In the name of ‘critical support’ for ‘Russian defence’ of Donbas, Tony Greenstein attacks Gilbert Achcar, Anti-Capitalist Resistance and the so-called Fourth International
It was the decision of the German, French, Austrian and other social democratic representatives to vote for war credits in 1914 that spelt the death knell of the Second International. Despite all the flowery phrases about opposing their own national bourgeoisie and their homage to the ideas of international working class unity, when the crunch came they all meekly voted to finance the armies of their own national bourgeoisie, as the slaughter of the working class began.
Of course, they all did so with profound regrets at having been forced into such a situation, but the crimes of their enemies - be it the Russians in threatening Austria-Hungary or the Germans in invading ‘plucky little Belgium’ - allowed honourable exceptions to the idea that the main enemy was at home.
So it is with Anti-Capitalist Resistance - the latest British version of the Mandelite Fourth International. It was with no sense of anticipation that I read Gilbert Achcar’s ‘Contemptuous denial of agency in the name of geopolitics and/or peace’.1
Achcar is one of the leading theoreticians of an organisation that traces its lineage back to Leon Trotsky. The ACR has - at least on paper - anti-imperialist politics. Unfortunately in practice its political positions represent a concession to British and US imperialism.
Achcar has an impressive record in finding reasons to support imperialism and its surrogates. During the second Intifada he preached to the Palestinians that they should abandon the armed struggle for fear that it would give Israel an excuse for repression.2 Achcar also criticised those who argue that Zionism is a racist ideology and movement. He wrote that this was unfair regarding its “totalizing nature”. After all, “we can hardly treat all Zionists ... as birds of the same racist feather”. There is Zionism and there is “Zionism”,3 but unfortunately the Palestinians have yet to appreciate the difference!
In Libya Achcar supported the Nato no-fly zone - all in the interest of the Libyan people, of course - and today in Ukraine he supports Nato’s war against Russia, whilst it helps train the British army. Although, as Gearóid Ó Loingsigh remarked, it seems that imperialist military forces “have taught him more than he has them”.4
Yet all of this takes place under the banner of anti-imperialism and self-determination! Just like World War I, the war in Ukraine has divided the left nationally and internationally. Groups like the ACR have found in ‘self-determination’ a reason to support Nato’s proxy war in Ukraine - even if they exclude from this ‘self-determination’ the 30% of Ukrainians whose first language is Russian.
It is ironic that it is left up to bourgeois intellectuals like professor John Mearsheimer, Noam Chomsky and former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman to point out the obvious: that Nato is waging a proxy war against Russia, in which it is prepared to fight to the last Ukrainian.5 This is, or should be, obvious to all except the politically blind.
In my last Weekly Worker article I explained the background to the present conflict.6 I argued that this is not an inter-imperialist war, but a defensive war by Russia against the threat posed to it - not only by Ukraine’s potential accession to Nato, but its de facto status as a Nato member today.
Even accepting that Russia struck the first blow on February 24, when it invaded Ukraine (and that is arguable, since Ukraine had been stepping up the undeclared war on the two breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk since the beginning of February), one does not characterise the political nature of a war by who struck the first blow.
Lenin had quite a bit to say about this. In ‘The difference between aggressive and defensive war’ he posed the question as to what would happen “if tomorrow Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia”. According to the formulations of the United Secretariat and Achcar, socialists would be bound to support England, France and Russia! Lenin disagreed, arguing:
those would be ‘just’, ‘defensive’ wars, irrespective of who attacked first; and every socialist would sympathise with the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states against the oppressing, slave-owning, predatory ‘great’ powers.7
In other words, the fact that technically Russia landed the first blow in the present conflict is irrelevant. That tells us nothing about the political or class nature of the conflict.
The background to what is taking place is outlined by professor Mearsheimer in a lecture to students at King’s College on ‘The crisis in Ukraine’.8 Promises were made to Gorbachev at the time of German unification in 1991 that Nato would not expand eastwards and under Clinton and Bush those promises were honoured in the breach. At the 2008 Nato summit in Bucharest a statement was issued welcoming the accession of both Georgia and Ukraine to Nato and it was that which forms the background to the present crisis. Russia drew a red line at this and the war in Georgia broke out shortly afterwards.
The fascist-sponsored coup in 2014, which removed the democratically elected president, Viktor Yakunovych, was sponsored to the tune of over $5 billion by the United States. Victoria Nuland’s conversation with the American ambassador in Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, discussing who should do what in a post-coup government, made it clear who was in the driving seat.9
All this is well known, yet in Achcar’s article for ACR, although there are plenty references to Nato, there is not one word of criticism for this imperialist alliance. Indeed, to all intents and purposes, he appears to consider Nato to be some kind of benevolent, international welfare organisation concerned with upholding human and national rights, as it dispenses lethal weaponry like candies. Achcar talks about the “novelty” of a section of the left being faced with the choice of supporting the same side as Nato! (although that it is no novelty for Achcar himself, who has long abandoned any hint of criticism of the warmongers in Washington).
When I read the article, I decided to submit a reply of just under 1,600 words, which was nearly as long as the article itself.10 However, at that stage there were no other replies and even now, as I write five days later, there is only one other comment, which merely signposts readers to another article criticising Achcar.
Now my good friend and comrade in Brighton Labour Left Alliance, Dave Hill, who agrees with my position, is both a member of ACR and the Greek section of the Fourth International. Dave assured me that ACR had an open-door policy and does not reject or censor replies from those disagreeing with its positions. Indeed the Greek section has posted its own biting critique of what they consider to be the ACR reformists.11 Although I disagree with its assessment that this is an inter-imperialist war, the Greek comrades are right to criticise both ACR and the statement of the executive bureau of the Fourth International, which effectively argues that it is the ‘right’ of oppressed nations to join Nato.12 It would appear that Nato - far from serving imperialism in Afghanistan, Libya, Serbia, Syria and Iraq - is a defensive alliance, keen to prevent the outbreak of war.
The Greek comrades criticise the executive statement, which claims that “in some countries, which had been colonised by tsarism or subjugated by the USSR, joining Nato was supported by their populations in the hope that it would protect their independence”.13
Although the statement purports to support the winding up of Nato, it also says: “The fight against the extension of Nato to the east passes today through the uncompromising defence of the national and democratic rights of the peoples threatened by Russian imperialism.”
So this “defence” of Ukraine’s national and democratic rights is contingent on Nato! Why in that case would one want to wind it up? In other words, the Fourth International pays lip service to Nato’s abolition, whilst supporting the ‘right’ of countries to join it! As Sir Walter Scott noted, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”.
I waited two days and still my reply to Achcar’s article did not appear. I then penned a furious comment, headed ‘Dear ACR censors’, in which I said:
One of ACR’s selling points has been its declared position on free and open debate amongst socialists. It claimed to have dispensed with the controlled narratives of other left groups like the SWP. It would seem that the war in Ukraine and the question of whether one supports one’s own ruling class has changed all of that.
Faced with the need to line up behind your own ruling class, all in the name of Ukrainian ‘self-determination’, it seems that that old Stalinist habit of censorship has reasserted itself ...
Let me assure you that I am not afraid to engage in self-criticism. Clearly I was naive for having taken on trust ACR’s declared policy on open debate. It would seem that even the most open Trotskyist groups revert to type when their fundamental politics are put to the test.
I informed them that they were being somewhat foolish, since this affair would appear both on my own blog and in the Weekly Worker! It seemed that this hit home, because my latest comment was then published, along with a response from “Simon” from the editorial collective. Simon assured me:
We try to accommodate most positions (ie, accept and publish), especially those that enhance the debate/discussion, even if they are counter to our own (we have even published some of yours), but we have to draw the line at some of the nonsensical, disrespectful, conspiracy theory-driven, hysterical ranting, and the odd bit of spam that could be posted. Is this censorship?
Obviously not. I am not a free-speech absolutist. If my response to Achcar had been full of any of the pejorative adverbs and adjectives Simon liberally sprayed, then he would have had a point. But he went on, inadvertently, in a disjointed and rambling thread, to explain the real reasons why my post had not appeared:
But this is an important point, this is the website for Anti-Capitalist Resistance and its membership; it’s not a platform for those who seek to denounce our comrades in the ACR; its not for those that have no platform (your own website/blog is always an option) and seek to use ours for their own gain. Those that often scream censorship are not and have never been members of the ACR: they do not take part in our internal debates, do not aid our thinking on actions and help in the production of our statements, so, yes, sometimes their comments will not be shown.
I therefore responded, explaining that I was not interested in a “denunciation of Achcar himself”, especially when he does so well at this on his own. I pointed out that my response was a political critique and I outlined in the following bullet points what my disagreements were:
- I rejected the analogy between Ukraine and Vietnam as ludicrous.
- I rejected the analogy with Syria - a wholly different situation.
- I gave the background to what is happening, viz the 2014 coup and the attack on both Russian language rights and the rights of Russian Ukrainians, whilst pointing out that what is happening in Ukraine is as much a civil war as an invasion.
- I pointed out that the question of Nato was entirely absent from Achcar’s article.
- I quoted extensively from an article by Nir Gontarz of Ha’aretz on the attitudes of ethnic Ukrainians and their criticism of Zelensky’s wooing of Nato and the European Union.
Simon then responded by accusing me of “disinformation” and argued that my point that all left parties in Ukraine have been banned was not true: he referred me to what he called “one source of many, unless you happen to support parties with links to the Kremlin and Putin”.14
Which I find amazing. The Communist Party of Ukraine was already banned. All independent media have been abolished. Criticism of Zelensky is considered a matter of treason and is likely to cost you your life - as I fear Gonazalo Lira, a Chilean/Ukrainian blogger, appears to have discovered.
In response I pointed out that the Opposition Platform for Life, which was banned, condemned Russia’s invasion, but it is also a party of Ukraine’s ethnic Russians. ACR’s defence of Zelensky’s repressive measures, coming from a Trotskyist organisation is astounding.
I also noted that all the evidence is that Zelensky and his CIA buddies are running what are in effect death squads, along the lines of those which operated in El Salvador. I also pointed to the growing evidence that the alleged Russian massacre in Bucha of over 700 Ukrainians was not carried out by Russian soldiers, but by the Azov National Guard, which entered two days after the Russians left and massacred anyone deemed sympathetic to the Russians: ie, who wore a white armband.15
Now that the Azov battalion has been all but defeated in Mariupol, we can expect to hear of further atrocities carried out under its watch.16 No doubt ACR in its new imperialism-lite mode will also defend the participation of fascists in the fight for Ukrainian ‘self-determination’, but, as I told Simon, who criticised my style of argument, what matters “is not my manners and etiquette, but whose side are you on? Have you abandoned the fight, first and foremost against your own ruling class?”
There is no doubt that Putin should not have attempted to conquer the whole of Ukraine and in particular try to capture the capital, Kyiv. For that he deserves to be condemned. His failure even to repatriate his own foreign currency reserves suggests that his decision to invade was impetuous and ill-considered.
However, the position now, with the Russian army defending the Donbas - which primarily consists of Russian Ukrainians and Russian speakers - has changed. It is now clearer than ever that what we are seeing is in essence a civil war, with Nato backing Zelensky and his fascist militias.
In this situation socialists should have no hesitation in giving critical support to the Russian defence of the Russian-speaking people of the Donbas. In much the same way I welcome the liberation of Mariupol from the neo-Nazi Azov battalion.
Despite the unprecedented wave of disinformation and propaganda, we are now seeing some of the results of the incorporation of neo-Nazi and fascist militia into Ukraine’s military and security forces. There is little doubt that the massacre at Bucha just outside Kyiv was carried out by a special detachment of the National Guard headed by an Azov leader, Sergey Korotkikh - otherwise known as ‘Botsun’.17 The evidence is accumulating as to who was responsible and it is noticeable that the British chair of the UN security council refused the Russian request to debate the issue.18 It is clear that, with the arrest and reported torture of the main opposition leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, Ukraine is no more a liberal democracy than Israel.19
It is also clear that the left in Ukraine is under attack from the secret state and Zelensky’s goons in the SBU state security organisation. Anyone who supports negotiations or opposes joining Nato is liable to find themselves in the SBU’s torture chambers. There is at present a massive attack on all dissidents in Ukraine. Eleven local mayors have been abducted and some killed, yet the western media covers for them by blaming it on Russia.20
What is worse though is that it is people who call themselves socialists who are providing a cover for this attack on the left. People such as ACR’s Duncan Chapel, who have become open apologists for the Azov battalion, proclaiming that they were a reaction to a non-existent Russian intervention in 2014.
According to Chapel,
Azov was a reaction to a Russian intervention in Ukraine. There was no coup in Ukraine: the former president called for early elections and then emigrated to join his bribes in Moscow. Poroshenko was fairly elected.
Not unexpectedly, the crown prince of ‘left’ apologists for Ukrainian fascists is undoubtedly our old friends, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. On April 17 on the Not the Andrew Marr show we had a debate on the war in Ukraine between Pete Radcliff of the AWL and Chris Williamson. According to Radcliffe, the Maidan coup in 2014 had been the result of mass working class action and Zelensky was a true hero. You might have thought that the AWL, given that it has made ‘left anti-Semitism’ one of its signature tunes, might have been the strongest opponents of the incorporation of open anti-Semites and holocaust deniers in the Ukrainian military and security forces.
I challenged Radcliff to dissociate himself from the Azov battalion and the other fascist forces in my own contribution. I pointed out that Ukraine was the only country in the world to have a national holiday in memory of a Nazi collaborator, Stepan Bandera, who had the blood of 200,000 Jews on his hands. You would have thought that Radcliffe would seize the opportunity with both hands. Yet, instead of denouncing the genuine anti-Semites and neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian state, he chose to ignore the points I had made. He preferred instead to praise the Ukrainian state, which includes these same anti-Semitic forces, as part of his effusive praise for Nato in Ukraine.
This demonstrates, if any proof were needed, that this Zionist cult is no more disturbed by genuine anti-Semitism than any of their other friends on the Labour right. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya, the only constant in the AWL’s politics is slavish support for western imperialism. However, most of the 400-plus audience at the Not the Andrew Marr show were not fooled by his apologetics for the west’s fascist friends in Ukraine.
Whereas the AWL has been doing this kind of thing for nearly 40 years, the British section of the USFI is a relative newcomer. It remains to be seen how quickly it makes up for lost time.
G Achcar The Arabs and the holocaust London 2010, p274.↩︎
G Ó Loingsigh, ‘A manifesto that is neither internationalist nor against war’: socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentAManifestoThatIsNeitherInternationalistNorAgainstWar.html.↩︎
J Bellamy Foster, ‘The US proxy war in Ukraine’: mronline.org/2022/04/09/the-u-s-proxy-war-in-ukraine.↩︎
‘Key issue is not Russia’ Weekly Worker March 24: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1388/key-issue-is-not-russia.↩︎
‘The principles of socialism and the war of 1914-1915’: www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/s-w/ch01.htm.↩︎
‘A critique to the decisions of the executive bureau of the Fourth International concerning the war in Ukraine’: okde.org/index.php/en/announcements/86-anakoinwseis/969-a-critique-to-the-decisions-of-the-executive-bureau-of-the-fourth-international-concerning-the-war-in-ukraine.↩︎
‘No to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine! Support to the Ukrainian resistance! Solidarity with the Russian opposition to the war!’: fourth.international/en/566/europe/426.↩︎
That source was: freedomnews.org.uk/2022/04/11/did-ukraine-ban-left-parties-response-to-western-leftists-from-ukrainian-battlefield.↩︎
See, for example, E Reif, ‘Was alleged Russian army massacre of civilians at Bucha actually a false flag event staged by Ukrainian Nazis?’: just-international.org/articles/was-alleged-russian-army-massacre-of-civilians-at-bucha-actually-a-false-flag-event-staged-by-ukrainian-nazis; J Lauria, ‘Questions abound about Bucha massacre’: scheerpost.com/2022/04/06/questions-abound-about-bucha-massacre; S Ritter, ‘What happened in Bucha Ukraine’: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBZ0nWt3WKU.↩︎