2nd Congress of the ISL: Resolution on the war in Ukraine

Key aspects of Marxist analysis and policy in the face of Russia’s imperialist aggression against Ukraine and NATO’s imperialist policy

Shortly after World War II, the two allies in the war – the USSR and the United States – carved up parts of the world into their respective “spheres of influence.” The United States dominated Western Europe and Latin America (among other countries), while the USSR dominated Eastern Europe, parts of Africa, and Southeast Asia. They had a Cold War, which included many proxy wars.

The military power of both superpowers was more or less comparable. However, the USSR gradually lost the arms race until it fell significantly behind the United States; and the same happened with its economy.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent state through a referendum held in 1991.

The land of Ukraine and its people were under the rule of Tsarist Russia for many centuries, during which the Russian state oppressed and exploited Ukraine economically, culturally and politically, as any imperialist state would. After the October Revolution of 1917, Lenin and Trotsky took an internationalist Marxist position towards the oppressed peoples and the revolutionary state allowed them the full right to self-determination, including the right to secede. The goal was to create a voluntary socialist federation in the region and, ultimately, throughout the world. However, a few years later, under Stalin’s government, Lenin’s Marxist position on the national question was canceled and replaced by a chauvinistic and repressive policy.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was instigated not only by discontent within Russia (fueled by the crisis of the bureaucratically planned economy, censorship, state repressions, etc.), but also, in part, by the sentiments of national deprivation of the peoples of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, seeking to free themselves from the chokehold of Russian dominance and control (commonly known as “Russification”), which the counter-revolutionary Soviet bureaucracy adopted as a policy after the death of Lenin and the forced exile of Trotsky from the USSR.

In this context, the sentiments of national deprivation and oppression have always been present in the working masses of Ukraine; and the Russian state (“Russia”) has always been perceived as an oppressor and imperialist force.

After the collapse of the USSR, Russia degenerated into a capitalist country under an authoritarian regime of a “gangster/mafioso” character. Over the years, Putin became an authoritarian representative of the reactionary and corrupt class of Russian capitalists who first, as part of the Stalinist bureaucracy, looted and destroyed the Soviet Union and then became billionaires through the theft and plunder of public assets during the privatizations.

It is true that even in the midst of its crisis, US imperialism is still currently the most powerful imperialism on the planet and that is why we confront and denounce all its policies and actions internationally. However, in much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia it is still Russia that plays an oppressive role over other peoples and its objective is to try to extend its rule as much as possible.

Therefore, regardless of how any of us considers the former Soviet Union (“a degenerated workers state” or “state capitalism”), there is no doubt that in 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it displayed the actions of a capitalist state of an imperialist nature whose objective is to try to strengthen its influence throughout the region and in the world. Its military and economic power is unmatched by Ukraine.

Imperialist rulers never acknowledge their true motives for invading other countries. The United States and its allies claimed they were trying to “defeat fascism” in World War II, though in reality it was a conflict between imperialists for world dominance. Similarly, the invasion of Iraq was justified with the claim that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” Such lame excuses can be found throughout the history of imperialist invasions.

Russia claims its invasion of Ukraine is aimed at “denazifying”the country and stopping “genocide.” But the results of parliamentary elections in Ukraine clearly show that only 2% of the Ukrainian population supports far-right nationalists, which is lower than in France, Germany, Italy and most other European countries.

Putin also claims that NATO expansion forced Russia to invade Ukraine to protect itself from Western imperialism. But Russia is itself an imperialist power, with the largest army in Europe and the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. In terms of per capita income, Russia surpasses Ukraine’s economic capacity by at least four times. In terms of this indicator, it is in a similar proportion to Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, the population of Russia is 140 million, while in Ukraine it is only 35.

Lenin’s analyzes of wars between nations always began and ended with the analysis of which path would strengthen or weaken the international working  class movement. It is very important to note that Lenin clearly differentiated between “oppressor nations” and “oppressed nations.” He understood that when workers in oppressive countries side with their own ruling class against the peoples they conquer or otherwise oppress, it weakens the international working class movement. This is simply because it divides workers from different countries from each other when their class interests are common. Imperialist invasions are only beneficial to the ruling class of the oppressor countries. Therefore, when the workers of the oppressor countries support an imperialist invasion, they are going against their own class interests for two reasons: 1) they help to strengthen their own class enemy at home; 2) they sow mistrust and division among their class brothers and sisters in the invaded country.

The right of oppressed nations to self-determination must include their right to resist imperialist invasion in whatever way they choose. In fact, it has been this strong resistance that has been making Putin’s military plans in Ukraine very difficult. Again, it is about the working class. Supporting the right of ordinary Ukrainians to resist the Russian invasion does not mean political support for the Ukrainian ruling class against the Russian ruling class.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has only strengthened the weakening position of NATO on the global scale and has given it justification of further expansion. It has also given Zelensky’s regime a bright chance of implementing all kinds of anti working class, anti democratic policies which must be resisted and fought against with full force of class solidarity and socialist program.

The policy of revolutionary defeatism is not appropriate here, as it only applies to wars between imperialists, especially when they are fought on a global scale. In this case, Ukraine is not an imperialist power.

Furthermore, despite all the military and financial support of Western imperialism for the Ukrainian state, NATO has not yet entered the war directly. They have thus far not wanted to take concrete steps in this direction, and neither has China. So this is not yet a global and inter-imperialist war. But if such a situation were to arise (which would be extremely catastrophic and terrible), revolutionaries would certainly have to rearrange our politics, by responding, in the first place and as a central element, to an inter-imperialist war and our rejection of it, and from that point continue to support the right of the oppressed people to defend their nation and decide their destiny. If this qualitative change in the inter-imperialist dispute ever occurs, the ISL leadership will respond based on its socialist program and strategy.

Regarding the current situation of the war in Ukraine, we find it necessary to refer here to the strategy of Marxist teachers in similar situations. In the context of the imperialist invasion by Japan of semi-colonial China, Trotsky had proposed the policy of fighting against the Japanese invaders for the Chinese working masses, without abandoning their political program and organizational class independence. Western imperialist forces were fully involved in this conflict and at different times provided financial, military, political and diplomatic aid to the Chinese nationalists against Japan. Among them were the United States, Great Britain and Australia.

During the Russian Revolution, in the period of Kornilov’s possible advance towards Petrograd, the Bolsheviks decided to carry out a political struggle against the Kerensky government and a military struggle against Kornilov’s forces within the same strategy. A similar policy was proposed by Trotsky during the Spanish Civil War, which involved a political struggle against the Stalinists and Social Democrats, on the one hand, and a military struggle against Franco’s forces, on the other. In any similar situation it is important to take into account the balance of forces and analyze it from the interests of our class.

Obviously, the self-proclaimed anti-imperialist leftists who directly or indirectly support and justify Putin’s attack are making a very serious mistake. In the same way, the application of the policy of revolutionary defeatism in these circumstances is tantamount to strengthening Russian aggression. Many of these groups are so mistaken that they refuse to recognize Russia not only as an imperialist power, but also as a capitalist state. Such ideologically unsustainable and opportunistic tendencies are doomed to fail.

On the other hand, supporting or being apologetic toward NATO or supporting the bourgeois government of Zelensky in Ukraine is in equal measure a grave ideological and political mistake. We support the resistance of the Ukrainian people from an independent position, in opposition to the government and in favor of the global interests of the working class. This is what we have been doing by denouncing, in the midst of the war, the measures of the Ukrainian government that affect the social, union and democratic rights of workers and denouncing all pro-IMF or pro-European Union economic policies.

In the current circumstances, calling on Ukrainian workers to ignore Russian aggression and take up arms against the Ukrainian state is tantamount to supporting Russian imperialist aggression. But if subjective and objective conditions similar to those in Russia in 1917 were to emerge, in which Ukrainian workers are able to defeat the Russian aggression and overthrow the Zelensky government and capitalism in the Ukraine, then there must not be a moment’s hesitation in realizing this historical task.

The task of overthrowing the Zelensky’s government in Ukraine is a revolutionary one and belongs only to the Ukrainian working mass. No foreign power has the right to decide for the Ukrainian working class. 

Right now, the campaign to end the war and the Russian invasion of the Ukraine must be carried out with a broader anti-capitalist program, starting with class support for ordinary Ukrainians resisting the Russian invasion. The Russian aggression must be condemned and the immediate withdrawal of its troops must be demanded; because a victory of the Ukrainian people will weaken the Putin regime and open a new situation favorable to the very important Russian working class and to all the peoples of Eastern Europe, and, at the same time, intensify the struggle of our class against all the governments that try to apply anti-worker and anti-popular plans. On the basis of our defense of the right of the Ukrainian people to be a free country, we also say that in the areas of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimean territories, we stand for the right to self-determination of their population, without the presence of Russian troops so that it be a truly democratic decision.

At the same time, we not only demand the withdrawal of NATO from all of Eastern Europe, but also the complete dissolution of NATO and the annulment of all its pacts and military plans that exist in the service of its expansionist policy. We also express our rejection of all the warmongering policies of Western imperialism and the increases of the military budgets in their countries. In addition, we reject the economic sanctions that affect the lives of the Russian population and working families. And, of course, we demand the freedom of those inside Russia who fight against the war. We also present a program of revolutionary expropriation of all the wealth and assets of the Russian and Ukrainian ruling classes.

The historical position of Lenin and Trotsky on the national question must be reaffirmed, and, as a fundamental solution, a voluntary socialist confederation of all the peoples of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia must be presented, without any resurgence of imperial influence and without inequality between peoples. And to develop our policy against the war, we continue to strive to strengthen a revolutionary organization within Ukraine as we have been doing with the Ukrainian Socialist League, as well as in the rest of Eastern Europe through other ISL comrades who make an effort there to spread our internationalist and socialist positions.

Based on this characterization and this policy, the ISL must continue promoting and participating in mobilizations and other united actions of solidarity in all countries of the world where possible and maintain the international campaign of support for our Ukrainian comrades.