Five Theoretical Reflections on Ukrainian Resistance

Ukraine! I can’t endure you, All my feelings translate into hate, When you’re primitive and look amateur, When you have no thoughts in your head. I love you when you differ—and rebel, When the Dnipro river, with fury, roars, When you think, when you see, when you hear, When you carry the pitcher from the well to the doors. Vasyl Symonenko, Ukrainian poet and dissident

1. On the resistance drive. From the anthropological perspective, one of the main lessons of Marxism and left theory in general, is destigmatizing and demystifying the notion of resistance. An act of refusal, an operation of denial, an utterance of Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to”, a posture of opposition are to be considered not as some deviant and relative forms of thinking, behaving and speaking, but, on the contrary, as a common denominator uniting the representatives of the human race in their struggles. Roots of this commonality lie in its naturalness. There is nothing more innate, instinctive, even, in a way, usual and joyful than the act of resistance. Thus, there exists not only a capability, but a drive to resist, or in the wording of Negri and Hardt, “the will to be against”—inseparable from the social and, probably, biological life of humans.

2. On the main question of any resistance. The resistance drive as a basic fact of human condition inevitably leads to reframing the major questions related to organized forms of resistance, manifested in direct struggles of people. If the act of saying “no” is natural, then the problem of “why resist”, being the problem of justification opposition towards the oppression, is misdirected, as well as questions considering reasons of why these people, this nation, this group or this union resists; although, we should acknowledge that these questions may have substantial genealogical and ideological significance. The main question connected to resistance, though, could be described by the following cluster of problems: if resistance is natural, why the ones who should resist, do not resist; why those who are not able to resist, forgot how to resist; and how those who resist could be assisted. These are summed up in a practical question: how to unblock the resistance?

3. Unblocking resistance. To be resilient and successful, organized resistance, apart from energy derived from natural ire and rebelliousness of those who resist, requires both theoretical and practical resources. Considering the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the unprecedented unity, demonstrated by Ukrainian people of different political ideologies, social classes and religious beliefs, was fueled by common fury against irrational, ruthless violence of Putin’s army. The energy of this fury has its limits. This is why anyone who wants to pursue justice with respect to the ongoing war and to stop Putin, should take part in the constant operation of helping to unblock Ukrainian resistance: acting in solidarity with Ukraine in theoretical dimension (first of all, engaging in creation of a future vision of a just post-war world worth fighting for), as well as acting in solidarity with Ukraine in practical dimension (first of all, supporting the military assistance to Ukraine, but also helping Ukrainians who faced great sufferings: lost their homes, were injured or wounded, became refugees).

4. Resistance’s who, whom. In his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right Marx famously stated that winning the battle against the illusions requires to “give up a condition that requires illusions.” This principle could be extrapolated on every situation of human struggles. Practically, this means that any successful act of resistance is aimed not only against the oppression and the oppressor, but is directed towards undoing the situation that makes oppression possible, the whole situation that creates the oppressor. With respect to the Russia–Ukraine war this means that victory, by which we mean the victory of Ukraine and of all progressive forces, lies not only in the military defeat of Putin’s army, but in making the next iteration of Russia’s aggression impossible. Only then the victory could be declared. This would probably require some kind of defascisation, denuclearisation, and pacification of Russia.

5. On possible resistances inside Russia. The non-existence of any efficient resistance against Putin’s regime in Russia should be taken as a fact. La Boétie’s simple formula, “Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed,” is long forgotten in Russia. This fact has its own genealogy, which is of little interest here. As for the future of resistance movements in Russia, the strategy of unblocking them should be thought of and deployed. They will not spontaneously arise. Theoretically, this strategy could partly rely on variations of decolonialisms and anti-imperialisms, examples of which could be found, among others, in Russian history. Materially, right now I can see no other means other than digital, similar to the ones described (although, for another reason and from another point of view) in Balaji Srinivasan’s The Network State.