The war unleashed by the Russian invasion, as in every war, gives rise to the most disparate judgments and positions and divides societies, including those we know as leftists and defenders of peace.
By Felipe Alegría
The Russian invasion has unleashed a massive movement of rejection of war and defense of peace; even more so when world leaders have come to speak of the risk of nuclear conflict. The “No to war” is also, for the great majority, a repudiation of the brutal Russian invasion and an open sympathy with the massacred Ukrainian people. We fully share this sentiment just as we disagree with those political currents which, claiming to be pacifist, take a neutral position in the name of “all wars are equal”.
Not all wars are equal, and its not the same to defend the “No to war” in Moscow as it is to defend it in the great capitals of the EU. In Moscow there is nothing neutral about this slogan: it means facing the invasion of troops from your country head-on and, consequently, siding with the Ukrainian resistance. In Madrid, if it is not accompanied by clear support for the Ukrainian people, it means opposing the war “in general”, without understanding that there can be no peace worthy of the name without the defeat of the Russian invasion.
That is why, when a military conflict starts, it is so important to define its nature, since the position to be adopted depends on it.
The Russian invasion is a war of aggression against Ukraine
Lenin, faced with a war, asked himself: “Can the war be explained without relating it to the preceding policy of this or that State, of this or that system of States, of these or those [social] classes? -and he concluded, “this is the essential question, which is always forgotten, and the misunderstanding of which makes nine out of ten discussions on war a vain dispute and mere talk”. These were his questions: “What is the class character of the war, why has it been unleashed, what classes sustain it, what historical and historical-economic conditions have brought it into being?”
What we have before our eyes is a war of national aggression of the second military power in the world against a much weaker nation, which it wants to subdue by violence, with methods of extreme cruelty. Ukraine, throughout its history, with the exception of the short initial period of the USSR during Lenin’s lifetime, has lived subjugated, first by Tsarism and then by the Stalinist bureaucracy.
The Russian intervention in Ukraine is a continuation of the war and bloody occupation of Chechnya, of the Russian military intervention in Georgia, of the direct support to the dictator Lukashenko in Belarus, of the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of the Donbass and of the military intervention in Kazakhstan this January to quell a popular revolt against the pro-Russian dictatorship.
Putin’s press conferences with the image of Catherine the Great in the background, the great expansion figure of the Russian empire in the 18th century, are a statement of intent. The nature of this conflict is a war of national aggression, whose purpose is the military, economic and political control of a country that is a huge grain producer, has a fundamental geographic location for energy and commercial transit, and a dimension and resources that the Kremlin considers essential for its capitalist project of Greater Russia.
The invasion reflects, paradoxically, the economic weakness of Russian capitalism, economically dependent and dominated by a handful of oligarchs whose role in the world division of labor is basically reduced to that of energy supplier. However, Russian capitalism is, at the same time, a nuclear military superpower inherited from the USSR which, in order to preserve its interests as a power in what it considers its vital space, must resort to military force, with which it sustains submissive dictatorships.
In the face of a war of national aggression like the present one, the only legitimate position from the point of view of the interests of the international working class is solidarity and support for the resistance of the Ukrainian people to defeat the Russian imperial aggression. That is why we must be in the military camp of the Ukrainian people. This is what Lenin taught us when he wrote: “If, for example, tomorrow Morocco were to declare war on France; India on England; Persia or China on Russia, etc., these wars would be ‘just’, ‘defensive’ wars, regardless of who attacked first, and every socialist would sympathize with the victory of the oppressed, dependent states, undermined in their rights, over the oppressive, enslaving and plundering ‘great’ powers.”
Civilians prepare the defense of Ukrainian cities It is in the same sense that Leon Trotsky wrote in 1937: “We do not place, nor have we ever placed all wars on the same plane. Marx and Engels supported the revolutionary struggle of the Irish against Great Britain, that of the Poles against the Tsar – and he added – although in both wars the leaders were, for the most part, members of the bourgeoisie and even sometimes of the feudal aristocracy… ,in any case, reactionary Catholics.”
There is nothing “anti-imperialist” about Putin’s war
Polemicizing with those who support Putin because he is a “communist” is not worthwhile, since their reasoning responds, rather than to a serious political argumentation, to some loose strand in the brain.
There are others, however, who reach the same conclusion of support for Putin’s brutal aggression by resorting to the “theory of camps”, so dear to Stalinism, which has been defending it for almost a century. According to Stalin, the world was divided into two great camps, the “progressive camp”, which was that of the allies of the Kremlin bureaucracy, and the reactionary camp, that of those who were against it. In reality, the composition of the camps varied according to Stalin’s diplomatic interests. In the 1930s, his first allies were British and French imperialism; then, from April 1939 to June 1941, it was the Nazis. Then, after the Nazi invasion of the USSR, its allies became the USA and Great Britain, which lasted until the so-called Cold War. Then the so-called “peaceful coexistence” was established with two consolidated camps: the “peace camp”, the progressive one, in the shadow of the Kremlin, and the imperialist camp, headed by the USA. Of course, the position before any international contest was not given by the nature and class interests in conflict, but according to the “friendship” with the Kremlin bureaucracy.
Now, decades after capitalism was restored in China and Russia, proponents of the camp theory continue to proclaim that what defines an “anti-imperialist” is to be in “the camp where NATO is not.” On the basis of this argument, they support Putin’s war of aggression. But, in truth, it is not that we are facing an ideological problem, since these theses are supported by reactionary and anti-popular capitalist regimes such as those of Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela or that of the Iranian theocracy, which seek shelter in Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China, which by the way, some have turned into nothing less than the “real socialism” of our days.
In truth, by supporting Putin’s war of aggression, these forces favor NATO and the imperialist powers, allowing them to appear as defenders of the Ukrainian people and, as the manifesto of the Russian socialist left puts it, giving them “justifications for putting missiles and military bases along our borders”, to push for indecent rearmament.
The justification that Ukraine is a “Nazi regime” is delusional
While Putin, the great friend of the international extreme right, uses the methods used by Hitler’s Wehrmacht, the Russian propaganda, reproduced by organizations of Stalinist origin, has pretended to justify its aggression in “the Nazi character” of the Ukrainian regime, presided over, by the way, by a Jewish and Russian-speaking personage. To prove it, they show photos of the Azov Battalion, a paramilitary force composed mainly of militants of Ukrainian extreme right-wing organizations such as Pravy Sector and SVOBDA.
It is common knowledge that big lies, in order to have any credibility, must have ingredients of truth. Of course, there are extreme right-wing organizations in Ukraine, including those that claim to be Nazis and on more than a few occasions maintain or have maintained links with sectors of the Army and with oligarchs. Ukraine has not been an exception in Europe and here too the extreme right has made its presence felt. However, it must be recognized that its social influence and political weight are much lower than in many European countries. The far-right National Coalition that ran in the 2019 general elections got 2.15% of the vote and did not win any seats; in the last presidential elections Svoboda’s candidate Koshulynskyi got 1.6%. Otherwise, if we were to apply this rule of three, the Spanish state, France, Italy or Germany would be super-Nazis.
The pro-Putin propaganda also silences the presence of extreme right-wing fighters and confessed Nazis in the pro-Russian militias of the Donbass, such as the famous Vostok Battalion, where Russian monarchists nostalgic for the tsarist empire, military men displaying Nazi tattoos, former members of the French Foreign Legion or volunteers of the Serbian extreme right and other places of Central Europe participate.
These pro-Nazi groups, those on one side and those on the other, are linked from their origin to different oligarchs who emerged from the mafia plundering of the country’s economy when capitalism was restored under the initiative of the former Stalinist party. These oligarchs, at the same time, were at odds with each other for their business, some oriented towards Russia and others towards the EU. This is the case of the pro-Russian RinatAkhmetov, steel and mining magnate of Donbass, and Viktor Medvedchuk, godfather of Putin’s daughter, financiers of the pro-Russian paramilitary groups in Donbass. Or that of Igor Kolomoiski, of Jewish origin and recognized Zionist, co-founder of Privat Bank, with assets in the oil and gas sector and owner of the big media, financier of the fascist group PravySektor.
To pretend to justify the military aggression against Ukraine in the name of fighting Nazism, as Putin and his cronies do, is an insult to intelligence, a repugnant trivialization of the barbarism represented by the Nazi regime and an insult to the millions of Russian and Ukrainian victims who suffered it.
It is not a war between imperialist powers
There is also no lack of currents which, repudiating Putin’s aggression, end up justifying it because “NATO has provoked Russia”. They then sentence that we are facing a confrontation between imperialist powers, in the face of which they declare themselves “neutral”, while clamoring “for peace”.
Of course, no one can deny that NATO is, among other things, an instrument of expansion of US and European imperialism towards Eastern Europe, with the aim of plundering. In the same way, Putin’s pretension with his aggression against Ukraine is to negotiate with the great Western imperialist powers a favorable location for Russian capitalism in what it considers its vital space. The Russian aggression is, on the other hand, nothing but a reflection of the profound crisis of the imperialist world order, which has exploded precisely in its weakest link.
But, this being so, it is not acceptable to dissolve the brutal war of national aggression against Ukraine into a world geopolitical abstraction. We are dealing with an absolutely unequal war of national aggression between the world’s second military power and an oppressed and much weaker nation. And this means that the first internationalist task, on which all others rest, is to take sides with the Ukrainian people and help them defeat Russian military aggression. Without that, any proclamation of repudiation of the invasion and defense of peace are empty words.
It is not legitimate to confuse a war of national aggression with a military conflict between imperialist powers to divide up the world. If it had been so, as was the case in World War I, we would not align ourselves with any of the powers in conflict and, as Lenin and the internationalists did, far from remaining neutral, we would defend revolutionary defeatism (“the defeat of imperialism itself is the lesser evil”) and we would fight to “transform the inter-imperialist war into a revolutionary class war”.
It is not enough to say that one is against the Russian military aggression and not take sides with the Ukrainian resistance. Nor to speak of support for the Ukrainian people and oppose the sending of arms to the resistance to defend it.
There is an important sector of what we know as the left that says it repudiates the military aggression and calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops. However, while they speak of solidarity with the massacred Ukrainian people, they refuse to take sides with the Ukrainian side and for the defeat of the aggressor power, while Russian troops continue to besiege cities and kill their people.
A particularly controversial aspect is the sending of arms to the resistance, to which this left wing is totally opposed, while expressing its indignation that the EU governments finally decided to send arms to the Ukrainians.
It is true that Ukraine does not receive the same treatment as the Palestinians, under Zionist barbarism, or the victims of the genocide of the Syrian regime. And it is a human aberration to discriminate against Ukrainian refugees of African and Asian origin at the borders of the EU. It is also true that the sending of arms is the result of a self-interested strategic calculation of the EU governments: they made it effective when the unexpected Ukrainian resistance defeated the blitzkrieg that everyone foresaw, when Russian savagery provoked a wave of popular indignation in their countries and when they smelled Putin’s strategic defeat and wanted to put themselves in a good position to then appropriate Ukraine’s resources (without forgetting those of Russia).
There are undoubtedly two weights and two measures and enormous hypocrisy between the US and EU governments. Now, using this indignity to deny sending arms to a people being massacred by the second military power in the world, far from correcting an injustice only universalizes it. What we must do is the opposite: denounce the hypocrisy of governments and demand that arms be sent to the Palestinians, the Burmese rebels or the Saharawi fighters.
The hypocrisy of governments knows no bounds. A clear example of this is the Spanish coalition government of Sanchez, which justifies its alignment with NATO in defense of Ukrainian national sovereignty and, at the same time, blatantly sacrifices the national sovereignty of the Saharawi people to hand it over to the reactionary Moroccan monarchy. Sanchez has also made a lot of noise with the shipment of arms to Ukraine but these have been not only scarce but of dubious effectiveness: the best he has sent, 1370 C-90 grenade launchers, are a single-use anti-tank weapon. The other weapon issued, an unspecified number of Ameli model machine guns, is jammed and hence the ground army has withdrawn it. What must be demanded is more and better weapons for the Ukrainian resistance.
Of course, we are talking about the unconditional shipment of weapons for the Ukrainian people to defend themselves from aggression. Weapons which must be sent unconditionally and which, beyond the Ukrainian army, must ensure the general arming of the workers and the civilian population. At the same time, we are totally opposed to the sending of NATO troops, since their presence can only serve to turn Ukraine into a military semi-colony and strip it of its sovereignty.
In the 1930s, Leon Trotsky, polemicizing about a hypothetical delivery of arms by Mussolini’s Italy to the Algerian insurgency against French imperialism, had no doubt that it should be supported, without this meaning that the battle against Italian fascism must not be relaxed one millimeter. That is what its all about now as well.
After the decision of the Spanish government to send arms to Ukraine, the leadership of Podemos -which is part of that government- publicly criticized it in the name of “the defense of peace”, opposing the “diplomatic way” to the “warmongering ardor”, of course, without taking sides with the Ukrainian people. However, Podemos – for some time the great referent of the “new” European left – has been for more than two years part of a government that belongs to NATO, hosts American bases, has troops stationed in NATO missions and has not stopped selling arms to the most detestable dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia. Until now podemos had not said anything. Nor did they have any misgivings when they integrated the former Chief of Defence Staff (JEMAD) and former head of Spanish armaments in NATO into the front line. Of course, as is customary among Podemos leaders, “they were only expressing an opinion”, since “foreign policy is the responsibility of the President”. First and foremost, safeguarding the seats.
It is striking, however, that some left-wing forces in Madrid, among them some considered to be of the radical left and some alternative trade union, are calling for the constitution of a Popular Assembly against the War, reproducing Podemos’ empty pacifism.
Economic sanctions have to be for the Russian oligarchs and their government
There are doubts among those who oppose Russian aggression about whether to support the economic sanctions being applied by the US and the EU, which are having a high social cost and do not serve to stop Putin’s war machine.
The price being paid by workers in Russia is very high: fall of the ruble, sharp price increases, shortages, expensive money. And it is only the beginning, because a generalized process of company closures has just begun.
On the other hand, the oligarchs, whom Putin represents, despite the fallacious propaganda of our governments, are not really affected in the assets they have plundered. And it is there, however, that Putin can and must be hit to make him back down.
According to different studies, the great Russian oligarchs have deposited in Western countries wealth equivalent to 85% of the Russian GDP. However, the governments of the imperialist powers do not seize them because influential Western businessmen and politicians share business with them and because doing so means attacking the big financial institutions that launder their money, just as they do with that of Western tycoons, supported by the same permissive legislation.
Instead of punishing the Russian working people, we demand that the U.S. and EU governments seize the large fortunes of the oligarchs and make them available to arm the Ukrainian people and rebuild their country and to return them to the Russian working people.
We also repudiate the reprisals that certain institutions in EU countries are taking against Russian citizens for the mere fact of being Russian, for example by closing their art exhibitions.
It is necessary to promote and support the international boycott actions undertaken by the workers. To build a movement of material solidarity with the Ukrainian workers.
In parallel, we have to encourage and support boycott actions taken by the workers through their organizations. For example, at the Ellesmere refinery in Cheshire, England, where they refused to unload oil from Russia, replicating what workers had done at the Kent gas terminal and in ports in the Netherlands.
At the same time, we need to build direct material solidarity with the resisting workers in Ukraine and with Ukrainian refugees, regardless of their origin. Appeals like that of Yuri PetrovichSamoilov, chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of KrivoyRog, are a hopeful step in this direction. That is why we resolutely support the solidarity campaign undertaken by LITCI and other organizations responding to such appeal.
For NATO, the USA and the EU the sovereignty and integrity of the Ukrainian nation are just pieces in their power games. They cannot be confronted and their hypocrisy denounced except from the trenches of the Ukrainian resistance.
We know that for NATO, the US and the EU, the lives of the Ukrainian people are just a piece in their power games. It is not beyond us that they will not hesitate to sacrifice Ukrainian national demands on the chessboard of their geopolitical interests. The negotiations conducted by Zelensky point to a deal in the making in this regard.
We know that NATO has been and is the military arm of imperialism to advance into Eastern Europe, preserve its world order and quell revolts that challenge it. There is not a single historical example where NATO has played a liberating role. The former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan are good examples of this. The working class and the peoples of Europe are neither safer nor protected by this military alliance and even less so with the rearmament they are putting in place. Quite the contrary: NATO expansion means further militarization of Europe and greater risks of war.
We do not want NATO troops on Ukrainian soil or anywhere else, we reject the arms race unleashed by the imperialist governments and we demand the dissolution of NATO, the closure of its bases, the dismantling of the nuclear arsenal and the rest of the weapons of mass destruction.
We have no doubt that NATO and the EU on the one hand, and Russia on the other, want to colonize Ukraine. But the times cannot be confused. What we have now is not an invasion by NATO but by Putin’s Russia, in the face of which we have to support the Ukrainian people. It is only by taking sides with the Ukrainian resistance that we will be able to unmask the lies and hypocrisy of NATO and its governments. There is no other way.
Not forgetting that, in the end, Ukraine, a great European nation wedged between imperial capitalist Russia on the one side, and imperialist NATO and the EU on the other, with both sides much stronger and interested in subjugating and controlling it, will only regain and sustainably maintain its national integrity and sovereignty as part of a free union of free peoples of Europe or, in other words, a United Socialist States of Europe built on the rubble of the EU and Russian capitalism.
We cannot fight Zelensky’s pro-imperialist policies without being in the Ukrainian military camp
Just as we cannot unmask NATO without placing ourselves in the Ukrainian camp, neither can we politically combat Zelenski and the Ukrainian oligarchs without fully committing ourselves to the defense of Ukraine against Russian aggression.
There are those who say that we cannot support the Ukrainian resistance, let alone defend the shipment of arms, because Zelensky’s government is pro-imperialist. This is a profoundly mistaken reasoning.
It is true that Zelensky is pro-imperialist, that he is associated with the pro-Western oligarchs, that he is in favor of handing the country over to NATO and the EU capitalists and that before the invasion his government defended the IMF plan which impoverished the population and included the massive sale of land to foreign capital to pay the illegitimate Ukrainian debt. But it is equally true that it is the Zelensky government that is leading the defense against the Russian troops and that there is no other way to unmask it and build a victorious socialist force if we are not “the best fighters” against Russian aggression. Otherwise, all are empty proclamations that benefit the aggressor.
This is, on the other hand, how the Trotskyists acted during the Spanish Civil War, where we placed ourselves in the military camp of the Republic and defended, in the face of the “Non-intervention” policy of France and England, the sending of arms. And we did it when the Republican government was dedicated to dismantle the revolutionary conquests of the beginning of the war. Only by being the best soldiers could we denounce the pro-bourgeois policies of the Republican government, fight to win over the majority and then, of course, put a revolutionary government in its place.
 El socialismo y la guerra, 1915
 Sobre la guerra chino-japonesa, carta a Diego Rivera, 23 de setiembre de 1937
 Novokment, Piketty y Zucman
The war unleashed by the Russian invasion, as in every war, gives rise to the most disparate judgments and positions and divides societies, including those we know as leftists and defenders of peace.