First our own rulers

Far from running out of troops and material and facing defeat, Russian forces continue to relentlessly advance. But, Alexander Gallus of the US journal Cosmonaut argues, for us the main enemy remains at home

Daily headlines over the past months have assured western audiences that Ukraine is constantly on the verge of a victorious counterattack, that Russia is facing a depletion of ammunition and that the Ukrainians “will drive out the Russians from their territory”. While events over the past month have somewhat dampened such widespread optimistic attitudes, the war aims of killing and defeating Russians on the battlefield continue to be almost unanimously shared and declared by American and European governments. From the outset, it is important to highlight here that Russia is, in reality, not losing the war in Ukraine, despite what we constantly hear in the media.

Ukrainian independent frontline reporters, as well as US and Canadian mercenaries who have fought Russia alongside the Ukrainian armed forces in the Donbas, testify to the asymmetric balance of forces and the change in Russia’s initial tactics. According to their accounts, Russian ground forces have turned to using much more caution with infantry advances and how they utilise their technical military superiority. At the start of the invasion, the Russian standard approach - using heavy artillery before sending in infantry - was abandoned for mechanised infantry runs deep into Ukrainian territory without combined arms cover. This surprising approach appeared to most analysts to hinge on false Russian intelligence, leading them to believe that most Ukrainians would welcome them. In reality, of course, Russian platoons were met by tactically superior Ukrainian soldiers who had been trained up to Nato integrational standards for eight years, or were often stranded dozens of miles inside enemy territory without gas, having to destroy their equipment if possible and flee.

The human cost of the conflict is quite stark. Almost 10 million Ukrainians have sought refuge outside the country, while thousands of civilians and tens of thousands of soldiers have been killed. Yet, it is clear at this point that the conflict threatens to become much larger if global tensions continue to escalate, and if the US/Nato do not show a willingness to negotiate on Russian demands forwarded on December 17 last year, or to instruct the nationalist proxy regime in Kiev to negotiate soon and accept territorial losses. As The Guardian and a number of other western newspapers such as the New York Times report or infer, the Ukrainian armed forces are suffering up to 20,000 casualties a month. Russian, Donetsk and Luhansk casualty estimates are speculated on wildly, with casualties reported using absurdly high figures. Even in light of the Ukrainian government now being armed with heavy weaponry from the US, Germany and other Nato countries, these deliveries are in reality only aiming to create parity between the Russian and Ukrainian militaries and to counteract the massive, disproportionate losses of the Ukrainian army in the Donbas. Amidst many indications that Nato is delivering key battlefield information to Ukrainian troops using advanced technologies,1 the German member of parliament, Ali Al-Dailami of Die Linke, questioned whether German submarines were used in the sinking of the Russian navy ship Moskva.

Despite varying analyses, the capacities of the Russian military do not yet show any real signs of depletion unlike those of the Ukrainians. According to an American military advisor writing for the Modern War Institute at West Point, the Ukrainian casualty rate is so high that part-time and local territorial defence forces from around the country are being sent to the front, into sieged defensive lines that are strategically indefensible, to much protest from their relatives. He further says:

Even in units that fall within the Ukrainian special operations command, most soldiers are sent to the front line with very little training. In one such unit, we estimated that just 20% had even fired a weapon before heading to combat [!]2

With the Russian army seemingly having overcome much of its initial logistical failures and importing a estimated 3,000 tons of ammunition daily, according to Die Welt Moscow correspondent Christopher Wanner, it shows no signs of slowing down: the Duma recently passed two war economy bills, obliging businesses to supply the military with goods and services, and workers to work overtime.

Russian missile attacks targeting the entirety of Ukraine have not let up either - quite the opposite - while Russian air force sorties number 200-300 a day, compared to 20-30 for the Ukrainians. A similar 10-to-1 ratio is to be found in the devastating frontline use of artillery, with at best 6,000 Ukrainian artillery rounds fired daily, as against 60,000 by the Russians. More importantly, it is also not prudent to believe that the Russian government is currently not politically capable of implementing its stated goal of increasing military production. Of course, this could change, but the Russian army seriously threatens to continue and expand beyond the current main battle areas to the rest of Ukraine if negotiations are not pursued, which still seems unlikely.

While it appears very true that corruption and consequent logistical issues trouble the Russian army, especially visible with the many successful Ukrainian attacks at the beginning of the invasion, the Russian army’s recent success last month in the quick battles for Severodonetsk and Lisichansk - the latter of which fell in less than a week, despite the geographical obstacles and many years of Ukrainian defensive preparations - nevertheless emphasise the conventional military capabilities of the Russian army.

It is further important to realise at this point that politically the Russian ‘special military operation’ is not yet widely unpopular nor a matter of great controversy internally, with the Atlantic Council reporting that “more than three-quarters of Russians still support Putin’s Ukraine war” and that a quick end to the war will not come about through expedient regime change or revolution.3 Thousands of civilians of Lisichansk in Luhansk, for instance, have reportedly been resisting the Ukrainian armed forces’ attempts to evacuate residents before the Russian army’s entrance to the city. These sorts of telling incidents and pro-Russian sentiments are much more widespread in the Donbas than our western oligarchs would have us believe, yet clearly not as uniform as the Russian mass media report either.

In the midst of all this, the official Communist Party of the Russian Federation’s youth wing has seen resignations and expulsions of youth members protesting the war in light of the continued ban on factions,4 and the party continues to support the government’s war aims, along with all other major parties, and building a sizable Marxist media opposition proves to be as difficult to build in Russia as here.

US and Nato

The 1990s triumphalism of globalising capitalism, with its promise of free trade, prosperity and liberal democracy for all, is quite dead - put to sleep by what are the allegedly uniquely aggressive actions of a handful of evil dictators. “They hate our freedom”, as George W Bush quaintly put it, when he was asked why the United States became a target of terrorists on 9/11 - this has seemingly become the undergirding intellectual rationale which supposedly explains our world today. Yet the underlying reality of the great powers conflict tearing up Ukraine and prematurely extinguishing the lives of tens of thousands is quite different from this simplistic and arrogant narrative being spoon-fed to millions through the mass media. Despite the one-sided outrage broadcast daily on the American and European media about the conflict in Ukraine, the driving concern of the imperialist governments is not - surprise - human suffering, but a continuation of the war towards certain ends.

These ends are perhaps not as clear today as with colonial conquest in the past. For instance, there is a lot of evidence that the US and UK war aim in Iraq was not simply the immediate seizure of oil, although personal enrichment and corruption certainly occurred. The aims were more to prevent Iraq from artificially increasing the global cost of oil by keeping export production low, to end the protectionist, nationalised character of Iraq’s oil industry (a practice which secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld called “Stalinist”), to fully integrate Iraq into the profitable global market and to geopolitically plant the flag of “liberal democracy” in the Middle East. Efforts to turn Ukraine into a “restructured” market befitting US and European capital have been underway for decades - with little success until recently, of course, due to its economic, political and - yes - cultural integration with the Russian Federation. At the heart of the United States’ special interest in and treatment of Ukraine, and its outrageous, multi-billion-dollar military support in the current conflict, is this entity.

What the US calls a strategic “near-peer” military and geopolitical rival - the Russian Federation and its bourgeoisie - does not, like dozens of other targeted nations, follow the esteemed “international rules-based order” as dictated by the US, and incidentally possesses untold amounts of natural resources as the largest country in the world. Tellingly, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said a few months ago: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things it has done in invading Ukraine.”5 And the billions of dollars in weapons being sent to Ukraine, handily indebting the people of Ukraine to the International Monetary Fund, are precisely intended to “defeat Russia on the battlefield”. They are merely a continuation of longstanding US foreign policy goals to economically and militarily render Russia incapable of competing with it economically or militarily. The aim of in fact breaking up Russia precedes the 2008 Bucharest Nato summit by decades - and is even positively and openly advocated by sections of the radical left in Germany, of all countries.

During the Madrid summit on June 27, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg declared that the alliance will increase its ‘response force’ from its current 40,000 to the lofty goal of 300,000 soldiers by 2023. At that same summit, Turkey struck a political agreement with Sweden and Finland for the extradition of “terrorists” it seeks to politically persecute, thereby improving the catastrophic possibility of those countries’ membership of Nato’s military alliance. This potential future reality would indeed be catastrophic, as the Kremlin has promised repeatedly that the installation of Nato military equipment and missile systems in Finland, on Russia’s border, would be targeted by its military. Any offensive action against a Nato member automatically activates the article 5 ‘protection’ guaranteed by the alliance, requiring other alliance members to get involved in the conflict. Practically speaking, if an enlarged Nato-Russian Baltic war breaks out, the Russian military would be hugely outnumbered by Nato’s navy and air force in the region - virtually guaranteeing the use of nuclear weapons in light of the fact that the Kremlin (as well as almost the entire Russian political spectrum, according to Joe Biden’s CIA director, William J Burns) views Nato as an existential threat to the Russian state.

A few days prior to the Madrid summit, the incoming British army chief, general Patrick Sanders, gained much attention with a rousing speech, broadcast by Sky News, announcing ‘Operation Mobilize’ - the plan that is supposed to “prepare [British soldiers] to fight in Europe once again” and free the American allies to “defend our values in the Pacific”. The subsequent Madrid summit confirmed these points officially by stating that it regards Russia as a “direct threat”, which Nato has been preparing to confront since at least 2014, and that it sees China as a “systematic competitor”.

With regard to Nato’s efforts in supporting the Zelensky government of Ukraine, Sanders reaffirmed that 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be trained up to Nato operational standards annually - a reality that has been going on for over eight years, with the explicit aim of attacking and retaking the Donbas and Black Sea haven of Crimea. Incidentally, a German parliamentary investigative committee deemed that this activity, along with corresponding weapons supplies, could be categorised as participation in war under international law. Consequently, the investigative committee indicates that training sites of the German army, as well as the Nato intelligence headquarters (very likely supplying vital field information to Ukrainian fighters), could be potential ‘legitimate’ military targets. It may be of some comfort to the reader then that adherence to international law is more or less a thing of the past … before the secessionary precedent of Kosovo, before the ‘pre-emptive’ US-Iraq war, and Russia’s utilisation of the two in its justification of the ‘special military operation’ against Ukraine.

So where are things heading? According to the Institute for the Study of War,

… when the Russian military command has determined that it has adequately prepared for a renewed major offensive operation, it will likely resume larger-scale ground offensives with more troops and a greater determination than it is currently showing.6

Leaving aside the ever more bloody war in Ukraine, the confused mass hysteria of the Russophobic sanctions regime of the west has initiated a precarious global economic and political dynamic, which has increased the stakes. German consumers are having to brace for a doubling of energy costs, at best, by the end of this year in comparison to last, and a quintupling at worst. Luckily for the Germans - dutifully sending tanks into Ukraine once again, alongside their allies - millions of tons of wheat a month are now being transported by rail into Germany at around half the world market price, since the war has shut down most Ukrainian Black Sea ports.

Left’s role

Besides bringing to the foreground the underlying, steadily deteriorating international relations over the past two decades, the war in Ukraine has exposed important, fundamentally different conceptions on the left about what the role of communists and the revolutionary proletariat should be.

While a thorough treatment of this topic is beyond the scope of this article, it is clear that irreconcilable national and cultural differences have continued to decline with each decade, and workers undoubtedly have no interest in deifying the destructive ideology of nationalism of any sort. National or continental political structures, however, continue to confine and distinctly shape possible proletarian political strategies. According to Marx and Engels,

Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.7

This formulation laid out in the Communist manifesto clearly informed later approaches by Marxists in various ways. For August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, it was clear that we do not fall in line with our own bourgeoisie’s fratricidal war aims, but instead wage class war by agitating courageously against the war plans of our own nation’s government. In his Berne programme, Lenin wrote an interesting formulation regarding his own nation: “Defeat of [tsarist] Russia is the lesser evil”,8 yet this slogan “should not be used as a justification by German social patriots”.9 The idea that German defencism against tsarist Russia, the “bulwark of reaction”, was justified goes back to Marx. It was often cited, outside of its original historical context, after the outbreak of World War I by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) as a rightist justification for its conformity to the kaiser’s Burgfrieden. Despite Germany’s protracted, aggressive role in the culmination of the war - for instance, its navy armament programme of 1906 that led British Marxists like Hyndman to jump ship and support British rearmament, much to the condemnation of the Second International - Lenin considered a defeat of his own government, yet not the victory of Germany, to be the “lesser evil” in the war.

For the classical Marxists, before the rise of the Second International, the question of where to stand in a war was always one of great contention. It was usually one of evaluating which side would be more progressive and allot the most freedom and opportunities for socialists to pursue the building of the workers’ movement and party. It seems apparent that, while Russia today is an openly “authoritarian state”, which clamps down on opposition quite ruthlessly, and indeed is increasingly censoring and shutting down critical mass media, it is not uniquely censorious, when compared to the thoroughly ‘managed’ Anglo-European mass media or deletion of dissident accounts on social media - not to speak of the drastic actions taken against virtually all political opposition in Ukraine. The necessary modern calculus of seeing the very real apocalyptic threat of nuclear weapons today further complicates the classical approach of viewing a great-power war as a possible means to advancing the conditions for successful proletarian politics. This necessary caution against and fear of a war between nuclear powers is one which is heeded to a certain degree on the US left.

The Democratic Socialists of America’s international committee issued a controversial initial statement on the war at its outset, denouncing both Russia and Nato for its steady eastward expansion. While it is apparent that some thousands of members left the DSA in outrage at this statement, the unyielding imperialist agenda of our global hegemonic ruling class is implicitly understood by most of the socialist American left. A discussion among DSA members and the left on Twitter - unfortunately often relegated to that medium, since the DSA has not yet chosen to fund a party press to discuss politics - pondered the possibility whether or not we found ourselves in a new cold war late last year. While difficult to definitively gauge, a significant number of individuals seemed to affirm that US imperialism has agitated a precarious global diplomatic, economic and military situation, with mainly the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on one side and Nato, Australia and Japan on the other. The current state of things is naturally not straightforwardly a replication of the 20th century cold war. Nonetheless, there are many developments which verify the growing arms race, largely initiated by the United States, and which should worry us about the developing possibility of another world war.

Even more important is to realise that the international situation does not look “reversible” to any prior status quo any time soon. Whereas it is common knowledge and somewhat controversial that the United States has steadily armed and trained Ukrainian armed forces over the last eight years, and has a long history of funding nationalist insurgencies in that country, the billions of dollars in arms sent to Taiwan is given less coverage and is of arguably more long-term significance. In tandem with the Russian modernisation of its army in 2021, intending to supply its infantry with equipment capable of competing with that of Nato standard forces, the Chinese government equally adopted a new service rifle capable of mounting electronic optics and 1.5 million body armour pieces. As has been covered in the Weekly Worker, attempts to stymie the proliferation of drone and artificial intelligence technology on the battlefield have repeatedly failed and we have seen a massive increase in the production and deployment of not just these new weapons of death, but all manner of previously banned missile technologies.

While historical parallels between World War I and today are hard to draw, there are some very striking and worrying dynamics. In discussing the conduct of Germany in the lead-up to 1914, Kautsky states that tsarist Russia instigated a series of peace conferences in 1899 and 1907 in Den Haag that intended to set a general arming limit for European states. Needless to say, nothing came of these attempts to set limits to the arms race and, once the war began, the goal was “not to bring the enemy to concessions, but to make him forever harmless”.10 Engels warned shortly before his death of the destructive danger of a new war in Europe, while pointing to the possibility of the revolutionary mass party of the SPD taking power in such an event. In the context of today, what effective independent activity towards the end of supplanting our own undemocratic and militarist regimes looks like is quite difficult for many to imagine, not least because we do not have mass parties nor an international.

Despite diminishing national cultural differences, our unique linguistic, institutional and political differences remain extant. Unless one lives inside the borders of the European Union or is a citizen of one of its member-states, one is restricted from electing public representatives. Similar laws apply in the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. Naturally, this is not an argument for not criticising regimes other than our own or struggling to develop international relationships (a necessity): it is simply a statement of fact that, in view of the real state of the world today, without mass parties and an international, whatever criticism we levy is relatively politically impotent to agitate for change in regimes, nations and tongues other than our own.

While the old saying that the ‘first casualty of war is the truth’ is often repeated these days, it does not suffice to even scratch the surface of the mountain of propaganda that we are subjected to with regards to the war in Ukraine. To thoroughly expose all the unproven allegations, empty assertions and hypocrisy of the long-running US campaign to essentially influence the world public of the need for regime change in Russia is a Sisyphean, but arguably necessary, task. Despite the outrage such a statement will perhaps provoke in some readers who empathise with the disastrous plight of the Ukrainian people, we must acknowledge that the strategic separation of Ukraine from Russia has been an “undergirding” American foreign policy goal and has been publicly declared as such over decades by the foremost foreign policy experts and institutions, as has been cited in my February 25 2022 article for Cosmonaut.11

The logic of the aggressive arguments of the United States and its allies that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine, that Putin and his cronies must face a war crimes tribunal, and that the Russian people must be subject to crippling sanctions until they overthrow the government is one which is not conducive to concluding this growing conflict with a negotiated peace. Further, the sanctions, regime-change approach has in fact not worked anywhere and achieves the opposite intended effect: namely in the besieged populations rallying behind their leaders.

The aforementioned Basel Manifesto of 1912 that Lenin quoted is treated at length by Kautsky who cites its conclusion as follows:

The [International’s] Congress deems the artificially cultivated enmity between Great Britain and the German empire as the largest danger for peace in Europe ... It therefore views the pursuit of an agreement for the cessation of the navy armament and sea booty rights as the best means to overcome this enmity. The Congress demands of the socialists of England and Germany to continue their agitation for such an agreement.12

If we genuinely aim to end the senseless human suffering that only threatens to grow larger with each month, socialists must see it as their prime duty to lead the democratic and political struggle against the fratricidal war aims of their own government. The longer the war rages on and the more weapons are produced to fuel the international standoff amongst the world’s leading powers, the more fraught the conditions for socialists to freely criticise their governments and attempt to develop an independent proletarian politics will become.

If we want to see a socialist world free of senseless, fratricidal war, we must begin by not being afraid of standing united in resisting attempts to paint us as ‘standing with the enemy’. We must not let the right seize initiative from the almost inevitable mass discontent following further economic repercussions from the international sanctions regime, but fight to be the strongest voice in opposition to our own doomed regimes.

  1. scheerpost.com/2022/06/27/cia-european-commandos-operating-on-the-ground-in-ukraine-nyt.↩︎

  2. mwi.usma.edu/time-is-not-on-kyivs-side-training-weapons-and-attrition-in-ukraine.↩︎

  3. www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/more-than-three-quarters-of-russians-still-support-putins-ukraine-war.↩︎

  4. meduza.io/en/feature/2022/06/10/defending-the-donbas-is-one-thing-bombing-kyiv-is-another.↩︎

  5. www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/25/russia-weakened-lloyd-austin-ukraine-visit.↩︎

  6. www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-updates.↩︎

  7. www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm.↩︎

  8. www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/ch15.htm.↩︎

  9. weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1385/neither-1914-nor-1940.↩︎

  10. K Kautsky Sozialisten und Krieg Berlin 1937, pp400-01.↩︎

  11. cosmonautmag.com/2022/02/the-russian-threat-to-freedom-and-democracy.↩︎

  12. K Kautsky Sozialisten und Krieg Berlin 1937, p364.↩︎