Two years on, making sense of Putin’s war on Ukraine

February 12, 2024
two book covers

Making sense of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
By Paul Le Blanc
London: Resistance Books, 2023
Available in Australia from Resistance Books (Sydney)
$14 plus postage

Commons Journal of Social Criticism Issue 13: “The Russian Invasion and the Ukrainian Left: The Struggle for a Social Ukraine
Edited by Stas Serhiienko
London: Resistance Books, 2023
Available from
$20 plus postage

February 24 will mark the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ever since the war began it has generated debate on the left. That is why Resistance Books has done a great service by publishing these two important works reflecting on the conflict.

Making sense of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a pocket-sized book written by United States socialist Paul Le Blanc, based on an earlier piece published at LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

Le Blanc is a preeminent scholar on Vladimir Lenin and his book combines a close examination of what the Russian revolutionary had to say on imperialism, war and self-determination, with a detailed outline of the views of current-day Ukrainian and Russian socialists on the invasion. The result is a powerful and convincing argument.

Right from the outset, Le Blanc marks out what he sees as his “bottom line”: support for Ukrainian self-determination; opposition to “imperialism in all its forms”; and the replacement of capitalism with the “genuine political and economic democracy of socialism”.

He outlines the views of those he dubs “mistaken friends”, noting the commonality he shares with them regarding “the centrality of imperialism to world politics, and on the need for those who believe in socialism and democracy … to oppose it”.

But, basing himself on the works of Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, Le Blanc argues the case for seeing “imperialism as not representing a single Evil country [ie the United States], but rather as involving all countries in our epoch — oppressed by competing and contending elites of ‘great powers’ — reflecting the capitalist dynamic of the global economy.

“Both Lenin and Luxemburg saw imperialism as operating in various ways, depending on the specifics of each country, very much including both the United States and Russia. So it is today.”

Le Blanc then turns his attention to the views of Ukrainian and Russian socialists (some of whom appear in the publication Ukraine Resists!: Left Voices on Putin’s War, NATO and the Future of Ukraine). He finds “general agreement" among them regarding the reality that “the very survival of the [sic] Ukraine has been at stake in this conflict.”

Given all this, what approach should socialists take to the conflict? Le Blanc again turns to Lenin to find some answers. He outlines the similar debates Lenin confronted during World War I — when he argued for supporting oppressed nations fighting imperialism — and after the Russian Revolution — when he advocated full recognition of Ukraine’s right to self-determination.

Bringing all this together, Le Blanc concludes: “If one seriously acknowledges the right of an oppressed nation to self-determination, and therefore to resist invasion from an oppressor nation, then it must be recognized that the oppressed nation has a right to secure weapons for this purpose.”

He adds: “It makes no sense to withhold support because revolutionaries are not getting weapons exclusively from angels. If the cause of revolutionaries and freedom fighters is just, they will be inclined to struggle for victory by any means necessary.”

The views of Ukrainian socialists and leftists are at the heart of Issue 13 of Commons Journal of Social Criticism. Resistance Books has made this issue available in printed form and is donating the revenue from its sales to the Solidarity Collectives, an anti-authoritarian volunteer network aiding the Ukrainian resistance.

Commons is a left-wing journal, whose editorial board “shares egalitarian and anti-capitalist views”. It has been providing invaluable insights into Ukrainian economy, politics, history and culture since 2009.

Discussing their work during the war in a recent interview, Commons editorial team member Oksana Dutchak said: “We considered three tasks to be important for us as a left media — to engage in leftist debates on the Russian imperialist invasion, to describe the realities of war and its impact on people in Ukraine as well as on Ukrainian refugees abroad, and to intervene with a critical perspective on ongoing and planned policies and reforms by the Ukrainian government.”

According to Dutchak, this new issue of their journal — “The Russian Invasion and the Ukrainian Left: The Struggle for a Social Ukraine” — “summarize[s] our position” in the form of a collection of texts from the Commons website “which we consider the most important”. For this reason alone, it is essential reading.

Those trying to make sense of Russia’s war could do no better than to start with these two publications.

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