Ukraine: whose side are we on?
We have been following opinion pieces and subsequent heated correspondence as responses to the war in Ukraine through the online columns of left wing/supposedly socialist publications. As schismatic as ever, the authors adopt a political redoubt firmly buttressed by their personal interpretations founded on Leninist thinking.
In essence there are two positions with a wide variety of nuances. One is that Ukraine is being subjected to nationalist, possibly imperialist, aggression by Russia. The invasion and indiscriminate shelling and bombing of Ukrainian cities is damning evidence of this.
The counter-argument appears to be that by allowing itself to become a proxy for NATO’s anti-Russian imperialist ambitions, Ukraine has become subject to an essentially defensive Russian response. Claims of Nazi influence in the Ukrainian state are based on references to the Azov Battalion. The Azov Battalion does sport the Wolfsangel insignia, previously adopted by divisions of the Waffen-SS. In June 2014 the battalion (re)captured Mariupol from pro-Russian separatists and actual Russian forces. There lies the justification the Russian state employs.
Those adopting a sympathetic view of the Russian position, even if condemning the brutality of its methods, insist the real cause is provocation by NATO. Certainly, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has indeed closed in around Russia’s borders, which to an extent explains a response of sorts, without in any way justifying it.
The media, as ever in such bellicose situations, simplifies the cause as being the unreasoned, even lunatic, ambitions of one man. Single-handedly he brings his nation into armed confrontation with the essentially peaceable alliance that only desires international security.
This, arguably, is the Hitler fallacy. Firstly, identify the dictator – Saddam Hussain/Vladimir Putin – make references to the former German Führer and Nazis, then launch an actual or proxy military response to bring him down. In 1914, it had been the Kaiser.
The moral high ground adopted by the USA, Britain et al, justifying the supply of armaments to Ukraine requires political amnesia. It is less than 20 years since these paragons of virtue were launching bombardments of Iraqi cities with the inevitably high death toll of civilians.
The reality is that war is organised slaughter, surgical strikes are a lie and collateral damage is the premeditated killing of children, amongst so many other non-combatants. It is competitive capitalism in its bloodiest garb.
Those on the other side who seek to justify Russian action to a greater or lesser extent resort to the largely ad-hominem argument of guilt by association. If you don’t lend support, even qualified support, to Russia then you are, by default, somehow supporting NATO. This remains so even if you condemn both sides.
NATO is the imperialist tool of the world hegemon, the USA, so those who resist it are by definition anti-imperialist and require understanding at least, not condemnation, or so goes the argument. Those who position themselves on the left, but condemn Russia, are supposedly social-imperialists.
Taking an active pro-Ukraine stance against Russian aggression is to become a perhaps unwary ally of a virulent nationalism. The history of nationalism around Russia, Ukraine, Poland and other neighbouring states is murky and bleak.
Present borders have been drawn by the forming and reforming of states throughout the twentieth century. The conflict between the state capitalism created by the Russian revolution and the more laissez-faire version (with varying levels of state involvement) in the West has been the driver of these reformations.
The present war in Ukraine is another episode in the on-going rivalry between capitalist formations. Wars are usually portrayed as discrete and almost self-contained between set dates: World War One 1914 to 1918, World War Two 1939 to 1945, Cold War (with hotspots) 1945 to 1989/90-ish.
Just as the Hundred Years War was not a continuous battle, but a series of armed encounters, so there is one protracted dissonance endemic to capitalism caused by competition. It is a feature of capitalism in its ceaseless pursuit of profit. It cannot be otherwise for as long as capitalism exists.
Supporting one side or another, however critically, is actually only selecting which capitalist formation to favour. In the Hundred Years War, choosing either France or England would have done nothing to change the underlying feudal order, only which king sits on the throne.
In all the articles we have read that employed a great deal of polemical invective, there have been very few references to the working class. Those who self-identify as socialists must surely come to recognise that no nation, or group of nations, acts, or can act in the interests of the working class. Workers’ role, as ever, is that great capitalist tradition of being cannon fodder, with civilians as mere collateral subject to damage.
To say otherwise is a non-sequitur, like asking which is most beneficial for the working class, Ford or Nissan? Nationalism, however it expresses itself, is inimical to the interests of the working class. Even when paused between armed conflicts, nations only value peace while it is profitable.
The tragedy of Ukraine is that workers have again been drawn into killing each other at the behest of others, those few who profit. In Britain the Ukrainian flag is being commonly flown. There is an understandable sympathy for those under near incessant bombardment, and exemplary generosity in trying to help refugees from the battlegrounds.
The irony is that while national flags continue to fly war will be perpetuated. Until workers generally look beyond the heart-rending media portrayals of the present war to see that it is virtually identical to all the other news coverage of war wherever it happens, whoever is involved, then even if this conflict is resolved, that’s only another pause before the next one.
Anyone who doubts that capitalism is the root cause of war should consider that every bullet and shard of shrapnel, and the weapons that fired them, are commodities like baked beans, hybrid cars or movies on Netflix, manufactured and supplied for profit.
While well-meaning people organise coffee mornings and collections to raise a few hundred pounds to help desperate refugees fleeing the conflict, munitions manufacturers are making billions from creating the conditions people are trying to escape from, killing those who don’t or can’t run.
Whose side are we on? The side of the vast majority of people, the ones who create the world’s wealth only for a significant proportion of it to be destroyed killing those self-same workers. The side not to be taken is either one of the combatants.
A worldwide truly democratic and leaderless society based on meeting people’s needs and collaborative working is the only way the surely common aspiration for peace can be realised. The working class needs to harness its sympathy and efforts on behalf of those enduring the privations of war and transform them into focused action to vanquish capitalism. Then the competition, that all too readily becomes armed competition, can be replaced with co-operation.