Since the Putin regime launched its war of occupation against the Ukrainian people on 24 February, socialists have been discussing controversially how to characterise this war. Particularly controversial is the attitude towards the Ukrainian resistance. Should anti-imperialist and revolutionary ecosocialists support the resistance of the Ukrainian people, organised in the bourgeois army of Ukraine, against the imperialist occupation forces? Or should they accept that Russia establishes a brutal occupation regime over large parts of Ukraine with all its destructive consequences? There is a fundamental question behind this: how to position oneself to resist imperialist attacks when there are not Western imperialisms that are attacking, but imperialist powers like Russia and China or authoritarian regimes.[1] Similar challenges will plague us more often. If the People's Republic of China were to attack neighbouring Taiwan or put down an armed uprising of an oppressed nationality, we would also have to take a stand.

In its statements, the Fourth International understands the Russian war of occupation as an expression of Great Russian chauvinism and imperialism, which denies the existence of a Ukrainian nation and which does not accept an independent Ukraine. The Putin regime started the war and escalated it repeatedly. The Ukrainian resistance has an anti-colonial character and must therefore be supported. The defeat of the Putin regime is a prerequisite for a democratic development in both Ukraine and Russia. A Putin victory would be tantamount to the destruction of civil society in Ukraine and Russia. It would increase the international threat of war. Putin’s "brothers in spirit" would want to implement their expansionist plans by war. It was only the successful resistance in Ukraine that forced the NATO states to give massive military support to the resistance. Of course, NATO states pursue their own imperialist interests.

The ISO pretends to be in solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance, but opposes that this resistance can really resist the Russian occupation forces with effective weapons and protect the population from bombardments. The obvious inconsistency and internal contradiction of this position is exemplified in the ISO resolution of 17/18 September 2022.[2] This resolution combines set pieces of geopolitical campist thinking, pro-Russian propaganda, a schematic understanding of imperialism and a hypocritical pacifism with a fragile reference to an internationalist position as represented by the Fourth International.

Although the title and the first paragraphs of the resolution show solidarity with the "resistance in Ukraine and the Russian anti-war movement", the rest of the resolution contradicts this statement. The resolution first blames Putin's regime for the war and in the second point sides with the Ukrainian population. The subsequent denunciation of the Ukrainian “oligarch government” leads to the cancellation of the solidarity announced at the beginning. In this context, I recall that those socialist forces that most effectively support “class independence” of the trade unions and the left against the neo-liberal government in Ukraine are the ones that actively carry out solidarity work and do not oppose the supply of arms to Ukraine.

The resolution assesses the Maidan revolt, adopting elements of Russian propaganda. While it does not call the change of government a coup, it says that the new government was formed through direct US interference (point 4). The authors do not acknowledge the dynamics of the broad uprising of the population with a single word. The resolution defends the questionable Minsk agreements and implicitly accuses the Ukrainian government of having provoked a civil war with the “people's republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk (point 2). At the same time, the text significantly conceals the decisive external interference: the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Russian troops and Russia's massive military intervention in favour of the Donbas rebels, who have established a reactionary clientelist regime there. In its assessment of the language conflict in Ukraine, the resolution disregards the problems that a colonised population faces in bringing its language to social recognition vis-à-vis the colonial language.

The resolution characterises the war to be also a proxy war. The reference to statements by US government agencies predicting a “long war” serves to accuse the US of waging a war of attrition against Russia, for which the Ukrainian population is paying the blood toll. However, the resolution does not name who is actually dragging out the war, carrying out ever new attacks and waging a downright murderous war of attrition with open mass terror against the Ukrainian population. It is obviously the Putin regime. In the following statements, the authors reveal that for them the war is not also, but above all, a proxy war. They “call for an immediate halt to the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine, as they have the potential to escalate the war and trigger an uncontrollable dynamic.” So Ukraine is not allowed to defend itself. The army is not even to receive heavy anti-aircraft weapons to protect the population from bomb terror.

They raise the denial of solidarity to an infamous accusation: “The right to self-determination of a people does not give them the right to drag other peoples into war. The Ukrainian leadership is trying by all means to make the war a NATO matter, because its own means of warfare are limited. We have to oppose this, the self-logic of war pushing for expansion has to be broken. Driving the working class of foreign countries into a war that is none of their business has nothing to do with proletarian internationalism. The latter always aimed at ending a war as quickly as possible - as long as it was not a civil war.”

With this statement, the authors insult not only the Ukrainian left, but the entire population of Ukraine, which is calling for help. Not even the Ukrainian army leadership has declared that it wants to expand the war and drag other states, i.e. their working class, into the war. When the Vietnamese and Algerians sought support in their liberation struggles, should left oppositionists in Russia and China have blamed them for the potential expansion of the war?

This accusation is due to the somewhat hysterical mood in parts of the German radical left. The authors of these lines are simply reversing the blame. They claim that it is Ukraine’s military resistance and the unbending will of the Ukrainian population to continue this resistance that is responsible for the escalation of the war, but not the regime that started the war and has since massively escalated it in several steps and is now openly threatening mass nuclear terror.

Finally, the authors criticise the economic sanctions. These sanctions have a limited and selective effect. They have little effect on the main oligarchs and capital groups, which is what their authors want. Nevertheless, sanctions should not be rejected outright. This is also shown by the experience of other sanctions and boycott movements. The text refrains from such differentiations. It should be remembered that Russian socialists do not reject sanctions outright. In addition, if the ISO wants to show solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance, but rejects both arms deliveries to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, what demands for militarily and economically effective measures does it want to use to express this solidarity in Germany? The resolution gives no indication of this. The solidarity expressed degenerates into empty words. The campaign to raise money for Sozialnyj Ruch does not hide this fact.

The resolution laments the weakness of the old peace movement. “Nevertheless, the old peace movement has so far found it difficult to mobilise on a larger scale against the new spiral of armament and war. This is partly due to its internal dissension, but also partly due to the historical reflex towards the ‘violent, unpredictable and insidious Ivan’ that can apparently still be called up.”

The peace movement is weak because it has simply become untrustworthy. In its statements before and after the war, its exponents attributed the main responsibility for the war to NATO, not to the Putin regime. Except in the extreme right and in the (post)Stalinist milieu, few people believed this nonsense. But the resolution does not mention this fundamental political aberration of the peace movement with a single word, because then the ISO would also have to think critically about its own statements. Instead, it denounces the alleged warmongering of the media. If this warmongering really existed in Germany, the political and social situation in Germany would be quite different. Neither the main capital factions nor the population want war. Society is far from being in a war mood. Rather, relevant parts of German capital want to find some kind of agreement with the capitalists in Russia soon in order to resume profitable business.

The resolution demands both the immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine and an immediate ceasefire. In the concrete situation, this is an obvious contradiction. If the Ukrainian government were to lay down its arms, it would be tantamount to a defeat and the occupation of large parts of the country – with all the destructive consequences for the people, their culture and all civilian life.

In this light, the readiness for dialogue with Sozialnyj Ruch and the Ukrainian left mentioned at the end of the resolution seems hypocritical. The resolution propagates solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance and at the same time accuses it of escalation and of trying to drag the working class of other states into this war. The Putin regime is bombing the people of Ukraine across the board and threatening to use nuclear weapons, and leftists in Germany – including the ISO – are accusing the Ukrainian resistance of escalating the war. Is this anti-imperialism in solidarity or hypocritical pacifism or simply denial of reality?

[1] I base my arguments here on a detailed statement co-authored by 15 socialists from Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Further arguments can be found in my response to a rebuttal co-authored by ISO members.

[2] ISO: Bundeskonferenz 2022. Solidarität mit dem Widerstand in der Ukraine und der russischen Antikriegsbewegung! Stoppt den Krieg! 17./18. Septemberät-mit-dem-Widerstand-in-der-Ukraine-und-der-russischen-Antikriegsbewegung.pdf