Away with comforting delusions

‘Official communism’ is bitterly divided over the Ukraine war. Paul Demarty traces the battle lines back to their origins

A distinct subplot of the Ukraine war - relevant to readers of this paper, but alas not very much to the course of immediate events - is the political confusion and divisions it has caused (or at least exacerbated) on the left.

A sub-sub-plot worth further analysis is the particular divisions in the world ‘official communist’ movement. And there is no better starting point than something we mentioned in our last article - apparent divisions within the Communist Party of the Russian Federation itself. Several CPRF duma deputies denounced the invasion, including Mikhail Matveev, who said:

When I voted for the recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), I voted for peace, not for war. For Russia to become a shield, so that the Donbas was not bombed, but not for Kyiv to be bombed.

It was not long before the party’s presidium placed itself firmly behind the ‘special military operation’, declaring in a statement by central committee president Gennady Zyuganov that

coercing Kiev provocateurs into peace and restraining Nato aggressiveness has become the bidding [sic] of the time. Only demilitarisation and deNazification of Ukraine can ensure lasting security for the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and the whole of Europe.1

It is not clear, at this remove, who out of Zyuganov and Matveev has wider support among the CPRF’s membership, but we are not optimistic, and with extensive regime action against opponents of the war, one side has a distinctly stronger incentive to keep its head down.

The whole sorry show tends to demonstrate the peculiar position occupied by the CPRF in Russia - influential to a point, but essentially a loyal opposition to Putinism and extensively corrupted by Great Russian nationalism. Even Putin’s recent diatribes against Lenin and all subsequent Soviet leaders for their ‘indulgence’ towards the USSR’s various nationalities is not enough to cool Zyuganov’s enthusiasm for “deNazification”.

Western approaches

Zyuganov’s attitude was repellent enough to merit extensive discussion in the Communist Party of the USA’s People’s World, wherein it was contrasted with the bravery of Matveev, Oleg Smolin and Vyacheslav Markhaev (two other communists in the duma who objected).2

This in itself is somewhat interesting: politically the CPRF and the other ‘communist and workers parties’ with which it formally enjoys fraternal relations have long drifted apart, but if there is one near-universal feature of international ‘official communism’, it is the diplomatic silence that substitutes for polemic between them on points of contention (with some exceptions).

For its part, the CPUSA takes a substantially social-pacifist line: “No war on Ukraine, No war on Russia, No war, period!” Its statement does at least focus its fire on the US government and Nato, and places Putin’s adventure in the context of decades of strategic provocation on the part of those forces. It limits itself, however, to demanding “no expansion of Nato” (our emphasis) - so presumably a Nato border barely 100 miles from St Petersburg is just fine, then.3

Similar material is on offer from the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, which - along with the Communist Party of Ireland and the Tudeh Party of Iran - issued a statement under the even more cringe-inducing slogan, “Stop the war, start the peace”. It differs from the CPUSA statement on one or two points, such as its touching concern for Ukraine’s territorial integrity - already a busted flush with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 (Sevastopol will be reduced to irradiated cinders before it is given back to a hostile Ukraine, that is for sure).

More concerning, although predictable coming from the CPB, is its cretinous faith in the United Nations and its associated charters and holy texts. The three parties condemn the invasion of Ukraine not so much for the obvious reasons - that it is an increasingly bloody enterprise in the pursuit of grubby great-power interests - but because it “not only undermines the founding principles of the charter of the United Nations, but also creates justification for the future abuse of such methods by the imperialist powers against other nations”. The statement further “urge[s] the [UN Security Council] and neutral and non-aligned countries to convene talks aimed at de-escalating the conflict”.4

Rather headier material is on offer by a rival group of ‘official communist’ parties and sects, not least the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), which has been a persistent left critic of this sort of thing for years. The KKE and friends denounce “the illusions fostered by bourgeois forces claiming that there could be a ‘better security architecture’ in Europe by EU intervention, Nato ‘without military plans and aggressive weapon systems in its territory’, a ‘pro-peace EU’, or a ‘peaceful multipolar world’”. They call for struggle on all sides “against the propaganda of the bourgeois forces that lure the people to the meat grinder of imperialist war using various spurious pretexts”, and “for the overthrow of capitalism, for the strengthening of the class struggle against imperialist war, for socialism, which remains as timely and necessary as ever”.


This is quite an array of different positions for a movement that is committed, in principle, to monolithic unity. How did we get here?

That is in the end a matter of ‘official’ communism’s historical roots, as an expression of continuity with the whole history of the world communist movement - from its origins in the political disaster of 1914 to the death of the Soviet Union in 1991. There is, at the very genesis of this history, the decision of Lenin and the Bolsheviks to hold firm to the line agreed by the Second International of principled and revolutionary opposition to imperialist wars, whereas most sections capitulated to their own countries’ war aims. The rhetoric of the KKE’s statement is very much in this mould.

The turn of the Soviet regime under Stalin towards constructing socialism in a single country, however, introduced a different dynamic. The preservation of the USSR depended at least in part on boxing clever in global politics, among world powers almost universally hostile to it. With the victory of fascism in Germany, this found its most enduring political form in the policy of the popular front, which governed the activities of Soviet-loyal communist parties, under various names and slogans, throughout the movement’s subsequent history.

After World War II, with the onset of the cold war and the establishment of the United Nations, the rather fractious security architecture thereby established gave the Soviets a number of mechanisms to conduct diplomatic struggle with their western enemies, and the foreign policy of communist parties in the west tended to reflect the diplomatic gambits of the Soviet leadership. The policy was to struggle (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep various countries out of Nato and other transnational institutions, like the European Communities, that reflected American strategic interests; but not to try to win such countries to membership of the Warsaw Pact and suchlike, which would have been seen as too much of a provocation.

The tradition of ‘official communism’ at this point included both a residual militant anti-imperialism and the social-pacifism of popular-frontist, Soviet-loyal ‘official communism’. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and with it the bipolar security architecture of the cold war, ought to have killed the latter stone-dead, but old habits die hard. The hopeless eclecticism of the CPB/CPI/Tudeh statement comes from a picture of the world with the USSR at its centre, but there is, of course, no USSR today. A transfer of sympathies to China (in spite of the bitter history of the Sino-Soviet split and Sino-American rapprochement after the 1972 Nixon visit) has obscured the transition somewhat.

The KKE, on the other hand, seems to have been so badly burned by the experience of its popular-front governments in the 1990s - at one point including the conservative New Democracy party - that it lurched leftwards, and fell back on the revolutionary rhetoric of the Bolsheviks (and the third-period ultra-leftism of 1929-34), with a strong dose of Greek nationalism thrown in. It has learned lessons, after a fashion, but the result is eclectic and eccentric in its own way. Its call for revolutionary struggle against imperialist war is well-meaning, but leaves out of account the lack of forces able to wage such a struggle. We are engaged, in reality, with the more modest work of open dissent from the bloodlust of our own ruling classes, in the hope that a movement that could really wage such struggle will be built on strong programmatic foundations.

The main problem, however, is not with the KKE, but the CPB and similar outfits. We read a lot about the possible emergence of a new, multipolar world order; but, if this is true, then the mainstream of ‘official communism’ has not yet even caught up with the current world order. How can one appeal, in good faith, to the founding principles of the UN charter after Korea, Vietnam, the whole bloody history of decolonisation, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya … ? What other interpretation of that document can anyone claiming a Marxist heritage hold than that it is a bare fig leaf for the use or threat of force? As to the idea that the Ukraine invasion will authorise imperialist powers to use the “same methods”: well, comrades, nothing stopped them before. What’s another excuse in a pile of thousands?

The Ukraine crisis confirms those very conclusions of Marxist analysis which, perhaps, we would most like to be disproved - that capitalism immanently generates war. The one theatre where the post-war architecture succeeded, for the most part, in suppressing military conflict - Europe - now teeters on the brink of annihilation. We can ill afford the comforting delusions of 1960s ‘multilateralism’ under such circumstances.


  1. cprf.ru/2022/02/the-people-of-ukraine-must-not-be-a-victim-of-world-capital-and-oligarchic-clans-statement-of-the-cprf-cc-presidium↩︎

  2. www.peoplesworld.org/article/russian-jails-fill-with-anti-war-protesters-more-communist-lawmakers-denounce-invasion.↩︎

  3. www.peoplesworld.org/article/communist-party-ukraine-statement.↩︎

  4. www.communistparty.org.uk/for-peace-and-a-just-solution-to-the-conflict-in-ukraine.↩︎