Vladimir Putin: star turn at Moscow ‘No to Nazism’ rally

Notes on the war

After two years of battlefield carnage there is stalemate. Jack Conrad calls for the left to break from social-pacifism and centrism

Some basic principles.

Communists have always condemned wars between countries as bloody, barbarous and brutal. Our attitude towards war is, however, fundamentally different from that of pacifists - not only the bourgeois variety, but also the socialist variety - who simply plead for peace.

We understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle - that war cannot be abolished unless socialism is established. We also differ from pacifists, in that we view civil wars - ie, wars waged by an oppressed class against an oppressor class, by slaves against slaveholders, by serfs against feudal lords and by workers against the bourgeoisie - as “fully legitimate, progressive and necessary”.1

Communists, therefore, consider it essential to study each war historically (from the standpoint of Marxism) and take into account all class forces and interests involved. There have been many wars - despite all the horrors involved - which were fully justified and rightly command our deepest respect and sympathy: eg, the Spartacus uprising in ancient Italy, England’s 1381 Peasant’s Revolt, the Hussite wars in Bohemia, Toussaint Louverture’s revolution in Haiti, etc.

With that in mind, more recently, we communists in Britain rightly considered the struggle conducted by the IRA in Ireland, the Mau Mau in Kenya and the National Liberation Front in South Yemen as ‘just wars’: we wanted the victory of the anti-colonial struggle and the defeat of the British empire. Of course, taking such a position does not necessitate uncritical support. Far from it.

In terms of historical materialism, the Dutch Revolt, Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth and certainly the 1688 Glorious Revolution marked the beginning of a new epoch: the rise and triumph of capitalism. From that time till the Paris Commune, one type of war could legitimately be called bourgeois-progressive: war to sweep away feudal remnants, war against foreign rule, war for national unity, war for capitalist development. That formed the main content and historical significance of wars such as those fought by the American Continental Congress, Jacobin and Napoleonic France, Simón Bolívar and Garibaldi’s Redshirts. Naturally, revolutionary democrats such as Tom Paine, Lord George Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelly and, of course, the emerging working class movement, sided with those fighting for Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité abroad … because at home that would rouse those below against aristocratic and bourgeois privilege.

Take 1861-65. Objectively the Yankee armies fought in the interests of industrial and banking capital - and, when the north finally overcame its constitutional squeamishness and got serious, there was state terrorism: eg, William Tecumseh Sherman’s ‘burn, loot and destroy’ march through Georgia. True, with the defeat of the Confederates and Appomattox the black population in the south was freed from plantation servitude, but what really mattered for the northern bourgeoisie, was that the US gained real independence from Britain and would soon expand into the territories of the plain’s Indians and emerge as a serious rival to Britain, when it came to industrial, financial and naval power.

Nonetheless, fully in that knowledge, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels did everything they could to ensure victory for the north. Under their guidance co-thinkers in the US actively helped get Abraham Lincoln elected in 1861 by skilfully mobilising the large German population; in London they rallied the First International to the northern cause and supported the Lancashire mill workers’ boycott of southern cotton; their old friend and Communist League comrade, Joseph Weydemeyer, served as a lieutenant colonel in the Union army, along with many other heroic red 48er veterans.

However, contrary to the widespread myth, perhaps first coined by the rightwing Menshevik, Alexander Potresov, the Marx-Engels team did not advocate a choice between lesser evils as their political method. What they advocated was not replacing the ‘reactionary’ British global hegemon with the ‘progressive’ American alternative. That would just be rearranging the international hierarchy of exploitation. The same goes today with the ‘reactionary’ American hegemon and the ‘progressive’ Chinese alternative. No, the overriding aim of the Marx-Engels team always lay in promoting democratic revolution, winning universal suffrage and furthering the interests of the working class.


Doubtless, there can be no possibility of establishing socialism prior to ending feudalism, slavery and national fragmentation. So, when writing about preferring victory for one particular country in the period of rising capitalism, Marx and Engels always had in mind creating the conditions needed for forming a working class - first in itself, then for itself.

That is certainly how they approached the first stage of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war. Though presided over by the reactionary-progressive Junker, Otto von Bismarck, it was for them a war of “self-defence” not so much on the part of Prussia, but of the newly united Germany. If the Prussians win, reasoned Marx, then the “centralisation of state power” in Germany would serve the “centralisation of the German working class”.2 Maybe, if the armies of Napoleon III had proved victorious at Sedan and thrown German unification into reverse, as Marx feared, that might have been the right assessment. But, in fact, it was Bismarck who cynically engineered the war and he went on to annex Alsace-Lorraine, extract huge indemnities and ready the German Reich to become the most aggressive, the most powerful imperialist state in Europe.

Nonetheless, whatever his initial misconceptions, Marx urged the First International to support the anti-war activities of its sections in France and Germany against their respective governments. That included explicitly endorsing August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht and their brave refusal to vote for war credits in the Reichstag.

As Vladimir Lenin and Gregory Zinoviev explain in their pamphlet Socialism and war, socialists are obliged to take advantage of wars between reactionary, oppressive powers to advance proletarian internationalism and, whenever possible, actively turn imperialist war into a “civil war against the governments and the bourgeoisie”.3 That is what the Bolsheviks in Russia, the Bulgarian Narrows and the internationalist left tried to do with the outbreak of World War I in August 1914.

In any conflict between the great powers there will be propaganda campaigns to gain the moral high ground, with this or that side claiming to protect the rights of small nations, promote democracy, respect international treaties and that they are fighting to punish aggressors. Such justifications were, and still are, used by the capitalist media to con, deceive and fire people up into chauvinist indignation. That said, every war must be understood in its specific concreteness. Even an inter-imperialist war can become a combined war. World War II began as a more or less straightforward rerun of World War I. But, with continental Europe languishing under Nazi chains, with the Wehrmacht at the gates of Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad and a swelling determination amongst the masses to resist conquest, slavery and extermination, inter-imperialist war combined with just wars of national defence, national survival and national liberation - see Ernest Mandel’s well-considered book The meaning of the Second World War (1986).

Note, we take it as axiomatic that imperialism corresponds to the highest stage of capitalism: ie, monopoly and the domination of finance capital, the carving up of the globe by a few great powers and, crucially, the export of capital. With the American century, the old colonial empires were dismantled and replaced by US hegemony over western Europe, Japan, the UK, etc. Imperialism took the form of the dollar, unequal alliances and a system of military bases: in a word, superimperialism. The Soviet Union and its bloc, plus China, was all that stood against total US domination. But, paradoxically, the existence of bureaucratic socialism in the east allowed a cold war system in the west, whereby the US could incorporate much of the labour movement through anti-communism. In return the US facilitated the social democratic settlement and agreed to substantial concessions to the working class.


“War is a mere continuation of policy by other [violent] means” - a celebrated dictum penned by Carl von Clausewitz.4 Marxists have quite rightly regarded this proposition - plus the understanding that foreign wars are the continuation of domestic policy - as providing the basis for assessing each and every war.

When it comes to the present conflict in Ukraine, we could go back to Kyivan Rus, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the expansion of tsarist Russia. But the best place to begin, for our purposes, is with the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe in 1989-91. From that point onwards the US state department was aggressively plotting and promoting its project for a new American century.

There was popular disenchantment with the dead end of bureaucratic socialism. There was also a burning desire from amongst a good section of the elite to go over to capitalism. They wanted to enjoy the legal security, the fabulous wealth and gilded life of the billionaire class in the west. State and party officials, plus the newly emergent mafia, grabbed whatever they could. Meanwhile, the masses were promised German living standards and Swedish levels of social security. What, in actual fact, they got was crashing living standards and grinding poverty. There was a counterrevolution within the counterrevolution. (The counterrevolution against the October 1917 revolution began with the first five-year plan and the birth of an unstable, freak, ectopic, social formation).

Under Boris Yeltsin, the Russian Federation faced the definite prospect of being reduced to a mere US neocolony. Shock therapy, as advised by Jeffrey Sachs and his Harvard boys, deindustrialised Russia and left it in thrall to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Hence, in desperation, the choice of Vladimir Putin - first as prime minister, then as Yeltsin’s replacement as president.

The present war in Ukraine owes little, if anything, to Putin’s mind, his megalomania, his 5’7” stature, etc. Psychobabble. No, we must understand Putin as the chosen representative of the KGB/FSB elite, which is set on restoring the great-power status of the post-Soviet Russian Federation. It is a state regime, in which the oligarchs occupy a subordinate, not a dominant, position (so it is no longer an oligarchy).

Economically, Russia is a decidedly second- or even third-rate power. Despite its near 150 million population, it ranks far behind Germany, France, the UK and Italy in GDP terms. But, primarily because of gas and oil production, Russia is able to maintain itself as a great military power. So a fossil-fuel, arms-industry complex, which because of “military Keynesianism”, financed by soaring oil and gas exports, managed to grow economically last year and is expected to grow economically this year too.5 That in the face of western sanctions.

What were Putin’s declared war aims? DeNazification of Ukraine is and was a nonsense. There are outright Nazis in Ukraine and plenty of fascists too, not least the Banderites incorporated into its armed forces: eg, the Azov Battalion. But they hardly dominate the commanding heights of the army, the bureaucracy or the economy. And there are, of course, not a few fascists, red-brown nationalists and occult nutters on Putin’s side too.6

Nor is the claim that Putin acted to save the Russian national minority in Ukraine from genocide in any way convincing. Yes, there was increased Ukrainian shelling along the line of control in the Donbas and discrimination against Russian speakers - even cases of savage persecution and murder. But talk of genocide in Ukraine has as much truth to it as talk of genocide against the Uyghur population in China.

Real aims

Then there is Putin’s stuff about Ukraine not being a ‘real’ nation. Perhaps the original Slavic root of the term, ‘Ukraine’, meant ‘borderlands’ - interesting, but nothing more. Marxists will investigate the Norman origins of the Kievan and Muscovite Rus states, the religious-ideological influence of the Byzantine empire, the impact of the Mongol invasion, the expansionism of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Brest-Litovsk treaty, etc. However, what really matters, is not Putin’s cod version of Russian history: rather what the mass of Ukrainians actually think today - and they surely think of themselves as fervently Ukrainian. That for us is what decides whether or not there is a Ukrainian nation - a historically constituted people, which occupies a common territory, speaks a common language and is united by a common economic life.

So what were and what are Putin’s real war aims?

We take seriously enough the goal of “decommunisation”, which, presumably, means rejecting the Bolshevik commitment to national self-determination and federalism that gave birth to the modern Ukraine. Instead of using salami tactics and slowly extending direct Russian power over the whole of Donetsk and Luhansk, establishing a Kharkiv people’s republic, etc, Putin ordered a full-scale military invasion on February 24 2022. Whether that was intended to capture Kyiv and put in place a puppet regime, achieve the unity of all the peoples of medieval Rus by taking the entire country, or forcing negotiations which would end with a much diminished, neutral Ukraine and a Greater Russia, is an open question.

As the old saying goes, all initial military plans are abandoned with the “the first encounter with the enemy’s main force” (Helmuth von Moltke7). So, whatever the original intentions, Putin now has his Greater Russia, but hardly a neutral Ukraine. Shorn of nearly a fifth of its territory, Ukraine is a heavily armed candidate member of an expanded Nato (with Finland and soon Sweden).

The final outcome will now be decided by who can most effectively sustain a people’s war, produce the most military hardware (crucially artillery shells, missiles and drones) and who can keep their regime intact, despite battlefield reversals and huge losses in men and equipment.

Did we get things wrong when it came to the ‘special military operation’? Yes, of course. But we have never claimed any unique insight into Kremlin thinking. And, quite rightly, along with countless others, we do not trust the US and UK governments. Truth is the first casualty - even before the outbreak of war. No-one should forget the lies told about Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in 2003 and how they would only take 45 minutes to reach Europe. How Muammar Gaddafi’s army was about to slaughter the entire half-million population of Benghazi in 2011. Etc, etc. It is certainly right to have a sceptical attitude to establishment propaganda (even if it is true).

Pentagon lies

No less to the point, why did we doubt the claims coming from the Pentagon of an imminent full-scale Russian invasion? Because militarily, while it was quite conceivable that the Russian army could successfully drive all the way to Kyiv, we doubted that Ukraine would easily be taken or held. Ukraine 2022 was no Czechoslovakia 1968 or even Hungary 1956. If an analogy is to be drawn, it would be with Afghanistan 1979. Even then the Soviet Union had the Afghan government, army and ruling party onside (well, that is after executing Hafizullah Amin and 97 other leading Khalq cadre). Hardly the case with Ukraine. Economically and socially it is much more advanced than Afghanistan, but the mass of the population - the 18% Russian minority aside - still seems resolved to resist the invading army.

Surely Putin’s generals will have told him what to have expected, and that explains why we thought - and still think - that a full-scale invasion risked creating a quagmire and potentially a regime crisis in Moscow. So why did Putin give the go-ahead? We shall now proceed to discuss that question by once again looking at Ukraine’s place in US grand strategy.

Grand strategy

Ever since the February 2014 Maidan coup successfully overthrew an elected president (the ‘neutral’ Viktor Yanukovych) and installed a pro-western regime, Ukraine has been firmly placed in the American orbit. Constitutionally Ukraine is now committed to Nato and the European Union. Through a membership action plan it is an associate member of Nato, is armed by Nato and, in effect, acts as a Nato proxy. But, quid pro quo, as a result of the Maidan coup there were widespread disturbances in the Russian-inhabited south and east of Ukraine, and the Kremlin swiftly moved to annex Crimea and back the Donetsk and Luhansk breakaways.

Levering Ukraine into the so-called ‘democratic’ western camp neatly fitted into a US grand strategy that can be dated back to Jimmy Carter and his 1977-81 administration. In place of the cold war policy of ‘containing communism’ there came the doctrine of ‘rollback’, mapped out by his national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Ideologically this went hand-in-hand with ‘human rights’ and spreading ‘democracy’. Not insignificantly, Brzezinski’s famous book, The great chessboard, envisaged a “loosely confederated Russia - composed of a European Russia, a Siberian Republic and a Far Eastern Republic”.8 In short, three pliant US neo-colonies.

What Carter began, Ronald Reagan completed. After the 1989-91 collapse, both Nato and the EU were pushed further and further to the east, all the way to the borders of Russia itself. Joe Biden’s flat rejection of Putin’s call for a Nato reset and the Finlandisation of Ukraine doubtless made up Putin’s mind about staging a full-scale invasion. So did warnings that any Russian military actions on Ukrainian territory would trigger crippling western sanctions - after all, Russia was already in occupation of Crimea and backed the Donetsk and Luhansk semi-states. In effect Putin was given an impossible choice. Either humiliatingly withdraw Russian forces from all of Ukraine or face sanctions. Boxed in, Putin went for broke.

However, in terms of grand strategy, February 24 played directly into US hands ... championing Ukraine should certainly be seen as a continuation of Carter’s rollback doctrine. Ukraine serves as the equivalent of ‘poor little Belgium’ or ‘plucky little Serbia’ in World War I. Not only can the warmongers, Biden, Harris, Blinken, Stoltenberg, Von der Leyen and Sunak, put themselves at the forefront of widespread moral outrage over Ukraine (part real, part manufactured). At a stroke, the US made Italy, France and crucially Germany dependent on oil and gas supplies, over which it, the US, exercises ultimate control. Any idea of a Franco-German united Europe vanished with February 24 and the subsequent sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 Baltic pipelines in September 2022 (perpetrated by whom is pretty obvious, but supposedly remains under ‘investigation’).

We cannot but take on board the fall of Bakhmut, the failure of Zelensky’s 2023 summer offensive, the 250,000 estimated Ukrainian casualties and now the withdrawal from Avdiivka. However, none of that alters the military stalemate. Far from standing on the cusp of victory, Russia still finds itself bogged down in a gruelling war of attrition. True, with Joe Biden’s failure to get his $60 billion package for Ukraine through Congress and the prospect of a second term for Donald Trump, things may radically change.

The newly appointed Ukrainian commander-in-chief, colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi, protests that, with US supplies blocked, Russia has a 10:1 advantage, when it comes to artillery shells. If that is the case, such a grossly unequal ratio really matters on the battlefield. Neither strategic nor tactical advance is possible without massive artillery bombardments. Even tactical defence is problematic without strong artillery support. That explains, says Syrskyi, the commander in Bakhmut, who was prepared to sacrifice countless men to hold this strategically unimportant town, why he ordered the evacuation of Avdiivka. Of course, all this might be part of an elaborate ruse designed to nudge the US Congress into agreeing Biden’s package.

It should also be added that, despite Trump’s boast of being able to arrive at a settlement in Ukraine within 48 hours, that might possibly not be the case. If he is elected in November, if he is not stopped by the avalanche of civil and criminal legal cases, or a Democrat-army-deep state coup, he could still decide to continue the proxy war in Ukraine as part of the drive to block America’s only full-spectrum challenger for world hegemony: ie, the People’s Republic of China. After all, with the ‘no limits’ alliance, Putin has effectively constituted Russia as China’s Austria-Hungry. Either way, the US project of rebooting its imperial hegemony remains one of the few bipartisan areas of agreement in Washington DC.

Britain’s left

Let us now turn to the main opportunist currents in Britain. They can usefully be classified under four broad headings.

Firstly, a very marginal, pro-Russian left. Improbably, they picture Putin’s regime as anti-imperialist. Perhaps the most prominent example of this version of the anti-imperialism of fools is George Galloway and his Workers Party of Britain - now amicably divorced from the Brarite CPGB (Marxist-Leninist). Others in that camp include the New Communist Party and, presumably, the equally near moribund Socialist Labour Party (still formally led by that sad ghost from the past, Arthur Scargill). There are various micro-group Trotskyite imitators of this bonkers line, including groups of one, but they need not concern us any further here.

Secondly, we have the out-and-out social-imperialists. By that designation we refer not to Sir Keir and his front-bench team, nor the massed ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party. There is nothing ‘social’, nothing ‘socialist’, about them or their politics. They are Blue Labour Brit nats and openly pro-imperialist, pro-capitalist and pro-market. Indeed Keir Starmer and David Lammy have been doing their utmost to be just as bellicose as Rishi Sunak and David Cameron over Ukraine (ie, both front benches echo the Biden administration).

No, we refer to those who hide their pro-imperialism behind socialist phrases and excuses and even references to Marxism. Hence Chris Ford’s Ukraine Solidarity Campaign (USC) with its “murky” origins in CIA cold war ops in eastern Europe.9 Under its blue and yellow umbrella we find, predictably, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty: an organisation that has long acted as a Trotskyoid sub-department for the Foreign Office. Other affiliates include endangered species such as Anticapitalist Resistance and, digging down further into the muck and grime, we discover archaeological remains like the National Union of Mineworkers (2023 membership = 82), Chartist magazine (last print issue: October 2023) and the Labour Representation Committee (no activity on its website since July 2023). For what it is worth, the USC will be marching - shuffling might be a better description - this Saturday, February 24, going from London’s Marble Arch to Trafalgar Square. There the league of lost hope will hold a vigil in the name of standing with Ukraine and upholding the so-called principle of territorial integrity.

Under the cover of defending ‘brave little Ukraine’, they have, in fact, gone over to the bourgeois establishment. Logically that leads to calls for a “stronger, not a weaker, Nato” (Eric Lee in the AWL’s Solidarity).10 Such social-imperialists correspondingly demand real sanctions on Russia, increased arms spending and extending Nato. That should mean any honest socialist - even opponents of wage cuts and austerity - not touching the USC with the proverbial barge-pole … and, of course, that is exactly what has happened.

Thirdly, there are the much more influential social-pacifists, branded as “fifth columnists” and “Putin apologists” by the Labour front bench. Stop the War Coalition, Counterfire, the Morning Star, the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, Momentum, etc champion diplomacy, the Minsk accords, international law and the notion that there can be peace while capitalism survives. Plaintive calls for a Nato reset combine with plaintive calls for Ukrainian self-determination and territorial integrity.

The cowardice of the 11 ‘left’ Labour MPs should never be forgotten. Diane Abbott, John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery, Beth Winter, Zarah Sultana, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Apsana Begum, Mick Whitley, Tahir Ali and Ian Mearns all signed up to StWC’s ‘Self-determination for the Ukrainian people’ plus respect for Russia’s ‘legitimate security concerns’ statement.11 But they immediately withdrew their names after nothing more than being threatened by Sir Keir with the loss of the Labour whip.

They put unity with the pro-imperialist right and their silly little careers above the principles they claim to hold dear. Instead of defying Sir Keir, organising a long overdue fightback in Labour’s ranks and pledging to stand in the next general election as unofficial Labour candidates, they pathetically collapsed. Proving it, many of them eagerly rushed to condemn Putin’s invasion and display their state loyalty in the House of Commons ... not that this saved Diane Abbott or Kate Osamor. So, whereas August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht defiantly opposed the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and were willing to serve two years of Festungshaft (‘imprisonment in a fortress’), we had a classic display of opportunist spinelessness. Condemning Sir Keir because of his servile tailing of US foreign policy is right, but really misses the point. He wants Labour accepted as a trustworthy alternative government by the US state department. It is the cowardly 11 who really deserve our contempt.

John McDonnell needs special mention here. Contradictorily he has a foot in both the USC and StWC. Apart from political incoherence, the explanation probably lies in his skewed identification with Irish reunification. Chris Ford too, but with the addition of Scottish separatism. Yet, though they see Ukraine through the distorting lens of petty nationalism, they both end up doing the work of Nato and the US global hegemon. Horrible.

Fourthly, there is what we might call the more principled left. We shall just mention the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the Socialist Workers Party here (though there are more than a few others). More principled, because they, SPEW and the SWP, do link the question of peace with the struggle for socialism. But ‘more principled’ does not mean consistently principled. For example, SPEW calls for a pre-1989-91 Nato reset but, strangely, not the abolition of Nato itself. Then there is the SWP. Its leader, Alex Callinicos, rightly points a critical finger at the cowardly Labour 11 MPs, attacks Nato expansionism and candidly admits that the left is pitifully weak and is in no position to do much in the way of meaningful action. Good.

Naturally, comrade Callinicos explains the Ukraine conflict as being down to imperialism. However, by this he means nothing more than the “rivalry of states”. If that was the case, then we have had imperialism since the rise of cities such as Sumer, Kish, Uruk, Ur and Larsa in the 4th millennium BCE. True, there was imperial Rome, imperial China, etc, but in the 20th century Marxists, as noted above, give the term ‘imperialism’ a much narrower, specific, definition.

The problem for comrade Callinicos arises, of course, from the insistence that, with the first five-year plan, the Soviet Union saw the birth of what the SWP’s founder-leader, Tony Cliff, called ‘bureaucratic state capitalism’. Not that capitalism operated within the borders of the Soviet Union, but rivalry with outside powers imposed the compulsion to accumulate capital for the sake of accumulation and to behave in an imperialist manner abroad. According to Cliff, external, not internal, contradictions provided the system’s laws of motion.

Hobbled by this rotten theory, the SWP could not admit that something fundamental happened in 1991. History did nothing more than “move sideways” (Chris Harman).12 The Soviet Union was imperialist, so Putin’s Russian Federation must be too - despite the fact that, characteristically, what its oligarchs exported was not capital - ie, self-expanding value - but money, which is used to purchase luxuries: properties in Manhattan’s Upper East Side or London’s Mayfair, Hampstead and Highgate … that and rare art works, superyachts and football clubs.

But the real giveaway, when it comes to comrade Callinicos, is his centrism, his conciliationism with the social-pacifists and social-imperialists. The SWP does everything it can to get the good and the great in the official labour movement to share its platforms. Not with a view to honest, no-holds barred debate - that would be a welcome change. On the contrary, the SWP is committed to operating through what it calls ‘united fronts’. Once it was the Anti-Nazi League, Stop the War Coalition and Respect; now it is Stand Up to Racism, which in its own words is committed to the “fight for unity over division” and marking UN Anti-Racism Day on March 16 alongside the TUC and a list of approved luminaries. They will, of course, be allowed to parade their opposition to racism, the far right and the Tory government from the stage and go unchallenged, when it comes to peddling illusions in the UN and international law, failure to oppose the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt, their commitment to the UK constitution and support for Nato’s proxy war in Ukraine.


We all know that the Bolsheviks distinguished themselves not merely by condemning the inter-imperialist war that broke out in August 1914. They went much further than platonically calling for ‘peace’ (Keir Hardie) or even ‘neither victory nor defeat’ (Trotsky). No, they stood by the Second International’s call to turn imperialist war into a struggle for socialism: towards that end they adopted a defeatist position. The defeat of one’s ‘own’ side “must facilitate its overthrow”.13

A thoroughly realistic strategy. The advanced section of the working class in Europe was deeply imbued with Marxist ideas and there were historically established mass parties. True, most of the MPs, trade union officials and tops of the apparatus had gone from opportunism to full-blown social-imperialism. But, once the reality of the war dawned, the principled left wing would go from being a minority to a majority and could take full advantage of the turmoil caused by the war. Revolution was a real prospect.

We cannot hold out such a perspective. Today, across the whole of the planet, there is not a single workers’ party worthy of that name. There are plenty of little groups that call themselves parties, but no actual party. We in the CPGB are proud to have the name of a party, but there “exists no real Communist Party” (Weekly Worker ‘What we fight for’). By “Communist Party” we mean, part - a mass part, the advanced part - of the working class.

So, when it comes to the Ukraine war and the danger of it spilling out into a wider European and global conflict, we can only adopt a moral stance for the moment. We are still more in the position of August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht in 1870 than Vladimir Lenin and Gregory Zinoviev in 1914. Nonetheless, it is vital that we maintain our stand and that is exactly what we shall do.

  1. VI Lenin CW Vol 21, Moscow 1977, p300.↩︎

  2. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 44, New York 1989, p3.↩︎

  3. VI Lenin CW Vol 21, Moscow 1977, p316.↩︎

  4. A Rapoport (ed) Clausewitz on war Harmondsworth 1976, p119.↩︎

  5. Financial Times February 2 2024.↩︎

  6. E Griffiths Aleksandr Prokhanov and post-Soviet esotericism Oxford 2023.↩︎

  7. quoteinvestigator.com/2021/05/04/no-plan.↩︎

  8. Z Brzezinski The grand chessboard: American primacy and its geostrategic imperatives New York 1997, p202.↩︎

  9. P Houston’, A toxic operation’ Weekly Worker March 24 2022 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1388/a-toxic-operation).↩︎

  10. Solidarity February 16 2022.↩︎

  11. www.stopwar.org.uk/article/list-of-signatories-stop-the-war-statement-on-the-crisis-over-ukraine.↩︎

  12. C Harman, ‘The storm breaks’ International Socialism spring 1990.↩︎

  13. VI Lenin CW Vol 21, Moscow 1977, p312.↩︎