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