Tue Jul 23, 2024
July 23, 2024

Controversy over the "No to War" in Ukraine slogan

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, ordered by Vladimir Putin’s regime, has divided the world’s left. Broadly speaking, there are three positions. We’ll detail them here and provide our own analysis and way forward.
By Alejandro Iturbe
The first of them, raised by organizations coming from the old Stalinist branch, is support for this invasion with the argument that this action is directed against imperialism and its military arm (NATO) which use Ukraine to attack Russia. This argument is complemented by the argument that the Ukrainian government is dominated by neo-Nazi forces. In several specific articles, the LIT-CI has responded to what we consider a lie to justify Russian military aggression [1].
Taking an opposite position, the LIT and other organizations maintain that the essential content of the conflict initiated by the Russian invasion is one of military aggression: a stronger and more powerful country (Russia) against a weaker one (Ukraine). Except for a short period at the beginning of the Soviet Union (when the policy proposed by Lenin, now much criticized by Putin, was applied), Russian governments have always considered Ukraine as “their backyard.” For this reason, we support the struggle of the Ukrainian workers and people against the invasion and we are for the defeat of the Russian troops in this war [2].
It is evident that there is an important rejection of the war in general, a logical sentiment among millions of workers and popular sectors who see with horror the dire consequences of capitalist military decadence. There are also many sectors that understand the “no to war” slogan expresses repudiation of Putin’s invasion, rejecting it and demanding that it be rolled back. We want to establish a dialogue with all those comrades who start from a just sentiment, which we can even share, that the repudiation of the horrors of war and the invasion of Russian troops against Ukraine needs in the first place to be recognized as an attack by an oppressor nation and the defeat of the invaders is the only possibility to end the scourge.
In the middle, positions arise, no longer from mass sectors but from organized “pacifist” political currents whose policy is summarized in the slogan “No to war.” In concrete terms, this proposal means: “in this conflict we have no side.” Two different sectors take this position, but arrive at the slogan for different reasons.
The first is a sector based on traditional pacifist conceptions: all wars are bad. Therefore, they must be condemned as such in order to fight for “peace” and for the need of diplomatic actions to stop the war and give it a negotiated solution [3].
A position that coincides with that put forward by Turkish President Recep Erdogan (although he does so for different political considerations and needs), who, in a telephone meeting with Putin, asked him to “open the way for peace” and that it was necessary to decree an immediate “cease-fire.” Erdogan even offered himself as a mediator. Putin replied in the negative. Within this position fit currents such as Podemos, of the Spanish State, for whom “peace” is not only calling to mobilize for the “no to war,” but also denying any shipment of weapons to the Ukrainian resistance, which in reality favors the continued military superiority of the invader Putin.
The second “No to war” sector is expressed by organizations that claim to be Leninist and Trotskyist. This is the case of organizations that make up the Left and Workers Front – Unity (FIT-U) of Argentina. Recently, national deputies Nicolás del Caño, Myriam Bregman and Alejandro Vilca, of the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS), and Romina del Plá, of the Partido Obrero (PO) published a photo taken in the Argentine Congress holding signs with this slogan (see article photo). These organizations defend this proposal in statements and articles published on their web pages [4]. It is with this position that we want to debate, because we consider it wrong.
Lenin’s approach to wars
The starting point of the debate is that, for us, according to Lenin, the different wars cannot be considered equal: it is necessary to understand the specific meaning of each war in order to take a position.
The clearest reference in this sense is the work Socialism and War (1915), written by Lenin with the aim of orienting the Russian Bolshevik party and the revolutionary wing of the Second International in the face of the First World War [5]. In that work, Lenin vindicates the concept elaborated by the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, in 1832: “War is the prolongation of politics by other means” [6]. That is to say, in order to characterize any war and take a position on it, Marxists must first study and understand the political character of such a war.
Lenin correctly characterized World War I as essentially an inter-imperialist war and in it socialists had “no fatherland.” From there, he made a fierce criticism of the main parties of the Second International (the German and French) which supported their respective imperialist bourgeoisies. For him, the only possible line in the face of this type of war was revolutionary defeatism (“the defeat of imperialism itself is the lesser evil”) and he oriented the Bolshevik party to “transform the inter-imperialist war into a revolutionary class war,” something which took shape in the October Revolution (1917). At the same time, he analyzed that there is another type of war, which he called ‘necessary and just’: “In history there have been numerous wars which, in spite of all the horrors, atrocities, distress and suffering that inevitably accompany all wars, were progressive, i.e., benefited the development of mankind…”.
Within this last type of war, he defined one in particular: “Only in this sense have Socialists regarded, and now regard, wars ‘for the defence of the fatherland,’ or ‘defensive’ wars, as legitimate, progressive and just. For example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be ‘just,’ ‘defensive’ wars, irrespective of who attacked first; and every Socialist would sympathise with the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states against the oppressing, slaveowning, predatory ‘great’ powers.” That is to say, for Lenin, the position in the face of war and its outcome did not depend on the type of leadership of that struggle in the oppressed country but on the character of the countries in conflict. In this case, socialists “should recognise and champion the right of oppressed nations to self-determination” and place themselves in this military camp. That was, for Lenin, the central parameter and a guiding thread for the socialist revolution: “Socialists cannot achieve their great aim without fighting against all oppression of nations.”
Trotsky shared these criteria with Lenin. Faced with the Japanese invasion of China, he wrote: “[It is] the duty of all the workers’ organizations of China to participate actively and in the front lines of the present war against Japan, without abandoning, for a single moment, their own program and independent activity. In participating in the military struggle under the orders of Chiang Kai-shek, since unfortunately it is he who has the command in the war for independence—to prepare politically the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek … that is the only revolutionary policy” [7].
The “pacifist” policy serves Putin and the Russian invasion
In their statements, both PTS and PO express that there is aggression towards Ukraine by Russia and Putin’s regime. The PTS states: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine is clearly reactionary, where a power that has the third largest army in the world and nuclear weapons militarily invades a border state to impose its own conditions and interests,” while the PO analyzes that: “Russia’s military incursion does not respond to a popular interest nor to a cause of national and social emancipation of the workers […], but to the interests and appetites of the Russian restorationist clique and oligarchy, in its arm wrestling with the West” [8].
Why, then, do they not apply Lenin’s criterion in the face of this type of war: that the socialists “should defend the fatherland” of the oppressed country and place themselves in its military camp? That is, if we apply it to the present situation in Ukraine: support the struggle of this country against the Russian invasion and work for its defeat.
It is from this initial consideration that both organizations develop an argumentative structure in which the Ukrainian people face, at this moment, two equivalent enemies: the Russian invasion, on the one hand, and the imperialist penetration, on the other. For example, the PTS expresses: “NATO imperialist powers are using the Russian occupation, which has generated a warranted repudiation in a large part of the population of these countries, to justify a renewed upsurge of militarism. In the case of Germany, it is a ‘historic turn,’ as its Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz called it, in the military interventionism of this imperialist power.” For its part, the PO goes further, pointing out: “We are facing a new chapter where imperialism is to blame,“ and in its program for the situation it puts “NATO and the IMF out” as a higher priority than the struggle against the Russian invasion.
Let us dwell a little on these arguments. They start from elements which, in themselves, are true. In the first place, it is true that, in the present reality, every war in the world is, in the last analysis, the responsibility of imperialist capitalism. Secondly, it is true that the Ukrainian bourgeoisie expressed in the government of Volodymir Zelenski has the project of integrating into the European Union as a semi-colony, and even of integrating into NATO. Thirdly, it is true that imperialism was advancing in this project to subjugate Ukraine politically, financially and militarily, and now intends to use the war to “mark the field for Putin” in his aspirations to have an “area of influence of his own” to act as an intermediary of imperialist colonization [9].
In “normal” conditions, that is, without Russian invasion, the axis of a program for Ukraine would be precisely the struggle against this process of semi-colonization driven by imperialism and the Zelenski government. But the current reality is not “normal”: there is a military aggression by the Russian army, ordered by Putin, against the Ukrainian people.
As expressed in Eduardo Almeida’s article: “This is not a NATO military invasion of Russian territory. In that case, we would undoubtedly position ourselves in defense of Russia, both because it is an economy dependent on imperialism and because it has been invaded. What really exists is a Russian military invasion of Ukraine to recompose its direct oppression. This is the concrete reality today. A brutal invasion by the second military power in the world against a country which has no military conditions to confront Russia, and which relies on the heroism of its people” [10].
Currently, who is attacking and destroying Ukrainian cities, who is killing the Ukrainian people is the Russian army? Not NATO. At the same time, there are no NATO soldiers fighting Russian troops in Ukraine (nor, as far as we know, anywhere else). Imperialism, because of its own contradictions, has not even applied a profound policy of economic sanctions against the Putin regime [11].
Then, to suggest that to end the war in Ukraine, we must confront “the two enemies” that, simultaneously, the Ukrainian people are facing, is a very serious error of analysis and characterization and, therefore, concludes in a completely wrong policy [12].
A dead-end
In analyzing that the Ukrainian people today must simultaneously confront two equivalent enemies, these organizations reach a dead end. How to position themselves in the face of a struggle which, on the one hand, is just because it fights one of the enemies (the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion ordered by Putin) but which, at the same time, would favor the other (imperialism) and, therefore, has a reactionary component?
To try to get out of this impasse, these organizations propose a policy with two components. One, as we have seen, is the pacifism of the “No to war” slogan; that is to say “I have no side.” Therefore, the PTS, in order to fight against the Russian invasion, proposes: “From the revolutionary left we have to encourage mobilizations all over the world against the war, which call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine…”. That is, instead of calling to support the Ukrainian resistance and to do everything possible for its triumph, they tell the Ukrainians who are under the bombs and bullets of the Russian army (and the workers and peoples of the world) that it is necessary to fight against the invasion “marching for peace” [13]. In the present war, the only place in the world where a pacifist policy is progressive is in Russia, in the mobilizations for peace which confront the Putin government and which the latter represses with severity [14].
The second group calls for an abstract struggle for socialist revolution in Ukraine and Russia, as the only way that can guarantee the self-determination of Ukraine and fraternal relations between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. It is clear that, in strategic terms, this is correct. It was what Lenin demonstrated in the short period when his policy was applied in the Soviet Union. But, posed as a concrete political orientation in the face of the current war in Ukraine, it ends up being what in Argentina is called “a salute to the flag”[ 15].
Both components openly clash with the criteria and policy proposed by Lenin in the material already cited. In the first place, we have seen that, for him, in a war between an oppressed country and an oppressor country, the socialists “must defend the fatherland” of the oppressed country. In the framework of his characterization that an inter-imperialist war was in progress, Lenin was fully aware that the struggle of an oppressed country against its oppressor could favor the other imperialist camp (in the case of the examples he gives, the so-called Central Empires). Nevertheless, he maintained with total firmness his position of support for the oppressed country.
At the same time, far from making an abstract call for socialist revolution, Lenin affirmed: “The socialists cannot achieve their lofty goal without fighting against all oppression of nations.” In other words, one of the most important paths to socialist revolution is through support for the struggle of the oppressed countries against the oppressors. Specifically, in the current war, the road to a new socialist revolution in Ukraine (and also in Russia) passes through the triumph of the Ukrainian resistance and the defeat of the Russian invasion.
In this framework, we do not place any confidence in the Zelenski government nor in the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, who are ready to surrender the country to imperialism. Still less do we consider that a triumph of the Ukrainian resistance could come at the hands of imperialism and a NATO military intervention in the country.
As we have said, the policy proposed by the PTS and the PO clashes head-on with the criteria and policy proposed by Lenin. In fact, it ends up being an abstentionist policy (neither-nor) which capitulates and favors Putin and the Russian invasion, and which does not fight against it.
What do we propose to do?
This debate would not be complete if we did not refer to the proposals we should take to the workers and masses of the world, and their organizations, to support the resistance of the Ukrainian people and against the invasion of the Russian army. We do not refer to the program or set of slogans we must put forward in the face of the war (which have been formulated in different LIT statements [16]) but to the tasks which can be taken.
In the first place, of course, to mobilize to publicly manifest this support, as has been happening in Europe and other parts of the world [17]. In this framework, it is possible and necessary to constitute solidarity committees to be able to concretize this support.
We are dealing with a war in which we support the resistance of a people fighting its enemy under very unequal conditions. Therefore, the question of armaments and military supplies becomes a central issue. In this sense, as expressed in the declaration of the European and US sections of the LIT-CI, we must actively support the efforts of the Ukrainians to acquire arms and supplies to defend themselves [18].
In this framework, we believe that it is absolutely correct to mobilize to demand from the governments (especially from the imperialist countries) to deliver to the Ukrainian resistance the weapons and all the necessary materials (ammunition, food, medicines) directly and without any conditions. We are totally against the entry of NATO into the conflict and we demand its dissolution. We also call to combat the measures of “strengthening” of the armies that compose it (as just announced by the German government) because they are a threat to all the peoples of the world. What we say is that these governments must be required to hand over their weapons to the Ukrainian resistance directly and unconditionally.
Let us now turn to the issue of sanctions. As a more general criterion, we oppose sanctions by imperialist governments against other nations because they mean “punishment” against those nations. However, there are different situations in which we support and demand sanctions. For example, at the time of the apartheid regime in South Africa or, currently, with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign against the State of Israel.
In particular, as expressed in a statement already quoted, we are in favor of sanctioning “the oligarchs, whom Putin represents […] it is precisely here that Putin can and must be hit in order to stop him and make him step back” [19]. There it cites that a recent study reports that these Russian big bourgeoisie “has deposited in Western countries such as the UK, Switzerland, and others, and in tax havens, wealth equivalent to 85% of Russian GDP” [20]. We must demand that this wealth be confiscated and handed over, directly and unconditionally, to the Ukrainian resistance.
We support the actions that the workers define to take through their organizations. For example, workers at the Ellesmere refinery port in Cheshire, England, refused to unload oil from Russia, replicating what had been done by workers at the Kent gas terminal and in ports in the Netherlands. According to the information, “a wave of such protests is spreading through European ports in response to the invasion of Ukraine” [21].
For us, in the face of the war in Ukraine, these are the policies and tasks that we revolutionaries who claim to be Leninists and Trotskyists must pose to the workers and the masses. On the contrary, as we have said, pacifism and the “No to war” slogan end up capitulating to Putin and his invasion.
Originally published in Spanish here
[1] See, among other articles, El estalinismo, la crisis del orden mundial y la invasión rusa – LIT-CI (litci.org)
[2] See: Defeat the Russian military invasion of Ukraine!
[3] On this position, see for example, the page ICIP (Instituto Catalán Internacional para la Paz) in Opiniones sobre la guerra en Ucrania con perspectiva de paz – ICIP
[4] See: https://www.laizquierdadiario.com/No-a-la-guerra-Fuera-las-tropas-rusas-de-Ucrania-Fuera-la-OTAN-de-Europa-del-este-No-al-rearme-imperialista-Por-la-unidad-internacional-de-la-clase-trabajadora-Por-una-politica-independiente-en-Ucrania-para-enfrentar-la-ocupacion-rusa-y-la-dominacion and https://po.org.ar/comunicados/guerra-a-la-guerra-fuera-la-otan-y-el-fmi-abajo-la-burocracia-restauracionista-de-putin/
[5] See: Lenin, Socialism and War, Chapter 1: The Principles of Socialism and the War of 1914-1915
[6] See Carl von Clausewitz, On War, I, art. I, chp. I, sec. XXIV
[7] See Trotsky, “On the Sino-Japanese War”
[8] See note 4
[9] On this, we suggest reading https://litci.org/es/rusia-bajo-putin/ (not yet translated to English)
[10] See https://litci.org/es/el-estalinismo-la-crisis-del-orden-mundial-y-la-invasion-rusa/ (not yet translated to English)
[11] See https://litci.org/es/el-impacto-de-la-guerra-ruso-ucraniana-en-la-economia-mundial/ (not yet translated to English)
[12] Another leftist organization in Argentina not integrated in the FIT-U (the new MAS) has developed this position. In an article by one of it’s leaders, they express that Ukraine is involved in “two superimposed conflicts;” in other words, a war that combines two enemies. See: https://izquierdaweb.com/sobre-el-caracter-de-la-guerra-en-ucrania/
[13] For example, at the recent meeting of the Plenary of Combative Unionism (PSC, in which the FIT-U forces have a great weight) more than 600 activists participated and a resolution on the war in Ukraine was voted with that content.
[14] See, for example: https://www.europapress.es/internacional/noticia-mas-mil-detenidos-principio-nuevas-manifestaciones-contra-guerra-rusia-20220306130116.html
[15] An expression applied to a “merely formal saying or statement, which in reality does not imply any deep adherence to the ideas or principles alluded to.”
[16] https://litci.org/en/for-a-broad-international-campaign-of-support-and-solidarity-with-the-ukrainian-resistance-for-the-defeat-of-the-russian-armys-invasion-no-to-nato/
[17] See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/06/tens-of-thousands-join-rallies-around-the-world-in-support-of-ukraine
[18] See https://litci.org/es/derrotar-a-la-invasion-rusa-tropas-rusas-fuera-de-ucrania-armas-para-la-resistencia-estados-unidos-la-otan-y-la-ue-fuera-de-ucrania-disolucion-de-la-otan-y-la-cs/ (not yet translated to English)
[19] Ibid.
[20] See From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016 by Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty, and Gabriel Zucman in NPZ2017.pdf (wid.world)

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