On military vs political support

We recently received an inquiry from a reader asking about “the difference between military and political support” in connection with the current conflict in Ukraine (where we favour a Russian military victory over US/NATO and its Ukrainian proxy ). We agree with Vladimir Lenin that a non-imperialist country has the right to defend itself militarily against imperialist aggression.

A BT comrade replied, citing a 1937 article in which Leon Trotsky distinguished between military and political support for semi-colonial China’s anti-communist Kuomintang government in its struggle to resist a Japanese imperialist invasion:

“If tomorrow the French workers learn that two boatloads of ammunition are being prepared for shipment from France, one to Japan and the other to China, what will [Yvan] Craipeau’s attitude be? I consider him enough of a revolutionist to call upon the workers to boycott the boat destined for Tokyo and to let through the boat for China, without, however, concealing his opinion of Chiang Kai-shek, and without expressing the slightest confidence in Chautemps. That is precisely what our theses say: ‘In the character of the practical actions there may be considerable differences provoked by the concrete situation in the war.’”
Once Again: The USSR and its Defence, November 1937

Our correspondent responded with a further inquiry:

“I quite understand that one can support military action without at the same time supporting the regime whose action it is. However, it seems to me that this is also true: insofar as military action serves the purpose of achieving certain political goals, one supports it precisely because it serves these goals. In turn, I would call the support of certain political goals political support.”

In an attempt to clarify this distinction we cited a passage from a statement we issued in 2003 during the U.S.-led assault on Iraq:

“If you are ‘politically supporting’ an individual or organization it means that you broadly agree with at least some of the ideas, program and perspectives they represent. ‘Military support’ means taking a side in a particular conflict, without necessarily endorsing any or all of the politics or ideology of those you support. [emphasis added]

“If, for example, a group of anarchists came upon a gang of Nazis attacking a synagogue full of devout Jews, should they refuse to get involved because the congregation’s rabbi is a religious obscurantist or because the synagogue has been fund-raising for the racist Zionist state? Of course not. Any decent person would side with the Jewish congregation (including the rabbi) against the Nazis. This would imply neither an endorsement of Judaic theology nor approval of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians.”

Our correspondent, pursuing the point a bit further, replied:

“Russia’s political goals in the Ukraine war, which I consider to be primarily worthy of support, are the prevention of Ukraine’s membership in NATO and the protection of the security and self-determination of the civilian population in the former Ukrainian territories that have joined the Russian Federation.”

We essentially agree that these two particular “political goals” of the Kremlin are “worthy of support,” as is the long-term strategic objective of aborting US imperialism’s project of breaking Russia into several smaller statelets and appropriating its immense natural wealth. Yet, at the same time, we remain in overall political opposition to Putin’s reactionary, bonapartist capitalist regime—i.e., we call for its overthrow via workers’ revolution. Our support to Russia in this conflict is strictly limited to achieving a military victory over the US/NATO imperialists and their Ukrainian proxies, as our comrade explained:

“In the enforcement of these goals, we have a joint ‘military’ front against NATO proxy Ukraine. Here, the distinction between political and military support is important for us: the Russian bourgeoisie may well have other goals, such as banning same-sex relationships or suppressing those segments of the population that do not identify as Russian. I mentioned that in order to achieve victory in the current conflict, it [may be] necessary to advance to the Ukrainian border with bordering NATO countries.

“As part of this advance, Russian troops may engage in behaviour in the areas that reveal their civilian command. Since the Russian army is a bourgeois army built on bourgeois norms, it may be used to suppress strikes that advocate the legitimate improvement of working and living conditions of Russian and Ukrainian workers. It is likely that it will enforce the ban on same-sex relationships. And it is likely to suppress leftist forces in areas liberated from Ukrainian rule if they can unleash social power, as happened in the Donbas in 2014. Such measures would spring from Putin’s Russian nationalist ideology and policy, and it is not to be supported by revolutionaries….

“We have a common objective, which is to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and to grant the various nationalities the right to freely choose their respective national affiliations. We also have no objection to the Russian military smashing Ukrainian fascist organisations. But we know that, as we already discussed on the phone, this smashing will be limited in its effectiveness in time, precisely because the Putin regime does not abolish capitalism which is of course the root of fascism, but, hopes for peaceful coexistence with those imperialist powers that have just declared war on it. Putin does not have a broader horizon and cannot have it as a bourgeois politician.

“In this respect, the practice of ‘military defence’ is important. We call on the working class in imperialist countries to boycott and strike against arms shipments to Ukraine. We call on Russian workers not to strike such industries that are currently central to Russia’s military success (we pointed in this framework to our opposition to the strike of Belorussian railway workers who were striking arms shipments to Russian troops)…. If there are strikes within Russia in industries that are simply working to improve living conditions without interfering with the actual war effort (for example, in a beer brewery), we would still support them. This is the practice of ‘military defence of Russia’ or the practical implementation of the demand for a military victory of Russia.”

In a subsequent follow-up our comrade added:

“…there is a certain intersection… between the historical interests of the international working class and the Putin regime in the case of the current conflict:

“The international working class has an interest in dependent capitalist Russia winning in its confrontation with the imperialist West. Why? Because in the event of a Russian victory, imperialism would be weakened and it would thus be discouraged from instigating further conflicts, such as against China. Moreover, a Russian victory would prevent genocide in the eastern territories of Ukraine…”