On 29th July a substantial motion on Ukraine, taking a firmly defencist position on the Donbass struggle against the far-right Ukrainian regime’s 8 year attempt at suppression of the Russian and Russian-speaking population there, was put to a national members meeting of the Socialist Labour Network. On the face of it, it was defeated by 25 votes to 13, a nearly 2-1 margin. That would seem to be overwhelming. Except that in addition, 10 members abstained.
Ordinarily, one can only speculate over why a layer of members abstain in a meeting. But what it indicative is that the SLN already have a policy on the Ukraine war, which was passed rather hurriedly and at short notice in April, in the circumstances of war hysteria the like of which has probably not been seen since 1914.
Hysteria over Russia’s intervention in a civil war that had in reality been going on since 2014, and the Maidan coup that placed in power a far-right nationalist regime whose key objectives were to parlay Ukraine into NATO. This regime passed a monolingual law that stated that Ukrainian was to be the sole ‘national language’ (even though around 46% of the population speaks Russian as their main language). Evidently its aim was to suppress and/or ethnically cleanse the overwhelmingly Russian-speaking population of the Donbass. This aspect of the conflict is so flagrantly undemocratic that it is akin to trying to ban either French or Dutch in Belgium.
In the face of this, the SLN passed a motion on 8th April that stated “The Socialist Labour Network condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We call for an immediate ceasefire and for all Russian armed forces to immediately withdraw.” (https://www.labour-in-exile.org/uncategorized/the-amm-8-april-passed-the-following-statement-on-ukraine/)
And yet it also said: “We support the right of secession of the 2 breakaway republics, Donetsk and Luhansk in the face of attacks on ethnic Russians and Russian speaking Ukranians” and paid lip service to “Self-determination for the peoples of Donbass and Crimea on the basis of a genuinely democratic referendum.”
The phrase about the “genuinely democratic referendum” is weasel words, as the peoples of these regions have already held referenda, which in the case of Crimea was overwhelmingly for separation from Ukraine and unification with Russia – hardly surprising as the majority of Crimea’s population not only speaks Russian but is Russian.
In the case of the two Donbass People’s Republics, Donetsk and Lugansk, they voted equally overwhelmingly for autonomy within the framework of the two Minsk agreements, which were supposed to guarantee such autonomy, not least on questions related to language rights. Even though it was supposed to be guaranteed by the OSCE, which includes both Russia and Ukraine, and the bulk of the so-called ‘democratic’ imperialist powers, the far-right regime in Kiev has waged bloody war against the people of the Donbass for 8 years, in which over 14,000 have died. Apparently, those referenda are not good enough to satisfy the drawers up of the April motion.
The SLN’s original policy completely contradicts itself about the self-determination of the Russian and Russian speaking population when it writes “Russia, hands off Ukraine. Immediate withdrawal of occupation forces”. The problem is that there are no Russian “occupation forces”. The only parts of Ukraine where Russian forces are based are areas where the population is overwhelmingly Russian-speaking, and they are in fact in the process of liberating them from 8 years of hostile, far right, often outright Nazi, occupation and oppression.
There are ZERO Russian ‘occupation forces’ in the parts of Ukraine where monolingualist Ukrainian nationalists can realistically pretend, even formally, to rule democratically. So, in fact this call for the withdrawal of non-existent ‘occupation forces’ amounts for the call for the withdrawal of those forces protecting the people of the Donbass from the murderous proclivities of the NATO-backed Maidan regime and the likes of the Azov regiment. The same Azov regiment that the April policy says of which: “In particular we condemn the supply of weapons and training to Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion by the United States, Britain and Israel. The Azov battalion has been integrated into Ukraine’s armed forces and is part of the Ukrainian state. Ukraine is the only state in the world to hold a national holiday in memory of a Nazi collaborator, Stepan Bandera, whose forces were responsible for the deaths of at least 200,000 Jews, Gypsies and Poles during the war.”
But the SLN is calling for the withdrawal of the so-called occupation forces that are preventing the likes of Azov from conquering the Donbass and reducing its population to a similar condition to that of the Palestinians at Israel’s hands. How is that compatible with ‘self-determination’ for the Donbass?
Evidently it is not. Which is why there was such disquiet among the SLN’s members about this that nearly half of the membership at a meeting failed to support this existing, self-contradictory and in fact reactionary, policy of demanding the withdrawal of the forces of Russia’s ‘special operation’, putting the SLN clearly on the side of the NATO-Nazi oppressor against the oppressed people of the Donbass. What is not surprising, but a little disappointing, is that the often personally courageous but politically vacillating left-centrist Tony Greenstein opposed the motion and led the charge against it, even though he has recently written things that pretty much match the main points in the motion.
His reasons for doing this are simply opportunist. He spuriously claimed that the motion was ‘uncritical’ of Putin. In fact, Putin’s name does not occur in the motion, nor that of any other politician except for James Baker, the US Secretary of State at the time of German reunification, who gave undertakings that NATO would not expand to the East, since massively broken. Putin’s name does not occur because this is not about individual politicians but the social nature of a conflict, in terms that correspond with things that Greenstein has written about in virtually identical terms.
The real reason for this is Greenstein’s fear, as he let slip in the meeting, that some of the more right-wing elements in the SLN would walk away if the SLN adopted a principled, anti-imperialist position on the war in Ukraine. That is simply opportunism and reflects passive acceptance of a situation where there is in fact NO ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT in the main Western countries, as groups like ‘Stop the War’ simply echo the demands of the imperialists for a Russian defeat (while engaging in cheap posturing about ‘a plague on both your houses’ in the worst traditions of traitorous and hypocritical reformism).
The SLN, like much of the rest of the ex-Corbynite left, is politically heterogenous and confused on questions of principle such as Ukraine. Not far off half of that meeting was sympathetic to a principled position, if not yet politically hard enough to vote to overturn the rotten policy and risk a walkout by the confusionist third camp (and worse) types. But it is also clear that there is still much to play for, and as anti-imperialists, we supporters of the Consistent Democrats will not be walking away from the SLN and the ex-Corbynite left more generally.
Motion on the Russia-Ukraine-NATO military conflict
- The root cause of the current military conflict is the 30-year drive to expand NATO in breach of public undertakings, by such politicians as then US Secretary of State James Baker, at the time of the dissolution of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, that NATO would not expand ‘one inch’ eastwards from the Elbe. Since then, NATO has expanded to include 10 former Eastern Bloc countries, and the threat to include Ukraine and Georgia, along with hoped-for nuclear weapons and actual bioweapon sites in Ukraine, is regarded as an existential threat by the Russian government and most Russians.
- The 2014 Maidan Coup in Ukraine led by violent far rightists on the ground, guided and funded with billions of dollars by US politicians and intelligence agencies, installed an effective US puppet government in Kiev. Since the coup this government has not only been a proxy of the US, as the US now openly admits, but has violently suppressed leftists, ethnic Russians, and other minorities. It has introduced a draconian language law that mandates the use of Ukrainian in all official and public contexts, including in the large areas of Eastern Ukraine where Russian is the main language used by the population. This is clear national-linguistic oppression.
- The repression provoked a bloody civil war in Ukraine as residents of the Donbass established the Peoples Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk to defend themselves from the violently Russophobic Kiev regime and its fascist military forces. Other sections of the Russian and Russian-speaking population of Ukraine outside the Donbass such as Odessa and Mariupol, who also resisted this, were subjected to massacres and atrocities.
- Russia’s military action in the current war amounted to an intervention in the pre-existing Ukrainian civil war to prevent the destruction and elimination of the Russian and Russophone Ukrainian population by the far-right Ukrainian regime. As this civil war has proceeded there have been numerous organised beatings and murders by Ukrainian far right nationalists of civilians for not speaking ‘proper’ Russian.
- Although Russia has been a capitalist state since 1991 it is not an imperialist power. Imperialism is more than when one state employs military force against another. Imperialism is a stage of capitalism represented by the dominance of finance capital. Russia is not part of the ‘imperialist club’ but a relatively backward, dependent capitalist economy. Its exceptional powerful military was inherited from the non-capitalist USSR, including nuclear forces that were developed for defence against the US. In 1945 the US used nuclear weapons against Japan, which was already seeking to surrender, to intimidate the USSR as the opening shot of the Cold War.
- NATO and the US deliberately provoked this conflict over decades. Russia intervened on 24 February to defend the population of Eastern Ukraine from a massive offensive by Kiev that began on 16 Feb. Both in the run up to the Russian action, and especially afterward, the entire population of the West have been subjected to a racist, anti-Russian hate campaign and militaristic propaganda that has not been seen since 1914. Lies about Russian ‘atrocities’ have been brazenly fabricated when in fact evidence points to systematic atrocities against Russo-Ukrainian civilians being committed by NATO-funded Ukrainian Nazis.
- Foul racism against Russians has become Western state policy. Bans on sporting and cultural figures, the works of long-dead Russian figures like Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky, and even deceased Cosmonauts, are examples of the most disgusting racism, comparable to the Nazis’ bans against Jewish artistic and cultural figures in the lead up to the Nazi holocaust. This has been accompanied by fantasising in the Western media about the possibility of the US ‘winning’ a nuclear war.
- In the face of this we as socialists must declare our solidarity with the oppressed Russo-Ukrainian population of the Donbass and defend their right to defend themselves against NATO’s far right, racist, warmongering campaign by whatever means are at hand, including by working with the Russian armed forces. Russia also has the right to defend itself against the Western project of dismembering it and plundering it for its natural resources.
- We should oppose the demand for the withdrawal of Russian troops without securing full national inviolability of Russian/Russophone East Ukraine as a deceitful ‘anti-war’ demand that does not actually oppose war but lays the basis for a slaughter and/or mass expulsion of Russo-Ukrainians, which may resemble that of the Palestinians. We also note that anyone who seeks a genuinely independent existence for Ukraine proper will not achieve this as a puppet of NATO and the US.
Proposed: Ian Donovan
Seconded: Mick Arter/James Hall