Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2023-2024: Polycrisis and the need to transform reality. Part III

June 15, 2023

From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters

II. Black history, Black liberation and suppression

III. Forces for freedom in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has shaken up world politics in a way that sharpened the divide in the Left and nurtured the Red-Brown alliances that revealed a great sickness on the Left, though it is not altogether new. That Putin’s genocidal but threadbare ideology could have such an impact reflects the Left’s philosophical disorientation.[1]

Thus, our 2021 Perspectives Thesis briefly traced what happened from the fall of Communism in East Europe and the USSR through Bosnia to revolution and counter-revolution in Syria. Looking back at the short-circuiting of revolutionary forces in East Europe and Russia in 1989-91, the Left is more comfortable focusing on the U.S. role than the determining role of the philosophic void in the Left itself. That had ramifications in the Bosnian genocide and the ability of the U.S. to corral the multiethnic revolt into an ethnic partition there, and in the hemming in of the Arab Spring and the Syrian revolution.

It is too easy to forget the profound depths and militancy of the reach for freedom in all of those countries, once it has been contained, betrayed, and written out of history. The failure of the Left ceded the field to the cancer of fascism. As that thesis put it:

“News and Letters Committees declared [Bosnia] to be a test of world politics that called for filling the philosophical void, beginning with the projection of the liberatory banner of revolution and a new human society, the negation of the negation, rather than stopping at the first negation of either state-capitalist Communism or private capitalism. The Left largely failed this test, almost universally disregarding the positive dimension coming from the struggle of Bosnians against genocide and reaching for a new multiethnic society. Instead, many Leftists openly supported the Serbian nationalism of Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, which they hailed as ‘anti-imperialist’ or even ‘socialist.’ All too many others equivocated but did not object to participating in coalitions with these reactionary would-be Leftists. It was the beginning of the return of Red-Brown alliances between elements of the Left and the far Right.”

Denying military aid to Ukraine’s defense against the invasion is the current focal point for the far Right’s attempt to co-opt elements of the Left for a Red-Brown alliance (see “‘Peace’ rallies spurn Ukrainian freedom,” March-April 2023 N&L). Several Republican members of Congress have joined far Right figures in calling for an end to aid to Ukraine. Putin’s apologists and unwitting supporters who parrot his line either approve of his totally reactionary politics—demonizing Queer people, rolling back women’s rights, fostering militarism, nationalism and authoritarianism—or are willing to overlook it as long as he is seen as standing up to the U.S.

Demonstration in support of Ukraine on Feb. 25, 2023, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo: Victoria Pickering


None of them take as their ground the genuine freedom struggles, especially within Ukraine. But neither do some supporters of Ukraine against Russia, who make a hero of President Zelensky or mute any criticism of the U.S., EU and NATO because their arms are needed. What is necessary is to bring out and listen to the voices and actions within Ukraine for social transformation that do not just follow Zelensky’s bourgeois government.

As we wrote in “Russian invasion and Ukrainian resistance shake up the world” (May-June 2022 N&L):

“The resistance goes beyond volunteers to fight, who were so numerous that many were turned away. In an economy deeply disrupted by war, many workers distribute goods from their workplaces to people in need and organize shelters. Railway and transport workers evacuate people from battle zones and transport vital goods to where they are needed, while medical workers—many of them women—use their skills under arduous conditions.

“While opposing a new anti-labor law passed by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government under the pretext of the war effort, trade unions did not publicly denounce it as they called for military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The continuation of pre-war attacks on labor rights shows that overcoming the Russian invasion is only the beginning of liberation struggles, not the end—and workers, women, youth, minorities and revolutionaries are right not to put off thinking about what happens after.

“As Ukrainian political economist Yuliya Yurchenko pointed out, ‘the resistance affirms people’s ability to effect change. That will be important after the war as the battle over how to rebuild it and in whose interests becomes the central question. I really hope that that spirit of collective solidarity can forge a new path for Ukraine once this hell is over.’”

Yurchenko added that Ukrainians need to “reconstruct Ukraine as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country in which all minorities have equal rights to their language, schooling, and culture. That is the task of the left and working-class organizations, and it will entail challenging the rule of the oligarch, their politicians, and the right. The politics of solidarity must triumph….The international left must put its decolonial hat on in thinking about Ukraine.”


Ukrainian leftists point out that in order to be able to transform their country, they need international help, first of all by sending weapons, but also Western solidarity movements need to pressure governments and private lenders to cancel the foreign debt and replace it with aid, and to oppose neoliberal conditions imposed from outside or within the country. Here are some of their voices.

The Feminist Initiative Group’s demands, issued July 7, 2022, include:

“freedom of movement, protection and social security for all refugees and internally displaced persons irrespective of origin; protection and expansion of labor rights, opposition to exploitation and super exploitation, and democratization of industrial relations; prioritization of the sphere of social reproduction (kindergartens, schools, medical institutions, social support, etc.) in the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war;…protection against gender-based violence and guaranteed effective implementation of the Istanbul Convention; respect for the rights and empowerment of LGBTIQ+ people, national minorities, people with disabilities and other discriminated groups; implementation of the reproductive rights of girls and women, including the universal rights to sex education, medical services, medicine, contraception, and abortion….”[2]

Viktoriia Pihul: “I want to say that women are already doing a lot to make Ukraine recover. And we [Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement)], as a leftist organization, are fighting for our labour and social rights, which the government is trying to curtail to various degrees. This is important for the post-war rebuilding of Ukraine to be possible and based on the principles of non-discrimination.”[3]

Nataliya Levytska: “We must rebuild a social, European Ukraine. Our objective for the social reconstruction of Ukraine should be a decent salary, quality jobs, safe working conditions and social justice. And trade unions must always be an effective tool for protecting the rights of employees.”[4]

Vitalii Dudin: “Ukrainians were ready to endure any difficulties in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion. But as the tide of the war has changed, not everyone thinks the current situation—where business has advantages over workers—is fair….So far, reconstruction plans for Ukraine have largely followed neoliberal traditions….Ultimately, the aim should not be to rebuild peripheral capitalism, but to introduce elements of the social and solidarity economy in the country.…the whole of Ukrainian society should be involved in the decision-making process….Despite all the pessimism, Ukrainian society does have a belief in a more just model of reconstruction.”[5]

Accordingly, a conference on “Another Ukraine Is Possible” is being held June 17 in London. The organizers explain: “An important international discussion is underway on Ukraine’s economic and social recovery from the effects of war. The UK government is hosting an international Ukraine Recovery Conference in London on 21-22 June. Already a vision is taking shape of a recovery in the interests of big business with the danger of corporate elites exploiting a war damaged economy. Join us for a day of discussion and debate with Ukrainian and social activists, academics, trade unionists and MPs on the key issues of Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and a reconstruction based on social, economic and environmental justice.”

IV. The climate emergency and the need to transform reality

[1]. See “Society in the grip of genocidal ideology” and “Left Apologetics for Putin” in the July-August 2022 N&L.

[2]. From “The right to resist.” A feminist manifesto, which is included in the forthcoming book Stand with Ukraine: Debunking the Propaganda, edited by Geof Bard (Bastille Press, 2023).

[3]. From Ukraine: Voices of Resistance and Solidarity, edited by Fred Leplat and Chris Ford (Resistance Books, 2022), chapter 7, “Our Main Goal Now Is to Win This War.” The following two quotations can also be found in this book.

[4]. From Ukraine: Voices of Resistance and Solidarity, chapter 9, “Unions Strive to Keep Ukraine’s Mines Running, Protect Civilians and Appeal for Solidarity.”

[5]. From Ukraine: Voices of Resistance and Solidarity, chapter 10, “Ukraine’s Recovery Must Benefit the People: The West Has Other Ideas.”

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