Opposition to the Russian invasion to the exclusion of all other causes of the war rests upon the view that there has been an aggressive invasion of Ukraine and its people have the right to defend themselves. This cardinal fact supersedes consideration of all issues before the invasion occurred.
In doing so, while thinking (correctly) that the Russian regime is brutal and reactionary, and the invasion should be opposed; the Anti-Capitalist Resistance (ACR) group also believes (wrongly) that by this simple fact their support for the Ukrainian state is justified, which includes, whether it likes it or not, this state’s alliance with western imperialism.
This could easily be countered by pointing to Ukraine’s continuing campaign against the separate Donbass regime which preceded the invasion, and its rejection of the Minsk agreement; the NATO military exercises in Ukraine last year that represent increasing de facto membership; changes to the constitution by Zelensky in 2019 to allow de jure membership, and typical Ukrainian oligarchic regime attacks against rival pro-Russian figures inside the country that threaten support for continuing Russian influence. However, the argument of the ACR doesn’t go any further than the first observation of the Russian invasion.
This is unsustainable since it abstracts from the world before the moment of invasion and comes apart as questions arise from continuation of the war after it. Is western imperialist intervention really irrelevant when it is pressing the Zelensky regime to reject potential Russian peace deals and is supplying the military support to allow it to continue the war? Is it still a just war to recover territory that it is unlikely would be supported by the local population? Would a war pursued in order to recover Crimea be a just war and be supported?
The leaflet given out by the Anti-Capitalist Resistance group and placed on its web site states that Ukraine has suffered an invasion from Russian imperialism. Regardless of whether this is strictly accurate according to some definition written years ago by Lenin, we can say that Russia is by and large a primary commodity producer with limited productive forces but with many nuclear weapons and a strategic interest in its neighbouring countries, primarily because of the much stronger imperialist forces increasingly surrounding it.
None of this justifies the invasion or negates socialist opposition to it – it is an entirely reactionary action that will further divide Ukrainian workers, divide these workers from Russian workers and facilitate the whipping up of pro-imperialist sentiment among workers in the West; although to a lesser extent elsewhere in the world among those who might see themselves as potential future victims of Western imperialism.
Socialists do not accept capitalist states’ strategic interests as justification for such invasion but seeking to understand the nature of the war requires that we recognise it. Even the leaflet from the Anti-Capitalist Resistance group states that ‘Ukraine is being torn apart by imperialist powers’ implying that it is subject to aggression by more than one imperialism.
Ukraine is not an oppressed colony but became legally independent in 1991 and without the debts accumulated by the Soviet Union. It contained numerous nuclear weapons on its territory and sought to bargain them for political and economic advantage. It ultimately surrendered them because both the US and Russia wanted them removed. In other words, it was an independent capitalist state that came under political and economic pressure to surrender its most threatening weapons.
This makes a nonsense of the argument of the leaflet that ‘the people of Ukraine must be allowed to exercise freely their right to democratic self-determination, without any military or economic pressure.’ How on earth is this supposed to be achieved? Or is this a utopian and reactionary argument for all smaller capitalist powers to grab onto in order to win favour from some leftist groups?
Ukraine has been ruled by oligarchs from its first steps to independence, both by old nomenklatura and newly minted capitalists alongside criminal organisations, and all sorts of combinations between them. Western imperialism has attempted to impose its own will through international financial institutions such as the IMF while the local oligarchs have employed western financial institutions to dodge taxes, launder money, steal from the Ukrainian state and shift money on and off-shore as it suits their interests. Their employment of the machinery of a corrupt state has allowed them to expand their ownership and wealth through privatisation and tax evasion so that the debts to the West are paid by the taxes of the working class. Russian gas has been used to gain enormous corrupt rents to fund both their economic and political power.
Given this use of the Ukrainian state by oligarchs to protect their wealth and political power, despite the encroachment of western multinationals, it makes a nonsense to demand of Ukrainian and other workers that they should seek to defend the independence of this rotten and corrupt state. But that is what these ‘Marxists’ advocate.
Of course, the ability of the Ukrainian state to balance its own interests against those of its much more powerful neighbours is limited and has a shelf-life. The oligarchs themselves have been split, and the greater power of Western imperialism has meant that it has more and more incorporated the country into its sphere of influence and projection of power.
This has involved steps to join the EU and also NATO, with collaboration between Ukraine and NATO armed forces. It has sent its own troops on Western imperialist adventures as a gesture of solidarity and wants full membership, which Russian capitalism naturally sees as aggressive.
Why wouldn’t it? NATO is an aggressive imperialist alliance because imperialism is aggressive. The only way to present Russia as the only relevant imperialist power in the war is to pretend that this isn’t true. And true to form the Anti-Capitalist Resistance group (ACR) has placed on its web site arguments that this isn’t always true or doesn’t really matter . . . which we will come to in a later post.
It is simply an unsustainable position to demand of workers and socialists across the world that they defend weaker capitalist powers from imperialist attack when these too are part of the world imperialist system and seek to further integrate themselves into its most powerful alliance. But that is what the position of the ACR amounts to in its demands in favour of Ukrainian ‘self-determination’. And this isn’t new: the argument has been used by NATO in relation to a number of countries in order to expand across Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
As has been said on the blog before – the demand for self-determination does not apply in the way the ACR thinks it does. It is a bourgeois democratic demand that goes no further than the capitalist order and when it comes to choosing between two capitalist powers, or different imperialist alliances, one is not preferable to the other. To do so would subordinate workers to a particular capitalist state and prevent the real self-determination that is required – that of the working class that must unite across national borders.
Pressed between two larger capitalist powers the Ukrainian state has attempted to navigate between them in its own interest but has fallen to the side of the stronger. The independent power of this oligarchic and corrupt state is not the concern of workers and socialists except in so far as we wish to destroy it. The only answer for Ukrainian workers is not to subordinate itself to its own state or support its alliance with Western imperialism but to assert its own class interests, which are also those of Russian and other European workers.
This however requires an independent working class policy, not supporting the self-determining power of the Ukrainian state. This includes separate organisation to defend itself in the invasion through separate political and military organisation in such maximal forms as can be created in the circumstances. But this requires rejection of the political position that one must subordinate oneself to the Ukrainian state in its war against Russia, which is what the ACR position involves.
The political formulas of this group that elide class distinctions do not prevent Ukrainian capitalism or its state from enforcing its class interests, it simply puts to sleep the idea that Ukrainian workers must continue to defend theirs against Ukrainian capitalism and its state. We have seen this already during this so-far short war, in attacks by the Government on workers’ rights and the banning of opposition parties that are considered ‘left’, and follows attacks on rival media sources to the President, including independent journalists and activists.
The oligarchs and its political representatives have employed increasingly right wing nationalism to protect its role, directed against the threat from the East, all the while seeking incorporation into the Western imperialist system.
The ACR solidarity campaign simply supports these developments by parroting nationalist principles while wishing that the Ukraine state was less subordinated to the stronger imperialist powers. The former has been employed to subordinate the Ukrainian working class while the latter is not only impossible and reactionary, but again represents the interests of the country’s capitalist class.
Nationalism is the refuge of a discredited Ukrainian capitalist class that employs the language of patriotism and anti-communism, that glorifies some of the worst historical figures in the country’s history, and in doing so legitimises today’s far right nationalists and fascists. These are the expression of a capitalist state that deserves no support but which some socialists have come to defend.
Back to part 2