Below, we reproduce the transcript of the interview conducted by Sergio García, director of Periodismo de Izquierda, through an Instagram live, to the coordinator of the International Socialist League and secretary general of the MST in the FIT-Unidad, Alejandro Bodart, last Wednesday, July 6. There they addressed among other questions the following: How does the war that took place in Ukraine due to the Russian invasion continue? What are its characteristics? What policy to develop there? Is it necessary to take sides? What are the tasks of the socialists inside Ukraine and in the whole Eastern Europe? What is the ISL doing there? What is the world that is coming and what international organization is needed? These are some of the questions that were dealt with in this conversation that we publish below.
SG: We are with Alejandro Bodart, well-known leader, secretary general of the MST in the Left Unity Front. He is also coordinator of the ISL: International Socialist League. And what is so distinctive about this live? Alejandro comes from visiting Kiev and Ukraine, just a few days ago. In general, we are bombarded by the big media with explanations of what is happening in the war, what is happening with Putin, with Russia, with NATO, with Zelensky. It also depends on which media group is more sympathetic to the West and explains it in one way, and if it is more sympathetic to the Russian and Chinese bloc they explain it in another way.
Well, we in general, as we always do from Periodismo de Izquierda, we want to have our own voice, our own analysis and that socialist and anti-capitalist comrades, leaders like Alejandro, provide us with another voice of what is happening in reality. So, well, first welcome Alejandro, thank you very much for taking the time; I know you are in the middle of many activities, but we appreciate very much that you can share with all of us this experience.
So I start a little bit from there. First you will tell us if it was very difficult or not to enter the country, to get there, to see what situation it is in. Well, what kind of country did you find? What was the mood of the population? And, in that context, we were even following your trip a little bit when the new Russian bombings of Kiev were announced. We knew you were there. And well, the situation of the population is very complex, understanding that the war has moved more towards the east of the country at the moment, what is the situation of the country, of the workers and of the war in particular?
AB: Well, for the workers the situation is very, very bad, really bad. As you were saying, getting there was an odyssey because there were no airplanes, at least there are no commercial flights to get there. Only the army moves and when NATO wants to send some official, but we had to travel on a train of refugees to get there, thanks to our comrades of Ukraine, who made it possible for us to go and return on that train.
When we arrived there had been no bombings in Kyiv for some time, there was a new normality which lasted very little time, because just the next day when we arrived, again, the bombings on Kyiv started, despite the fact that they are fighting in an area far away from the capital. Let us remember that the Russian army was 30 kilometers away from the capital at the time and had to retreat because the resistance was so great that it was forced to retreat. Along with many other problems that, also, the Russian army had in planning the offensive. Because they thought it was a walkover and they encountered tremendous resistance, then they got tangled up and had to retreat. I had the opportunity to go to where the Russian army arrived and there is a city that became very well known, which is Bucha, because before leaving and facing the impotence of the Russian army, they provoked an unjustified massacre on the civilian population. But, today, they are not fighting so close. That is, because the Russian army had to retreat to the areas bordering Russia, which comprise the entire south and the east, which is the Donbass. It is the place where there are many Russian speakers or ethnic Russians, because, well, we would have to go back in history. Part of the rectification that was tried to be done about Ukraine in Stalin’s time, that is, post Lenin’s death, post Trotsky’s exile, there was an attempt to “Russify.” They again had a policy of colonization over Ukraine and moved a lot of the population to that area. But it has cost the Russian army to take it, because they believed that they were going to be received as heroes of the Russian population, and nevertheless, they were also fought back. Because it is one thing to be a Russian speaker or to be an ethnic Russian, and it is another thing to want them to invade the country, because it was a country that lived in relative peace. Although in those southern and eastern areas there have been separatist attempts. We would have liked to see a process of self-determination in those regions, because the people have the right to decide what they want to do. But well, today there is fighting in that area and the Russian army is moving forward. It is quite possible that it will manage to control the whole of the Donbass and thus consolidate its presence there.
Now this will hardly bring the war to an end, because Ukraine neither recognizes nor yields that territory and at the same time there is still a lot of resistance from the population. There will certainly be guerrilla warfare, boycott of a number of issues. Therefore, Russia has got itself into a trap, because what it thought was going to be a very quick affair, ended up with the great resistance of the people defending their sovereignty. There are many, as you were saying, power stations that almost claim that it is Russia that is being attacked. No, Russia is an imperial power that entered another country to dominate it. It is as if England or some imperialist country were to come to us, I do not know, and enter Argentina to stay. It would want to keep the territory, control it, set up a puppet government or go back later to keep the piece of the Patagonia.
SG: In fact, remember that at the beginning of the war Putin said that Ukraine is an invention of Lenin. Defending Stalin’s thesis you were talking about.
AB: Well, there was a lot of debate. Ukraine is a country that has suffered permanent invasions and colonization throughout its history. Although at the beginning, like all nations, it was a diffuse nation, as was also the entirety of America at one time, in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. But it was established as a nation a long time ago. What happened is that it was dominated by the Czars, first, Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then a part of it was liberated with the Revolution. Because the process of self-determination was combined with the process of social change, and in 1717 a process began that would end in 1919 with the independence of a part, because there was still a part taken by Poland, taken by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
That process was reversed with Stalinism. Stalinism threw away everything that had been, that had allowed Ukraine to become socialist, that it was the Bolsheviks who took up the slogan of self-determination. Well, all that, with the consolidation of Stalinism, at the end of the 1930s, is reversed and Stalinism becomes an oppressor.
This will give rise to phenomena that many on the left are not aware of. It is about how a self-determination movement closely linked to the right is taking shape, because Stalinism began to play, in the name of socialism, the role of the oppressor.
SG: Now I will interrupt you for a second. To follow the thread of what you were saying about Russia, except for those years you were saying about Trotsky and Lenin, historically Russia, Tsarist Russia, has always had a very imperial and oppressive role over the nations. Evidently, now Putin’s role as well. So it opens a debate among the left and among Marxists about what is Russia, what is its relationship, its role today? The fact that it is one of the main armament countries, even though it is more backward from the economic point of view. How would you define Russia, its role today?
AB: It is clearly a new imperialism. First of all, all those who dream of socialist Russia, must know that it died a long time ago, unfortunately. It was wiped out by Stalinism, it began to be wiped out in the 1930s. They began to eliminate what was the Workers’ State of Lenin and Trotsky in the 1930s and they ended up blowing it up in the 1990s. There was a process of capitalist restoration. The old bureaucrats of the Stalinist Communist Party took over the factories, the enterprises, the natural resources and transformed themselves from bureaucrats to bourgeoisie, to oligarchs, as they are called in the East, big oligarchs. Putin, who was a gray agent of the KGB, ended up becoming the administrator of all that bureaucracy that became capitalist. Now he wants to recover the role he had as a “great empire” and that is the reason for all of this adventure.
Russia is imperialist, there is a process of formation of new imperialisms. I think it is very foolish to deny it. However, I know that in Argentina there is a party, a comrade of ours from the Left Front, who thinks that Russia is not capitalist yet. Therefore, there are many debates. I am talking about the Partido Obrero (Workers Party), which estimates that there has not been a complete restoration. But there was not only restoration, today there is capitalism. It is necessary to go, nothing else. Maybe they need to travel a little. It is a fully capitalist country, emerging as an imperialist power together with China.
Part of the mess in the world, in addition to the tremendous crisis that capitalism is going through after 2008, the pandemic and this war, has to do with the friction between a new imperialism that is emerging with China as its axis. In a bloc of China with Russia, with Iran and other sectors, it is trying to contest, for the time being economically, later on we will stop here, an imperialism that is in decline, which is that of the United States and Europe. Although Russia has a weak economy compared to Germany, France, Japan and the United States, it is one of the most important powers from the military point of view, and one cannot be foolish, it has an imperialist attitude towards the area. Let us remember that very recently, in fact, in order to save the dictator Lukashenko in Belarus, it ended up acting as an imperial power. In Kazakhstan, where there was a tremendous rebellion, they ended up sending troops to intervene. Let me tell you another one, there is another rebellion, in one of the other republics, in Azerbaijan.
SG: Alexander, having this clear, this imperialist role of Russia that you explain very well, it is also evident that the official speech, I mean Putin’s government, talks about having to do this because NATO is expanding, and it is doing it to weaken NATO. At the same time, contradictorily, I get the feeling that NATO, since Russia invaded, has gained more political prominence with the United States. Now, it is clear that NATO has an imperialist agenda commanded by Biden, by the United States. It is evident that Zelenskyy acts politically on the side of NATO. What is your vision of NATO, of Zelenskyy’s government in this war?
AB: Well, these are two questions in one. I think that, as you say, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine ended up strengthening NATO and the United States, which had been in complete decline after Trump’s presidency. In addition to the practical abandonment of the sentry role it had been playing. The United States is very weakened, economically and politically in the world. A little Putin gave it the excuse to pull itself together again. NATO was completely frayed. So, this revival of NATO cannot be understood without the hand that Putin gave it.
At the same time NATO has just held a summit, where it was very important what they resolved. First, they resolved to strengthen the entire military budget, which is not an overnight thing. They made it very clear that they were obviously not preparing to invade or to enter into play in Ukraine, or to attack Russia. It was preventive, because at some point this new imperialism that emerges, I insist again, with China as its axis and secondarily with Russia, may end up clashing with the old imperialism to discuss who the new axis of the world is. Let us remember that all imperialisms have fallen or have arisen from great war confrontations. World War I and World War II. Is a third one possible? It is possible.
However, we are not in that situation today, because NATO makes it clear that it does not want to do that. Russia does not invade any NATO country either, Ukraine was not a NATO country and probably will not be. But NATO also took it upon itself to say that it was arming itself, because they foresee rebellions and revolutions in the countries. NATO’s own statement is: “Note that our problem is not only Russia, nor Ukraine, we have problems in the whole of North Africa”. Let us remember that, in North Africa, every six months there are rebellions and revolutions that have taken place against the dictatorial regimes of that whole area, which apply brutal plans in the service of the imperialist corporations. Widespread famines are coming in Africa, they are very worried.
And they are worried about Europe itself, because there has just been a strike that went rather unnoticed, perhaps, in the Southern Cone, in Latin America, because we see it very far away. There was a strike in England, which all the analysts are talking about, mentioning that there had not been a strike of that dimension for 30, 35 years. You have to go back to the Thatcher era to see a strike of this magnitude. It is part of the changes that are taking place in the world today. From this brutal capitalist crisis of 2008, from the pandemic and this war, which has exacerbated the economic, social and political problems, we are going to a stage of many rebellions.
NATO is preparing to face this and also to face the new axis that is challenging it for power, China fundamentally, and Russia. China does not want a confrontation today either, because it is not in a position to do so. In a sense, it is Russia’s counterpart, because it is an economy that is getting stronger, with a still weak military power. They are all working for 10 or 15 years, NATO, China and Russia. Now, it may get out of hand. The plans they have to patiently prepare for a confrontation ahead, and today to dedicate themselves to stealing a little bit, each one, a piece of the world, essentially in the economic field, they are afraid that it will get out of hand. But this is the situation today, and it is important for politics to have all this in the conflict, to be clear about what is going on.
SG: Of course, that is indeed the case. China had been advancing, let’s say, stealthily in the economic field, and suddenly this disrupts a little bit the whole situation. Now, just like this thing you are talking about, the NATO relationship, its expansionist plan, the Russia-China bloc brought down to earth, let’s go back to Ukraine. Throughout the 20th century there have been different wars, the First World War, the Second World War, wars of liberation, the Malvinas war -in the case of Argentina-, the Russian-Japanese war, the Chinese-Japanese war. Well, lots of wars of different characteristics. In this case, which is very complex, obviously, and not exactly the same as any of the previous ones, how do you characterize the war? What are the central elements that define what the war in Ukraine is like and, therefore, how should it be located?
AB: This is a very important question, because I think it is the basis of why a very important sector of the left is so mistaken in regards to the war, not understanding that in reality it is a complex war, because two elements are involved, not one. If it were a war where only Russia invades Ukraine, an imperialism like the Russian one invades a colonial country like the Ukrainian one, we would have a war similar to the Malvinas. Therefore, for us it would be very simple, we would have to support the country attacked by an empire. A semi-colonial country attacked by an empire. Now, what has caused confusion? This element is there, because there is an empire invading a semi-colonial country. That is one of the elements, very important, that makes one have to support the attacked country. However, there is another element in this war. Imperial aggression against a semi-colonial country takes place in the midst of these inter-imperialist frictions that I was telling you about before, between Russia-China and the United States-Europe, which are the two powers that are confronting each other.
So, what’s going on? It would be wrong, as some sectors do, to see one element alone, one isolated from the other. That, inevitably, leads one to be mistaken as to how to stand in the face of the war. For example, there are comrades on the left who see only the confrontation between Russia and the United States, between NATO and Russia. They see that. They even create a movie that we are already on the brink of World War III or they have a policy as if we were in a world war. Well, there are frictions, there is no world war yet. If there were a world war, it would become the axis on which the revolutionaries would act. Obviously, we must work so that nobody wins in this war, because the only ones who will lose are the workers of all the countries involved in it. Now, as there is no World War III yet, this cannot be the axis. The axis continues to be that of the national liberation of Ukraine, which is the country under attack. There are two elements, but today the most important, is the issue that there is an imperialist invasion of a semi-colonial country. If tomorrow the conflict becomes a third world war, the axis will be different. But today we cannot be confused, we have to support that attacked nation. Even if a third world war were to take place, the struggle of the Ukrainians for the liberation of their country would still be just.
It must be clear that there are two elements in the war: one, the defense of the sovereignty of an attacked country, which fights for self-determination against an empire, which is Russia. That is one axis, the most important one today. And a second one, which is this imperialist conflict, which, mind you, everyone is using Ukraine according to this conflict that is behind it. NATO pretends to support Ukraine, it would even like to keep Ukraine, as it would like to keep Russia. We must have a policy. We revolutionaries must have a policy of permanent denouncement of those imperialist interests that are behind it, but we must not get confused and support the attacked nation in its liberation process.
What is a sector of the left doing? Because it sees only the inter-imperialist conflict, it does not support Ukraine and vice versa. Those who do not support Ukraine, many times, end up supporting Russia. I believe that this war has divided the waters in the global left, and I am not speaking of the old campism, of the recycled Stalinist sectors, those who say that Putin is a socialist. I am talking about the revolutionary left, which many times has joint policies. For example, the FIT in Argentina has divided around this. There are two members who are on one side of the trench in the case of Ukraine and two others who, doubtfully, do not know where they are, in which trench. And if you go to the bottom, to the very bottom, they are more on the side of Russia than on the side of the Ukrainian people. We are all against imperialism, against NATO, but then… I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t know much about the East, they don’t have works in the East. There is a very westernized left, which mechanically transfers to the East what happens in the West. And the East does not have much to do with the West, because Stalinism passed through there, I think they do not fully understand what Stalinism did in all those countries and how to operate there.
SG: While you were talking, I was remembering the debate in the Left Front, which has different positions. There has been a public debate, many have surely seen it. But, indeed, I would like to ask your opinion because every war re-opens debates. There are comrades who, although they say and raise as a policy or as a slogan, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, at the same time, they refuse to raise support for the resistance. So, there, you get into a mess. Because how do you fight against Russia without supporting the resistance? From what you explain about the ISL policy, effectively, you make a distinction between what would be, in terms of war, a political field and a military field. Politically there is no need to be with Zelenskyy, but in the military field there is an invasion. How would you explain to those who are listening or those who are participating, all this controversy?
AB: There is a sector of the left that, firstly, refuses to characterize Russia as an imperial power. This is a problem since, if it is not an empire, they put it at the same level as Ukraine. Thus, they never completely defend Ukraine, because they almost claim that it is a problem between equals, which is not.
There are others who say otherwise. They say that, since Ukraine is supported by NATO, well, Russia is kind of fighting against NATO or against a NATO power, so we should not support Ukraine, which is a NATO puppet government. So, I think that a sector of the left is completely confused, because it is in the wrong field. We have a debate with this sector of the left. You are on the wrong side of the trench because there is an attacked country, which is a semi-colonial country. Let’s suppose that Russia is not imperialist, which we believe to be imperialist, it is a superpower against Ukraine, against a semi-colonial country. Marxism and Marxists, and it is full of examples of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, have always stood with the underdeveloped country when there is a power that tries to invade it. We have always characterized as a just war the war of a country that fights against a power that invades it, that wants to take its territory. This is always the case and we have examples to show that this has always been the policy of the revolutionaries.
Now, there is another debate, which is the one you are raising. Supporting the resistance, as we do, so that it can win and drive out the invader. We want Russia to leave. That NATO does not enter and that Russia leaves, that is the axis of our policy. Today NATO is not there, the one that is there is Russia. We make a distinction and that leads us to work in unity of action with other sectors in Ukraine. We are a small force, the revolutionary socialists in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Socialist League was founded a year ago, in the midst of the pandemic our league began to emerge. But there are other forces that are also fighting against Russia objectively.
The government, which for us is a neo-liberal government, and even later we could talk about what it is doing in the middle of the war, is taking advantage of the situation to introduce a series of very violent reforms against the working class. But, objectively, you are in Zelenskyy’s own military field, because everybody is shooting for one side. What is a military field? It is where there are people who shoot to one side. That is where we are, we want to get rid of the invader, but there are other forces. Even right-wing forces. There is even a band that Putin made sure to mention a lot to justify the invasion, which is a group of Nazis. Because there are Nazis all over the world, unfortunately, and they are surfacing more and more. We have some who at any moment will put the swastika in Argentina, the Milei. There are confessed Nazis in the interior, like Milei’s second-in-command, but there are Nazis everywhere. Here, also in Russia there are Nazis. Here there is a Nazi battalion in Ukraine, which is the Azov battalion. There is almost nothing left, because as it is the one that was fighting in the south and in the east, it has been practically eliminated and some of them have been detained. Well, now, objectively, in the military field, it goes that way. It is not that you are shooting at those Nazis, I don’t know how many are left. They are all shooting in the same direction.
Now, being in the same military field, in the same place, shooting at the same place, does not mean that you are in the same political field as those people. We are neither in the same political field as those Nazis, nor in the same political field as Zelenskyy, who leads a neo-liberal government, which is a government that wants to bring the country into NATO. We make a distinction, Marxism has always made a distinction. Coincidentally, in a meeting, a comrade from Pakistan, reminded us when we were debating this, that the Bolsheviks, before taking power -between February and October ’17-, in an attempted military coup of the armed tsarist right wing with Kornilov, the Bolsheviks called to fight with the reformist government of that time, which had arisen in February, against Kornilov. There are plenty of examples in the world.
Ourselves in Malvinas. Whether we like it or not, those of us who were against the invasion, wanted those who were fighting militarily in Malvinas to win. And in Malvinas there was, in fact, a military front commanded by some assholes who were the military dictatorship itself. We lost the war because of that leadership. But this does not mean that one, who wants the war to be won by the soldiers who were going to fight, most of them Columbians who were going to fight against the British, is in the same political field as the dictatorship. Therefore, there is the political field and there is the military field. This distinction is very important. Those who confuse everything end up in a mess, because by not being in the same political field, they end up not being in the same military field and therefore end up not intervening in the fundamental event. It is the same as in a strike. Ultimately, wars are a concentrated expression of politics. In a strike, it may be that the leadership of the strike are rotten bureaucrats who have been dragged into the strike by the workers. And just because you are supporting that strike, doesn’t mean you are supporting that rotten bureaucracy. You are fighting with the bureaucracy against the employers, but it doesn’t mean that you are the same as that bureaucracy. The same thing happens in war. Many times you are forced to be in the same military field, shooting for the same side, because there is a common enemy and the war is just, but that does not put you on the same political side. Understanding this is the ABC of Marxism.
I believe that many sectors of the left, far-left, sectarian and propagandist, do not fully understand this fact and, therefore, do not act correctly. Some because they directly put themselves on the other side of the trench. Yet others, who claim to be against the invasion, are so confused by this that they end up not supporting the resistance. They are afraid of getting a little bit dirty. I wrote an article in which I wrote, “you have to get dirty in the mud of the trench, get a little dirty with the mud of some right-winger”. Well, we will never win against the right by being cowards. We believe that Ukraine’s war for self-determination and to drive out the invader is just, as the Malvinas war was just, as there have been many just wars. The war of Serbia against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which started the First World War, and we could count the war waged by China against Japan. In just wars, if you want to contest the leadership, you cannot be a coward or refrain from participating. The right cannot be the brave in the war. If you want to win the leadership from the Zelenskyys, from all those who are there, who are already bourgeois and they are people who want to take the country to the worst place, you have to intervene.
What I am saying is that revolutionary socialists have to be vanguard. Trotsky and Lenin said that they cannot be cowardly in those events. There were far-left factions which, for example, in Japan’s invasion of China, who had a “Zelenskyy” leading and facing the invasion, said that it was necessary to abstain, to apply “revolutionary defeatism”. Trotsky, on the contrary, in desperation, told them not to be cowards. There you have to be with the Chinese people, knowing that Chiang Kai Shek is at the front and will betray. Then he betrayed and not only that, but he was one of the gravediggers of one of the Chinese revolutions. But since there was a just war and we have to liberate ourselves, the communists, the socialists, have to be the vanguard in that in order to contest the leadership of the right wing. And all the others who are there, who are facing the invasion with objectives that are different from ours.
We would want to defeat Russia and for that to be the start of revolutionary process that culminates in defeating in defeating the Ukrainian bourgeoisie itself, the Zelenskyy, the fascist right-wings and that the workers are the ones to take power. Now, none of that is going to happen if during the war, while the entire population is fighting in one way or another to get the invader out, socialists hide under the bed.
SG: Listening to you, it is evident that, at least, it is contradictory to say that someone is against the invasion but doesn’t support the resistance and, that way, benefits the invaders. Because it is a war, effectively.
AB: In the war there are gunshots, positional warfare, you take territory, you free territories. I mean, there is a very propagandist left that dies when you go into action.
Of course, this happens with the confusions we mentioned before. Because there are some who do not quite see that Ukraine’s war against Russia is a just war. They get confused, since NATO is in the background, they all get confused and do not see that there are two processes: the war of the Ukrainians, just to free themselves from Russia, and the inter-imperialist frictions. Well, we have to be against all imperialisms, but supporting Ukraine to free itself from Russia.
SG: We were reading an article of yours, and we invite people to read it on Periodismo de Izquierda, where you brought up an example of Lenin’s world war on Serbia, Austria. A bit where Lenin emphasized this, the defense of that right (self-determination), you brought it into consideration a little bit to relate this situation.
AB: There are just wars and not all wars are equal. This is a very important point. Suppose, if tomorrow these inter-imperialist frictions were to turn into a world war, our policy would not be the same as it is now. Today our Russian comrades have to fight for Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine. In other words, they have to fight for the defeat of their own country. That is what a Russian internationalist has to do today. And they do it, that’s why they end up in prison. We have comrades who have been arrested, others who have had to leave Russia. What are the comrades from Belarus doing? Because Lukashenko together with Putin are acting in the war. They have to work for the defeat of Lukashenko, their own army.
If a war broke out between NATO and Russia-China, i.e. a third world war, our policy would be that each country would fight to defeat its own army, to end the war. Applying “revolutionary defeatism”. But today, there is no third world war, it is another war. The real war that exists is between a country that has been invaded and an invading country. Therefore, the policy today is to try to work for the victory of the attacked country. That is to say, for the defeat of Russia and the triumph of Ukraine, it is a just war. As you mentioned, the example of Serbia.
The World War I started because the Austro-Hungarian Empire had a policy of invasion of Serbia, and after a few days other powers began to intervene and the world war broke out. Now, Lenin clearly stated that Serbia was a nation attacked by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and that it was right for the Serbs to defend themselves. But then it turned into World War I and the invasion moved to a second axis, and the main axis was the world war. Today we are not in World War III, we are in what would be the phenomenon of Serbia invaded by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and World War III has not happened yet. If it changes tomorrow, the policy will change. What we cannot do is to apply the policy of a situation that is not happening. Today we cannot say that everyone loses, as if it were a world war. These are important things in politics and I believe that there is a great confusion on the left.
Then there are other matters. What I was telling you about the lack of knowledge of how the nationalist spirit was formed in the East. It is an important point, because it also confuses, most people have a romantic vision of nationalism. For example, one actually supports Palestinian nationalism, against Israel. Or one has a lot of sympathy for Basque nationalism against Spain, or Catalan nationalism against Spain, or the nationalism of the Saharawis. Also, in general, the leaderships of these movements have been nationalisms somewhat shifted to the left. Why? Because they have had to fight against nations that expressed well the most recalcitrant right wing and even within their own countries the right wing ended up supporting the oppressor State. The Catalan right wing is with Spain, in Catalonia. The Basque right, in general, is with Spain. The right wing in Ireland is with England. So, the national liberation movements have been moving to the left, many of them influenced by Marxism.
What is happening in the East? The nationalist processes have collided with Stalinism, in other words, unlike Latin America, which collides with the United States and its right-wing governments represented by governments such as that of Macri. In the East, the oppressor State that has been the great Stalinist Russia, which Putin now intends to retake as a great imperialist Russian, was painted as leftist. Therefore, the oppressor said it was Marxist, that it was communist. Then the nationalism that arose, arose very much linked to the right and that is what has confused many, that is why they do not like it. Some people say that Ukrainians are a bit fascist. First of all, that is false because the right-wing or right-wing expressions have the same weight as they have in other countries. But it is clear that Ukrainian nationalism was never a left-wing nationalism. This is why I say it, because the left was the oppressor for the masses. You have to put yourself in the head of the worker, Stalinism created a mess in the head of the worker. The one who came with invading armies and committed massacres was a guy who claimed to be a communist, a socialist. So, that is what the left does not understand about the East, it does not fully understand the role played by Stalinism and that is why it is misguided. The Ukrainian masses are not right-wing. What we do have to rebuild is a left, picking up the corpse left by Stalinism, which has greatly confused the mass movement. You speak of socialism and they imagine Stalin coming back in, kidnapping with the KGB and killing.
The millions of deaths that Ukraine has because of Stalinism are tremendous, because Stalinism was the other face of Nazism. That is the truth. The Nazi of the East was Stalin, although he painted himself as a socialist. There are many leftists who are up in arms when they talk about Hitler, but they are not so up in arms when they talk about Stalin, it is as if they try to embellish him. Unfortunately, he played the most nefarious role in history, because we are talking about a third of humanity that had become socialist and then abhorred socialism because of the atrocities Stalin committed, who was not a socialist at all. We are trying to rebuild that consciousness and consciousness can be rebuilt, because people are making the experience with capitalism in Ukraine. Capitalism is terrible, because capitalism is putting people out of work, in other words, they are enforcing brutal labor laws. So people are in a dilemma because they want nothing to do with Stalinism, but at the same time the situation they are living under capitalism is getting worse and worse. So they are looking for an alternative. Well, that is where we revolutionary socialists have to act, by really stating that we have nothing to do with Stalinism nor with capitalism, that we are a third alternative way out, that we stand for their self-determination, that is why we are fighting, for Russia to leave, but at the same time we are fighting against Zelenskyy and his labor reforms. We fight for the workers to be able to decide their future, to re-open the factories, for things not to be privatized.
SG: This war too is already being paid by the workers of Argentina in Latin America, in other parts of the world. What is your opinion? Because it is obvious, there is a lack of food, prices are going up, how do wars work in a more general context?
AB: Well, I said it at the beginning. Capitalism has been in decline for some years now. I think there is a continuity from 2008. In 2008 the crisis was so deep that it was the beginning of the friction between the different imperial powers. Because the world no longer allows the same place for everyone. So, they start to fight over the top. But if you add 2008, the brutal economic crisis, the world economy has not yet recovered and the pandemic is coming, the pandemic is not yet over, and the war is coming… All this has caused tremendous measures by the capitalists to save themselves and unload the crisis on the shoulders of the people.
Now, for example, with the excuse of the war, food prices are increasing everywhere. Ukraine is a supplier of food, so as this food is not available, there is a little less food and then the capitalists take advantage of it to increase it, which is not justified. Because the truth is that there is more food than what is needed for the entire world population. But the capitalists take advantage of this situation, a real situation, to end up increasing and causing disasters. In Africa, an important sector of the population no longer has access to food. It is estimated that there will be widespread famines, but there will also be rebellions against this. Mobilizations have already begun to take place everywhere.
Russia is a supplier of gas and oil and with all these sanctions, they have also taken advantage of the situation to increase energy prices. So taxes, for example, paid by the population, have gone through the roof, gasoline, etc. And, as we know, if gasoline goes up, everything goes up again. The war has deepened the crisis. Now, the States are investing a lot of money in the war and in saving the companies. Billions and billions, and billions and billions of euros and millions of dollars. From 2008 onwards they have invested to save the banks, the big corporations, they want somebody to pay. They want someone to pay, and who do they want to pay for it? The people. How? With more fees, price increases, inflation. Inflation is no longer only Argentinian. I mean, Argentina is a world record, because of everything that has happened in the last few days, it must be already at 100% inflation. But Europe and the United States, which have not known inflation for decades, now have inflation of 10, 11, 12% and they are getting desperate. For the people, 10, 11% is similar to 70, 80% in Argentina, because people are not used to these levels. And, of course, here there is inflation of 10, 11, 12, 15%, but salaries are frozen. Besides, the crisis is causing the closing of factories and companies, because the big ones are eating the smaller ones and there is an economic crisis. There is a recession. The United States is going into recession. So we are starting to see factories and companies closing down.
Anyway, I want people to know something. Everyone is suffering from the consequences of the war and the economic crisis. But Ukrainians have to add to all of that the costs of the war, because think that 30% of the country’s infrastructure is destroyed. Thousands and thousands of jobs and factories have already been destroyed. However, there is no social aid from Zelenskyy and company. Zelensky asks for weapons and money, but this money does not go into the pockets of the people who are desperate. That is why millions of Ukrainians have had to leave because of the war and because of this situation, and they are now going all over Europe. On top of that, as if that were not enough, taking advantage of the war and this situation, they are introducing a package of labor reforms that simplifies layoffs, that practically eliminates union membership so that the companies can do whatever they want. There are ridiculous things. For example, what were Russia’s most important military targets? The factories, so almost all the factories are so destroyed and the people, they have nothing, they have no unemployment insurance. So the war has made the consequences to be seen on the workers. And in Ukraine add the war to that. So they are even a little bit worse off than everybody else.
SG: Well Alejandro, in this last part, a bit like a logical conclusion for you who are such an important leader of the left and for so many years, you said very well that there is a sector of the left that does not understand what is happening in the East. This is so and it can be proven by the fact that today, very few sectors of Trotskyism have a militant organization in Eastern Europe. For some reason they do not have one, and besides, it is difficult for anyone to have one if it doesn’t start in the countries, for example, like Ukraine, being in the front line of the confrontation with Russia. Now, you went to Ukraine and Kyiv, in particular, because the section that you just mentioned, of the ISL, the Ukrainian Socialist League, had its meeting, its conference. What is it? What do the comrades do? What is their position, their policy, their challenge, their role? Because they are one of the few, I think, but you tell us, of the only revolutionary Marxist organizations that exist today in the midst of the war.
AB: We have had relations with comrades from the East for many years. Practically since after the ’90s, because we joined forces with a sector of independent trade unionism that stood up against the old bureaucracy, but also stood up against the attempts of US imperialism to go and buy the trade union organizations. A whole sector of the labor movement, of union leaders, activists, who said, well, we are against what was happening, but we are not in favor of going to capitalism. And an independent trade unionism developed, which to this day has expressions in all the countries of the East. That is why we have work in Belarus, we have work also in Russia and we have work in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Socialist League has a base in the independent trade unionism that is anti-bureaucratic, anti-capitalist, independent of the Zelenskyy government. Even our comrades run a trade union that has about 4,000 militants. The union is called Protection of Labor.
But they also work in other unions, not only in that one. For example, in the conference I recently attended, the comrade who gave the report is not from the union Protection of Labor, he is from the Air Workers Union. They have a base of labor work, of many years, they are people with a lot of experience gained in that, but at the same time also as they are the only Marxist, Trotskyist, expression in Ukraine they also have a group of young people who are attracted by the ideas of the left, we are the only group. A middle generation is missing, our people say, because they are comrades who have been trade unionists for some years already and young people. But, as I said, every organization has a future if it has young people and this is a very interesting group of young people.
We are the only Marxist and Trotskyist organization in Ukraine. I think this is important because being revolutionary is not saying you are revolutionary. Being an internationalist is not talking about international politics. All this has to be done. The core basis of a revolutionary is to build a revolutionary organization to fight the bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy. That is why I say that our left in the East is important, there are very few organizations that have relations in the East. First because no attempt has ever been made to understand what happened in the East. People go to the East looking for communists, but the communists who remain are Stalinists who yearn for the time of the gulags, which were the concentration camps. They love the times when the KGB and Stalinism were active. Those are the ones who call themselves communists and the rest of the communists today are government officials, they are the owners of the factories. So it is not understood, it is not fully understood, it is not understood because there is no left-wing nationalism. As I was saying, it is not understood because there is no Chavez, no Evo Morales. Here they do not emerge, nationalists are rather right wing, because they were formed fighting against communism, in a sense they went to that side. Well, none of this is understood. And the workers who have been fighting against all of that are not understood. Our comrades told us that when the USSR fell, the left went there but did not understand anything. The left was looking for things that for the workers were the devil, like the symbols, which for that had been the symbols of oppression. The left withdrew and has had almost no policies. Well, there is a process, the workers’ movement in all these countries is great.
I believe that, if Ukraine wins and if Putin is defeated, which is not easy, but if it happens, tremendous forces of the Russian, Belarusian, Kazakh working class would be liberated. Today the role played by Russia on the workers of the region with brutal repression is still a prison of peoples. The USSR was dissolved relatively easily, practically without a fight. From there they learned, learned and began to implement it. For example, in Syria, in Nicaragua, in Venezuela itself, these are regimes which before falling are going to unleash tremendous massacres and tremendous repression. And that is why even the atrocities being committed by the Russian army against the Ukrainian civilian population, but this does not mean that they cannot be defeated. Because underneath there is a generalized anger. The majority of the Belarusian people hate Lukashenko. There are millions in Russia who hate Putin. And the same thing is happening in Kazakhstan, which was crushed by Russian tanks.
In Ukraine, all that strength is what allows that Russia has not taken over the country yet. That hatred, that anger, that desire to be a free country. But at the same time, this is infecting the rest of the workers. If Ukraine were to win, it is false what some say that NATO is strengthened. Of course, NATO will try to capitalize on it, but that is a dead end. The problem is that, from our point of view, that of the workers, forces would be liberated which today are contained and are in a prison, which are those of billions of workers of one of the largest countries in the world. A territory such as Russia, which today is under Putin’s boot. That is why the issue of war is also so important. Far from strengthening imperialism, which today has been strengthened thanks to Putin’s presence, that liberated force would go against the oligarchs, against the powers of the bourgeoisie and would open a new panorama. These trade unionists who have been fighting, would be strengthened. And they are unionists who are looking to the left. Of course, the left cannot close the door as one sector does and show itself on Putin’s side, because otherwise we are screwed. If the left wants to become strong in that place, it has to support the Ukrainian self-determination process, the independent trade unions that continue to exist even under the boot of repression. From there the vanguard will come and build revolutionary organizations. I believe that the ISL helps to understand this, which allows us to be the only expression that has a development in Ukraine. There is another interesting group in Ukraine. It is not that we are alone, but it is a more social movement. But political movement, it is only ours.
SG: I was thinking while you were speaking if indeed such a resistance manages to defeat Russia, looking ahead to Ukraine, of course they will defend their labor rights against Zelenskyy and any economic plan that affects them. But well, these are very, very important debates. A more general reflection, because as you said at the beginning, the NATO summit was held. And they are worried not only about the war, but also about the world to come, the rebellions and the strikes. So that obviously makes it important for the Ukrainian group to get stronger, for the ISL to get stronger in Eastern Europe. But the ISL is an organization that is in many continents and that is in a process of new political phenomena in Colombia, of entries in Brazil, of new relations with Australia, with the United States. What is the perspective of the ISL? How is it doing and what do we expect of it in the coming period?
AB: I think the dynamism of the ISL shows that there is a new world. For many years there has been a new world. There is a very big crisis of the old, of capitalism that is leading us to wars, the destruction of the planet from the point of view of climate change, it’s brutal. As for repression, fascism is emerging again in some places and now this is also creating a vanguard that begins to look to the left and will bring about rebellions and revolutions, because processes like this are always occurring. And I believe that in this process that is taking place there is a vanguard that is looking for an alternative. The problem is whether we are capable of giving it a real alternative for the present moment. The ISL tries to do that, it tries to make an organization where we learn from the past, where we can coexist among different expressions, different traditions, where we give a space even to the workers of the East and where we give a space to the processes that are developing in Africa, where we don’t want to transfer to each one of the countries and comrades our own experiences, but to understand the experiences of those countries. Like all this that I explained to you about the East. And to learn from the comrades, not wanting to insert in them something that is more Western ideas, that have nothing to do with their experience either.
Well, the ISL is growing because of that. I don’t mean to say that there are no debates in the ISL. For example, we held the first congress before the war. The war has re-opened the debates, we have managed to make declarations and to reach agreements. This does not mean that there are no debates on this issue, as with others. Having debates is not a bad thing. What is important is that after the debates we can act together in the class struggle, for example, at this very moment we are doing an extraordinary thing in Nicaragua. It is tremendous, because we are in a serious internationalist action, not just on paper, because we have formed a commission which is and is going to try to enter Nicaragua to see the prisoners. In a country where a whole sector of the world left is talking about socialism. This is false. This prostitutes the name of socialism, experiences like that of Ortega-Murillo and dictatorships that call themselves that name.
The ISL has been the architect of an extraordinary event, which is to set up an international commission with other currents, with human rights organizations, with the Nicaraguan diaspora to be there. We have also carried out a campaign for the East, which has strengthened us. I believe that there are many possibilities and also a vacuum from the international point of view. The working class does not have a global organization, but there are many possibilities of forming one. Well, the ISL tries to fill that vacuum, to reunite revolutionaries at a global level so that we can occupy that space, that vacuum, and we can think about how to defeat capitalism, not only speaking ill of capitalism. But to think about this world that is coming upon us, how to open a new opportunity for revolutionary socialism to regain enough weight to think about power. The ISL is not a propagandist project, it is a project of power. Not for tomorrow, neither for 100 years from now, but to intervene in this terrible crisis ahead. We are convinced that we are going to grow. Look, I am more and more surprised every day, because I go to Africa and I find very big organizations that think the same as we do. I go to Asia and the same thing happens without us having met before, because there is a search, we are not the only revolutionaries. I say this to the Argentines because many times I see other organizations that think they are the beacon of the world. No, we are one more contribution in the whole world. There are revolutionaries who are beginning to think about how to better fight the bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy. It is about bringing them together. Well, the ISL tries to be that project.
SG: I remembered the pictures of the time you were with Cele Fierro at the Congress of the Struggle in Pakistan. How different experiences converge, in that case a very important organization. AB: Yes, or how the comrades of the Polisario Front invite us to be the only political expression of the revolutionary left in the events of the Saharawi people. Or in Lebanon. That is why I believe that there is a very great opportunity. I wish the rest, other leftist organizations, would open themselves to work in this sense. We have to look at the war. Well, the war divided the waters. Just as it has separated us from some, with other organizations, with which we continue to have nuances, on this point, for example, we have been closer. Well, we have to open a dialogue. We also have to lead some common actions. We, the ones working in Nicaragua, have set up a commission, but we have not been sectarian. We have invited the rest of the organizations to participate. Others should learn that many times actions are not carried out because the one who holds the handle does not want to open it. We do not, we do not have that complex, we have the idea of doing something big. That is the ISL, the attempt to do something big, an organization that can respond to the challenges of the times, that can respond as we respond in Nicaragua in other countries, as we respond today in the war. A socialist, revolutionary, solidarity-based organization that campaigns to carry out its policy, not one that lives in a tiny little micro-world and is satisfied with just agreeing within four walls and with four people without intervening in the world’s reality.