On appearing to be on the same side as one’s own imperialism

Russian violence in Ukraine needs to be stopped, NATO and imposing sanctions seem a possible way out, but as Mark Findlay writes, it is an uncomfortable proposition to consider.


Boris Johnson, Biden and Macron for once appear to be on the same side as me along with NATO and most other imperialist powers. Does this seem uncomfortable? Well yes, it does, but actually, the situation is nothing new. The heirs of Trotsky correctly opposed the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. And many ended up fighting alongside or as part of the British armed forces against the Nazis in WW2. A member of A*CR dug up a useful quote from Ernest Mandel, who broke down WW2 into multiple concurrent wars:

“Now I come to the fifth war, which is the most complex. I would not say that it was going on in the whole of Europe occupied by Nazi imperialism, but more especially in two countries, Yugoslavia and Greece, to a great extent in Poland, and incipiently in France and Italy. That was a war of liberation by the oppressed workers, peasants, and urban petty bourgeoisie against the German Nazi imperialists and their stooges. To deny the autonomous nature of that war means saying in reality that the workers and peasants of Western Europe had no right to fight against those who were enslaving them at that moment unless their minds were set clearly against bringing in other enslavers in place of the existing ones. That is an unacceptable position.


It is true that if the leadership of that mass resistance remained in the hands of bourgeois nationalists, of Stalinists or social democrats, it could eventually be sold out to the Western imperialists. It was the duty of the revolutionaries to prevent this from happening by trying to oust these fakers from the leadership of the movement. But it was impossible to prevent such a betrayal by abstaining from participating in that movement.


What lay behind that fifth war? It was the inhuman conditions which existed in the occupied countries. How can anyone doubt that? How can anyone tell us that the real reason for the uprising was some ideological framework – such as the chauvinism of the French people or of the CP leadership? Such an explanation is nonsense. People did not fight because they were chauvinists. People were fighting because they were hungry, because they were over-exploited, because there were mass deportations of slave labour to Germany, because there was mass slaughter, because there were concentration camps, because there was no right to strike, because unions were banned, because communists, socialists and trade unionists were being put in prison.”

Ernest Mandel

And of course, despite its debased nature, WW2 was a war of defence of the Soviet Union. While the Red Army was responsible for numerous atrocities, such as the seizing of much of Eastern Europe and the German city of Koenigsberg, and systematic rape of women found on the way, we still supported it against the Nazi occupier.

The 1956 and 1968 invasions took place when the Soviet Union was regarded as a deformed worker’s state, but we still opposed them, finding ourselves alongside bourgeois public opinion. Those that did support them within the British Communist Party rapidly earned the title of “Tankies”. The CP itself split eventually into “Eurocommunists” and the Tanky hard-liners. Many of course made the jump to Trotskyism as a result. They could see that he had been right all along. And as a young socialist in the early/mid-70s, I made straight for the Fourth International, founded by Trotsky and in total opposition to those Soviet invasions. There were lots of other reasons of course which I shall not go into here.

Unbelievably, there are still some on the Left who have drunk the Putin Kool-aid and see the job of opposing one’s own imperialism as being to equivocate on the brutal invasion of Ukraine. To them, if you do support Ukraine, that support is contingent on a ritual attack on NATO. Even the imposition of sanctions is being debated. Personally, I don’t feel like trading with Russia right now, but in reality, sanctions have always been pretty ineffective, with the possible exception of those against Apartheid South Africa. I think, however, they are politically inevitable and would appear as integral to demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces.

Russia is not a worker’s state. It is a refounded imperial power, and it seeks to reabsorb the neighbouring countries into its imperium. Comparisons with Tsarist Russia are apt. We are not looking at the recreation of the Soviet Union. I have no problem at all in supporting Ukraine’s self-defence against this.

It is very interesting that there are news reports of the continued supply of weapons to the Ukrainian military, today reported from the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, as well as financial aid from the US It would be interesting to know how much of this hardware and money is actually reaching the ground. Do we support this rearming? Well in the circumstances, where there is nothing else on the table, the Ukrainians have little choice, just as Kurdish forces accepted US military help against Daesh. And even this supply of weapons to Ukraine is fraught with risk. Putin has made bellicose statements threatening any support of Ukraine from outside as a declaration of war. It will be interesting to see where that goes in reality.

Any sort of invasion by NATO of Ukraine is improbable. Calling for NATO’s abolition is of course correct, but not germane to the current story. Actually, NATO is staying well out of the actual conflict other than supportive noises, and the limited supply of weapons by supporting nations. An open intervention, such as imposing a no-fly zone, could result in a nuclear war. This is a real threat of course. We would oppose any sort of NATO invasion, but it isn’t going to happen anyway.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am opposed to the suppression of Left voices who do call for NATO withdrawal. I am for the abolition of NATO. And specifically, I am completely against the threats of loss of the whip to the Left MPs who supported the Stop the War statement that includes anti-NATO demands. Such demands are correct in all circumstances. It’s just that I don’t hang defence of Ukraine from them.

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