The imperialist war unleashed by Vladimir Putin is hitting the Marxists hard. Already today, we can see how part of the Ukrainian left and part of the Russian left have rallied around their governments.
Some people, who until very recently advocated class warfare, now call president Volodymyr Zelensky by the Cossack title “Batyka”—Ukrainian for father. Russian “Communists”, on the other hand, are increasingly slipping into even more blatant chauvinism.
We have already seen something similar in history. During the First World War, a number of figures of the Second International of socialist parties fell in behind their ruling classes and pushed class struggle into the background.
The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin wrote The Defeat of One’s Government in the Imperialist War in 1915. The only policy of actual, not verbal disruption of the “class truce”, of acceptance of the class struggle, is for the proletariat to take advantage of the difficulties experienced by its government and its bourgeoisie in order to overthrow them,” he wrote. “This, however, cannot be achieved or striven for, without desiring the defeat of one’s own government and without contributing to that defeat.
“When, before the war, the Italian Social-Democrats raised the question of a mass strike, the bourgeoisie replied, no doubt correctly from their own point of view, that this would be high treason, and that Social-Democrats would be dealt with as traitors.
“That is true, just as it is true that fraternisation in the trenches is high treason. Those who write against ‘high treason’, as Bukvoyed does, or against the ‘disintegration of Russia’, as Semkovsky does, are adopting the bourgeois, not the proletarian point of view.
“A proletarian cannot deal a class blow at his government or hold out (in fact) a hand to his brother, the proletarian of the ‘foreign’ country which is at war with ‘our side’, without committing ‘high treason’, without contributing to the defeat, to the disintegration of his ‘own’, imperialist ‘Great’ Power.”
This is the only socialist point of view. There can be no other.
However, Lenin never equated the national liberation struggle of the oppressed nations with the imperialism of the oppressing nations. He said, “In my writings on the national question I have already said that an abstract presentation of the question of nationalism in general is of no use at all.
“A distinction must necessarily be made between the nationalism of an oppressor nation and that of an oppressed nation, the nationalism of a big nation and that of a small nation.
“In respect of the second kind of nationalism we, nationals of a big nation, have nearly always been guilty, in historic practice, of an infinite number of cases of violence; furthermore, we commit violence and insult an infinite number of times without noticing it.
“The socialist belonging to the oppressing nation is questioned by Marx about his attitude towards the oppressed nation. And he immediately reveals a common flaw to the socialists of the dominant nations (English and Russian): a failure to understand their socialist duties towards the oppressed nations, a chewing up of prejudices adopted from the ‘great-power’ bourgeoisie.”
So what do we have to say? The current conflict is an imperialist one between Russia and Nato. There are historical imperialist claims of Russian chauvinism against the oppressed Ukrainian nation. The Russian state essentially disputes the very fact of the existence of a state of “Ukraine”.
The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky once wrote, “The programme of Ukrainian independence in the age of imperialism is directly and inextricably linked to the programme of the proletarian revolution.” All internationalist socialists should understand that only after the removal of the national question can the working class develop from a “class in itself” into a “class for itself” and become a full-fledged political subject. Only international solidarity against Russian imperialism and chauvinism can unite Russian and Ukrainian workers now.
There are now persistent rumours in Russia about the start of a general mobilisation. The Russian army is suffering significant losses at the front. People are embittered by the imposition of sanctions by the West. On the one hand, part of the population speaks out strongly against Putin, on the other hand part of the population is ready to rally against the West. The fragility of civil society and the anti-war movement is increasing. In this environment it is especially important to keep a cool head and strengthen a common internationalism.
Long live the International!
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