August 6, 2023
From Irish Marxism

The latest weapons provided to Ukraine, including tanks, missiles and fighter aircraft, are the most recent of red lines previously declared by Western countries but then crossed.  Publications such as ‘The Economist’ and ‘The Guardian’ want to go much further because what is involved apparently is a righteous war of good against evil. From neoliberal to bleeding heart liberal the particular variety of liberal politics is of no consequence. They propose actions that, if followed through, would raise the potential of provoking nuclear war, all while blaming Putin for this possibility through threats that they claim he will not make good.

Some ‘left’ supporters of the war and Ukraine support this and present NATO as some sort of defensive organisation that should be supported.  In their case the politics is so aligned to the interests of Western imperialism that it can quite accurately be defined as bourgeois.

Yet another section of the supporters of Ukraine reveal all the political customs of the petty bourgeoisie and, like that class, are incapable of an independent political position.  This means that despite their proclaimed differences with these pro-NATO allies, they remain in the camp of the supporters of the war and the Ukrainian state.  They do so at the cost of incoherence as I have noted in a previous post.

In the latest example of this, their Professor, simultaneously opposes the ‘anti-NATO neo-campists [who] hide behind the argument that the ongoing war is one by proxy between two imperialist camps’ while also stating that ‘anti-Putin neo-campism, on the other hand, espouses the cause of Ukrainian maximalists by deliberately ignoring the fact that Ukraine is clearly being used as a proxy by NATO powers in order to cripple their Russian imperialist rival.’

Out of this dependence of Ukraine on Western imperialism he states that ‘the ongoing war remains at bottom until now an anti-imperialist war of self-defense on Ukraine’s side, even if it is indeed exploited by NATO powers for their own strategic interest.’  He pretends that precisely calibrating the type of weapons supplied to Ukraine can allow him to maintain his position of standing upright while lifting both feet off the ground at the same time. Thus he says that ‘I oppose anything that might tilt the balance toward turning this war into an essentially inter-imperialist one’, as if the weapons used determines its character.

For this political tendency the war has exposed existing weaknesses and errors that its membership would rather cling to, rather than to critically ask themselves how they got themselves into a position of alliance not only with the apologists of western imperialism but with western imperialism itself.  The price paid by them, however, in the material terms that might prod some reassessment, is rather puny, which is why they continue to support ‘anti-imperialist’ forces in usually far away countries that are also anti-working class.

Just as Ukraine became a piece on the chessboard of US hostility to Russia and China before the war, so its people are now only so many pawns to be sacrificed now it has begun. The NATO summit in Vlinius informed Ukraine that it will continue to encourage and support it fighting a war that it cannot win in order to join an imperialist alliance that will supposedly protect it, but not until it has been smashed by Russia because the rest of NATO doesn’t yet want the same war with Russia that it is fighting.

Just as Western imperialism led the Ukrainian state into war with Russia as its proxy, and this state in turn threw hundreds of thousands of its citizens to fight on behalf of this imperialism, so the price paid can be measured by the blood, flesh and bones of Ukrainian workers.  From the snipers’ massacre at the Maidan in 2014 to the war beginning in February 2022 the Ukrainian working class has paid for the criminal provocations of its own political leaders, its state, its far-right supporters, and the imperialist forces that stand behind them.  Following far in the rear comes the renegade ‘socialists’, idiot-like proclaiming their own support for this deadly charade where ‘self-determination’ is held up as the banner behind which the United States propels Ukraine forward into catastrophe.

The duplicity involved is made abundantly clear in the secret meetings between former senior US officials and Russia over the potential for negotiations to end the war.  So much for ‘nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.’  Yet still the pro-war ‘left’ refuses to see that this is a proxy war, appearing to believe that the Ukrainian state is sacrificing its workers for ‘democracy’, and that the support from imperialism comes at no real cost.

It refuses to see what is reported every single day in the western media, that the war is part of a world-wide imperialist conflict that stretches to China and Taiwan and that a few weeks ago witnessed the EU attempt to recruit Latin America to the cause at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit.  More immediately the war threatens to escalate further through Polish and Baltic states’ joining the conflict; conceivable because it has already escalated continuously; Ukraine is losing the war, and the Zelensky regime has shown a predilection for encouraging frightening escalation.

Even were this not to come to pass, and a negotiated agreement arise, any peace deal will be the imposition of the balance of forces between two capitalist blocs and will therefore be neither permanent nor present a road to permanent peace.  Satisfaction of the interests and needs of Ukraine’s workers or those of Russia will not be on the table.

In the event of any sort of gain by Western imperialism and its Ukrainian proxy, the settlement arrived at would ensure permanent conflict:

‘Some offi­cials have pitched the com­mit­ments as an “Israeli model” akin to the overt mil­it­ary sup­port Wash­ing­ton provides to the Jew­ish state.  The US cur­rently com­mits to mak­ing sure Israel has a “qual­it­at­ive mil­it­ary edge” in the Middle East and signs memor­andums of under­stand­ing every 10 years. Offi­cials envi­sion Ukraine could have something sim­ilar, put­ting the coun­try’s defences on a suit­able foot­ing.’  (Financial Times 11 July)

‘The idea would be to establish a unique military partnership with Ukraine involving the transfer of high-tech weaponry and intense military-to-military cooperation. The plan, says one US official, is to create a “defence-oriented force that would present too hard a target for any future Russian aggression”.  Geopolitical imperialist rivalry thus created the war; is an expression of it, and so will continue after it is ‘settled’.

It is, of course, not the case that the war will not change anything.  The destruction will be long lasting, and the bitterness and division created will endure for generations, visible today in the hundreds of thousands of disfigured, injured, and bitter casualties of war.

Support for either Ukraine and its imperialist sponsors, or for the Russian state, considered by others on the ‘left’ (by some act of transubstantiation?) to be ‘anti-imperialist’, will do nothing to bring working class unity any closer.  The left has been shattered into these competing blocs, continuing its long degeneration from any attachment to a belief in the potential of the working class to become a relevant actor on the world stage.

For those socialists who still hold to the idea that the working class represents a real alternative, one unfortunately not yet ready to impose itself, the purely temporary character of any end to the war, arrived at by negotiation between the warring parties, proves only negatively that we are right.

Supporters of Ukraine will find themselves supporting its war of ‘national liberation’ while its leaders negotiate a deal that prioritises their interests but will fail to deliver anything resembling ‘liberation’. They will still be championing its ‘self-determination’ even while the US negotiates the terms of its debacle. Just as before the war the Ukrainian state became an instrument of US imperialism, so now is this obvious in a war that would already be over were it not for US and other western support.

The US can now escalate the war again, perhaps with more stooges, in which case the role of Ukraine will be, even more obviously, one of a proxy in a much wider conflict, or its end can arrive sooner in negotiations that define Ukraine’s complete subordination. In either case imperialist competition will define the outcome, at least for the moment.

What other force can promise an end to the inter-imperialist rivalry that is both at the root of this war and its possible endings?  Would a victory for Ukraine and NATO be a great step forward for the workers across the world, in Latin America, Africa, Europe etc, or in the US itself?  Would a victory for the Russian state signal a step forward for the independent organisation of the working class in China, Russia or the rest of Asia for example?  Would the creation of a ‘multi-polar’ capitalism be a step forward or would the world look more like it did in 1914? Or do any of the ‘leftists’ promoting these outcomes believe anymore that Lenin was correct when he said that the end to war could come only from socialism?

The view that the tasks that only the working class can carry out can actually be accomplished by a capitalist state, which lies behind the support for Ukraine or Russia, is a continuation of the politics that has been peddled for a very long time by much of the left.  The war is a continuation of this politics by other means but these have demonstrated the political bankruptcy of this ‘left’ politics.

The alternative is to oppose the war, oppose both capitalist camps, and seek to create an anti-war movement among the working class that relies not on the outcome on the battlefield, imposed in imperialist negotiations, but on the mobilisation of the working class against the war, against the forces waging the war, and in favour of the imposition of the interests of the working class.

Back to part 2