Pro-Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine: our enemy’s enemies are our friends?
|Guest post by Dave McGuire|
Since the break-up of Yugoslavia the British left has been split along the following lines; one side of the divide has come to fetishise imperialism becoming uber anti-imperialists on the other side are the third camp socialists. Here I consider the consequences of the ubers approach to some of the major events of the last two decades.
One of their most striking characteristics has been the reworking of the Stalinists framework for viewing the world. The Stalinists divided the world between the socialist and imperialist camp. Behind this division was the idea that Stalin’s Russia was building socialism and so was progressive in relation to capitalism. In the 1930s much Marxist literature including that of the Trotskyists, was devoted to showing the superiority of the planned economy.
This was always a monstrous calumny against the idea of workers power and socialism, Stalin’s Russia was the victory of the counter revolution and a regression from capitalism. By the early post war years this was plain to see to anyone who cared to look – what society could be called an advance on capitalism were slave labour was integral to its economy?
Today the Uber anti-imperialists look at the world through a similar bi-polar lens. The division however is no longer based on the positive, if erroneous, view that the Stalinist states were an advance on capitalism. Rather they divide the world solely on the negative; opposition to whatever the imperialists and `their stooges’ (such as the Maidan revolt, the Iraqi trade unions and the Kurds) do, and support for nearly anyone who is seen to be opposing them. In this redrawn view of the world there is no need for any concrete analysis of the forces ‘fighting imperialism’ – whether these forces are progressive, reactionary or working class – all are lumped together into a single undifferentiated mass, the “anti-imperialist” camp. Most powerful of those aligned against the West is Russia and its satellites and allies, such as the mass murderer Assad. From the struggles in Eastern Europe, through the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, into the Arab spring and now around the Ukraine, almost all international confrontations all are understood through this bi-polar analysis – either one is in the imperialist or anti-imperialist camp. Even the struggle against the barbarians of Isis is seen by some through this lens.
The most significant consequence of the Ubers’ view is that they lose the centrality of the working class both as the driving force in history and as the focus for socialists. Filling this vacuum is not there abstract catch all notion of anti-imperialism but the political results of their campist view nihilism. They have switched tracks from being consistent democrats, supporters of labour movements and advocates of socialism to being cheer-leaders for countries and movements who are against the West and in many instances against progress itself.
The starting point for this regression is their assertion that any military intervention by the west is always wrong. While socialists should never give positive support to their governments, and in most instances should be against interventions … “most” does not mean not “all.” In some cases the rule should be broken, for example NATO bombing in Kosovo, and Libya to name two, in both instances the consequence of non-intervention would have led to massacres and the enhancement of Serb nationalism/imperialism (Kosovo) and Gaddafi (Libya). So why would one be against intervention in principle? For sure the Ubers would be sorry to see massacres happen, but they simply have to oppose anything the West does, as the ‘principle’ of non-intervention transcends all other considerations.
The latest US intervention in support of the Kurds raises this question anew this finds the Ubers refusing the Kurds the right to make an alliance with the U.S. – the only agency which can stop Isis (who in their desire to turn the world back to a pre-capitalist dystopia are waging a struggle against modernity). Of course the West will intervene for their own interests, something the British left does not need to lecture the Kurds about, as they remember perfectly well how the US abandoned them to Saddam throughout the 1970s and after the first Gulf War.
Consider the consequence of non-intervention; the Peshmerga would be overrun, they and the Christians refugees would be put to the sword and Kurdish autonomy threatened. How would wiping out a Christian sect severely weakening the Kurds fighting power and further emboldening the fascists help anyone? Yet a recent Stop The War post calls on the U.S. to end the bombing followed by a set of demands which effectively call on the US to stop being a hyper power and turn swords into ploughshares, including the extensive development of solar energy. This reminds me of people always calling for a general strike they know it’s never going to happen but it makes them feel really radical and more importantly it avoids answering the question what should one do / say about a given situation in the here and now? Even if I was in possession of some uber fairy dust and I sprinkled it over Obama and the Joint Chiefs would that stop the caliphate from their messianic mission of ethnic cleansing? Perhaps the Christians and Peshmerga would die happily at the hands of ISIS knowing they had done their bit for anti-imperialism and that the wind farms and solar energy was on its way.
If the first principle of the Ubers – no to any military intervention – is wrongheaded, they extent this approach beyond direct military intervention. Acting as the inspectors general of history, they refuse to support any movement which is tainted by ‘the West’ and so does not spring fully formed with anti-imperialist credentials ready for inspection. This approach has warped how this left, in recent years, has understood and related to, mass movements.
Over the last thirty decades or so, most liberation movements we have witnessed have been struggles where the middle and working class of a county have united to overthrow different forms of absolutism in places where the labour movement has been weak or non-existent. A variant finds ethnic groups fighting for self-determination. Within the Arab world this template for progress has been intersected by the Islamists and the struggle for regional domination fought out between the Gulf States and Iran via their Sunni and Shia proxies. A struggle made all the more bloody by the invasion of Iraq.
Within these broad generalisations many of the progressive elements in these struggles look to the West as a model both in terms of future prosperity and democracy. Given that these movements arose in a world without a socialist movement that could act as a pole of attraction, and in many cases the mass movements have been struggling against existing so-called ‘socialism’ – the Soviet empire – where else could they look to except the West? Where these movements have been successful we see over time the unravelling of cross-class alliances. In Tuzla (Bosnia and Herzegovina), for instance, the workers’ struggle is now against the multi-nationals and has largely overcome ethnic divisions.
Due to the links between elements of these movements and the West the Ubers have set their face against this model of developing class struggle.
As a case study of political nihilism, consider the issue of Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). During 2003 the Federation’s emissary in the UK spent many months undertaking solidarity work with English unions, aiming to build up the organisation’s resources and develop a number of basic trade union norms which the IFTU could adapt to their situation. Here was a real solidarity project for the socialist and trade union movement in the UK: passing on knowledge and resources to the embryonic workers movement of Iraq. Then in 2004 Subhi al Mashadani the General Secretary of the IFTU (and Iraqi Communist Party member) was scheduled to speak at the European Social Forum, but was shouted down. From where I was sitting it was clearly a pre-arranged ‘spontaneous’ action; what for sure was genuinely spontaneous was the reaction of trade unionists in the hall who stood up and formed a defence guard around the man.
Supposed Trotskyists, together with Maoists and Stalinist of every stripe made up the mob. In effect they no platformed Mashadani. The reason? Because the IFTU did not call for immediate withdrawal of troops, (my understanding is that none of the Iraqi unions supported immediate withdrawal not least because they would have been butchered) and perhaps most heinous of all because the Federation had helped defeat a troops out resolution at the recent Labour Party conference. These were the Federation’s crimes – ones which were shared by most British trade union leaders, yet they (the British leaders) would never be subjected to such vitriol.
Although many of us working with the IFTU disagreed with much of what they had to say and certainly found their C.P. politics abhorrent, that was not the point. There was in Iraq an emerging labour movement formed of a number of different unions with a range of political views: it was they who were laying the foundations of a workers’ movement and who remain the hope for the future, not the sectarians of the so-called “resistance”. Why would socialists not wish to play a part in building the workers’ movement movement? But the Ubers wanted no part of it. Their no platforming of Mashadani marked a watershed in the degeneration of this “left”: it is one thing to effectively side with the sectarian “resistance” against the labour movement (that is bad enough), but quite another to refuse the IFTU the right to speak. Faced with an inconvenient truth that the embryonic workers movement did not support their views the Ubers simply shout Subhi al Mashadani down, and clearly would have assaulted him given the opportunity.
This action represented much more than refusing a trade unionist his rights: by doing this the Ubers abandoned a core principle, that democracy is the life-blood of the workers’ movement. This incident played its role in ring-fencing what views are, and are not, permissible in much the same way that some socialists (often the same people) have used that greatly abused term “islamophobia” to outlaw any critical discussion of Islam/Islamism, as seen most recently in the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair in Birmingham schools.
In the mid-1940s the Trotskyist and semi-Trotskyist left engaged in what was to be a defining debate: how to respond to the assimilation of Eastern Europe into the Soviet empire. As today it was not that socialists were able to influence events, but rather to determine if the Trotskyist movement was itself to be assimilated into being the ‘left wing’ of Stalinism, which was indeed what would happen too much of it. Today the Ukraine albeit in a somewhat different form, represents this same question for the Trotskyist left.
For sure Ukraine can be an independent state economically; however it cannot stand alone and either has to some degree to be assimilated into the West or remain in Russia’s sphere of influence.
The Ubers have answered this question by seeing the division for socialist as being between either Washington or Moscow, and for them the core principle here is to stop Ukraine’s assimilation into the west. If it were not so tragic it would be farce.
Maidan was a mass movement which pushed for the country to look towards the West. Within this movement every political view could be found, including a large number of fascist and reactionary elements who were inevitably present and influential: given Ukraine’s history and years of domination by Russia, how could it be otherwise?
Instead of working with the mass movement and looking to develop an independent working class voice (which would include rights for Russian minorities) the Ubers chose to become the cheer-leaders for Mother Russia. Russia, who has annexed the Crimea, sponsored and armed the separatists and now invaded the eastern part of the country. All undertaken under the pretence of an “anti- fascist” struggle, a cover story straight out of the GPU playbook. There are echoes of Orwellian double-speak as Putin’s leading political activists within the Ukraine are avowedly fascists. The Ubers, by buying into the great “anti-fascist” fantasy have ended up colluding with (I like to think been duped by) such scum. The political composition of the separatists leadership is however a secondary matter; if there were not a single Russian fascist in sight the Ubers, to keep the county from being assimilated by the West have, at the drop of a hat, abandoned support for national self-determination. And the great alternative they are peddling which allows them to run roughshod over national self-determination is Putin’s gangster state to which they now play the role of a “left wing” foreign legion.
The impact of the Ukraine on the peoples of the rest of Eastern Europe, who have in living memory known the iron heel of Russian imperialism, will see class antagonism contract and national unity become the watch word in the face of Russian aggression. We have already seen the inevitable result in the popular demand for NATO to step up its presence in Eastern Europe. As for Russia, while none of the dots on the page are joined up, it is not difficult to see that however events end, the Ukraine adventure will obtain the status of foundation myth for Russian fascism and its ‘natural ideology, National Bolshevism.
It may seem these arguments are the mirror image of the Ubers: am I not supporting the Western powers and their enlightened/democratic imperialism against reaction? I’d deny this and reply that it is, in fact, only the bi-polar world view of the Ubers that demands socialists choose between the camp of Western capital or the camp of reaction, and I like many others refuse to be complicit in such nonsense. There has always been an alternative and that is one where the working class is central and where socialists fight for working class political independence. The old slogan “Neither Washington nor Moscow” still applies, albeit suitably amended for the 21st century.