Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ukraine: Should Progressives (Socialists) Support Russian Military Intervention?

Another day, another fascinating debate on Being A Socialist which has rapidly become my favorite FB hangout, a page I check in on regularly to test my own thoughts, feeling and knowledge against the larger socialist community. Nothing like a good old-fashioned sectarian slug-fest between Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists and Maoists to get the brain cells firing on all cylinders and the blood pumping at hyper speed. And yet the stakes could not be higher for Ukraine and for workers worldwide.

So yesterday one of the site's administrators posted a provocative thread:

Anyone who supports the idea that Russia invading Ukraine would be a good thing and would, "stop Fascism" has no idea what Fascism even is, nor how to fight it.

"I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!" -Leon Trotsky

You dont fight Fascism by tailing Imperialists, all you will have to show for that is, a new Fascist. You fight Fascism by making Socialist Revolution.
The poster (a site administrator named 'Ben') believes that only workers organized amongst and by themselves can move socialism and a socialist revolution forward.

A few words about context for my readers who have not been following developments in Ukraine closely. (A word to the wise: in my opinion, developments in Ukraine constitute a story you should be following closely, as though your very lives and futures depend upon it.)  Last weekend, the democratically elected Ukrainian government of President Yanukovych was overthrown by an uprising spearheaded by fascist militia and irregulars. Yanukovych subsequently fled to regions unknown (probably eastern Ukraine or Crimea), whence he issued a video denouncing what he termed a 'coup' as the product of 'bandits' and 'fascists.' Yanukovych headed a party called "The Party of Regions" and its parliamentary members also fled Ukraine's capital Kiev in complete and utter disarray.

Following the overthrow of Yanukovych and the flight of Party of Regions deputies, the remnants of Ukraine's parliament proceeded to rule by decree, naming leading Fatherland Party dignitary Turchinov acting president, releasing jailed Fatherland Party figure and former PM Tymoshenko from a prison hospital where, various groups alleged, she was being held as a political prisoner, and formally impeaching Yanukovych and issuing 'arrest warrants' for him and other high-ranking members of his administration.

As the weekend turned into the week, though, questions began to be raised about various figures behind the overthrow (which I'm going to call a 'Putsch,' given its unconstitutional nature), specifically the gun-toting and Molotov Cocktail-throwing forces that had battled with Ukraine's gendarmerie in the days and weeks before Yanukovych was deposed. During those battles, some 100 protesters were killed by police but the Ukrainian police were targets of armed assault by members of Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) and members of far-right party Svoboda. Reports began to emerge of attacks by members of these extreme right militia on Ukraine's 300,000 Jews, its independent trade unionists and, most importantly, its ethnic Russian minority population.

By the end of the work-week, most people on the Left had begun to concede that the Putsch was brought about by fascist (Sovboda) and neo-Nazi (Right Sector) forces, although the degree of popular support for the Putsch remained an item of hot contention.

Enough context. Ukraine for reasons of history dating back before the USSR's creation but extending into its post-Stalin days, consists of a Ukrainian-speaking segment in Western Ukraine and a predominantly Russian-speaking minority in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. The Putschists have on numerous occasions declared their enmity to Russia and to the Russian people. On numerous occasions they have loudly declared their enmity to Ukraine's Jewish population (currently some 300,000) and to the Jewish faith in general. Finally, they have declared their enmity to trade unions and trade unionists.

Russia is no longer a great force for socialist change or revolution. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia (and the larger Russian Federation) has reverted to a fairly primitive form of state capitalism epitomized on one hand by the creation of these immensely wealthy Russian oligarchs and on the other hand a citizenry that has faced enormous poverty and privation at the same time. Let's be clear. Russia is no workers' paradise. At the same time, however, Russia has faced catastrophic internal conflict (in Chechnya and other Muslim areas) and an increasingly aggressive EU and NATO who constantly seek to expand eastward, even into core provinces like Georgia and, now, Ukraine. Because behind this Putsch stood a gaggle of EU and US interests egging on the protesters, failing to denounce the fascists and even threatening Russia with grave consequences should it intervene.

So the issue as framed by Being a Socialist is that Russian military intervention in Ukraine would not defeat the fascist forces ascendant there but merely usher in another fascist ("a new Fascist").

I disagree.

Russia is capitalist and may, under Putin, even harbor some imperial ambitions. But Russia, under Putin, is not fascist by any stretch of the imagination. There is no one-party rule in Russia's Duma, there are no coordinated race- and gender-based attacks in Russian society (although homophobia has been and remains a pressing human rights issue). There is no coordinated attack upon Jews in Russia, no coordinated attack upon workers, upon the very idea of democracy.

But in the Ukrainian Putschists' ranks these ideas are dominant, starting with vile anti-semitism and virulent Russo-phobia. Certain figures among the Putschists have uttered vile attacks against Western liberal ideas AND against Soviet and Russian egalitarian ideas, asserting instead some idea of Ukrainian racial superiority as a counter to both. In short, the Putschists are fascist and even (in the case of Right Sector) neo-Nazi.

The Facebook post that got this ball rolling uses Trotsky's example of the UK intervention in Brazil a century earlier to assers that both sides (the EU\US Axis  and the Russian Federation) are equally bad and thus to rely on Russian military intervention to smash Ukraine's fascist spearhead will not produce any benefits and will merely replicate the existing order under new foreign leadership. Instead, this post argues, the focus should be on building a Socialist revolution from purely Ukrainian proletariat resources.

Leaving aside the relevant question of whether it is fair to equate Ukraine with Brazil and Russia with the 19th-century UK, this Trotskyist position ignores the fact that the crisis is happening now and that there currently exists no organized left in Ukraine around which a purely Ukrainian resistance could organize. It also leaves aside the fact that the Russian and Jewish minorities in Ukraine have legitimate fears, based on Ukraine's past and the behavior of some of its current actors and that no other external power is prepared to come to their assistance. In other words, Russia is all they've got.

No one except sadists and war fetishists ever thinks war is a 'good thing'. But sometimes one must reluctantly support war (or, in this case, Russian military intervention) against a greater evil, in this case the  resurgence of European fascism and the further eastward expansion of the NATO\US empire. Russia has very legitimate national security concerns rooted in its distant and not-so-distant past and has an obligation to defend those interests against a NATO\US proxy on its very doorstep. As I have argued elsewhere on this blog, the U.S. Civil War was a horrible, barbarous affair and yet logic and simple human decency require us to support the alliance between North and West against the South, even as we simultaneously acknowledge that war's barbarity and horror.

Already today, reports are surfacing that Russian troops (or Crimean militia in tune with the Russian military) have occupied two airports in the Crimea. Additional reports have surfaced that Russian forces from the naval base at the Crimean Black Sea port of Sevastopol are patrolling that city's streets. Boom! And so begins the distant and faint drumbeat of war, a percussive echo that harkens back 100 years to another clash of imperialist powers on the European land mass. If was is to come, let it be swift and its outcome - the smashing of Svoboda and Right Sector - certain. If war comes, let its victor (almost certainly the Russian Federation) show mercy to the non-fascist vanquished. And let us hope that workers use this war as an occasion to make further gains against the ravages of global capitalism-imperialism.

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