How should the left understand the war in Ukraine — specifically, an “internationalist left” which, in the words of Daria Saburova, “does not lose hope in and conviction about the need for more major social transformations on a planetary scale”?
The articles, interviews and statements in Ukraine Resists: Left Voices on Putin’s War, NATO and the Future of Ukraine significantly contribute to the debates and provide some answers to this question.
Resistance Books has compiled the book from materials published primarily in LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal, but otherwise in Green Left or as statements by Australian left party, Socialist Alliance.
The three parts of the book present views from members of Ukraine’s leftist Social Movement (SM), along with Ukrainian trade unionists and environmentalists; Russian left anti-war activists; and members of the international left who defend Ukraine’s right of national self-determination.
Four appendices provide an analysis of Ukraine’s internal politics, a discussion of SM’s origins and activities and two Socialist Alliance statements. Federico Fuentes, LINKS editor and Socialist Alliance national executive member, provides an extensive introduction to the pieces, showing how they work together.
Ukrainian feminist Viktoriia Pihul sums up an important message coming from Ukrainian contributors when she says that “succumbing to geopolitical reasoning and geopolitical thinking and withdrawing from conflict by condemning all sides is not a workable position”.
Zofia Malisz, from Poland’s Lewica Razem (Left Together), puts this more acerbically: debating realist geopolitics, she remarks, might get you books published and onto speakers’ platforms, “but [does] not help the Ukrainian people” who are engaged in “a righteous fight for self-determination”. Instead, you should “work with parties, trade unions and movements that are accountable to voters, members and the public,” and support Ukraine’s armed resistance, and not deny Russian imperialism.
SM chairperson Vitaliy Dudin and Vladyslav Starodubtsev explain what is working. They point to the senses of solidarity, cooperation and empowerment emerging as people organise collectively to fight.
Politics in Ukraine is changing — has “revolutionised”, they say — so that the prospect is for “more popular activity after the war”. The old social bases of parties have collapsed and scepticism about the West — which has demanded compromises — has grown. The far-right paramilitaries have lost ground to the extent Russia’s imperialist intentions have weakened and because so many ordinary people are now armed; “the left has … become a lot stronger and more accepted” through participation in the war effort, because it is seen as “with the people”.
Veteran Russian socialist, Boris Kagarlitsky, editor of the socialist website Rabkor (Worker Correspondent), and now imprisoned for his views, confirms there is a growing tendency in Ukraine against Ukrainian nationalism, partly because the largely Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east are the ones most broadly involved in the fighting.
But Ukraine Resists doesn’t avoid the geopolitics and instead also presents perspectives that rarely get an airing.
Malisz points out “there are several imperialisms at play” and suggests “we cannot afford to take sides” between them. Tobias Drevland Lund, from Rodt (Red Party) in Norway is finding that is more difficult to achieve: he says the neutral Nordic bloc “between Russia and the US” that the party seeks is more unlikely because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Brazil’s Israel Dutra, a leader of the Movimento Esquerda Socialist (Socialist Left Movement, MES — a tendency within the Brazilian Workers Party, PT) sounds a note of concern regarding the efforts to broker a peace by Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, who has become Brazil’s president again after more than a decade. He warns “Lula should very cautious when it comes to his foreign policy of multipolarity”. Fifteen years ago, promoting multipolarity was positive in the face of unipolar US global domination. Now, the rise of China as a rival to the US and “the emergence of a mass neo-fascist political current in global politics” are considerations for the alliances Brazil should build.
Hisyar Ozsoy, foreign affairs spokesperson for Halklarin Demokratik Partisi (People’s Democratic Party, HDP) in Turkey is critical of the Turkish government for using the situation to promote its geopolitical interests, such as building its own sphere of influence in Iraq and Syria and attacking the Kurds.
Half a world away from Ukraine, Sam Wainwright from the Socialist Alliance in Australia explains how the war is being used to tell people “to prepare for war with China … to expect it”. A decisive choice must be made to recognise “the need to fight climate change, not war”.
What sort of action do these leftists propose in response to the war? Both Pihul and Malisz call for support for the SM campaign to write off Ukraine’s foreign debt (visit: cancel-ukrainian-debt.org).
Malisz and Phil Hearse, from Anti-Capitalist Resistance in Britain, both discuss opposition to NATO, but in distinct, concrete, historical situations.
In Poland, where “Russian expansionism is the existential threat”, NATO membership is not in question, but NATO interventions should be actively opposed, says Malisz.
Hearse suggests “no to NATO expansion” is largely redundant because NATO is almost at its boundaries. Better to demand its disbanding and a reversal of militarisation. But it’s also possible NATO will cross its own barriers: for example, it is trying to establish an East Asian focus.
Ukraine Resists reflects an interesting debate among Russian activists.
Ilya Matveev, a Russian political economist, and Kirill Medvedev, a Russian Socialist Movement member, both argue Putin's motivations for the war are primarily geopolitical, for example, keeping Ukraine in Russia’s sphere of influence or conflating Russian security with the Russian imperialist interests.
Matveev, in particular, rejects a view that the world is divided between the United States-led “camp” and the “camp” of its opponents. He says this “campist logic” avoids seeing that “the job of the Western left [is] to weaken NATO and replace it with a new system of international relations … And the job of the Russian left is to halt the imperialist aggression that Russia is waging”.
Kagarlitsky, on the other hand, sets aside as causes for the war both opposing NATO’s expansion and Putin’s imperialist ambition in order to answer “the real question … why this war erupted now”. Kagarlitsky suggests Putin has used the war to justify a state of emergency in Russia, which is designed to meet the contradictions between growing oligarchic wealth and the masses deteriorating material and political situation. Thus, the Russian state could win the struggle for the streets from the anti-war movement. But this fits into no long-term strategy and can’t be readily “sold” to the Russian public. Instead, anti-war sentiment is repressed but is finding stronger expression.
The last word from Russia, however, should belong to the leading anti-war group, Feminist Anti-War Resistance. They say Putin’s regime will fall, most likely to massive peaceful protest.