ISp Conference: World Perspectives, part 2 – The war in Ukraine

Between February 11 and 15 the first international Conference of Internationalist Standpoint took place. Four documents were discussed and amended in the course of teh pre-conference period and the conference itself.
The first document, on “World Perspectives” was drafted between the beginning of November and the middle of December 2022. Although the facts and figures provided are a bit outdated, no attempt has been made to update it so as not to alter the character of the initial document. Afterall, the main emphasis of the document is on the processes under development.
After the World Perspectives document, a number of Resolutions agreed by the Conference will also be published. They deal with a) the lessons from the splits of the CWI and ISA, b) environment and c) socialist feminism.

The first document, World Perspectives, will be published in parts. The following sections will be posted in the coming days: 

1. An epoch of crisis and immense instability (read it here)
2. The War
3. Geopolitics (read it here)
4. Tasks (read here)

Internationalist Standpoint Conference – February 2023 

World perspectives 

Part 2:
The war

  1. The war in Ukraine is not an ordinary war. It has been a turning point which is reshaping relations on an international scale and is pushing global antagonisms to new highs. This war is not comparable to other wars in the post WW2 (2nd world war) history as regards the death and catastrophe it is causing. If we go back to the 1960s, the  Vietnam War caused up to or more than 3,000,000 deaths (only 58,000 US soldiers). If we look at the Iraq war of 2003 the number of dead is widely accepted to be in the region of 1 million (up to 1,220,580 according to ORB International and between 392,979 and 942,636 deaths according to The Lancet). In the war in Ukraine the number of deaths (not counting the wounded) so far is counted in the tens of thousands for each according to the (naturally exaggerated) claims of the belligerents about the casualties of the other side – which of course is tragic and criminal but not comparable to the hundreds of thousands and millions of previous wars. It remains to be seen though how long the war will last and what the total number of victims will be at that moment.
  2. The rage of Western powers thus has nothing to do with humanitarian reasons, justice, democracy, etc, it only has to do with the fact that the victim of Russia’s aggression is one of their close and devoted allies. Internationalist Standpoint condemns the imperialist invasion by Russia but at the same time the policies applied by the West that were provoking Russia and the hypocrisy of the West which is unparalleled.The West is determined to try to score a victory against Russia at whatever human cost. 
  3. Internationalist Standpoint has produced a long series of articles on the issue of the war, attempting to cover as many angles as possible, theoretical, programmatic and as regards perspectives. We have also included articles from other Trotskyist currents in order to encourage a comradely discussion between different organisations. It would take too long and too much space to repeat our analysis of perspectives and transitional demands in detail here. We therefore direct comrades and readers to the main articles that we published, which are collected here.

The Trotskyist Left divided 

  1. The main thing which is necessary to reproduce here is a summary of our position on the war in the context of the debate which is taking place internationally. The Anticapitalist Left is divided in three on the issue of the war. Roughly speaking there is a “pro-Ukraine” camp, a “pro-Russian” camp and a section which refuses to support either side in the war, opposed to both the Russian invasion and the Zelensky-NATO alliance. Internationalist Standpoint belongs to the third camp. 
  2. Internationalist Standpoint
  • Stands against both imperialist camps, those of NATO and Russia,
  • against both the Russian and the Ukrainian governments. 
  • Defends the rights of the Russian working class and youth,
  • defends the rights of the Ukrainian workers and youth, 
  • defends the suppressed minorities’ rights and particularly the right of self-determination of the Russophone populations in Eastern Ukraine, 
  • Stands for the evacuation of Ukraine by the Russian army, 
  • for an end to the expansion of NATO to the East, 
  • for the dissolution of both NATO and CSTO (the “Collective Security Treaty Organization” between Russia and its allies in Central Asia)
  • Fights for a class, internationalist approach by the working class in both Russia and Ukraine, against capitalism in both countries and for a socialist perspective – the only way to have a solution to the conflict which is insoluble on a capitalist basis.
  1. There are a number of elements that characterize this war but the dominant one is that it is a conflict between NATO on the one hand and Russia on the other – in other words an inter-imperialist conflict. It is part of the broader conflict of the West with the new rising powers in Asia, particularly China –which is in alliance with Russia– for global domination. 
  2. As is always the case, the reformist Left (or the center-Left) in the West capitulates their ruling class and thus fully support Ukraine including arming Ukraine to fight Russia. The Anticapitalist Left, however, has a duty not to succumb to the pressures of Imperialism or the ruling class, or even “public opinion”, it has a duty not to take a position in favor of any imperialism. 
  3. Some of the Trotskyist Left have taken a position in favour of Ukraine, claiming that in its substance it is a war of a weak neo-colonial nation against an imperialist aggressor. This position misses the point about the dominant element as regards the character of the war, which is predominantly an inter-imperialist conflict on Ukrainian soil. Unfortunately, these same organisations have nothing to say about the rights of the suppressed Russian minority in East Ukraine who have been in war with the Ukrainian government since 2014 demanding their right to self-determination. 
  4. Another section of the anticapitalist Left (particularly from a Stalinist/Maoist tradition) takes a pro-Russian position on the basis that the real butchers of the planet are the Western imperialists – the US and its European allies. That the “West” is by far the greatest imperialist force and threat to people’s rights on the planet is absolutely correct, but this should not lead to an underestimation of the dangers represented by other imperialist forces. There is not one and only one imperialism but different levels of imperialist aggression and of imperialist powers. Russian capitalism is imperialist: by intervening militarily in many parts of the world (particularly central Asia and the Middle East) by investing capital abroad, by exporting financial assets for speculation and with a high relationship of exports to gdp ($547.74 billion exports relative to $1.776 trillion gpd, i.e. more than 30% – 2021 figures ). The invasion of Russia in Ukraine is a blunt imperialist act and cannot be supported under any conditions. 
  5. At the same time Zelensky’s regime is a reactionary regime, not just applying neo-liberal policies but attacking democratic and trade union rights, giving refuge to the biggest, fully armed, vicious neo-Nazi organisations in Europe, bluntly suppressing the democratic and cultural rights of the Russian (30% of Ukraine’s population are Russophones) and other minorities (Rumanian, Hungarian etc) and launching a full scale war against the Eastern provinces of Lugansk and Donesk (with a population of about 5 million) refusing their right to self-determination. 

A principled position 

  1. The Marxist Left has to make sure it never ends up supporting one reactionary imperialist camp against another one, on the basis that one imperialism is stronger or weaker than the other. Nor can we accept the hypocrisy of the West which justifies its wars of aggression on the basis of, supposedly, representing democracy and freedom against the authoritarianism of its enemies. 
  2. The Anticapitalist Left is not in a position to change the course of events but it is very essential that it takes a principled position with the aim to develop consciousness and train cadre to intervene in the mass movement and build its forces. It has a duty to take an independent, class, revolutionary position (as presented above) to show how it would solve the problem of war and nationalism if it was a force sufficiently strong to challenge power. 
  3. That would be through fighting for the overthrow of Putin’s reactionary regime, for the overthrow of Zelensky’s reactionary regime, for the right of self-determination of the Eastern provinces and for a socialist federation of the three parts and the broader region. The positions and tactics applied by the Bolsheviks in 1917, who took advantage of WW1 to overthrow capitalism and build the first workers’ state in history are very relevant today. As is the slogan of Karl Liebknecht in 1914 “the main enemy is at home”
  4. For the revolutionary Left in the West and globally the tasks would be to: 
  • fight for the end of the war and against both belligerents, 
  • oppose the invasion of Russia but also campaign against the policies of Western governments 
  • oppose the West’s arming of Ukraine (in order to fight their own war against Russia), 
  • support the Russian and Ukrainian workers and youth on the basis of an independent, class, internationalist position, 
  • expose the hypocrisy of the West, its anti-Russian racism, as well as their hypocrisy on the issue of the refugees (providing support only to refugees from Ukraine, while keeping all others out of “fortress Europe”). 
  • exposing the fact that Western governments are making the peoples of the planet pay for their war aims, in terms of a winter without sufficient fuel, massive hikes in energy and electricity, inflation and economic recession, galloping pauperization and hunger and, of course, sacrificing once again the environment for the sake of their war plans. 

No end of war in sight 

  1. As regards the war itself and its perspectives, what is clear is that nothing will be solved by it. It is a war that is not possible to see how it can end in the foreseeable future. Neither Russia nor NATO can accept defeat and Ukraine will not sign an agreement that hands over to Russia huge areas of land which are now under occupation. 
  2. A look at some of the existing national problems on the planet gives an idea of how the “Ukainian Question” could end in an impasse: the Palestinian issue, the North Ireland question, the Cyprus problem and the Greco-Turkish conflict, Nagorno Karabakh, Kosova, are only some of the examples of national problems that are there for decades. Capitalism cannot find solutions to national problems in the vast majority of cases because of the antagonistic nature of different ruling classes; thus, the solution of such national problems can only be seen in conjunction with the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist federation of the countries involved in the conflicts, and the ones in their vicinity. The solution of the explosive problem of the nationalities in the Czarist empire, after the October revolution shows how only the Marxist-Bolshevik approach can solve national contradictions and lay the basis for a fraternal relation between nations and nationalities. This tradition was of course destroyed by Stalinism.  
  3. It is clear that the Putin’s regime made serious blunders at the beginning of the war, thinking that the invasion would be like taking a stroll and bringing the Zelensky government down in a matter of days. They underestimated the Ukrainian resistance, probably based too many hopes on support from the Russian speaking minority and certainly underestimated the determination of the West to “teach Putin a lesson”, i.e., grab the opportunity to weaken Russia for a whole historical epoch. Russia suffered very heavy losses around Kyiv and had to change tactics, concentrating on the East and South-East, but again they were taken by surprise by the Ukrainian counter offensive of September 2022. As a result, they lost huge areas of land in the north, in the region of Kharkiv and in the South, around Kherson, probably in the region of about 15,000 sq. km, which is more than half the size of Belgium. But Russia still holds huge lands, approximately of the size of Portugal and has gone ahead with calling at least 300,000 conscripts into service. 
  4. In the previous period the West followed a policy of repeated provocations against Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO expanded to the East, into countries of the ex-Soviet Block (14 in total) despite the pledge by the US president Reagan to Gorbachev that NATO would not expand to the East. They then attempted to incorporate Ukraine too into NATO, not understanding (or understanding but wanting to provoke) that by doing so they were crossing red lines. Finally, they supported the Ukrainian government in its war against the regions of Lugansk and Donetsk after 2014. They armed and trained the Ukrainian army (and the Nazi contingents which were incorporated into the Ukrainian army) as if Russia would not react. This either naivety or a conscious provocation of war with Russia. 
  5. This was not the only “blunder” on the part of the West. The West thought that they could isolate Russia and bring Putin’s regime to its knees, even cause social upheaval in Russia to overthrow the regime. These plans proved out of touch with reality. Essentially Russia has been isolated from the US and Europe (with internal conflicts) and from the traditionally close allies of the West like Australia, Japan, Canada, S. Korea and Taiwan. But, no country in Latin America has joined the sanctions against Russia and no country in Africa except Morocco. The same is true of countries representing the vast majority of the populations of Asia – China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, to mention only the bigger ones, stood aside. The bonds between China and Russia, developing over the past decades, proved strong enough – it was naïve of the West to hope it could break them. 
  6. After the September 2022 Ukrainian offensive, the character of the war is changing. Seeing the determination of the West to supply arms and the ability of the Ukrainian army to inflict serious damage on the Russian side, the latter are now switching to an essentially defensive war (this could change in the future depending on events). That is, Russia is not aiming at capturing large areas of new lands but at mainly defending what it has already conquered. The Russian regime has gone ahead with referendums in 4 regions –Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson– which declare their affiliation to the Russian federation. The referendums are a farce, they cannot be taken seriously, but Putin will defend his newly acquired lands by all possible means. He has even threatened the use of nuclear weapons, but this should not really be taken literally – nuclear attacks would cause a retaliation by the West and this could escalate into a new world war, nuclear in character, that we would still argue that is not realistically on the table because it would mean the mutual destruction of all sides involved. 
  7. It’s impossible to predict how the war will develop in the next period and after the severe Ukrainian winter – but, no “solution” to the conflict can be expected. The only way that the present bloodshed may stop is if the belligerents are stuck in their trenches unable to make any serious advance against each other. If this goes on for a prolonged period of time then both sides will accept the reality of the situation de facto and only wait for opportunities in the future to see if they find openings or weak spots that can allow small advances. The possibility of a “standstill” in the war in the next period is serious given that Russia can be expected to turn the war into a fundamentally defensive one. 
  8. Before this scenario takes shape, we should expect another big effort by the West to arm the Ukrainian army for another major offensive. If this offensive is successful, which seems to be a remote possibility but cannot be excluded, then the war will continue with full force and rivers of blood. The declared aim of the Zelensky regime is to take back all the lands occupied by Russia, including Crimea. This seems completely unrealistic. But nothing can be said for certain. The perspectives will be clearer only towards to the summer of 2023, after the Ukrainian offensive. 

Impact on Environment 

  1. The war has meant that any serious discussion on environment and climate change is ditched. The COP 27 that took place in Egypt in the second half of November 2022 was another complete failure. It follows the failure of COP26, which was supposed to become a landmark only to develop into a flop. All and every kind of targets set by previous COP conferences, however unsatisfactory, have been ditched. As a result of the energy crisis aggravated by the war –to be more precise mainly by the sanctions of the West against Russia– every effort to limit the use of fossil fuels has been abandoned. CO2 emissions have increased and have been higher than ever in 2022 and the same is true for methane (about 30 times more dangerous for global warming than CO2). Under the “leadership” of the West, the whole planet is turning not only back to oil and natural gas but to coal, the worst pollutant, at the same time as rediscovering “nuclear energy”, calling it “green”!
  2. Most environmental scientists have come to the conclusion that the fight to limit temperature rise to 1.5o Celsius (i.e., that the average planet temperature will not rise more than 1.5oC compared to the preindustrial era) that was agreed at the Paris meeting of 2015, has been lost. They believe that as things stand, the battle for a maximum temperature rise of 2oC is also lost and we are moving towards a 2.5oC or 2.8oC rise. This of course will be devastating for lives and civilization on the planet. In November, the melting of the Himalayan ice cap led to the most severe floods in Pakistan causing the death of 1700 people and the evacuation of 33 million! Draught, on the other hand is causing nutritional crises affecting tens of millions in Africa. In August 2022, over 66 million were projected to experience famine across Eastern and Southern Africa. The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC carries reports an estimated 346 million people in Africa affected by the food crisis in 2022.
  3. These conditions will be aggravated in the decades to come and as long as capitalism prevails. If present trends continue up to two billion environmental refugees will be created and mass migration will create hellish conditions from which the rich industrial nations won’t be able to escape. Even within N. America itself there would be migration waves – N. Rubini estimates that up to half the population of the USA will have to migrate due to the rise of sea levels and droughts. 
  4. A solution to the environmental crisis necessitates global coordination – it’s a problem that is simply impossible to solve on a national or even continental basis. This global coordination is precisely what is impossible to take place under capitalism. Today more than ever before, because global antagonisms are at their highest since the worst moments of the first Cold War, between the West and Soviet Union. Capitalism will push the climate crisis to its limits and beyond. Only on the basis of socialism and workers’ democracy can the climate crisis be gradually checked.

Read the next part here

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