By Muhittin Karkin, a leader of the Workers Democracy Party (IDP), an IWU-FI section, Turkey.
27 February 2022. The problem of Ukraine, which has entered with all its gravity on the agenda of the world public opinion with the invasion of Russia, has once again functioned as a litmus test in world politics and mainly in the left sectors. While there is a people subjected to oppression and exploitation for centuries, so-called experts and quasi-Marxists who consider themselves opinion leaders of the left, as well as diplomatic heavyweights and pedantic screen commentators, claim the authority to reduce the problem to the question «Who is right?” Mind you, accompanied by images of the Kyiv metro and cramped peace demonstrations.
Some liberal and pacifist commentators, accompanied by images of destruction and death caused by Russian missiles and tanks, attribute the cause of war to Putin’s autocracy and his expansionist ambitions, which border madness. They say the economic and diplomatic sanctions announced by the West/NATO alliance led by Biden will not be enough to deter this unilateral war, which is in fact an invasion. These allegations, not altogether unjust, are anyway superficial explanations. The owners of these claims cannot explain why the helpless situation western imperialism is dragging the working people in Ukraine creates an atmosphere of inevitable war.
Those who attribute the invasion of Ukraine to Putin’s intelligence and foresight, rather than his madness, think that the Russian leader is showing a justified reaction to the imperialist NATO that wants to encircle Russia.
Seeing the expansionist aims of the oligarchic regime in Russia as a secondary problem, this “left” section claims, based on the “main enemy” theory, that Russia’s “self-defence” against US imperialism is a just approach. For the supporters of these views, the main issue is that Russia is refuting the threat of imperialism with a military bombardment of Ukraine and that Putin is “bringing the imperialist jackals to their knees”. Also, with blindness similar to that of the liberals, but this time in reverse, they turn a blind eye to the class character of the Russian oligarchy and regime. For them, the diplomatic and military strategies of the bourgeois states are more decisive than Marxist class analysis.
Revolutionary Marxist approach
The character of states and international alliances is, of course, important. From this characterisation, internationalist Marxists have undergone many trials and gained experience of what positions to take and what policies to pursue in conflicts between countries.
The key one is the war among imperialist countries. The most important international conflict in the imperialist era, WW I, the internationalist revolutionary leaders, headed by Lenin, Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg, broke with the chauvinist attitude of the social democrats that supported bourgeois governments in their own countries and call on workers and peasants who were led to the fronts in soldiers’ uniforms to turn their guns on their own generals and governments. The key political line was to turn the imperialist war into a civil war and a socialist revolution inside the imperialist countries. It was this political line, the one that prepared the great 1917 Russian Revolution.
While the Turkish government, confused about how the Montreux Convention on the Strait of Istanbul should be implemented, is analysing whether the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is a war or not: there remains a state of undeclared war by both sides (Russia and Ukraine) with the only difference that the fighting started when Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory without warning. It is an open invasion operation. Let’s be clear, the situation we face here is the invasion of a semi-colonial country (Ukraine) by an imperialist one (Russia). The attitude of revolutionary internationalists is to support the semi-colonial/dependent country against imperialist aggression, regardless of its regime. Those who deviate from this principle are openly described in Marxist literature as counter-revolutionaries.
In view of this, the thesis can be put forward that Russia is not an imperialist but a semi-colonial/dependent country. But this does not change the attitude to take. Internationalist revolutionaries always take a stand against the aggressor in conflicts between dependent countries. And the aggressor in Ukraine, whether considered imperialist or semi-colonial, is Russia.
US /EU/NATO Factor
Those who claim that it is really an imperialist war in Ukraine between NATO and Russia, just to close their eyes to the struggles of the Ukrainians for tens of years for their right to self-determination, base their arguments on the reality that the government is pro-West. However, there are no NATO troops or bases on Ukrainian soil, nor does US President Biden claim they will enter an armed conflict with Russia in Ukraine. Western imperialist governments announce they will be content with economic sanctions against Russia, and Ukraine’s president, Zelensky, complains in video recordings with a sad expression on his face that the West has left them alone.
Let us suppose for a moment that Western imperialism is manipulating the Ukrainian army in this war and has started the imperialist war against it or is exposed to such a war. How can we imagine that the Western imperialist countries would allow the inevitable defeat of the Ukrainian armed forces, which had to be almost content with just building a wall of meat against the immensely powerful Russian troops? What imperialist power can accept defeat without using all its military capabilities?
There is more: Why do the so-called Marxists that declared the Ukraine invasion was an imperialist war do not call on soldiers on both sides to turn their arms against their own government? Of course, this agitation against Russian troops and within Russia itself is necessary, but is it possible right now to call on Ukrainian soldiers, who are called to defend their country against the imperialist occupation, to rise against their own government? Putin is doing this, inviting the Ukrainian government to stage a coup against Zelensky. It is possible and necessary to ask Ukrainian soldiers to overthrow their own government only if the bourgeois government and the Ukrainian armed forces cooperate with the imperialist occupier. The main slogan of the revolutionary agitation in Ukraine is that the independence and sovereignty of the country can only be truly preserved under a workers’ government. Either the Russian invaders or the Ukrainian workers who want to determine their own destiny will overthrow the Zelensky government, which seeks the help of the Western imperialists.
The opportunists, who see Russia’s destruction of Ukraine’s sovereignty as Putin’s “anti-imperialist” blow for US/ EU/NATO imperialism and thus assume the role of spokesperson for the great Russian chauvinism, are taking a stand against the will and independence of a people.
Putin, who claims that Ukrainians are actually Russians, accuses Lenin of giving Ukraine the right to self-determination, sees Ukraine as an economic and administrative unit of Greater Russia, as does Stalin, and accuses the Ukrainian government with a president of Jewish origin of being Nazi. Slavophiles can accept his views, but those who call themselves Marxists underestimate the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination, just to defend their «anti-US» thesis. This is unacceptable. Such people have no place in the revolutionary internationalist camp. This is unacceptable.
This is oppressed and exploited peoples, first by Russian tsarism after a brief Leninist-Trotskyist interlude in which they gained the right to self-determination, by the Stalinist bureaucracy, and now by Russian imperialism and expansionism. Divided in the face of all these pressures, it sought its independence in the balance between the great powers around it. In the early years of the October Revolution, it placed its hope in the Russian revolution that destroyed Tsarism and in the Bolshevik party, but when the pressures were increased by the nationalist corruption of the party and of the Soviet state by Stalinism, it was pushed towards Hitler’s Germany, for which it was severely punished by Stalin. It is a people who, despite gaining virtual independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, have been ruled and exploited by Russian oligarchs, and who, after overthrowing pro-Russian power with an uprising, placed their hope of retaining their sovereignty in cooperation with the West.
Today, if there had not been the pressures of Great Russian chauvinism, could the Ukrainian people have any expectations of Western imperialism? If the Russian and Ukrainian communist parties recognised the full independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and that this can only be achieved through workers’ governments being established in these countries, would the Ukrainian workers not prefer an alliance with the Russian proletariat? It is precisely this vacuum of revolutionary leadership that opens up space for US imperialism in dependent countries. Those who define themselves as Marxists should first advocate the right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people, who brought Zelensky to power with over 70 per cent of the vote, instead of accusing them of being pro-Western.
Those who see a war in Ukraine between US imperialism, which seems to support the independence of the Ukrainians, and “anti-imperialist” Russia, and avoid defending Ukraine’s right to self-determination under this dirty ideological cloud they created, when they take these arguments to Iraq and Syria, should consider what kind of opportunist front they will take against the Kurdish people; because it will not be difficult to predict the logical consequences of their positions in Kurdistan.