Socialist Statement on the Russian Invasion of and War in Ukraine
Introduction: Ukraine: "What are we fighting for?"
During the Vietnam War, Country Joe and the Fish sang "What are we fighting for; Don't ask me I donâ€™t give a damn, The next stop is Vietnam". They sang it to the crowd at the Woodstock festival some of whom had been fighting in Vietnam or avoiding the draft. The punch line was that the soldier obediently going to war only came home "in a box. As in Vietnam in 1968, so it is too in Ukraine in 2022. "What we are fighting for? has the cruel answer: "a body bag".
Socialists do not fight in capitalism's wars. Socialists reject the naive liberal political view that nation states can coexist in international harmony with an agreed system of rules and laws. Such a view is nothing more than utopian idealism. Capitalism is a global system of class exploitation and competition in which war is a natural outcome.
Competing nation states and the ruling class within them articulate conflicting class interests around territory, trade routes and resources. Nation states all aspire to be "top dog" and impose their will, economically, politically and militarily on other nation states. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year is no different to wars fought over the past four centuries or so.
The method of war, shown by the systematic destruction of towns and cities by Russian forces in the Ukraine, is to annihilate or disperse the armed forces of the Ukrainian army; destroy it armaments and means of supply; starve, terrify and undermine its civilian population by bombs and missiles, and by propaganda to spread panic and defeatism.
Socialists have always held that conflict and war are inevitable features of life under capitalism and that their abolition can only be accomplished by the establishment of socialism.
"The First Casualty of War"
There is a cliche that the first casualty of war is the truth. However the second casualty of war is the loss of critical analysis and historical context. And it is singularly a more important loss than the truth. All governments lie and all use deceitful propaganda. When war breaks out do not believe government pronouncements. Do not believe a servile media.
For the capitalist media propaganda is everything and there can be no dissent, no questioning and no interest outside the national interest and obedience to political leaders. Any criticism of NATO or the capitalist politicians that run NATO then you are "pro-Putin" and fair game for smears, innuendo and disinformation. This stupid reasoning can be found in the speeches of Kier Starmer and in the writings of the journalist Nick Cohen.
In the war between Russia and Ukraine the world is black and white. Russia is the aggressive invader while "plucky" Ukraine is beyond reproach. It is a fight between good and evil. Monsters are in mortal combat with angels. We are encouraged to boo the baddies and cheer the hero like attending some festival pantomime. The conflict is portrayed like a 1950s Western where the sheriff wears the white hat and the baddies wear the black hat. It is a childish politics that conveniently omits sound reasoning, questioning and critical analysis of history and events.
Putin, lives in a world capitalist system which has violent international rivalry and competing interests built into it very structure.Capitalist wars preceded Putin and will continue after he is gone. Capitalism causes war. Capitalism has a history. Nothing comes out of the blue. Politicians give themselves too much self-importance and political power to control and change events at will. They are not free to do what they like and are heavily constrained by circumstances beyond their control.
Putin may be a ruthless psychopath but like most authoritarian thugs in history his time in power is limited. It always built on hubris and the mistaken belief of political invincibility. Historical circumstances made this "grotesque mediocrity" as surely as it will destroy him.
It should not be forgotten that Ukraine is a capitalist country in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned, where the interests of the capitalist class and the working class are diametrically opposed and where there is a day-to-day class struggle over the intensity and extent of exploitation. Workers in Ukraine do not own the factories and ports being targeted by Russian jets. They do not own the infrastructure, transport and communication systems. They do not own the gas, oil and wheat fields.
Workers in Russia have identical class interests with workers in Ukraine. They have no class interest fighting each other. Most Russian soldiers are conscripts forced to be in the armed forces. Workers from both countries have so much more in common with each other than they have with the capitalist class and their political representatives. Workers in Russia and Ukraine should be struggling together for socialism, not fighting each other.
Marxists do not lose their critical thinking during times of war. We do not roll over and surrender our analysis of a world system riven through with class interest, class struggle and the exercise of class power and privilege. The past does have an impact in shaping the present and understanding the present helps us to shape a socialist future.In being told by capitalist politicians that Ukrainian capitalism, its political leaders, NATO and the expansion of NATO are out of bounds for criticism, we refuse our consent.
Socialists do not take sides in capitalism's wars. We say a plague on both your houses. We may be damned by both sides but our socialist principle against capitalism's wars remains the same: it has nothing to do with the interests of the working class. We do not support the killing of workers by other workers for the interest of another class.
Putin the Monster
What of Putin the monster? Marxists reject the "Great Man" theory of history. However, we also reject its mirror image; the "Evil Man" theory of history.
Individuals do exercise choice, but they are also constrained by historical circumstances. As Marx wrote:
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past" (THE EIGHTEENTH BRUMAIRE OF LOUIS BONAPARTE) .
So what are the circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past? Does Putin have the political power a Marxist critique of "Great Men" shows to be false? Why are politicians like Starmer so worried that NATO might be called into question, and its previous aggressive actions remembered? And even if Putin was not in power, Russia's geo-political interests would still not want to have an EU country and a NATO member along its border. If Putin falls from political power and is replaced by some other Russian leader will the international rivalry with western capitalism disappear? Of course not: it could even be intensified.
Socialists are members of the working class and struggle with our fellow workers for a world without war, conflict, countries and borders; a social system in which production just takes place to directly meet human need. We do not takes sides in capitalism's wars and we are sick to death of the nationalism and religion in which workers immerse themselves and do terrible things to each other. You will not find that sentiment in the capitalist media; not in the capitalist west or in capitalist Russia.
Has History Ended?
The war in the Ukraine has thrown into sharp relief the vulnerability of the New World Order which has given Western Capitalism its misplaced confidence since the end of the Cold War.
We were promised "The End of History" and an era of peace, growth and enrichment for everyone. According to the author, Francis Fukuyama the worst fate we faced after the fall of the Berlin Wall was "boredom". Fukuyama has now been reduced to desperately defending "liberal capitalism" in the pages of the FINANCIAL TIMES (5 May 2022).
And here is another intellectual snake oil salesman. In his 2011 book THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE: WHY VIOLENCE HAS DECLINED, Harvard University psychologist and rock star-intellectual, Steven Pinker, argued that human beings are now living in the most peaceful era in the history of our species. Globalisation was to be the future: universal free markets and free trade, enrichment and rising living standards for all. A capitalist utopia. Instead, the last thirty years and more have been one of economic crises, wars and conflict.
Serious questions have to be asked but the capitalist media is preventing them from being asked. We do not know, for example, if the outcome of the Ukrainian war will trigger a Third World War with nuclear destruction as the outcome. The Second World War ended with two nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945; the Third World War will most probably start with hundreds of nuclear missiles fired from underground silos and submarines.
And to answer this important question is to avoid being dragged into the media world of good and evil: the capitalist west versus Putin the monster. It means acknowledging and understanding the global system in which we find ourselves. World capitalism, a social system of class exploitation and rapacious plunder of the earth's resources in which the means of life are privately owned to the exclusion and detriment of the majority. A world divided into competing nation states over trade routes, spheres of strategic influence and oil, gas and land.
It means a clear and reasoned response to understand the circumstances of where we are and where we want to go. It means accepting that the past does have an impact on our political actions. That we cannot just do as we please. History, at least a critical history which is informed by Marx's materialist conception of history, has a revolutionary route out of the mess we currently find ourselves in.
How to end war and a potential nuclear holocaust? To end war means to end capitalism and to replace the profit system with socialism. It requires a democratic politics by a socialist majority. It requires the formation of principled socialist parties throughout the world and for a socialist majority to send delegates to parliament to gain control of the machinery of government including the armed forces of the state. Until socialism is established wars will continue to plague the working class from one generation to the next.
As we said to workers at the outbreak of war in 1914 and in 1939:
'Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow-workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of socialism.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain March 2022
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.