Jack Conrad writes: “… but there was nothing - nothing - in the way of a frank and honest assessment (ie, on the part of Putin).
“The facts, however, surely, speak for themselves. Instead of Russian forces powering down upon Kyiv, surrounding, taking the capital city within days, capturing, killing or forcing Volodymyr Zelensky into exile, a combination of stiff Ukrainian resistance and astounding Russian military incompetence saw a humiliating retreat ...” (‘Notes on the war’, May 26).
Jack, like the entire Nato media (like all of us, except the intimate parts of the UK state machinery), can’t see RT (formerly Russia Today) any more. No doubt they - and even Maria Zakharova of the Russian foreign ministry - are not privy to the private (or ‘politburo’) thoughts of Putin. Yet those media - and Jack - opine à haute voix what Putin’s primary strategic goal(s) were and are.
It is by the standard of those imputed goals that Jack and the Nato media triumphantly declare a humiliating military retreat and political fiasco, if not disaster. Yet none of these commentators, Jack or the whole ‘genus Nato omne’, give a shred of evidence as to what Putin’s primary and contingency plans were. Yet there is evidence available, coming, for example, from Putin himself and the excellent Patrick Armstrong (former Russia specialist in the Canadian embassy in Moscow and a respected expert - so respected that I gather he has recently been visited by the political wing of the Mounties - no doubt to encourage him to tell us more and award him a Free Speech Medal like that awarded to RT!). Since then he has been silent.
The trigger events were:
1. The perceived imminent threat of a renewed and more massive onslaught, spearheaded by the Azov battalion (now increased in numbers, armaments and influence), on the devolutionists of Luhansk and Donetsk. ‘Devolutionists’ because they initially demanded the restoration of traditional Russophone linguistic rights and the devolution programme of Yanukovych and the Party of the Regions; separation became their only resort, because of the worse-than-Putinesque response of Kyiv to their policy proposals. (Kiev’s prolonged and stubborn refusal to implement the agreed Minsk devolution plans exacerbated and still exacerbates this stand-off, which the European Union, and especially Paris, has tried to bypass by insisting on its ‘Normandy programme’; Russia was not and is not a signatory to Minsk and has no responsibility for such delays - or refusals). Was this threat wholly illusory?
2. Zelensky’s threat - wild, impossible perhaps, but nonetheless suggesting an imminent gross war crime - to use the old Tochka missiles to deliver against Russia a payload of the nuclear materials available at Chernobyl and elsewhere in Ukraine.
3. The activity, apparently increased, of the US biolabs in Ukraine. Readers - and the Nato power (there’s only one, of course - all the rest are ‘working towards Washington’) - should decide and pronounce aloud whether any, let alone all, of these three triggers constitute a colourable casus belli for Moscow - and hence a basis for negotiation. The relentless advance of Nato since James Baker’s declaration of 1990 that, were Gorbachev to withdraw Soviet forces back to the USSR, it would not advance an inch beyond the eastern German border, provides evidence of the inherent untrustworthiness of Washington and its Nato puppets - if, after Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq, etc any were needed. Washington has successfully been whipping the more errant running dogs, such as France, into line (as for Hungary and Turkey, who knows?). Nato rapidly and, it seems, spontaneously transformed itself from an anti-communist alliance into an anti-Russian axis.
The nature of the crisis has impelled Kissinger to mutter, almost sub rosa, a minor recognition of popular sovereignty - gall and wormwood to the great disciple of Metternich - all cloaked, of course, in raison d’état and Staatspolitik.
It seems clear that Putin’s call to Russophones and all democrats in Ukraine has had no identifiable success - on the contrary, Ukrainian chauvinism has, it seems, metastasized (yet the very vigour of the delations, arrests, bans and other ‘democratic’ Kyiv measures suggest either paranoia or genuine, if understandably timid, dissent/opposition - or both).
As for fissures amongst or between the Russian people and ‘elites’, all sources seem also equally deeply compromised by gross partisanship ... the fog of righteousness ... But it seems unlikely that Biden’s demand for regime change at the Kremlin will encourage even the likes of Navalny to hope for victory, let alone endear US imperialism to the Russian masses; they saw plenty of its works, as Jeffrey Sachs impelled Yeltsin to plunge them into almost unprecedented impoverishment and premature death. Not exactly a Marshall Plan mark two. Spinoza’s dictum remains as relevant as ever: “Do not laugh, do not weep: try to understand.”
Armstrong is not the only source of possible understanding: SouthFront, Raevsky and The Saker, Andrei Martyanov’s books, Gonzalo Lira, Pepe Escobar, Georgy Vilches and plenty of links therein should help us - and Jack in particular perhaps - achieve more understanding, especially of their unthought standard: the Kremlin’s strategic priorities (not to mention statements by Putin and defence minister Sergei Shoigu ...).
The conflict instigated by the US empire and its client states against Russia and China is a disaster for living standards throughout the world. As a result of this new world order, everything will be more expensive to produce, transport and manage. Incessant warmongering propaganda will continue to be a daily fact of life long beyond our lifetimes.
Capitalist societies are controlled by restricting/expanding the disposable incomes of the masses. Disposable incomes are the leash upon which the capitalist controls the masses. The masses in a capitalist system serve no other purpose than to be used and abused, as the capitalists and their coordinators see fit. We call this ‘freedom’.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: the war in Ukraine is a proxy war against the middle classes of the imperialist centre. Rishi Sunak’s recent announcements of help for the ‘poorest’ families are a necessary measure in this proxy war. The lack of any concerted diplomacy on the part of the US empire is a deliberate policy to drive up inflation, and squeeze the incomes of the middle classes. In other words, while politicians pretend they are concerned by the ‘cost of living’ crisis, this is actually their war aim. In fact, rather than diplomacy, the empire and its client states have done everything in their power to prolong and escalate the conflict.
The middle classes are a huge, but necessary, cost for the capitalist class, and more importantly have the power to tell the boss to shove his job where the sun doesn’t shine. The great resignation is on the lips of every boss: employees have tasted freedom with working from home during the pandemic and are loath to give it up; bosses are trying to force them back in, etc.
This power of the middle class has not been a significant problem during the very long wave of prosperity at the imperialist centre. This prosperity has been built upon the most intense superexploitation the world has ever seen. That superexploitation is hitting barriers which threaten the continuation of the capitalist system. As this prosperity is fast coming to an end, so too are the ‘privileges’ of the middle classes. This relative decline of the ‘west’ needs to be managed, and capitalists have only one form of control: the aforementioned leash.
People like Jack Conrad fail to see all this because they are blinded by the Putin fetish (and have descended into the political twaddle we see in advanced capitalist societies), rammed home every minute of every day by the capitalist media, who incidentally are not under any threat whatsoever as a result of the Assange affair.
The capitalist press, and people like Conrad, would have us imagine that Putin rules Russia by divine right, or is that alien right?! Russia (not Putin) has been deliberately backed into a corner by the empire and its client states, and has been left with no choice but to take the actions we see today.
Conrad talks of Ukraine as a real people, a real state. This is total baloney. In the last 20 years two presidents who were favourable to Russia, and elected by half the Ukrainian population, have been overthrown in western-backed coups. Given that half the population have been effectively disenfranchised, and suffer mob violence and persistent shelling for voting the wrong way, the only rational outcome is the break-up of Ukraine.
Russia’s actions are perfectly rational. Except, of course, throughout history, Russia, like Ukraine, has a schizophrenic nature toward the west: one epoch, it has desperately tried to court the west and mimic its culture and behaviours; the next it has raged against the injustices. I do believe that Russia has finally been cured of its schizophrenia.
I can’t help but think the left have descended into a narrow way of thinking, centred not around the high ideals of fraternity, liberty and equality, or universal suffrage and even land, but around the more low ideals of how long the capitalist leash needs to be. Let me give an example by way of David Douglass:
The opposite of climate panic is not giving a toss about anything other than your narrow, short-term interests and existence.
The opposite of eco-ism is the debasement of humanity to consumerism, that reduces everything to base desires and, along with it, culture.
The opposite of pro-‘remain’ is an idiotic nationalist and racist pseudo-identity, while your grandkids are attending proms!
The opposite of Covid conformity is an ultra-individualist, neoliberal insistence that nothing - not even public health - gets in the way of your lifestyle.
In other words, it is David Douglass who is the ultra-liberal - and perhaps that goes for the CPGB too!
What position should the socialist/communist movement adopt in regard to the war between Nato/Ukraine and Russia?
- Those leftists who back Ukraine and view it as a war of national liberation are pro-imperialist dupes.
- We should oppose all sanctions on Russia and oppose all arms supplies to Ukraine. We are actively for the defeat of Nato and Ukraine in this war. In both cases the main enemy is at home. We aim for workers’ unity and a new 1917.
- Russia is fighting a defensive war against a Nato attempt to break up the Russian federation and/or bring it under USA control - a step towards a US war against China.
- Should we support a Russian victory? Certainly a necessary debate on the socialist left.
The Putin government is anti-working class, controlled by Russian capital. Its ideology is Russian nationalism. It has no useful appeal to make to Ukrainian workers and any suggestion that Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent state is reactionary. The Russian state is a regime based on the destruction of 1917 and the destruction of workers’ unity.
However, Russia is not an imperialist state and has no project to try and become the world imperialist hegemon. But any attempt by Putin to go beyond the Donbas and Crimea to seize other territory should be opposed by socialists. A democratic solution to the national question in Ukraine is needed. Putin is incapable of defeating imperialism - only holding it at bay for a while. The working class in Russia needs to overthrow Putin to win workers’ unity in the region and defeat the imperialist offensive. Only the working class movement has an anti-imperialist dynamic - there is no other real consistent anti-imperialist force on the planet.
So, in Russia, no support for the Russian state or the pro-imperialist opposition (Navalny, etc). For a socialist revolution to defeat the imperialist offensive.
In the last Weekly Worker we had Dave Vincent’s review of Dave Douglass’s book of the latter’s articles appearing in the paper. The review opens: “The Weekly Worker is so unique on the left for publishing letters and articles even against their stances on particular issues that a regular contributor has produced a book of a selection of his articles/reviews that have appeared in the paper!” In the same issue, we had Bruno Kretzschmar’s letter, where he writes of “back-alleyway dog fights”.
Perhaps comrade Kretzschmar feels that only those letters that he finds useful should be included. As above, there are letters and articles even against the stances of the Weekly Worker, but the paper retains the right to a robust defence - or even a robust attack - against some of these letters and articles. Again, as above, the Weekly Worker is unique on the left for allowing this kind of debate at all.
So, what are the “dog fights” that the comrade finds so troublesome? We have Lawrence Parker - a long-time and respected contributor to the paper - accused by Gerry Downing of, among other things, being a ‘Stalinophile’. This is quite an insult: if true it would undermine comrade Parker’s valuable writings - and Communist Forum appearances. However, comrade Parker goes to some trouble to refute Downing’s several allegations and to let us know that he will not be bothering to respond to such drivel in future.
The other ‘dog fight’ mentioned is that between Tony Greenstein and Jack Conrad. Tony Greenstein is a valued contributor to the Weekly Worker, but on some issues there is disagreement - very profound disagreement, I think both sides would agree. In this case it is about the position of the left on the war in Ukraine.
Without going into the details - they are there in recent issues - I think that most of us would agree that this is quite an important topic on which to hold and put forward principled arguments in this period. The position of the CPGB and the Weekly Worker is not the majority position on the left at the moment: “back-alleyway dog fights” would seem to be the order of the day.
It is explained that these two fights are merely examples of a worrying habit in letters, and comrade Kretzschmar thinks that “we should be addressing those incalculably more urgent matters and associated considerations thrown up by our current world”. While I think that the matters in contention here have some degree of urgency, I also believe that he will find on other pages of the paper the other urgent matters that he refers to.
He wants us to be “keeping that ‘weather eye’ out on attracting new recruits to our tattered ranks”. Perhaps we should trim our sails a little, as other left groups do - not with any notable success, it may be mentioned. No, we face “urgent matters” in the world and pretty much everyone says, “the left is weak”, which is unfortunately only too true. Little glimmers of apparent light - leftish governments elected, mass movements initiated - are to be welcomed, but have yet to develop into real change in the world.
We need mass parties of the working class attracted to principled programmes. Part of that struggle for the CPGB is in allowing open discussion in our paper - and that includes a strong response to nonsense.
I always enjoy Esen Uslu’s articles on Turkey, the Kurds and the wider region. But Esen is surely completely mistaken in his latest article when he refers to “the defeat and dissolution of the Kurdish YPG (People’s Defence Units)” (‘A bazaar mentality’, May 19). I do follow Kurdish affairs quite closely and am as certain as I can be there has been no such “dissolution” whatsoever. Similarly, what “defeat”? Yes, of course, the YPG has had setbacks and taken casualties, but “defeat”? No.
Esen may be referring to the fact that the YPG and the YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) are now part of the wider alliance of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but, far from having been ‘dissolved’, they played a leading role in its establishment and continue to exercise a leading political and military role within the SDF today, and as distinct formations.
I am pleased Esen refers to them as Kurdish freedom fighters, as that is exactly what they are. The YPG, YPJ and the SDF played a vital role, acting on behalf of all humanity, helping ensure the complete territorial defeat of the terroristic and barbaric Islamic State, and are now helping resist increasing Turkish invasion and occupation in northern Syria.
They are politically progressive, advocating a form of highly devolved and ultra-democratic socialism. Originally informed by Marxism-Leninism, this now seems to owe more to theories of anarcho-communism and council communism - a sort of ‘left’ current within traditional communism.
More substantively, they stand for women’s liberation, genuine equality between the sexes, democratic equality, respect and unity between peoples of different ethnicities, nationalities, religions and none. Specifically, they advocate a secular, democratic and federalised Syria. They do not advocate the break-up of any existing nation-state, whether Syria, Turkey, Iraq or Iran. They are fighting for basic democratic, national, social and civil rights within those countries.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), also known as Rojava, was created in the vacuum left by the excision of the cancer of Islamic State.
In many ways, the YPG, YPJ and the HPG (the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK) are present-day examples of the popular militias or arming of the people advocated by the Weekly Worker. Based on and organically part of the people, this gives them their very strength, resilience and capability. Whilst politics and the armed struggle are led by formally distinct organisations, there is a considerable overlap between them and full integration of military tactics and strategy within a wider political perspective and leadership.
Like many others, I questioned the temporary alliance between the SDF and US forces, but, given the Kurdish national liberation, democratic and military movements and the Kurdish people themselves were under genocidal attack by both Syria and Turkey, I don’t think they had much option and were right to do so if that meant survival.
Yes, some leading figures in the Syrian Democratic Council appeared to have been sucked into thinking of a more permanent alliance and, of course, US imperialism has its own aims and objectives, including the break-up of Syria and Iran, but that ‘deviation’ has been heavily challenged within the Kurdish liberation and democratic movement and is in the process of being corrected.
The genuine achievement and defence of basic Kurdish democratic, national and political rights in Syria has to be through a negotiated agreement with Damascus and as part of Syria. Interestingly, Russia, which played a key role in bolstering the Assad regime when under massive attack by western imperialism, also appears in recent times to have lent the SDF and allies crucial military and diplomatic support - helping prise them away from the US - and is strongly encouraging of a Kurdish solution within and part of Syria.
According to an interview in the latest edition of the American socialist journal Against the Current, Peter Hudis, a professor of philosophy and humanities in Illinois, is collaborating in a collection of everything Rosa Luxemburg ever wrote - something which has not been done before.
One volume a year is being published by Verso Books in the USA (volume 4 is coming out now, volume 5 in 2023, and they are already working on volumes 6 and 7, which will contain her writings on revolutionary strategy and organisation). The project started with a conference in South Africa - not specifically about Rosa Luxemburg - but ended up with collaborators from all over the world, including translators from German and Polish, working together from 2007.
There are interesting discussions throughout this three-page interview. One looks at the once-popular view that Luxemburg was not a feminist because she was a Marxist. There is still a difference of opinion as to whether the two are compatible. Hudis believes that some “are saying that the dichotomy of seeing her as a Marxist or as a feminist does not make a lot of sense”.
Hudis is interested in Rosa Luxemburg because she was “such an outstanding figure”, but there has never been a Luxemburg movement as such. She was, he avers, on the “margins of a lot of leftwing discussions in many parts of the world”. He goes on: “With Russia and China turning to the so-called ‘free’ market after the failures of the command economies, here’s Luxemburg writing that there [is] an alternative to reformist social democracy and authoritarian revolutionary socialism”.
The collection begins with several volumes of Luxemburg’s economic writings, then her political writings. Another volume will contain economic essays and manuscripts that haven’t been translated into English before. One, written in Polish originally, which will feature in volume 4, “summarises the lessons of the three Russian dumas”. Hudis says that the material translated from Polish - some thousands of pages - will shed new light on the argument that Luxemburg was a “democrat versus others as hierarchical authoritarians”.
The volumes are organised thematicatically. There is one section on her political writings, with various sub-themes, such as her writings on the revolutions in 1905 and 1917. Three volumes cover ‘On revolution’, with a fourth on the way. Following is ‘Debates on revolutionary strategy and organisation’, which include debates she had with Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Lenin and others. This will be four volumes with 600 pages each. And then there are her cultural writings.
The volumes will be coming out in paperback as well, and are out on the internet. They are a labour of love, with all those involved doing their work gratis. The interview itself makes for interesting reading and I expect the volumes will be exceptional in their scope and quality. See www.versobooks.com/books/1734-the-complete-works-of-rosa-luxemburg.
Lawrence Parker’s latest personalised attack on me is typified by the outrageous ageist and sexist remark at the end of his tirade (Letters, May 5). I am “a tired old man, terminally addicted to the dubious art of playing snooker with a rope”. Furthermore, whilst denying he is a third-campist of Stalinist origins, he then confirms that that he was just that “as a much younger CPGB member” - that is presumably before he joined the Workers’ International League in the mid-1990s. His criticism of third campism - presumably his target is the Socialist Workers Party - is conjunctional: the SWP constantly seems to veer into supporting the ‘first camp’ and the politics of the ‘lesser evil’; they are simply not third-campist enough. In fact, that describes all third campists: as Trotsky explained in his conflict with Max Shachtman in 1939-40, “from a scratch to the danger of gangrene”. And Lawrence’s Stalinophilia is certainly more developed than anyone else that I have encountered in the CPGB.
Whilst the CPGB often refers favourably to aspects of Trotsky’s politics they agree with, I have seen very little from Lawrence on this, apart from his latest letter. I was surprised to learn that he was a member of the WIL in the mid-1990s - I certainly never encountered him when I was a member.
I joined the WIL from Tony Gard’s Revolutionary Internationalist League, when I decided they had become adherents of identity politics in conformity with the US Revolutionary Workers League and its leader, Leyland Sanderson. Two instances confirmed this for me. First was their opportunist relationship with one Chris Brind - simply because he was an out gay man who was therefore a revolutionary, they concluded. After the RWL funded his trips to the USA, Brind broke with the group and became a rightwing Labour councillor, voting through all the cuts demanded of the council at that time.
Second was Alex Olowade, who was a similar revolutionary because he was an out gay black man - the two essentials for being a revolutionary, it was implied. The RWL had a perspective of an alliance between the ‘specially oppressed’ and the working class which strove for “the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Specially Oppressed”. After I resigned from the RIL there was a meeting to which he and Tony Gard came to defend me when I was sacked from Willesden bus garage. A fight broke out in the street between an Irish man and a black man for an unknown reason. A large crowd of West Indian onlookers spilled onto the street to watch, stopping all traffic. The Irish man was winning, and the black man pulled out a knife. “Cut him, cut him, cut him,” shouted Alex in great excitement. Fortunately, the watching West Indians were far more civilised. They immediately moved in and stopped the conflict they had been enjoying up to that point, thus potentially saving the Irishman’s life - and the black man from a life sentence. No police needed.
But I learned much from the RIL: “special oppression” as against class reductionism and the reaffirmation of the correct position of defeat of the British expeditionary fleet in the 1981 Malvinas war. The Workers Revolutionary Party’s Mike Banda had defeated Gerry Healy’s line of neutrality in the conflict on this (not everything the WRP said and did was wrong). I learned after the split in 1985 that most of the things we said about other groups were true, but also most of the things they said about us were also true. The RIL was part of the Trotskyist International Liaison Committee, that broke with both Sean Matgamna’s line of support for the fleet and Alan Thornett’s line of ‘a plague on both your houses’.
The WIL were far better and had a consistent line on special oppression, asserting that there were plenty of reactionary out gay men. They certainly did not have a position “as boringly Labourite as possible”, but developed a sophisticated line on the united front, on why work in the Labour Party was necessary when sufficient democracy prevailed. It is true that they collapsed into Labourism; I broke with them over that. They now publish (the original) Labour Briefing with others. They are simply a left reformist outfit with no revolutionary aspirations whatsoever.
As for the farcical sentence, “The WIL leadership weren’t horrible or spiteful people, but their attitude to Downing was akin to keeping a small child occupied in a hidden playpen with very soft toys”, as proof of what a pathetic idiot I am, I would respond to that with the old Gaelic saying, ‘Dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi’ (‘A woman told me that another woman told her’). I met a man yesterday who told me that Lawrence Parker was the biggest Stalinist scoundrel going: I might be lying and who could prove I was not telling the truth?
I will pit my history of struggle for revolutionary politics after the 1985 WRP split with Lawrence’s any time he wants.