National Sections of the L5I:

The war in Ukraine and the struggle for the re-division of the world

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has opened a new stage in the struggle for the re-division of the world between the great powers. The war for control of Ukraine is the latest and sharpest expression of this conflict, threatening the world with a third world war between the imperialist states and their alliances.

Putin’s attack on Ukraine, his denial of the country’s nationhood and sovereignty, fully confirms the imperialist and predatory character of the state and ruling class he heads. The policy of the NATO allies, particularly the United States, to draw Ukraine into the EU and Nato has given Putin the pretext, though not the justification, to attack Ukraine.

The Western media’s presentation of the war as the continuation of a long war of Russia against Ukraine that started in 2014 is completely fraudulent. The overthrow of then President Viktor Yanukovych was an attempt by US and EU imperialism, with the aid of pro-European Ukrainian oligarchs and ultra-nationalists, to transfer Ukraine decisively into the sphere of western imperialist exploitation. This precipitated a reaction by Russia in defence of its imperialist interests – the annexation of Crimea to secure its Black Sea naval base, and the sponsoring of a separatist rebellion with the aim of securing a veto over Ukraine’s entry into the EU and Nato.

The question of who fired the first shot, or whose actions are ‘defensive’ or ‘aggressive’ is not decisive in determining the essential character of the conflict: a struggle waged openly by Putin, and covertly by the West, over which imperialists will rule in Ukraine. The conflict was not, and will not be, over whether Ukraine is an independent state, but whether it shall be a semi-colony of Russia or of the Nato imperialists. In short, Ukraine is today the European arena of the struggle between the rival imperialist powers over the division and redivision of the world. And it has opened a new phase of this struggle, speeding up the formation of warring blocks, which could easily turn into a direct military conflict, that is, an inter-imperialist war.

The United States and Ukrainian nationalists have systematically thwarted any negotiated settlement, counting on the country’s eventual accession to Nato. Meanwhile, Nato supplied the country with massive military aid and training – disproving the fatuous claim that ‘Nato is not involved in the conflict’. These actions are part of a process of encirclement of Russia by the western imperialist alliance. Since 1991, the US has repeatedly and systematically sought to exclude Russia from Nato or any alternative European security system. They have done this not only with the long-term aim of breaking up the Eurasian power, but also of obstructing the development of an independent European imperialism under the leadership of France and Germany. With the war and an unprecedented round of sanctions, they have buried the prospect of a realignment with Russia under Putin, advocated by sections of the German and European ruling classes. This will increase US-hegemony over NATO and its imperialist allies at least in the short term, but it will also be used as a pretext for militarisation and re-armament of the Western European powers in their own right.

The rulers of Ukraine have not been mere bystanders in this great power rivalry over the fate of their nation, nor are they champions of “democracy”. The post 2014 regime was installed in power by a reactionary overthrow of Yanukovich on behalf of the US, spearheaded by far-right and fascist militias. By replacing the country’s constitutional neutrality with a commitment to Nato membership, by denying the democratic right to self-determination for its eastern regions, by insisting on the return of Crimea – whatever the wishes of its population – the dominant faction of the Ukrainian ruling class is not fighting for national sovereignty but for the right to exploit Ukrainian workers unmolested by Russian-backed rivals, to share in the common plunder of Europe’s workers through the European Union architecture, and to do so under the protection of the Nato nuclear umbrella.

Tactics in Ukraine
However, Putin’s imperialist, Great Russian chauvinist denial of Ukraine’s right to independence, his invasion and attempt to install a client regime, if not occupy and annexe parts or even the whole of the country, means that large sections of the Ukrainian workers, peasants and poor want to resist the occupation, and defend their cities.

This justified response against national oppression, which is a key obstacle for the advance of the Russian troops, deserves the support of revolutionaries. The Ukrainian masses have the right to defend themselves and their country against Russian occupation. But that is not the same as supporting the reactionary war aims of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, including the unity of Ukraine, without recognising the right to self-determination of its minorities, plus membership of Nato and the European Union.

Therefore, the working class in Ukraine must not place any confidence in a government that has as its aim joining the Nato war alliance. They should work to win the fullest political independence from the government, from the ruling class of oligarchs and the NATO-imperialists. The aim must be to bring working class forces into the resistance, create organs under control of the masses with the ultimate goal of creating the forces that can overthrow this government.

Both Great Russian and Ukrainian national chauvinism are reactionary policies, which would deepen the rapacious exploitation and immiseration of both the Ukrainian and Russian working classes. They are dragging the peoples of Europe into a catastrophic military confrontation between the nuclear superpowers. The strategy and tactics of a proletarian defence against Russian occupation must, therefore, take into account this looming danger of global war between Russia and NATO. In no sense must it become just an auxiliary force of the Western imperialists, which is what Zelensky’s government seeks to do.

The Ukrainian bourgeoisie, in the form of its state, government and army, cannot lead the struggle for a genuine self-determination or independence for Ukraine, because its policy is the exact opposite: making Ukraine militarily, economically, and politically, dependent on European and North American capitalism.

For these reasons the slogan ‘defend Ukraine’, divorced from the question of which class interests are being defended, is in reality a call for the NATO powers to more vigorously defend their new client. Ukrainian self-determination cannot be won by the victory of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, which would strengthen their stranglehold over Ukrainian workers, but only by the withdrawal of Russian troops, the disbandment of the Nato alliance, the dispossession of the Ukrainian oligarchs, and the struggle for a Socialist United States of Europe, which every country is free to join or not.

We advocate a policy of class independence and resistance. This primarily consists of arming the workers, their organisation into factory and neighbourhood self-defence militias, independent of the army general staff or far-right national guard, sabotage and industrial disruption of the occupation, agitation and propaganda to expose the fraud that the Ukraine’s oligarchs are defending the fatherland by gifting it to European imperialism and, most importantly, fraternisation to undermine the lies told to the Russian troops and to win them over into opposition to Putin.

Our goal is to turn the imperialist warmongering into a class war that has as its purpose the defeat of Russia’s attack and the downfall of Putin’s bonapartist regime, but also to prevent Zelensky’s pro-Nato ambitions and to overthrow his puppet regime. We fight to transform that reactionary ‘defence of the fatherland’ into a progressive struggle for an independent socialist Ukraine, based on the voluntary association of all its inhabitants.

Revolutionary defeatism

Revolutionaries in Russia, in Europe and the US need to make clear that in the struggle between Russia and the NATO powers for the re-division of the world, they must not support either side. They need to follow a policy of revolutionary defeatism. Their main enemy is not one or other of the imperialist competitors, the main enemy is at home! Their key objective is to prevent the struggle over the Ukraine becoming the spark for an open global war between the imperialist powers. The invasion by Russia, the sanctions designed to cut Russia off from the world market, the arms supplies and the calls and serious preparations for aerial support for the Ukraine (for example, via Polish airplanes handed over to Ukraine and allowing the use of Polish airfields) are all steps in this direction.

Revolutionaries need to make clear that the struggle between Russia and the NATO powers for the redivision of the world gives this struggle its overriding and determining character. We are not only witnessing another brutal onslaught of an imperialist country on a semi-colony, nor just another proxy war. The explosive concrete character of the war is rather determined by the fact that the convulsions it has set in motion, threaten to lead towards an inter-imperialist war. And this needs to be prevented. Therefore, in a conflict between them the working class needs to take a revolutionary defeatist position with regard to both, particularly in the imperialist warring countries. Their main enemy is not either of the imperialist competitors, but the main enemy is a home!

In Russian this means fighting for the defeat of Russian imperialism in its attempt to conquer Ukraine, to call for the immediate end of the war and the withdrawal of all Russian troops. Given the dictatorial nature of the Putin regime, the struggle for democratic rights, for the right of assembly and freedom of expression, for the release of thousands of political prisoners will be a key, often a starting point of the fight. It needs to be combined with the struggle to prevent Putin and his regime making the workers pay for the misery caused by sanctions, for closures, inflation and the war drive itself. Such a struggle must be rooted in the workplaces, combining the fight against the war with the struggle against making workers pay for it with mass strike action, blocking of transport routes for arms and fighting of the expropriation of the oligarchs and the rich under workers' control. In short, it means turning the imperialist war into a class war to overthrow the Putin regime and Russian capitalism by a workers' government.

In the NAT0 imperialist states, we oppose the war drive, the huge rearmament policy of German imperialism, the call for the EU to become a nuclear power in its own right, the rapid deployment of NATO troops to the Russian borders, Japan’s call for nuclear weapons on its territory and all attempts to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine directly or indirectly. We oppose all arms deliveries by the NATO powers to Ukraine and other military support. We oppose all economic sanctions. Within the struggle for the redivision of the world, means of civil coercion are either a continuation of war or a prelude to even more destructive, military coercion, to a full scale imperialist military confrontation.

The working class parties, the trade unions and the left need to reject any “national” unity with the Western governments in the name of their fake “democracy”, they need to fight against all reactionary laws, all arms deliveries, oppose all sanctions imposed by our bourgeoisie on the streets, in the workplaces. Working class deputies in parliaments need to denounce the hypocrisy of the ruling class in the parliaments. A genuine anti-war movement and genuine support for progressive forces in the Ukraine needs to expose the real, imperialist character of Western “support for Ukraine”. Revolutionaries must be prepared to swim against a stream of social-pacifism and social-chauvinism under this guise. Revolutionary and internationalist organisations need to expose the social pacifism of the trade unions and social democratic or even Left Parties, who call for NATO armament, who call for sanctions on Russia. It demonstrates that yesterday's pacifists quickly turn into social chauvinists, into defenders of “their” capitalist state.

However, revolutionaries need to distinguish between the social pacifism and the illusions of the masses, who want to support a people bombarded by the Russian army, and the social pacifism of the reformist leaders, who are turning into imperialist patriots and even warmongers. They need to expose the latter as backers of the bourgeoisie. At the same time, they need to explain patiently the real character of the war to the masses, rally them to fight the militarisation of their own imperialism and to make them pay for the costs of this “security” and “freedom”. They need to fight for building an internationalist anti-war movement, which turns the struggle against the war threat into a struggle against the capitalist class.