Marxism and the war in Donbass

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29/08/2015 by socialistfight

By Victor Shapinov

Translated by Greg Butterfield 

Borotba is often criticized for supporting the Donbass people’s republics, for the fact that our comrades fight in the militia and assist the peaceful nation-building in Lugansk (LC) and Donetsk (DNR). This criticism is heard not only from those former leftists who succumbed to nationalist fervor and supported first Maidan, then Kiev’s war of conquest in the Donbass. Others criticize us and from the standpoint of “Marxist pacifism,” calling themselves “the new Zimmerwald.”

1914 = 2014?

The “Zimmerwaldists” seriously compare the war in the Donbass with the First World War. Historical parallels are always risky. This parallel is altogether meaningless. In the First World War of 1914-1918, blocs of imperialist countries of roughly equal strength fought over markets, sources of raw materials, and colonies. The victory of the Anglo-French bloc, easy to see in hindsight, was not so obvious to contemporaries of the war, even to Marxists. For example, Lev Kamenev, a leader of the Bolsheviks, predicted a German victory in the war.

In 1914, a deadly battle confronted two centers of capital accumulation, two systems of capitalist division of labor, with their centers in London and Berlin. These systems had reached the limits of their geographic expansion in the 1870s, bumping into one another’s frontiers. The last act of this expansion was the rapid division of the African continent between the great powers.

The clash of these divisions of labor (the German-Central European, Anglo-French, American and Japanese) was the economic cause of the First and Second World Wars. After World War II, there was only one such system – headed by the United States. In the late 1940s, it incorporated the European and Japanese systems, in the 1970s it absorbed the former colonies, in the 1980s China and the Eastern European people’s democracies, and in the 1990s the Soviet Union.

The rightist, neoliberal reaction of Reagan-Thatcher gave this system its finished, current form. At the heart of this system is the Federal Reserve, as the body producing the world’s reserve currency, the IMF, WTO, and World Bank.

After 2008, the system entered a period of systemic crisis, the causes of which I have examined elsewhere, and gradual decay. As a result of the collapse, the capitalist elites of some countries began to challenge the “rules of the game” set by Washington, because the existing system was no longer as attractive as it was before the crisis.

Thus, we do not have two blocs gripped in a deadly showdown (as in 1914), but a brand new situation,  with no historical analogues, where the system breaks down and starts to fall to pieces, and some capitalist groups (organized in nation-states and transnational formations) try to revise the existing framework of the system, while other groups (Washington’s “Regional Committees”), on the contrary, hold on to the status quo and seek to punish those who encroach on the holy principles of the system.

Conflicts within the system are related to its internal contradictions, rather than a clash between individual centers of capital accumulation and their systems of division of labor, as it was in 1914 and 1939.

Modern imperialism is a world system

Those who present the conflict in Ukraine as a fight between Russian and U.S. imperialism à la 1914 have analytical skills at the level of the propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov, who threatens to turn America into “nuclear ash.” Russia and the United States are not comparable in their economic power; they fight in different weight categories. Moreover, there is no “Russian imperialism,” and even “American imperialism” in the sense of 1914 does not exist. There is a hierarchically-organized imperialist world system with the United States at the head. There is a Russian capitalist class, which in this structure resides not on the first or even the second “floor,” which tried to raise its “status” in this hierarchy and is now frightened by its own audacity, after meeting resistance from a united West.

Imagine for a moment that Russia really is an imperialist country à la 1914, that is, like Italy with its “imperialism of beggars.” This Russia really had imperialist interests in Ukraine, related primarily to the transportation of hydrocarbons, and to a much lesser extent in industrial assets. However, these are not interests for which it would deliberately risk the deterioration of relations with the West.

In the Ukrainian crisis, the Russian capitalist elite have not conducted any deliberate imperialist strategy, they have only responded to the challenges of a rapidly developing situation. This reaction has been halfhearted, contradictory, inconsistent — demonstrating to the careful observer the absence of strategy.

As the situation developed following the coup in Ukraine and the beginning of the uprising in Crimea and the South-East, the Russian leadership faced a difficult dilemma. To not step in and not support the population of Crimea and the South-East meant losing legitimacy in the eyes of its own population, amidst a deteriorating economic situation fraught with political crisis, much stronger than in 2011. To intervene meant to break with the West, with unpredictable results. In the end, they chose the middle option — intervention in Crimea but not in the South-East.

However, when the uprising in Donbass moved from peaceful to armed, Russia had to offer assistance. It had to, because the military suppression of the rebels with the tacit consent of Russia would be a catastrophic blow to the image of the Russian authorities within the country. But this support was given reluctantly. Putin publicly called on the people not to hold a referendum on the independence of the DNR and the LC, and the meaningful flow of military aid only began after the abandonment of Slavyansk, when the capital of Donetsk was under threat of falling to the Ukrainian army.

Such support has aroused dissatisfaction and resistance among most of the Russian oligarchy, which dreams not of restoring the Russian Empire, but of a mutually beneficial partnership with the West.

Historical parallels: Spain 1936, Ireland 1916, Rojava 2015

Is it possible to support the republics if the Russian bourgeois regime is trying to instrumentalize the revolt and use it in its own geopolitical interests?

Let’s conduct an historical analogy. It seems to me that it is much more appropriate than the analogy with the situation of the First World War.

1936. There is a civil war in Spain. Let us imagine that the Soviet Union, for one reason or another, could not or would not assist the Spanish Republic, and bourgeois Britain and France, on the contrary, provided support, sent military supplies and humanitarian aid, gave loans and even sent military experts to help the Republican Army and police. Naturally, the capitalist elite of Britain and France would pursue their own goals at the same time — the retention of Spain in its own system of investment and trade in the context of an emerging confrontation with the German bloc.

Would the left, on this basis, have refused to support the anti-fascist struggle of the Spanish Republicans? Of course not.

Another example: The Easter Rising of the Irish Republicans against the British Empire in 1916. All those who call themselves leftists honor this heroic episode of the anti-imperialist struggle of the Irish people.

Meanwhile, one of the major factions of the uprising — the Irish Republican Brotherhood — in 1914, at the beginning of the war, decided to revolt and take any German assistance offered. A representative of the Brotherhood traveled to Germany and obtained approval for such assistance. It wasn’t provided only because the German ship carrying weapons was intercepted at sea by a British submarine.

Lenin unconditionally supported the Irish rebellion, despite the fact that it was much less “proletarian” than the revolt in the Donbass. And in those days there were leftists who called the Irish Rebellion a “putsch,” a “purely urban, petty-bourgeois movement, which, notwithstanding the sensation it caused, had not much social backing.” Lenin answered them, “Whoever calls such a rebellion a ‘putsch’ is either a hardened reactionary, or a doctrinaire hopelessly incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon.” (1)

Despite the apparent support of the Germans, not to mention the fact that the uprising in the rear of the British Empire “played into the hands” of German imperialism, real leftists supported the Irish Republicans. Supported them, despite the fact that bourgeois and petty-bourgeois Irish nationalists fought together with socialist James Connolly and his supporters. Of course, Connolly said that a declaration of independence without the formation of a socialist republic would be in vain. But the left in Donbass says this too.

Why doesn’t the Irish example apply to the Donbass, an example from the era of the First World War, which the self-styled “Zimmerwaldists” are so fond of?

Or take a modern example. It’s no secret that the Kurdish militia in Syria fighting against Islamic fascists receives support from the United States. On this basis, should the left refuse to support the Kurds of Rojava? Of course not.

Over the years, Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation has also relied on the support of bourgeois and undemocratic regimes in the Middle East, and the ratio of advanced and progressive elements in the Palestinian leadership was usually far less beneficial to the forces of progress than in the Donbass. However, the left has always supported the Palestinian liberation movement.

But with Donbass, some leftists apply a double standard, diligently looking for excuses to condemn the DNR and the LC, allowing them to take a position of indifferent pacifism. Genuine leftists never held such a position. “Indifference to the struggle is not, therefore, exclusion from the struggle, abstinence or neutrality. Indifference is tacit support of the powerful, the oppressors,” Lenin wrote. (2) Standing aside in a detached posture, the self-styled “Zimmerwaldists” actually side with the Kiev authorities, who are leading a punitive operation against the rebels.

War — continuation of policy by other means

“War is nothing more than the continuation of policy by other means,” wrote the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. This statement is recognized approvingly by the classics of Marxism. (3)

What are the policies continued by Kiev and Donbass? To justify a “neutral” position, the imaginary “Zimmerwaldists” try to prove that these policies are the same. “All cats are gray” — that’s the apex of their “Marxist” wisdom.

The World War of 1914-1918 was really a continuation of the same policies by Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia — policies of colonial plunder, the struggle for colonies and markets, the fight for the destruction of imperialist competitors. The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 was a continuation of the same policies.

However, it would be foolish to argue that there could be a civil war where the parties are continuing the same policy. The essence of civil war is to impose one’s policies on the enemy, to break the political force and suppress the social classes or layers that conduct this policy. North and South Vietnam carried out different policies, resulting in a civil war. Different policies are also carried out, for example, by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and other Islamists in Syria. Different policies guided the Spanish Republic and Franco in the years 1936-1939. Different policies were pursued by Muammar Gaddafi and his opponents in the civil war in Libya in 2011.

So the civil war in Ukraine is not a continuation of the same policy. What are the different policies of Kiev and Donbass?

Policies in Kiev

The policies of Kiev in the civil war are a logical continuation of the policies of the Maidan. This has several components:

1. “European integration” and subordination to imperialism. The first slogan of the Maidan was so-called “European integration”, which in economic terms means the surrender of Ukrainian markets to European corporations, the transformation of Ukraine into a colony of the European Union as a source of raw materials and disenfranchised migrant worker-slaves. Today, more than a year after the victory of Maidan, the economic results are already being felt so deeply that they cannot be ignored by even the most hard-nosed “Euro-optimists.” (4)

The new regime in Kiev also finally abandoned sovereignty and become a puppet state. The solution of the internal conflict within the Kiev regime, between President-oligarch Petro Poroshenko and Governor-oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, came through an appeal to the U.S. Embassy. The handing over of the militarily and logistically strategic Odessa region to the direct control of a U.S protégé, former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, clearly testifies to this.

2. Neoliberalism. The post-Maidan government has consistently pursued policies dictated by the IMF. And this is not “cheating” Maidan expectations. All this was openly declared from the rostrum of the Maidan, and the political forces that led the movement have long and consistently favored economic neoliberalism. Movement toward all-out privatization and the systematic destruction of the remnants of the welfare state — that is the essence of the economic policies of the Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk regime. Leftist readers probably do not need me to explain the harmfulness of such policies to the working class and other popular sectors.

3. Nationalism and fascism. Nationalists and outright fascists managed to impose their agenda through the Maidan. Our organization wrote in winter 2014: “The undoubted success of the nationalists is due to the fact that, because of their high level of activity, they have managed to impose ideological leadership on the Euromaidan movement. This is evidenced by the slogans which have become a kind of ‘password’ for mass gatherings and activists on Maidan Square. Such as: ‘Glory to Ukraine – glory to heroes!’, which, together with raising the right hand with straightened palm, became the official greeting of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in April 1941. And: ‘Glory to the nation, death of the enemy!’ And: ‘Ukraine above all’ (copying the infamous German slogan, ‘Deutschland über alles’), and ‘Who does not jump is a Muscovite.’ The rest of the opposition parties did not have a clear-cut ideological line or set of slogans, leaving the neoliberal opposition to adopt the nationalist slogans and nationalist agenda.”  (5)

Thus, the neoliberal-Nazi alliance was formed. The neoliberals adopted the political program of Ukrainian fascists, and the Nazis agreed with carrying out the neoliberal line in the economy. This alliance was “consecrated” by representatives of imperialism, such as Catherine Ashton, Victoria Nuland, and John McCain.

Another important point in the fascistization of society after Maidan was the legalization of paramilitary Nazi groups and the integration of the Nazis into the law enforcement agencies of the state.

4. The violent suppression of political opponents, repression, censorship of the media, banning of communist ideology. It is not necessary to give examples, as this is common knowledge.

5. Contempt for the working class, “class racism.” Established on Maidan under the leadership of the oligarchy, the ideology of the social bloc of nationalist intelligentsia and “middle class” petty proprietors has infected the Western Ukrainian “man in the street,” who clearly defines his class enemy: the “cattle” in Donbass. With this “class racism” against the working-class majority of the South-East, the oligarchy rallies broad social strata around itself, leading even a poor person in the streets of Kiev to support policies in the interests of billionaires Kolomoisky and Poroshenko.

These are the main elements of the policy of the new regime in Kiev. This is the class politics of transnational imperialist capital and the Ukrainian capitalist oligarchy, which tries to escape its crisis at the expense of the working class. This policy is based on using the petty bourgeoisie, the so-called “middle class,” as its strike force. In the 1930s, this design of political dictatorship in the interests of big business was called fascism.

Policies in Donbass

Since the statehood of the territories liberated by the rebels of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions is just being established, it is probably too early to draw final conclusions about the policies of the DNR and LC. However, we can highlight some trends.

1. Anti-fascism. The rebels of all political persuasions definitely characterize the regime established in Kiev after Maidan as fascist. Often without a clear scientific understanding of fascism, they nonetheless reject the following features of the Kiev regime: extreme nationalism, chauvinistic language policy, anti-communism and anti-Sovietism, repression of political opponents, exoneration of Nazi war criminals and collaborators.

2. Anti-oligarchism. The role of the Ukrainian oligarchy, as the main sponsor and beneficiary of Maidan and the right-nationalist coup, became an essential element of the consciousness of the resistance movement in the South-East. Also, during the winter and spring of 2014, the complete dependence and subordination of the Ukrainian oligarchy to imperialism, headed by the United States, became apparent. A good example is the behavior of the “master of Donbass” and one of the main sponsors of the Party of Regions, Rinat Akhmetov. This “friendly” Donetsk oligarch, after a conversation with U.S. State Department representative Victoria Nuland, openly supported the Maidan, making a special statement on behalf of the SCM Corporation. Then his countrymen could see Rinat Akhmetov at the inauguration of “Maidan President” Petro Poroshenko.

In this regard, it can be argued: for the rebels of Donbass and the masses involved in the resistance movement in the South-East, anti-oligarchic slogans are not mere “populism.” These masses, from their own political experience, understand the role of the apex of the ruling class — the Ukrainian political oligarchy.

This distinguishes the mass progressive movement in the South-East from the mass reactionary movement of Maidan. Some mild anti-oligarchic slogans were also heard on the Maidan, but they did not go beyond the limits inherent in far-right social demagogy and populism — direct proof of this is the election by the pro-Maidan masses of oligarch Poroshenko to the presidency, as well as approval of the appointment of oligarchs such as Igor Kolomoisky and Sergei Taruta to key posts.

3. Anti-neoliberal policies. An important feature of the internal life of the Donbass republics is the trend towards social-democratic, Keynesian models of economic development, socially-oriented state capitalism. While this is only a trend, though an important one, it is the opposite of the economic policy of the Kiev authorities. Tentative steps to nationalize strategic assets (such as retail chains, mines, etc.) are met with delight by the population. Alexander Borodai, who distinguished himself by stating that “we will not carry out nationalizations, because we are not communists,” left the leadership of the DNR. On the contrary, the leadership of the republics not only takes steps to return some industry, trade and infrastructure to state ownership, but also actively promotes these measures among the population.

4. Friendship of peoples, internationalism and Russian nationalism. Everyone who has been in the Donbass notes the international character of the region. Dangerous trends of Russian nationalism in response to the Ukrainian chauvinism of the new Kiev authorities have not developed in a serious way (although that danger has been actively exploited by opponents of the people’s republics for propaganda purposes). On the contrary, the formalization of the Ukrainian language as the second official language in the almost entirely Russian-speaking region demonstrates the intention to carry out a democratic policy on nationalities and language. It was also an important signal that the birthday of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko was officially celebrated in Donetsk and Lugansk. This shows that the republic’s leadership understands the importance of presenting an alternative to the chauvinistic and repressive language and cultural policy in Kiev.

Also, there has been no serious development of another danger — clericalization of the resistance movement. Despite the fact that the Orthodox Church is mentioned in several documents of the people’s republics, clerical forces do not play a decisive or significant role in the social life of Donbass. The resistance movement is predominantly secular in nature, and the influence of religion and the church does not go beyond what it was in the pre-war period in Ukraine. This distinguishes the resistance forces from the Maidan, wherein the Greek Catholic Church played a significant role (with daily prayers read from the official Maidan rostrum, church hymns sung, etc.).

These are the main elements of the policy of the people’s republics of Donbass. Of course, this policy is not socialist. But it leaves room for the left, the communists, to participate in such a movement under their own banner, with their own ideas and slogans, without abandoning their own views and program. The Maidan movement and post-Maidan regime, focused from the beginning on militant anti-communism, does not provide such opportunities.

Having considered in detail what kind of policies the civil war continues for both sides, we can conclude that this policy is not the same from the point of view of left-wing, anti-capitalist forces. The self-styled Zimmerwaldists, stating that “both sides are the same,” show that they are either unable to carry out an analysis of the policies of Kiev and Donbass, or (more likely) are hypocrites.

Just and unjust wars

The attitude of Marxists to war cannot be reduced to the single example of the First World War. Marxists have always supported wars of the oppressed against the oppressors, considering the retreat into pacifism and indifference in the case of a just war to be bourgeois hypocrisy and hidden support for the masters.

Yes, even in the First World War, those socialists who did not disgrace themselves by betrayal, who did not shift into the service of the imperialist governments, were not just for ending the fratricidal war, where workers of one country kill workers of another country for the alien interests of the capitalist elite; these socialists advocated turning the imperialist war into civil war. They said that the oppressed should turn their weapons against their own oppressors, using the mass arming of the people as a tool for social revolution.

“History has known in the past (and very likely will know, must know, in the future) wars (democratic and revolutionary wars) which, while replacing every kind of ‘right,’ every kind of democracy, by violence during the war, nevertheless, in their social content and implications, served the cause of democracy, and consequently socialism,”  Lenin wrote. (6) It is this kind of war we have now in the Donbass.

Such was the position of genuine left-wing Zimmerwaldists. The imaginary “Zimmerwaldists” from Kiev, calling for disarmament of both sides of the conflict, place an equal sign between the rebels, on the one hand, and the regular troops forced to the front and neo-Nazi volunteer battalions, on the other.

The demand for disarmament of the rebel militias is a demand for their surrender, and it is unlikely that the self-styled Zimmerwaldists do not understand this.

Of course, any war means blood and suffering of people, but to stop this war by a complete renunciation of the uprising means that the blood has been spilled in vain. Moreover, it means revenge and repression by the nationalist forces against the population of Donbass.

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Notes:

(1)               Lenin further wrote: “To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, ‘We are   for socialism,’ and another, somewhere else and says, ‘We are for imperialism,’ and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a ‘putsch.’

“Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.

“The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It consisted of a series of battles in which all the discontented classes, groups and elements of the population participated. Among these there were masses imbued with the crudest prejudices, with the vaguest and most fantastic aims of struggle; there were small groups which accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and adventurers, etc. But objectively, the mass movement was breaking the back of tsarism and paving the way for democracy; for this reason the class-conscious workers led it.

“The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses and errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will be able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which all hate (though for different reasons!), and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately ‘purge’ itself of petty-bourgeois slag.”

From “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up,” July 1916

(2)               V.I. Lenin, “The Socialist Party and the Non-Party Revolutionary,” Nov.-Dec. 1905

(3)               For example: “In the case of wars, the basic position of dialectics … is that ‘war is merely a continuation of policy by other (violent) means.’ This is the wording of Clausewitz. … And it was always the standpoint of Marx and Engels, who viewed every war as a continuation of the policies of the interested power – and the various classes within them – at that time.”  V.I. Lenin, Collected Workers (Russian edition), 5 ed., vol. 26, p. 224

(4)               It should be remembered that those leftists, who today are trying to pass themselves off as “Zimmerwaldists,” fully supported the same policy which was continued as the war against Donbass. Here is what the imaginary Liebknechts from Kiev wrote: “We demand the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union and are confident that it will enhance democracy, increase transparency in government, lead to development of a fair legal system and limit corruption.” (http://gaslo.info/?p=4541)

Even then, we wrote: “Euro-hysteria has swept the political movement” of the left outside the Communist Party. “An anarchist group published a leaflet, which doesn’t mention that European anarchists actively oppose the EU — only the usual mantras of ‘self-organization.’ A small Trotskyist group was photographed on the edge of the Maidan crowd, singing ‘Glory to the nation! Death to enemies!’ and released a statement which could grace the website of any liberal NGO: “’We demand the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union and are confident that it will contribute to greater democracy…’ blah blah blah.

“Comrades of the left, it’s time to remember what opportunism is. It’s not necessarily participation in elections (the parliamentary system can be used in a revolutionary way). Opportunism is – among other things — adapting one’s politics to the mood of the crowd, to the mainstream, and ultimately, to alien class interests.

“Those Ukrainian leftists who removed from their statements slogans against the EU, common to all the European left, are on this path. Removed so they would be allowed to stand on the sidelines of ‘Euromaidan’ … the victory of which not only will not help the dissemination of the notorious European values but, on the contrary, is guaranteed to put in power those nationalists who attack us today.

“Are these real leftist politics — or just playing along with the right-liberal bloc? Can they seriously persuade someone in the Euromaidan crowd? No, on the contrary, they have adapted their line to the hysteria for European integration that swept the petty-bourgeois masses in Kiev, where 20 years of right-wing propaganda always makes the ‘democratic’ crowd dance to the ‘democratic’ chant, ‘Whoever does not jump is a Muscovite.’ They remove all slogans against the imperialist EU, to appear that they ‘belong’ in a liberal-nationalist crowd — although only the left can convey to Ukrainians the arguments against the EU, which their fellow European leftists and trade unionists share. They succumbed to the mood of their non-leftist friends. And then they will feel ashamed for their actions, as it was embarrassing to the supporters of the ‘people’s president’ Yushchenko a few years after the previous ‘Maidan’ — where a few leftists also campaigned, and with the same success.

“The hysteria will subside, but the memory remains, comrades.”

(5)               http://borotba.su/sergei-kirichuk-uchastie-nacionalistov-factor-padeniya-populyarnosti-maidana.html

(6)               V.I. Lenin, “Reply to P. Kievsky (Y. Pyatakov),” Aug.-Sept. 1916.

9 thoughts on “Marxism and the war in Donbass

  1. There is a hierarchically-organized imperialist world system with the United States at the head.

    Do you think this system of organization, combined with the increasingly dominating role of transnational corporations, precludes inter-imperialist wars?

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  2. mike martin says:

    An interesting article but marred, first of all, by a failure to name the “Zimmerwaldists” and others who are criticised; no references or quotations to support the analysis. The politics are questionable too.

    We have an imperialism, centred in the West pushing for ever more open markets, favourable terms for the export of capital, friendly tax regimes and ease of repatriating profits. These considerations are behind the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being pushed from Washington as well the US/EU drive to dominate Ukraine. The inevitable result being the restructuring of the economy, cuts and intensifying exploitation of workers. Referring here to Ukraine but the phenomenon is global.

    The dynamic of capital accumulation and the resulting export of capital is a major driver of the Ukraine crisis. Russia is very much a capitalist power but rather than being an exporter of capital it is heavily dependent on exporting raw materials and energy. Rather than an inherent drive to expand, Russia is vulnerable to being reduced in status. A colour revolution in Moscow or a weakening of the centre leaving the regions competing to serve international capital, are entirely possible. A leader cult, religious and nationalist moods may give the appearance of strength but the shell could prove brittle.

    For Russia’s rulers the immediate concern, facing a perceived threat, is to retain territorial integrity. This means securing the military bases on Crimea and a need to protect access to Crimea via land and prevent any threat to water, electricity and gas supplies. Potentially, something like the Minsk Agreement could provide enough regional autonomy to make a solution possible, but this reckons without the drive for domination from the West. They did not engineer the Maidan coup for nothing. They were prepared to rely on far right forces then and could do so again. Why intensify sanctions while there is still some life in the Minsk Agreement, unless further confrontation was intended? Military preparations continue on all sides.

    The DNR is described as employing Keynesian policies. This is still capitalism -difficult circumstances understood – and would lead to restructuring of industry and intensified exploitation much as in the west of Ukraine. The economy of the separatist held areas is closely related to that of Russia and it is difficult to see any expropriations taking place without a class struggle against Russian capital. If there are forces in DNR that see the need for such, they should base their appeal on an internationalist class perspective and shun all forms of nationalism.

    The article makes much of what sounds like typical radical left appeals to a moral imperative to support all manner good causes. It is not clear what is meant by “support” but it seems to amount to cheering the “action” while ignoring the programmes behind them. To take the Kurdish example; the Kurdish nationalists, or simply citizens in desperate circumstances accept military support from the US and become in effect proxy forces. In this context declarations of solidarity contribute nothing but confusion and imply that the US intervention has some progressive aspect.

    Incidentally, I note the reference to the Spanish Revolution (referred to as Civil War), which could be read to imply that the USSR had supported the Republican cause. The Stalinists supported the bourgeois government in order to suppress independent working class action. Under the name of “anti-fascism” the workers’ struggle against capitalism was betrayed. I am surprised to find confusion on this on an ostensibly Trotskyist website.

    There is a real need for a class based anti-war movement. The Ukraine conflict is but one aspect of a global process, that requires a class response. Elsewhere, I have argued for calling for an end to sanctions and all other war preparations, and for recognising the will of Crimea to be part of Russia

    Mike Martin

    Sheffield

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  3. Ian says:

    With regard to Stephen’s question, he would have to direct that at Victor Shapinov of Borotba, as this is a translation published more for discussion and thought than something SF collectively endorses.

    Is inter-imperialist was impossible today? There is no basis to say that in my view. Does Russia have any imperialist features? Yes in my view. It also has many of the features of a semi-dependent, backward country that could easily become a neo-colony of the USA. Perhaps it could be both, as arguably Tsarist Russia was a both an imperialist great power and a state whose main chunks of capital were owned by West Europeans. Is the conflict between the West and Russia inter-imperialist. No, Shapinov is convincing on that in my view. The difference between Russia and the US-led bloc seeking currently to dominate it is qualitative, not quantitative, as would be the case in an inter-imperialist conflict.

    Mike Martin is right to say that would-be Communists in the Donbass should reject nationalism and embrace internationalism. Apart from that, the differences he is arguing sound like nuances. Regarding history, the Spanish Republic was supported by Stalin: on condition that it remained a bourgeois republic. When the workers went beyond that boundary, the deal was off. This is about rough historical analogies, not exact equivalences. The question posed being: hypothetically in the absence of the revolutionary explosion in Spain, should Marxists have defended the Spanish republic anyway, even if it were backed by other imperialist powers? To me it is clear that we should, if a real struggle was to be waged against fascism in those conditions (whether it actually could have been is another question entirely).

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    • mike martin says:

      I think the difference between an international working class perspective and Anti-Fascism is more than a mere nuance. I am sorry if I did not make this clear enough. Fascism.Democracy Oligarchy, etc are particular forms that capitalist rule can take; defeating one form does not defeat capital itself. Working class forces need their own programme even if obliged to fight alongside anti-fascists. If the distinction is not made, the workers will be slaughtered by the pro-capitalist elements. That happened in Spain as a conscious policy followed by the Stalinists. Stalinism may have collapsed as a state structure, but the toxic products of decomposition are still around. Popular fronts, anti-fascist fronts are cross class alliances that spell disaster for workers.

      Mike Martin

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  4. Stephen,
    I think an inter-imperialist war like WWI or WWII is not possible in the current global state system. The USA remains the global hegemon and whilst there are obvious tensions and sometimes severe disagreements with the RU and Germany and France in particular they cannot consider facing down the USA given the economic and military imbalance. And the fact that the EU itself is facing breakup. Nor can Russia and China contemplate that. In the first place we would argue that they are not imperialist powers and of course the economic and military inbalance is also massive.

    Potential for a WWIII does exist as an inter-imperialist conflict if a new anti USA alliance emerged. This is what the USA fears most, a central reason for the war against Iraq and Libya; the threat to the Dollar’s predominant position as the fiat currency, 85% of world trade uses the dollar, giving America a huge advantage in currency manipulation against all its trading rivals.

    Major war by the USA and NATO against Russia and/or China is possible but if the global state system remains and USA hegemony persists in NATO could we really call that WWIII? It is still a uni-polar and not a multi -polar state system like it was before WWI and WWII.

    Of course if the EU really does break up then the possibility grows far stronger that Germany with take what allies she can onto an anti USA bloc with Russia and China. That then would put an anti imperialist WWIII on the immediate agenda. How the rest of Europe would jump in those circumstances is unpredictable in some cases but not in others.

    Like

  5. Mike Martin.   A very serious reply which raises points not adequately touched on in the article or indeed by Socialist Fight previously. The central problem is the failure to adequately countrrpose Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution to Stalinism’s Socialism in a single country. 

    Let us first of all acknowledge the great strength of the article, which has impressed so many. That is its taking of sides, its geopolitical understanding of the conflict in Ukraine and correct estimation of the nature of imperialism. The hegemonic position of the USA in the global state system and Russia’s relationship to that, that is not and cannot become an imperialist power itself whilst the USA holds this position. We also hold this position to be true of China, although the article does not taco that. ‎

    Also its correct characterisation  of Putin’s desperate accommodation to imperialism and the potentially fatal consequences for the Donbass if this continues. The reports to the SARU AGM back in June of the moves against the left militias like the Ghost Battalion and others by the Donbass authorities under Putin’s guidance from  Victor Shapinov and two others suggested strongly the need for an independent working-class approach based on Permanent Revolution. But it was not spelled out and needs to be done urgently. After all Borotba are suppressed by both Kiev and the Donbass authorities; the revolutionary potential of Trotskyism’s unique insight and its global perspective so necessary in this conflict  is surely the common fear.  

    You make some criticisms of the three instances cited by Victor prefaced by Lenin’s defence of the 1916 uprising in Dublin. I feel you do not appreciate properly the strength of Victor’s line. .

    Lenin was of course correct against those who characterised the 1916 Rising as a coup and correct that you will never get a pure revolution if the working class against the capitalists in clear ideological, political and organisational counter position. It will always be ‘messy’. 

    Bur remember Lenin still held the theory of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in 1916, not definitively abandoned until the April Theses of 1917, although his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism of 1916 prepared that transition. 

    In April 1917 Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution gelled with Lenin’s  April These and, having understood his errors on the nature of the party, Trotsky co-led the Russian Revolution with Lenin against opposition within from Lev Kamanev, Zinoviev and Stalin initially. So Trotsky was half right in stressing the need for working-class leadership of the 1916 uprising, even if he did not fully understand the importance of the national question then. And Lenin was half wrong in dismissing it. But Lenin did not make the April Theses a universal law and Trotsky did not do so either for the complementary Permanent Revolution until the terrible debacle of the Shanghai Soviet massacre in 1927 made it absolutely clear. 

    I argue that it applied to Ireland in 1916, that James Connolly was feeling his way towards it in his famous “In the event of victory, hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty.” (Greaves, Life and Time of James Connolly, p403)‎.

     The first Communist Party of Ireland (1921-23) under Roddy Connolly (son of James) and Sean McLoughlin understood this in participating in the civil war but instructions from the Comintern to ‘turn to the working-class’ were wrong. And doubly wrong was the instruction to dissolve the CPI in favour of Jim Larkin’s group, the Irish Workers League. His 1923 Lockout syndicalism had morphed onto gross opportunism fuelled by a bloated ego ‎by1923, manouvrings with the bosses, selling out strikes and witch hunting the left.  

    They made the same mistake in reverse  in China, guided by the same man who advised the first CPI, Borodin. They capitulated to the TU bureaucracy in Ireland to the bourgeois nationalist in China. But this was a genuine mistake and once it’s consequences became apparent from 1925-26 Trotsky fought uncompromisingly  it as is clear from his writings. 

    Again on Spain Victor is correct in his hypothetical situation that the Republic was aided by Britain and France and not Stalin; we are lost if we cannot take the correct side. However Mike is correct to point to the real lessons of the Spanish Revolution; only the working class can lead real socialist revolutions or any genuine revolutionary advance  at all now, Permanent Revolution and not socialism in a single country is the war forward. 

    Putin is doing in the Donbass what Stalin did to Spain; even if we cannot accuse the bourgeois nationalist Putin of betraying a socialist revolution we can accuse Stalin of that in 1936-9 and Putin of betraying ‎the rights of the  Donbass republics today.

    On Kurdistan now, Mike is correct that the Kurdish leadership have crossed lines in collaborating with the USA, nonetheless we still defend the Kurdish right to self-determination. They have paid the price for that in the USA support for the Turkish bombing of the PKK and their Syrian allies. It is not wrong in principle to accept aid ‘from the devil or his  grandmother’ but the accommodation of Kurdish leaders Barzani, Talibani and Occalan, the first two in particular, have gone far beyond accepting aid. ‎It is to the fighters of the PKK and their Syrian allies we direct our propaganda and the current line up again shows that there is fertile ground there. Many of them must now question the wisdom of making alliances with the USA and not just accepting aid. So Victor is again right on the side to pick and why, even though the situation is complex and changing. 

    To summarise. I feel that the article by Victor Shapinov was inspiring because of who he is and where he is. Political and ideological advances far from the front line of the global class struggle are important but not as important as they are when these lessons can be put into practice. We seem to be entering a phase in the class struggle in Britain when big opportunities are presenting themselves with the emergence‎ of the Corbyn phenomenon. And a central element of Corbynism is internationalism; however inadequately expressed it is now the opposition to war and immigration controls is very much part of the movement.

    Capitalism in a single country leads to reactionary import and immigrant controls and  right wing national chauvinism.  This is  often dressed up in leftists phraseology;  protecting workers’ jobs and industry, ‘no to EU, yest to democracy’ etc. How much more impossible is socialism in a single country which needs the global division of labour and cooperation between workers’ states on a global arena? We will win the fight for interationalist  Permanent Revolution against nationalist socialism in a single country if our methodology is correct.    

    And we will  learn more by assisting more struggles internationally and thus we will begin to  reforge a truly revolutionary communist international. ‎

     

    Like

  6. Edited version of previous reply:

    Reply to Mike Martin

    A very serious reply which raises points not adequately touched on in the article or indeed by Socialist Fight previously. The central problem is the failure to adequately countrrpose Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution to Stalinism’s socialism in a single country.

    Let us first of all acknowledge the great strength of the article (Marxism and the Donbass by Victor Shapinov), which has impressed so many. That is its taking of sides, its geopolitical understanding of the conflict in Ukraine and correct estimation of the nature of imperialism. The hegemonic position of the USA in the global state system and Russia’s relationship to that, that it is not and cannot become an imperialist power itself whilst the USA holds this position. We also hold this position to be true of China, although the article does not tackle that.

    Also its correct characterisation of Putin’s desperate accommodation to imperialism and the potentially fatal consequences for the Donbass if this continues. The reports to the SARU AGM back in June of the moves against the left militias like the Ghost Battalion and others by the Donbass authorities under Putin’s guidance from Victor Shapinov and two others suggested strongly the need for an independent working-class approach based on Permanent Revolution. But it was not spelled out and needs to be done urgently. After all Borotba are suppressed by both Kiev and the Donbass authorities; the revolutionary potential of Trotskyism’s unique insight and its global perspective so necessary in this conflict is surely the common fear.

    You make some criticisms of the three instances cited by Victor prefaced by Lenin’s defence of the 1916 uprising in Dublin. I feel you do not appreciate properly the strength of Victor’s line.

    Lenin was of course correct against those who characterised the 1916 Rising as a coup and correct that you will never get a pure revolution of the working class against the capitalists in clear ideological, political and organisational counter position. It will always be ‘messy’.

    Bur remember Lenin still held the theory of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in 1916, not definitively abandoned until the April Theses of 1917, although his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism of 1916 prepared that transition.

    In April 1917 Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution gelled with Lenin’s April These and, having understood his errors on the nature of the party, Trotsky co-led the Russian Revolution with Lenin against opposition within from Lev Kamanev, Zinoviev and Stalin initially. So Trotsky was half right in stressing the need for working-class leadership of the 1916 uprising, even if he did not fully understand the importance of the national question then. And Lenin was half wrong in dismissing it. But Lenin did not make the April Theses a universal law and Trotsky did not do so either for the complementary Permanent Revolution until the terrible debacle of the Shanghai Soviet massacre in 1927 made it absolutely clear.

    I argue that it applied to Ireland in 1916, that James Connolly was feeling his way towards it in his famous “In the event of victory, hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty.” (Greaves, Life and Time of James Connolly, p403).

    The first Communist Party of Ireland (1921-23) under Roddy Connolly (son of James) and Sean McLoughlin understood this in participating in the civil war but instructions from the Comintern to ‘turn to the working-class’ were wrong. And doubly wrong was the instruction to dissolve the CPI in favour of Jim Larkin’s group, the Irish Workers League. His 1913 Lockout syndicalism had morphed onto gross opportunism fuelled by a bloated ego by1923, manouvrings with the bosses, selling out strikes and witch hunting the left.

    The Comintern made the same mistake in reverse in China, guided by the same man who advised the first CPI, Borodin. They capitulated to the TU bureaucracy in Ireland but to the bourgeois nationalists in China although there was big political differences between Sun Yat-Sen, who led the 1911 Chinese revolution and the leader‎ after his death in ‎1925 Chiang Kai-Shek. But this was a genuine mistake and once its consequences became apparent from 1925-26 Trotsky fought uncompromisingly it as is clear from his writings.

    Again on Spain Victor is correct in his hypothetical situation that the Republic was aided by Britain and France and not Stalin; we are lost if we cannot take the correct side. However Mike is correct to point to the real lessons of the Spanish Revolution; only the working class can lead real socialist revolutions or any genuine revolutionary advance at all now, Permanent Revolution and not socialism in a single country is the war forward.

    Putin is doing in the Donbass what Stalin did to Spain; even if we cannot accuse the bourgeois nationalist Putin of betraying a socialist revolution we can accuse Stalin of that in 1936-9 and Putin of betraying the rights of the Donbass republics today.

    On Kurdistan now, Mike is correct that the Kurdish leadership have crossed lines in collaborating with the USA, nonetheless we still defend the Kurdish right to self-determination. They have paid the price for that in the USA support for the Turkish bombing of the PKK and their Syrian allies. It is not wrong in principle to accept aid ‘from the devil or his grandmother’ but the accommodation of Kurdish leaders Barzani, Talibani and Occalan, the first two Iraqi Kurds in particular, have gone far beyond accepting aid. It is to the fighters of the PKK and their Syrian allies we direct our propaganda and the current line up again shows that there is fertile ground there. Many of them must now question the wisdom of making alliances with the USA and not just accepting aid. So Victor is again right on the side to pick and why, even though the situation is complex and changing.

    To summarise. I feel that the article by Victor Shapinov was inspiring because of who he is and where he is. Political and ideological advances far from the front line of the global class struggle are important but not as important as they are when these lessons can be put into practice. We seem to be entering a phase in the class struggle in Britain when big opportunities are presenting themselves with the emergence of the Corbyn phenomenon. And a central element of Corbynism is internationalism; however inadequately expressed it is now the opposition to war and immigration controls is very much part of the movement.

    Capitalism in a single country leads to reactionary import and immigrant controls and right wing national chauvinism. This is often dressed up in leftists phraseology; protecting workers’ jobs and industry, ‘no to EU, yes to democracy’ etc. How much more impossible is socialism in a single country which needs the global division of labour and cooperation between workers’ states on a global arena? We will win the fight for internationalist Permanent Revolution against nationalist socialism in a single country if our methodology is correct.

    And we will learn more by assisting more struggles internationally and thus we will begin to reforge a truly revolutionary communist international.

    Like

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