The war in Ukraine – a commentary on Paul Mason’s muddle 

Journalist, writer and film-maker, Paul Mason, (Photo by Marc Vallée/ (c) Marc Vallée, 2019. All rights reserved

The brutal war in Ukraine following Putin’s invasion, like all wars, has posed crucial issues for the working class, in the sharpest way. 

War and revolution are the greatest tests for Marxists and the working class. Unfortunately, many socialists, when confronted with either of these two crucial historic processes have failed the test. Many abandoned an independent programme for the working class and echo the ideas of the ruling class. The response by many on the left to the current bloody war being fought in Ukraine is no different. Some have capitulated to the pressures of the ferocious ideological propaganda churned out by their respective ruling classes, and reformists, who do not want to challenge capitalism. This path has been trodden on many occasions historically by “socialist” leaders who proved incapable of withstanding the opportunist pressures of capitalism. 

This was the case in the run-up to the world war in 1914 when the leaders of the then mass workers’ social democratic parties betrayed the working class and supported the bourgeoisie in their own country. 

Others, mainly small groups, fall prey to the pitfall of crude ultra-leftism. They merely repeat slogans in a dogmatic way taking no account of the political consciousness of the masses. As a result, they are incapable of opening a dialogue with the working class and winning support for a revolutionary socialist programme. 

At the initial stages of many wars, those who have been able to maintain a principled independent socialist programme and explain it in a skilful way that corresponds to the mood of the working class are often a tiny minority. This was the case in the 1914-18 war, when those who initially opposed it were reduced to a minority, and a tiny handful of them assembled at the Zimmerwald Conference in 1915. Even amongst these small forces, splits and divisions took place. 

At the beginning of any war, it is necessary for revolutionary socialists to swim against the stream. Frequently, the masses need to experience the bloody consequences of war before the central questions become clarified and the real class interests of those involved become clearer. As Leon Trotsky put it, “War does not begin with revolution – it ends with it”. Capitalist wars pose many issues. Yet the underlying class antagonisms in society are not resolved during a war. They resurface in a sharper and more polarised manner as the war drags on. 

The current war in Ukraine, like all other wars, has resulted in much confusion and provoked debate and differences on the left, including the far left. In Germany, the left party, Die Linke, has been divided between those who are generally supporting the response of the German government, apart from its new 100 billion euro rearmament programme, and those who are either pacifist or criticise western powers and NATO but are less critical of Putin. In the USA, the Democratic Socialist Alliance (DSA) International Committee originally published a statement that condemned NATO and US imperialism, in a one-sided manner, and failed to deal with the Putin regime and the Russian invasion. This initially led to the suspension of the IC of the DSA and a switch in position. In Spain, PODEMOS has meekly followed the position of the Spanish government. 

The “official” left, especially the former social democratic parties, have, in the main, followed in the footsteps of mass social-democratic workers’ parties of the past and have opportunistically capitulated to the pressures and demands of the ruling classes of western imperialism. Others, like the communist parties of India or Chile, have featured criticism of NATO but limited themselves to calls for “peace” and a “diplomatic solution”. Some insignificant small groups, still incredibly clinging to the idea that Putin’s capitalist Russia, in some way, still resembles the former USSR, with its nationalised planned economy ruled by a Stalinist Bonapartist bureaucracy, lean towards supporting Russia as a means of opposing western imperialism. News of the collapse of the former USSR and capitalist restoration in 1991/2 apparently has still not reached them! The CWI will comment further on some of the ideas and programmes defended by these organisations. 

In this article, we will concentrate on the arguments of Paul Mason, who is known in Britain and has a certain audience internationally as a representative of the ‘left’. Under the false flag of ‘Marxism’, he attempts to give a “theoretical” left cover for the pro-capitalist policies of the likes of the British Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, or the German SPD leader, Olaf Scholz. In his writings on this war, Mason has continued his political journey to the right, acting as an apologist for these pro-capitalist politicians. 

The character of the war and the need for an independent programme

The task of revolutionary socialists is to understand the class forces involved in any war. It is also necessary to advocate an independent programme that is in the interests of the working class in all the countries involved. The capitalist classes of all countries are motivated by their own economic, political and strategic interests. They have no concern for the interests of the working class or the mass of the population. The current war in Ukraine, in this respect, includes all of these features. For the working class, capitalist wars offer no solution or way forward. In all wars, there are aggressors and defenders. Which side “started” the war and fired first is not the crucial question in understanding the class interests involved in the conflict. The task of the working class and Marxists is to understand the class dynamics and interests of the forces involved and to defend a programme that corresponds to the interests of the working class. 

In the Ukraine conflict, there are many factors that need to be considered. Many of them have unfortunately been ignored or relegated to secondary importance by most capitalist commentators and some of the left. Putin has militarily intervened in Ukraine with the objective of expanding Russia’s sphere of influence in the region and globally. He is driven ideologically by Greater Russian chauvinism and a rejection of Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent nation. His regime is an authoritarian Bonapartist one, resting on a corrupt form of oligarchical capitalism. 

His drive into Ukraine is part of an attempt to establish a “new Russia” – Novorossiya- to build a greater alliance of Russian dominated states or state-lets. Putin is also motivated by a desperate opposition to NATO’s expansion east, which his regime views as a threat to the aspiration to build “Novorossiya” and the ruling elite’s interests. 

The Ukrainian masses are paying a terrible price in blood as a result of the invasion. Putin has resorted to the brutal tactics deployed in Syria and the destruction of Aleppo or Grozny in Chechnya, in 1999, as his forces have become bogged down and faced more difficulties on the battlefield than anticipated. As Trotsky pointed out when analysing the invasion of Finland in 1939: “[when] The defence of ‘one’s own’ from foreign invasion, or an offensive against another country is involved, has immense and possibly decisive importance for the mood of the army and nation.” (The World Situation and Perspectives, February 1940). 

As Robespierre put it, “people do not like missionaries with bayonets”. Putin underestimated the determination and resolve of the majority of Ukrainians to resist foreign intervention. Vastly superior military strength and developed technology are not enough to secure a rapid victory when confronted with military and civilian population which is determined to resist a foreign invader. 

Revolutionary socialists fully support the right of Ukrainian workers and people to defend themselves and fight against foreign invaders. However, the Ukrainian government is a pro-capitalist regime backed by its own oligarchs. 

Zelensky was actually elected on a programme to deal with corruption and the oligarchs and to negotiate with the pro-Russia, breakaway ‘republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk. However, since being elected, Zelensky has failed to deliver on his promises. 

Although Zelensky’s government is not a fascist regime, fascistic forces, like the Azov battalion, were incorporated into the state military. Since 2014, the government has severely limited the teaching of minority languages, like Russian and Hungarian, in schools and state institutions. These measures oppressed the ethnic Russian population and others, especially in Donetsk and Luhansk. In 2020, Zelensky’s government introduced some of the worst anti-labour laws in any European country, provoking protests from international trade union organisations like the Industrial Global Union. 

The first casualty of war is truth. The western imperialist powers have responded to this crisis with unrestrained hypocrisy. Their forces have appeared united around NATO in opposing the Russian military intervention. However, divisions are beginning to open between these powers. Their hypocritical denunciations of Russian brutality, without even a footnote regarding the atrocities they committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sarajevo and elsewhere, reveal the double standards of western imperialism. 

The western imperialist powers want to check Russian chauvinist expansion, which they perceive as a threat to their various interests. They broke the undertakings they gave to the leadership of the former USSR and expanded NATO membership eastwards since 1991; a move that is viewed as a threat to Russian interests by the Putin clique in power in Russia. 

These factors are not a justification for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. However, they are important in order to arrive at a correct analysis of the class interests of the forces involved. 

Defending the democratic and national rights of the Ukrainian people does not mean all of the other factors involved in the conflict can be simply tossed aside. Revolutionary socialists need to defend an independent programme that is in the interests of the working class and the masses of all the countries involved in this conflict. What is the revolutionary socialist programme necessary for a war of this character?

Mason – Marxism or ‘Stamerism’? 

Paul Mason, on March 12th, published a tract ‘Ukraine: outlines of a Marxist position’. In February, he published ‘Learning to say “Goodbye Lenin”’. 

Mason has previously published good material attacking capitalism, although never with a programme to break with the profit system. In his writings on the war, Paul Mason has not only continued his political journey to the right, he has also repudiated Lenin and argued a case that is more ‘Starmerism’ than Marxism. 

A few strawmen are constructed by Paul Mason. He writes, “Once you can accept that ‘humanity is a social construct’ and that ‘history is a process without subject’ you can look at the dead civilians in Mariupol and categorise them as ‘neo-Nazis’, you can look at Eastern Europe’s moves towards NATO membership in the 1990s and call it ‘encirclement’, you can file an entire nation of 41 million people under the category of ‘puppets of the West’”. 

Who has argued this? Putin? Paul Mason gives no source. 

Opposing Putin’s intervention into Ukraine does not mean we should close our eyes to the consequences of NATO’s expansion east or the role and interests being pursued by western imperialism. But then, Mason now sees NATO in a rather more acceptable light (his Labour Party membership is secured!) Paul Mason boasts on ‘Twitter’ that he was part of a struggle that “decisively won a battle to keep Labour pro-Trident and pro-NATO…” Mason’s political journey to the right has taken him a long way from the sectarian version of Trotskyism, ‘Workers Power’, he defended when he was younger. 

During the war, a layer of the population in Ukraine and the west had increased expectations and hopes that NATO could provide some protection and support to the Ukrainian people. However, these hopes are diminishing, by the day – especially in Ukraine, as Nato is seen as failing to decisively intervene. 

Despite any temporary illusions which exist in NATO, socialists have a responsibility to skillfully explain the truth and expose the reality of what such institutions represent. The imperialist character of NATO was clearly shown in its intervention in the Balkans in Kosovo in 1999 and in Libya in 2011.  The catastrophic consequences which have followed illustrate the nature of this military alliance of capitalist powers. NATO’s toleration of foreign interventions by its member states is shown in its tacit acceptance of de facto Turkish control of northern Cyprus since its 1974 invasion. 

We are told by Mason that for those living in NATO countries, or NATO-aligned states, “there is also a huge opportunity – to redesign NATO as a defensive-only alliance…and to democratize the professional, right-wing dominated security and military machines of the west”. 

Mason is not alone in this respect. The ‘Bureau of the Fourth International – formerly the United Secretariat of the Fourth International’  has carried an interview, without comment, of a self-proclaimed “anarcho-syndicalist” in Ukraine, who simply says joining NATO or the EU and the US “does not seem like a bad thing”. Hardly a position one would normally associate with anarcho-syndicalism! 

Reforming NATO to become an instrument to serve working people is like urging a carnivorous dinosaur to become a vegan overnight. Does Paul Mason seriously believe that these bourgeois institutions – structured and in existence to defend the interests of capitalist states –  will be allowed to be reformed in a way as to change their character? Does he really think that the ruling capitalist classes would allow this to take place? 

Rather intemperately, Paul Mason says we should “not tolerate” the “’dissolve NATO rhetoric coming out of the campists, Stalinist and outright pro-CPC groups on the left”.

Marxists oppose NATO and capitalist military alliances. Will the ruling class dissolve NATO? No – the capitalist classes will not do that. Yet would a socialist government break from NATO, a reactionary, capitalist military alliance dominated by US imperialism? Surely, yes – if it was not expelled from Nato before it could do so. The idea of reforming such institutions aspired to by Mason is a pipe dream. 

This does not equate to the ideas of the “campists” which Mason refers to – those who uncritically defended the former USSR. The term campists was originally developed by some groupings who wrongly argued that the former USSR was “state capitalist” (different to the mafia capitalism which Putin rules over today). They rejected the “two camps” of capitalism in the west, and the “state capitalism” of the USSR (which they argued were not fundamentally different). The CWI opposed these ideas, at the time.   

Mason reflects the political contortions undertaken by many commentators on the ‘left’ during this conflict. Ukraine, he says, is fighting a legitimate war of self-defence against a war of aggression. Genuine Marxism argues that the Ukrainian people have an unquestionable right to defend themselves and their right to exist as an independent nation. 

But what conclusion does Mason, who has never grasped Marxism in a rounded out manner, derive from this? What he does is totally alien to Marx. He proposes a ‘programme’ devoid of any class content. He demands the left should “support Ukraine” and demand “their governments” send arms to Ukraine, support debt relief and support the call for ‘international volunteers’. Yet, for Marxists, the capitalist governments of the west are not ‘our’ governments! Mason’s method means involuntarily lending support, for example, to Johnson in Britain or the Polish government. 

Support Ukraine? But the question is which Ukraine? Due to the war, Zelensky is extremely popular in the west, at this stage, and in Ukraine. The alleged revelations of Russian atrocities have undoubtedly boosted his popularity. Within Ukraine, a mood of “national unity” undoubtedly exists amongst much of the population. This means that any socialists there would need to present an independent programme sensitively and skillfully. However, it is still necessary to explain that we do not support the Ukraine of oligarchs and Zelensky’s pro-capitalist government, and warn against it. 

Revolutionary socialists fully support the right of the Ukrainian people to defend themselves and fight against the Russian invasion and any threats of ethnic cleansing. It is necessary to raise the need for democratically-run armed defence militias of Ukrainian workers and the wider population need to be built. We need to warn against putting any trust in the right-wing regime of Zelensky and to warn the masses against placing confidence or trust in his government or the oligarchs. This needs to be counterposed to what Zelensky initially did prior to the war in allowing the fascistic Azov Battalion to officially form its own unit as a part of the Ukraine army. These forces, and the Ukraine state, will be turned against Ukrainian workers if they begin to build their own independent trade unions and organisations. This is the same government that has already carried through privatisation and attacked the democratic rights of Ukrainian workers. 

Mason adds a footnote that he hopes will get him off the pro-NATO hook he has hung himself on. He says his approach does not mean “uncritically [my emphasis – TS] supporting the Zelensky government, or its privatisation strategy, or alliances with Ukrainian oligarchs, or its anti-democratic laws”. 

Mason also smuggles in the call to turn the resistance into a movement for social justice. So, he accepts there is a problem with Zelensky’s government. Bravo! But, in reality, Paul Mason wants to mute any criticism of  Zelensky’s government or at least postpone it, until after the war. 

But socialists have a responsibility to speak the truth and warn in advance about the character of Zelensky’s or any capitalist government. 

Goodbye to Lenin?

Mason says “goodbye to Lenin” and in a flourish of sarcastic asides argues, “We can sit on our hands quoting Lenin, or we can accept the systemic nature of the conflict and take a side in it…” 

The truth is that Paul Mason said goodbye to Lenin a long time ago. Now perhaps Mason is saying his final farewell. But what is the content of his farewell? 

Putin has also repudiated Lenin. In particular, Putin denounced the revolutionary socialist leader because of the position Lenin defended on the ‘Ukrainian question’ and for “wrongly bringing Ukraine” into existence as a nation. 

Does Mason want to say “goodbye” to Lenin’s uncompromising defence of the right of nations to self-determination? Mason evades even mentioning what Lenin and the Bolsheviks did in relation to Ukraine after the 1917 socialist revolution. It was Lenin and the Bolsheviks who defended the right of nations to self-determination, including Ukraine, in opposition to Great Russian chauvinism. It was Lenin and the Bolsheviks who did not “sit on their hands” but ensured this right was enacted after the revolution, in1919. Even the mouthpiece of British capitalism, the Financial Times, was recently compelled to concede this fact. 

On this matter, Lenin wrote: “We want a voluntary union of nations – a union which precludes any coercion of one nation by another – a union founded on complete confidence, on a clear recognition of brotherly unity, on absolutely voluntary consent … only the Ukrainian workers and peasants themselves can and will decide at their All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets whether Ukraine shall amalgamate with Russia, or whether she shall remain a separate and independent republic, and in the latter case, what federal ties shall be established between that republic and Russia.” (Lenin, Letter to workers and peasants of Ukraine, December 1919). 

The acceptance of the right to self-determination for Ukraine by the Soviet government in Russia resulted in a coming together of the Ukrainian and Russian working classes. It began to break down the suspicion which existed due to oppression of Great Russian chauvinism under Czarist Russia. However, the political counter-revolution of the Stalinist bureaucracy, with the chauvinistic and bureaucratic methods of the clique around Stalin, reversed this process. It led to increased suspicion and hostility toward the bureaucratic regime in the Kremlin under Stalin. Ukraine, where the Left Opposition enjoyed considerable support, suffered some of the worst of Stalin’s purges. Millions died having suffered persecution, forced collectivisation and starvation. This left a terrible scar in the minds of the Ukrainian people. The changed situation under Stalin led Trotsky, in 1939, to advocate an independent socialist Soviet Ukraine, as part of a struggle to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and re-establish a workers’ democracy. 

In his piece, “Ukraine: Outlines of a Marxist position”, Paul Mason is silent on the historical context of the national question in Ukraine (yet it is rich with lessons for today’s conflict). Mason has nothing to say on another aspect of the current situation – the democratic rights of the ethnic Russian population, a majority of whom are concentrated in the east of the country, and other minorities. 

The conflict in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ has claimed over 15,000 lives since Russian backed separatist fighters seized government buildings in 2014, and fighting broke out between the military forces in Donetsk and Luhansk and the far-right nationalist Ukrainian militias and Ukrainian state forces. 

Ethnic Russians throughout Ukraine suffered repression by Ukrainian nationalists, including curtailment of their language rights. The peoples of these areas have also been used as pawns by Putin in his strategic aim of establishing and expanding Novorossiya. 

The nationalist forces dominating these areas, mainly of a reactionary right-wing character, exploited the aspirations of the ethnic Russians who had suffered from oppression and discrimination by the Ukrainian nationalist regimes in Kyiv. In turn, they were also manipulated by Putin’s regime in Russia. 

The aspirations of the people in these areas have not been allowed to be tested in a democratic manner by any of the forces involved. Some undoubtedly aspire to independence, with links with Russia, others to be a part of Russia, while some may possibly wish to remain within Ukraine. Since 2014, splits and divisions between the nationalist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk and the region and Moscow have taken place. It seemed that in crucial cities like Kharkiv, a majority of ethnic Russian sentiment for independence or joining the Russian Federation existed in 2014. The anti-Russian actions and sentiments of the Ukrainian regime fed the insecurity felt by the ethnic Russians and increased the appetite for independence or incorporation into Russia. However, the situation today is not clear and demographic changes in the population have taken place in the run-up to the current conflict. 

Yet the people of these areas also have a democratic right to decide their future and the form of state or statelet they wish to establish, free from the bayonets of Putin’s Russia or Zelensky’s reactionary right-wing Ukrainian nationalist forces. 

Silence on these questions is not a programme for Marxists. 

A muddled characterisation of the war

The muddled analysis of “Outline of a Marxist Position” is revealed in Paul Mason’s characterization of the war. He graciously concedes, “There is an inter-imperialist aspect to this war…” but continues, “it is secondary to the overall systemic conflict it is part of”. It is, Mason claims, a “systemic” conflict between two allied capitalist dictatorships [Russia and China] and the liberal democratic West. 

A systemic conflict? But all of the forces involved are capitalist, albeit of different forms. They are different forms of capitalist regimes, yes, but both are part of a capitalist system. Putin’s regime is a brutally authoritarian regime of a Mafia character, presiding over capitalist oligarchs. Another world power with a keen interest in the war, China, under Xi, is a vicious dictatorial regime, ruling over a particular form of state capitalism. Both regimes, however, are capitalist, as an economic and social system. 

As for Western capitalism, what does Mason say? He accepts that it is not set in stone that it will remain forever “liberal democratic”. But he tells us that it is what it is, apart from the ‘extremes’ of Trump, Zemmour and Orban. 

Moreover, the “Western political and economic elites express an active preference for and attachment to the rule of law, science, democratic process and universal human rights.” Mason really is trying to prove his acceptability to bourgeois society by making such bogus claims. Marxists defend all democratic rights fought for and won by working people. Yet democratic rights and human rights under capitalism are relative questions. Rights conquered by the working class and masses will, and have been, taken away by the ruling class should their interests or system be decisively challenged. 

Mason’s defence of the “liberal” west is written at a time when globally democratic rights are being infringed, restricted and, in some cases, removed, including in the main western imperialist powers. More authoritarian and undemocratic measures are being introduced everywhere. The former Tory Prime Minister in Britain, David Cameron,  boasted he was going to end the “human rights culture”! 

Are the capitalist governments of the US, Britain and the other western powers not riddled with systemic corruption? Were universal human rights, and the rule of law, respected in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or elsewhere? Did US imperialism respect democratic rights when they backed attempted coups to oust Chavez and Maduro in Venezuela, as they did throughout Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s? When their system, or their decisive interests, are threatened, the ruling economic and political elites of the western powers are quite disposed to abandon their pretence of defending democratic rights. 

Mason continues his political journey with the astonishing claim, in tweets and other media, that western imperialist powers of the US and Europe are “former imperialist” states. 

It is true that imperialism is not the same today as it was 100 years ago. The old “empires”, with formal colonies ruled by Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium etc. do not exist as they did in the past. However, this does not mean that these powers, and the US and others, are not imperialist. 

Mason’s superficial assertion comes at a moment in history when German imperialism, under the leadership of the Social Democratic Party, has just voted a massive military armaments budget to form the largest military machine in the EU, thereby breaking with a policy that has endured since 1945. 

Furthermore, Maon seems to imply that the process of globalisation has ended imperialism in the west, at a time when globalisation has been in retreat. 

The “just war” theory

Mason then drags into the argument his erroneous “‘just war theory’ within Marxism”. He wrongly invokes crucial historical events, from an entirely different historical era to justify this position. 

Marx and the First International, Mason says, became the main organisers for the French Republic at war with Prussia after September 1870, and supported the Union side in the American civil war. Yet neither example is comparable nor accurate. In that era, the question of the development of capitalism and unifying the nation-state was posed, to replace feudal or semi-feudal systems. This is not applicable to Ukraine today. 

Even in that era, Marx always stressed the need for the working class to maintain an independent position, with its own programme. Marx and the First International initially opposed the Franco–Prussian war, when the French emperor, Napoleon III, attacked Prussia in an attempt to reassert French influence in Europe, which had been weakened by Prussia. Prussia, Marx argued, was at that stage conducting a defensive struggle. However, events changed as the French army collapsed and Prussian forces advanced into France and laid siege on Paris. It was during these events that the Paris Commune erupted. It was the Communards that Marx supported in the face of Prussian aggression and the vicious counter-revolution conducted by the ruling class of France. Mason fails to even mention the Paris Commune when dragging these historic events into the current conflict in Ukraine. 

Marx regarded the American Civil War as a revolutionary war between two social systems – emerging capitalism, in the north, and slave states in the south. He regarded a victory for the north as the best outcome. Such a development would give rise to the strengthening of the working class and the prospect of the heightened struggle between the US working class and capitalism. Marx supported the victory of Lincoln in the presidential elections but this did not prevent Marx from adopting an independent position, which included sharp criticism of Lincoln. 

The muddle continues in the “just war theory” when we are told by Mason that is reappeared during the Popular Front period in the 1930s, and in Britain, in 1939, when most people “realised they had a stake in the victory of democracies over fascism”. 

What is omitted from the argument presented by Paul Mason is the difference between opposing fascism (or reactionary military intervention) and having no trust in the bourgeois politicians and ruling elites and also defending the need for the working class and the masses to adopt an independent programme and struggle. 

The Popular Fronts in the 1930s, driven by a policy of appeasing “democratic” sections of the capitalist class and putting the brakes on the social revolution, were all bloodily defeated, with the exception of France, as a result of the lack of mass revolutionary parties with an independent working-class programme. 

The 1939-45 World War was perceived differently from the 1914-18 conflict amongst the masses in the Allied Powers countries. Trotsky argued that it was necessary for revolutionary socialists to take this into account in their propaganda during the war, a policy which the Revolutionary Communist Party in Britain, in particular, developed. However, this did not mean placing trust or confidence in Churchill’s government or muting criticism of it. It meant opposing its programme and the conduct of the war, in a skilful way, which corresponded to the demands and needs of the working class. In this context, when the German military invasion was threatened, the demand to form democratic defence forces got a big echo for the Trotskyists in Britain. The government of the time was compelled to take this up in a distorted way and formed the Home Guard. 

A socialist programme to fight for

The need for a revolutionary socialist programme in a war situation is crucial to avoid the pitfall of capitulating to the opportunist pressures from the representatives of capitalism and the episodic moods which can develop. In any war, an understandable sentiment to oppose war and demand peace will develop. This is the case in the Ukraine conflict. However, wars are fought for reasons that reflect the political, economic and strategic interests of the different forces and classes involved. As Marxists, one of our roles is to expose what these are in class terms. 

A desire for peace and a “diplomatic” solution is not enough to deal with the root causes of war. It is necessary to confront the causes and interests of the powers involved in any conflict. The desire for “peace” and an end to the nightmare of this conflict is understandable but alone it is not enough. Some on the left have simply articulated this aspiration but without dealing with the reality of the interests of the forces involved in the conflict. The Democratic Socialists of America, DSA, having flip-flopped during the Ukraine crisis on which position to adopt, on February 26th 2022 issued a statement condemning the Russian intervention and demanded: “immediate diplomacy and de-escalation to resolve the crisis”. The DSA statement went on to claim that the Russian invasion is “illegal under the United Nations Charter…” 

The capitalist diplomats reflect the interests of the ruling class of each country, not those of the working class and the mass of the population. They are not motivated by the need to defend the interests of the working class in all countries but of the rulers.  

The United Nations is an intergovernmental body. It is mainly dominated by the interests of the US and western imperialism. If the US and western imperialism cannot get the majority they require in the UN they just brush it aside. The ruling classes or regimes are not concerned about UN or bourgeois legality when it conflicts with their own perceived interests. UN “legality” meant nothing to Bush and Blair when they obliterated Baghdad. It meant nothing to Putin as his forces marched into Ukraine. 

Any agreement finally reached between Russia and Ukraine will not resolve the conflict, especially in the Donbass area and eastern Ukraine, in general. Any paper agreement, as the Minsk Accords in 2014 illustrate, will not resolve the conflict on the ground or resolve the underlying causes of the conflict. On the basis of the continuation of Putin’s and Zelensky’s oligarchical capitalism in Russia and Ukraine, and the role of Nato and western imperialism, there will be no real, long-term solution to the crisis. 

The outcome of the war in Ukraine is uncertain at this stage. However, whatever the final outcome, it will not resolve the underlying cause of the conflict. The defence of an independent revolutionary socialist programme is essential to begin to chart a way forward for the workers of Ukraine and Russia. 

Such a programme needs to include the following: 

  • Stop the war immediately and withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine
  • For armed united workers’ defence under democratic control in Ukraine 
  • For the building of independent workers’ organisations, trade unions and political parties in Ukraine and Russia.
  • For full democratic rights in both Russia and Ukraine – freedom of assembly, a free press, the right to form independent trade unions, political parties and the release of all political prisoners
  • For a democratic workers’ government in Ukraine 
  • Down with the Putin regime and for a democratic workers’ government 
  • For the democratic rights of the Ukrainian people to maintain their nation. Defend the right of self-determination for ethnic Russians and all national minorities. Full language and cultural rights for Ukrainians, Russians and other minorities
  • No trust in Western powers or their military alliances, including NATO

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April 2022