Voices of the Russian and Ukrainian Left
This is an internet-based survey of what leftist organisations (or those perceived as such) in Russia and Ukraine are saying about the war in Ukraine.
Russia: the intra-system left
The main division in Russian politics is between the four parties ‘inside the system’ that on crucial issues are loyal to President Putin and other groups ‘outside the system’. Two of the intra-system parties – the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and Just Russia – are considered leftist. In foreign policy, however, all four intra-system parties adhere to various forms of Russian great-power nationalism.
The CPRF website (cprf.ru) presents ‘Information Materials’ on the war, dated 14 March and prepared by Vyacheslav Tetekin, a historian, former parliamentarian and member of the party’s Central Committee. He argues that ‘the events in Ukraine are yet another American war for control of the world’; the military operation is in ‘the historical interests of the country and the people’ while ‘sanctions will have a beneficial effect’ by making Russia less dependent on the West.
Nevertheless, a few prominent members of the CPRF have expressed opposition to the war, including three deputies of the State Duma and Yevgeny Stupin, a defence lawyer who sits on the Moscow City Council.
Also on March 14, Sergei Mironov, leader of Just Russia, calls for an international tribunal to try Ukrainian Nazis as well as ‘murderers and sadists from the Security Service of Ukraine’ for ‘crimes against peace and humanity’. The trial must be held in Odessa’s House of Trade Unions, for it was there that anti-Maidan activists were burnt alive on May 2, 2014. ‘The date will be set later’ – presumably after Odessa has been occupied (bit.ly/3D2L9gw).
An anti-war resolution
Part of the extra-system left has been more willing to oppose the war. On 24 February participants at a round table of left activists signed an anti-war resolution. On February 26 the Central Organizing Committee of the ‘social-democratic’ organisation ‘Left Socialist Action’ (LSA) officially approved the document and published it on their website (bit.ly/34Sy7W2).
The resolution condemns the decision to invade Ukraine, which it attributes to ‘the unhealthy foreign-policy ambitions of a narrow circle of persons in the country’s leadership’ and a wish to ‘distract attention from the domestic failures of Russia’s government’, demands ‘an immediate end to aggression against the fraternal Ukrainian people’ and calls upon ‘all citizens of Russia who hold left-wing and democratic views to conduct anti-war agitation’. The final point declares that ‘if the existing regime is unable to secure peace’ then ‘the whole socio-political system’ will have to undergo ‘radical change’.
Three of the resolution’s ten signatories are unaffiliated public figures:
- Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements
- pollster and columnist Grigory Yudin
- Sergei Tsukasov, member of the Council of Deputies for the Ostankino Municipal District (Moscow)
The other seven are:
- historian and lecturer Nikita Arkin (LSA)
- Yevgeny Stupin (CPRF)
- mathematics lecturer Mikhail Lobanov (trade union ‘University Solidarity’)
- historian Alexei Sakhnin (Left Front)
- Vladimir Avramchuk (Revolutionary Workers’ Party)
- Nikita Novichkov (Union of Marxists)
- musician, author and publisher Kirill Medvedev (Russian Socialist Movement)
It is unclear whether any organisation besides LSA has officially adopted the resolution. It does not appear on the website of any other group. Two of the signatories definitely do not represent the organisations to which they belong. Stupin does not represent the CPRF (see above). Nor does Sakhnin represent the Left Front, even though he was one of its founders and first coordinators. Left Front calls itself ‘a left-patriotic public organisation’ and supports the invasion of Ukraine. Its leader, Sergei Udaltsov, is a self-styled ‘Soviet patriot’ who managed the campaign of CPRF presidential candidate Gennady Zyuganov in 2012.
The Revolutionary Workers’ Party, which has a Trotskyist orientation, models its position with regard to the current war on Lenin’s ‘revolutionary defeatism’ during World War One. According to their spokesman Vladimir Pisarev, the war between Russia and Ukraine is ‘imperialist on both sides’; however, Russia’s defeat is to be welcomed as it will bring the Putin regime to an end (bit.ly/3KYsK7i).
The Russian Socialist Movement is also Trotskyist. At the time of writing no commentary on the current war has appeared on its website (bit.ly/34UMysT).
On February 25, the Russian section of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association issued the following statement in several languages:
‘The war has begun.
What people were afraid of, what they were warned about, what they did not want to believe, but what was inevitable – happened. The ruling elites of Russia and Ukraine, instigated and provoked by world capital, greedy for power and bloated with billions stolen from the working people, came together in a deadly battle. Their thirst for profit and domination is now paid with blood by ordinary people — just like us.
The first shot was fired by the stronger, more predatory and more arrogant of the bandits – the Kremlin. But, as always in imperialist conflicts, behind the immediate cause lies a whole tangle of disgusting reasons…. Today these (interstate conflicts) give rise to local wars. Tomorrow they threaten to turn into a Third World Imperialist War.
Whatever ‘humanist’, nationalistic, militaristic, historical or any other rhetoric justifies the current conflict, behind it there are only the interests of those who have political, economic and military power. To us, working people, pensioners, students, it brings only suffering, blood and death. Bombing of peaceful cities, shelling, killing people have no justification.
We demand an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of all troops to the borders and lines that existed before the start of the war.
We call on the soldiers sent to fight not to shoot at each other, and especially not to open fire on the civilian population.
We urge them to refuse en masse to carry out the criminal orders of their commanders.
STOP THIS WAR!
BAYONET TO THE GROUND!
We call on people in the rear on both sides of the front, the working people of Russia and Ukraine, not to support this war, not to help it – on the contrary, to resist it with all their might!
Don’t go to war!
Not a single ruble, not a single hryvnia from our pockets for the war!
Strike against this war if you can!
Someday — when they have enough strength — the working people in Russia and Ukraine will demand the full responsibility from all presumptuous politicians and oligarchs who set us against each other.
NO WAR BETWEEN WORKING PEOPLE OF RUSSIA AND UKRAINE!
NO PEACE BETWEEN CLASSES!
PEACE TO THE HOUSES – WAR TO THE PALACES! (bit.ly/3CSUck3 – I have omitted the authors’ analysis of specific causes of the war. Following criticism by the Kharkov anarchists, they clarified and revised their analysis).’
Assambleya (Assembly), online journal of the Kharkov anarchists, expresses general agreement with this statement (bit.ly/3MXsXtf) They also report an anti-war protest in the Russian city of Kostroma by law student Irina Shumilova, author of The Black Book of Capitalism. Her placard read: ‘If you’re a vegetable at home, you’ll be fertilizer abroad.’(bit.ly/3InBa6k).
In an interview with Spanish comrades, the Russian anarcho-syndicalists make it clearer that they oppose both sides in the war:
‘The current war is solely a confrontation between two states, two groupings of capitalists, two nationalisms. It is not for anarchists to choose which is the ‘lesser evil’. We do not desire victory for either side. All our sympathy is for the ordinary peaceful working people who are perishing today under gunfire, missiles and bombs’ (bit.ly/3N7h3Nh).
Ukraine: the Left
The ‘Old Left’ parties in post-Soviet Ukraine – the Communist Party of Ukraine, the ‘social-democratic’ Socialist Party of Ukraine, the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, Borotba (Struggle) – were oriented toward the former Soviet Union, Russia or ‘Eurasia’. Their offices were destroyed by Ukrainian nationalists during the Maidan of 2014 and they were banned in 2015 by the ‘de-communisation’ law.
A Trotskyist group called the Party of Social Revolution managed to survive the upheaval by professing support for the Maidan protests despite their liberal and nationalist character and by giving their organisation a more ‘respectable’ name — ‘the Social Movement’ (bit.ly/3Ip4w48). Apart from the anarchists, this seems to be the only viable leftist organisation in Ukraine today. In the current war they support ‘the fight of the Ukrainian people for self-determination’ but are opposed to NATO (tinyurl.com/mu3sxs6m). Some small leftist groups are among the eleven parties suspended by the Zelensky government on 20 March 2022 for alleged ties to Russia.
Anarchists in Ukraine
While the Ukrainian Left is weak, anarchists have a significant presence in the country, partly due to interest in the legacy of Nestor Makhno and his ‘insurgent army’ during the Russian civil war.
In 2014 the Ukrainian anarchist movement split in two. One group gave whole-hearted support to the Maidan protests and then helped the new authorities fight the separatists in the Donbass. The other – smaller – group tried to formulate a more ‘internationalist’ position.
Three tendencies are now identifiable within the anarchist movement:
- ‘National-anarchists’, such as ‘Nihilist’, ‘Revolutionary Action’ and the Arsenal football fan club in Kiev and ‘Autonomous Resistance’ in Lviv, lend full support to the Ukrainian state and are willing to join its armed forces. They even man an ‘anarchist battalion’.
- The Kharkov anarchist group ‘Assembly’ exemplifies those who condemn both sides, though they do consider Russia a more dangerous and reactionary state than Ukraine. They do not fight or urge others to fight, but work to help the civilian population, especially victims of bombing and bombardment.
- ‘Black Flag’ in Kiev and Lviv occupies an intermediate position. They blame the war on capitalism and on the rulers of both states, but participate in ‘territorial self-defence’ – local volunteer light-infantry units.
It may seem strange for people to claim to be nationalists and anarchists at the same time, inasmuch as nationalism is usually considered the doctrine of the nation-state while anarchists are against the state. However, ‘national-anarchists’ distinguish between the nation-state, which they oppose, and the national community, which they value. They regard the nation-state and the national community as separable. Thus even if the Ukrainian state is defeated they hope to continue ‘autonomous resistance’ on behalf of the national community.