No messing around with nation states

A war is coming. We will gladly leave questions of international law, this utopian discipline, to the experts. Reasoning which proceeds from the supposed natural claims of powers to buffer zones or a Lebensraum is just as alien to us. Such “realism” is inherently conservative, it affirms the existing order and excludes from the outset any prospects of its overcoming.

After the recognition of the so-called people’s republics - including territories currently under control of the Ukrainian state - open conflict seems almost inevitable. For the time being, a possibility remains open that fighting beyond the “contact line” (i.e. the de facto border) can be avoided. That, however, is not very likely. Regardless, the development so far is already a disaster for the working class.

Above all, it reinforces the position of the Russian state as a continental gendarme, prepared to crush anything that does not fit into its great-power fantasies. Most recently, this has been the case of the protests against the autocractic regime in Belarus, which included numerous strikes, or the proletarian uprising in Kazakhstan. The present events will also contribute to a further militarization of societies on both sides of the border, as well as in Russia. Naturally, they will deepen the rift between the population in Ukraine and in the so-called republics, but they may also further the divisions between Ukrainian and Russian speakers beyond the “contact line” or foment various forms of ethnic tensions in Russia itself. Capital can perhaps make use of these factors. To the working class, they can only bring defeat.

The economic destabilization of Ukraine has been going on for several months now. Along with it, the exodus of cheap labor power which often works in miserable, precarious conditions in the West, will continue. The once strong industrial base on the territory of the “people’s republics” has been completely eroded. Perhaps the new statelets will become a target of reconstruction programs designed to demonstrate the viability of Russian-styled capitalist development. However, such investments are likely to come at the expense of development elsewhere (just as the Crimean bridge was preferred over a much-needed bridge in Yakutsk), and will be paid for by the Russian working class, not by the oligarchy. Similarly, the effects of the forthcoming sanctions – viewed by Moscow bankers, for now, as the “bumpy long road” ahead – will inevitably be unevenly distributed. Depending on further developments and how they translate into, e.g., energy prices, the conflict may also have a significant impact on the livelihoods of workers living to the west of Ukraine.

Many were shocked by the way the international community treated Ukraine in recent weeks: as an object, an afterthought, often missing at the negotiation table. This approach is commensurate with its economic power, military strength, and position in the international system. The latter has never been and never will be a community of equals. The competition of national states and their blocs – which takes on milder or more brutal forms depending on the circumstances – is always lurking in the background. It is in this context that the dreams of a sustainable neutrality or “Finlandization” of Ukraine must be viewed. Such an exclusive position is always conditioned on the needs and consent of greater powers, as well as on specific conjunctures that cannot simply be willed into existence.

The looming war is a continuation of processes set into motion before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Russia, the economic transition created a gangster capitalist class with close ties to the security apparatus. Its interests, as well as the brutality with which it pursues them, are dictated by the narrow base of its wealth: energy, raw materials, heavy industry. A similar class of capitalists in Ukraine has, over the last thirty years, failed to offer any prospect of sustained development. Ukrainian real GDP per capita only saw significant growth in 2000–2008, at a time of a global boom. It has stagnated since, never straying far from 75% of its 1989 levels.

The two “revolutions” in Ukraine (2004, 2014) have only been able to replace one faction of the oligarchy with another. A similar fate befell movements in other post-Soviet states, due also to the Russian gendarme. In Russia itself, the population has not been able to win even such modest gains. Today, we stand on the threshold of war. We were led here, in part, by the absence of an independent, internationalist workers’ movement in the Russian Federation. In 1914, writing from Zurich, the alleged founder of Ukraine, V. I. Lenin, addressed Russian workers precisely on this matter:

Nobody is to be blamed for being born a slave; but a slave who not only eschews a striving for freedom but justifies and eulogises his slavery (e.g., calls the throttling of Poland and the Ukraine, etc., a “defence of the fatherland” of the Great Russians)—such a slave is a lickspittle and a boor…