Lessons from one year of war in Ukraine
The Fourth International must clearly understand the enormous importance of the Ukrainian question in the fate not only of Southeastern and Eastern Europe but also of Europe as a whole. We are dealing with a people that has proved its viability, that is numerically equal to the population of France and occupies an exceptionally rich territory which, moreover, is of the highest strategical importance. The question of the fate of the Ukraine has been posed in its full scope. A clear and definite slogan is necessary that corresponds to the new situation. In my opinion there can be at the present time only one such slogan: A united, free and independent workers’ and peasants’ Soviet Ukraine…
(Leon Trotsky, The Problem of Ukraine, April 22, 1939)
Declaration of the IWL-FI
The Russian Army’s invasion and occupation began as a “special military operation,” which had the declared aim of overthrowing the Ukrainian government in a “few weeks,” thus “liberating the people,” “denazifying” and “demilitarizing” the country. Both Putin and imperialist governments saw this goal as absolutely probable. However, in reality, the war against the occupiers has already dragged on for a year. And the fundamental factor that thwarted the original Russian plans is the heroic resistance of the working class and working people in Ukraine. From the beginning, our position has been, and will continue to be, to support that resistance. From this standpoint and key position, we have developed the other elements of our program: demand for the supply of heavy weapons and military technology to Ukraine for the invasion’s defeat, opposition against all NATO intervention and imperialist rearmament budgets, support for anti-war actions in Russia, and denunciation of the bourgeois Zelensky government, in particular its anti-working class measures, which weaken working class resistance and uphold its subordination to Biden and the EU. Most importantly, we emphasize the need for the independent self-organization of the Ukrainian workers’ resistance and an international campaign for their material and political support. Ultimately, the entire program and all our efforts are aimed at the military and political triumph of the Ukrainian working-class resistance.
Putin’s aggression against Ukraine was prepared well in advance and camouflaged as “military exercises” along the Ukrainian border. The Russian regime denounced warnings that it was preparing an invasion as vile slander from the “West.” On February 24, when they invaded several fronts and even landed paratroopers on the outskirts of Kiev, they tried to justify it as a defensive measure due to the “NATO expansion to the East,” which was approaching threateningly close to their borders. NATO expansion is a reactionary and undeniable reality, but it is not the real reason behind the invasion. The Baltic republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO and are much closer to Moscow and St. Petersburg. And after the invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland, historically neutral countries, have asked to join NATO. The truth is that this is an excuse for a conflict between the colonial aspirations of Putin’s oligarchic regime over the space of the former USSR, including the Caucasus and Eurasia, and those of other powers, such as China. Behind the invasion are the economic and financial interests of Russian oligarchs and their monopolies in Ukraine.
Putin is furiously arguing that NATO powers had imposed an illegitimate political regime in Ukraine, which was the product of a “coup d’état” in 2014. This is how Putin and the whole remaining spectrum of global Stalinism characterize the popular uprising of the Maidan, a very contradictory process due to the lack of revolutionary leadership, which nevertheless faced the five-month authoritarian and neoliberal repression under the pro-Russian oligarch president Yanukovich, resulting in a high death toll. Yanukovich ultimately fled the country, and by means of the “democratic” reaction, the process led to a change in bourgeois government with the election of the rich businessman and “chocolatier,” Poroshenko. In the following election, Zelensky came to power, reaffirming subordination to the IMF and the EU. But despite the reactionary drift and the pandemic, between 2014 and 2022, the workers have maintained a dynamic of class struggle against their governments, which encourages the region’s masses and poses a threat to neighboring dictatorships, like that of Lukashenko and Putin himself.
Ukraine wages a war of national liberation
As the weeks and months went by, all forecasts and myths about the war collapsed, whether they were fed by Putin’s regime or imperialist powers. The Ukrainian government itself recognizes that during the early days, they thought that their defeat was imminent. It has been reported that US government emissaries offered Zelensky asylum abroad to govern in exile. The news networks focused their attention on the photos and videos of the displaced and refugees leaving the country by the millions. But they also had to record the phenomenon that changed everything: the courageous mass mobilization of working people of various ages, in Kiev and other cities, who actively repudiated the presence of the invading troops and initiated a heroic resistance, armed and unarmed. They built barricades and territorial defenses, which spread like a long trail, and after some time, formed partisan groups in the occupied regions.
That resistance, composed of volunteers, demanded weapons in the military districts and went out to confront invading tanks and armored vehicles with Molotov cocktails. We have direct testimonies from the city of Kiev and suburban regions. There, the masses gathered in crowds, demanding weapons, and in many cases, seized control over arsenals. Community members in each neighborhood organized patrols and guards to detect marauding strangers, whom Putin had planted months earlier to mark bombing targets. Gradually, the territorial defenses merged with the regular Ukrainian army. As the resistance advanced, the occupiers were ousted towards the Belarusian border, with countless casualties in their elite forces, leaving behind a trail of military equipment in their wake.
In the territories that were recovered by the Ukrainians, the invaders’ barbarism became evident: the macabre discovery of hundreds and hundreds of civilian corpses, executed with bullets in the back of the head and hands tied behind their backs, after torture in cellars where they operated interrogation and extermination centers. Thus, the whole world could see the abhorrent truth about the invasion, and myths about the “military operation to liberate the people” from the oppression of the “Nazi government in Kiev” began to collapse like a house of cards. All this confirms that a war of national liberation is being waged in Ukraine against the aggression of the second greatest military power in the world.
Eurasia: an epicenter of global class struggle
The war over Ukrainian territory has been prolonged, surpassing the forecasts of Putin’s regime and of all imperialisms. Why? Because it rests centrally on a powerful workers’ and popular resistance which, despite the limits imposed by their bourgeois leadership, confronts the invasion and objectively contests the stability of the whole of Eurasia. Inevitably, the prolongation of the war and the unbreakable fighting will of the Ukrainian working class and people have sharpened inter-imperialist contradictions, within the EU as well as NATO, aggravating the crisis of the world order. And instability is refracted not only in Western Europe, but on other continents as well. Thus, we see struggles unfolding, including the general strike in France, the wave of strikes in Great Britain… As well as struggles in semi-colonial countries, in various regions, due to the rising price of fuel and wheat. In Latin America, examples include Ecuador and the current confrontations in Peru.
U.S. and European imperialisms use the war for their own rearmament
Both Biden and EU governments have used the war to rearm their imperialist militaries, upgrading their weaponry while sending military equipment to Ukraine in dribs and drabs. Such NATO “aid” must be denounced for its essentially imperialist character: it does not send the armaments demanded by the Ukrainian people, whom NATO refuses to consider as equals. Nor does it seek to give weapons of equivalent or sufficient quality; rather, it treats the Ukrainian people as a second-class ally, sending, in this war as in all others, obsolete arms in small quantities and at a pace that suits its own plans for conflict management and calls for negotiation at the expense of the lives of the Ukrainian people. This is proven by the fact that all the material “aid” budgets to Ukraine are framed in packages that give enormous increases to the rearmament of imperialist armies and military spending, at the cost of cuts in the social programs that respond to workers’ immediate needs. This is another key symptom: the war aggravates the crisis of the world order and U.S. hegemony. Thus, in 2023, NATO’s budget has increased for the eighth consecutive year, this time with a historic jump of 27.8% for the civilian budget and 25.8% for the military since 2022. NATO countries willing to reach 2% in military spending of their GDP (the formal commitment since 2014) have doubled since the start of the war, and today, a core group of countries advocates raising the commitment to 2.5% or 3%. The EU, seeking some military autonomy vis-à-vis the US, has revived the European Defense Agency through a 15% budget increase to invest in greater joint-cooperation projects.
Today, material aid to the Ukrainian resistance does not depend on increases in military budgets, as imperialist propaganda claims
That is why we categorically oppose all military budgets of imperialist NATO governments, and their attempts to present themselves as true allies of the Ukrainian people and as partisans of “peace.” We demand that arms be sent unconditionally to the resistance to defeat the occupying army.
On the other hand, we call on the working class in Europe, the USA, and the rest of the world to give as much material aid as possible to the Ukrainian resistance. We make this call for active solidarity with the principle of class independence, delimiting ourselves from the actions of governments and opposing any direct intervention of NATO in the conflict, as well as the “reconstruction” and debt plans promoted by the EU and the IMF. We reject any participation of the proletariat in feeding the financing of the imperialist armies.
Against Moscow’s invaders and attacks from Kiev
The wartime changes have growing consequences for the class struggle in Ukraine. The working class sacrifices its lives on the front lines against the occupiers and is hit in the rear from behind. The working people endure permanent martyrdom, with a rising toll of dead and wounded from the constant bombardment of their homes, schools, and hospitals. The destruction of essential infrastructure, with daily power cuts, recurrent lack of water, heating and drainage, worsens living conditions to the extreme.
On the other hand, basic products are extremely costly, with inflation at almost 50% since the beginning of the war. Conditions are further exacerbated by wage cuts, suspensions, layoffs, and attacks on rights and social benefits which had been won years ago by the working class, thanks to laws recently voted in and enacted by Zelensky. This growing hardship, combined with the attacks by the government in the service of the bourgeoisie, colonial plunder and corruption, batters and weakens the main social force behind the resistance: the working people.
In addition, recently passed laws have tightened the vertical structure of command in the army, with harsher punishments for rank-and-file soldiers and sanctions in the recruitment process. The working class and exploited people continue to be the biggest donors of new soldiers to the front. And growing social tensions are reflected at the front. Even so, a high combat morale and the commitment to achieve victory prevail, because they are aware that they are fighting for their freedom.
However, as if reasons for outrage were lacking, the masses face rampant corruption in the ruling classes and high ranks of the state on all levels. Some resounding scandals have erupted, which Zelensky answered with purges at various high levels of government. Recently, the possible resignation of Defense Minister Reznikov has been raised with much insistence, after the grotesque over-billing with purchases of “tons of eggs” came to light. While the country is bleeding to death in an unequal war, the many clans of oligarchs are concentrated on plunder and the new distribution of ownership of industries and natural resources. Social inequality is on the rise, and with it, distrust is growing among the masses towards state institutions, with the relative exception of the armed forces. The national hatred towards the invaders is joined by class hatred towards privileged Ukrainians.
Ukrainian military triumphs and the Biden-Scholz push for “peace”
The significant advance in the Kharkov region during the summer and autumn of the Northern hemisphere, and the flight of Russian troops with the abandonment of tanks, military equipment and ammunition allowed Ukraine the largest recovery of territory in a short time of the entire war. With the withdrawal of 20,000 Russian soldiers from the right bank of the Dnieper, the city of Kherson and an important strip of fertile land reaching the Black Sea were recovered. Some minor Ukrainian advances were also achieved in the Donbass. Russia came to occupy 30% of Ukraine’s territory in March 2022. Today it occupies about 15%. All these triumphs of the resistance produced a major crisis in the Russian high command and repercussions in the Putin regime. However, the lack of adequate armaments has prevented the conversion of these triumphs into an offensive to defeat the occupying troops. On the contrary, these military triumphs were accompanied by a redoubled pressure from imperialist countries and in particular from hegemonic US imperialism to start negotiations.
The Russian masses are oppressed and repressed, but a large part reject the war
During September 2022, a commotion in Russian conscription occurred, which produced a significant change in the attitude of a growing section of the working and popular masses towards the regime. Although, it is still only expressed in the passive rejection of the war and in some isolated and defensive actions in the regions most sacrificed by the conscription. In these instances, the mothers of the soldiers and conscripts have played an outstanding role. The government’s compulsive operation to mobilize 200,000 recruits was answered with the flight from the country of more than half a million men of service age so as not to be cannon fodder. And hundreds of thousands more have gone into hiding or have managed to evade – in the most diverse ways – being forced to go to war. The news reports with growing evidence -despite fierce censorship- about the more than 100 thousand soldiers of the Russian Federation killed in Ukrainian territory. Most of these soldiers are of oppressed non-Russian nationalities and from the remote villages farthest from the big capitals. The thousands who surrendered as prisoners without resisting have exposed that inside Russia the “Special Military Operation” is in reality a war of colonial aggression and plunder that confronts an armed people.
And this passive but massive rejection is reflected in the state of the Russian Federation and its armed forces. Thus, the second world military power not only lays bare before the whole world its fragility in the face of the armed resistance of the Ukrainian people, and also shows the rottenness of Putin’s regime. In this war, as before in Syria and Africa, Putin relies as its main fighting force on the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), formed by mercenaries and former convicted criminals whose owner is a mafia oligarch, known as “Putin’s cook,” who today disputes hegemony with the Army commander and the Minister of Defense.
Winter has brought a military stalemate
As a result of imperialist delay and blackmail regarding the delivery of defensive and offensive armaments, Putin managed to change the nature of warfare: systematic attrition and destruction of essential infrastructure and killing of the civilian population with uninterrupted shelling of almost the entire Ukrainian territory. There has been a certain stalemate on almost all fronts. The battle for the town of Bajmut in Donbass, which is still controlled by Ukraine, is the most prominent example. There are some advances by the invaders, such as the capture of the town of Soledar. This was more symbolic than strategic for Putin and the Wagner PMC, who come from successive defeats and from relieving the military commander of the operation, nicknamed “the butcher of Aleppo,” General Surovikin. To occupy that small town, more than a month of fierce fighting occurred with a balance of thousands of casualties among the troops.
While the imperialist countries belatedly announce shipments of tanks and other armaments, without clarity on when they will be operational on the battlefield, Putin has received as a gift the whole of January to reorganize his troops for a counteroffensive in the spring. It is not by chance that we are now witnessing a new round of imperialist blackmail, this time led by the US and its “military specialists,” to force Ukraine to enter into a “negotiating process.” In other words, they are pressing for Ukraine to accept concessions towards the occupiers regarding its territorial integrity.
The resistance and morale of the Ukrainian people is the main obstacle to Putin’s plans, as well as to imperialisms’ policy of chopping up the territory of Ukraine with Zelensky at the helm executing those plans.
The “pacifists” who serve Putin and… the EU and NATO!
In that framework, today “pacifist” sectors, which in all countries – except in Russia – agitate the slogan “No to war!” do Putin’s bidding. The numerous groups which started by shouting “Neither Putin nor NATO” have transformed their “Neither” into “Not a tank for Ukraine!” They are silent in the face of thousands of Russian tanks on the ground. They are revealed for what they are: the “left” chorus of imperialism and NATO. Because the EU indirectly finances Putin’s army. The oil and gas purchases of most of the NATO member countries have increased since the beginning of the war. The Putin regime receives 640 million euros a day from the sale of Russian oil to the European Union.
Both Biden, Sunak and Macron seek to weaken Russia militarily and economically, bleeding its military apparatus. While, they send military aid in drips and drabs, they pressure Zelensky to accept a “cease-fire,” and seek a peace that serves imperialist interests. All this at the cost of maintaining the occupation of a part of the Ukrainian territory, which allows for Putin’s regime to continue to oppress the peoples in Eurasia. A “peace” is being plotted, betraying the Ukrainian resistance, and paving the way for the plunder of future “reconstruction plans.” The Ukrainian people want the war to end more than anyone else. But at the same time, more than 85% of the population strongly opposes any peace involving annexations and legitimizing Putin’s occupation. The only just peace for this just war of national liberation waged by Ukraine is a peace that guarantees the territorial unity of Ukraine and its full independence from Russia, the EU and the USA.
Victory is possible if the working class takes in its hands the leadership of the resistance
The Ukrainian armed working and popular resistance clashes more and more with the regime and the semi-colonial government, which represents the various oligarchic groups who are partners of the imperialist corporations. The political leadership of the military confrontation, the Zelensky government, conspires against the victory of the Ukrainian people. The overwhelming majority of the people want victory. And the greater the sacrifices and deaths, the greater the refusal to surrender part of the country. The working class must take in its hands the leadership of the resistance to the invaders, raising a revolutionary program.
We are facing the necessary and possible combination of a war of national liberation with the struggle for the political independence of the working class for its social liberation. And it is this combination that the former KGB colonel, now President Putin, fears. At the beginning of the invasion, in a moment of delirious verbiage, he said “Ukraine is an invention of Vladimir Lenin.” He stated that “Ukraine has no sense as a state, as an independent country.” And his words lay bare his “tsarist nostalgia.” But they show the world much more: the short period of an independent Ukraine began with the revolution of the Soviets in 1917. And the real independence – the only one known in the history of the country – was only realized when power was in the hands of the armed Ukrainian working class and peasants and with the clear policy on national self-determination of the Bolsheviks.
A program of action in Ukraine:
- Stop the blatant sacrifice of workers for the benefit of the oligarchs and ruling class! Thousands of workers freeze in the trenches at the front while companies suspend workers and cut their wages in half. Those who go to the front get miserable salaries and their families are left out in the cold while Zelensky’s ministers go in luxury cars or spend Christmas in Spain and MP Julia Tymoshenko sunbathes on the beach in Dubai.
- Allocate all the country’s resources to the service of military victory against the occupiers! Priority of resources for soldiers and members of the territorial defenses! Full salaries and direct all the available labor force in industry to national defense!
- Nationalization of all enterprises linked to national defense, and under workers’ control!
- Stop the arbitrariness of the military commanders! Respect for the troops who risk their lives in the trenches! Respect for the autonomy of the territorial defenses! So far, the Ukrainian military victories are due only to the sacrifice and efforts of the working people. Those people know that of all the modern and powerful armaments shown on Western TV, only a few have arrived, and with delay and in dribs and drabs. We demand weapons for Ukraine!
- All purchases made by the Armed Forces under control of committees of elected soldiers in the regiments themselves! Resources for war against the occupiers, both external and internal, are squandered with profit, corruption and plunder of state property! The government fails to fight corruption. It relieves some officials and changes them for others equally corrupt or incapable. Resources exist. The people have massively collected funds for the Army, and they demand pensions for the families of the fallen and free assistance to the wounded and their families!
- No to the payment of the foreign debt! Ukraine is at war against a genocidal invasion and occupation by a dictatorship. We demand the immediate cancellation of the foreign debt imposed by the IMF and the European Bank! Let us strip away the hypocrisy of the imperialist powers that declare their support while they prepare to collect usurious profits.
- No to NATO or EU membership! In the course of the war, NATO has made it clear that the “material aid” has neither been up to the task nor responds to the urgent needs of the Ukrainian resistance, and this is because such “aid” actually obeys the interests of European and US imperialism. Its ultimate aim is to roll back the domination of the Russian regime over Ukraine in order to replace it with EU domination. The “reconstruction” plans agreed between Zelensky, the EU and the IMF will deepen the semi-colonial character of the Ukrainian state. That is why it is important to defend the territorial integrity of a truly united, independent and free Ukraine.
- Expropriation of all assets of Russian oligarchs and companies associated with the Putin regime in Ukraine! It is an outrageous paradox that, while Ukraine is invaded by Russia, the substantial assets of its numerous oligarchs in the country have not been expropriated. This would make it possible to obtain the necessary resources without going further into foreign debt and to achieve decent conditions for the soldiers at the front and the people in the rear.
- For the independent political organization of the working class! Only the Ukrainian working class, allied with the rest of the European and world proletariat – and appealing in particular to the solidarity of the workers of Belarus and also of Russia – can secure these tasks of national defense and lead the people to victory. To strengthen the resistance of the Ukrainian workers, we must develop all the current solidarity initiatives of the international working class, such as those of the International Trade Union Solidarity Network RSISL, the European Ukraine Solidarity Network and the Ukraine Solidarity Network in the USA.