Two years of war in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine is undoubtedly the most important event of recent years, clearly more important, in terms of its scope and consequences, than the conflict in Palestine that has unfolded in recent months. The completion of two years since its beginning, which has been combined with an improvement in Russia's prospects, provides a good occasion for an assessment of its course so far.

The war in Ukraine is linked to intra-imperialist rivalries and the formation of two rival imperialist blocs, the Western on the one hand and Russia-China on the other, to which it gave a strong impetus. However, its main, defining feature is what Lenin called mega-Russian chauvinism, i.e. the attempt of the then Tsarist Russia and Putin's current authoritarian Russia to expand at the expense of small nationalities at home and in their neighbourhood. In this context, the invasion of Ukraine represents the largest link in a chain of previous Russian interventions in Georgia, Armenia, Chechnya, etc., and a preparation for the next. For Russian imperialism, which today, as at the beginning of the 20th century, is the weak link in the imperialist system, expansion with a view to reconstituting the territory of the former USSR under tsarist banners is a one-way street to postpone its crisis.

These facts alone make it necessary for every progressive force, and even more so for those who invoke the communist movement and Marxism, to defend Ukrainian independence. The fact that a Russian defeat has the potential to provoke, as the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 did, revolutionary developments in Russia, adds another serious dimension. A Russian victory, by contrast, would only spur the rise of already strengthening far-right and neo-fascist forces across Europe, particularly in the EU, where the liberal bourgeois wing still dominates. Given that Putin's Bonapartist regime is a peculiar version of leavenism, it is clear that the war in Ukraine also involves the dimension of opposition between these two bourgeois wings, which is not entirely irrelevant from the point of view of the interests of historical progress.

The developments of the last phase of the war confirm the above considerations. However, they also confirm that Putin's Russia has greater endurance than its tsarist counterpart and that the prospect of its defeat, as was evident at the end of 2022 with the Ukrainian counter-attacks on Kharkiv and Kherson, is still some way off. Although the Russian regime is deeply rotten, as demonstrated by the Prigozhin mutiny and Putin's annihilation of every opposition voice (most recently Navalny's), its rot has not yet reached the brink of collapse.

In retrospect, this tendency to war is not a paradox. Tsarist Russia was a bland mix of modernization, absolutism and feudalism, with the Asian part of it almost out of civilization. It was thus only natural that the historical ordeal first in the war with Japan and then in World War I would have a disintegrating effect on it. Putin's Bonapartist Russia, by contrast, is based on the productive base of the USSR, which, even if it was dismantled after 1991 and despite its disharmonies, was overall far superior and bequeathed a significant residual power to the current regime, particularly, but not exclusively, in the military sphere.

In this respect, the developments of the last period, in addition to the Russo-Japanese war, bear another comparison, that with the Spanish revolution of 1936-39. Such a comparison may at first sight seem incongruous, but it is, apart from the fact that in Spain it was a popular revolution against fascism, while in Ukraine we are dealing with a movement of national resistance against a foreign invasion, valid and legitimate.

In Spain in 1936-39 the USSR had given substantial aid, but it was only enough to resist and not to win, and it was given on condition that the revolution of the Spanish people would be confined to the urban limits (fear of going further determined the hypocritical policy of "non-intervention" on the part of the Western democracies, which was tantamount to indirect support for Franco's fascists, generously supported by Hitler and Mussolini). The Western powers today give a proportionately greater amount of aid to Ukraine than the USSR gave to Spain. Here, too, however, the aid, in its volume and especially in its quality, the type of arms provided, etc., is ultimately such that it is only enough for Ukraine to resist but not to win, not to drive the invader from its territories.

Two reasons can be given in explanation of the West's choices. The first has to do with the fear that the provision of offensive weapons (air power, long-range missiles) could lead to a generalization of the war. The second and main one, however, is linked to its objective of weakening rather than overthrowing Putin's regime. Western staffs and governments are not unaware of the past consequences of such reversals and take seriously the possibility of a revolutionary development in Russia if Putin falls, all the more so since his regime cannot offer successor solutions like Western democracies.

From a historical point of view, the attitude of the West cannot be considered correct. Even assuming that the war will lead to an immediate weakening of Russia, its interventionist capabilities, etc., this does not mean that it will be less dangerous. People say that the wounded beast is more dangerous and if it wins in Ukraine there can be no doubt that Russian imperialism, after a short respite, will manifest its aggression even more strongly.

The relatively favorable turn of events for Russia, the delay and the bleak prospects for continued American aid to Ukraine will certainly have a negative impact on developments in the rest of Europe. In the pessimistic climate that is forming, similar to the period before the fall of Spain (a fall that is certainly far from certain for Ukraine), the rise of neo-fascism, which all indications are that it will make significant gains in the forthcoming European elections, will be strengthened. This reinforcement will certainly be greater than if Ukraine were to take the upper hand, and the looming long-term prolongation of the war will also provide the best alibi for militarism and the arms race, the integration and alignment of even more countries with NATO.

Of course, in the turbulent period we are going through, there are not only reactionary developments favourable to the far right. The large, pan-European peasant movements undoubtedly have a radical bias and can be the catalyst for a more general movement upsurge. But history has shown that unless there is a revolutionary vanguard with a clear perspective, popular movements, as was the case with those of the Indignados or the Arab revolutions of 2011-12, are bound to fail. If this happens with the current movements, then it will be the turn of the far right and fascism.

All this underlines the need to overcome the crisis of the communist movement, which has already lasted for three decades since the dissolution of the USSR. And this in turn goes through the defeat of neo-Stalinism (formally represented by the KKE) and the various leftist sects. If these forces completely misunderstand the current situation by characterizing the war in Ukraine as imperialist and from the Ukrainian side, it is only because they have already misunderstood the entire past. What they are offering as so-called intransigent revolutionaryism is in fact an attitude of grandiose flight from the difficulties of history, which, if not overcome, will lead to historical disasters.

Author, member of the editorial board of the Greek review Marxist Thought. In 2022 his book Critique of Neo-Stalinism of the KKE was published (ed. Evmaros).


Translation: DeepL