Irish Workers’ Notes: Ukraine; anti imperialism is the key

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06/06/2022 by socialistfight

By Chris O Prey April 27 2022

When Zelensky attempted a pullback of troops from the Donbas in October 2019 the Azov protested violently and, Andriy Biletsky, their leader, threatened to send 10,000 fighters to Zolote to defend “positions won in blood”. Zelensky abandoned his attempts at reconciliation.

The role of imperialism

Amid the hysteria generated by imperialism’s propaganda machine we now have an accumulation of evidence before us that should make it clear that the war in Ukraine is a US imperialist proxy war against Russia. It is one part of a long term strategy to maintain US imperialist global dominance amid an increasingly acute crisis of profitability. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the most important of the imperialist strategists, spells it out for us in 1997 in his ‘Grand Chessboard’; Ukraine is the “geopolitical pivot,” in US imperialism’s attempts to weaken Russia and even to dismember it. Similarly to what happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and particularly in Syria the US and western imperialists have put a great deal of preparation in to this. Billions in finance was funnelled in through NGO’s, increasingly since the orange revolution of 2004, which helped develop the Ukrainian ethno-nationalist and fascist movement and that movement was utilised to conduct a coup and to overthrow the government in Kiev in 2014.

 Since the success of that coup those fascist battalions have been integrated into the state where, in practical terms, they acted as the cutting edge which facilitated US imperialism’s policy and as Brzezinski pointed out, that policy has as its objective the isolation and encirclement of Russia by an ever expanding NATO.

 This strategy has been reiterated in the Rand think tank report of 2019 which was commissioned by the US military General Staff but the report clearly warns of the dangers, admitting that:

 “Most of the steps covered in this report are in some sense escalatory, and most would likely prompt some Russian counter-escalation. Some of these policies, however, also might prompt adverse reactions from other U.S. adversaries — most notably, China”.

 But while the Rand report considers different options, including reigniting the Syrian regime change project and arming the Ukrainians, its overarching objective is “Extending Russia”, in other words of causing it to “over reach” and to become increasingly unstable and vulnerable to imperialist “pressure”.

 The outbreak of this war “irrespective of who attacked first” was the result of incessant and on-going imperialist provocations on a Russia which even the Rand Corporation recognises has an economy and “a federal budget as well” that is almost entirely dependent upon oil and gas; in other words possessing the economic characteristics of a semi colonial power – or as John McCain arrogantly put it: “Russia is a gas station masquarading as a country”!

 That “unbalancing” of Russia is ultimately aimed at an encroachment on China so a victory for imperialism and its fascist proxies in Ukraine brings both a military confrontation with China closer and an advancement of the nuclear “counterforce”, or rather First Strike, strategy in replacing the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, (MAD) bringing us all another minute closer to midnight.

 The plans for an encirclement of China, inseparable from the current attack, are also long established. Sanctions have been placed on individuals and companies and a consistent ambient level of Sinophobic propaganda has set the tone as naval exercises demonstrated imperialism’s ability to close the Straits of Malacca to Chinese traffic. The Russophobic war hysteria has provided the conditions to ratchet up tensions on the coast of China as NATO talks up the ‘defence’ of Taiwan and openly plans for a NATO front line in the Pacific through increased co operation with their Asia-Pacific partners in the newly established AUKUS, led primarily by the US Indo-Pacific Command.

 The role of the fascists

 This latest outbreak of war was the consequence of a series of moves on the geo-political chessboard by imperialism and contrary to what the propaganda machine informs us, compromise was possible. The Minsk agreements could have formed the basis of a settlement but the extreme right militias on the ground prevented this from being a possibility, in fact they sought to overturn through force of arms any autonomy which had been de-facto established in the east and to insist on NATO membership.

 It is also important to remember that the goal of the Russian speaking majority in the East was not originally separatism but was for local autonomy and their recognition by Russia as independent Republics did not happen until one day before the invasion, at the point at which it became indisputably clear that no compromise was possible with Kiev.

 Anything that tended to disrupt the fascist battalions’ denial of the right of the eastern provinces to self-government was overruled by blunt force, including Zelensky’s pretensions as a peacemaker. Although he was elected by the Ukrainian masses with a 70% mandate to bring peace to the east of the country only two years later he by no means represented a popular government and his support had collapsed to a 19% approval rating.

 Zelensky’s attempt to act on his mandate had revealed very accurately where the power lay in Ukraine. When he met with the troops who were carrying out the attacks on Donbass at Zolote they simply refused to halt their bombardment, publicly humiliating him in the process – of course their refusal to comply with the orders of their own President had the good fortune to conjuncturally combine with imperialism’s strategic goals. Zelensky’s feeble efforts were simply ignored by the state forces, newly invigorated by a 50% increase in spending on western high tech arms and training by early 2022, up from 4% of GDP to 6%, and a root and branch reorganisation which saw paramilitary groups expand to 102’000, 40% of the Ukrainian military by 2019 according to Reuters, and that figure was expanding.

 Those paramilitary forces, which include Aidar, Dnipro-1, Dnipro-2 and Carpathian Sich as well as Azov, have become to a significant extent an ideological leadership in a wholly restructured Ukrainian army, large sections of which had refused to attack the east in the early stages of the assault on the Donbass region in 2014. At that time and for the first two years of what the state called the ATO (Anti Terrorist Operation) there was a 30% desertion rate – often to join the autonomists on other side, and over 1 million Ukrainian males went to Russia to avoid conscription, prompting legislative change there to allow them to stay longer than the allowed 90 days.

 The increasing prominence of these forces has not been arrived at by accident, it is they who maintained the assault on the east of Ukraine as sections of the old army crumbled around them. The Russian speaking population of the Donbass, which again it should be borne in mind merely sought limited autonomy, came under continuous attack since the coup resulting in over 15’000 deaths, overwhelmingly civilian and mostly at the hands of the attackers according to the OSCE. The maintenance of this attack by these well organised battalions has resulted in an expansion of their numerical strength and a consolidation of their battle readiness and central role in deciding state policy in relation to war with the Donbass rebels. What began as a well organised fascist street mobilisation has developed massively since they were incorporated in to the state in 2014, to the extent that by 2018 Kiev was viewed as: “losing the monopoly on the use of force in the country” according to a shared report by a number of groups including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Amnesty International and Human Rights watch.

 A strengthening grip

 This threat to the Ukrainian Rada’s political control of military power clearly comes from within the state forces themselves and was largely unchallenged by any bourgeois democratic faction, and now even less so as broad swathes of opposition have been suppressed. The threats made to Zelensky’s life if he compromised with the Russians was far from empty rhetoric, other prominent people have suffered the ultimate sanction as the right strengthens its grip on state bodies.

 Under the noses of a largely insentient western media Denis Kireev was murdered in March 2022. Kireev was a member of the Ukrainian negotiating team who came to be viewed by the fascists as being too soft in his negotiations with the Russians in Belarus and was shot during an arrest operation by the SBU. While one report openly called him a traitor a narrative quickly appeared presenting Kireev as a ‘hero’ who died in a special operation but no one was charged with the murder and no further investigation launched. The message to any parliamentarians or negotiators thinking of wavering was clear, tow the line established by the hard right or die a ‘heroes’ death’.

 The rise of fascism is not the ephemeral phenomenon that many on the “cruise missile left” would have you believe. It is methodological and has achieved a level that systematically impacts on the organs of the Ukrainian state. It is steadily expanding in terms of military muscle and political control. For example the Centuria grouping, only established in 2018, is now ensconced in the National Army Academy, which channels all outside training from western imperialism, with the objective of providing a centre of excellence for the production of what can only be called an extremist officer corp.

Attempts are made to keep this under wraps for propaganda purposes but according to the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University the Cadets produced by this training openly recite the “Prayer of the Ukrainian Nationalist,” a pseudo religious ideological text written by Josef Mashchak, a leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and that practice, while not dominant, “has gained increased prominence since 2014.” According to evidence in the same report the Centuria grouping has used its role in the Academy to produce a committed extreme nationalist officer corp which had expanded rapidly to the point where its influence has become apparent over increasing swathes of the AFU’s units.

 These units in turn mirror the officer caste’s politics as ideologically motivated new recruits, coming through from a variety of sources, are encouraged to gravitate towards them. Aiding this rationalisation of an ideological fascist leadership within a “wartime” army increasingly dominated by a racist ethno nationalist ideology is the decision to allow “ideologically motivated” police cadets and officers to transfer directly in to the army officer or cadet corp and this political orientation is encouraged by higher salaries and the status attached to these elitist corps. The overall process is massively aided by imperialism’s training support programmes and tonnes of sophisticated modern weaponry aimed entirely at the Russian populations of eastern Ukraine and of course, as is their intention, at Russia itself.

 Overseeing this expansion of the fascist state-within-the-state is the internal intelligence force, the SBU, which was closely involved in Kireev’s arrest and murder. They have been responsible for a wave of torture and murder of oppositionists since the “decommunisation” laws were passed following the coup in 2014 and since that they have had a close though apparently informal working relationship with the fascist C14, the Azov battalion and the Right Sector.

 This close relationship with fascism has recently been strengthened with the promotion of Oleksandr Poklad, a notorious fascist nicknamed “The Strangler”, to head of the SBU. Poklad has been accelerating and broadening the SBU’s process of purging state organisations of leading “rats” and suppressing the left as this article in Die Jungewelt illustrates. His purge covers an extraordinary range – everyone from bloggers and Communist Youth leaders up to senior military leaders like Major General Shaitanov who was accused of spying for Russia, are being imprisoned or “disappeared” in a campaign of terror against those they describe as “5th columnists” and “spies”.

 It is not just a case of a few isolated atrocities, there is no thought of calling the secret police to account for their crimes and the SBU’s actions have met with unequivocal official approval. In response to the discovery of the tortured body of the mayor of Kreminna, Volodymyr Strok, Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, celebrated the murder by announcing that, “There is one less traitor in Ukraine” and Zelensky, giving his nod of approval, has also officially announced that there would be “consequences for collaborators”.

 With the arrogant confidence of untouchables the SBU routinely display their Nazi politics. They have regularly been exposed in photographs wearing Nazi SS Galizien badges, Black Suns and other fascist insignia on their uniforms and those images are circulated by the western press without comment, reflecting both a burgeoning of fascist power within the state apparatus and imperialism’s open support for them. That support is silent also on the inclusion of the fascist Dnipro-1 battalion as an official part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which Gerashchenko acts as official advisor to, and is made irrefutably explicit in the fact that both Azov and the SBU are trained by the CIA.

 This increasingly pervasive power has now also formalised brownshirt type street gangs as an official police force, the National Druzhynia. Their role predominantly is to control the streets using violence against people suspected of being ‘unpatriotic’, largely interpreted as those who have Russian as their first language; their activities include asking people to pronounce the Ukrainian word for bread in order to check their ‘purity’ – Russian speakers have trouble with the pronunciation. Violence and public humiliation is used against minorities, especially Roma people, who are being attacked in the streets and are having their campsites destroyed on a level that echoes the pogroms of the past.

 Opposition TV channels, bourgeois political parties, Trade unions, journalists, communist or socialist organisations, critical bloggers and even an increasing number of leading bourgeois functionaries, including a state prosecutor, are targeted in the hunt for “traitors”.

The most right wing sections have collapsed completely in to social chauvinism and has openly fallen in behind imperialism, calling for the arming of the reactionary Ukrainian state. Usec as an organisation follows blindly behind its part time guru Gilbert Achcar and, inevitably, leads the field with its terminal collapse.

 The Ukrainian working class and “their” state

 The Ukrainian working class both Ukrainian and Russian speaking, has long since been suppressed by these forces, yet in the west calls for support for the Ukrainian state against the Russian invaders dominates while a significant section of the left equivocates. The most right wing sections have collapsed completely in to social chauvinism and has openly fallen in behind imperialism, calling for the arming of the reactionary Ukrainian state. Usec as an organisation follows blindly behind its part time guru Gilbert Achcar and, inevitably, leads the field with its terminal collapse.

 There are calls for a new ‘Zimmerwald’ to counter this collapse but most have averted their eyes from the most acute political lessons of Ukraine to focus on the economic impact of the war on western workers. Search as you might, there are precious few demands for the Ukrainian working class to topple its fascist infested pro-imperialist state. Rather than struggle to provide political clarity they hide behind calls for a peace that leaves the semi fascist status quo in Ukraine unchallenged!

 The revolutionary left cannot rely on economism as a response to this latest imperialist outrage. Revolutionaries certainly must understand the objective economic repercussions of the war around which it will be possible to organise but without drawing out the acute political lessons that this imperialist assault provides for the working class in Europe, in Russia and in Ukraine such mobilisations will reflect the confusion that exists generally among the working class as one group of workers rows in behind the British state, conducting an ‘approved wildcat’ strike to join the Russian oil blockade while another group of workers in Greece defies the state and blocks arms shipments to the Ukrainian state. Of course the latter is correct but to provide revolutionary leadership we must be clear  why.

 The Ukrainian working class and their organisations have been crushed by this reactionary state; where is the solidarity with them, and how does the international revolutionary movement clarify and broadcast their oppression to the rest of the world’s workers? How can Ukrainian workers resist this reactionary regime? In order to liberate themselves they also need to overthrow the Ukrainian state and in that struggle they also objectively oppose imperialism, but adding to the confusion on the left in supporting that perspective is an extremely impressionistic understanding of imperialism, and underlying that is a sweeping dismissal of Lenin’s criteria for judging what it is in the first place.

 Ukrainian workers are being divided on ethnic lines and it has been the conscious plan of the fascists and “ultra nationalists” backed by imperialism to exacerbate any such divisions, the tactic is as old as imperialism itself in all its iterations.

 The workers that are most oppressed by the designs of the pro imperialist regime are the Russian speakers, many of which sympathise with the Russian troops and have avoided being drafted to the Ukrainian military or have left the country. So what tasks fall to the Ukrainian working class both in the east and in the west of the country? What is the attitude of these workers towards the Russians?

 While the right of majority Russian speaking areas to secede is fairly widely accepted on the left there is limited recognition that the Ukrainian military were preparing for an assault that would have decisively eliminated that possibility – or that Zelensky and the right have repeatedly denied them even a limited autonomy. So how can that right to secede be achieved without a military struggle for autonomy and emancipation? In which case where does that leave the demands for the Russians to withdraw? Neither is there much said about those in the greater Donbass and Lugansk areas that see the Russians as liberators.

 Conjunctural circumstances

 As Trotsky pointed out; “Imperialists do not fight for political principles but for markets, colonies, raw materials, for hegemony over the world and its wealth.” In pursuit of that Ukraine had to be wrenched from any notion of neutrality towards Russia and the working class had to be crushed as the IMF deconstructed the existing economy. The tradition of fascism was at hand. So imperialism’s proxy war on Russia is not ideologically “for” fascism it merely utilises it in this circumstance, and Russia’s defence is only anti-fascist conjuncturally.

 Putin’s stated objective of de-nazifying Ukraine was popular at home where despite the existence of extreme right elements Nazism is still anathema to the wider working class population. We can see this in the symbolism and quite a lot of the propaganda they are producing and the fact that his popularity has soared. But, it is important to remember that the Russian state’s problem with fascism is particular, not general.

If Ukrainian fascism were content to face west instead of Moscow the Russian state would have no problem with them, indeed they have compromised with them in the past, handing over Mariupol to them in 2015 to the chagrin of the Donbass rebels at the time. Of course this reorientation of fascism is not possible partly because of its history but mainly because it is the imperialists who are arming them, training them and otherwise directing affairs.

 Fascism is an existential threat only to the working class “as a class” and it is only the working class which can crush it decisively and strike a blow at the imperialists they are ultimately beholden to. Neither Russian nor Ukrainian speaking workers can co-exist with the “ultra-nationalist”, (a euphemism for Nazi) battalions, which are providing the shock troops of imperialist domination in Ukraine, this means that we cannot be neutral on the Russian military’s destruction of them.

Revolutionaries who express ambivalence towards, or even quiet support for, the Russian military and the Ukrainian Donbass rebels in suppressing the fascist battalions while simultaneously demanding an immediate Russian withdrawal are on the horns of an obvious dilemma. Both the early Comintern’s anti imperialist united front and Trotsky’s permanent revolution despite differences is clear on the important nuances of anti imperialist struggle in concrete situations such as this.

 The fascist battalions must be defeated and support owed to the Russian, or pro-Russian military in doing it, but a few battle successes is not an overthrow of fascism per-se; that is a task that is beyond the Russian military, or any other bourgeois force. Fascism is always a tool in the bourgeoisie’s toolbox. In more practical terms also, not all fascists are in Mariupol or the east and even with a liberated Donbass the fascist battalions could end up being deeper entrenched than ever in the western Ukrainian state and will undoubtedly continue to crush western Ukrainian workers while integrating more fully with imperialism.

 Anti-fascism and anti-imperialism is key

 In the struggle for the independence of the Ukrainian working class anti-fascism and anti-imperialism is key. Of course those who say Ukraine is an independent democracy, Russia is imperialist and the threat posed by fascism in Ukraine is “exaggerated” have created difficulties for themselves. Although many don’t follow the logic of this analysis as far as Usec they produce increasingly convoluted ways of opposing NATO and Russia. They do this by studiously focusing on peace, the price of gas and bread, and ignoring the political plight of the Ukrainian working class and its oppression by an imperialist backed fascism with expanding wartime powers.

They attempt to do what Trotsky advised the ILP not to; “to stand aside from quarrels between dictators,” which he condemned as “an exemplary model of the spiritual and moral impotence of pacifism.”

 As frequently has been the example over the last blood-drenched decades US imperialism and NATO have made this war. The forces they found to hand this time was Ukrainian fascism which they have eagerly utilised. Their rapacious war plans must be stopped before it is too late for humanity. Those forces must be defeated and the state machine they inhabit overthrown.

The alternative is a victory for the imperialists in their planned conquest of Russia and reconquest of China.  Such a conquest would be a disaster for all workers as the imperialist hegemon strengthens and brings closer the threat of a horrendous global war.  The demands of all revolutionary workers must be for an end to NATO and US imperialist aggression. For a workers blockade on all arms flowing to the reactionary Ukrainian state and the defeat of its pro imperialist fascist battalions. 

The solution is a socialist federation of autonomous Ukrainian states, including the right to secede, and the call must go out to the Russian, European and indeed the global working class to support these demands. ▲

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