A comment on Ukraine to former SL members

The following comment was posted by Tom Riley of the BT to a recent online discussion among a group predominantly composed of former Spartacist League supporters:

It is disappointing, but not entirely surprising, that [C.], beginning from a faulty premise regarding “Russian imperialism,” has reached a seriously mistaken conclusion about the current war in Ukraine. Russia is not imperialist and describing it as such contradicts Lenin’s conception of the meaning of the term.

[C.] is right that the current conflict can be traced to the coup in 2014 which created a Ukrainian regime that has since acted as an ally/proxy of NATO-U.S. imperialism. We discussed this and other aspects of the historical context for the current conflict in the major statement we issued last February in which we discussed how Washington’s intervention in Ukraine is part of a larger geo-political strategy aimed at subordinating Russia and ultimately overthrowing the Chinese deformed workers’ state. In a recent letter to a Turkish group, we observed that:

“class-conscious workers should adopt a Russian defensist position. Asserting that the world’s workers and oppressed have an interest in a Russian military victory over NATO and its Ukrainian proxy may run counter to prevailing attitudes among many layers of the population where we are active, but, as Trotsky observed, revolutionaries have a duty to ‘tell the truth’ to the masses, even when it is unpopular.”

We agree with [J.] that Russia is not an imperialist power, that the current conflict can be traced to the US drive to expand NATO to Russia’s doorstep and that “Ultimately the US’s aim is to attack China, still a deformed workers state.” But the Internationalist Group’s [IG] position of defeatism on both sides, which [J.] supports, does not add up:

“In recent years our position on contemporary Russia has generally aligned pretty closely with that of the IG—we both reject the notion that Russia is an ‘imperialist’ country and have both clearly asserted the need for the left and workers’ movement to defend it against US/NATO aggression. The IG statement declares that ‘the overriding class issue is to fight against the aggressive U.S./NATO imperialist warmongers and their flunkeys in Kiev.’ But, with the defense of Russia against NATO encroachment actually posed concretely, the IG, like various other ostensibly Trotskyist formations which take an abstractly correct position on ‘Russian imperialism,’ has flinched and adopted a position of dual defeatism—a pox on both houses. We explain what is wrong with this in a recent polemic with the Trotskyist Fraction.”

The IG has failed to offer any serious explanation for this posture, which is at odds with their sharp critique of liberal/social-democratic notions regarding “Russian imperialism.” We recently commented:

“The position of the ‘revolutionary’ neutralists in this conflict must be uncomfortable….For the IG/SL [both of which recognize that Russia is not an imperialist power] their initial mistake is going to be very difficult to explain coherently without admitting to being wrong. Not a problem for the SL [Spartacist League] of course which has become adept at unanimously renouncing the previously unanimously endorsed position. Presumably the IG, which is so brittle that it cannot even pretend to seriously examine its own history, [see: https://bolsheviktendency.org/2019/07/14/3370/] will jump on the new US missiles or something similar and claim that the situation has qualitatively changed (and hence also their position).”

The IG/SL position only makes sense if NATO/US involvement is a secondary or peripheral factor in the conflict. But the regime established by the U.S.-supported coup in 2014 (facilitated by a prior $5 billion investment in creating a network of agents and clients) has overseen the effective integration of its military into NATO, as we documented in our February statement:

“In 2013 a ‘Defence Education Enhancement Programme’ (DEEP) was commenced to overhaul the Ukrainian military. According to NATO’s website, DEEP ‘fosters defence capacity and institution building. By enhancing democratic institutions, it makes an important contribution to NATO’s efforts to project stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond.’ In 2015 Ukraine was welcomed into NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) which entitled it to access armaments. Two years later Ukraine declared NATO membership to be a strategic national objective.”

The Ukrainian government, like its military, is currently entirely dependent on massive injections of imperialist financing and weaponry and operates as little more than a pawn in U.S. imperialism’s long-standing objective of dismembering Russia. In 2020 Adam Schiff, a leading Democratic Party politician, boasted about using Ukraine to “fight Russia,” and just this week Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy head of military intelligence, revealed that the U.S. retains effective control over determining targets for the celebrated HIMARS artillery system:

“Skibitsky told the United Kingdom’s Telegraph newspaper there was consultation between US and Ukrainian intelligence officials before attacks and that Washington had an effective veto on intended targets, though he said US officials were not providing direct targeting information.”

A couple of days ago NATO’s chieftain, well aware that a Russian victory in Ukraine could pose an existential crisis for the imperialist alliance, called for a renewed commitment to prolonging the bloodshed in Ukraine:

“NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Russia must not be permitted to win in the war it launched against Ukraine, which has given rise to the most dangerous moment for Europe since World War II.

“Speaking in Norway on August 4, Stoltenberg said the alliance and its member countries may have to continue to support Ukraine with arms and other assistance for a long time in order to keep Russia from succeeding….”

The intensity of the imperialist propaganda barrage over Ukraine has clearly disoriented many serious subjective revolutionaries and made it difficult for them to think through the fundamental issues animating this conflict. Putin’s bonapartist regime is both socially and politically reactionary, but so was Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq: in that case many of these same comrades did not shrink from backing the Iraqi Baathists against the U.S./NATO imperialist axis. We expect that many who today adhere to one or another version of muddleheaded centrist neutrality will eventually come to recognize their error. As we observed in our 1 March polemic:

“This is no time for sitting on the fence—if Russia successfully ‘de-Nato-izes’ Ukraine, it will make the world a safer place for the Chinese deformed workers’ state, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and the many other countries targeted by rapacious US imperialism and its allies. A NATO triumph over Russia in Ukraine will represent the opposite, and bring humanity one step closer to the risk of annihilation.”