Thu Feb 22, 2024
February 22, 2024

On the Slogans “No to War” and “Not One Tank for Ukraine”

Pacifism works against the Ukrainian people and strengthens Putin and the European and American imperialists.

The distinction between oppressor nations and oppressed ones is the primary dividing line drawn by Lenin to determine revolutionary policy. This is why we are not surprised that the German reformist party Die Linke is developing a campaign in Germany with the slogans “No to War” and “No Sending Tanks to Ukraine,” joined by the “Unidas Podemos” campaign in Spain. We could not expect anything different from these organizations, and if we are discussing reformist organizations in imperialist countries, they are the left leg of their own countries’ imperialism. But what surprises us is that organizations associated with the Trotskyist Fraction (TF), specifically its groups in Spain and Germany, have embarked on this campaign. To what extent can we be neutral in this conflict without discarding the above distinction drawn by Lenin, since this too was Trotsky’s guide for the revolutionary program in the case of wars of national aggression? This brief article will be fundamentally devoted to this debate.

By SI of the IWL-FI

“Not a single tank to Ukraine!”[1], which very well could have been uttered by Vladimir Putin, is also the slogan of organizations claiming to be revolutionary Marxists under the argument that we are facing a “reactionary war.” Using that line of reasoning they position themselves against the Ukrainian resistance’s demand for arms, calling for “No to War!” and the strengthening of an “anti-war movement.”

Upon such “grounds,” the German TF group demands that trade unions call a general strike, not to demand more support for the nearly unarmed Ukraine, the nation under attack, but for the “end of the war and all hostile actions, such as arms sales and sanctions.”[2] It is not difficult to imagine Putin applauding such a proposal from the Kremlin.

Campaign propaganda from the TF in Spain

Beyond the fact that, rhetorically, the TF presents the well-known formula of “neither nor” (neither Putin nor NATO, they write), which may seem like an “independent” position, but in practice favors the side of the conquering military, that is, Putin’s side. Moreover, this supposed “neutrality” in the face of a war of national liberation against the invasion of an oppressive power also prevents the unmasking of the real roles of NATO and the EU in the war – that is, the consistent denunciation of European and American imperialisms, which do not seek to help the Ukrainian people but to use the war for their own purposes. Namely, they are interested in the weakening of Russia, since sending arms to Ukraine is only related to the increase of military budgets in the cynical and hypocritical propaganda of European and American imperialisms. To unmask the real objectives of Western imperialist policy and its insufficient military aid, and to explain the motives behind the haggling and delays in sending heavy weapons, it is necessary to side with the Ukrainian resistance.

The crux of the problem lies, once again, in how we define the nature of the war. According to the TF, this is a “reactionary war,” but for the Ukrainian workers, it is about militarily defeating the occupying Russian forces. We stand with the Ukrainian workers and people for the military defeat of the occupiers, while raising the alarm about the interests of European and US imperialists. Only their political independence can overcome the limits imposed by the semi-colonial bourgeois Zelensky leadership.

The character of the war

The war in Ukraine is taking place in an indisputable context of an upsurge of imperialist rivalries and a crisis of the world order. But this context of growing rivalry between the military power that is Russia and NATO does not erase the fact that in this war, there is an oppressor side and an oppressed side, an aggressor and an aggressed. It is not admissible to equate the interests and policies of the Kremlin, the oppressor country, with those of Ukraine, the oppressed country.

Putin launched a war of conquest – let us recall that in 2014, he illegally annexed Crimea in response to the overthrow of Yanukovych, his strongman in Ukraine – which called into question the relations of domination exercised by the Kremlin towards Ukraine. Today the Putin regime is denying Ukraine the right to exist, by force of arms. On Putin’s part, we are indeed facing a reactionary war.

On the Ukrainian side, regardless of the oligarchic and pro-Western imperialist character of the Zelensky government and its subordination to the neo-colonial plans of the IMF and the EU, the cynical and circumstantial position of the Western imperialists does not erase the core truth: we are facing a just war on the part of the Ukrainians, a war of national liberation against a conquering army, the second most powerful on the planet.

If this elementary difference, which sums up the nature of the main contradiction of the war today, is not acknowledged, it is impossible to put forward a revolutionary position and policy.

Given that the Ukrainian military side, whoever is at its helm, is fighting a “just war,” revolutionaries must fight for the military victory of Ukraine, the oppressed and invaded nation. And we must do this without giving any political support for Zelensky and NATO, who, despite their rhetoric, do not aim for a crushing defeat of Russia. Within that camp, our policy has always been to advocate for the independent organization of the Ukrainian proletariat, independent of Zelensky, the EU and the IMF.

The policy of European and U.S. imperialism, in reality, aims to promote better conditions for an eventual negotiation with Putin, although there are contradictions between Biden, Macron and Scholz. Hence the sending of money, resources, and weapons in dribs and drabs, always below what is necessary for Ukraine to win the war. That is why they are imposing soft sanctions and continue to do business with Putin. NATO’s intention is to put pressure on Putin, weakening the Russian economy and its military apparatus as much as possible, without cornering him or pushing him into a negotiation in which the destruction of Ukraine is on the table.

Thus, we oppose and fully denounce NATO (which, let it be said, must be dissolved) and its increasing rearmament. We strongly oppose all the military budgets of Biden, Macron, Sanchez etc., and we denounce Zelensky as Biden’s and the EU’s man in Ukraine. But we must always engage in this political confrontation as “the best soldiers against Putin.” Neither NATO nor Zelensky can be exposed for what they are outside the Ukrainian trenches or, as “neither nor” suggests, by standing still in a “no man’s land” and in the crossfire.

Let’s call things by their true names. When the TF cries “No to War,” in general, it capitulates to Putin through the sterile path of pacifism. This is true, no matter how much they criticize Putin or eventually recognize Ukraine’s right to sovereignty. Since, among other things, the logic of war as a “reactionary” totality ignores the main contradiction of war and equalizes both sides, preventing solidarity and support for any arms shipments to Ukraine.

The latter is of vital importance: how, during an invasion, will Ukrainians be able to defend their sovereignty without adequate weapons?

It is not necessary to be a specialist in military affairs to understand that the slogan “Not a Single Tank for Ukraine,” in the context of war, can only contribute to the defeat of the oppressed and occupied country. Putin, without much ado, could subscribe to the TF’s approach.

An old polemic

The policy of the TF today in the Ukrainian war is very similar to that of Shachtman’s Workers Party in the Second Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1937 when Japan invaded China. At the beginning of the war, both James Cannon’s SWP, a section of the Fourth International, and Shachtman’s WP supported China against Japan. But in 1941, when the US entered into an armed confrontation with Japan in the context of World War II and began to send military aid to China, Shachtman changed his policy regarding the war, adopting a position of “neither nor” neutrality very similar to that defended today by the TF regarding Ukraine.

Shachtman argued that US intervention in 1941 automatically and qualitatively changed the war’s character from a war of national liberation to an inter-imperialist war. As a result, he asserted that revolutionaries should therefore cease any support for the Chinese masses, and instead argued for US-Japanese revolutionary defeatism and spread the slogan “against the war” everywhere.

The SWP polemicized with the WP by rescuing the understanding of Trotsky and the Fourth International which asserted that in the epoch of imperialist war, and during an imperialist war, the tasks of struggle for national liberation and struggle against fascism were not negated by the imperialist confrontation, but combined with the struggle against imperialist war. Making a sectarian abstraction of the facts of the class struggle at that time, where the contradiction between imperialism is always, in all cases, and almost by definition, “omnipotent,” Shachtman affirmed the following:

Is there then no future for China’s struggle against imperialism? Is the struggle for freedom of the colonial countries and peoples in general a hopeless one, at least while the World War is on?

Yes, the struggle of the colonies for freedom is utterly hopeless during the present World War if they continue the course of serving one imperialist camp against the other. That is today the course of the bourgeoisie in every colonial and semi-colonial country, and its tragic results multiply every day in Latin America, in Europe, in Africa and above all in Asia. It is not the course toward independence, but rather to deeper, more exhausting, more ignoble dependency upon imperialism, that is, enslavement to it… The Second World War, imperialist to its core, is total and all-dominating. In its first stage, at least, it was inevitable that it draw into the grip of its iron ring all the small countries, all the would-be neutral countries, all the isolated national wars and struggles for national freedom. That is where these struggles are today – within the iron ring of the imperialist war.” [3]

Morrison of the SWP replied to Shachtman by re-establishing the Marxist tradition vis-à-vis the national liberation struggle, and we believe that this assessment is very useful today in understanding the role of revolutionaries in the Ukrainian war:

Shachtman’s general proposition is that it is not permissible to support the struggle of a colonial or semi-colonial nation against an imperialist nation that is involved in a war with another imperialist nation, so long as the colonial nation is under the control of the capitalist class. When Japan was not at war officially with the United States and Great Britain, it was correct to support China but it became incorrect to do so as soon as fighting began between Japan and the United States and Britain. Shachtman’s conclusion constitutes a rejection of the colonial policy of revolutionary Marxism because at no time did any one recognized as an authority by revolutionary Marxists make any claim that the policy of supporting a colonial or semi-colonial nation against an imperialist oppressor is applicable only when there is no imperialist war going on or when the imperialist oppressor against whom the colonial nation is struggling is at peace with all other imperialist nations….[T]he essence of the colonial policy of revolutionary Marxism is to support the struggle of the colonial people against an imperialist oppressor even though it is led by the bourgeoisie and without making any exception during a period when an imperialist war is raging. Shachtman considers a colonial struggle during an imperialist war as a hopeless one. To that we can only give Lenin’s answer to a similar argument: a hopeless struggle is still a struggle.

Shachtman’s advice to the colonial peoples amounts to this: do not struggle against our imperialist oppressor while he is at war with another imperialist oppressor. Fourth Internationalists say to the colonial peoples: follow the advice of Lenin and Trotsky who said that the time when your imperialist oppressor is involved in a war with a rival imperialist nation is the best time for you to revolt. Lenin’s and Trotsky’s advice to the colonial peoples was to take advantage of the difficulties created by war in order to throw off the chains of imperialist oppression.”[4]

This position of the SWP in the Second Sino-Japanese War, which overlapped with World War II, is even more relevant and evident today when there is not a direct armed confrontation between NATO and Putin’s armies. From that political standpoint, the SWP continued to give active support to the Chinese masses at war with Japan while China defended an independent working-class position in the struggle, and in both China and the United States, opposed Roosevelt’s imperialist aims in the war and campaigned against the war and imperialist rearmament budgets. Morrison of the SWP responded very eloquently to those who would use the mere existence of U.S. material aid to change their political orientation toward the war and away from supporting the Chinese national liberation struggle:

            “There is no doubt but that after Pearl Harbor far more aid was forthcoming to China. Perhaps the capture of the Burma Road by the Japanese has reduced the quantity of armaments reaching China but that is not important. We shall assume that the aid reaching China from the United States if far greater now than it was prior to Pearl Harbor. Does the quantity of material sent to China by the United States change the character of the Chinese conflict? To ask that question is sufficient to show the absurdity of such a contention.

            “Even prior to the official declaration of war, U.S. aviators were fighting for China. Let us suppose now that there are many more of them in China. That of course is a more important factor. But no one who is a realistic Marxist will contend that getting technical help, or even military help through specially trained officers, changes the character of the Chinese conflict. What is important is: who, in the last analysis, is in control of the armed forces and therefore in control of the conflict?

            “If the Indian nationalists had accepted the Cripps’ offer and gone to war against Japan with the Indian armies under the control of British imperialism, India would not be fighting for its independence but for British imperialism. Thus far no one in his right senses can say that it is not the Chinese government who controls the Chinese armies and all other armies in China. Should the situation change and should a sufficient number of American troops be sent to China and take control of the struggle against Japan, then we would have to change our attitude. But this has not happened.” [5]

The criterion proposed by the SWP for evaluating its attitude toward material aid and U.S. intervention in the war was not the quantity or quality of material aid (the quantity of munitions, or whether the U.S. sent defensive or offensive weapons, etc.), or even whether only weapons were sent and not special officers and technicians, but the ratio of class forces on the ground: “Who, in the last analysis, is in control of the armed forces and therefore in control of the conflict?” That is why revolutionaries in imperialist countries have a tremendous responsibility to follow the facts on the ground as closely and as accurately as they can, always trying to establish direct contact with the resistance movement, to assess the class dynamics in the war. That was the policy of Trotsky and the SWP during the war, when the task of the revolutionaries was to intervene and support the wars of national liberation even in the context of rising imperialist rivalries.           

Based on the facts, the TF aligns itself with pacifist reformism

In practical terms, the TF reinforces the chorus of pacifism of Unidas Podemos and a wide range of organizations and intellectuals of the European left.

A few days ago, the Minister of Social Rights and Secretary General of Podemos, Ione Belarra, rejected the sending of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine: “It is time to lead the diplomatic way in Europe. Experts are warning that sending Leopard tanks would only contribute to the escalation of the war and could lead to an unpredictable response from Russia”[6]. Pablo Echenique, spokesman for Unidas Podemos in the Spanish Congress, maintained that it was necessary to opt for “the path of dialogue and not to ask for more tanks”[7]. Let us recall that this is the spokesman of the same party that voted in favor of a 25% increase in the Spanish military budget for NATO food proposed by the PSOE. To the chorus of imperialist pacifism that feeds the wars of its interest, we must add Sira Rego, leader of Izquierda Unida, who said that “we cannot agree that the solution to the war is a permanent increase in the shipment of arms. Achieving a cease-fire and betting on diplomacy to bring an end to the war must be the priority, at the national and international level”[8]. For his part, Enrique Santiago, spokesman for the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), warned of the “possible consequences of increasing the degree of military involvement…with a military escalation of unforeseeable consequences and with the involvement of nuclear powers”[9].

In the broad bloc of so-called “progressive” parties and governments that deny arms to Ukraine but support arming NATO, we must include Lula, who recently rejected the sending of tank ammunition to the country [10]. However, Brazil is supplying ammunition to the repressive forces that are massacring the Peruvian people [11].

The essence of the position of Spanish and European reformism and Stalinism, as can be seen, is identical to that of the TF: not a single tank for Ukraine, no military escalation, no war…! As if the war and the military escalation were the responsibility of the Ukrainian people!

To make matters worse, the refusal to send weapons is a point of convergence of pacifism with Putinism and even with Steve Bannon or Trump, exponents of the most rancid of the world’s ultra-right. The former U.S. president, let us recall, opposed head-on the promise to send tanks: “First come the tanks, then the nuclear weapons” [12].

From the broad arc of Putinist, pacifist and reformist organizations and spokesmen, no different position can be expected. But as for the shameless alignment of a current that claims to be Trotskyist and revolutionary with those sectors, without pushing the arguments, we believe that it is equivalent to defending “neutrality” during the British aggression against Argentina when the military dictatorship tried to recover the Malvinas… or “peace.” The cessation of wars claimed by the Russian masses, subjected to the brutal dictatorship, is progressive and we would like it to be expressed in mass mobilizations, as in the USA, but in Europe it would be the same as was the case during the war for the liberation of Vietnam, using the slogan of “peace” amid the struggle for national liberation.

Weapons without conditions for the Ukrainian resistance! Independent organization of the working class Ukrainian resistance!

For the IWL-FI, there is no possible “neither nor” stance during a just war. We will continue to be in the front line of support for the Ukrainian people without ceasing to also differentiate ourselves from the plans of Biden, the EU, and the rearmament of NATO.

In that sense, we will continue to support and stand in solidarity with those persecuted in Russia and Belarus, who are imprisoned for opposing Putin’s war. The slogan of “no war” and “defeatism” only acquires progressive character in Russia. To say “no to war” outside Russia, the oppressor and aggressor country, is to fight for the defeat of the invaded nation.

Only by supporting the Ukrainian resistance will it be possible to combat and unmask NATO, the US, the EU and Zelensky’s own oligarchic government, which attacks the Ukrainian working class and is incapable of facing the struggle against the Russian aggressor to the last consequences.

It is necessary to have a policy which aims to win the war. Therefore, it is necessary to support the delivery of all the weapons and military technology necessary to defeat Putin.

Instead of saying “not a single tank for Ukraine,” we must denounce that the fleet promised by NATO imperialism is insufficient and may take too long. Ukraine urgently needs much more [13]. NATO’s “aid” must be denounced for its essentially imperialist character: it does not send the armament demanded by the Ukrainian people, whom it does not consider as an equal, nor does it seek to give equal quality weapons, but sends, as it has done in all wars, inferior armament at the suitable quantity and pace to achieve its own military objectives against Russia, at the expense of the lives of the Ukrainian people.

The military correlation of forces today is a reality that cannot be denied: in addition to the Leopard 2, Abrams, or Challenger 2 battle tanks, it is indispensable to send F-15, F-16, or A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter planes (specifically for infantry air support); without this, it is impossible to control the airspace. Without air superiority, sending tanks is of little use [14]. In addition to the HIMARS multiple missile launcher system, the Ukrainians are asking for MGM-140 ATACMS missiles, with a range of 300 kilometers.

But the most crucial element for victory is advancing the independent organization of the fierce Ukrainian resistance, involving various forms of workers’ and civilian self-organization, which shows us that victory is possible. The counteroffensive of late 2022 showed that the Russian war machine can be defeated. And in the hands of this resistance lie not only the means to defeat the Russian invasion but also the plans of spoliation and adjustment that Zelensky has signed with the EU and the IMF.

In this sense, on the part of the Ukrainian nation, the war is not only “just” but revolutionary, insofar as it confronts the Putin regime, a bastion of world counterrevolution.

It is very important to strengthen the campaign “Weapons for Ukraine, for the military defeat of Putin”, which brings together several trade unions and workers’ organizations. The International Trade Union Network, in which the CSP-Conlutas of Brazil participates, is part of this effort and has so far organized two convoys that have taken political and material solidarity to workers sectors of the local resistance [15].

The world working class, far from demonstrating for “No to War”, as the TF proposes, must take up the Ukrainian cause as its own, and get involved in a campaign of international solidarity with class independence. Putin’s defeat will be a victory for the international working class, although, for that, unfortunately, we cannot count on the TF.


[1] https://www.izquierdadiario.es/El-gobierno-cumple-con-su-compromiso-guerrerista-y-enviara-tanques-a-Ucrania

[2] https://www.esquerdadiario.com.br/spip.php?page=gacetilla-articulo&id_article=54730

[3] Max Shachtman “China in the World War” (July 1942) (excerpted you can read here the entire very long polemic) From New InternationalVol. VIII No. 5, June 1942, pp. 162–172. Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan (December 2012).

[4] M. Morrison, “We Support the Struggle Of China” (July 1942) The Militant, July 18th 1942.

[5] Morrison, “We Support the Struggle Of China–2” (July1942) The Militant, July 25th 1942

[6] https://www.eldiario.es/politica/rechaza-envio-tanques-leopard-ucrania-alerte-respuesta-imprevisible-rusia_1_9895147.html

[7] Idem.

[8] Idem.

[9] Idem. 

[10] https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mundo/2023/01/lula-diz-nao-ter-interesse-em-enviar-municao-a-ucrania-e-propoe-forum-de-paz.shtml

[11] https://litci.org/pt/2023/02/01/brasil-abastece-com-armas-a-repressao-no-peru/

[12] https://www.europapress.es/internacional/noticia-trump-carga-contra-envio-blindados-ucrania-primero-vienen-tanques-luego-armas-nucleares-20230126212519.html

[13] https://litci.org/es/el-envio-de-tanques-y-armas-para-ucrania-es-insuficiente/

[14]Ukraine claims it needs up to 200 multipurpose fighters, such as F-16s.

[15] https://litci.org/es/sindicalistas-realizan-segundo-convoy-de-ayuda-obrera-a-ucrania/

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