Changes in the Ukraine War. Motives, consequences and debates

These last few weeks the course of the war in Ukraine went through changes, as the invaded country consolidated a military progress by recovering part of its territory, over the powerful Russian forces, who had to abandon the regions of Kharkiv and Lugansk. This hard blow logically stirred commotion in the public opinion of Russia and the crisis of its government and regime, which rapidly had to come up with new threats and some measures to try to overcome this uncomfortable situation, after half a year of invasion without satisfactory results, and now these defeats which act in the military field and the political field.

By Sergio García, MST leadership and ISL IEC member

In its desperation, Putin’s government decided new steps. As it was explained in a recent article by our comrade Oleg Vernyk, president of the Independent Union of Ukraine “Zakhist Pratsi” and leader of the Ukrainian Socialist League (section of the ISL): “the pro-Russian authorities of the occupied territories in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have announced the holding of ‘express’ referendums from the 23rd to the 27th of September. Their objective is to rapidly annex the occupied territories to Russia. Putin also announced a partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists to counteract the advance of Ukraine and, in tune with the more radical sectors of the regime, warned that Russia has the arsenal to respond to the ‘nuclear blackmail’ of the West.”

However, it is more than evident that the military setback, combined with the call for reservists, is already causing Putin headaches inside Russia, where besides the general concern, anti-war actions are back, despite a reactionary regime that represses and imprisons those who oppose the government’s plans. And in the areas in dispute with Ukraine it is now trying to move forward with annexations on the basis of these “democratic” plebiscites which are a farce. Although we are in favor of the right to self-determination of the peoples of those regions, that is to say that they can freely decide what to do, this cannot be done today with Russian tanks and rifles aimed at the population, to force a result favorable to Russia. Therefore, we reject this policy, which is yet another example of the oppressive and invasive nature of Putin’s regime.

Returning to the war, these ongoing changes, which moralized the Ukrainian resistance and weakened the morale of the invading troops, brought back a debate that within the left has existed since the beginning of the invasion of Russian imperialism over Ukraine. In our case, always having a strong criticism of NATO’s plans and of Zelensky’s own government, we always emphasize the right of the Ukrainian working people to defend their territory and their nation, since doing so is a just cause and a democratic right to which one cannot turn one’s back. A country invaded by a power like Russia, which permanently plays an imperial role in the whole region of Eastern Europe, deserves the support of the workers of the world.

But unfortunately there are sectors of the left that since the beginning of the war and invasion of Russia, deny support to the Ukrainian resistance, with which they remain objectively on the side of the invaders, because in a war situation where a great power invades a semicolonial country there is no neutrality possible: it is necessary to fight for the defeat of the invading army, as the entire working class and the Ukrainian people do. And all the indispensable and permanent criticism of NATO’s policy and interference must be made from the military field of the Ukrainian people and with an independent socialist policy.

The PTS and the Trotskyist Fraction: new events, new mistakes

The Trotskyist Fraction, the international tendency that leads the PTS of Argentina, is one of these political sectors that are against supporting the Ukrainian resistance, although they claim to be against the Russian invasion. And in the face of the new facts they develop an explanation somewhat alien to the Marxist method of analyzing the war and its development. Comrade Claudia Cinatti, wrote some days ago that “The success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive can only be explained by the armament and military and intelligence advice of the United States and secondarily of other NATO powers”. (War in Ukraine. What’s behind Putin’s partial mobilization of reservists and nuclear threat? La Izquierda Diario September 21).

The definition is wrong from beginning to end, because it denies the integral reality of the facts and seeks a unilateral explanation, just to fit in with its analysis and policy of “no support” to the resistance of the invaded Ukrainian people. The comrade forgets elementary questions of the Marxist method in the face of wars against an oppressed and invaded country, and forgets the studies of Clausewitz himself, historical author and reference in matters of war, who is frequently quoted by her party. Precisely this author starts from recognizing and explaining that, in wars, together with the best or worst military armament, other factors operate such as the relationship with the populations, the persistence, the moral factor, the strategy, the state of mind, the public opinion of the areas affected by the war and the audacity, which he defines as “an authentic creative power” and as “the noblest virtue, the authentic metal that gives a weapon shine and edge”. Adding on our part that, in this case, this virtue, used with the firmness of an invaded people, becomes a daily danger for the invader.

It so happens that this important and partial advance of the Ukrainian army and people over an invading military power of imperial characteristics cannot be explained in itself by having more and better armament than in the previous months, but in the first place by the action of the masses that are part of the war of national liberation. In its eagerness to deny that there is a just war of national defense, the PTS denies what is very evident: that there is a population defending its territory, that there is self-organization, that there are thousands and thousands of workers who enlisted in the army to fight the invaders. That the population of those regions receives them with support and celebrates their victories and advances. That the morale of the soldiers who defend their nation and their land expressed in courage and decision (audacity for Clausewitz) is far above the doubts, crises and fears of invading soldiers, who are sent to death for imperial political causes that are alien to them. The use of better armaments sent by NATO is logically a fact that exists and acts in combat, but it is placed in this context and not outside the human reality and concrete interests of a people in struggle against an invading army. If, as the PTS text says, the only element to be taken into account is having better weapons, the US would not have lost any war in the last hundred years. However, it has lost them, precisely because there are a multitude of factors that intervene in a war. And they cannot be ignored but analyzed and understood.

Some history

In the end, this gross error of analysis is part of a gross political error that the comrades have been committing since the beginning of the war. And one and the other error go hand in hand. From the beginning, the PTS has confused the character of the war and acts as if there were an inter-imperialist war and as if the US and the NATO countries were in combat, something which is not so: there are no troops of any NATO country inside Ukraine. What exists to this day is a semi-colonial country, Ukraine, invaded by a power that plays a clear imperialist role in the whole region. And NATO, which has its own expansionist plans, helps Ukraine militarily, as part of its inter-imperialist dispute against Russia and basically against China. But it does not take the step of joining the war directly, because that would change the whole world situation, with unforeseeable consequences. That is why it is not yet an inter-imperialist war, which would lead to updating the policy to be raised, but a war that combines a just cause of national defense of the invaded country, with a leap in the frictions and disputes of different imperialisms. And there is no correct policy if these two facts are not taken into account, beginning with the first, which is the right of the invaded people to defend and resist.

In the history of Marxism, there were examples which, saving distances, had similar situations, since it is not a new fact that in the face of a war action different imperialist interests intervene, and one sector wants to take advantage of the situation to improve its position in the world. For example, similar situations were experienced during Japan’s invasion of China in the 1930s. And while harshly criticizing imperialism and the Chinese government, Trotsky said: “if there is a just war in the world, it is the war of the Chinese people against their oppressors. All the workers’ organizations, all the progressive forces in China, without abandoning their program or their political independence, must fulfill to the end their duty in the war of liberation, independently of their attitude towards the government of Chiang Kai-shek”. (Japan and China, Opposition Bulletin No. 58/59, September-October 1937)

In this war, Japan was by then a power and China a underdeveloped country. And the US, which was a rising imperialism, in order to weaken both Japan and England, offered and gave its military and financial support to China. In the face of this, did the revolutionaries of that time deny their support to the Chinese resistance in order for it to win? They did not deny it at any time. Maintaining a coherent position of Marxism before the wars, the resolution of the IV International of 1941 gives an integral policy before the conflict and an unequivocal position as a final conclusion and with all clarity they said among other things, the following:

“American imperialism, pursuing its “manifest destiny,” is preparing to take over British Empire positions in the Far East, including China, and to bring about the defeat of its Japanese rival in the Pacific… The revolutionists, while recognizing the necessity for China to accept American material aid in the war against Japan, cannot ignore the dangers hidden behind it. They must combat all suggestions that American imperialism is actuated by benevolence toward China and explain to the broad masses the real motive of this aid—the preparation of a new slavery for tomorrow… If the “friendly” imperialists demand payment for their aid with preferential economic rights, concessions, military bases, etc., the revolutionists must oppose such transactions, which in the end would mean the displacement in China of one imperialism by another, the change being paid for in the blood of the Chinese masses. Should the Chinese bourgeoisie make any such bargains, revolutionists must denounce them as a betrayal of China’s struggle for emancipation. But they will not “punish” Chiang Kai-shek by declaring themselves “defeatists” in China’s war against Japan. They will continue to stand for the defense of China in spite of, and against, the Chinese bourgeoisie… Imperialist rivalries in the Pacific are leading directly to an armed clash. When, and possibly before, the United States makes war upon Japan, a military alliance between Washington (and London) and Chungking will be on the order of the day. However, the fact that the war between Japanese and American imperialism (in which Chiang Kai-shek will be a subordinate ally of the latter) will possess a purely imperialist character, does not wipe out the problems of China’s struggle to expel the Japanese invaders. Revolutionists must explain to the Chinese masses that the alliance of their national bourgeoisie with American imperialism is the inevitable consequence of Chiang Kai-shek’s reactionary conduct of the war against Japan; that the crushing of every independent move for social reforms, and later the alliance with Washington, are two sides of a single policy; that this policy is neither able to assure the emancipation of the country nor to push forward the social liberation of the Chinese people… This, however, will not prevent the revolutionists from continuing to stand for the victory of the Chinese armies over the Japanese invaders. The Washington-Chungking alliance and the flood of American material assistance to the Chiang Kai-shek regime will not erase the task of driving the Japanese imperialists from Chinese soil.” (Resolution: American Intervention in China. Executive Committee of the Fourth International, March 31, 1941).

As can be seen, this is not a minor debate. In wars there is no room for propaganda outside the real military struggle, nor for supposed neutrality or defeatism within the invaded country, which only lead to favor the invading power. Nor can a revolutionary party be built inside Ukraine without being an active part of the workers and popular resistance so that it triumphs against its oppressors of Putin’s Russia. Only a distant, Western leftist gaze can fail to see that this location is essential for a revolutionary politics in all of Eastern Europe. And whoever does not position himself in this way, cannot advance in having revolutionary organizations throughout this immense region. Happily the ISL with this policy, in a difficult situation, continues to organize workers and youth, advancing with our Ukrainian and Belarusian section and with comrades in Russia today persecuted by the regime.

Strengthening international solidarity with the Ukrainian people

For these political reasons, before a new moment in the war and in this conflict with international repercussions, is that now more than ever the workers of the world have to continue supporting the just cause of the Ukrainian people in defense of their territory, even more taking into account the possibility that Russia intends directly to define that some areas are part of their country and not of Ukraine, with the consequences that such a definition can bring, plus a possible escalation of international tensions between the powers in dispute.

It is very important that the anti-capitalist and socialist left forces, who have a common vision in the face of this conflict, meet to organize and discuss new internationalist actions in support of the Ukrainian resistance. With a policy independent and critical of the Zelensky government and contrary to all NATO plans throughout Europe. But maintaining unequivocally our support to the triumph of the Ukrainian resistance, a fact that could open a completely different situation in Ukraine, Russia and all the countries of the region, with the awakening of millions of workers and popular sectors and consequences of greater social and political activity. Something that none of the imperialisms in the race ever see in a good light, although all of them want to take advantage of the situation in some way. And it is also necessary to fight against this exploitation, within the framework of support for the just struggle of the invaded people of Ukraine.