Ukrainian leftists fight the Russian invasion

Some leftist groups in Western Europe and the U.S. overlook the basic facts on the ground: the capitalist, imperialist power of Russia has invaded a smaller neighboring country, Ukraine. The Ukrainian people are involved in a desperate struggle for survival and national integrity against a much larger and richer country. These so-called anti-imperialist leftists overlook the statements of Ukrainian leftists themselves, who plead for support in their struggle against Putin’s aggression. This can be seen by a look at references supplied by Conor Kostick of Independent Left (Ireland), who has written caustically about the “Evasionist left” that tries to evade pressing questions about the war in Ukraine. It’s all very well to talk about peace in general, he says, and to pretend that this will protect you; but what do you do when a convoy of Russian tanks is coming down the road? (1) The Ukrainian radical left, those opposed both to the Stalinist groups and to Western capitalism, share Kostick’s disdain for Evasionism and call for leftists elsewhere to support their struggle against the Russian invasion. Following are some of their statements, as supplied by Conor Kostick:

A call to rethink

One article is an interview with a man named Taras Bilous, a member of the Ukrainian socialist group Social Movement. (2) Bilous calls on leftists in the West to rethink their positions on Russia, imperialism, etc., in light of Putin’s aggression. An interesting aspect of the interview is the lively, fluid nature of the leftist movement in Ukraine. Bilous is a socialist, but when the war began, he found it convenient to join an anarchist military group. He serves with it now, providing aid and some military support to troops.

A call for leftists to visit and see for themselves

Another interview is with an activist working with Operation Solidarity, a movement of Ukrainian leftists who provide support to leftist military units. (3) They receive donations from foreign contributors and use it to rent meeting halls and storage spaces and to buy equipment like bulletproof vests and first-aid kits.

Following are some quotes from the Ukrainian activist:

“Some foreign comrades were surprised and even got angry with the fact that in Ukraine we have built resistance, taken up arms and fought back. We are not charmed by the Ukrainian State (it’s neo-liberal rather than nazi or strongly authoritarian) — it has a lot of troubles like an oligarchic system, corruption, destruction of social safety nets, cop and nazi violence etc. At the same time Ukraine is a space of relatively low State control that is growing, from one side, but from [the] other it’s also a space of uprising progressive social powers.

“So, we resist because it’s a question of our future (physical and political). If Russia wins, all progressive things that we got through social struggle will be raped, trampled and annihilated. Just watch what Putin does to his people and our comrades also, such as in the Network Case.”

[Note: “Network” was a loose grouping of some anarchists in Russia targeted by Putin’s secret police. They were branded as members of a terrorist organization, given a show trial and sentenced to long prison terms.]

The interviewer asks: “What would you say to those, especially on the Western Left, who criticize you for taking up arms against Putin’s invasion, calling you anarcho-NATO, etc?”

The comrade’s reply:

“Visit us! Come to Kharkiv, Mariupol. Even Kyiv. See it with your own eyes and take in a clear view of the situation. You can’t sit at home and wait until the enemy occupies your city to say: ‘Ok, now it’s time to resist.’ You can’t stay at home and do nothing when bombs are falling on your streets and heads – because you will die and lose everything. You can’t sit and text on Twitter now if you have any political plans and perspectives, because it’s a popular war and while you are sitting, others, just normal people like your neighbors, are on the streets. They are building barricades, taking up arms, studying and resisting. You can’t sit and do your everyday things because you will lose all your experiences, your family, friends, comrades, all these wonderful and horrible moments that ever happened to you. You will lose your life in the end. We don’t want to die, we don’t want to flee, we don’t want to obey, we don’t have such a privilege. We are fucking angry, and we want our freedom!”

He concludes with a sober warning to armchair leftists in Western countries:

“And I want to say that if we lose – European countries will be next. Be aware of pro-Russian politics and activists in your countries (especially ‘reds’).”

One thing to note in this interview is this comrade’s concern that even a Ukrainian victory could turn out to have negative consequences if rightist elements within Ukraine are able to claim the victory is due to them. This issue is addressed in a direct, realistic way in the following two interviews with Vitalii Dudin, the leader of Social Movement:

Russia must be stopped now

An April 6 interview with Dudin gives a very good overall assessment of the war, what is at stake and prospects for the future. (4) His reply to those who advocate demilitarization, pacifism, disbanding NATO, etc., as the solution to this crisis can be summed up by his statement, “The future of demilitarization lies in stopping Russia’s war machine now.” His views are further expounded in another interview of April 20 (5):

Ukraine should resist both Russian tanks and Western banks

In this April 20 interview Dudin says:

“We should support the Ukrainian people’s self-defense and resistance in order to save Ukrainian democracy, which is a key factor for the development of a workers' movement. If the Russian invaders win, we will have no freedom for the working class in Ukraine. It will also be a big defeat for the European and international working class. We highly appreciate all humanitarian aid. Every convoy makes our life better. It gives us hope that we will stand, fight and save our lives, and that we can help those in need, people who lost their families, jobs, homes, etc.

“Social Movement … is a unique organization in Ukraine because it unites leftist youth and working-class activists. We have anarchists, socialists, communists, as well as people working in the mines, the hospitals, the railway, etc. In Ukraine we don’t have leftist or socialist parties in parliament or active in the class struggle. We also don’t have mass organizations of the left. In 2015, when we founded our organization, Social Movement, we started to build up a political force that can become the core for the creation of a left party to fight for the power of working people. We are not fans of conservative left movements such as Stalinism. We have never been affiliated with the so-called Communist Parties. We defend workers’ democracy, and we believe socialism is the future, not the past.

“From 2015 on, since our organization was born, there has been war in a part of the territory of Ukraine. And we have used all opportunities to promote our socialist agenda, but it has been very difficult, because we had to build a left movement from scratch, from below, in the aftermath of Maidan. During Maidan, a lot of leftist organizations either dissolved, or were discredited because they had connections with Russia. We refused to associate with Russia; we instead took the side of democratic rights, socialism, and a free and independent Ukraine. It was a hard time for organizing a new left alternative, because of the pressure from the far-right groups and the neoliberal forces. They tried to impose an atmosphere of anti-communist hysteria, and started a witch-hunt process, managing to approve a law on decommunization, which created a legal precedent for the persecution of left activists.

“Despite all the dangers, we’ve become almost the only political group that is opposing neoliberal reforms and advocating social changes for the benefit of working people.”

Asked about the argument by some leftist groups in the U.S. that the expansion of NATO is the reason for Putin’s war, Dudin replies:

“Russian imperialism needs no excuse to occupy Ukrainian cities. The cause here is not NATO, but the crisis of Russian capitalism, which today cannot create the basis for a stable and prosperous Russia and cannot provide dignified conditions for Russian workers—and that is the reason why Putin’s junta started an invasion. Putin’s junta and the oligarchs need this war to stay in power and preserve their privileges.

“I want to say that we are against NATO, this bloc of rich countries driven by an anti-communist agenda. Today, it is hard to justify NATO’s existence.”

Dudin also talks about Social Movement’s class politics:

“There is a lot of attention to the military defense of Ukraine today, which is very important, but we cannot be limited only to this aspect. There is another aspect that is raised by Social Movement, which is the demand for social justice for Ukraine. We want to liberate our country from the unjust and unfair debt that was accrued after Ukraine took loans from the IMF and other international institutions. We think Ukraine should resist both Russian tanks and Western banks.”

He goes on to expound against tax havens and offshore accounts that enable oligarchs to stash away ill-gotten gains.

“Ukraine will have no chance to maintain an independent policy if our people are under the threat of Russian tanks, bombs, and missiles. It is absolutely clear. But we cannot achieve our goals in the social sphere if our hands are tied by the absurd demands of neoliberal institutions, because we know that the IMF is asking Ukraine to close public hospitals, schools, kindergartens, etc. The IMF does not serve the interests of Ukrainian working people. The last front of the struggle for independence is defeating the parasitic Ukrainian oligarchs. All the key sectors of the Ukrainian economy are in the hands of the rich oligarchs—the energy sector, ore mining, metallurgy, agriculture. These are the sectors which provide big profits, but the profits are shifted to tax havens. We want Ukraine to be liberated from the offshore evasion of taxes. We want the rest of the world to help us abolish tax havens. We understand it is difficult, but we have not heard any serious arguments why this should not be done (except some demagogy about ‘need to protect investors’ )”.

Daily life of a leftist soldier

One article referred to by Kostick is “War diary of a Belarusian anarchist fighting in Ukraine.” (6) This is a collection of daily notes written by a Belarussian man who travels from Warsaw, Poland, where he was living in exile, to join a fighting unit in Ukraine. This diary gives a vivid picture of everyday life of a class-conscious soldier. It includes photos and videos, including some disturbing pictures from Bucha and of smashed buildings in Kyiv. It also includes the text of a recorded speech he made that was delivered to a leftist rally in Warsaw. There are personal details – how to keep his phone plugged in, how to maintain a vegan diet, etc., along with political comments. In places he expresses doubts about whether he’s doing the right thing, participating in a war between bourgeois governments, and worried that it violates the anarchist credo, “the only war is class war.” But he hates Putin and the “Russian world.” He has experienced repression at the hands of the pro-Putin government in Belarus, and comrades of his have been imprisoned there. So he feels the need to take a stand.

An anarchist fights for democracy

Another related article on the same website is “Message from a Belarusian anarchist fighting in Ukraine”. (7) This is a statement directed to comrades in other countries explaining this anarchist individual’s view of the war. The author is anonymous; it may even be the same one of the previous article. In any case, he makes a strong argument for supporting the Ukrainian fight for independence and democracy:

“European democracy is terrible, but what is much more terrible is what the so-called ‘Russian world’ is bringing from the East. The remnants of freedoms and rights that the working class won in Europe, after a long struggle, will be completely destroyed by the Russian dystopia, transforming everything around it into a concentration camp, as they have already done in Belarus, Russia, and partly, in Kazakhstan.”

He expresses anarchist-style doubts about fighting for democracy instead of directly for the class war, but concludes:

“... there are many other criticisms, some of which I may even agree with, but the problem is that standing aside and taking a correct class position means becoming a silent witness to the bombings of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernigov and Mariupol. And my conscience does not allow me to stand aside.

“That is why I am here today in Ukraine, which will face all these difficulties and finally free itself from Moscow’s influence, and with it Belarus will be free, and let us hope that after that, Russia itself will finally become a real federation of free nations.”

Listen to the voice of the Ukrainian radical left

We could find some points of difference with these voices from Ukraine. But these are the voices of genuine leftist activists engaged in an important struggle for democratic rights. Their struggle against Putin’s invasion is just as important – and more! -- as the struggle for abortion rights in the U.S., or the struggle against emiseration in Sri Lanka. Left-wing activists around the world should find a way to support the struggle against imperialist aggression by Russia.