Re-Sharing of the World, Ukraine and Revolutionary Defeatism – V. U. Arslan

The concept of “Revolutionary Defeatism” was part of the revolutionary strategy developed by Lenin during World War I. Lenin had worked hard to arm the Bolsheviks and the vanguard of the working class against the chauvinism and ‘homeland defense’ tendencies that had infiltrated the left. Because Lenin was planning workers’ revolutions to emerge from the imperialist war. For this, the leading workers had to completely break away from the war and nationalist sentiments of the ruling classes. It was not in vain that Lenin was disgusted with the social chauvinists who poisoned the workers’ movement all over Europe. The mass death and starvation brought on by the war had to be paid back by tsarism and the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie and the church. Revolutionary defeatism meant a systematic propaganda against imperialist war and tsarism at the front and behind the front. The mass death, disability, poverty and diseases brought by the war made it inevitable for the soldiers to get politicized. Why would the Russian workers and peasants perish in the war for the tsar, the nobles and the rich? And indeed, with the news of the defeat of the tsarist armies on the fronts, the footsteps of the revolution began to be heard more strongly. According to Lenin, the same strategy should have been followed by the revolutionaries of other countries in the war, and the era of socialist revolutions throughout Europe would have begun.

“Lenin’s formula, ‘defeat is the lesser evil,’ means not defeat of one’s country is the lesser evil as compared with the defeat of the enemy country but that a military defeat resulting from the growth of the revolutionary movement is infinitely more beneficial to the proletariat and to the whole people than military victory assured by ‘civil peace.’” (Trotsky, War and the Fourth International, June 1934)

At this point, it is a must to to mention Karl Liebknecht’s formulation of “mainenemy is at home”. The struggle between revolutionary internationalism and social chauvinism was also fierce in Germany. This is how K. Liebknecht addressed the workers and peasants of different nationalities awaiting death in the trenches.

Invasion of Ukraine

Today, once again, the whole world is shaken by the horrors of imperialist war. Moreover, the contentious security balance between the Great Powers, on which the world imperialist system stands, is deteriorated. The situation is so fragile that there is a possibility that imperialist wars will spread and turn into a world war. The “normalization” of the system as a returnto former balance does not seem likely anymore. That being the case, revolutionaries need to reconsider their tactics on the imperialist war. The tactic of “Revolutionary Defeat” is the only valid policy today, both in the West and in Russia.

The occupation of Ukraine took the form in which the great Western imperialists were directly involved in the war. Maybe they are not sending their armies directly to Ukraine because of the possibility of a nuclear war, but they have mobilized all other means at their disposal to defeat Russia. Intelligence support, propaganda support, and diplomatic support are offered, while large amounts of weapons and financial aid are provided to Ukraine. Volunteer fighters are being sent to Ukraine, military experts are strategizing, Russia is exposed to economic embargo… The conclusion to be drawn from here is that we cannot consider the political positions regarding the occupation of Ukraine with an anti-Russian content, similar to the opposition that has developed against the US invasion of Iraq. It is clear that the territory of Ukraine has turned into the arena of reckoning between Western imperialists and Russia.

As it was said in the SEP statement on the first day of Russia’s invasion: “Although US imperialism was aware of Putin’s seriousness, it did not want to compromise with Russia. For them, Ukraine is nothing more than a bait to trap Putin. Rather than making concessions to Russia and strengthening Putin, it seemed much more profitable to them to turn Ukraine into a battlefield and place a bet on the possibility of Russia losing blood. What will happen to the Ukrainian people, of course, they don’t care one bit.”

With the occupation of Ukraine, a new era has taken a turn in world politics. The changing balance of power among the imperialists was forcing the military and political balances to change for a long time. The invasion of Ukraine has most sharply revealed the severity and imbalance of this pain of change. Today, we are witnessing the start of the new version of the Cold War. Moreover, the fact that Russia began to invade a sovereign country by heading directly to its capital is such a radical thing that it has shaken all the military-political rules and balances in world geopolitics. Consider, for example, how close a World War III with nuclear weapons would be if China attempted to invade Taiwan with a similar fait accompli.

Revolutionary Defeatism in Russia

Today, widespread protests against the occupation of Ukraine continue in Russia. Despite intense state pressure, the number of detained demonstrators exceeded 14 thousand because they did not surrender to fear and participated in protests against the occupation. Vitaly Milonov, a deputy from Putin’s party in the Russian parliament, the Duma, describing Russian anti-war protestors as a few thousand “gays, lesbians, Trotskyists and left scum” on the BBC is a very good expression of Putin and the state tradition he follows…

Although the anti-war activists constitute a very heterogeneous political group, the revolutionaries, including our comrades, provide the best examples of the Bolshevik tradition. Today, the revolutionaries and the working class movement are of course very weak compared to the era of Lenin, but the tradition of struggle against the “Great Russian” expansionism has extended from Tsarism to the present day.

Revolutionary defeatism in Russia today means fighting against the “conquest” of Ukraine. The perspective of the Russian revolutionaries should be to mobilize the workers against the occupation and, if possible, to stand against the occupation with a strike movement. The defeat of Putin in Ukraine by the awakening of the workers from the inside may pave the way for a revolutionary end of the imperialist war. Today this is obviously a very ambitious goal, but winning over the detained activists in the anti-war protests to Marxism would be a tremendous step forward. Intensifying the fight against Putin and the oligarch’s dirty war, exposing the Russian imperialism’s aid to the oppression of Kazakh workers and the lies of the Putin propaganda machine, blocking the supply convoys going to Ukraine, making anti-system propaganda among the soldiers sent to front, making the capitalists pay for the economic crisis, intensifying the actions, targeting not only the occupation but also Putin’s oligarchs, demanding freedom for political prisoners…

Revolutionary Defeatism in the West

Revolutionary defeatism in the West means opposing the anti-Russian imperialist unity under the leadership of the USA and struggling for the immunity of the workers in the West against these ideas of unity. The speech by Socialist Workers Party deputy Richard Boyd Barret in Ireland, exposing hypocrisy of the NATO and emphasizing that Ireland should not join the NATO camp in this war, was one of the exemplary stances that revolutionaries in the West should take. Provocative demands such as a no-fly zone that could lead to a new world war need to be rejected. The revival of German militarism, Japan’s desire for nuclear weapons, and increased armament expenditures must be fought against. Elements such as the examples of the German Greens and the SPD should immediately be exposed as the so-called “leftist” and “progressive forces” involved in this national consensus. NATO’s stockpiling of weapons in Ukraine, the imposition of sanctions against Russia, and NATO’s eastward expansion must be fought against. Reminding the revolutionaries of the war crimes of the USA and NATO is one of the most fundamental revolutionary attitudes.

Revolutionary Politics in Ukraine

It is the most fundamental right of the Ukrainian people to resist the Russian occupation. The task of the Ukrainian revolutionaries must be to try to ensure the establishment of workers’ self-resistance organizations independent of the bourgeoisie, all kinds of reactionary elements and NATO forces. Our Ukrainian comrades have started independent worker organisms in the unions where they are influential. The attitude of the revolutionaries is not to conduct a national resistance in line with the bourgeois Ukrainian National Army. Ukrainian revolutionaries should expose the crimes of the bourgeois rule in Kiev, emphasize the need to end the oligarchic regime, spread the idea that economic resources and political power should be concentrated in the hands of the working class, if possible, establish their own independent control zones. A worker solidarity rising from the workplaces and factories should take action to solve the people’s fundamental problems and call for solidarity to the working class and socialists of the world. Thus, an alternative to the order of the Ukrainian oligarchs should be created. Our Ukrainian comrades today do not yet have such strength, but this is the goal they want to reach. Ukrainian revolutionaries must also fight against Ukrainian nationalism and defend the right to self-determination of Donbass and Crimea. Moreover, they should carry out activities directed to the soldiers in the Russian occupation army, strive for the fraternization of the Russian and Ukrainian soldiers, and aim to win the Russian soldiers over the joint struggle against the occupation by exposing Putin’s lies. Ukrainian revolutionaries should fight not for a project like the defense of the homeland, but for an independent socialist Ukraine of the workers.

Revolutionary Tasks in Turkey

It should be emphasized that neither of the two imperialist camps is preferable to the other. It should be known that the distorted understanding of anti-imperialism pushes various left organizations to a position of unconditional support of Russia, which means joining the Eurasian reactionary camp. 

Without theoretical clarity, progress will never be possible. Conversely, the only meaning of being against the occupation from the perspective of Western imperialism would be to serve the US-EU hegemony. The fact that the Turkish ruling class is a part of NATO necessitates the anti-US and anti-NATO attitude of the revolutionaries to be voiced loudly. Today, the Erdoğan government follows a conciliatory, moderate and pragmatic policy in order to get out of the Ukraine crisis with the least damage and gain prestige in international diplomacy. But it must be revealed that the AKP has long encouraged the nationalist government in Kiev to be more aggressive. The role of Bayraktar drones, that were sold to Kiev before the war, becomes the source of pride for Turkish militarism which are told in raptures by unofficial AKP sources.

After all, the power of the socialists and their vanguard workers is the decisive force. In any case, imperialist reaction will win if there are no organizational intervention in Russia, Ukraine and the West that will embody the revolutionary stance, or if they are too weak. The point is to move forward in building a revolutionary tradition based on strong cadres and to combine it with a Marxist program. In this case, it will be possible for revolutionary possibilities to emerge from economic crises and imperialist wars.