To: Detroit/Seattle Workers' Voice mailing list
May 5, 2022
Re: The left should support the armed Ukrainian resistance

Independent Left in Ireland denounces evasionism in the left
over whether to support the armed Ukrainian resistance  

by  Pete Brown, Detroit Workers' Voice

The war in Ukraine has created a crisis in the American radical left, with some of the main anti-war coalitions taking very bad stands towards the Russian invasion. The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) has adopted the slogan “No U.S./NATO war in Ukraine” and is concerned, not with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but with alleged war threats against Russia. The International Action Center’s (IAC) line is “Stop the war on Russia,” which is support for the invasion, not opposition. A similar crisis afflicts the left internationally, whose equivocation was denounced in an article in the French journal Contretemps. (1)  We also know of Ukrainian and Russian leftists who have not just denounced Putin’s invasion but have supported Ukrainian resistance to it. Another such group taking this stand is the *Independent Left*, an Irish leftist organization.

Independent Left directly confronts a major issue facing the anti-imperialist movement in an article by Conor Kostick (2). Kostick points out that many leftist groups and individuals, while saying they oppose Putin’s invasion, at the same time oppose sending arms to Ukraine. Says Kostick:

“It is the position one can read in Jacobin, or in statements by Chomsky, Corbyn, and the Stop the War Coalition in the UK. In Ireland, we have the same type of response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine from People Before Profit and the Socialist Party of Ireland.”

Kostick calls this position Evasionism because it makes a comfortable call for peace in the world while evading the tough questions about what to do in the present crisis. Kostick focuses on a statement from People Before Profit which says: “The real hope lies in an anti-war movement that crosses the border of East and West and opposes both Putin and NATO.” In reply, Kostick says,

World peace arising from a mass movement from below East and West would be lovely, but what is evaded here is the question of whether the left should support Ukrainian resistance to the invasion. ‘Opposing the war’ is a comfortable position to adopt if you are on the other side of Europe to the columns of Russian soldiers. But what does this conclusion mean for the people of Ukraine? Perhaps it means they should not fight back? Or perhaps there is room for supporting armed resistance to the Russian invasion, if it is decoupled from NATO? … no one knows what it means.”

 Kostick goes on:

“... Marx’s claim that socialists don’t hide their views doesn’t seem to apply on the topic of Ukraine, where it’s difficult indeed to ascertain how these questions would be answered. Just to be clear, my own answers and those of Independent Left (and many other socialists and anarchists in Ireland) are yes, a victory for Ukraine against Russia would be the best outcome for the left and the world generally, and yes, we should support the people of Ukraine getting arms from wherever they can, including from NATO.” He goes on to quote the left-wing Ukrainian magazine Commons : “... the Western left, which criticizes military aid to Ukraine, [is] outrageous. Do they want us to fight with bows and arrows when we have shot all our bullets? Do they want the Russians to kill as many Ukrainians as possible? That there were more Buchas?”

Thus Evasionism is an international phenomenon. That’s why, as we have pointed out before, the left-wing demonstrations about the war in many places were quite weak or simply token actions. In Detroit, the main concern of organizers of the local left-wing demonstration on March 6 was to paper over differences between groups. Speeches at the March 6  demonstration did not directly say support the invasion, but almost all the speeches echoed Putin’s reasons for the invasion, denied any agency to the Ukrainian masses, and ignored what was really going on in Ukraine. (3) No wonder the radical left has had little influence in the many general pro-Ukrainian actions in the Detroit area.  Kostick is correct to call for leftists to speak out forthrightly in support of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s imperialist aggression. He points out that there are many leftists around the world who favor such a direct, open stand. Leftists in the U.S. should not be intimidated by the leaders of UNAC and IAC and should openly state their support for the Ukrainian resistance.

Notes

(1) See “The mass resistance in Ukraine and the equivocation of much of the Western left”, which reproduces excerpts from the Contretemps article, and the full article at Contretemps.

(2) Conor Kostick, “Evasions on the Left-over Ukraine.” Independent Left, April 26, 2022. <>

(3) These points are further developed in the article by Joseph Green, “The war in Ukraine is a crisis for the American radical left” posted on the Detroit/Seattle Workers’ Voice mailing list, March 18, 2022. See it on the Communist Voice Organization website.


Evasions on the Left over Ukraine (excerpts)

by Conor Kostick, April 26, 2022

(Below are excerpts from the article, referred to above, by Conor Kostick in Independent Left. We strongly recommend reading the entire article, which is available at https://independentleft.ie/ukraine-evasions.)

There is a type of left argument around the war in Ukraine which has arisen in the West. It is one that condemns Putin’s invasion, but refuses to offer practical support to the people of Ukraine in resisting that invasion. It is the position one can read in Jacobin, or in statements by Chomsky, Corbyn, and the Stop the War Coalition in the UK. In Ireland we have the same type of response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine from People Before Profit and the Socialist Party of Ireland.

I will use the label Evasionist Left for this approach. It’s not clear how representative this trend is internationally, as many on the left do pro-actively support the resistance in Ukraine, e.g. parties such Razem in Poland; those associated with the Fourth International like Left Bloc and the Danish Red Green Alliance; and the main left party in Japan, the Japanese Communist Party.

… The left arguments I want to address here are those of the groups and their supporters who express opposition to Putin, but who refuse to take any steps towards bringing about a military defeat for the Russian invasion and in particular, are strongly opposed to the people of Ukraine obtaining arms from the West.

The groups supporting the Evasionist Left position seem to be basing their approach on two ideas: 1) Support for the resistance in Ukraine is support for NATO and 2) The war in Ukraine is an ‘inter-imperialist war’. My goal is to argue that these ideas are wrong and that if you take them seriously, you will find yourself on Putin’s side in the war. Often, when I try to discuss these points with their supporters, I hear only silence when I ask them to really think through the consequences of their formulations. But the war itself allows for no evasion.

Typical of the Evasionist Left position are features that speak out against the war in Ukraine and all wars, such as the Irish People Before Profit statement: No To War. Oppose Putin’s Invasion. Stop NATO Expansion. As with many articles by Jacobin and Stop the War (UK), the line taken by this statement is that Putin’s invasion should be condemned but the US are to be condemned equally. …The article concludes: “The real hope lies in an anti-war movement that crosses the border of East and West and opposes both Putin and NATO.  …

World peace arising from a mass movement from below East and West would be lovely, but what is evaded here is the question of whether the left should support Ukrainian military resistance to the invasion. “Opposing the war” is a comfortable position to adopt if you are on the other side of Europe to the columns of Russian soldiers. But what does this conclusion mean for the people of Ukraine? Perhaps it means they should not fight back? Or perhaps there is room for supporting armed resistance to the Russian invasion, if it is decoupled from NATO? The point here is that in many cases, no one knows what it means. This is not a position that informs the people of Ukraine or those who want to express solidarity with them of what to do.

While we strive for international uprisings against war, should we want the people of Ukraine to defeat the Russian invaders in the meantime? Should we support or sabotage NATO armaments moving to Ukraine? Should we send money and perform solidarity actions that will allow Ukrainian anarchists and socialists to further their military resistance to the invasion? Or should we discourage them from fighting back, because they are unwitting tools of NATO?

… Just to be clear, my own answers and those of Independent Left (and many other socialists and anarchists in Ireland) are yes, a victory for Ukraine against Russia would be the best outcome for the left and the world generally and yes, we should support the people of Ukraine getting arms from wherever they can, including from NATO. As Taras Bilous, editor of the left-wing Ukrainian magazine Commons, puts it, “the Western left, which criticizes military aid to Ukraine are outrageous. Do they want us to fight with bows and arrows when we have shot all our bullets? Do they want the Russians to kill as many Ukrainians as possible? That there were more Bucha’s?”

Based on the limited number of publications and occasional social media post, including exchanges with me, many Evasionist Left supporters do not in fact welcome the Ukrainian resistance, do not support people like Taras Bilous in their efforts to defend their cities. And to justify this they have advanced the two arguments above. These slogans are crucial to the orientation of the Evasionist position, and I believe they are quite wrong.

1. Support for the resistance in Ukraine is support for NATO.

A rather bad-faith version of this argument was visible after a UCU-supported demonstration on 9 April 2022 in the UK, in which a call for victory to the Ukrainian people was described as being “for NATO intervention in Ukraine”.

Such comments echoed the misleading headline by the UK’s Socialist Worker reporting on the demonstration, where they interpreted the call for arming the Ukrainian people to be a call for NATO escalation. To say that the people of Ukraine need arms is not at all the same as saying NATO should send troops to fight in the war.

A Russian convoy is approaching your town. The people around you join the Ukraine territorial defence to fight, several of them form their own socialist and anarchist units which you have the option of joining. But those internationally making the same arguments as above say, “No. Don’t escalate. It will lead to more war horror. And potentially nuclear war. Instead, let’s appeal to the Russian anti-war movement to save us.”

The position of these ‘left’ activists brings peace, but it’s the peace of a Putin victory, which not only means your town witnesses hellish scenes of rape and murder, that you could perhaps have prevented, but it also undermines peace for the future. Because understandably, when scenes of slaughtered civilians reach neighbouring countries there is a massive clamour for NATO assistance. Moreover, Putin will have concluded that after Syria and Ukraine, he can push on again, because fear of the horror of war, especially nuclear war, means the western left would prefer his victory to the victory of the resistance. And the Russian anti-war movement, that might have flourished as the Russian army was stalled and thrown back, is crushed by the wave of nationalism around the victorious Putin.

… Here’s how Vitaliy Dudin, head of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organisation, Sotsyalnyi Rukh (Social Movement), described the situation from Cherkasy, Ukraine, on 6 April 6 2022:

“Some Social Movement activists, as well as many trade union members, have joined the TD [territorial defence] as volunteers. It is worth mentioning that dozens of anarchists and socialists have formed their own unit within the TD, called the Resistance Committee.

“Secondly, a lot of leftists are helping as volunteers to supply the army or satisfy people’s humanitarian needs. One of the most effective initiatives in this regard is Operation Solidarity, which has managed to provide supplies to the militant left. We are also working to meet the needs of trade union members serving in the army. …

“Third, we see that a lot of people are protesting the invaders in occupied cities. We aren’t involved in such activity, but we support it. Of course, it is very dangerous because peaceful protests can be shot down by armed Russian soldiers. Such resistance proves that people are against the ‘liberation’ that seeks to turn their cities into grey-zones.

“Fourth, we as Social Movement continue to act as a political organisation. We seek to counter Russian propaganda and call on our people to fight for a free and fair Ukraine.”

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There is a better-faith version of the argument against NATO weapons going to Ukraine, which is to say, “I do want Ukrainians to defend themselves, but I don’t trust the US. Whenever they arm a side in a war, they have their own imperialist goals.” This observation about the US is, of course, correct, but do you really think people in Ukraine, especially the left, are under any illusions about the US interests at play? There’s a patronising assumption here that those demanding arms to prevent Russian soldiers from murdering their friends and families are dupes of US intelligence.

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If you are someone who wants Russia to be defeated, but doesn’t want NATO armaments to arrive in Ukraine, you really need to think this through. Are you asking communities to defeat the Russian soldiers using only home-made Molotov cocktails and Second World War weapons? This seems to be the position of the Socialist Party of Ireland, who at least do support workers in Ukraine arming themselves “In the Western capitalist countries opposition to NATO militarism and expansionism must always be a central feature of our propaganda, even where this is not currently the mood among the mass of workers. We stand against all military intervention on the part of U.S. and Western imperialism — this includes opposition to the provision of weaponry by NATO powers to the Ukrainian military. This in and of itself increases the threat of the conflict escalating more widely.”

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It’s not at all unreasonable to keep an eye on what the US is up to. No doubt there are US hawks who are thinking now would be a perfect time to take Russia on and smash Putin’s army while he’s weak. We should oppose US intervention of troops, ships, and aircraft, mainly because of the risk of nuclear war but also because of their own imperialist record. But that’s not happening right now: yes, NATO countries are supplying weapons to Ukraine but at the time of writing they have not entered the war with Russia with their own armed forces. Sitting on the fence now in fear of what the US might do in future, again means not supporting those currently fighting the Russian soldiers. The same question faces the good faith left person as the bad: when the Russian convoy is approaching your town, do you fight back militarily? You can’t say, “well, there’s a balance of imperial interests to consider and I’m going to be neutral until I get non-NATO weapons.” That neutrality will be finished by a Russian bullet to the head to you and anyone else you have persuaded of your position.

Moreover, those trying to dress up this recognition of the interplay of rival imperialisms as if it’s something new are missing the obvious point that throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, US and Russian imperialism always backed any movement that was fighting their rival. So when Solidarnosc rose up against the Communist Polish government in 1980-1, the CIA rushed to fund and influence the union. That didn’t stop it being a genuine mass movement which socialists of the type now adopting the Evasionist position recognised and supported.

Finally, on the legitimacy of the people of Ukraine taking advantage of inter-imperialist rivalry to obtain arms from NATO, there are very clear left precedents. For those of the Evasionist Left viewpoint who are champions of Lenin, it is worth noting Lenin’s response when France and Britain offered to give military aid to Russia to fight Germany, when he wrote: “Please add my vote in favour of taking potatoes and weapons from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers.” …

2. The war in Ukraine is an ‘inter-imperialist war’.

A second justification for not supporting the people of Ukraine fighting back against Russia is based on the idea of ‘revolutionary defeatism’. The tone here for Rebel in Ireland was set by an article by Kieran Allen, entitled, James Connolly and War. …

Just as James Connolly concentrated on challenging the propaganda of the Irish National Party and Britain, argues Allen, so socialists today should be revolutionary defeatists and recognise the main enemy is at home. Which means Irish socialists should concentrate on furthering the class war in Ireland.

Allen doesn’t spell out what revolutionary defeatism actually means in the context of the war in Ukraine: and the reason is surely that to publicly embrace the implications of his approach would be to declare that a Putin victory is the better outcome for those in the West. Again, let’s go back to the situation where a Russian column is approaching your town. A revolutionary defeatist position means that you should never give support to ‘our side’ in the war, even if that results in the other side obtaining military victories. That was the position of Karl Liebknecht in Germany and the Bolsheviks in Russia. They really did mean that they preferred to see their own countries defeated than support their own national elites in their war aims. And they were right. But transpose this policy to the soil of Ukraine and revolutionary defeatism can only mean a refusal to join the resistance and a refusal to support Zelensky, even if that means Russian victories.

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The more obvious parallel to make with James Connolly’s world is that of British rule in Ireland. For centuries Britain tried to rule Ireland directly, eradicating the Irish language and crushing Irish culture. This is a clear parallel with Russia’s history in regard to Ukraine. Just as Connolly was right to take German weapons to support an armed rising against the British empire, so the Ukrainian people are right to take weapons from wherever they can to rise against the Russian empire.

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Can we draw any lessons for the international left? …

There’s a lesson here for the left in how the wrong positions have been arrived at, which is that we are witnessing the consequence of a top-down approach to socialist politics rather than a bottom up. The reason I have repeatedly asked the reader to imagine the approach of a Russian column of tanks and to think through your response is that this is exactly how billions of people have thought about these issues. The majority of the world’s working class empathise with the people of Ukraine, who before Putin’s invasion were bringing their kids to school, going to work, planning their weekly shop, collecting the kids, going to the playground, chatting with friends. They were exactly like us and then the hell of war descended on them from Russia.

The left can influence this public feeling of solidarity for Ukraine by making points about Western hypocrisy on refusing to cancel Ukraine’s debt; on refugees, on Palestine, and yes, on the imperialist role of NATO. But the best way to do that is to amplify the voices of Ukrainian socialists and anarchists who are putting their lives in the front lines against Putin’s army. This ‘bottom up’ approach listens to the people of Ukraine and if you are on the left, to the voices of anarchists and socialists, such as: diary of an anarchist in Ukraine; also https://commons.com.ua/en/left-west-must-rethink/; or https://freedomnews.org.uk/2022/03/29/interview-operation-solidarity-in-ukraine/; or http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article62209 or http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article61988. <>


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