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Independent Left: Evasions on the Left over Ukraine April 27, 2022

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.
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From Independent Left a post that examines various positions on the left in relation to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. it notes that there is a ‘left argument around the war in Ukraine which has arisen in the West. It is one that condemns Putin’s invasion, but refuses to offer practical support to the people of Ukraine in resisting that invasion.’

This point is particularly well made:

World peace arising from a mass movement from below East and West would be lovely, but what is evaded here is the question of whether the left should support Ukrainian military resistance to the invasion.

“Opposing the war” is a comfortable position to adopt if you are on the other side of Europe to the columns of Russian soldiers. But what does this conclusion mean for the people of Ukraine? Perhaps it means they should not fight back? Or perhaps there is room for supporting armed resistance to the Russian invasion, if it is decoupled from NATO?

The point here is that in many cases, no one knows what it means. This is not a position that informs the people of Ukraine or those who want to express solidarity with them of what to do.

But it also points to a way out of this cul-de-sac.

It’s not at all unreasonable to keep an eye on what the US is up to. No doubt there are US hawks who are thinking now would be a perfect time to take Russia on and smash Putin’s army while he’s weak.

We should oppose US intervention of troops, ships, and aircraft, mainly because of the risk of nuclear war but also because of their own imperialist record. But that’s not happening right now: yes, NATO countries are supplying weapons to Ukraine but at the time of writing they have not entered the war with Russia with their own armed forces. Sitting on the fence now in fear of what the US might do in future, again means not supporting those currently fighting the Russian soldiers.

The same question faces the good faith left person as the bad: when the Russian convoy is approaching your town, do you fight back militarily? You can’t say, “well, there’s a balance of imperial interests to consider and I’m going to be neutral until I get non-NATO weapons.” That neutrality will be finished by a Russian bullet to the head to you and anyone else you have persuaded of your position.

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1. John O Brien - April 27, 2022

Independent Left and Freedom Press London have the best views on this issue.

Liked by 2 people

2. banjoagbeanjoe - April 27, 2022

Yep. Good article.

Imperialist Russia invaded and made war on Ukraine. It continues to do so, killing and maiming and destroying. Ukraine, the Ukrainian people, are defending themselves. They need and ask for the means to do so effectively. They ask for arms and weapons. Not surprisingly, they don’t particularly care at this time where they get the arms from. We should support them.

The best outcome is an outright defeat for Russian imperialism. The only slight chance of that happening is if Ukraine gets the weapons it needs to defend itself and defeat the barbarian invaders.

Liked by 4 people

3. Klassenkampf Treehugger - April 27, 2022

I don’t know whether it will appear there but this is my considered response to Conor’s article:

“Thanks very much for this contribution Conor, I’ve been thinking myself about what it means to support the Ukranian people’s right to self-defence against the Russian invasion in practice. Learning how it is for Ukrainians themselves at this moment is the way to avoid much of the theoretical, dogmatic and slogan-based thinking on the left.

Coming from a long held hatred of war, US and other imperialisms, of NATO as a projection of US military power masquerading as well as a defence alliance, it’s been difficult for me not to fall back into evasive and comforting dogma. Things have changed though with this war.

As you make clear, this war is simultaneously two wars conjoined, namely a war of national defence by the Ukrainian army and people against a brutal invasion, and a proxy war of the US/NATO against the Russian Federation. What you nicely call the ‘Evasionist Left’ likes to concentrate on the proxy war level, and those on the Left who refuse to contextualise this war fall into the mistake of thinking of it solely as a war of national defense.

Any brief contact with history will demonstrate that allies are very often allies of convenience and have different war aims.

The war aim of Zelensky and the Ukrainian military seems to be to drive the Russian armed forces out of all or some of the Ukrainian territory from Ukrain taken by enormously destructive force of arms. The war aims of the US/NATO seem to include the military defeat and humiliation of Russia, and the permanent isolation of the Russia in the world, so that they can get on with the business of Cold War II against China.

What kind of peace settlement is reached – all wars end with a peace settlement if they don’t end with surrender – will be shaped by war aims of Ukraine and the US/NATO.

I think some at the non-Evasionist Left, of which I’m a reluctant member, have a rather romanticised view of military resistance, which comes from the tradition of asymetric partisan warfare against an occupying power. The resistance groups are admirable, but this war is a symetric territory based war and as such will be decided by who comes out top in the intelligence, technology, logistics, communication and control, and information wars.

And the military tactics of Russia are those of urbicide, the laying waste of towns and whole cities, and the killing of the people caught in them. They are not there to occupy any more, just to destroy. Partisan war is less relevant, although it seems to play a small role behind Russian lines.

In that light of the military sophistication required by the Ukrainians to win this war I would say, to adapt one of your headings, “Support for the resistance is support for war through and signficantly by NATO”.

Intelligence in this war is gathered by Ukrainians on the ground but very significantly depends on the satellite technology and ability to analyse that intelligence in the hands of the US and UK.

The central technologies being used effectively by the Ukranians are anti-tank, anti-aircraft and once and anti-ship rockets, along with the radar to provide tactical intelligence on the field. All of these technolgies are supplied by NATO, mostly are manufactured in the US, and the US has done most of the training of Ukrainian troops in their use during the last eight years, since the invasion of Crimea by Putin. These weapons and technology needs continual replacement as they are destroyed or used up.

As soon as the Ukrainians attempt to take dug-in Russian positions where they have not decided to retreat, they will need massive attacking artillery weapons.

Logistically the US/NATO delivers weapons to the Polish and possibly Slovak border, and organises the sourceing and political context for the delivery of weapons systems in ‘the West’, and Ukrainian logistics take it from the border. The Russian military seem to have become better at disrupting Ukrainian logistics and are seeking to destroy railways and roads going east west in Ukraine. Russian logistics, meanwhile have been a disaster so far. Perhaps they have learned, let’s hope they haven’t or aren’t able to do logistics properly.

Russian communication and control has also been shite, in contrast with the Ukrainians who presumably have been supplied with properly encrypted and anti-jamming enabled comms systems. Again from NATO/US. I think this indicates that the gangster capitalism that has Russia by the throat since Yeltsin’s presidency, is even worse than neoliberal capitalism at developing effective military systems. In both versions of capitalism naturally at massively inflated prices and enormous profits.

And lastly the information war conducted by the Ukranians has been highly effective, much better than the Russians, but it again has been achieved through an agressive shaping of the media in ‘the West’ through the usual suspects.

All of the makes Ukraine highly dependent on NATO in their conduct of the war, to the extent that one could say that they can only conduct this war in a NATO support context. Their self-defence is only possible because of the active involvement of NATO short of supplying troops in Ukraine or imposing a no-fly zone, which would be an invitation to escalation. Support of Ukrainian self-defence is support of a NATO facilited war.

None of this is to minimise the tenacity and bravery of the Ukrainian professional and irregular armed forces, who have far exceeded the expectations of even their NATO trainers and weapons providers. They have demonstrated unexpected agency and effectiveness within the confines of their NATO dependency.

Anything other than a tragic facing up to a terrible situation seems to me exessive, including all the military porn and fan fiction that dominates the MSM. The planet and we, the humanist and ecological left, have already lost a great deal in this war.

We’ve seen NATO strengthened by Putin’s appalling miscalculation. We will see the diversion of funds away from social needs to military hardware in Europe – always a massively wasteful process in a capitalist context. Arms manufacturers are wetting themselves with delight. Much civil infrastructure in Eastern Ukraine has been flattened. ‘The West’ has become more dependent on fracked oil and gas – a major blow to attempt to prevent climate catastrophe. The only positive is that there seems to be a general consensus that developing non-fossil energy infrastructures would have made this war impossible for Russia to fund – which I hope will lead to more rapid investment in renewable infrastructure.

But the downsides far outweight the positives. Think of the millions who will go hungry from the interupption of Ukrainian grain supply (amplified of course by commodity price speculation). By supporting the Ukrainian war through NATO means we are complicit in this process. But that’s where we are, greatly to my dismay.

And you’ve glossed over the nuclear dimension here. If Putin looks like being defeated, his temptation will be to deploy firstly highly destructive ‘conventional’ weapons, and then to consider tactical nuclear weapons. Even scholars in the field of nuclear deterence find it hard to predict how likely this is, expecially as part of the nuclear madness is being deliberately unclear about your nuclear decision making. And since the US has been tearing down what remains of non-proliferation treaties. Nuclear weapons have become thinkable options for some armchair generals with political power and we are nearer the possibility of deliberate nuclear war than we have been since the Cuban missile crisis. And I’ve no idea how far Putin might be willing to go.

I’ve just dealt with the military aspects here, what you term ‘sanctions’ and I would term ‘economic war’ deserves another response.

Finally we should recognise that our support for Ukraine is not shared by much of the world. A large majority of the working class in India, China and the global South don’t see this as their fight, and why should they? Their experience of wars involving the US and Russia have been too bitter.”

Liked by 2 people

Conor Kostick - April 27, 2022

That’s a very thoughtful and sobre response. It has appeared below the original, with my reply, which I’ll also put here:

Thanks for taking the time to write this thoughtful response. It really helps with getting to grips with the difficulties and the nuances of the situation.

I largely agree with all your points but with this thought – not necessarily opposed to your views – that we should strive to hear and understand the perspective of our socialist friends in Ukraine. It’s their views that allow, for example, a lot of the obscufation about Ukraine being fascist to be set aside.

Yes, fascism is still a problem but nothing like it was in 2014 or is today in France, say. I have some links in the feature to socialists and anarchists in Ukraine and there are regular updates on those websites. As powerful weapons concentrate in Zelensky’s hands, there will be a growing tension between the left and the right in Ukraine I’m sure, between a popular war of everyday working class people (the partisan type) and a more regimented one with US military advisors leaning on Zelensky. But at the time of writing (27 April 2022) there are no NATO forces directly in play, while Russian soldiers threaten to wipe out all space for the left in Ukraine.

As our socialist and anarchist comrades from Operation Solidarity put it:

“We are not charmed by the Ukrainian State (it’s neo-liberal rather than nazi or strongly authoritarian) — it has a lot of troubles like an oligarchic system, corruption, destruction of social safety nets, cop and nazi violence etc. At the same time Ukraine is a space of relatively low State control that is growing, from one side, but from other it’s also a space of uprising progressive social powers.
“So we resist because it’s a question of our future (physical and political). If Russia wins, all progressive things that we got through social struggle will be raped, trampled and annihilated. Just watch what Putin does to his people and our comrades also.”

Your point about the danger of a Putin nuclear strike is all too valid. But obviously that can’t mean our comrades and the people of Ukraine more generally must stop fighting back. It does emphasise the importance of arguing against direct NATO involvement and again.

I would take the lead from the socialists in Ukraine as to how best to offer effective military resistance without giving any pretext for Putin to justify using a nuclear bomb.

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4. Alibaba - April 27, 2022

So much is well said in Conor’s piece.

Certainly, objecting to NATO’s role should not mean failing to support the military resistance of Ukrainians. Get whatever weapons they can and if they come from NATO members, so be it. I’ve always held the view that what is really at issue is who controls the weapons and in what circumstances are they given. I’m also aware of some Ukrainian leftists saying “We don’t need to hear more about NATO”. This is understandable for those fighting for physical survival, let alone the separate existence of Ukraine as a sovereign state.

That said, a protracted war with a proxy aspect looks plausible to me after decades of NATO’s rivalry with Russia. The NATO that invited Ukraine to join in 2008 and 2013 is far from gone, even if ironically it pulled back on getting armed forces involved currently as this might lead to an escalated war with the nuclear threat. As KT noted, Ukraine ‘can only conduct this war in a NATO support context’. We can be sure the drive towards attempted militarisation of societies seems inevitable too.

Some things need saying about this, in a timely fashion in Ukraine, and more immediately in the West. It is not unknown for radicals to lose support in the short term when they make difficult arguments.

And though PBP and SP are found wanting in some respects (weapons etc.), for which they are rightly criticised, their No to NATO and defending neutrality political positions needs support unashamedly.

Liked by 2 people

WorldbyStorm - April 27, 2022

Just continuing on what you’re saying, isn’t a key demand for no expansion of the conflict beyond Ukraine/Russia? In other words no support for direct armed intervention from other states outside those two on either side?

Obviously it’s impossible to prevent Russia from continuing its attacks on Ukraine, that is up to Ukraine itself to fend off with whatever support can be given. Simultaneously, it is wrong to demand Ukraine stop defending itself. However, attacks launched into either territory or surrounding territories from third parties on either side should be pushed against in every possible forum or international body and sanctioned against.

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Alibaba - April 28, 2022

Touché WBS.

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WorldbyStorm - April 28, 2022

This isn’t to say that the current situation shouldn’t be pushed back in every forum too, but the dangers of an expansion are obvious. And that’s why it’s crucial to argue against any expansion by NATO in terms of boots on ground, air coverage and so on. What NATO does in its members is one thing, but Ukraine isn’t a member – and the calls for NATO to allow it in are woefully misconceived.

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roddy - April 28, 2022

SF are also “no to NATO and defending neutrality “.

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5. tomasoflatharta - April 28, 2022
6. tomasoflatharta - May 2, 2022
7. On Ukraine: more links | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - May 6, 2022

[…] A useful document to contextualise with those posted already from Tomás Ó Flatharta and Independent Left in the last […]

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