“Do not arm Ukraine, do not impose sanctions.” - The Russophilic inclinations of the mainstream global left in the face of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine in Poland are rare. Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski calls it an “intellectual game.” - Since the war began, we have had a simple situation: there is an aggressor and a victim, who must have the tools to defend himself.
- The narrative that Russia is an unequivocally hostile country, an immanent evil, arouses my rebellion. I oppose racism and hatred of Russian citizens, Russian culture and civilization," says Maciej Wisniowski, editor-in-chief and founder of strike.eu, a portal of the radical left
- Wisniowski’s views rhyme with the voices of the mainstream global left. - “They mean absolutely nothing,” says Jakub Majmurek, a columnist for Krytyka Polityczna
- Majmurek explains that “the belief that Ukrainians have the right to real self-determination has been present in leftist thought since at least the beginning of the 20th century.”
- I knew as early as the 1990s that Ukrainian ambitions, traditions and identity were stronger than it might seem, says Alexander Kwasniewski
A dog named Mashka and a samovar in the living room are just a few signs that the occupant of an apartment in Warsaw’s Kabaty district has a fondness for Russia. - I am a Russophile," admits Maciej Wisniowski.
As one might expect, Wisniowski, the 64-year-old editor-in-chief and founder of strike.eu - a portal of the radical left that receives some 50,000 visitors a month - is not a supporter of Western policies targeting the country dear to his heart.
He admits that Putin’s war is unjustified and shameful. He is quick to add, however, that the West has its own on its conscience for ignoring and not listening to the Kremlin for many years. He says that instead of arming the Ukrainians or imposing sanctions that have a negative impact on ordinary Russians, the EU and the US should continue diplomatic talks.
Such a position does not sound exotic on the left. Prominent academics, led by Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, as well as many European social democratic politicians, see the reasons for the Russian invasion more in the bloodthirsty nature of capitalism and NATO’s turn-of-the-century eastward expansion than in President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian and revisionist inclinations.
Today’s Russia is a capitalist oligarchy and not an easy interlocutor, Wiśniowski explains. - But the narrative that it is an unequivocally hostile country, an immanent evil, arouses my rebellion. I oppose racism and hatred of Russian citizens, Russian culture and civilization.
“They mean absolutely nothing.”
Wisniowski’s views rhyme with the voices of the mainstream global left. However, they are rare in Poland.
They mean absolutely nothing," says Jakub Majmurek, a columnist for Krytyka Polityczna.
Poland’s mainstream left, which includes the parliamentary alliance Left (SLD, Wiosna and Razem) and commentators from media outlets such as Krytyka Polityczna, strongly advocates supplying Ukraine with arms, ammunition and military equipment, as well as financial and trade sanctions on Russia.
In early March, Together even left Progressive International and DiEM25, two pan-European left-wing movements, because of their soft response to the war.
The belief that Ukrainians have the right to real self-determination, to emancipate themselves from Moscow’s influence, has been present in leftist thought since at least the early 20th century. - Majmurek reminds.
The Left subscribes to the traditions of the interwar Promethean movement centered around Jozef Pilsudski, then a socialist. It aimed to support the national ambitions of the non-Russian population in Czarist Russia and later the USSR. - And after the war, there was the editorial board of the Paris-based Culture, another important reference point for the Polish left, and, well, Jacek Kuroń’s work for Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation," says Majmurek.
The generation that changed views on Russia
But thinking about the war in Ukraine in the context of capitalism and NATO expansion sounds familiar to several people on the Left. In his youth, Maciej Konieczny, a 41-year-old MP and co-founder of Together, advocated leaving NATO, a symbol of American imperialism. Now he accepts the voices of global progressives with a shrug of the shoulders.
Russia’s superpower ambitions are older than NATO. If anyone thinks NATO is needed for Russia to invade its neighbors, they should consult history books, he says.
Necessary is representative of a generation that changed its views on Russia eight years ago. - I was so entrenched in the language of the Western left that I considered all warnings against Russia as oversensitivity and Russophobia. In 2014, it turned out that they were justified,“recalls Konieczny. And NATO, he adds,”at this stage is the guarantor of Poland’s security."
Konieczny is referring to the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, which was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass.
Kwasniewski: In Russia we had no partners. In Ukraine we had
But for the older generation, the eye-opening moment came a decade earlier. During the Orange Revolution in 2004. - a series of protests following rigged presidential elections - Aleksander Kwasniewski, then president of Poland, traveled to Kiev with the president of Lithuania and the head of EU diplomacy and took part in talks between the pro-Russian government and the opposition.
“I knew as early as the 1990s that Ukrainian ambitions, traditions and identity were stronger than one might think,” says Kwasniewski, and points to reading Culture and his own trips abroad during his studies as experiences that helped him realize that “the USSR is not a monolith.” - I met almost everyone in Ukraine, and when President [Leonid] Kuchma called me at 3 a.m. asking for help, I immediately agreed.
It is to my personal credit that there was no confrontation between the Donbass miners, whom then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych wanted to bring to Kiev, and the demonstrators in Maidan," he claims.
It was in the winter of 2004. Poland confirmed that it wants to be present in the post-Soviet region in moments of crises - and regardless of political colors. Kwasniewski’s right-wing successors, Presidents Lech Kaczynski and Andrzej Duda, made similar visits to war-torn Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2022, respectively, and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski took part in negotiations between the opposition and pro-Russian President Yanukovych during Euromaidan in 2014.
Kwasniewski, 67, is one of Poland’s leading former communists who distanced themselves from Russia after the collapse of the USSR and helped put Poland on the path to EU and NATO integration. And this provoked resistance from radical leftists such as Wisniowski.
An important factor was that we had no social-democratic partners in Russia, where the Communist Party first held a strong position, and which under Putin became increasingly nationalist and authoritarian, Kwasniewski recalls. - Meanwhile, in Ukraine, we had partners.
The current position of the global left, Kwasniewski sees as an “intellectual game.”
Of course, we can discuss what is more dangerous, whether it is American or Russian imperialism or globalization, he comments. - But since the war began, we have been dealing with a simple situation: there is an aggressor and a victim, who must have the tools to defend himself.