Thursday, September 21, 2023

The left and Ukraine: Anti-imperialism or alter-imperialism?



At its annual convention on September 12, the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) adopted almost unanimously a strong resolution of solidarity with Ukraine. The debate may be viewed here.

When I posted this information to a discussion list sponsored by Socialist Project, Sam Gindin was quick to point out that “the history of the Labour Party and the TUC have been proudly [pro] NATO for some time now…. The consensus is not quite as tight or unproblematic as Richard proclaims,” and he cited this text in support.

I reminded the list that Stop the War, the source of that text, had campaigned furiously against the TUC’s resolution. Its adoption, I said, was “a major defeat for these fake ‘anti-imperialists’,” who have opposed solidarity with Ukraine since the outset of the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022. And I added:

“Anyone who listens to the debate will see Sam’s claim about support of NATO strongly refuted by the unions speaking in favour of the composite resolution. They speak in the language of class solidarity with the workers of Ukraine, and against the neoliberal and pro-NATO governments of Ukraine and the UK.”

The TUC resolution marked a welcome development in working-class politics in the United Kingdom, a departure from the complicity with British and global imperialism that has plagued the workers movement for many years.

As Sam’s comment indicates, those on the Left, like him, who oppose the Ukraine resistance often argue that its reliance on NATO weaponry necessarily equates as support for NATO and Western imperialism among socialist opponents of Russian imperialism and supporters of Ukraine.

I recently translated and published an article by Rafael Bernabe that criticized this reasoning as “reductionism,” which he defined as “the mistake of reducing a complex process or phenomenon to one of its elements.” Among the reductions he identified were reducing “imperialism” to “Western imperialism or US imperialism” and reducing “the war between Ukraine and Russia to an inter-imperialist (by proxy) war or conflict between NATO and the Russian Federation.”

Rafael Bernabe has now written a follow-up piece (first published at New Politics) that expands on his argument, quite compellingly in my view, and deserves wide reproduction. By the way, I prefer his choice of “alter-imperialism” to designate the position of those on the Left (often termed “campist”) who recognize only the United States and its Western allies as imperialist.

Richard Fidler

* * *

The left and Ukraine: Anti-imperialism or alter-imperialism?

By Rafael Bernabe

21 September 2023

Recently, several sites have published translations of some of my articles on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I thank them for this. Yet, I feel it is important to update some of these interventions, some of which were written more than a year ago.

Seeking to navigate in an increasingly unstable and complex international situation, the left should keep three fundamental principles in mind:

  1. Consistent anti-imperialism
  2. Recognition of the right of peoples to self-determination
  3. Support of the struggles of the exploited and the oppressed in all states and nations

Surely, the first point includes the struggle against US and NATO imperialism. We reject the notion of NATO or its member states as a democratic force.  Some NATO members (Turkey) are far from being democratic governments, even by the least demanding criteria. Some NATO allies are downright undemocratic (Saudi Arabia). On more than one occasion NATO members have supported the overthrow of democratically elected governments and protected those who overthrew them. Simply put: NATO is an arm of Western imperialism and of US imperialism within the Western imperialist bloc (tensions exist and have existed within that bloc).

The idea that NATO would dissolve after the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was based on the appreciation that its raison d’être was the Cold War against the Soviet Union and its allies. But that was part of its objective: the broader objective is the defense of Western imperialist (and capitalist) rule on a global level, against any threat. In recent decades this has included the imposition of the neoliberal order across the planet. This is why the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, far from leading to the dissolution of NATO, was followed by its eastward expansion and its redefinition as a “security” pact, enabled to act beyond the borders of its members states. And the frictions caused by this expansion led to the aggravation of tensions which is undoubtedly one of the causes of the present conflict between NATO and the Russian Federation. Those who denounce the role of NATO expansion in the preparation of the conflict are right. That is undoubtedly an aspect of the war that we cannot lose sight of.

How should the left respond to NATO expansionism and Western imperialist policy? The general line of this response is well known. It includes building a defense of the living standards and immediate interests of the majority; linking that defense to an anti-military, anti-interventionist policy, while struggling to give that movement an increasingly clear anti-capitalist orientation.

Nevertheless, while we fight US and NATO imperialism, we must not reduce imperialism to its Western variant. The transformations in Russia and China during the last decades have created two great capitalist powers[1] interested in consolidating their own zones of influence and political, economic, and military control and the projection of their interests beyond their borders. The fact that these imperialist projects are weaker than Western imperialism does not change their content or their nature. We are, as Lenin described in his classic study, faced with a world of growing inter-imperialist conflicts. NATO’s eastward expansion clashes with the Russian Federation’s attempt to create its own zone of influence in territories of the former Soviet Union. The preponderance of the United States and its allies in Asia and the Pacific clashes with China’s objective of carving out its sphere of influence in that vast region.

Those who argue that Putin or China are reacting to Western imperialism are right: Western imperialism is a dominant and aggressive force. But it must be underlined that the Russian and Chinese governments respond, not as anti-imperialist forces, but rather with their own plans for control and dominance. The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian federation is part of that imperialist policy and, as such, an evident violation of the right of nations to self-determination. Affirming that right, we must recognize Ukrainian resistance as a just war against imperialist aggression. We reject NATO expansionism, but rejection of NATO expansionism does not imply support for Russian expansionism, if we are to abide by the first two principles mentioned above. We support the movements in Russia that are campaigning against Putin’s war on Ukraine.

Some on the left insist that Putin’s arguments regarding NATO’s expansion and US imperialism are true. The West, Putin has argued, has no moral right to speak about democracy. Indeed, there are enough crimes of US and NATO imperialism around for anybody, including Putin, to point out and denounce. This is why we resolutely oppose Western imperialism. But Western imperialism’s crimes are no reason to support Russian imperialism. What moral standing does the Russian capitalist oligarchy have to speak about democracy? Neither Western imperialism nor Putin have any standing in this regard.

Working class and oppressed peoples must fight NATO expansionism through organization and mobilization against militarism and imperialism, linked to the fight against neoliberalism, austerity, and the many-sided employers’ offensive (against pensions, wages, labor rights, social provisions) and in defense of democratic rights (women’s, reproductive, LGBTQ). An anti-imperialist government in Russia (or elsewhere) would link-up with these movements. It would, along with them, denounce the massive waste of resources in military projects, while itself adopting and implementing a working-class and democratic agenda. But this is not Putin’s agenda or program. As the representative of a capitalist oligarchy this is not how he responds to NATO expansionism. Rather, he enacts his own imperialist agenda, a mirror image of his imperialist rivals. As anti-imperialists we reject both NATO imperialism and Putin’s imperialist reaction to it, as well as the anti-working class and anti-democratic policies that go with it.

It should be stressed that, since all imperialisms are aggressive and predatory, their mutual accusations are often true. During the First World War, German social patriots denounced the despotic character of Tsarism and French imperialism denounced German militarism. After the war, German imperialism denounced the abuses of the Versailles peace and Japanese imperialism denounced the excesses of Western imperialism in Asia. They were all true accusations. But none of them justified supporting German, Russian, or French imperialism during the war, or German rearmament after the war, or Japanese imperialism against Western imperialism, let alone supporting the Japanese invasion of Indochina, Indonesia, or the Philippines. Similarly, our rejection of NATO and Western imperialism cannot lead us to support (or tolerate or fail to denounce) the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.

After the First World War, the imperialist victors imposed harsh and humiliating terms on a defeated Germany. As some already predicted at the time, this helped nurture the rise of a reloaded German nationalism and imperialism, seeking to break out of the limits imposed on it. The left could and did denounce many of the terms imposed at Versailles and the imperialist victor’s vindictive policies. But that did not turn the resurgent German nationalism and imperialism into a progressive or anti-imperialist force. The same applies to the catastrophic consequences of the capitalist shock therapy promoted in Russia by the United States and its allies in the 1990s. This surely was one factor that nurtured a nationalist reaction under Putin, seeking to repair some of the economic damage done under Yeltsin (and US advisors, such as Jeffrey Sachs). We can and should point out the West’s role and partial responsibility in all of this, but, as in the case of a resurgent German nationalism in the 1930s, this does not make Putin an anti-imperialist.

The left is now faced with a major danger. If, in a world of intensified inter-imperialist conflict it clings to the notion of the US and its allies as the sole imperialism, it runs the risk of sliding from anti-imperialism to alter-imperialism: not opposing all imperialist powers and projects but rather opposing one or some, while explicitly or tacitly supporting another.

In short, we reject NATO imperialism, but not to support the expansionism of the Russian Federation headed by Putin. We do not reject one imperialism to support another. We are anti-imperialists, not alter-imperialists. Therefore, while denouncing Western imperialism, we unequivocally reject the invasion and occupation of areas of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.

The same is true on the other side of the current inter-imperialist conflict. Our opposition to Russian expansionism cannot lead to any sympathies or illusions regarding NATO imperialism. That too would be a slide from anti to alter-imperialism.

Support for Ukrainian resistance does not imply or require an endorsement of Zelensky’s government. This corresponds to the third principle presented above. It is true that Zelensky’s government has perpetuated or initiated frankly anti-democratic, repressive, anti-worker and neoliberal measures. These policies must be denounced. Those resisting them must be supported.

But it is one thing to oppose Zelensky or Zelensky’s policies, quite another to support Putin’s intervention or Russian occupation. Zelensky’s reactionary politics are a reason to oppose him or his government, not to support Putin’s invasion. The left cannot embrace Putin as the agent of its democratic agenda. If Zelensky needs to be removed, this is a task for the Ukrainian people, not Putin.

Different voices have denounced the presence of far-right forces in Ukraine. Their weight is a matter of dispute. Yet, the same point applies: their presence must be opposed and denounced, but their presence does not justify the invasion led by Putin or support for that invasion.

Let us recall the precedent of China and Japanese imperialism. During the 1930s, the international left supported China in the face of Japanese aggression. The left sided with China even though its government was controlled by the repressive and corrupt Guomindang apparatus, headed by Chiang Kai-Shek (fiercely anti-communist and perpetrator of the 1927 massacre), a government supported by western imperialism. Chinese resistance was a just fight against Japanese imperialism, despite the nature of its government and of the support it received from rival imperialisms. Similarly, Ukrainian resistance is a just fight against Russian aggression, despite the nature of its government and of the support it received from rival imperialisms.

The position outlined here closely follows Lenin’s views on this question. Lenin underlined the need to fight all forms of national oppression, which in turn required the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination. Tsarism had nurtured hatred against Russia among many in the oppressed nations of the empire, including Ukraine. The end of that oppression and the hope of reconciliation between the peoples estranged by Tsarism demanded the recognition of the right to self-determination, among other measures. In his own way, Putin understands this quite well: he openly blames Lenin for Ukraine’s independence, which he considers a crime against Russia that his invasion seeks to rectify. Logically, he also repudiates Lenin’s doctrine of the right of nations to self-determination, which he considers absurd and untenable. Consciously or not, those in Russia (or elsewhere) struggling against Putin’s war and defending Ukraine’s right to self-determination are recuperating Lenin’s orientation.

But Lenin also argues that all national cultures and all nationalisms, including the nationalism of the oppressed, contain aspects that are undemocratic, oppressive, discriminatory, and chauvinistic. The same democratic impulse that inspires the fight against national oppression commands us to struggle against these oppressive aspects present in all national cultures and characteristic of all nationalisms. In the struggle against US colonialism in Puerto Rico (to speak of the struggle in which I have been involved since the 1970s) we must also fight against the conservative, sexist, racist aspects of Puerto Rican culture, for example. This applies to Ukraine and all nations under imperialist aggression. While struggling against Russian imperialism, a fight must also be conducted against the reactionary dimensions of Ukrainian nationalism. Fighting Russian aggression but ignoring this would be inconsistent from a democratic and liberating perspective. Nor is it permissible to deploy the reactionary aspects of Ukrainian nationalism to support Russian aggression: this would be equally inconsistent from a democratic and anti-imperialist perspective.

To resist, Ukraine must obtain weapons wherever it can. Without recognizing this right, the denunciation of Putin’s invasion becomes an empty gesture. In the present context, Ukraine may only obtain these weapons in the NATO imperialist camp. There is no contradiction between denouncing NATO imperialism and supporting Ukraine’s use of its military supplies to resist Russian aggression. Unlike many in Ukraine, we foster no illusions regarding NATO, nor will we call for an end to the flow of military material required for an effective resistance. The same applies elsewhere. Faced with US aggression, we recognize the right of Cuba, or Venezuela, for example to seek material and military support wherever they can obtain it, including a rival imperialism, such as Russia. We would foster no illusions regarding Putin, nor would we call for an end to the flow of military supplies required for an effective resistance to US aggression. Again: this is the only way of remaining consistent anti-imperialists instead of embracing some version of alter-imperialism.

Alter-imperialism would have us choose between imperialisms. For some, any opposition to NATO implies support for Putin. To oppose Russian imperialism, they would have us side with NATO imperialism. For others, opposition to Putin is an indication of pro-NATO sympathies. To fight NATO imperialism, they would have us embrace Russian imperialism. We reject both formulas, based on the same alter-imperialist logic. We can and should stand against both NATO and Russian imperialism, and with the victims of their aggression, be they Cuba or Venezuela, or Ukraine.

Similarly, to call for an end of military aid to stop the war, despite the humane intentions of many, in practice disarms Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. It plays into Putin’s hands. It means peace at the cost of Ukrainian capitulation. If the US were to invade Cuba or Venezuela, would we seek to disarm them to bring about an end to the war? Surely, we would campaign for an end to US aggression, while hoping that Cuba or Venezuela arm themselves to resist as best they can, using whatever sources they have at their disposal no matter how unsavory. The same position must be adopted regarding Ukraine and Russian aggression.

Sometimes, the rise of China and Russia as rivals of US imperialism is presented as the emergence of a multipolar world, no longer under the thumb of the latter. But the contrast of unipolar and multipolar is too abstract. We must ask: what kind of “multipolarity” is crystallizing in today’s world? We should remember that the world order that produced the first and second world wars was a multipolar world. In other words, a world of inter-imperialist conflicts is a multipolar world. In such a world the role of the left is not to cheer or celebrate the rise of multipolarity given the consolidation of new competing imperialist projects but rather to clearly position itself against all such projects.

We recently encountered the argument that “Whatever you think about Ukraine, in Africa, Russia is fighting imperialism.” The premise here is that anybody clashing or in tension with Western imperialism is anti-imperialist. Again, the example of Japanese imperialism is illustrative. During the 1930s did it clash and fight Western imperialism in Indochina, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc.? Yes. Was it fighting imperialism? No: it was advancing its own imperialist project. In other words, rival imperialisms conflict with each and the fact that Russia clashes with Western imperialism does not make it any less imperialist.

Imperialist powers normally embellish their plans with reference to admirable ideals. US and NATO imperialism act in the name of freedom and democracy and, more recently, of anti-terrorism and even women’s rights. The left rightly dismisses these proclamations as the deceptions that they are. It seeks to demonstrate the stark realities that they hide. But this is and will be equally true of new imperialist projects. They will speak in terms of multi-polarity, cooperation, anti-hegemonism, etc. (Japanese imperialism once presented its Pacific empire as a “co-prosperity sphere.”) They will justify their denial of democratic rights as a sovereign act or as an alternative to degenerate or decadent Western culture and denounce any criticism as a foreign intervention or as eurocentrism. The left must also see through this rhetoric and teach others to see through it. Otherwise, it will be lured from anti to alter-imperialism while embracing the ideological justifications of one imperialist camp or another.

We similarly must reject such notions as the “Asian” sources of Russian imperialism, counterposed to “European” democratic values (there are many variations of this). If anything, little is more typical of Europe than imperialism, which has been part of European development since the rise of capitalism. Contemporary Russian imperialism is no less capitalist than its tsarist predecessor (both with diverse non-capitalist admixtures) and its present rivals: its roots are capitalist, not “Asian.”

It is a fact that inter-imperialist conflict creates some space for maneuver for non-imperialist countries in the Global South seeking concessions from the major powers. It is legitimate to play one power against another, to seek more aid, better trade arrangements, debt forgiveness, etc. But often governments may go beyond this to assume the perspective, orientation, or politics of their closest imperialist ally, be it US imperialism or Russian imperialism. Anti-imperialists must not follow them down that path if they wish to avoid the drift toward alter-imperialism.

In the present context it is easy to fall into a one-sided perspective. Faced with US and NATO aggression, military buildup, and propaganda (in Latin America, for example), it’s easy to lose sight of the need to confront Russian and Chinese imperialism or the need to support Ukrainian resistance. Faced with Russian aggression, it’s easy to lose sight of the need to oppose NATO imperialism. An internationalist left must offer a perspective which integrates the struggle against all imperialist camps, while defending the right of peoples to self-determination and the struggles of the exploited and oppressed in all states and nations, including those under imperialist attack. This is the perspective we have tried to present in this text, a perspective that can bring together progressives fighting in different fronts: those conducting working class struggles in Western Europe, those directly confronting US and NATO imperialism in the Global South, those struggling against Putin’s capitalist authoritarianism in Russia, and thus resisting Russian aggression in the Ukraine, while struggling for a democratic transformation of their own country (against the reactionary forces within it). This is not a program, but only a general framework. It must be developed by the participants in all those struggles. But it can be a shared starting point.

Rafael Bernabe is a Senator for the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana in Puerto Rico. He is the author of several books including, with César Ayala, Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History Since 1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

[1] Although China has mobilized foreign and domestic capitalism on a large scale as integral parts of its development strategy since 1978, I am not convinced that China can be accurately characterized as a “capitalist” power, although its territorial claim on Taiwan and its national oppression of Tibet and the Uyghur peoples do qualify it as “imperialist.” But that is a subject for another debate. – R.F.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

That other 9-11: The coup that ended Chile’s Popular Unity government

St.Petersburg, Russia - February 13, 2012:  A stamp printed in CUBA  shows Salvador Allende, from series, circa 1983

By Richard Fidler

This year, on September 11, we mark the 50th anniversary of the coup in Chile. The violent military overthrow of the Popular Unity government put an end to a turbulent experiment in the parliamentary road to socialism initiated with the presidential election of Salvador Allende just three years earlier. The coup government headed by General Augusto Pinochet launched massive and deadly repression and inaugurated the capitalist world’s first major wave of neoliberal economic “reforms,” many of which remain in force today.

It seems appropriate to look back at the Chilean experience – the first breakthrough for the Left in Latin America after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 – and to think about the lessons to be learned for today’s Left and progressive movements. Allende’s electoral base, the Unidad Popular (UP), or Popular Unity, was a coalition of his Socialist party with the Communist party and several much smaller parties around a programmatic agreement that promised “revolutionary changes” to “liberate Chile from imperialism, exploitation and poverty.” And it pledged to do this in full respect for and compliance with the country’s parliamentary, legal and other institutions.

For an initial balance sheet, I recommend an important article by Ralph Miliband first published in the 1973 edition of Socialist Register. Miliband was a prominent sociologist and author of numerous books on socialism and politics, including Parliamentary Socialism and The State in Capitalist Society. His essay, too lengthy to be reproduced here, merits reading in its entirety. But here is a brief excerpt, from its concluding section, on “the question of the state and the exercise of power.”

It was noted earlier that a major change in the state’s personnel is an urgent and essential task for a government bent on really serious change; and that this needs to be allied to a variety of institutional reforms and innovations, designed to push forward the process of the state’s democratization. But in this latter respect, much more needs to be done, not only to realize a set of long-term socialist objectives concerning the socialist exercise of power, but as a means either of avoiding armed confrontation, or of meeting it on the most advantageous and least costly terms if it turns out to be inevitable.

What this means is not simply ‘mobilizing the masses’ or ‘arming the workers’. These are slogans – important slogans – which need to be given effective institutional content. In other words, a new regime bent on fundamental changes in the economic, social and political structures must from the start begin to build and encourage the building of a network of organs of power, parallel to and complementing the state power, and constituting a solid infrastructure for the timely ‘mobilization of the masses’ and the effective direction of its actions. The forms which this assumes – workers’ committees at their place of work, civic committees in districts and sub-districts, etc. – and the manner in which these organs ‘mesh’ with the state may not be susceptible to blueprinting. But the need is there, and it is imperative that it should be met, in whatever forms are most appropriate.

This is not, to all appearances, how the Allende regime moved. Some of the things that needed doing were done; but such ‘mobilization’ as occurred, and such preparations as were made, very late in the day, for a possible confrontation, lacked direction, coherence, in many cases even encouragement. Had the regime really encouraged the creation of a parallel infra-structure, it might have lived; and, incidentally, it might have had less trouble with its opponents and critics on the left, for instance in the MIR, since its members might not then have found the need so great to engage in actions of their own, which greatly embarrassed the government: they might have been more ready to cooperate with a government in whose revolutionary will they could have had greater confidence. In part at least, ‘ultra-leftism’ is the product of ‘citra-leftism’.

Salvador Allende was a noble figure and he died a heroic death. But hard though it is to say it, that is not the point. What matters, in the end, is not how he died, but whether he could have survived by pursuing different policies; and it is wrong to claim that there was no alternative to the policies that were pursued. In this as in many other realms, and here more than in most, facts only become compelling as one allows them to be so. Allende was not a revolutionary who was also a parliamentary politician. He was a parliamentary politician who, remarkably enough, had genuine revolutionary tendencies. But these tendencies could not overcome a political style which was not suitable to the purposes he wanted to achieve.

Miliband focused his analysis on the trials and tribulations encountered by the UP government as it sought to pursue, and then retreat from, its reform program in the face of strenuous and mounting opposition by Chile’s capitalists backed by Washington. Writing from afar, he was unable to assess the reactions among the popular forces that constituted the government’s social base. That, however, is the subject matter of a remarkable study of “constituent popular power and the politics of conflict” in Chile from 1970 to 1973 that – in the words of its author Franck Gaudichaud – are “keys to understanding a thousand days that shook the world.”[1] Gaudichaud’s text, adapted from his doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Michael Löwy, is a detailed analysis of the forms of “popular power(s)” created in their struggles by the workers, peasants and “pobladores” of the shanty-towns during the UP regime.

This research shows that at the heart of this period of social confrontations and political upheavals, various attempts at what we have proposed to call popular constituent power arose. A notion defined as ‘the creation of social and political experiments of organized counter-power and counter-hegemonies’ leading to ‘new forms of popular collective appropriations’ and ‘a calling into question – total or relative – of relations of production, forms of work organization, social and spatial hierarchies and material or symbolic mechanisms of domination’. It is precisely in the specific (and historically determined) configuration taken by these forms of popular power that the true originality of the Chilean process, its transformative capacity and its historical force are located. This, beyond the unprecedented nature of Allende’s project of transition to socialism or a supposed intangible stability of the democratic institutions of the ‘compromise State’. And it seems to us that there is here a path worth taking, to explore, in the study of other great political crises or Latin American revolutionary processes.

If we examine the various facets of this collective turmoil which mobilized several tens of thousands of employees, pobladores and left-wing activists, we see the emergence of a ‘grammar of protest’ little known to Popular Unity. This idée-force is that of popular power, but in this turbulent sky, one star shone more brightly than others: that of the industrial cordones.[2] Certainly, ‘the theme of the industrial cordones refers to one of the most important and successful experiences of Popular Unity, perhaps approaching one of the most realized utopias of Chilean socialism: that in which the workers built themselves as an historical actor with strong collective economic and political responsibility within the ongoing process. Appearing most of the time on the outskirts of the major cities, these are territorial bodies of class coordination, bringing together the unions of several companies in a specific urban area, with the immediate aim of realizing demands such as the extension of the nationalized sector, workers’ control of production, the self-defense of factories, the increase in wages or even, in the medium term, the establishment of a new institutional architecture, based on municipal and provincial popular councils. The cordones thus draw a new topography of struggles in urban areas, alongside other actors in the social movement. They gradually anchor themselves in a city in struggle and territories appropriated by and for massively mobilized popular classes.

A militant in the Chilean process in the early 1970s was the Peruvian peasant leader and ecosocialist Hugo Blanco, who died this year at the age of 89. Released from prison in 1970 by Peru’s revolutionary military junta, Blanco made his way to Chile. He authored many articles on the grassroots mobilizations and political conflicts under the UP government. Some were translated and published in English in Intercontinental Press, a socialist newsweekly published in New York City.[3] They provide insightful analyses into the class dynamics of the events, and can be accessed on line. Here is a representative sample:

Chilean Workers Organize Distribution, April 23, 1973,35

Right Wing in Popular Unity Consolidates, April 30, 1973,35

Fascist Threat Mounting in Chile, May 7, 1973,35

The Sharpening Struggle in Chile, May 28, 1973,35

Fascist Provocations, Labor Unrest in Chile, June 4, 1973,35

Chilean Workers Organize to Meet the Rightist Threat, June 11, 1973,35

The Workers’ Cordones Challenge the Reformists, June 18, 1973,35

The Role of the Cordones Industriales, November 26, 1973,35

Also worth reading:

Allende’s dream, Pinochet’s coup and Chile’s present By Carmen Aguirre.

People in Chile never stopped resisting the dictatorship that began 50 years ago, or seeking to revive the social reforms of the 1970s. A childhood in exile has made it impossible for me to forget that.

This article, published in the Toronto Globe & Mail September 8, is remarkable not least because it is almost unique, amongst the coverage of Chile’s coup in the business media, to remind us of the complicity of Pierre Trudeau’s government in related events before, during and after the Pinochet coup.

[1] Franck Gaudichaud, Chile 1970-1973, Mille jours qui ébranlèrent le monde (Presses universitaires de Rennes 2013, free on-line since 2017). In French only, at present.

[2] The Spanish word cordones could be roughly translated in English as “lanyards,” that is, interlaced bodies of workers in different workplaces or geographic units.

[3] As a staff writer for Intercontinental Press in the early 1970s, I met Hugo Blanco for the first time in 1974, in Italy, at the Tenth World Congress of the Fourth International.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Canadian Left Responses to War in Ukraine – a Provisional Balance Sheet

By Richard Fidler

February 24, 2022 marked the opening of a new phase in the developing reconfiguration of global capitalist and popular forces. Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine, the prompt mobilization of resistance by Ukrainians, and the quick shift toward public support for NATO in much of Europe, confronted the international Left and progressive forces with some major challenges. The Left in Canada was no exception.

“This conflict will change everything,” wrote Quebec socialist Pierre Beaudet in a memo to the solidarity organization Alternatives that he directed, just days before Beaudet’s sudden death March 8. “As in any important debate, there are theories, strategic issues, choices to make in our practice.”

Beaudet pointed to some key features of the new situation:

1. Russia’s determination to prevail, its denial of “the very reality of Ukraine as the sovereign state and territory of a people with the right of self-determination,” risked a long war in which “resistance to the aggression is the only outcome on offer.”

2. Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin’s approach “borrowed from the tradition of the USSR under Stalin in imposing a centralizing and repressive state along with attempts to carve out a place in the global arena.”

3. The post-Soviet expansion of NATO, and Washington’s failures in its intervention in the Middle East and Central Asia, prompting Putin’s belief that this was now the time to strike a major blow in Ukraine, where Russia had already annexed Crimea in 2014 and supported pro-Russian separatists in the east.

“Now that Russia has attacked, there is no turning back. Either Putin wins his bet by the subjugation of Ukraine, which would allow him to ‘entrust’ to a new government the job of ‘re-establishing order.’ Or the situation will drag on into an endless conflict – unless Russia decides to wage war in the cities even if it means destroying them, with their people, as was done in Syria.”

The result will be “an immense realignment of priorities and strategies.

“NATO, its relevance diminished in recent years, will return in force. The member states will be required to increase substantially their military spending and become directly involved in the strategy of counter-attacking and weakening Russia….”

4. The Canadian government will follow the U.S. line, as always. Military spending will surge, financed by severe cutbacks in other expenditures. Fossil fuel export projects – perhaps “the LNG project designed to bring Alberta’s gas through Quebec” – will be relaunched as part of the “war effort.”

5. “We act in solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance that aims to re-establish an inclusive and peaceful sovereignty without abuses of national minorities. Our solidarity can be exercised in the area of humanitarian assistance” which “must not be reduced to meet Ukraine’s needs.”

6. Russia’s invasion was a “blatant violation of the UN Charter and international law. The United States and their NATO allies, including Canada, have plunged us as well increasingly into this war by a flurry of sanctions and outrageous statements.” A peace process must include the United Nations, and not be left to the major protagonists like the European Union and NATO.

The analysis was prescient. With hindsight, we can think of some elements that can now be added. However, Beaudet’s argument had the virtue of centering our response on the need to support Ukraine’s defense of its territorial sovereignty and self-determination.

In the 18 months since Beaudet’s memo, his organization Alternatives has worked to promote solidarity with the Ukraine resistance while opposing Russian aggression and NATO expansion. It has also joined the international campaign for the release of Boris Kagarlitsky and other Russian antiwar prisoners. Its approach contrasts with that of the pacifist organization Échec à la guerre, which claims to oppose all imperialisms – especially U.S. “military domination” -- but has not rallied to defend Ukraine.

In what follows, I will outline and critically comment on some of the other responses to the war by the Canadian and Quebec left.

The parliamentary Left

When it comes to membership in NATO and its alliance with U.S. imperialism -- the bedrock of Canada’s foreign policy -- the labour-based New Democratic Party tends to march in lockstep with whatever government holds office in Ottawa. The Ukraine war is no exception. While supporting provision of weapons needed by Ukraine – as it should – the NDP has also agreed with moves to reinforce Canada’s military spending and NATO involvement as well as sanctions designed to harm the economic needs of the Russian people.

In a statement issued on the one-year anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion, the NDP reaffirmed its support of “the Ukrainians who are defending their country and … those who have been forced to flee.” But it called for strengthening the sanctions regime, and failed to raise the need to cancel Ukraine’s public debt as it seeks to rebuild.

The other party of Canada’s parliamentary Left, the pro-Quebec sovereignty party Québec solidaire, defends Ukraine of course. However, it has limited its support to a motion in Quebec’s National Assembly, on the eve of Russia’s aggression,[1] and a resolution adopted by its National Council on May 28, 2022. The resolution condemned Russia, reaffirmed Ukraine’s right to self-determination while calling for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations to end the aggression, and urged rapid reception of Ukrainian refugees.

The QS council resolution emphasized that “this conflict must not be used as a justification to allow the exploitation of Quebec’s oil and gas resources, or to increase exports of fossil fuels from Canada on the pretext of replacing Russian oil and gas.”

Finally, it called on its members, and citizens, to “support peace demonstrations opposing the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army….”

However, QS has not itself initiated any such demonstrations although its program[2] declares that the party “will participate in building international mobilizations against military interventions (of imperialist powers) aimed at ensuring control over peoples and their wealth and attacking their sovereignty.” The party also calls for Canada’s immediate withdrawal from NATO and NORAD.[3]

Extraparliamentary Left

Québec solidaire identifies itself as “a party of the streets as well as the ballot-boxes,” and it is the extraparliamentary wing of the party that has taken the lead in defense of Ukraine. The popular website Presse-toi à gauche (PTàG) includes among its editors and writers the most prominent left-wing activists within QS. Since the war began each weekly edition has included a selection of articles on the war, the vast majority sympathetic to Ukraine.

Another left website based in Quebec, Pivot, has likewise supported Ukraine, although not as diligently as PTàG. In April it published a powerful rejoinder to a few accounts in mainstream media and left-leaning publications in Quebec that attributed the war to provocation of Russia by NATO and/or Ukraine.

In the rest of Canada, unfortunately, the major left publications and organizations have tended to ignore the Ukraine resistance or dismiss it as a “proxy” for what they portray as a NATO war against Russia.[4] People’s Voice, the Communist party monthly newspaper, not surprisingly supports Russia. “NATO, the US, EU and Canada have left Russia with few options,” said the CP in a statement issued in October 2022 that echoed some of the Kremlin’s narratives.

A prolific blogger on the war is Yves Engler, who has a well-earned reputation as the most prominent critic of Canadian foreign policy from an anti-imperialist standpoint. The author of many books and articles, Engler is associated with the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, an NGO that sponsors online seminars and petitions critical of Canadian corporate and government intervention abroad. Engler and the CFPI have campaigned against the provision of Canadian arms to Ukraine, and joined the international chorus advocating a “negotiated peace” in Ukraine that is not predicated on Russian withdrawal.[5]

Engler’s articles have been republished by some on-line “progressive” websites such as, which otherwise have little to say about the war.

A widely-read online website The Maple publishes well-researched critiques of Canadian foreign policy but has said little about the Russian war on Ukraine. Its managing editor Alex Cosh published an article in another left publication Briarpatch that repeated much of the Kremlin narrative justifying its aggression.[6] However, The Maple also organized an on-line debate between Ukrainian socialist Taras Bilous and Quebec blogger Dimitri Lascaris on the issue “Should Leftists Support Sending Weapons to Ukraine?”[7] Lascaris, who once ran for leader of the Canadian Green party, is notorious for his support of Russia as a force for peace. A readers’ poll conducted by The Maple following the debate found a substantial majority supporting Bilous in his defense of the Ukraine resistance.

A rare debate on the war: Canadian Dimension

Canadian Dimension, a Winnipeg-based monthly magazine (founded in 1963, on-line only since 2019), is undoubtedly the most prominent publication on the English-Canadian left. Its extensive coverage of the war[8] has been slanted heavily against Ukraine’s resistance, some of it authored by writers like Yves Engler and Dimitri Lascaris, as well as U.S. sources like CodePink. However, CD also published five articles this year by Russian antiwar critic Boris Kagarlitsky, and recently published a strong editorial statement protesting Kagarlitsky’s arrest and urging its readers to support the international solidarity campaign for his release.

When Canadian Dimension introduced an article by Kagarlitsky with the headline “Clear-eyed veteran Russian leftist dissident offers a courageous and politically indispensable take on the Russia-Ukraine war,” Toronto socialist Sam Gindin and Montreal-based professor David Mandel wrote an angry “reply to Kagarlitsky” deriding his analysis as “shallow” and “simple-minded.” Their article was largely a defense of Putin based on a selective discourse analysis purporting to show that “there is no hint here, or indeed anywhere in Putin’s speeches or writing, of a denial of the right of the Ukrainian state or people to exist” – deliberately overlooking the ample well-documented evidence to the contrary.[9] As for Gindin and Mandel, they argued that Ukraine could not possibly strive for sovereignty given its reliance on US support. It was just a “proxy” for US imperialism in its attempt to weaken Russia.

In a subsequent article, Mandel repeated many of the now-familiar (and false) Kremlin talking points in its narrative of defensive war. Canadian Dimension has now published a devastating rebuttal, refuting many of Mandel’s “myths” one by one.

The Gindin-Mandel piece was a clear illustration of how viewing the war as a defensive reaction by Russia to U.S. aggression tends to translate into support of Russia and justification of its action. Both authors had been developing this position on an internal discussion list of the Toronto-based Socialist Project over the past 18 months. In Gindin’s case, it seemed to reflect the disorienting impact of the war’s outbreak on a thesis he had long defended with the late Leo Panitch, articulated at length in their magnum opus The Making of Global Capitalism.[10] As I have summarized it:

“The book’s central thesis is that the United States has dominated the planet since World War II, integrating other powers (and countries) by way of subordination to its ‘informal empire.’ This portrayal is distinguished from the conditions of inter-imperialist rivalry that Lenin had characterized as a central element of prewar capitalism…. This new world superpower has integrated ‘all the other major capitalist powers into an effective system of coordination under its aegis’.”[11]

Clearly, this portrayal of a harmonized (if competitive) global capitalism was a long shot from the brutal imperial savagery of capitalist Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. Gindin seems unable to explain this contradiction, and has fallen back on a more classic, but still unipolar, image of a U.S. empire determined to discipline, even militarily defeat a recalcitrant subaltern in its global order.

(If, as some argue, the war is fundamentally an inter-imperialist conflict, revolutionary socialists would support neither side, although they might still defend Ukraine state sovereignty.)

Gindin is by far the pre-eminent member of Socialist Project’s steering committee. Following his lead, the SP has refrained from campaigning in defense of the Ukrainian resistance. Instead, the few articles on the war published in its on-line Bullet have promoted pacifist themes and opposition to providing Ukraine with defensive weapons. The Bullet has also published two articles by David Mandel that attempt to “explain” and excuse the Russian invasion. Both articles proclaim that Ukrainian resistance is futile and should immediately cease.

It should also be noted that Socialist Project, unlike many groups and individuals representing a diversity of political perspectives, has not even endorsed the international campaign of protest against the arrest of Boris Kagarlitsky.[12]

Ex-Trotskyists rejecting Ukraine solidarity

Among the other political casualties of the war are some of the small groups with roots in various wings of the international Trotskyist movement. The Toronto-based International Socialists published a statement on February 24, 2022 denouncing “Russian expansionism” and calling for Russian withdrawal from Ukraine… and Canadian withdrawal from Eastern Europe, referring to its role in NATO “training fascists within the Ukrainian military.” Ukraine, it said, “is once again paying the price as a state stuck in between two major imperialist rivals,” Russia and NATO. The IS newspaper Socialist Worker has published several articles along the same lines since the invasion, all of them produced by their co-thinkers in Britain.

Spring, the on-line publication of a group that broke with the IS a few years ago, has reposted many articles on the war by Yves Engler, and two or three of its own. David Bush denounces the Russian aggression but insists “the main enemy is at home.” This means opposing “troop deployments and arms shipments” to Ukraine. James Clark, once a leader in the Canadian movement against U.S. aggression in the Middle East and Afghanistan, wrote a four-part series of articles on the antiwar movement of ten years ago, but made no attempt to link its lessons to the war on Ukraine.

Fightback (in Quebec, La Riposte, a recognized collective within Québec solidaire) is the Canadian member of the British-based International Marxist Tendency. At the outset of the war, its publications featured a lengthy statement by the IMT dismissing the Ukrainian resistance:

“All the talk of Ukrainian sovereignty is contradicted by the fact that the country has been under growing domination from the US since the victory of the 2014 Euromaidan movement. All the key levers of economic and political power are in the hands of a corrupt oligarchy and its government, which, in turn, is the puppet of US imperialism and a pawn in its hands…. In fact, the current war is to a large extent a US-Russia conflict, being played out in the territory of Ukraine.”

Subsequent articles on the war have replicated this approach.

Finally, it is worth noting the fate of a tiny current that originated in some 2004 expulsions from the U.S. Socialist Workers Party because they had questioned the SWP’s support of the Pentagon overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. John Riddell and Roger Annis, joined by Ian Angus, founded an on-line journal Socialist Voice and invited some other Marxists (including myself) to participate in its production. An on-line archive of the issues and pamphlets published before its demise in 2011 may be accessed here.

As it explains, Socialist Voice ceased publication because its key editors had become heavily committed to other enterprises. John Riddell had resumed publication of his massive volumes on the proceedings of the Communist International in Lenin’s day.[13] Ian Angus was publishing his website Climate & Capitalism and writing books on Ecosocialism.

As for Roger Annis, he travelled to Ukraine with two other Canadians – Radhika Desai and Alan Freeman – in 2014, at the invitation of Boris Kagarlitsky, and emerged as a supporter of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Eastern Ukraine. He has since transformed his blog A Socialist in Canada into a shameless propaganda mouthpiece for Putin’s regime and its aggression, occupation and annexations in Ukraine. Independently of Annis, Desai and Freeman (he is a former Trotskyist, in Britain) have created their own website and authored a Manifesto that praises today’s China as “the indispensable nation in humankind’s struggle for socialism, offering aid and inspiration as a worthy example of a country pursuing socialism in accordance with its national conditions.” Among the initial signatories of the Manifesto is John Riddell.

The group praises China – and Russia – as paragons of “multipolarity,” the alternative they promote to U.S. unipolar hegemony. What this means for Ukraine is described by Radhika Desai in her recent book: “[T]his 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.”


As in other countries, Canadian left responses to Russia’s war have tended to divide along two conflicting fault lines. Crudely put, there are those who see the war as a Russian imperialist assault on Ukraine and seek to mobilize solidarity with Ukraine’s popular resistance, including its right to acquire the weapons it needs for its defense. In contrast, there are those who reduce the war to a conflict between NATO and Russia, the Ukrainians being simply pawns of the Pentagon and its European allies. The first group call for immediate Russian withdrawal from Ukraine as the only path to a peaceful solution. The second claim that Russia has some legitimate interest in occupying all or part of Ukraine, and invent narratives to justify its aggression and deny Ukraine’s right of national self-determination. These differences cannot be reconciled. It is a fundamental rift.

Thanks to Art Young for his assistance in reviewing a draft of this article. – RF

[1] “L’Assemblée nationale adopte une motion unanime de soutien à l’Ukraine,” February 23, 2022.

[2] Programme de Québec solidaire. See, in particular, para. 9.2.1.

[3] North American Air Defense Agreement (NORAD).

[4] For a critical analysis of this convoluted reasoning, see “The war in Ukraine: four reductions we must avoid.”

[5] A typical article: “Cutting through Canada’s war propaganda.”

[6] See also “Yes, The Ukraine War Could Have Been Prevented,” by Alex Cosh, arguing that the war is a “NATO proxy war.”

[7]Should Leftists Support Sending Weapons to Ukraine?

[8] See the section “Crisis in Ukraine” on the CD website.

[9] See, for example, Putin’s speech on February 23, 2023 justifying his decision to invade Ukraine.

[10] The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire (Verso, 2013).

[11] Richard Fidler, “Remembering Leo Panitch.” See the text following the subhead “Global capitalism.”

[12] As one of the very few SP members on its discussion list to dispute Gindin and Mandel, I was barred by the steering committee from posting any comment on “the Ukraine-Russia war” (sic) for two months earlier this year.

[13] Pathfinder Press and Haymarket.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

The war in Ukraine: four reductions we must avoid

By Rafael Bernabe

Rafael Bernabe is a Puerto Rican historian and sociologist who is currently an elected member of the Puerto Rico Senate representing the left-wing Citizens’ Victory Movement (Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana, or MVC). The following is a translation of his article La guerra en Ucrania: cuatro reducciones que debemos evitar. First published a year ago, it is all the more relevant today in light of the issues debated in the international Left since then. – Richard Fidler

“Reductionism” is an error that has been widely discussed in the history of Marxism. It is the mistake of reducing a complex process or phenomenon to one of its elements. It is a form of oversimplification or one-sidedness. The political and practical consequences of such one-sidedness can be considerable. In this sense, it seems to us that there are four reductions that we must avoid when analyzing and reacting to the armed conflict unleashed by the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.

First reduction. We must not reduce the war to a conflict between democracy and authoritarianism (or despotism, dictatorship, etc.). There should be no doubt about the authoritarian and anti-democratic nature of Vladimir Putin’s government, but that does not mean that we should see NATO or its members as a democratic force. Some of those members (Turkey) are far from being democratic governments, even by the most undemanding criteria. Some of its allies and favored governments are downright undemocratic (Saudi Arabia). On more than one occasion they have supported the overthrow of democratically elected governments and protected those who overthrew them (Greece). NATO is one of the weaponized arms of Western imperialism and, some argue, of US imperialism within the Western imperialist bloc (tensions exist and have existed within that bloc).

The idea that NATO would dissolve after the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was based on the idea that its raison d’être was the Cold War against the Soviet Union and its allies. but that was part of its objective: the broader objective is the defense of Western imperialist (and capitalist) rule on a global level, against any threat. In recent decades this has included the imposition of the neoliberal order across the planet. This is why the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, far from leading to the demise of NATO, was followed by its eastward expansion. And the frictions caused by this expansion led, as was foreseen since the mid-1990s, to the aggravation of tensions, which is undoubtedly one of the causes of the present conflict between NATO and the Russian Federation. Those who denounce the role of NATO expansion in the preparation of the conflict are right. That is undoubtedly an aspect of the war that we cannot lose sight of. Against this expansionism of NATO and against Western imperialist policy in general, how does the left respond? The general line of this response is well known: building a defense of the living standards and immediate interests of the majority of the population, linking them to an anti-armament, anti-interventionist and internationalist policy, a movement to which it must fight to give an increasingly frankly anti-capitalist meaning.

Second reduction. We must not reduce imperialism to Western imperialism or US imperialism. The transformations in Russia and China during the last decades have created two great capitalist powers interested in consolidating their own zones of influence and political, economic and military control and the projection of their interests beyond their borders. The fact that these imperialist projects are weaker than Western imperialism does not change their content or their nature. We are, as Lenin described in his classic study, faced with a world of growing inter-imperialist conflicts. NATO’s eastward expansion clashes with the Russian Federation’s attempt to create its own zone of influence in territories of the former Soviet Union. The preponderance of the United States and its allies in Asia and the Pacific clashes with China’s objective of carving out its sphere of influence in that vast region. Those who argue that Putin or China are reacting to Western imperialism are right: Western imperialism is a dominant and aggressive force. But it must be underlined that the Russian and Chinese governments respond, not as anti-imperialist forces, but with their own plans for control and dominance over the disputed areas. Given this, the left must respond with the position already formulated by Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and the internationalist current a century ago: we refuse to take sides in favor of one imperialism against another.

It should be stressed that, as all imperialisms are aggressive and predatory, when they denounce each other in many cases the complaints are true. During the First World War, German imperialism denounced the despotic character of Tsarism and French imperialism denounced German militarism. After the war, German imperialism denounced the abuses of the Versailles peace and Japanese imperialism denounced the excesses of Western imperialism in Asia. They were all true accusations. But none of them justified supporting German, Russian, or French imperialism during the war, or German rearmament after the war, or Japanese imperialism against Western imperialism, let alone supporting the Japanese invasion of Indochina, Indonesia, or the Philippines. Similarly, our rejection of NATO and Western imperialism cannot lead us to support or tolerate or fail to denounce the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.

We have heard speeches refusing to reject the invasion of Ukraine, bringing up Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen, or Israel’s occupation of Palestine. But the crimes of Western imperialism cannot be used to justify Putin’s aggression. In any case, it is necessary to denounce all the aggressions and occupations indicated. It is the only consistent anti-imperialist position.

In short, we have to reject NATO imperialism, but not to support the expansionism of the Russian Federation headed by Putin or the ambitions of Xi Jinping’s government. We do not reject one imperialism to support another. Neither NATO to support Putin nor Putin to support NATO. We reject both. Therefore, while we do not stop denouncing Western imperialism, we unequivocally reject the invasion and occupation of areas of Ukraine by the Russian Federation and demand the immediate withdrawal of Russian military forces.

Third reduction. We must not reduce the war between Ukraine and Russia to an inter-imperialist (by proxy) war or conflict between NATO and the Russian Federation. The interest of Western imperialism in dealing a defeat to its Russian rival does not nullify the fact that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a violation of its right to self-determination (a right explicitly rejected by Putin in his polemic against Lenin in his speech justifying the invasion [[1]] and that the Ukrainian resistance is a just war against an imperialist aggression that we must support. For the same reason, we must recognize their right to obtain the necessary weapons to resist, wherever they can find them. Nothing prevents us from rejecting the increase in NATO’s arms spending, from demanding the dissolution of NATO and, at the same time, from recognizing the right of the Ukrainian people to obtain arms. To reject or denounce the Russian invasion, but to deny Ukraine’s right to arms (in the name of peace, for example), is to leave it literally defenseless against the invasion we are denouncing.

But here, our consistent anti-imperialist position obliges us to warn the people of Ukraine that their resistance agenda and that of Western imperialism are not identical, but divergent. While receiving weapons, they should have no illusions about this: NATO has an interest in handing Russia a defeat, and it does not and will not hesitate to subordinate the well-being of the Ukrainian people to that goal. We cannot dictate to Ukraine how or for how long to develop resistance, but we can warn Ukraine that letting NATO dictate such terms is not in the interests of its people.

Fourth reduction. This reduction is a variant and usually accompanies the first one we discussed above. We must not reduce the conflict between the Zelensky and Putin governments to a clash between democracy and despotism. As we indicated, there is no doubt about the authoritarian and undemocratic character of Putin’s government. But this does not make Zelensky’s a paragon of democracy. On the contrary, he has perpetuated or initiated frankly anti-democratic, repressive, nationalist and discriminatory, anti-worker and neoliberal measures and tolerated or encouraged the presence and action of frankly neo-fascist groups. Solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance against the Russian invasion does not extend to political support for or confidence in the Zelensky government. Putin has said that Ukraine must be “denazified”. One can partly agree with this idea, but in any case, the change of government in Ukraine is a task that will have to be carried out by the people of Ukraine, not an excuse that justifies the Russian invasion. Similarly, spokesmen for Western imperialism affirm that Russia must be freed from Putin’s despotism, which is true: but that is a task for the Russian people, not for NATO.

Let us recall again the precedent of Japanese imperialism. During the 1930s, the international left supported China in the face of Japanese aggression. China was supported, despite the fact that its government was controlled by the repressive and corrupt Guomindang apparatus, headed by Chiang Kai-Shek (fiercely anti-communist and perpetrator of the 1927 massacre) and that government was supported by western imperialism. Despite all that, the Chinese resistance was a just fight against Japanese imperialism. For the same reason, supporting this resistance, even with weapons provided by Western imperialism, should not imply support for the Guomindang government. Today we must support the Ukrainian resistance, despite its government and the support it receives from an imperialist camp.

Imperialisms, while denouncing each other, help to justify themselves before their peoples. Russian aggression against Ukraine helps legitimize NATO as a shield against Russian aggression. It has facilitated and accelerated its expansion and made it more difficult to build a broad anti-NATO and anti-imperialist movement in Europe. NATO aggressions help legitimize Putin as a defender of Russian sovereignty and make it more difficult to build a movement against his government. All of this makes the work of the anti-imperialists more difficult, but it remains equally urgent. To be effective, you must avoid all four reductions we have indicated.

The first reduction has been assumed by some progressive voices, including that of Paul Mason, in England. This position, in order to reject the Russian invasion, becomes an apology for NATO and Western imperialism. This position will be rightly rejected by all opponents of Western imperialism around the world, for example, in Latin America.

The second reduction is very common in Latin America. This position, in order to reject North American and Western imperialism, sides with or (at best) ignores the aggressions of the Russian Federation and the capitalist and repressive nature of Putin’s government. This position will be rightly rejected by all who suffer the consequences of Putin’s rule in Russia and outside of Russia, to begin with in the Ukraine.

The third reduction is a mistake on the part of the internationalist and anti-imperialist left, which rightly rejects both NATO and Putin. This position, in order to oppose NATO’s imperialist agenda or a prolongation of the war, leaves the Ukrainian resistance in the hands of the Russian invasion. It is a position that will be logically rejected by those in Ukraine resisting Russian aggression and those elsewhere who understand the justice of such resistance.

The fourth reduction often accompanies the first and becomes an apology for evading the reactionary policies of the Zelensky government.

We need a consistent, multilateral, non-reductionist position that can unite progressive forces in the West, in Russia, in Ukraine and throughout the world.

Let’s summarize our alternative:

· Rejection of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation and demand for the withdrawal of Russian forces.

· Recognition of Ukraine’s right to arm itself in order to defend itself against invasion.

· Rejection of the expansion and imperialist agenda of NATO and the increase in military spending.

· No political support, and rejection of the regressive policies, of the Ukrainian government.

· Support for initiatives and movements against the war in Russia

This is the only position that allows us to unite progressive forces from the West, Russia and Ukraine and beyond Europe under a common anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist orientation.

* * *

Many of Rafael Bernabe’s writings have been published in English in the US socialist publication Against the Current:

[1] “Text of Vladimir Putin’s Speech,”

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Amid crisis, Putin’s Russia cracks down on anti-war dissent

By Federico Fuentes

August 7, 2023

Asked about the arrest of renowned socialist intellectual Boris Kagarlitsky, Russian president Vladimir Putin said on July 29: “It's the year 2023, and Russia is engaged in an armed conflict with a neighbour. And I think that there should be a certain attitude towards people who harm us inside the country.”

The “harm” Kagarlitsky is alleged to have caused relates to an October 8, 2022 Telegram post in which he analysed the military implications of an attack that had occurred just days before on the Crimea bridge. For this, he has been held in custody since July 25 and faces up to 7 years’ jail if found guilty of “justifying terrorism”.

“We must keep in mind”, Putin added, “that in order for us to achieve success, including in a conflict zone, everyone needs to follow certain rules.”

His comment led some to ironise on Russian anti-war Telegram channels that Kagarlitsky should have launched an armed mutiny instead of simply voicing his anti-war opinions — a reference to the contrasting treatment dealt to Yevgeny Prigozhin, whom Putin accused of “treason” after Prigozhin led his Wagner mercenary troops in a coup attempt in late June, only to then let him walk free.

While Prigozhin’s coup attempt failed, it exposed Putin's weaknesses and triggered a crisis on the domestic front. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Russian military leaders and pro-war bloggers are warning of flagging morale and heavy losses, as Ukrainian forces pursue their latest counteroffensive.


In weeks following the mutiny, the Kremlin has responded by purging high-profile military leaders, jailing pro-war critic and far-right extremist Igor Girkin, and sentencing opposition leader Alexy Navalny to an extra 19 years in prison.

The domestic crisis also explains the jailing of perhaps the most high-profile — and one of the last remaining — public left-wing voices opposing the war inside Russia.

But Kagarlitsky’s arrest is just the latest in an ongoing and escalating war against domestic dissent.

Since the start of June, several prominent left politicians and activists have been labelled “foreign agents”, a designation that imposes severe restrictions on personal and professional activities and which many view as the last step before arrest. These include Moscow City Duma deputies Yevgeny Stupin and Mikhail Timonov, municipal deputy Vitaly Bovar and democratic socialist Mikhail Lobanov, who was also fired from his university post.

That same month, anti-war activist Ivan Kudryashov was sentenced to six years’ jail. Arrested for a street art piece with the words “Fuck the War” last September, Federal Security Service (FSB) officers tortured Kudryashov until he “confessed” to preparing an arson attack on a military enlistment office.

Putin’s repression has not been limited to Russia’s borders: Left Bloc activist Lev Skoryakin and Left Resistance activist Alena Krylova, were detained in Kyrgyzstan in June and are set to be deported back to Russia at Moscow’s request, a fate already sealed for anarchist anti-war activist Alexey Rozhkov.

In total, some 21,000 individuals in Russia have faced reprisals for opposing the war, including  more than 2000 who have been jailed in a country where it is illegal to publicly criticise the self-dubbed “special military operation”, according to Amnesty International.

Given the circumstances, the Russian Socialists Against War coalition issued a statement on July 29 declaring: “The campaign in defence of Kagarlitsky is not just a matter for his relatives and colleagues or human rights activists. Opposition to each new attack is an important political action that reduces the likelihood of new repressions.

“In this case, such action could unite not only leftists, but also representatives of other segments of the Russian anti-war movement, and many thousands of people around the world who have heard Kagarlitsky's name, read his books and articles, and argued with him.”


A broad international solidarity movement calling for Kagarlitsky’s release, along with all other political prisoners has emerged, involving individuals and organisations with often differing views over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Among those to declare their support are British politicians Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, Swiss parliamentarian Stefania Prezioso, European deputy Miguel Urbán Crespo, Brazilian federal MPs Fernanda Melchionna and Sâmia Bomfim, Puerto Rican senator Rafael Bernabe, Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova and academics such as Slavoj Žižek, Enzo Traverso, Alina Bárbara López Hernández, Étienne Balibar, Simon Pirani and many more.

Yet Kagarlitsky’s case has caused controversy among certain sections of the left, due to various positions he has held towards Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine.

Back in 2014, Kagarlitsky supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military support for pro-Russian separatist movements in Donbas, which he viewed as progressive and “anti-imperialist”.

Ukrainian socialist Andriy Movchan notes this position led Kagarlitsky to become “a frequent guest on state television”, with “his new milieu” coming to be “dominated by people associated with Russia’s so-called ‘patriotic left’, which often involved conservative and imperialist positions.”

In contrast, in 2022, Kagarlitsky opposed Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The day of the invasion, Kagarlitsky helped convene the Anti-War Round Table of the Left Forces, which unequivocally condemned Putin’s “aggression against our brothers and sisters of the Ukrainian people” and urged Russian citizens “to lead an anti-war agitation with your neighbours, relatives, colleagues and other citizens of Russia”.

Outlining his position in an interview with — one he has repeated throughout the war — Kagarlitsky said: “In 2014, I was critical of the Ukrainian policy of military intervention in Donbas … This time, it’s the other way around … this time it is Putin and his entourage who started the war and are responsible. In some way or another, they have to be punished.”

Movchan writes that as a result of this shift, “Kagarlitsky’s Rabkor YouTube channel and website has published anti-war content from Marxist positions” since the invasion started and “other anti-war leftists and even liberals began to appear on Kagarlitsky’s live streams — people who were on the opposite side of the argument from him eight years ago.”

Because of this, some who have, to more or a lesser extent, taken Russia’s side in the war — and enthusiastically championed Kagarlitsky in 2014 — have remained silent on his arrest. On the flipside, some Ukraine supporters have argued Kagarlitsky is not worthy of solidarity or that his case is simply a “distraction”.

In light of this controversy, the editorial collective of Russian left anti-war site, Posle, declared: “[Kagarlitsky’s] numerous books and public speeches had a great influence on several generations of the Russian left, and that is why his responsibility for certain assessments remained exceptionally high.

“In 2014, Kagarlitsky actively supported the annexation of Crimea and the creation of the so-called ‘People's Republics’ in eastern Ukraine. This support, unfortunately, played a role in disorienting part of the Russian left.

“These, like many other moments in Kagarlitsky's activities, are completely unacceptable for the members of the Posle team. Our fundamental differences have not gone away, we will certainly discuss them with Boris — but only after his release.”

Anti-war movement needed

For Posle, “the arrest of Kagarlitsky is part of a new large-scale repressive campaign by the authorities aimed at completely clearing the political space of any critics of the war … it has become clear that repression is reaching a new level and the number of activists in the immediate risk zone has increased significantly".

Given this, they argue for an international campaign in support of Kagarlitsky and all political prisoners.

Noting he was detained for his anti-war convictions, Andriy Movchan writes that “for this reason alone, [Kagarlitsky] deserves international solidarity”.

But he adds a further important argument: “Without an anti-war movement inside Russia itself, it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to end the war in Ukraine.

“Russian society is far from ideal, of course, but only from this imperfect society, with its imperfect people with their imperfect biographies, can an anti-war and anti-government movement emerge.

“Anyone who delays this movement is doing harm. For the last 18 months, Kagarlitsky brought it closer.”

[Visit to view a collection of petitions and statements in support of Kagarlitsky.]

Thanks to Green Left Weekly, where this article was first published. – Richard Fidler

See also

Solidarity needed for Russian anti-war socialist Boris Kagarlitsky

Socialist Alliance: Free Russian anti-war socialist Boris Kagalitsky!

Resisting Russia’s war in Ukraine: Left voices speak out

Monday, July 31, 2023

Solidarity needed for Russian anti-war socialist Boris Kagarlitsky

By Federico Fuentes


Internationally renowned Marxist sociologist and anti-war socialist Boris Kagarlitsky is currently being held in a Russian pre-trial detention centre and faces the possibility of up to 7 years’ jail if found guilty of the trumped-up charge of “justifying terrorism”.

The decision to detain him until his hearing in late September was made within a day of his arrest in Moscow on July 25, in a closed court in the remote city of Syktyvkar and without his lawyer present.

His lawyer has explained that the criminal case against Kagarlitsky relates to an October 8, 2022 post he made on Telegram analysing the military implications of an attack that had occurred on the Crimea bridge.

Kagarlitsky’s arrest is a politically-motivated attack against one of the most vocal critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is also part of a broader campaign to clamp down on anti-war dissidents in Russia.

As part of building its case against him, Federal Security Service (FSB) agents raided and interrogated at least three others associated with Rabkor (Worker Correspondent), an online leftist media platform Kagarlitsky edits.

Anna Ochkina, a former candidate for governor of the Penza region who left the Just Russia party in March last year over its support for the war, was also targeted by FSB agents.

The Russian Socialist Movement (RSD), in a statement released on July 26, noted that leftist anti-war dissidents have increasingly become the target of state repression.

Since the start of June, the Ministry of Justice has declared Moscow City Duma deputies Yevgeny Stupin and Mikhail Timonov, municipal deputy Vitaly Bovar and democratic socialist Mikhail Lobanov as “foreign agents”. Lobanov, an activist with the University Solidarity union since its foundation, was also fired from his post at Moscow State University and is now in exile.

The RSD said: “Each of them has organised and continues to organise communities of different levels around them. Each of them is an ‘assembly point’ for rapidly left-leaning citizens. By the same logic, they came after Kagarlitsky and Rabkor.”

From the day the full-scale invasion began — February 24, 2022 — Kagarlitsky and Rabkor have played a key role in anti-war activities and propaganda.

That same day, Kagarlitsky helped convene the Anti-War Round Table of the Left Forces, which unequivocally condemned Putin’s invasion and urged Russian citizens “to lead an anti-war agitation with your neighbours, relatives, colleagues and other citizens of Russia”.

The round table’s statement concluded: “If the current government is not able to bring peace to the people, then the way forward to achieve this will be a radical change of government and the entire socio-political system.”

For this, Kagarlitsky was labelled a “foreign agent” by the Russian state as early as May 2022. Speaking to Green Left last August, he explained how this label is used to intimidate anti-war activists: “Everyone knows that the next step after being labelled a foreign agent is that you are put in jail, which is why many have left.

“They have labelled me a foreign agent, I imagine with the intention of wanting me to leave, but I’m not going to leave.”

History of dissent

It is ironic that the Russian state would accuse him of being under foreign influence, given few Russians have done more to help explain Russian politics and influence the ideas of socialist activists outside the country than Kagarlitsky.

Along with founding the Institute for Globalization Studies and Social Movements, Kagarlitsky is a professor at the Moscow Higher School for Social and Economic Sciences and author of several influential books, including Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System and Russia Under Yeltsin And Putin: Neo-Liberal Autocracy.

His ideas have appeared in left publications the world over, including through articles and interviews in Green Left and its sister publication, LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal, dating as far back as the early 1990s. At the invitation of GL, Kagarlitsky has spoken at several conferences in Australia since.

Kagarlitsky’s authority comes from decades of dissident activism, beginning during the Soviet Union era when he edited the underground publication Left Turn before being jailed for “anti-Soviet” activities in 1982 under Leonid Brezhnev.

As a deputy to the Moscow City Soviet between 1990‒93, Kagarlitsky opposed the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet, for which he was severely beaten and imprisoned once again, this time under Boris Yeltsin. And in 2021, Kagarlitsky was again jailed, this time under Putin, for supporting protests against electoral fraud committed against independent left candidates in elections to the State Duma.

His most recent arrest has been met with opposition from anti-war sectors, but even prominent pro-Kremlin intellectual Sergei Markov called it a “gross political mistake”, adding that his imprisonment would cause “huge harm to Russia in the world”.

“Boris Kagarlitsky today is probably the most influential Russian politician and expert of the left camp in the world,” Markov said.

Need for solidarity

In an appeal for international support, the Rabkor editorial board said: “Boris is not only a left-wing intellectual and scholar of international renown, but also a Marxist who gained his knowledge on the fields of class wars, was a Soviet left-wing dissident and now may become a political prisoner in Putin’s Russia.

“He is part of the world socialist movement, has educated more than one generation of Marxists, and continues to be faithful to his principles for many years.

“Kagarlitsky cannot sit in jail, for in 2023 politics cannot and should not be a crime. We are categorically opposed to his detention.

“We, however, continue to work. Rabkor is far more than just Boris Kagarlitsky. It is a text site with editors and admins, YouTube channel presenters and those who work behind the scenes.

“The most important thing our team can do for Boris right now is to keep Rabkor alive and make it the centrepiece of an international solidarity campaign for Kagarlitsky's release.

“We call on all left socialist movements to stand in solidarity and publicise this situation.”

A separate RSD statement said: “The criminal case against Boris Kagarlitsky is an attack on the whole Left Movement in Russia. We can disagree with some of his statements and conclusions made during different periods of his long political career but these arguments do not matter now. We can continue the discussion of our different positions as soon as he is free.

“We are calling on all fellow socialist organisations to organise a broad campaign of solidarity to demand the immediate release of Boris Kagarlitsky and all political prisoners, and to support the editorial team of Rabkor as much as possible.

“Kagarlitsky remained invariably optimistic about the absence of prospects of the Russian authorities in his articles and speeches. Current events demonstrate that his optimism is justified: Putin’s regime, having started the total mop up of the remnants of civil society. is trying to plug the leak the size of the cannonball with a bottle cork.”

[Rabkor have launched a fund appeal for the campaign to free Boris Kagarlitsky. Donate via: 2200700700600473069 — Tinkoff; or 5269880012324208 — Freedom Bank (for foreign transfers).]

First published in Green Left Weekly, Issue 1386, July 27, 2023

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(Statements) Freedom for Boris Kagarlitsky! Freedom for all Russian political prisoners!

[Editor's note: This page will be continuously updated. Please send statements to]

Below the international petition (which readers are encouraged to sign) are statements by: Russian Socialists Against War, Rabkor (Russia), Russian Socialist Movement, Posle (Russia), Left Socialist Action (Russia), Socialist Alliance (Australia), Party of the European Left, Transnational Institute, Counterpunch, Canadian Dimension, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency/Socialist Tendency (Russia) and Rosa Luxembourg Foundation.

International petition: Freedom for Boris Kagarlitsky

On July 25, renowned intellectual and socialist activist Boris Kagarlitsky was detained and accused of "justifying terrorism" by the Federal Security Service (FSB) before being immediately transported to the city of Syktyvkar, 1300 kilometres from Moscow. There, in a closed hearing and without his lawyer present, a court decided he should be detained until his trial in September, where he will face the possibility of up to 7 years in prison.

The arrest and detention of Kagarlitsky has taken place within the context of a repressive campaign that the government has been carrying out with the intention of silencing all those voices that oppose the invasion of Ukraine and its domestic policies. Since last year, the Putin government has dedicated itself to persecuting, jailing or forcing into exile recognised politicians, intellectuals and activists that have publicly opposed the war as well as simple citizens that have expressed their opinions on social media. Kagarlitsky himself had been labelled a "foreign agent" in May last year.

We express our solidarity with Boris Kagarlitsky and demand his immediate release, as well as the release of all those detained for political reasons.

Add your name here:

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Russian socialist dissident Boris Kagarlitsky on Putin’s growing domestic crisis: ‘People will not fight for this regime’

Interview with Boris Kagarlitsky by Federico Fuentes.

[Following the Maidan uprising in 2014, Boris Kagarlitsky became known internationally as a Left supporter of Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its intervention in parts of Ukraine’s Donbas region. In this he helped to disorient many progressives around the world. However, in later years he became increasingly critical of the autocratic actions of the Putin regime, and supportive of mass opposition demonstrations in Russia. A tipping point in his approach was the February 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which he strongly denounced along with many antiwar activists in Russia. He then became an outspoken critic of the war – attacking the strategic ineptness of the Kremlin, albeit not as a proponent of Ukraine self-determination and sovereignty. However, his opposition to the Russian aggression allowed him to point to some obvious truths previously unstated, such as the popular unity behind the Ukrainian resistance notwithstanding earlier linguistic and economic divisions with the country. – Richard Fidler]

In this interview with Federico Fuentes, Kagarlitsky provides insight into the domestic factors behind the Russian regime’s decision to invade Ukraine, why President Vladimir Putin is seeking an “everlasting war”, the critical role being played by the left in anti-war organising, and prospects for social upheaval in Russia. A much shorter version of this interview first appeared in Green Left.

Discussions in the West regarding Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have largely focused on NATO expansionism, the Kremlin’s imperialist ambitions or Putin’s mental health. But you argue none of these were the key driving force behind the invasion. Why?

When a huge event occurs, such as the war on Ukraine, there are generally various factors at play. But you have to put these factors into the context of real political and social processes. In that sense, all these factors, along with the long-term conflict between Russia and Ukraine, as well as the conflict within Ukraine and between Ukrainian elites, are present. However, these factors do not explain much; they're very superficial.

Let’s start with NATO. NATO’s expansion is definitely real. NATO not only expanded into former Eastern bloc countries, such as Poland and Hungary; it also expanded into former territories of the Soviet Union, such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In that sense, NATO cannot technically expand any closer to Russia, as its frontier is already less than 200 kilometres from St Petersburg. We should also not forget that in the early years of Putin’s rule, Russia had very good relations with NATO. Putin himself confessed he wanted Russia to join NATO. It was the West that refused Russia’s membership when relations started to deteriorate – precisely because of the conflict in and around Ukraine.

Yet it was always clear that NATO was not going to accept Ukraine as a full member because this was going to pose a big problem for NATO. In many ways, Ukrainian ambitions to join NATO created more problems for NATO than for Russia, because it meant Ukraine wanting NATO to spend lots of money on Ukraine’s military. The irony is that Putin’s attack on Ukraine not only led to Sweden and Finland joining, but it has now made Ukrainian membership possible. Up until February 24, the chances of Ukraine becoming a full member were remote. Now, the situation has changed, and the perspective of Ukraine becoming a de facto NATO country is not only very real, it is already becoming a reality. So if we want to view this war as a conflict between Russia and NATO, then it is obvious that Putin’s policies have been counterproductive and achieved the exact opposite of what is presented as an excuse for the war.

In terms of Russia, or rather Putin’s imperialist ambitions, this was also present: You just have to watch or listen to Russian propaganda to see how it goes beyond all limits in terms of jingoism and racism. Russian propaganda continuously states that Ukraine shouldn’t exist, that Ukrainian territory is actually Russian territory that has been conquered by Ukrainians. It says Russia is going to liberate these territories from the population that lives there; that they are not the right population for that territory. All sorts of racist, fascist statements are made on state channels. It’s an absolutely incredible flood of aggression, xenophobia and hatred.

We could also say that the internal conflict in Ukraine is to some extent a cause of the war. But this conflict has been present for eight years, with very little change. Frozen conflicts can persist, sometimes for hundreds of years, without leading to war. When they do lead to war, the real causes of the wars are to be found not in the origins of the conflict but in the context of concrete situations. Take for example, the Malvinas/Falkland Islands conflict between Britain and Argentina, which persisted for centuries. The explanation for why a war erupted in 1981 cannot be found in the origins of the conflict, but rather in the internal crisis within the Argentine military junta and, to some extent, Margaret Thatcher’s need for some kind of success story to help turn around the polls. So this was exactly the right time for war to erupt: both sides needed the war for their own domestic reasons.

So the real question is why did this war erupt now, despite problems within Ukraine and between Russia and Ukraine existing for years. Even just a week before the war, most rational Russian political commentators were extremely sceptical that a war would break out, because everyone knew Russia was absolutely not ready for war. This brings us to the issue not of Putin’s mental health, but his capacity to make rational decisions. Everyone knew the war would not turn out the way it was planned or announced by Putin’s team. Nevertheless, they went to war. This demonstrates that these people were not able to even calculate the most basic things. I am no military analyst, but even I could predict that Russia had no chance of taking Kyiv and achieving a full-scale victory. You had to be totally incompetent or totally disconnected from reality to think otherwise. Yet government propaganda said the exact opposite. Well, it is pretty clear now who was right. In that sense, Putin’s mental health and the way decisions are made in the Kremlin played a role.

So what would you say were the real causes of the war?

I think there were two major causes.

The first one is basically global and long-term. It was the Great Recession of 2007-8, which changed the global economy and Russia’s situation within it. The recession revealed the tremendous weakness of the Russian economy. Yet, at the same time, Russian oligarchs benefited from it. When the recession erupted, Russia’s economy declined at a much faster rate than any other major economy in the world. Then it recovered faster than any economy in the world. Why? Because Russia’s economy was dependent on raw materials, and in particular oil. To deal with the Great Recession, the US Federal Reserve began printing money, much of which ended up in financial markets and, ultimately, as speculative investments. Oil is a perfect commodity for speculative investment, as it is deeply connected to financial markets. Yet, at the same time, it is part of the real economy. So the Federal Reserve’s policy led to an enormous increase in oil prices, which in turn created a situation where, while the Russian economy continued to deteriorate, Russia was showered in petrodollars, with more and more income going into the pockets of the oligarchs and the state. A Russian economist once commented that the Russian government’s best friend was the Federal Reserve. The Russian government depended directly on money printed by the Federal Reserve: the more money the Federal Reserve printed, the more money Russian elites got. They didn’t have to do anything except wait for the Federal Reserve to print more dollars. That was their whole strategy. But once the Federal Reserve started to print less money, or at least started to use this money in a different way, as happened during COVID-19, then this became a problem for Russian capital.

All this led to an enormous expansion of corruption. Russia was always very corrupt, but corruption now hit new heights. Russian elites were faced with an incredible crisis of overaccumulation, much like what Rosa Luxemburg described in her book. One solution was to channel this extra money towards military expansion and producing a lot of military hardware, But then you have to use this military hardware somehow if you want to continue investing more money into this sector.

But that’s just one side of the story because, at the same time, the domestic situation was drastically deteriorating. While all this money was going in the hands of the elite and a small sector of the middle class, healthcare, social services, welfare – sectors that were already tremendously underfunded – underwent further cuts to expenditure in order for the elites to accumulate even more capital. One example of this was the pension reform of 2018, which faced stiff opposition.

Imagine how an average Russian citizen felt. They knew that there was an enormous amount of money flowing into the hands of the oligarchy, the state bureaucracy, top administrators, and Putin's friends. They could see the construction of incredible palaces – forget about Versailles in France; just near where I have my dacha [holiday home], you can see some huge walls as you drive from there to Moscow. What’s behind these walls? Palaces. We know that because the internet allows you to discover everything. These palaces are much bigger than what you will find in Versailles. And this is in an area regarded by the wealthy to be second-class; it is not even where the wealthiest Russian oligarchs live.

So people see that and see that the material situation of the great majority is getting dramatically worse, that real income is declining and prices are rising, that they are having problems getting decent jobs. All this generates tremendous discontent. This discontent is very often not political, but it creates a terrible mood. So much so that it has even become a problem for the Russian government’s war plans, because it cannot mobilise people for the army. People will just not fight for this regime. Nobody wants to make any sacrifices for them, because they are hated by everybody.

On top of this, you have the fact that political institutions – even the fake parliamentary democracy that we had with elections contested by parties that were very much under the regime’s control – have been destroyed over the past two years due to attempts by Putin’s teams to consolidate power. Putin is getting older and more ill, so the problem of a transition of power is very real, but any kind of institutional transition is not possible in this context.

So how do you deal with all this? Well, the best solution is to come up with some kind of extreme and extraordinary situation. A situation that justifies a state of emergency, whereby the people who make decisions can override any institutional or constitutional hurdle and make whatever decisions they want to make. And a war is perhaps the best way to create such a situation.

Given what you say about the Kremlin’s obvious lack of strategy going into war, is there any sense as to what Putin’s aims are in Ukraine, and whether they are interested in negotiations with Ukraine to obtain them?

The invasion was very much improvised and did not have any long-term strategy behind it. Once the regime’s improvised strategy failed, they clearly started inventing new causes and goals for the war post-facto. We are dealing with a very rare case in which a country wages an aggressive war but struggles to define what its goals are or explain them to the public. This is partly because the elite is confused, they don’t know what to do and they’re desperately looking for a way out. But at this point they cannot find one.

The main problem now is not that they do not want to negotiate; the main problem is that, no matter what they achieve through negotiations, they won’t be able to sell it to the public given the tremendous discontent that exists. This is why it is so hard for the Russian elite and Russian government to reach a settlement. It is not just a case of having to make a deal with Ukraine and the West, which they could do. They have to be able to sell any deal they make to the domestic public, which is something that they cannot do. No matter how this ends, it’s going to generate a massive moral, political, ideological crisis and, even perhaps, upheaval in the country…

From what you are saying, continuation of the war is therefore preferable for Putin than negotiations? I ask this because within the Western left, it is common to hear the argument that it is NATO and Ukraine who want to drag out the war and who reject negotiations. But your comments seem to suggest the opposite…

Absolutely. That is why, in recent statements, Putin has revealed his eagerness to prolong the crisis as much as possible. As I have written about, they have been very clear about waging an everlasting war that continues forever, in which agreements are never reached, because they do not know what to agree on. And, as I said before, it’s not because they cannot compromise or even because they do not want to compromise; it’s because they cannot sell this to the public domestically. Especially as the invasion did generate a strong sense of jingoism and genuine enthusiasm for the war among a section of society. They managed to consolidate the most reactionary, most aggressive, the most evil elements of Russian society behind the war. The problem now is that these elements have become dangerous even for the regime itself, because at the very moment the regime negotiates and achieves any kind of settlement, it will immediately become the target of these reactionary forces.

This was already visible in April, when a meeting between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul agreed to some kind of settlement that included a Ukrainian declaration that it would not join NATO. This was something Russia could have used to justify its invasion and point to as a victory. But while the Ukrainians were ready to sign it, Russia did not sign. To understand why, we need to look at what happened inside Russia. The very same day that they announced this preliminary agreement, there was a real eruption of anger and hatred in the pro-government media, a real rebellion by the pro-war party, that included threats to kill negotiators. In response, Russia pulled back from the agreement. Faced with the forces from hell they had unleashed, Putin’s people became scared.

Then consider that, on the other side, you have anti-war sentiment that is very strong, even if it’s severely repressed. The Putin administration is very much stuck between a rock and a hard place, because you have very strong anti-war sentiment and you have a pro-war, jingoistic, militaristic, nationalistic movement that will become oppositional the very moment that the regime reaches a settlement.

The worst case scenario for Putin – and it is certainly not excluded that at some point this might happen, particularly if Russia is defeated militarily – is that these forces, which are very different and oppose each other on every single issue, could suddenly attack the regime simultaneously from opposite sides. This is what happened in Russia in 1917, when the tsarist regime collapsed not just because of the anti-war forces, but also because of the anger of those within the military and the regime who were not happy with the way the war was being fought. These two forces attacked the tsarist regime simultaneously, leading to its collapse. Putin’s people are aware of this history, but there is very little they can do about it.

I want to return to the anti-war movement in Russia, but I would like to follow up on a point you raised regarding the far-right nationalists forces that have been unleashed in Russia. This has to do with the discussion surrounding fascism in Russia and Ukraine. How do you charaterise the governments in Moscow and Kyiv and the role played by fascist or far-right nationalists inside or outside these governments? Has the war helped to stoke these tendencies or has it opened up space for other voices?

Both sides accuse the other side of being fascist, but I think that neither side is fascist. That said, the ideology of the far right, and the tendencies that are typical of right-wing populism, and even fascism, are present in both countries.

In terms of their political and social content, the two sides are not very different. Of course, there are differences. For example, Ukraine has a much weaker state. This creates spaces in which the far right can carry out non-state-controlled repressive activities, in some cases with the support of elements of the Ukrainian security services. The Russian state does not allow such things to happen. There are no private repressive apparatuses or paramilitaries because the Russian state has an absolute monopoly over repression. In Russia, repression is centralised, while in Ukraine it is decentralised. At the same time, unlike Russia, Ukraine has a civil society that is not repressed, precisely because the state is weaker. The state has not repressed civil society in Ukraine because it does not have the capacity to repress it like in Russia.

Another difference is that the Ukrainian oligarchy is not consolidated, while the Russian oligarchy is consolidated around Putin – or at least was until recently. The Ukrainian oligarchy was never consolidated because it didn’t have much in the way of oil or other resources that could be sold on the global market to generate easy income. Instead, Ukrainian oligarchs systematically fought against each other. This created an image of Ukraine as a pluralistic democracy, which it is not. Rather, it is a weak state with competing oligarchies, something more akin to what famous political theorist Robert Dahl called a polyarchy.

So there are differences, but it does not change the fact that the ideological content of Russian and Ukrainian nationalism is very similar and the social nature of the state and capitalism in both countries is very similar. Both are dominated by oligarchic, peripheral capitalism.

However, it is important to note that there are some very positive signs on the Ukrainian side. Let’s be clear, there is no way that you can have an anti-war movement in Ukraine. That is understandable because Ukraine is the country that is being attacked. It is a victim of Russian aggression. When your city is being bombed and shelled daily, you cannot protest against your own armed forces, who are fighting back to keep you safe.

But there is a growing tendency against Ukrainian nationalism within Ukrainian society and a growing debate about what to do, if and when Ukraine wins. It’s a very active and sometimes aggressive debate, in which one of the most interesting characters is Oleksiy Arestovych. He is from the military and is an advisor and spokesperson for Zelensky. I’m not sure how strong his position is within the administration, but he has become very popular, both in Russia and Ukraine. Arestovych keeps pushing a message about what kind of new Ukraine should emerge from this war: one that overcomes divisions between east and west, between Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers. He speaks about the need to appropriate Russian language as the language of Ukrainian identity, to promote Russian culture in Ukraine, and to give hope to those from Russia who want to live and work in Kyiv. He says the new Ukraine has to overcome divisions and integrate everyone.

Because of this, he is systematically attacked by the far right, including via threats against him and his family. Ukrainian nationalists hate him, but there’s very little they can do, because he has become a popular figure, including within the army. It is important to note that on the frontline, the Ukrainian army is mostly composed of Russian speakers. On top of this, you have the Territorial Defence Force, a volunteer force which has about 200,000 armed troops fighting in eastern Ukrainian, who are also predominantly Russian speakers. So it seems quite possible that Ukraine is going to undergo some very serious shifts in the directions of a more integrated society once the war ends. It is also not excluded that it may face some sort of civil conflict – even potentially a civil war – but it’s too early to judge.

Let’s now turn to the anti-war movement in Russia. What is the current state of anti-war organising?

When the war started, there were initially quite a lot of protests in Russia, but they were brutally repressed. The reality is that there was no way in which you could protest on the streets, because you would immediately be beaten up and put in jail. The government’s repression machine managed to early on win the struggle for control of the streets, though they needed a lot of repression to achieve this. It is important not to forget that there had been massive protests, involving hundreds of thousands of people, during the past two years, along with a long-term sustained effort by the repressive apparatus to destroy these movements. They achieved this, at least temporarily.

People can now be sent to jail just for making a public anti-war statement. Simply using particular words can mean you face jail time. They sentenced a municipal deputy in Moscow to seven years jail just for saying something critical of the war during a session of the municipal council. When I publish something in Russian, I never use the word war, because just using the word war means I could receive a fine or jail. So you can imagine what the atmosphere is like.

Nevertheless, if you look on Russian social media networks, where you can post anonymously, the atmosphere is very negative towards the war. People are very critical and publish a lot of very angry texts against the war. So the anti-war movement is very weak, but it has tremendous potential.

What role has the left played in anti-war organising? What can you tell us about the positions taken towards the war by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation?

The official parties within the Duma support the war and the regime, including the two parties that pretend to be “left-wing”: the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and the so-called social democrats of A Just Russia. But if you look deeper, you can see that where they have any rank-and-file activists on the ground, these people are usually very anti-war. Quite a lot of them are now leaving these parties. Some have declared their opposition publicly, such as Yevgeny Stupin, a very charismatic and well-known [CPRF] deputy in the Moscow City Duma, or Andrei Danilov, an interesting and popular intellectual from Yakutia. There are also new leaders emerging, including from within these parties. You have, for example, Anna Ochkina, who was one of the major voices of the left within A Just Russia but who left the party, making a public statement against the war. In that sense, while the leaders speak out in favour of the war, they are not supported by any serious forces on the ground. On the ground, the left is, I shouldn’t say it is “well” but it is definitely alive, and it is definitely active and growing.

One thing to note is that a lot of people from the liberal opposition have left the country. The government publicly labelled a number of them “foreign agents”. Everyone knows that the next step after being labelled a foreign agent is that you are put in jail, which is why many have left. They have labelled me a foreign agent, I imagine with the intention of wanting me to leave, but I’m not going to leave. An interesting by-product of this policy has been that, while most of the leaders of the liberal opposition have left the country – with a few exceptions, such as Alexey Navalny, who was already in jail, and Ilya Yashin, who was recently put in jail – those who have stayed in Russia are mostly from the left. So, interestingly, the left is now becoming a kind of hegemonic force within the anti-war movement.

The anti-war movement is real, even if it’s been forced underground. And it is radicalising, because people are beginning to understand that it is not just about the war: it’s about the political and social system. A very interesting sign of this is that segments of the liberal opposition that used to be very suspicious of anything left-wing, are now moving leftward. For example, Yashin recently declared that he had certain disagreements with Navalny because he himself identifies more as a person of the left, which was a surprise to us because we always thought of him as being a liberal. Another example is Yulia Galyamina, a very charismatic and important figure of the liberal opposition, who recently made a statement that her best friends in the movement are communists. So there is definitely a shift to the left within the movement.

Finally, I want to turn to the West’s aim for Russia and the issue of regime change. You wrote recently that while western leaders “will not allow Russia to win the war ... they don’t necessarily wish for a change of the Russian regime.” This seems to cut across the dominant narrative in the West, and even the Western left, that behind the US’ motives in the Ukraine war is to weaken Russia and promote some kind of regime change. Why do you believe that they are not interested in changing the Russian regime?

Well, it depends on what you mean by regime change. If by regime change you simply mean changing the name of the president, then that is exactly what the West wants. They definitely want Putin to step down because Putin went too far, because Putin is totally unreliable, because Putin is toxic and, to some extent, he’s crazy or at least unpredictable and dangerous. So they want to get rid of him.

But do they want Russia to become a democratic, open society, dominated by people who are not corrupt and who care about the social and economic development of the country? I definitely doubt it. What they want is Putinism without Putin. They might also want some minor cosmetic changes, such as placing certain liberal economists in the government, although, it must be said, that the government is already dominated by neoliberal economists. All these economists, inside and outside the government, share the same views and approach to the economy. They all share the same idea of Russia being integrated into the global economy as a seller of raw materials and energy, and therefore increasingly dependent on Western markets.

The West definitely wants Putin to step down and the Russian elites want exactly the same thing – there is a total consensus on this. There is just one small problem: Putin is not going to step down. Moreover, if and when he finally does step down – in whatever form this might take – it will not be the end of the story, as Western and Russian elites hope; instead it will be the beginning of a much deeper crisis. By this I am not talking about Russia falling apart; I’m talking about social and political struggles within Russia for power and influence.

Real change means turning Russia into a democratic society, one dominated by domestic interests and not by the interests of foreign markets, foreign capital and Russian investment abroad, which is an important issue for Russian elites when it comes to decision-making. Russian society wants a different kind of economic development and people understand that this is necessary. This goes completely against the perspective envisaged by elites in Russia and the West.

In some sense, we have a situation that is very similar to the one Russia faced in 1916-17, when it was clear that the British and Germans were fed up with the tsar. This created a very strange situation, because the Germans and British were at war with each other, but they were in agreement that Nicolas II had to go. The Germans wanted this because they expected that Russia would then negotiate and get out of the war. The English expected a new regime to continue the war in a more effective manner. If you recall, Nicholas II resigned and then a revolution started – something that was not contemplated in either the plans of the Germans or British.

I think the situation today is very similar: they want Putin to go but they want the regime to stay largely intact, even if perhaps there might be a certain winding back in the level of authoritarianism to what existed before 2020. Essentially, a “return to normal” without Putin and without some of the more extreme repression and extreme militarisation. But it’s not going to happen that way. The regime will collapse sooner or later – and probably sooner rather than later. Much depends on the Ukrainian offensive – if it happens, when it happens and how it happens. It may end up leading to a political transition in Russia. I cannot say this will happen for sure, but it may, if the Ukrainian offensive succeeds.

But the important thing is that there is no going back to the status quo ante. Ukraine is going to undergo tremendous changes. And Russia will undergo even deeper changes. As a Belarusan comrade recently said to me, we – meaning Russians, Belarusians, all of us ex-Soviet Union and ex-Russian imperial subjects – have a good tradition: Every time we lose a war, we either start radical reforms or revolutions.


Also by Boris Kagarlitsky…

The Blitzkrieg Failed. What’s Next?

A Plea to My Western Progressive Friends: Stop Helping Putin with Your Conciliatory and Ambiguous Statements

Russia: Idiots, No Longer Useful  (his last published article before arrest)