unions and political parties?

A: Supporting Ukraine’s right to exist a an independent country does not mean supporting the government of the day. But on the substantive point, prior to last year’s invasion there was no ban in place. The electoral commission banned the Communist Party from participation in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections, under the 2015 “decommunisation” law, which forbids the promotion of “totalitarian regimes”, defined as Nazi and Communist. This is undemocratic, but the Communist Party continued to operate legally and it has mounted legal challenges to the ban.

After the invasion, Ukraine’s national security and defence council took the decision to ban eleven parties, which have links with Russia, from any political activity. Most of the parties affected were small, but one of them, the Opposition Platform for Life, has 44 seats in the 450-seat Ukrainian Parliament and is led by a pro-Putin oligarch. Its deputies are protected by parliamentary immunity, a remarkable degree of leniency considered the country is faced with destruction. More here.

To say the government has banned unions is plain wrong. In August, the government removed bargaining rights for workers at small and medium-sized companies. It will be effective for as long as the country is under martial law and means that workers in these companies will now be covered by contracts they negotiate as individuals, rather than the national labour code. Ukraine’s Federation of Trade Unions opposes the law and freely campaigns against it – in contrast to trade union activity in the breakaway ‘People’s Republics’ which is routinely suppressed, often by kidnappings and assassinations.

2. Fascist influence

Q: Isn’t the post-Maidan situation one in which fascist elements are highly influential? Why do you not highlight the role of fascist elements who torched a trade union headquarters in Odesa killing 42 people? Why do you not mention the notorious Azov battalion? Why do you keep silent about the official support the regime has shown for Stepan Bandera, the notorious fascist leader during the 1940s who was responsible for genocidal operations against Jews, Communists, and ethnic Poles?

A: The Maidan revolution was politically ambiguous and contradictory – it involved everyone from the far right to the far left. It was not a ‘fascist coup’ – the electoral support for fascist parties in Ukraine is around 2-3%. Essentially it was a struggle against corruption, authoritarianism and Russian imperialist influence.

The tragic fire in Odesa was not part of a generalised pattern of repression of trade unionists but an isolated incident. Those killed were not trade union activists but supporters of the overthrown regime who took refuge there after clashing with opponents. Atrocious as these deaths were, they were not murders of trade union leaders or activists by the Ukrainian government.

In these polarised circumstances, fascism is always a potential threat and fascist groups’ membership was boosted by the Russian invasion of the east of the country in 2014-16. But most Ukrainian socialists argue that this danger should not be overstated. The Azov battalion was indeed set up by fascist elements but it is no longer dominated by them: during the war, large numbers of people, who want nothing to do with fascism, joined it alongside many other volunteer military formations.

On Bandera, it was the then President Yushchenko who in 2007 and 2010 awarded posthumous medals to Bandera and Shukhevich who committed similar crimes. These awards were blocked by the courts. Parliament in 2021 asked Zelenskiy to reinstate them. He refused. Last year the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany made statements honouring Bandera. Zelenskiy fired him.

This is not to deny that Ukraine has a huge problem facing up to the role played by some of its citizens in the Holocaust, as is the case in Poland, Romania, Russia and other East European states. The political elite are split on the issue.

It should be added that there are marked fascistic features in the so-called breakaway ‘People’s Republics’, where the dominant ideology is Orthodox, conservative, homophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma in orientation.

3. Anti-Russian measures

Q: What about the post-2014 anti-Russian measures whereby Russian would no longer be an official language alongside Ukrainian, Russian was removed from all educational programmes, Russian books were banned and Russian-speaking citizens became victims of continuous discrimination?

A: A law making Ukrainian the single state language was adopted in 2019 – the culmination of three decades of argument. This step was shaped both by aspirations to revive Ukrainian culture that has suffered historically from Russian imperial domination, and by hard-line Ukrainian nationalism. It was opposed by Ukrainian socialists. The law requires that Ukrainian be used in public spaces and it does not apply to private or religious life: breaching the law is essentially a civil, not criminal offence.

4. Donetsk and Lugansk

Q: When you focus on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, why do you ignore the May 2014 referendums in Donetsk and Lugansk in which 87% of citizens voted for independence, which was met by eight years of bombardment by Kyiv and the killing of  13,000 civilians, largely ignored by the world community?

A: The collapse in living standards in these regions under the old kleptocratic regime made them easy prey for the proclamation by a wing of the oligarchy that these were now ‘Autonomous Republics’. They were soon infiltrated by scarcely concealed elements of the Russian armed forces and controlled on the ground by mafia-like militias, which routinely intimidated organized labour and political dissidents, institutionalized violence, and trampled on human rights.

Many of the industrial assets of the region – despite some rhetoric about ‘nationalization’ —have been handed over to a company registered in South Ossetia, a Russian-occupied enclave in Georgia, and controlled by a billionaire linked to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. No serious attempt has been made to rebuild the economy, which shrank by 60% after the proclamation of the ‘Autonomous Republics’.

Russia’s policy here has been similar to its approach to Ukrainian territory that it has seized during the war: to issue Russian passports in large numbers in a transparent attempt to obliterate Ukrainian identity. Following the Russian invasion, workers were taken straight from the coal mines to fight at the front and the over-55s were conscripted.

The referendums of 2014 were not free, in contrast to the 1991 poll, where the region voted by a margin of over 80% in favour of Ukrainian independence. By 2013-14, there is considerable evidence of quite strong support for greater autonomy within Ukraine, which was supported by Yanukovich’s party. But support for separation was negligible, and was stoked up by extremists in response to the Maidan events.

The 13,000 figure represents casualties on both sides of this conflict and they are mostly military, not civilian. Since the start of Russia’s illegal incursion, an estimated 3.3 million people have fled their homes. Of these, 1.8 million have been living as internally displaced persons in Ukraine and 1.5 million in Russia and Belarus. More here.

5. Ties with Russia

Q: Why do you fixate on the sovereignty of Ukraine and ignore its centuries-old ties to Russia and the fact that it had never been a real nation-state before the collapse of the Soviet Union, so that its unilateral declaration of independence left millions of Russian-speakers stranded within its new borders?

A: Britain too had centuries-old ties with Ireland and considerable support in the North for its imperial domination – hardly grounds to support British troops there from the late 1960s onwards. In Russia’s case, its imperial identity was built by absorbing, crushing and denying Ukrainian nationality from at least the 17th century onwards. In Putin’s view, Lenin and the Bolsheviks invented Ukrainian nationalism to undermine holy Russia.

In fact, a genuine Ukrainian Revolution took place alongside the Russian Revolution, involving communists, anarchists and socialist-revolutionaries. The impact of Stalin’s policy of forced collectivization and livestock destruction, which led to the Great Famine of 1932-3 in which 4 million Ukrainians died, strengthened right wing and openly Nazi currents in Ukrainian nationalism. That said, the proportion of Ukrainians who died fighting the Nazis is greater than the proportion of Russians. It was Ukrainian regiments of the Red Army which liberated Auschwitz. Ignoring this, the Greater Russian narrative proclaims an inherently fascist character to Ukrainian identity for its own purposes.

Soviet Ukraine became an independent state in December 1991, by a massive referendum where independence was approved by more than 90% everywhere, this level falling to just over 80% in Donbass and 54% in Crimea. Putin’s invasion, driven by an attempt to unite Russian society around a belief in historic Russia, seeks to bury these inconvenient expression of democracy.

6. NATO interference

Q: Why are you not concerned about ongoing US interference in Ukraine, its role in overthrowing the Yanukovych government, its desire for regime change in Russia, NATO’s aim of expansion up to Russia’s borders or the terrorist act, probably perpetrated by the USA, of blowing up a Russian gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea?

A: All imperialist powers work to influence the affairs of other countries in the interests of their governments and corporations. But remember that US imperialism was originally opposed to Ukrainian independence and afterwards lobbied heavily for the Budapest memorandum under which nuclear weapons stored in Ukraine were moved to Russia.

In 2014 Yanukovich was overthrown, not by a ‘NATO coup’, but by a genuine mass popular uprising inside the country. The spark was his decision to scrap talks on an association agreement with the European Union, and instead to reinforce Ukraine’s links with Russia.

The Russian regime’s reaction to the uprising underlines its imperialist relationship and attitudes to Ukraine. Putin responded to the uprising by occupying and annexing Crimea and starting a war in the east of the country. At that time Russia enjoyed some support in eastern Ukraine – though not a majority. Evidence suggests this support has evaporated as a result of Putin’s full-scale invasion in 2022, with Ukrainians – including Russian-speaking Ukrainians – rallying against Russia.

The argument that NATO expansion provides a justification for Putin’s actions does not stand up. The last time any country bordering Russia joined NATO was in 2004 – the small Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia. The only ones to join since then are four small Balkan countries nowhere near Russia. And Ukraine is not a member of NATO and is not about to become one – and that’s actually the view of senior US officials who do not want to be bound by the treaty obligations that Ukraine’s membership would entail.

Unsurprisingly, the invasion of Ukraine has strengthened support for NATO, for instance swinging elite and public opinion in Sweden and Finland into joining.

There is no solid evidence that the US blew up the Nord Stream pipeline, nor do US motivations for doing so correspond to the facts. More here.

We absolutely should not trust the US and the other big Western powers, or forget their own records of imperialist piracy. But in Ukraine, the US, UK, etc., are not fighting. Russia is the aggressor and the oppressor, reprising its extremely brutal history of dominating the Ukrainian people.

7. Russian security and Crimea

Q:Why do you ignore Russia’s legitimate security concerns, especially in relation to Crimea, where Russia’s Black Sea fleet has been based since 1783 and where NATO has plans to build military bases?

A: The Russian seizure of Crimea was in flagrant violation of the Budapest memorandum, which Russia had signed in 1994, which guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders in return for Ukraine giving to Russia the nuclear arsenal stored on its territory. Although the idea that ‘Crimea has always been Russian’ is commonly put about, at the only time in its history when people in Crimea were able to choose freely, in 1991, 54% of voters supported being part of Ukraine.

Russia’s historically-held military bases in Crimea were part of its imperial control of the entire country, much as Britain controlled Ireland for centuries. That repressive domination can hardly be used to justify a continued military presence today.

The idea that NATO plans to construct military bases in Crimea was raised by Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, in the immediate aftermath of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year – but there is no other evidence for this. Lavrov also claimed in the same speech that biological research laboratories in Ukraine and other east European countries were military facilities supported by NATO. In the year since Lavrov made these claims, they were discussed at the UN and in the media, but neither the Russian government nor anyone else has provided any additional evidence that they are true, while Ukraine and the US have consistently denied them.

As for naval bases, in 2021, the UK signed an agreement with Ukraine to support the defensive capability of its navy, including in the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian naval force there is dwarfed by the Russian Black Sea fleet. Given what has happened subsequently – the use of Russian vessels in the Black Sea to support the bombing of civilian targets – these defensive measures seem to be too little, too late, from a Ukrainian standpoint. The only country whose “legitimate security concerns” have been breached in the Black Sea is Ukraine.

Historically, socialists have opposed the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights by Israel, and argued that Israel’s claim of “legitimate security concerns” cannot be regarded as a justification for it. Why is the illegal annexation of Crimea any different?

8. Minsk Agreements

Q: Why do you not comment on the 2014-5 Minsk agreements which could have avoided conflict, but which were deliberately sabotaged by the US?

A: The first Minsk agreement in September 2014 was forced on Ukraine by the impact of Russian military advances in the east of the country and pressure from European states which feared destabilisation in their relationship with Russia and the possibility of war. It essentially legalised the ‘People’s Republic’ Russian puppet regimes in the east. It was an imperialist imposition.

From the start, Russia and its puppet governments ignored the terms of the agreement they had effectively imposed, violating the ceasefire and carrying out further military actions against Ukraine. The result was a second Minsk agreement in February 2015.

Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s aide for Ukraine at the time of Minsk 2, later described the agreement as “the first open geo-political counter-attack by Russia”. It was part of a “reconquest” of Ukraine and “legitimised the first division of Ukraine”.

Once again, Russia and its proxies ignored the terms of the agreement, in particular the clause requiring withdrawal of “all foreign armed forces”. It hindered the demilitarisation required of the ‘People’s Republics’ and pursued their creeping integration into its territory.

Ceasefire conditions were regularly ignored by both sides. On 21st February 2022 Putin declared unilaterally: “The Minsk agreements are non-existent now. Why should they be implemented if we recognise the independence of these republics [in eastern Ukraine]?”

The idea that what undermined the Minsk agreements was the US, which had little to do with them, is bizarre. The agreements were intended to allow Ukraine, alongside elections in the ‘Autonomous Republics’, to take back control of its borders, which Russia blocked.

9. Regional context

Q: Why do you refuse to see the conflict in Ukraine in the wider context – an anti-Russian rebellion in Georgia in 2003 stoked by the US; in 2004, three countries bordering Russia joining NATO; in 2008 Georgia itself applying to join NATO and attacking Russian peace-keeping forces in Ossetia, despite being there legally under a UN mandate, unleashing a Russia-Georgian war; and in 2020 Azerbaijan launching a war against Armenia (a Russian ally, with open support from Turkey, a NATO member); and in 2022 an anti-Russian coup attempt in Kazakhstan?

A: There is indeed a wider context, but not the one the question suggests. Take the accession of the three Baltic states, as well as Poland, the Czech Republic, etc., to NATO. People here often look at this in a Western-centric way, and do not ask themselves why the population of these countries supported accession. Historically, these countries have been colonised or threatened with colonisation by Russia. Their populations have grown up with a distrust of Russia that could be compared to the way that Mexican people regard the USA or Irish people regard Britain.

That said, there is no doubt that the US and its allies sought to use conflicts between Russia and its former colonies for their own purposes. Such was the case in Georgia in 2008, for example. But beyond hinting to the Georgian government that it would receive support in the case of conflict, the US and its allies did little. In the event, parts of Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) were occupied by Russian troops, and still are. A part of Moldova is also occupied by Russian troops. The context is Russia’s reluctance to pull back from territories that it historically colonised.

The best way to ensure that US militarism is pushed out of Europe is to encourage the development of strong, independent countries whose borders are respected by their neighbours, not to view these countries as pawns in an inter-imperialist chess game.

The other context is the Kremlin’s aversion to powerful social movements in Russia’s former colonies.

Most of these conflicts were unleashed by internal dynamics, not outside Western interference. The 2022 uprising in Kazakhstan, for example, was no coup but began as a popular uprising in western Kazakhstan, in an oil-producing city with a long history of struggle for union organisation. It was sparked by a doubling of gas prices. Protesters demanded the resignation of the government, the release of political prisoners and the return of the money stolen by the regime. Protests quickly spread across the country and were met by ferocious repression, with scores shot dead and the government calling in the Russian army for help. More here.

10. Global danger

Q: Isn’t there a danger that in calling for arms to Ukraine, you support what will increasingly become a NATO proxy war, possibly drawing China into a global conflict, with possible nuclear implications?

A: Any conflict involving a nuclear power raises fears of nuclear war, a horrifying prospect for all of us. In Ukraine, there is only one nuclear power involved in the conflict: Russia. Ukraine liquidated its stock of nuclear weapons under the 1994 agreement that its sovereignty would be respected. There is only one power that has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons over the past year: Russia.

The character of the war is also important. It is not just a war between two armies. The Russian army is being resisted by the Ukrainian army, but the main target of Russia’s heavy artillery has been civilians and civilian infrastructure. In areas occupied by Russia, human rights groups have collected mountains of evidence of monstrous crimes against civilians: deportations, including of children; kidnap and murder of elected officials, journalists and civil society activists; looting; and other forms of terror.

The danger of escalation, which is present in all conflicts, must be balanced responsibly against our moral duty to defend civilians faced with this kind of attack.

A policy of arming Ukraine with lethal weapons to defend itself and regain control of its sovereign territory can speed progress towards peace talks that result in a lasting settlement. But what if the policy of ending Western arms to Ukraine is adopted? It seems more than likely that Russia will continue with the war, and could well do so until the achievement of its initial aim, namely the occupation of all Ukrainian territory and the installation of a ‘friendly’ government. Nobody seriously believes this would make Central and Eastern Europe stable: It would make people in Moldova, Poland, the Balkans and elsewhere – to say nothing of the Caucasus and Central Asia – ask: who is next?

During the Vietnam war – when the fear of nuclear escalation was ever-present – the US constantly claimed to be ready for negotiations, while its bombing raids and terror against the civilian population continued. Socialists rejected this and called for the immediate withdrawal of US troops. Now, Russia is not even talking seriously about negotiations. Socialists must call for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops, which is the first necessary step to proper peace negotiations.

11. Unfortunate allies

Q: Aren’t you uncomfortable about being in the same camp as US imperialism and the Tory government? Aren’t socialists opposed to war, even if the prospects for a peace movement are not always hopeful? Doesn’t supporting arms to Ukraine strengthen the argument for more military spending, thus taking vital money away from domestic public services?

A: Socialists cannot decide our policy by putting a minus where the ruling class or its dominant faction puts a plus. We have to develop an independent working class policy. Defence of national independence and of human rights from imperialist violence and oppression, and of the space for the labour movement to exist and grow, are vital.

In any case, we are not simply in the same camp as the Ukrainian government, let alone its foreign imperialist allies. Our starting point is solidarity with the Ukrainian people as a whole against Russian imperialism.
Of course socialists oppose war as an irrational and barbaric way of resolving differences and conflicts in society, but in a world of predatory invasions against oppressed peoples, we cannot be absolute pacifists. Socialists have a long and honourable record of supporting popular resistance against imperialism – and not only US imperialism.

Aid, including military aid, for oppressed peoples does not mean more government spending on the UK military. Nor should we adopt a pseudo-radical version of the idea that foreign aid takes money away from UK public services! There is plenty of money in society, but it is in the wrong hands, those of capital and the rich.

12. Your supporters on the ground

Q: Isn’t the Ukrainian left that you work with tiny, unrepresentative and lacking in any influence?

A: The Ukrainian labour movement as a whole, virtually unanimously, supports Ukraine’s war of self-defence and liberation. The Ukrainian trade unions are far from tiny, with millions of members. The more radical unions support and participate in Ukraine’s war too.

So do socialist and anarchist groups. The various radical and revolutionary organisations are indeed small – but then so is the Britain’s organised radical left. They are not without influence, because they are heavily involved in a wide range of struggles, both against the Russian invasion and to defend and promote workers’ and human rights against the Ukrainian ruling class during the war. They are our comrades, and they need solidarity.

These responses were compiled by supporters of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign and the Ukraine Information Group.

Image; Solidarity with Ukraine. Source: Solidarity with Ukraine. Author: Alisdare Hickson from Woolwich, United Kingdom, icensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Our key antiwar target: the Kremlin, or NATO? A conversation with a friend

On January 11, I forwarded to the Socialist Project discussion list an interview with a Polish socialist Zofia Malisz: “Razem: Building a left alternative in Poland.” She explained that when Russia invaded Ukraine her movement, Razem, had “absolutely no doubts that this invasion represented an existential threat to Ukraine, that there could be no compromise, and that our party’s reaction was crucial.” But, she added, “we were very disappointed with progressive organisations, including ones that at the time we belonged to, that kept silent right up to and after the invasion, and even after the Bucha massacre.

“This was disappointing but also, I admit, we may have been a bit blind to an obvious tendency that exists within part of the left to over-emphasise US imperialism while letting Russian imperialism off the hook. It quickly became clear a big part of that left is not able to accept what for us are two existential issues: that Ukraine is a sovereign state and that there is such a thing as Russian imperialism.”

Soon after, I received a short message from another SP list member that said, in part, “Thanks for this important article and your other coverage of the region.”

As I reported earlier,[1] the SP list has featured a hot debate on the Ukraine war in which I have found myself part of a small minority that urges support of Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian aggression, while major leaders of Socialist Project, critical of the Russian invasion if only on tactical grounds, portray the conflict as primarily “a proxy war” between NATO and Russia in which Ukrainians are portrayed as pawns of the US and NATO, their resistance often deprecated on the grounds that it is not led by socialists.

The SP list member with the encouraging message had not engaged with this debate. He is an old friend and comrade, so my interest was piqued. I responded: “I often wonder what you must be thinking about such issues as the Ukraine war. It would be nice to hear from you.”

He soon responded:

“As for the Russia-Ukraine war, it calls to mind the case of Serbia in 1914.

“I found a recent Department of National Defence statement to be of interest. See:

“I think that ‘NATO's advanced forward presence’ should be opposed, whether in Latvia or further south.”

Curious as to what this rather enigmatic response might indicate, I sought to tease out its meaning:

“On Ukraine, you cite Serbia in 1914, presumably a reference to the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia (following the assassination of the archduke) that touched off the inter-imperialist World War. This suggests you see the Ukraine conflict as essentially a war between NATO and Russia, Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty as a secondary issue if not simply action as a proxy for the US and NATO. Correct me if I am wrong.

“As it happens, an Austrian comrade who has thought more than I have about this analogy has very recently published a critical response to some Trotskyist groups that draw much the same parallel. I am referring to Michael Pröbsting, who posts frequently on Marxmail and has been published on sites such as New Politics on the war. I find his argument on this aspect quite strong. I quote:

‘As we did explain on numerous occasions, it is wrong to characterize the war in the Ukraine primarily as a “proxy war”. Of course, it is true that such an element exists since it takes place against the background of an accelerating inter-imperialist rivalry where both camps attempt to utilize the war to their advantage.

‘However, this has been the case in nearly all national wars which took place in periods of Great Power rivalry. Just think about France’s support for the U.S. War of Independence against Britain in 1775-83, the support of France and other Western power for the Polish insurrection against Russian occupation in 1863-64, the support of Napoleon III for the Italian Risorgimento, Russia’s support for the Balkan peoples in their war against the Ottoman Empire in 1912, Western and Nazi Germany’s support for Ethiopia against Italy in 1935-36, Western support for China as well as for various partisan struggles in South East Asia as well as in Europe during World War II, etc. Such kind of interference by one or several Great Powers did not remove the legitimate character of such national wars.

‘The comrades’ reference to Serbia and its role in World War I is misplaced. This was a World War with all Great Powers participating so that three-quarters of the world population was affected by this catastrophe. The Entente powers sent armies to the Balkans where the Serbian troops fought as part of their joint command. Today, no Western Power has deployed its troops to wage war against Russia – neither in the Ukraine nor anywhere else. Of course, this could change in the future and, as we have repeatedly said since 24 February, this could change the character of the Ukraine War and, consequently, our tactics. But it would be utterly wrong to define our tactics for today on the basis of possible developments tomorrow.

‘Furthermore, the comrades should take into account that the relationship between Russia and the Ukraine has been historically shaped by national oppression. The Ukrainians fight Putin’s invasion not because Western governments tell them to do so but because they want to keep their fundamental national rights. Surely, Western weapons make their struggle militarily more effective. Without such weapons they would be forced to wage a more “primitive” war with a larger component of guerrilla struggle. But their goals would be pretty much the same as they are currently: defeating the Russian occupiers and liberating the occupied territories.

‘We ask those comrades criticising our analysis: what would the Ukraine do differently without Western support? Would they stop fighting the Russian invaders and rather welcome them? Would they support Russification, pardon “Denazification”? Would they not [be] trying to liberate their territories? The answers to such questions are obvious!

‘We repeat that this does not mean that we deny that there exists a “proxy element” in this conflict. This is why we have always insisted that revolutionaries in both imperialist camps must reject all forms of chauvinist-militarist policy. This includes strong opposition to economic and financial sanctions as well as to all forms of chauvinist hatred against “Russian culture”, “Western LGBT decadence”, etc.’

I continued:

“I think the ‘enhanced forward presence’ of NATO, which of course we oppose, is yet another example of how the US and its NATO allies have taken advantage of the Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine to bolster their standing and expand their influence in eastern Europe. No surprise there. But surely it is the Kremlin aggression that has given them this advantage. Do you oppose that? As you know, […] the Zimmerwald socialists were unanimously opposed to annexations. And as I argue in my recent post they defended the self-determination of imperialist Belgium, occupied by Germany and in that respect (as Lenin argued) an oppressed nation. The NATO response, as Pröbsting argues, has not altered the fundamental nature of the Kremlin’s war. Its ‘enhanced forward presence’ does not amount to a direct military intervention in the war, as it clearly recognizes in its relations with Ukraine.

“If we are to cite analogies from WWI, I think the Belgian one is more pertinent and useful than Serbia. But I will leave it at that, for now.”

I had discussed the Belgian case in the article cited below in footnote 1, which I was sure my correspondent had read.

He then replied:

“Thanks for pulling together these very fine sources and comments.

“In your comments, I noted in particular:

‘I think the “enhanced forward presence” of NATO, which of course we oppose...’

“Opposition to the NATO ‘forward presence’ seems to me to be a position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict around which a wide range of socialist opinions could unite.”

This was clearly an attempt to evade the central issue. So I responded:

“Perhaps. But it must be an accompaniment to the demand for withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and an end to the Kremlin’s annexations of Ukrainian territory, the primary issue – the Russian aggression, occupation and annexations providing the Western imperialists with their pretext for renewed NATO expansion in Europe. And that’s the sticking point for many leftists who are unwilling to recognize Russia as an imperial aggressor, its actions a component of the vaunted multipolarity some hail as a progressive response to the US-led imperialist disorder. Our axis in this war must be defense of Ukrainian sovereignty and self-determination, solidarity with the Ukrainian people and their national resistance, both armed and unarmed.”

His reply, in its entirety: “Thanks for these thoughts.”

This exchange, to me, illustrates the problem described by the Polish comrade I cited at the outset of this post. The war has provoked a wide range of reactions among socialists and progressive-minded people. Many, while they are aware of the dangerous escalation in geopolitical tensions provoked by the Russian aggression, are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the imperialist nature of that regime or to engage with those who defend the justice of Ukraine’s fight for its national sovereignty.

Their reticence is understandably motivated, I think, by a reluctance to be seen as aligned somehow with the interests of US imperialism, the main supplier of weaponry to the besieged Ukrainians and, to be sure, the dominant imperialist power in global capitalism. And it leads some, like my correspondent, to search for some means, however contrived, to divert attention away from Ukraine’s self-defense to NATO’s (and Canada’s) interest in exploiting the Kremlin’s aggression.

What is at stake, however, are fundamental differences in relation to the changing shape of global geopolitics and the challenge this presents to socialists. We need to bear in mind that our opposition to imperialism – all imperialisms, not just the US and NATO – is based in principle on our support for the fundamental democratic right of national self-determination against all forms of oppression or foreign occupation.

I think this is captured very well by this article, which addresses “the very real messiness” involved in Ukraine’s dependence on NATO weaponry in its own anti-imperialist struggle: “USA: Ukraine Aid and Anti-Imperialism.”

Note in particular its conclusion, which I fully support:

“[I]t would be unwise to dismiss the very real messiness of situational (if temporary) alignment with one of the great power blocs. To clarify things, I would suggest using self-determination, a concept which has understandably seen a revival since the invasion, as a guiding principle for the left’s approach to aid.

“Appealing to the US may have been Ukraine’s only option for defending its sovereignty against Russia, but that should not mean that it becomes yet another client state of the world hegemon. Supporting Ukraine’s defense against one empire should mean opposing its exploitation by all of them. Placing self-determination at the center of our analysis can help us determine which aid is necessary and which is opportunistic, a distinction that will be even more important when the war ends and reconstruction begins.”

January 23, 2023

[1] The article was also published in Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal under the more meaningful title “Supporting Ukraine's right to self-determination: The historical example of ‘poor little Belgium’.”

Monday, January 9, 2023

We need to talk about Volodymyr

Ukraine, Palestine: Même Combat!

An excellent blog I follow by Irish socialist Tomás Ó Flatharta has published a guest post by Des Derwin, a supporter of Irish Left With Ukraine in Dublin. I think the comrade raises an important point that does indeed need to be addressed more explicitly by the international solidarity movement with Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion. I take the liberty to reproduce it. – Richard Fidler

* * *

The international solidarity movement with Ukraine, together with the left within Ukraine, needs to begin having a conversation about Zelensky.

We are well aware of our political and class differences with Zelensky. They have been overlooked or put aside by the international solidarity movement, or at least left without emphasis, in the interests of supporting the defensive war effort of the Ukrainian nation. This effort is widely seen as being outstandingly led by Zelensky. I am reminded how a united left rhetorically backed Ho Chi Minh throughout the Vietnam War without the left of the left making too much of a fuss about some of his highly objectionable actions. Hence Zelensky's neoliberalism, his forelock-tugging of the West, his anti-worker legislation, his apparent tolerance for some manifestations of the far right in Ukraine, his new concession to property developers, etc., are not made an issue, except to offer solidarity to our socialist and trade union comrades in Ukraine who are fighting the anti-labour laws in particular.

However there is one area where I feel we – the international solidarity movement and the Ukrainian left – can no longer keep public silence about Zelensky. And that is Israel.


His obsequious and nauseating Twitter message of congratulations (above) to Netanyahu practically mirrored the one from the EU's Ursula Von der Leyen (below). Except for Von der Leyen's extra layer of hypocrisy in actually referring to Ukraine while representing a vigorous policy on Ukraine that should also be the policy on the occupying, invading, apartheid, terrorist state of Israel.


Standing as the leader of a nation, Ukraine, under massive assault by a criminal and internationally-condemned aggressor, Russia, while solidifying with the criminal and internationally-condemned aggressor, Israel, of another nation, Palestine, defies logic and mars the cause of a free Ukraine, stooping to declaring "common challenges" with Israel and achieving "victory over evil" (the oppressed poor of Palestine?!). But it also offers low-hanging fruit to Putinist, campist and evasionist propaganda. The most contemptible and immovable supporters of Russia in this war have published Zelensky's Twitter message of congratulation to Netanyahu. This at a time when the reportedly most rightwing Israeli government ever has stepped up its attacks, murders and occupations and passed even tougher apartheid laws.


The international left and the international solidarity movement cannot maintain silence on Zelensky's relations with the terrorist state of Israel. On a world scale the oppression of Palestine equates as an issue with the invasion of Ukraine. The values which impel us to support Ukraine and oppose Russia and Putinism are exactly the values which have led us to support Palestine and oppose Israel and Zionism. Furthermore every statement from Zelensky like his recent Twitter message to Netanyahu is a hostage to fortune and is thrown into our faces by the most rotten Putinist elements. Besides these nasty minnows, in places, like Ireland, we find ourselves in a decided minority on Ukraine in the organised radical left, while there is a substantial, honourable and long-standing movement of solidarity with Palestine, particularly again in Ireland as it happens. Each disgusting paean from Zelensky, and some other leading Ukrainians, to Israel damages our work in building solidarity for Ukraine - long damaged it seems among Palestinians by Zelensky’s identification with Israel and by Western hypocrisy on Ukraine and Palestine. And damages our work in combating the waves of pro-Russian propaganda, the outpourings of 'proxy war' dogmatism and evasion, and the deep-seated campism on the left which offers these viewpoints and talking points such fertile ground.


Last August, following Israeli news reports that Yevhen Korniichuk, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel, had tweeted support for Israel while it was attacking and killing Palestinians, the US based Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity Campaign published an open letter addressed to President Zelensky and sent to the Ukrainian Embassy. According to news reports, Korniichuk wrote in a tweet on August 7th, “As a Ukrainian, while our country is under brutal attack from a close neighbor – I feel great sympathy towards the Israeli public. Terror and malicious attacks towards citizens have become daily matter for Israelis and Ukrainians.”

The Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity Campaign wrote:

“We’re shocked to learn that your government supported the recent Israeli “pre-emptive” attack on Palestinians in Gaza.…We are dismayed and angry that your government would talk about Palestinian “terrorism” when it was Israel that is killing Palestinians and smashing up Gaza, just as Russia is killing Ukrainians and smashing up parts of Ukraine.

“The situation for the Palestinian people has much in common with the Ukrainian people. In both cases a right wing reactionary regime is stealing land and territory from the people. In Israel-occupied Palestine the Israeli regime is steadily encroaching on the land of the Palestinian people in the West Bank as well as in Israel itself. In Ukraine, imperialist Russia is trying to annex thousands of square miles of Ukrainian land."

Similar and more widespread statements are needed again now. There is a need first of all to ask our comrades in Ukraine, such as Sotsialniy Rukh, to publish a strong condemnation (if they haven't done so already) of Zelensky's message to Netanyahu combined with a strong statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people. And for a similar statement, or statements, from as many of the Ukraine solidarity campaigns and organisations around the world as possible.

Dublin, 9th January 2023.