The Russian invasion of Ukraine has spread confusion within the ranks of the capitalist left. Some have sided with the Ukrainian resistance, others have blamed it all on NATO, and many have simply remained silent. Whatever the pretence, none of these positions have anything in common with internationalism as we know it.
“Arm Ukraine Now”: A Call for War
A slogan commonly heard at supposedly anti-war demonstrations in Europe and the USA is “Arm Ukraine Now”. The premise being that Russia being the aggressor, Ukraine needs all the military support it can get to defend itself. It is a popular position not least because it is openly encouraged by the capitalist media in the West. And in fact, arming Ukraine is exactly what NATO countries have been doing, even before the Russian invasion started. The UK government has been more keen to send anti-tank missiles, munitions, air defence systems, and other military equipment to Ukraine, than it has been about taking in Ukrainian refugees. The liberals and leftists who argue for sending more arms to Ukraine, even if they genuinely think this will help to end the war, are in reality parroting jingoistic propaganda. Rather than bringing this conflict to an end, both Russia’s aggression and NATO support for Ukraine set up the stage for more generalised war in the near future.
There are others on the left, more discerning about the Ukrainian resistance (which of course also includes the far right), who would like only certain groups to receive donations and equipment. Among the candidates for such support are alleged “anti-authoritarian” formations which pose with anarchist banners… next to Ukrainian national symbols. A cursory glance reveals that these are volunteer units within the Territorial Defense Forces of the Ukrainian state. So we are not talking here about any autonomous working class resistance, and any comparisons to the Paris Commune (where a section of the National Guard revolted against their superiors and took over the city) or the Makhnovshchina (which acted directly against the emerging Ukrainian state and opposed Ukrainian nationalism) are a complete distortion.
“NATO out of Europe”: Letting Russian Imperialism Off the Hook
On the other hand, we have the usual voices from within the Trotskyist, Stalinist and Maoist camps, for whom imperialism, rather than a stage in capitalist development, generally means only the state policy of the USA. Usually when military conflicts break out, they will take the side of whoever happens to oppose the USA. This is of course a position difficult to express in the current war in Ukraine without appearing like a warmonger. So instead other arguments have been adopted so as not to say the quiet part out loud: Russia has behaved aggressively, but it is not imperialist, it is just reacting to the pressure from NATO. NATO should withdraw from Eastern Europe and then we’ll have peace…
Of course NATO encirclement of Russia is also part of the background to the war in Ukraine. But we live in a capitalist world, no region is safe from competition between nation-states, and no imperialist powers will simply abandon their spoils of war. Russia’s actions have created an environment which necessitates a response from the NATO backed countries. They cannot sit back as their resources and trade partners face aggression, so more and more weapons and soldiers will pour into the region to protect the needs of Western capital. What’s happening now is a continuation of already existing tendencies – the USA has come out victorious from the two previous imperialist world wars but is now facing a new challenge from China; increasingly Europe is rallying behind the USA and Russia is becoming dependent on China. The lines are being drawn, imperialist line-ups are emerging. This is a battle for world domination, the battleground is everywhere, it is not going away, and no pacifistic appeals to the powers-that-be can solve it.
What “No War but the Class War” Really Means
In 1916, in the midst of the first imperialist world war, one “conscientious objector” imprisoned in Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire wrote on the walls of their cell: “The only war which is worth fighting is the class war. The working class of this country have no quarrel with the working class of Germany or any other country. Socialism stands for internationalism. If the workers of all countries united and refused to fight there would be no war.”
This is the internationalism we see ourselves in the tradition of. It means that, unlike the capitalist left, we do not take the side of any capitalist states, whether they are deemed “progressive” or “reactionary”, whether they happen to be the “aggressors” or the “attacked”. Our solidarity always lies with the global working class, the victims of war, of sanctions, of austerity, everywhere. Imperialist war, the product of the capitalist system, can only be stopped by our class. We may be cogs in the machine, but without us nothing moves. The ruling classes are taking the world down the darkest of paths. It’s time the working class put forward our alternative: a global cooperative commonwealth without national or class divisions, where the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”, rather than “war of all against all”, rules the day.
26 April 2022