From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters
by Franklin Dmitryev
When the Russian Army retreated from their assault on Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, at the end of March, its withdrawal from towns like Bucha revealed the sadistic horrors inflicted by the occupiers.
They had left the bodies of over 400 civilians, including a line of bodies with hands tied in what appeared to be a torture chamber. Evidence showed rampant summary executions, rapes, torture and looting in Bucha and other formerly occupied towns.
Clearing up any doubts about the nature of his imperialist invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, which had occupied Bucha, for their “great heroism and courage” and for “protecting Russia’s sovereignty.”
The carnage puts into practice the genocidal blueprint elaborated on tightly controlled Russian state media by columnist Timofey Sergeytsev:
“Ukronazism carries not less, but a greater threat to the world and Russia than German Nazism of the Hitlerite version….The name ‘Ukraine’ apparently cannot be retained as the title of any fully denazified state….It must be returned to its natural boundaries and deprived of political functionality….Ukraine, as history has shown, is impossible as a nation-state, and attempts to ‘build’ one naturally lead to Nazism. Ukrainism is an artificial anti-Russian construction that does not have its own civilizational content….”
It is necessary to ask how Russia’s fascistic, warmongering regime was, even on the day after the invasion, accepted as a legitimate part of the world order, with its own legitimate sphere of influence, not only by the rulers of the other powerful capitalist states but by a large chunk of the so-called Left as well. After all, Putin’s state apparatus has been spewing its genocidal, revanchist ideology even before it annexed Crimea in 2014, and it has made itself the center of world fascism.
INVASION STALLED BUT RUINOUS
Putin’s retreat from Kyiv reflected the failure of his initial plan—deemed likely to succeed by Western intelligence agencies—to overthrow Kyiv in three days and install a puppet regime. This, however, only meant refocusing on a slower, but no less bloody, march on a swath of southern and eastern Ukraine—for now. There, the overwhelmingly Russian-language city of Mariupol has been “wiped off the face of the earth by the Russian Federation,” according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the Donetsk region.
As of the end of April, from 5,000 to 25,000 civilians had been killed—some reports claim 5,000 killed in Mariupol alone—along with thousands of combatants, while 30% of Ukraine’s people had been displaced, 5.5 million becoming refugees abroad. Russian forces targeted hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, and water and energy services.
What bogged down the invasion was the self-organization of nearly the whole population into a multi-ethnic national movement of armed resistance—which finally forced the U.S. and Europe to get serious about supporting Ukraine and enacting sanctions on Russia—as well as the weaknesses of the Russian armed forces, which were undermined not only by Putin’s illusions of a quick victory welcomed by the population but by desertions and resistance from within his army. (See “Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine puts the future of humanity in doubt,” March-April N&L.)
Railway workers in neighboring Belarus, who are oppressed by a Putin puppet, carried out dozens of acts of sabotage to effectively sever the rail link with Ukraine that had been one of the Russian army’s important supply lines. Over 40 of the workers were detained by the Belarus KGB, and may face 15 years in prison.
IN UKRAINE: MULTIDIMENSIONAL RESISTANCE AND WHAT HAPPENS AFTER
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.”
ABORTION IS A HUMAN RIGHT
May Day, International Labor Day, saw opposition to the invasion of Ukraine alongside demands for better working conditions and wages in protests across Germany, as well as in Italy, the Czech Republic and some other countries.
International support includes more than crucial weapons, food and protests. Women’s reproductive health groups and activists have organized delivery of morning-after and medical abortion pills for the thousands of women raped, mainly by the Russian invaders but in some cases by Ukrainian men. In Bucha, Ukraine’s human rights commission documented a case where 25 women had been imprisoned in a basement and systematically raped by the occupying army. And yet women who flee Ukraine, as well as the groups supporting them, face draconian restrictions on abortion and birth control in some of the countries they go to, like Poland—and maybe the U.S.
RUSSIAN ANTIWAR ACTION
In Russia, street protests that broke out when the war began were heavily repressed and news of them was censored to keep Russians in the dark. Now activists are trying multiple alternative ways to spread information and resist the war machine, including sabotage at workplaces. Leaflets, stickers and pamphlets are posted or delivered surreptitiously. Information on how to avoid conscription is posted on websites frequented by teenage boys and young men. Slogans like “no war” are written on paper money—a tactic learned from the underground in Turkmenistan. In over 40 cities and towns, wooden crosses were erected commemorating civilians killed by the Russian army in Mariupol.
Actions like the April 19 taxi drivers’ strike, with support from students, continue. Another creative initiative is the “Antiwar Sick Leave” group.
As suggested by the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, active during Russia’s wars on Afghanistan and Chechnya, antiwar activists demand to know the real numbers of dead soldiers and their names, and the exchange of captured soldiers, as a way to raise awareness of the war’s real effects.
A group of former U.S. soldiers who resisted the Vietnam and Iraq wars supported these efforts in an open letter urging Russian soldiers and officers to “listen to your conscience and follow the path of justice and truth.”
Enough Russians had already been avoiding the draft to prompt the government to falsely promise that conscripts would not be sent to Ukraine, then that they would not be sent to the front lines or hot spots. Despite Russia having six times the active and reserve armed forces as the outgunned Ukraine forces, Russia is so desperate to fill its ranks that, in the separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic,” it raised the draft age to cover men up to 65 years old. This led instead to virtually all men under 65 hiding out, with women taking over their jobs.
A new group, Feminist Anti-War Resistance, organized actions on International Women’s Day in 112 places in Russia and abroad. They also called a Women in Black protest, patterned after Israeli women’s protests against the occupation of Palestine, with silent protests all over Russia, including in small villages. Clearly, hatred of all Russians would obscure the opposition of two worlds of rulers vs. ruled in every country.
MANY-SIDED GLOBAL EMERGENCY
The ongoing global emergency that was deepened by the war already displayed multiple dimensions, from the climate (see “Climate report: revolution or disaster,” p. 1), to the pandemic, to the economy. Oxfam projects that the combined effect of the war and pandemic will push another quarter of a billion people into what is classified as extreme poverty. The totality of the global emergency in war, ecology, economy, and politics both mainstream and revolutionary, displays the mark of our age of absolutes.
The war’s disruption of farming and trade in two of the world’s biggest suppliers of wheat, corn, sunflower oil and fertilizer intensified a world food crisis that was already developing, with 880 million people chronically hungry.
Where some saw sanctions on Russia’s gas and oil exports as an opportunity to address the climate crisis by reducing fossil fuel use, in reality fossil fuel interests exploited “energy security” fears and high gasoline prices. Russia’s fossil fuel revenues doubled after its invasion began, with Germany remaining the biggest importer. The Biden administration enacted a raft of retrogressive measures, from opening up more oil drilling to years-long plans to build new export terminals for liquefied natural gas, supposedly to help Europe. Just as with the post-2008 “Green recovery,” the pandemic, and Biden’s infrastructure bill, opportunities to confront the climate crisis were turned into their opposite.
The food crisis and climate retrogression must be seen as part of a geopolitical shift, together with Putin’s war, which amped NATO to its strongest in 30 years and enabled Germany, among other countries, to embark on militarization that had been politically impossible since World War II. It dovetails with the rise of authoritarianism and fascism, which Putin has fueled.
PUTIN: THE SYSTEM’S CREATURE
Putin is not only a catalyst of capitalism’s decay but its reflection. He was welcomed by U.S. presidents Clinton and Bush after he rose to power on the back of his bloody war on Chechnya, which the U.S. supported as the restoration of “stability” and the sacredness of nation-state borders.
It was in that same period that the U.S. squandered the “peace dividend” promised at the end of the Cold War, and strove for total domination of the globe, leading to the 20-year campaign of war, occupation, and “nation-building” in Afghanistan and Iraq, justified by a barrage of lies, which today’s news media seem to forget as they describe the unprecedented nature of Russia’s war on Ukraine and Putin’s justifying lies.
They forget, or, rather, never recognized in the first place, how Bosnia and then Syria became the test of the new world order, which both the rulers and the Left failed. It was in response to Bosnia, and later Syria, that the fulsome depths of the ideological pollution of the Left and its convergence with the far Right became evident.
It is no accident that Putin appointed General Aleksandr Dvornikov—who earned the name “the butcher of Syria”—to take over Russia’s stalled invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s solidarity with Bashar al-Assad, when he intervened to rescue the genocidal Syrian regime, was not based on a shared opposition to U.S. imperialism, as is commonly imagined on the Left, but rather by a shared fear of revolution.1See “What tyrants fear the most: revolution” by Raha, p. 9 of this issue, and see “Back from the Finland Station” by John Ganz, April 7, 2022, … Continue reading
The confused and retrogressive reactions by much of the Left to Putin’s war are rooted in decades of evasion of philosophical responsibility, which prevented the raising of a banner of full freedom as a pole of attraction. Tailending state powers instead—even tailending Putin and Assad—led them away from heeding the movement from below. Philosophic evasion sapped the Left’s ability to pose an alternative to the Right.
On the other hand, statism also infuses the part of the Left that tailends the left wing of the Democratic Party. Their glaring lack of confidence in subjects of revoution is inseparable from lack of confidence in the self-determination of the Idea of Freedom—which they share with Left apologists for Putin, but also with the abstract revolutionism of repeating “No war but class war.”2See “‘No war but the class war’. Not a very useful slogan” by Bob Myers, March 14, 2022, People and Nature blog, at peoplenature dot org (which is blocked on some social media). Myers, of … Continue reading
Take an “Internationalist Manifesto Against the War” signed by various Left groups, which declares the U.S. to be “the main culprit.” Nowhere is the word or concept of “revolution” even approached but instead it indulges in a “both-sides”-ism that criticizes Russian imperialism only to point the finger at U.S. imperialism—and not even at the current stage of capitalism. The feeble proposal of “a new campaign for global disarmament, the dissolution of all imperialist military alliances and an alternative architecture of international security based on the rule of law” reveals a complete lack of revolutionary perspective.3Ingar Solty of the “Rosa Luxemburg Foundation,” connected to Germany’s Left Party (Die Linke), goes so far as to equate Putin’s instigation of Donetsk and Luhansk “secession” with … Continue reading
Philosophic evasion from the Left facilitated the ideological pollution of the whole society. The debasement of objective truth so rampant in today’s “anti-imperialist” Left as well as the QAnon-fevered Trumpist base brings substantial parts of the far Right and far Left together as fans of conspiracy theories touted jointly by Russian state media and white supremacist Fox News.
Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, argued that totalitarian movements push big lies not just to mislead people about specific facts but to undermine the population’s feeling that there is such a thing as objective truth. If people can be made not to care whether anything is true or false, their resistance is broken. This is an attack on subjects of revolution and on Thought.
There is a great deal of truth in this, but philosophically it calls for us to go deeper into Hegel’s critique of the retrogressive Third Attitude to Objectivity, and its reduction of objective truth to subjectivism. As Raya Dunayevskaya explained:
“[S]uch an attitude to objectivity would always recur when, in the process of battling contradiction, the Subject becomes impatient with the seemingly endless stages of negation it must suffer through, and therefore, instead, slides backward into Intuition….[N]othing is more cogent for the impatient ones of our day than the Third Attitude to Objectivity….”4Philosophy and Revolution, from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao (Lexington Books, 2003), pp. 20-21. See also pp. xlii-xliv, and “Hegel’s Third Attitude Today,” p. 4 of this issue.
Hegel’s concept of attitudes to objectivity came out of his confrontation with retrogression in society, which he opposed in thought as well as reality. To Dunayevskaya, Hegel’s critique, in striking out against one-sided subjectivism, turned to method itself as the mediating organizational principle of a body of ideas. The dialectical relationship of philosophy to organization was not theory only, but a necessity for social revolution to succeed and make itself permanent.
Total subjectivism is seen in the failure of the vast majority of the Left to achieve any kind of serious self-critique. Instead, they descended into campism, or tailended campists because they were organizing “anti-imperialist” rallies and manifestos. They failed even to recognize how the ideologically polluted Left had become not just an impediment to revolution but a propellant of counter-revolution, even if unwittingly.
What this shows above all is the urgent need for a philosophy of revolution. We must not allow our thought and vision to be confined to the immediate situation but rather keep concretely working out—in the midst of immediate struggles—what N&L pointed out last issue: “The opposite of permanent war is permanent revolution, which does not stop at political freedom and national self-determination.”
The totality of the global emergency demands a total solution, a revolutionary uprooting of social foundations unseparated from a philosophy of revolution. It is the mark of our age of absolutes: the struggle against absolute tyranny, with the dual specter of climate catastrophe and nuclear holocaust—which Putin’s Russia keeps threatening—compels humanity to the self-realization of freedom as its absolute. Anything less opens the door to counter-revolution in the very innards of revolutions. This has happened repeatedly in our age of total contradictions, which is reflected in the degeneration of political tendencies, including the Left.
The Ukrainian people resisting the invasion, refugees, and the antiwar movement in Russia need the support of people of all countries. Masses of people throughout the world haven’t waffled and have pushed governments in that direction. Our solidarity demands hearing the theory within those movements from practice, to help bring forth totally new beginnings in theory and practice, toward the permanent unfolding of freedom.
|↑1||See “What tyrants fear the most: revolution” by Raha, p. 9 of this issue, and see “Back from the Finland Station” by John Ganz, April 7, 2022, https://johnganz.substack.com/p/back-from-the-finland-station.|
|↑2||See “‘No war but the class war’. Not a very useful slogan” by Bob Myers, March 14, 2022, People and Nature blog, at peoplenature dot org (which is blocked on some social media). Myers, of Workers Aid to Bosnia, recalls Bosnian labor solidarity to inform solidarity with Ukraine today.|
|↑3||Ingar Solty of the “Rosa Luxemburg Foundation,” connected to Germany’s Left Party (Die Linke), goes so far as to equate Putin’s instigation of Donetsk and Luhansk “secession” with Kosova’s departure from Serbia occasioned by the 1990s genocide, reports of which he equates to Putin’s propaganda. And he fails in that piece, “The Geopolitical Consequences of the Escalation in Ukraine” (rosalux.de, Feb. 24, 2022), to acknowledge the genocide in Bosnia. Wallowing in bourgeois reformism, Solty is concerned above all with “the development of a common European security architecture incorporating Russia.”|
|↑4||Philosophy and Revolution, from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao (Lexington Books, 2003), pp. 20-21. See also pp. xlii-xliv, and “Hegel’s Third Attitude Today,” p. 4 of this issue.|