06/06/2022 by socialistfight
Facebook debate. Dr Tobias Abse was a lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London
Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954) moved from liberalism – he supported the February revolution but opposed the October one – to fascism during his exile from Russia in 1922 on the “philosophers’ ship”. His views greatly influenced some Russian intellectuals and politicians, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Vladimir Putin.
Tobias Abse, May 16
Now that this war has gone on for ten weeks, and shows no sign of ending, I am very reluctantly taking sides with the Russian Federation. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Sweden and Finland abandoning their neutrality to join NATO (and the invitation to Georgia by the Deputy Secretary of NATO to attend the NATO meeting at the end of June, clearly returning to the line Bush Jr. was pursuing in 2008). This means that NATO is seeking to completely surround the Russian Federation on its Western and if possible Southern border.
The second reason for my shift away from my neutralist/pacifist/double defeatist position is that the national heroes of the Ukraine, referred to frequently in the ‘Glory to the Ukraine, Glory to the Heroes’ anthem are the Azov Battalion, the extremely well-armed, openly Nazi SS nostalgics, who have been terrorising the Donbass for the last eight years (being well-known for their practice of torturing prisoners by waterboarding or cutting swastikas into their backs with knives).
Much as I loathe Putin (who, as some of you will doubtless point out, is a bloodthirsty ultra-nationalist autocrat), he is right to call the Azovs ‘war criminals’, and to refuse to negotiate for their departure from the Azovstal steelworks, as all the Ukrainians keep demanding on every possible occasion including the Eurovision Song Contest. To ask for them to go free is the equivalent of saying that Eichmann’s escape to Argentina was a good idea.
Here I have a specific question for members of the Fourth International – does your general support for the Zelensky regime extend to supporting his demand that the Azovs go free? I will remind you that in the early years of the International, Ernest Mandel fought the Nazis in the Belgian Resistance (and was very lucky on two occasions to escape with his life), Abram Leon fought in the Belgian Resistance, ultimately dying in Auschwitz.
As far as I can remember, and here I think I am drawing on Mandel himself, a small number of supporters of FI were involved in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising alongside Bundists, Zionists and Communists. I’m pretty sure that Leon Trotsky himself would not have sided with the Azovs, even if I am aware of that rather daft article in favour of Ukrainian independence that he wrote in 1939, when Stalin’s murder of his family members and attempts to kill him in Mexico were quite understandably clouding his judgement.
Paul Flewers replies May 17
I’m afraid that I must strongly disagree with Toby Abse’s decision to side with Russia in the current war. The ‘realist’ US IR school has explained clearly enough that Russia is responding to two decades of NATO expansion and broken promises about not wishing to expand; but this explanation does not excuse or justify the invasion: Putin did not have to do it. I fully condemn the Russian attack upon Ukraine, although I am also aware of the chain of events leading up to it.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a disaster all round. Dozens of Ukrainian towns and villages and a lot of Ukrainian infrastructure have been wrecked; thousands of civilians killed or injured, and millions displaced; repression in Russia is becoming even harsher; NATO has been rehabilitated politically and is being extended into Scandinavia.
The idea of the ‘civilised West’ has been given a boost; the Western banking system has been militarised, as has the EU; US hegemony has been extended and reinforced in Europe; the economic fall-out is hitting ordinary people across the world; a local dispute (between Russia and Ukraine) has been internationalised into a major diplomatic and military crisis with the USA in a proxy war with Russia that could flare up into a direct confrontation between two nuclear-armed countries. There is nothing positive whatsoever about Russia’s war in Ukraine.
As for the Azov business, yes, the Ukrainian far-right has received meagre electoral results; so did the National Front here in the 1970s, but we did not have memorials to Mosley in town squares or London streets renamed after Arnold Leese: Ukraine has seen a big memorialisation of Stepan Bandera. Nor were British fascist groups integrated into the army or police like the Ukrainian fascist groups: it’s like the SA being integrated into the Weimar republic’s Reichswehr.
The Azov brigade’s leader left them for reasons of pure convenience: he couldn’t be an MP whilst being in that position. If there was a genuine de-Nazification of the Azov brigade, it would have had the name changed and the fascist insignia removed. As it is, the Ukrainian far-right has — with US encouragement — put pressure upon Zelensky when he has suggested making a deal with Moscow and accusing him of — you’ve guessed it — ‘a stab in the back’ when he suggested that the Azov brigade left Mariupol. And foreign fascists have made efforts to join the Azov brigade, why so if it’s been cleansed?
Tobias Abse further post May 20
Both Russia and Ukraine are capitalist states of a kleptocratic and oligarchic kind. Neither of them is in any genuine sense a democracy. Since dozens of you have pointed out, or will point out, the ways in which Russia is not a genuine democracy, I think it is more important to point out that neither is Ukraine. The Communist Party and, I assume, other organisations in the Communist tradition, such as Borotba, were banned shortly after the Maidan coup of February 2014.
Over the last couple of months Zelensky has banned eleven opposition parties, including five with either Socialist of Left in their titles, and imprisoned the leader of the main opposition group, Viktor Medvedchuk, who led the grouping that used to be called the Party of the Regions, which I think was re-named something like The Opposition Bloc.
I can’t see why this is any different from Putin’s imprisonment of Navalny. Whilst Putin is clearly an extreme Russian nationalist, I doubt if he has any other fixed ideological position. I think his latter-day enthusiasm for the Russian Orthodox Church is purely opportunism, and that he probably is as much of an atheist now as he was in the KGB. I am aware that some of his speeches appear to have incorporated ideas from Alexander Dugin and Ivan Ilyin, the first of whom has some strange notions about Eurasia, which some would characterise as Far Right, and that Ilyin was a White Russian who ended up living in Nazi Germany and could be fairly categorised as a Fascist.
However, it does increasingly look as if NATO (and in particular the US and UK) are engaged in the same kind of operation that they mounted against Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya, aiming at smashing up a country and imposing regime change by force. As far as the Azovs are concerned, I am overjoyed that some of them are now in the custody of the People’s Republic of Donetsk, and hope that the rest of the bastards still inside the steel works surrender in the next day or two. I don’t share the concern of many liberals and fake Trots for the welfare of the Nazis. ▲