Reply to Gilbert Achcar

Jan Czajkowski
December 13, 2022

Since Russia launched its full-scale war on Ukraine in February, Gilbert Achcar has been one of the most outspoken and prominent proponents of the Ukrainian fight for survival and independence.

For this reason it is especially disturbing when he now seems to waver on some of the most crucial issues.

In his article from Nov. 30, For a democratic antiwar position on the invasion of Ukraine, he outlines what can be interpreted as his view of a basic peace proposal:

"In the face of the ongoing war of invasion in Ukraine, a democratic antiwar and anti-imperialist position should include the following demands:

  1. Ceasefire with the withdrawal of Russian troops to their positions of February 23, 2022.
  2. Reaffirmation of the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force.
  3. Negotiations under the aegis of the UN for a lasting peaceful solution based on peoples’ right to self-determination: deployment of blue helmets in all the disputed territories, both in Donbas and in Crimea, and organization by the UN of free and democratic referendums including the vote of refugees and displaced persons from these territories.”

Achcar claims that demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Crimea as a precondition for a ceasefire is in fact ”setting the bar for peace too high”.

”Whatever the intention behind such a position, it risks being confused with that of Ukrainian ultranationalist hardliners. It also risks finding itself at odds with the majorities of public opinion in Europe and North America”.

There are of course no guarantees that Ukraine will be able to reach a final victory that liberates the whole country including Crimea. But six months ago, few people in the West believed that Ukraine would be able to strike back Russian troops to the extent that we have seen since then. Liberating Crimea is a task of gigantic proportions, but who are we to say if this is a feasible mission or not?

But what is so preposterous about Achcar’s proposal is that he seems to believe that he is entitled to judge what is a realistic and reasonable road to peace for the Ukrainian people, and also implies that this should be the position of the Ukrainian left:

”The Ukrainian left should also determine its position on the terms for ending the war, as it cannot adhere unconditionally to the view of Ukraine’s government.”

In fact, a recent article by Sotsialnyi Rukh activists Denys Bondar och Zakhar Popovych from December 12, Ukraine: The Left View On The Prospects Of Peace Negotiations, can be seen as an indirect response to Achcar’s proposal.

They convincingly argue that there are no indications whatsoever that Russia is prepared to discuss a withdrawal of troops from the occupied territories. They point out that according to recent polls, a vast majority of the population in Ukraine, including Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Russians, oppose any territorial concessions in order to achieve peace. And that only ten percent of the population agree with the statement ”It is necessary to proceed to negotiations in order to stop the shelling of cities as soon as possible, even if this means making concessions to Russia”.

Actually, it is hard to come up with any historical precedent where socialists in the West convincingly argued for negotiated peace solution to a conflict, over the heads of the parties involved.

Our task as anti-imperialists is to focus on supporting Ukraine's fight against Russian aggression. We don’t need to define any peace proposals of our own in order to do that.

*The author is a member of Solidaritat Ukraina (Sweden), part of ENSU