The following text was written as a contribution to an AngryWorkers internal discussion meeting on Ukraine in early February. During the discussion it became clear that the majority of us opposes the UK government in their effort of militarisation and war support while emphasising the need for a global class struggle against this system in crisis, including direct support of workers in the war region who keep on fighting for their class interest.
I will try to contrast the controversies that emerged amongst us during the initial phase of the dispute with some chronological and empirical material of the last 100 days of war. Due to lack of time this will not be a neat engagement. Besides, I don’t think that such an empirical confrontation alone is sufficient. In order to understand the political atmosphere that spans from parts of the far-left to forces like the German Green Party in government, an atmosphere which creates the ground for an acceptance of the war as a ‘just cause’ and the willingness to supply further weapons, we have to dig deeper into fundamental questions such as what is structure, what is a subject, what is freedom and what is solidarity. Or in other terms, what is the process from worker to class. There are a few more general thoughts at the end of this text.
Before looking in detail at recent developments I want to recall positions that were taken by some comrades during the initial phase of the war, positions which we have not revisited collectively since then:
- From a tactical point of view, taking up arms against Russian tanks that roll towards the capital is necessary and the most efficient way for immediate self-defence of lives and homes
- There is scope for an independent military resistance by workers either within the national army or outside of it
- There is a chance that the Ukrainian state gets weakened during the course of the war and the independent resistance becomes the politically dominant force
- If the left does not take part in the national defence they are politically discredited
- It is important for the wider class movement to demonstrate that ‘bullies’ like Russia don’t get away with it (Syria etc.)
- Western arms supply will shorten the war and thereby save lives – therefore we should support the demand for weapons and oppose weapon blockades
- The issue of Nato expansion and US-sphere of influence is secondary to Russia’s inner expansionist or imperialist dynamic
- In the long-term the sacrifice of the war will create better conditions for class struggle, in terms of a working class under a western-type democratic state with access to a modern labour market
The following political chronology focuses on the period from June 2022 to the second week of February 2023. Unless otherwise stated I used the daily summaries of The Guardian as the main source and I ordered the material using these broad categories:
1) Possible risks of geographical expansion of the war
2) Industrial escalation of the war
4) Foreign military aid
5) Military recruitment
6) Refugees and borders
7) War economies
8) The development of the frontline
9) Peace talks / UK position
1) Possible geographical expansion of war
At the beginning of the war people warned of a possible geographical or military-nuclear escalation of the conflict. On a geographical level, the war remained largely contained within the territory of Ukraine, although there were various incidents of potential spillover or at least diplomatic escalation. Current combat is taking place in a country that borders four NATO member states on land and shares the Black Sea littoral with two others. The expansion of NATO territory with the likelihood of Finland, Sweden and Ukraine joining, and the likely decision to increase the military budget of NATO states above 2% of GDP will further aggravate the situation of ‘block-confrontation’. With the increasing militarisation of Poland and the country’s role as the main supply route and workbench of the war there is a real risk of a Russian attack on military targets in the border land and a subsequent mobilisation of Polish troops into Ukraine.
In June 2022 the Russian access to Kaliningrad via Lithuania became a point of tension. During the same time Biden said that the US would, for the first time, station forces permanently on NATO’s eastern flank, by deploying an Army garrison headquarters and a field support battalion in Poland.
In September 2022 the Nord Stream I and II gas pipelines were sabotaged by explosives near Denmark. A planned international investigation by Sweden, Denmark and Germany, from which representatives from Moscow and Gazprom were excluded, never happened. In February 2023 new reports with detailed evidence appeared claiming that the attack on the pipeline was in fact a US operation.
In October 2022 the Belarusian defence ministry said around 9,000 Russian troops will be stationed in Belarus as part of a “regional grouping” of forces to protect its borders, hinting at a potential future involvement of the country in the war. Two months later Russian-supplied Iskander tactical missile systems, which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and S-400 air defence systems were deployed to Belarus.
In November 2022, a Ukraine missile killed at least two people in neighbouring Poland and Moldova’s foreign minister said that parts of the country were suffering from power outages as a result of Russian strikes on Ukraine.
In December 2022, explosions took place at two Russian air bases around 300 miles from the Ukrainian border. There were further incidents of air attacks on Russian territory, despite Zelensky having promised the US to only use delivered missiles for immediate defence purposes in November.
In January 2023 a Russian warship armed with hypersonic cruise weapons held exercises in the Norwegian Sea. In the same month, the Kremlin announced that Ukrainian strikes on Russian-annexed Crimea would be “extremely dangerous”, after the New York Times reported that US officials were warming to the idea of helping Kyiv strike the peninsula.
In February 2023 Volodymyr Zelenskiy claimed that two Russian cruise missiles entered the airspace of Moldova and Romania. Romania’s foreign ministry denied an incursion occurred.
- Beyond Ukraine
Equally, the tension between US and China over Taiwan – President Joe Biden has repeatedly said US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion – cannot be seen outside of the wider context that also fuelled the war in Ukraine. During the course of the war US diplomats and the Nato leadership spoke more frequently about ‘deepening ties between Russia and China’ and the regime in Iran.
In November 2022, the White House accused North Korea of shipping a “significant number” of artillery shells to Russia.
In December 2022, Chinese-Russian naval drills took place together with the South African army at the South African coast, which were seen as a sign of ‘deepening cooperation’.
In January 2023, the United States and Israel launched what one US official described as the allies’ most significant joint military exercise to date, involving thousands of forces, a dozen ships and 142 aircraft, including nuclear-capable bombers. The mobilisation comes at a time of growing tension over Iran’s nuclear program (and involvement in the Ukraine-Russian war?).
In early February, Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Russia and China’s growing relationship poses a threat not only to Asia but also to Europe. “The Nato chief underlined the importance of stronger cooperation and more “friends” for Nato in the Indo-Pacific region, adding that the war in Ukraine had demonstrated “how security is interconnected”.”
A leaked memo from a US four-star general saying his “gut” told him the US would be at war with China in 2025 has prompted warnings about the danger of “undisciplined” predictions of a Taiwan strait conflict.
And the Chinese air balloons appeared over the US territory in February 2023, followed by joint air drills of the United States, Britain and Australia over the Nevada desert “as part of an effort to simulate high-end combat operations against Chinese fighter aircraft and air defenses”.
2) Industrial escalation of the war
So far the main escalation has happened on a military level with an increased use in heavy industrial weaponry. Most soldiers get killed by artillery, not in direct ‘man-to-man’ combat. This obviously limits the scope of ‘independent warfare’ in terms of access to weapons and necessary training. With an increased use of industrial means of warfare the individual soldier on the ground became more dependent on the strategy and interest of the national army, which in turn almost completely relied on foreign supplies.
As early as June 2022 the Ukrainian army claimed to use 500 Javelin missiles a day, while the Russian army was said to fire up to 7,000 artillery rounds daily.
In October 2022 the Ukrainian government claimed that since war started Russia had launched more than 8,000 airstrikes and fired 4,500 missiles. Also, in October, the Russian state accused Ukraine of preparing for the use of a ‘dirty bomb’ (radioactive) on Ukraine territory in order to have a pretext for nuclear retaliation against Russia.
In early January 2023 reports claimed that Ukrainian troops rapidly burned through their own supply of Soviet-era 152 mm ammunition when the conflict erupted, and while the US and its allies have provided hundreds of thousands of rounds of Western 155 mm ammunition, even this supply has reached its limits. As a result, Ukraine has averaged firing around 4,000-7,000 artillery rounds per day – far fewer than Russia. US and Ukrainian officials have offered different estimates of Russian fire, with US officials saying the rate has dropped from 20,000 rounds per day to around 5,000 per day on average. Ukraine estimates that the rate has dropped from 60,000 to 20,000 per day.
In January 2023 ‘Z channels’ reported that the Russian army used thermobaric weapons to strike the residential areas of Vuhledar during the recent offensive – while ‘the west’ has been discussing the delivery of long-range missiles and fighter jets.
In addition there was the risk of nuclear accidents, through using nuclear power plants as targets or as military arms bases, with both warring sides accusing each other. Four power plants lost off-site power during shelling in November 2022, which was seen as a high risk incident. On 26th of January 2023 IAEA monitors reported powerful explosions near Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station on Thursday and the IAEA issued renewed calls for a security zone around the plant.
The increasing use of industrial means of destruction can be extrapolated both from the mounting casualties and the increase in foreign military aid. As could have been anticipated, a direct military confrontation with the Russian army resulted in shelling of infrastructure and residential areas. If the aim of military resistance was the immediate self-defense of lives and homes then this tactic seemed to have failed. People still defend this tactic by saying that Russia had planned a genocide and that therefore even current levels of casualties are a ‘lesser evil’, but during the course of the war it became clear that if the Russian state wanted to kill more civilians for the genocidal sake of it, it could. Instead the Russian (and Ukrainian) state primarily sacrificed their own foot-soldiers.
In June 2022 a former Trump administration official said about Ukrainian losses: “They are losing 100 soldiers a day. That is almost like the height of the Vietnam War for us; it is terrible. And they are losing a lot of experienced people.”
In early November 2022 the armed forces of Ukraine estimated that 68,900 Russian soldiers had been killed so far in the invasion of Ukraine, whereas the US’s top general claimed more than 100,000 soldiers had been killed and wounded, adding that Kyiv’s armed forces have “probably” suffered a similar level of casualties.
In late November 2022, Ukrainian officials claimed that 88,880 Russian soldiers had lost their lives.
In December Kyiv’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said that 13,300 Ukrainian soldiers had been lost so far.
In early January 2023, Ukraine updated the number of Russian troops it believes it has killed to 110,740.
In late January 2023, Norway’s army chief estimated 180,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded over the course of the conflict, while the figure for the Ukrainians is 100,000 military casualties.
It is unclear whether the Russian casualty figures include private mercenaries, e.g. of the Wagner group, which is said to have suffered heavy casualties in its operations near Bakhmut. “Out of its force of nearly 50,000 mercenaries (including 40,000 convicts), the company has sustained over 4,100 killed and 10,000 wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December near Bakhmut,” a Ukrainian official said, adding that about 90% of those killed were convicts.
There are certain ups and downs in terms of casualties, e.g. on the 8th of February Ukraine’s army general staff claimed that over the past 24 hours alone, their forces had killed 1,030 Russian soldiers, raising the total number of Russian soldiers who lost their lives to 133,190. Russian military leaders claimed to have killed 6,500 Ukrainian soldiers in January alone.
There are also certain incidents that stand out politically, e.g. Ukraine’s military command said up to 400 Russian soldiers were killed during a New Year’s Day attack with four US-supplied Himars missiles on a complex in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian city of Makiivka.
When it comes to civilian casualties the assessments vary greatly.
In mid-January, Ukrainian officials claimed that more than 9,000 civilians, including 453 children, have been killed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. The UN has confirmed a lower number of civilian deaths, saying that 7,000 have been killed over the course of the war so far, but that the true toll is likely “considerably higher”. In contrast, Norway’s army chief claimed that 30,000 Ukrainian civilians had lost their lives since the war began.
There was news about several incidents of deliberate missile attacks by the Russian army on residential areas and there was controversy about the Amnesty International report from August 2022, which claimed Ukrainian fighting tactics were endangering civilians, by, for example, setting up military bases in residential areas, including schools and hospitals, and by launching attacks from populated civilian areas. Both sides of the controversy scandalised the very basic fact of modern war in modern urban societies: that civilians can rarely be ‘saved’ by ‘their’ army or spared from being drawn into the firing lines, but more often than not, become shields for ‘urban warfare’.
There is the wider global fallout of the war in terms of food supplies and energy shortages. Ukraine’s exports of grains and oilseeds dropped to 50 to 70% of their pre-war levels between March and November 2022. The increase in energy prices alone, primarily due to the war, is likely to lead to nearly 150,000 excess deaths (4.8% more than average) in Europe in the winter of 2022–2023.
Apart from loss of human lives, the war first of all meant mass destruction of civil infrastructure, partly due to deliberate attacks on energy, communication and transport facilities.
In October 2022 Zelenskiy said that more than a third of the country’s energy sector has been destroyed by rockets and Iranian drones.
In December 2022 a private energy company in Ukraine said that 40% of the country’s power infrastructure has been damaged.
On the 18th of December 2022, Russia fired more than 70 missiles in one of its biggest attacks since the start of the war, knocking out power in the second biggest city and forcing Kyiv to implement emergency blackouts nationwide. These heavy attacks on central infrastructure were repeated in the second week of February 2023.
Ukraine will be a wasteland for the years to come, dependent on international institutions like the IMF and private foreign investors.
In January 2023 the UN reported that Ukraine will need at least £1.48 billion to restore its telecommunications sector to pre-war levels. According to Ukraine’s 150,000 residential buildings, 1,500 schools, half of the power system and more than 20,000km (12,400 miles) of roads have been damaged. The World Bank estimates the cost for Ukraine’s reconstruction as being $349bn (£283bn).
Already in July 2022 Ukraine said it would need $750bn to fund a national recovery plan as it maps out a strategy to rebuild its shattered infrastructure and revitalise its economy after the war with Russia. Prime minister Denys Shmyhal said Russia’s invasion had caused more than $100bn of damage to infrastructure.
With Ukraine having become a candidate for joining the EU, the reconstruction will largely be a European ‘Marshall Plan’, but also involves the World Bank and private investors, such as Black Rock. In September 2022 Zelensky and Black Rock founder Larry Fink met for first talks about a reconstruction plan. Other big private investors include Elon Musk, who basically keeps the Ukrainian internet infrastructure afloat.
In October 2022 the European Commission announced it was releasing at least €18bn (£15.8bn) in emergency aid to help Ukraine’s government stay afloat next year, as an economic crisis looms in the country.
4) Foreign military aid
For the time being, the biggest chunk of foreign aid flows into the war machine, which primarily includes western arms manufacturers, rather than into civilian reconstruction.
In May 2022 Joe Biden signed a $40 billion aid bill to Ukraine. The US military contractors are set to receive at least $17 billion in additional revenue.
In November 2022 the UK army announced it would send military helicopters to Ukraine. In December 2022, Britain ordered “several thousand” NLAW anti-tank weapons to replace the 7,000 donated to Ukraine in the past year. The UK will commit £2.3bn in aid to Ukraine in 2023, said the UK’s defence secretary.
In terms of human war resources, foreign aid has been crucial, too.
From 2015 to early 2023, American Special Forces and National Guard instructors trained more than 27,000 Ukrainian soldiers at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center in western Ukraine near the city of Lviv, according to Pentagon officials. Currently 500 new soldiers are trained each month.
In July 2022 British forces began training Ukrainian soldiers in a new programme. Up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers will arrive in the UK for specialist military training lasting several weeks.
In October 2022 media announced that the European Union agreed to train 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers, in February 2023 officials said they would double this figure for 2023.
We can see a clear escalation in terms of the types of weapons that are being delivered.
Initially the US said they would not deliver long-range missiles, this has changed during the course of the war. The same is true when it comes to tanks. In July 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) told the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag (parliament) that the delivery of Marder infantry fighting vehicles would be a “terrible escalation.” In April 2022, he told Der Spiegel: “We must do everything we can to avoid a direct military confrontation between NATO and a highly armed superpower like Russia, a nuclear power.The issue is to “prevent an escalation that leads to a third world war.”
Immediately after the decision to supply battle tanks, the discussion about the delivery of fighter jets intensified. In early February 2023 Ukraine’s top national security official, Oleksiy Danilov, said he is confident his country will eventually receive US-made F-16 fighter jets. Again it is the UK government that sets the pace for further expansion of supplies, with Sunak promising to train Ukrainian pilots on advanced Nato fighter jets “to ensure Ukraine can defend its skies well into the future”. Boris Johnson issued a call after the meeting for British Typhoon jets to be sent immediately to the Ukrainian government.
There is a material temporary limit to the industrial escalation of the war, in terms of supply problems from western arms manufacturers.
In June 2022, the media reported that the US has shipped 7,000 Javelin missiles to Ukraine – roughly one-third of its stockpile. Lockheed Martin produces about 2,100 missiles a year.. Ukraine claims to use 500 Javelin missiles every day. Each missile costs £66,000, plus an additional £85,000 for the launcher. Britain has donated more than 5,000 Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons, manufactured in Belfast by French defence company Thales. Each of these costs approximately £30,000. There was a widespread coverage of the fact that NATO arsenals are depleted and that western arms manufacturer don’t have the necessary capacity to keep up with the war demand, e.g. companies like the US-based Raytheon, which is supposed to deliver 1,300 new Stinger missiles or French Nexter announced that orders might take up to 18 months.
“After sending more than $40bn of military support to Ukraine, mostly from existing stocks, Nato members’ defence ministries are discovering that dormant weapons production lines cannot be switched on overnight. (…) During intense fighting in the eastern Donbas region this summer, Russia used more ammunition in two days than the British military has in stock. Under Ukrainian rates of artillery consumption, British stockpiles might last a week and the UK’s European allies are in no better position.
The crunch revealed the complex supply-chain of US manufactured missiles, e.g. Himars and GMLRS are assembled in factories across 141 different US cities, while Javelins are built in 16 states. There are 200 to 400 direct suppliers and up to 17,000 second-tier suppliers involved in the manufacturing, some of which are based abroad, e.g. the missile fins are manufactured by Goodrich Aerospace in Wolverhampton, UK. More importantly in a political sense is the fact that there has been an absolute concentration of primary arms manufacturers for the Pentagon – from 51 prime defence contractors in the 1990s to only five today – and the creation of a more united capital faction and political lobby that defends its interest (and that ironically no one would call ‘oligarchic’).
The latest escalation in terms of foreign military aid was the decision to supply US, British and German-manufactured tanks in January 2023.
Since the announcement, shares of the German tank manufacturer Rheinmetall increased by 150%. Behind the scenes there is fierce competition between US and German tank manufacturers, with the US hoping that they will be able to sideline companies like Rheinmetall and its suppliers because of their greater manufacturing capacity: ‘Each round of ammunition might cost €6,000-7,000 … If every tank fired 20 rounds a day, monthly ebit would be around €1mn per vehicle, applying a 25 per cent margin. a battalion of 100 Leopards would produce ebit of €100mn a month for suppliers.’
The reluctance of the German chancellor Scholz to deliver the tank was broken by an Atlantic axis composed of the Green party foreign minister (which acted in tandem with her US counterparts), the Polish government (which announced to deliver Leopard tanks without German approval) and the UK government (taking the first step by promising the delivery of Challenger tanks).
An interesting fact to consider when it comes to the supply of tanks is that before the war started Ukraine had the second biggest tank force in Europe – with 1,100 tanks it was four times bigger than Germany’s. Have these tanks been destroyed during the first year of the war? What change will an additional 100 or 200 tanks make? In this sense the sending of additional tanks was not such a qualitative shift in military terms, but an agreement of the Nato state’s to prolong the war – with many ‘military experts’ assuming the war will continue for the rest of 2023.
The international arms supply results in an increasing militarisation of eastern Europe, with countries like Poland or Slovakia becoming major base camps, training grounds and work-benches of the war.
But the war also creates a booming arms industry in the east of Europe, e.g. in November 2022 media reported that Ukraine has received 2.1 billion USD of weapons and equipment from Czech companies, about 95% of which were commercial deliveries. Czech arms exports this year will be the highest since 1989. The militarisation of eastern Europe continues, with additional military bases set up in Slovakia, NATO military surveillance planes now stationed in Romania and Poland introducing a new one year-long voluntary military service. In addition to these volunteers, the Polish government plans to double the army from currently 150,000 soldiers to 300,000. They recently ordered 250 new Abrams tanks from the US – which is a blow to German militarism – at the cost of 4.75 billion USD. It was Poland’s announced willingness to send Leopard tanks without approval of the German government which, together with the support from the US, tipped the balance and forced the German government to react. Poland has also become the war’s maintenance workshop, with many of the damaged tanks and weapons being repaired in Polish military facilities. In February 2023, Joe Biden announced a visit to Poland to commemorate one year of war in Ukraine.
Given the limited local capacities, western armies have to resource from further afield, e.g. in November the US Army announced it was buying 100,000 rounds of howitzer artillery from South Korean manufacturers to give to Ukraine.
The situation of Russian army supplies is unclear.
In November 2022 the UK Ministry of Defence suggested that “Russia is firing ageing cruise missiles stripped of their nuclear warheads at Ukrainian targets because Vladimir Putin’s stocks are so depleted”. Heavy bombardment continued and even intensified since then, partly with drones supplied by Iran.
In February 2023 we could read that Iran and Russia were looking to build a factory in Russia that could supply more than 6,000 Iranian-designed drones for the war in Ukraine. In the same month we could read that German arms manufacturers supply both Ukraine and Russia, via Turkey.
5) Military recruitment
The war in Ukraine is different from recent US-led wars in terms of the high levels of casualties amongst soldiers, in particular on the Russian side. Since the war started we can see a progression in terms of recruitment. On the Russian side, the first phase of the war was primarily fought by traditional army units and regular soldiers on short-term contracts. Since September 2022 more than 200,000 forcefully ‘mobilised’ recruits are sent to the frontline in addition to foreign mercenaries and privately contracted soldiers from Wagner Group and others.
In September 2022 a new law signed by Putin stipulated that Russian troops who refuse to fight, desert, disobey or surrender to the enemy could face a jail sentence of up to 10 years. This happened at a time when protests against the partial military mobilisation order erupted in the Russian republic of Dagestan, while many tried to escape from mobilisation to Georgia or Mongolia. Some local media reported as many as 700,000 fled after the announcement of a mobilisation drive to call up new troops to join the fight in September.
In October 2022 the United States accused Russian mercenaries of exploiting natural resources in Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan and elsewhere to help fund Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
In November 2022 it was reported that Afghan special forces soldiers were being recruited by the Russian military to fight in Ukraine with offers of 1,500 USD a month. These are soldiers that were trained by US navy seals and British armed forces. About 20,000 to 30,000 of the volunteer commandos were left behind when the US left Afghanistan in Taliban control in August 2021.
Meanwhile, the Russian president ordered a one-time payment of 195,000 roubles (£2,800) for contract soldiers and those who have been mobilised to fight in Ukraine. Putin claimed that 50,000 Russian soldiers called up as part of his mobilisation drive were now fighting with combat units in Ukraine. Putin said 80,000 were “in the zone of the special military operation” – the term Russia uses for its war in Ukraine – and the rest of the almost 320,000 draftees were at training camps in Russia.
In December 2022, Russia’s defence minister called for his country’s military to be expanded from its current 1 million servicemen to 1.5 million. He also proposed raising the age range for mandatory Russian military service to cover Russian citizens aged 21-30. A former Russian deputy minister of defence has suggested the country could increase the upper age limit for conscription from 27 to 30 for this year’s spring draft campaign. At the same time the Russian parliament prepared to introduce a higher taxation rate for people who have left the country while soldiers and state employees deployed in Ukraine will be exempt from income tax.
In January 2023 the first inmates recruited by the private military group Wagner received their promised pardons after fighting for six months in Ukraine, Wagner’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, told journalists. “They worked off their contract.” Putin had to pardon the convicts in the first place to release them to fight for Wagner. (This is not exceptional as such, as the Ukraine government announced in February 2022 to release any prisoner with fighting experience to serve in the army.) The US believes that Prigozhin is interested in taking control of salt and gypsum from mines near the Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut. Serbia’s president has called on Russia to stop recruiting Serbs to fight alongside its mercenary Wagner Group in Ukraine. The UK’s Ministry of Defence has said the Wagner mercenary group “almost certainly now commands up to 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become a key component of the Ukraine campaign”. Meanwhile Russia is set to order the mobilisation of as many as 500,000 conscripts in January in addition to the 300,000 it called up in October.
There is much less information available about the composition and recruitment of the Ukrainian army since the state introduced the drafting of soldiers in February 2022.
At the start of the war, there may have been more scope for ‘independent action’ in some areas through the Territorial Defence Units. 100,000 civilians had joined up voluntarily soon after the invasion. They were “local and designed to support the work of the regular armed forces and organise local citizens to defend their territories from Russian aggression.” There were international calls for arms for the specific units, especially because the resources and weapons from the Ukrainian state were lacking. This was after tens of thousands of assault rifles had already been handed out. The law originally stated that TDUs would operate in their specific local areas and outside of combat zones, until the regular army got there. But the law changed in May/June 2022 that effectively brought them into the regular army. There was some internal resistance to this change (e.g. there was a petition, although less than 3000 people signed it). Volunteers were only given military training, not training in any other forms of civilian resistance. Many of the TDUs, initially at least, built local defences, created field kitchens, distributed aid (where they might have been an effective force against corruption). The changing nature of the type of combat and legal changes (e.g. forced conscription) have meant that ‘self-organisation’ within military structures seems to have shrunk.
In March 2022 Ukrainian officials claimed up to 16,000 foreign soldiers joined the army as mercenaries for £1,500 a day, amongst them around 200 soldiers from Croatia.
In July 2022 Ukraine’s military announced plans to introduce a system of permits that would prohibit men eligible for conscription from leaving the region where they are registered.
In July 2022 a petition signed by more than 25,000 Ukrainians, requests a ban on issuing summonses for military service at checkpoints, gas stations and other public places and a transparent process of conscription. Comrades report that the state uses conscriptions against any form of protest. Men who oppose the authorities are forcefully drafted.
In January 2023 the Ukrainian authorities were accused of conducting a mass draft of ‘ethnic Hungarians’ and Roma in the Transcarpathia region of western Ukraine.
In February 2023 the Ukrainian President signed a controversial law toughening punishments for disobedience or desertion from the armed forces amid Russia’s invasion. Soldiers could face up to 12 years in prison for desertion, up to 10 years for disobedience or refusal to fight, and up to seven years for threatening a superior.
In terms of ideological recruitment of soldiers and mercenaries it seems that the Azov battalion still exists as an independent far-right unit within the army – the idea that the neo-nazis will just dissolve themselves within the ‘national resistance’ seems a misjudgement.
End of January 2023 we could read in media reports: “The Special Operations Forces of the Azov regiment became the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade as part of the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and are already fighting on the Bakhmut front in Donetsk Oblast. The unit started as a volunteer unit of territorial defence on 24 February 2022, created by veterans of the unit of the Azov regiment and representatives of the Azov movement.”
6) Refugees and borders
At least since the First and Second World War, the most common reaction to war is to try to get away. The war in Ukraine caused the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Almost 2.9 million moved to Russia, according to October 2022 figures, and roughly 7.9 million were registered across Europe between February and December 2022. In February 2023 data from the UN was published according to which more than 18.1m border crossings have taken place out of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began in February 2022.
In October 2022 the Kremlin denied reports that 700,000 Russians had fled the country since Moscow announced the forced mobilisation drive.
In November 2022 media reported that according to border statistics 112,000 Russians have emigrated to Georgia this year.
In December 2022 Ukrainian officials claimed that 10,000 Ukrainian service personnel and roughly the same number of Ukrainian civilians are being held in Russian detention facilities.
As part of the war effort, human movement has to be managed through a stricter border regime.
In August 2022 European countries started to ban Russian tourist visas, partly in reaction to the mass escape from forced conscription.
In November 2022 the Polish government announced the construction of a razor-wire fence on its border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave while Ukraine started building a reinforced concrete wall on part of its border with its northern neighbour, Belarus. The construction of a planned barbed-wire fence along Finland’s long border with Russia will start in early 2023.
In February 2023 Polish state officials stated that they are “not excluding” closing further border crossings with Belarus, citing “growing tensions with Belarus – and they are being instrumentalised by the Russians and the Kremlin”.
7) War economies
Parts of the left that support the military resistance claim that apart from immediate self-defence of lives and homes the war is about defending the ‘freedom’ of workers in Ukraine in future. This argument falls for the myth of a national sovereignty in which workers can decide democratically about their fate. First of all, like any other economy, the economy in Ukraine is not a ‘national’ economy, it is deeply integrated into international investment, debt management and trade. Secondly, capital and state in Ukraine are more than willing to use the war in order to deregulate the labour market further and undermine the flimsy layer of formal democracy that exists.
The US, Germany and the UK are key source markets for investments in Ukraine. One in five investments in Ukraine was from US-headquartered companies in 2019–2020. Even in 2020, six years after a simmering conflict, there was still almost $50bn of accumulated foreign direct investment in the country. Hundreds of foreign companies have opened up shop across Ukraine (mostly in its western regions that border the EU), with the biggest investors being German automotive companies. Ukraine is an important part of the EU’s car component supply chain. Meanwhile in Kyiv and Lviv, more than 100,000 people are employed in business process outsourcing for the world’s big tech companies, such as Facebook. There is a lot of talk of ‘western values’ or ‘the imperial goals of Russia’, whose ‘military adventures’ allegedly make no ‘economic sense’, but in the end it might still be about access to and control over Ukraine’s considerable resources:
First in Europe in proven recoverable reserves of uranium ores.
Second place in Europe and tenth place in the world in terms of titanium ore reserves
Second place in the world in terms of explored reserves of manganese ores (2.3 billion tonnes, or 12% of the world’s reserves)
Second-largest iron ore reserves in the world (30 billion tonnes)
Second place in Europe in terms of mercury ore reserves
Third place in Europe (13th place in the world) in shale gas reserves (22 trillion cubic metres)
Eighth place in the world in coal reserves (33.9 billion tonnes)
First in Europe in terms of arable land area
First place in the world in exports of sunflowers and sunflower oil
Third place in the world by the area of black soil (25% of world’s volume)
Third-largest producer of potatoes in the world
Fifth place in the world in wheat exports
Second-largest in Europe and seventh-largest in the world in terms of installed capacity of nuclear power plants
Third-largest iron exporter in the world
If we look at the structural power of workers in Ukraine and Russia we can see that it has shrunk since the war started – which expresses itself also in the various successful attacks by the governments to further deregulate the (labour) market.
- In Russia
The cost of wars on national economies is high.
Forbes estimates that Russia has spent $82bn – or a quarter of its annual budget – on the war in Ukraine. The United States, the European Union, and other partners froze more than 300 billion USD in Russian central bank assets and the imposition of export controls. But wars are not just ‘drains’ on capitalist economies, they are also a compulsion and opportunity to restructure them. At the same time, and despite the sanctions, in January 2023, the IMF reported that Russia’s growth prospects have markedly improved, with higher military spending and buoyant energy exports leading to forecast expansion of 0.3% in 2023 – a 2.6 point upgrade.
In July 2022 the FT wrote that: “Russia will give the state greater control over private business and workers in order to put the economy on a stronger war footing, signalling that the country is preparing for the long haul in its battle for control of Ukraine. Proposed new laws are intended specifically to support the military and meet “a short-term increased need for the repair of weapons and military equipment”.
The war has affected the militancy of workers in Russia. People who defend the ‘freedom’ in Ukraine often pretend that all workers in Russia vegetate in Gulags, while actually there might have been more open workers’ protests in Russia before the war broke out than in Ukraine – the incarceration rate in Russia is high for European standards, but with around 310 per capita only half the rate of the USA.
“In 2008, the year our project started, we recorded only 95 labour protests, but in 2009 (which was already a time of global crisis) it was 272. (…) 2020 was a record-breaking year, when we collated 437 protests [against the backdrop of the global pandemic]. Last year, there were 389. (…) 73% of Russian labour protests in 2021 took place without the participation of trade unions. 2022 started off rather strongly – like those years when the number of labour protests was at a record high. But at the end of February, the “special military operation” began, and in March there was an unexpected drop [in worker protests]. People were frozen, scared, stunned. I recorded only 11 protests that month, although the average figure for March is 28.
- In Ukraine
In January 2023 the Ukrainian economy minister, Yulia Svyrydenko, said that Ukraine’s gross domestic product fell by 30.4% in 2022. its grain harvest fell by about 40%. Unemployment was projected to reach 30% by the end of 2022, with 63% of the officially registered unemployed being women, most of them between the ages of 35 and 45 – this is a surprisingly high figure given the fact that many women had left the country when the war started. Since the start of the war, nominal wages in Ukraine have managed modest growth, amounting to 3% by end-October. However, wages dropped 11% in real terms over the January to October period and their decline has accelerated to 18% in the past month. Furthermore, 13% of hired employees have lost their job since the start of the war and there is evidence of increasing job losses.
In July 2022 the Ukrainian government adopted Law 2434-IX (former Bill 5371) which affects workers in companies and organisations with fewer than 250 employees. According to expert estimates, the new law impacts around 70% of workers in the country. Under the new law, the main instrument regulating labour relations between employer and employees in small and medium-size companies will be individual contracts.
In September 2022 Ukrainian MPs supported another controversial legislative initiative – the liquidation of the Social Insurance Fund through its merger with the Pension Fund of Ukraine, which is an effective social wage cut for millions of workers.
In October 2022 the Ukrainian president’s economic adviser said that the country needs to revamp its labour laws and redouble efforts to privatise thousands of companies to repair its economy. The Ukrainian government needed to “create the foundations for rapid economic growth” while also financing the conflict. He was also in favour of reviewing minimum wages to scrap them in some industries where it did not increase employment. Ukraine faces a debt crisis as well as inflation of more than 20% as the country counts the cost of Russia’s offensive.
In November 2022 the Ukrainian parliament granted the government powers to confiscate potentially billions of dollars worth of trade union property – in a move widely seen as an attempt to pressurise the country’s main trade union federation. In addition, the Ukrainian government uses martial law to make significant efforts to sell off agricultural land and to privatise the forests (up to 100 hectares of forests can be given for unlimited use for 20 years with an option to buy them out later).
This comes after various repressive measures towards trade unions, the banning of strikes, the banning of all 12 opposition parties and a new legislation to give the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting unprecedented power to control the media.
In December 2022 the Ukrainian parliament rushed through radical amendments to planning laws. The vast majority of property developers supported them. These new regulations, which were drawn up before the war, will hand unprecedented powers to Ukraine’s construction industry, critics say. Unsurprisingly the Ukrainian government was shaken by a corruption scandal in January 2023, with fifteen senior officials leaving their posts.
We don’t have direct and independent political contacts in Ukraine or Russia. This is the main problem. We cannot rely – like the rest of the left – on statements by Russo-phile Stalinists or neoliberal NGO left-patriots from Ukraine, such as the paraded ‘Social Movement’:
‘Most of Sotsialnyi Rukh’s political leadership is or was employed by the Ukrainian Center for Social and Labor Research (CSLR), which is publicly documented to have been funded over many years by the CIA’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED is so openly connected to the US intelligence agencies that it is often called the “second CIA.”’
- The wider war economy
Since the war started Europe had to shift its energy supplies, partly towards gas from the US, (Germany and its EU neighbours bought LNG from Qatar and the United States, which is more expensive than Russian gas that was brought in via pipelines), and partly by using measures such as extending the lifespan of older nuclear power plants, as seen in Germany. In Russia’s case, global energy politics is decisive, not just in terms of the sanctions and embargoes, which turned out to be less effective than initially thought. Russia was able to sell more oil to India and China and sign new gas trade deals with Turkey. In December 2022 Russian oil revenues fell despite a boost in production to just below levels before the invasion of Ukraine, the International Energy Agency said. The IEA estimated that Russia earned about $15.8bn (£12.8bn) from oil sales in November.
The hypocrisy of the sanctions became clearer during the course of the war. For example, BP still has a 19.75% stake in Rosneft, one of Russia’s most important oil assets and was offered a £580m dividend for 2022 by Rosneft. During the course of 2022 Russia exported more and more oil to India, which in turn exported an increased amount of refined oil to the US.
According to German government officials Russia has increased its income from gas and oil exports in 2022 by one third, primarily through (direct) sales to Asia and Saudi Arabia, where the oil is refined for the world market. In the meantime Shell boasted record profits for the ‘war year’, so did the Norwegian oil and gas industry, as Norway replaced Russia as Europe’s largest supplier of natural gas. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and TotalEnergies – are expected to report a combined profit of £154 billion for 2022.
In January 2023 Russia and Iran further integrated their banking system, partly in response to the embargo that excluded Russia from SWIFT.
8) The development of the frontline
The initial idea that a steady supply of not too offensive weapons (as no one wants a nuclear escalation) would shorten the war seems to wrong, as most military experts assume that the war will continue for the rest of 2023, entirely fueled by western arms supply on the Ukrainian side and increasing dependence on foreign aid on the Russian.
End of January 2023 a Guardian article summarised the development like this:
“The first phase of Russia’s all-out invasion ended in debacle for Putin’s forces, which were driven back from the north, then from the Kharkiv region in September, and from northern Kherson oblast as well as Kherson oblast west of the Dnieper in November.
The second phase has been an attempt at a war of attrition, with thousands of Russian mercenaries and convicts sacrificed for small territorial gains around the towns of Bakhmut and Soledar, combined with an effort to freeze Ukrainians into submission with mass missile attacks on power plants, electricity transmission infrastructure and water facilities.
The third phase is about to start, an all-out battle for decisive advantage using combined arms – mechanised infantry, artillery, air power and possibly waterborne assault – to overcome fixed positions. The world has not seen anything like it since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, while Europe has witnessed nothing of its sort since the second world war.”
What the article does not mention is the fact that the Russian army was able to ‘retaliate’ with large scale missile attacks after each of Ukrainians victories, e.g. after the attack on Kerch bridge in October, after the ‘liberation’ of Kherson in November or after the decision by NATO to send tanks in January 2023. To put it differently, the gain of a few hundred square miles of farmland in the east was paid for with the destruction of millions worth of vital infrastructure.
In July 2022 a military expert quoted by the FT said: ““Unless Vladimir Putin really intends a nationwide mobilisation . . . these symbolic successes [in Luhansk] don’t add up to a strengthening strategic position and even if they were to effect a nationwide mobilisation, it would take months to muster everybody, months to train them. Ukraine has a window of opportunity in about the next six months to win this war.” –
If we look at the situation six months later we can see that western experts starkly underestimate Russian military capacity like they initially might have underestimated the Ukrainian army’s ability to defend their territory.
It looks like the war is entrenched around the regions that have been formally annexed by Russia through referendums in September 2022, a total area of about 15% of Ukraine, including an estimated 4 million people. Yet the areas Russia controls contain important economic assets, such as the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which provided up to 20 percent of Ukraine’s prewar power generation capacity, and Ukraine’s entire Azov Sea coastline.
In January 2023 the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff said he did not believe it was realistic to expect Ukraine to push Russian troops out of its internationally recognised territory in 2023 – given the clear goals of both the Ukrainian government and the Nato allies this is a clear hint that the leading forces prepare for at least another year of military onslaught.
The general soldiers’ willingness to fight seems to be fragile on both sides. We have little information, but in January 2023 we could read:
“During the Verdun-style siege of Bakhmut and Soledar this month in the Donetsk region, information appeared about internal decay in the Ukrainian forces. It turns out that near Soledar there were Ukrainian units that fled from the front line. Olexiy Arestovich, an adviser to the Office of Zelensky, told during an evening stream on January 10: “We have different people who refused to dig trenches. Or, when they were led into ready-made trenches and said: “just stand still,” they said: “the enemy is there, let’s run two kilometres back.” That’s not all, they are not even 10%, but they are there, and when a company runs away from the direction, their neighbours become very sad.” From his words, during the defence of the town there were many refusers who said that they “cannot fight in this terrible war”…
In early February Zelensky had to remind the country that ‘we are at war’, perhaps in indicating that people get tired of the war effort. “Everyone needs to understand we are at war — it’s not over,” (…) “The resilience of all of our guys depends on both weapons and motivation. Motivation is given not only by the partners, it can be inspired by the spirit from within the country.”
9) Peace talks / UK position
As internationalists and communists we have a responsibility to analyse the role of the UK state in the current war. So far the UK has been one of the most hawkish forces in the west, e.g. by encouraging the Ukrainian state to avoid an early peace deal, which would have been seen as a defeat of the ‘international community’; by pushing for heavier weapon supplies and the integration of Ukraine into the Nato. This position can be explained primarily by the UK’s diminishing role as an industrial nation and its increasing post-Brexit reliance on becoming a partner in the defence of US hegemony. When it comes to the USA’s interest in the war things look more contradictory:
* There are direct productive investments in Ukraine that need defending, but that also need a stable capitalist peace. The danger of destruction of productive facilities is high.
* There is a direct war-profit in terms of arms and gas trade with Europe.
* There is a wider geopolitical interest to undermine the Russo-European axis and to maintain the US role as a military force in order to back up the Dollar as world currency.
* At the same time the US state wants to avoid being dragged too deep into a military commitment in Ukraine while a conflict over Taiwan is looming and military capacities are already overstretched.
In 2002 US President George W. Bush cancelled the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty. In 2008 Bush tried to push through an invitation from Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. The Obama Administration’s decision in 2009 to deploy “NATO’s ballistic missile defence system in Poland and Romania” was a new escalation. In 2014 various western ‘soft-interventions’ pushed towards the Maidan protests and aggravated the situation in the eastern parts. This is pre-history from the western perspective. We would have to write a similar history about the contradictions within the Russian block that pushed the state to war.
From a UK perspective we have to analyse the specific role the UK played as a junior partner. In December 2021 the Russian premier met his American counterpart and “called for the ratification of the Minsk II agreement as well as legal guarantees that would prevent further NATO expansion to the east, but both requests were roundly ignored by Biden. A week later, Boris Johnson spoke to Putin on the phone and reiterated Ukraine’s inalienable right to join NATO, before dispatching his foreign secretary Liz Truss to threaten the Russian defence minister with crushing economic sanctions.
“By mid-March 2022, several weeks after Putin launched his murderous invasion, both Russian and Ukrainian sources were briefing that a peace deal was on the horizon – based on a provisional 15-point plan stipulating that Ukraine would declare neutrality and receive security guarantees from western states. (…) On 9 April, Johnson made a surprise visit to Kyiv where he reportedly told Zelensky that the UK would not be party to any such agreement, and pressured him to break off negotiations. According to the Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda: “Johnson’s position was that the collective West […] now felt Putin was not really as powerful as they had previously imagined, and that there was a chance to ‘press him’”.
In October 2022 Zelenskiy signed a decree formally declaring the prospect of any Ukrainian talks with Vladimir Putin “impossible” after the Russian president proclaimed the four occupied regions of Ukraine were to become part of Russia. This is the endpoint after a series of failed ‘peace talks’.
By November 2022, we could read that “Nine months after invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is beginning to fracture the West”. Certain criticism of the US policies towards the war emerged, most visibly in form of the (right-wing dominated) ‘peace demonstrations’ in Czech Republic in September, the stance of Hungary, but also to a certain degree by Germany’s hesitation to provide heavy armoury. This hesitation has been broken down by the end of January 2023.
In December 2022 Rishi Sunak said that the west should reject unilateral calls by the Kremlin for a ceasefire in Ukraine and focus on “degrading Russia’s capability to regroup and to resupply” at a meeting of European leaders in Latvia.
In December 2022 the Ukrainian government’s stated goal is to retake all of Ukraine’s territory, including Crimea and the areas of the Donbas that Russia has occupied since 2014.
End of December 2022 the Kremlin dismissed President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s 10-point peace plan, and insisted any proposals to end the conflict in Ukraine must take into account what it calls “today’s realities” of four Ukrainian regions Moscow has unilaterally declared part of Russia.
In January 2023 Johnson made a surprise visit to Ukraine and called for Ukraine to join Nato. Less than a decade earlier, during the Brexit referendum, Johnson argued that the EU was partly to blame for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, saying that the EU defence policy had “caused real trouble” and adding: “look at what has happened in Ukraine”.
In January 2023 the Washington Post published an article alleging that the USA will negotiate concessions with Russia disregarding Ukraine’s current position. “The territorial concessions Blinken is tabling include Crimea, the Donbass, and the Zaporozhye, Kherson “land bridge that connects Crimea and Russia”.
In the meantime the Green Party German foreign minister escalated the diplomatic warfare at a meeting of the Council of Europe during the end of January 2023:
“We are fighting a war against Russia”
In early February 2023 this was repeated from the UK government officials:
“We need to face Russia directly”, said Tobias Ellwood – head of Parliament’s Defense Committee.
In February 2023 the former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed that Nato states, first of all the UK government, impeded peace talks that might have stopped the war in March 2022.
*** Further thoughts on the deeper issues to discuss
After the Second World War in Europe and the Vietnam War in the US, it was close to impossible to mobilise the wider working class for any type of national frenzy or militarism. There was a prevailing rejection of military hierarchy, which one would only accept temporarily as a possible career progression out of poverty, as for example the Korean War functioned for many black proletarians in the US. Neither the Cold War nor the War on Terror have created major social dynamics that have led to a closer identification of the working class with their respective nation states.
Only the military conflicts of the ‘anti-colonial wars’ from Algeria to Vietnam managed to incorporate wider parts of the working classes and peasantry, primarily because of their promise to combine freedom with some sort of egalitarian social project. However limited, the prospect of nationalised industries or land reforms created a social subjectivity that combined the state’s military effort with the masses. The wider left had a clear responsibility for mobilising support for these projects of national liberation, despite their deep class divisions, the civil wars and their fatal outcomes for the exploited. They turned a blind eye to the fact that the new masters and the new exploiting class were dominating these movements right from the start and a clean break with the cross-class institutions would have been necessary in order to avoid the straight-jacket of the FSLN or ANC. But unlike today’s support for the war efforts in Ukraine, the left’s support was still based on an idea that freedom and equality are intrinsic elements of a wider social subject and a material egalitarian project. They still analysed these movements within a wider structural framework of colonialism and imperialism. None of this is left when it comes to the situation in Ukraine. The only reforms that the leading class in Ukraine promises for the post-war period are privatisation of industries and further deregulation of land property trade There is a clear rupture between the left that supported the Vietcong and the arguments of the current left to support the war in Ukraine, even if they are cloaked in similar jargon. While millions of proletarians leave the war regions, the left mobilises for war referring to the concept of freedom, largely indistinguishable from the ‘national freedom’ of the political right-wing.
The left’s ‘defence of Ukraine’ is based on a concept of ‘agency’ – “people have decided to defend themselves, so we have to support them”. We have to ask ourselves what the material and historical dynamics are that led to this ‘decision’ to ‘act as a people’. In Ukraine the decomposition of the working class over the last decades is the material precondition to ‘act as a people’, instead of their interest as a wider class. This process of decomposition did not take a directly violent form, a clearly visible form, such as Russia’s military invasion. The decomposition happened through the seemingly peaceful and ‘market-based’ neoliberal reforms, clearly driven by foreign investment and increasing dependency on access to western financial and labour markets. But it would be naive to think that this integration is a process that does not rely on force or on the infringement on ‘national sovereignty’, which parts of the left like to defend. Like Russia, the western states intervened heavily in Ukraine by creating a NGO-backed lobby for their investment-friendly environment – opportunistically using both campaigns for ‘civil rights’ or campaigns of the ‘far right’. There is no investment without the backing up by military force, the west has militarised Ukraine over decades. From the European Marshall Plan after the Second World War to the ‘economic miracle’ of countries like South Korea, investments are tightly intertwined with military expansion. Both Russia and the western states, competing for control over investment opportunities, address particular segments of workers and their particular needs on the labour market. Young professionals in Kiev are promised university access in London or Berlin in exchange for flag-waving on Maidan, miners in the east are promised to be saved from EU de-industrialisation if they sing the Russian anthem. Like during the prelude of the Yugoslav war, the material dependency on various state players and factions of capital is pulling society apart. Like during the Yugoslav war, the real material interests of both the Russian state and its representatives amongst Ukrainian capitalists and state players and the western interest of free access to the Ukrainian market don’t show themselves plainly. They dress themselves in a populist or ethnic or patriotic manner. Like in the Yugoslav war it was the weaker of the competing powers that had to take the first visibly violent measures that the other side was already well prepared for. Who can speak of ‘agency’ or ‘choice’ in this situation?
Instead of analysing these material forces that led to war, instead of situating the war in a wider context of global crisis that could lead to another world war, parts of the left keep on pushing the idea of ‘agency’ to justify the war. Decades of neoliberal ideological defeat has led to a situation where the left can ignore the wider structural context of the war (long build up of tension in the US / EU / Russia / China constellation during a time of global crisis), the local balance of class forces (the utter dependency of the local workers on the capitalist state army and foreign military aid) and ideological perspective (neoliberal nationalism on both sides) – and mobilise for a military carnage in the name of ‘freedom’. Even after a year of utter destruction and the mass murder of two hundred thousand primarily working class soldiers on both sides, this ideal of ‘freedom’ does not seem to have been shattered. Criticism is rejected in a ‘woke’ fashion: ‘who are you to talk, you are not directly affected’. This is miles away from a universal internationalist class perspective where working class militants relate to wars abroad first and foremost by analysing and attacking the involvement of ‘their own’ nation state at home.
In order to understand this radical shift away from a universal class perspective we have to engage in a deeper debate about the relation between subject and structure and solidarity. This debate will have to find a new dynamic between ‘historical lessons’ and inquiry. Each war is different, but most wars happen within capitalist structures (nation state, military hierarchy, imperialist tension, capitalist market, industrial warfare) that determine them. To criticise the left’s fatal concept of ‘agency’ does not mean that we are not primarily looking for a collective subject amongst the local working class that can put an end to the spiral of death. Solidarity is not uncritical. Do we support fatal decisions by local workers to engage in a military confrontation in a situation where they have no material or ideological independence with the only realistic result of a brutalised war society that will do anything in order to finance reconstruction? Can we talk about ‘subjectivity’ and ‘choice’ in a situation where there is no collective class, but only fragmented workers who structurally have little other alternative but to become pawns for the western powers in return for a possible future access to more promising markets – which the war refugees have now anyway? By all means, we have to organise solidarity with groups of workers, such as the mining workers, but in debate about how their decisions, e.g. to join the war effort as a largely indistinguishable group, affect not just themselves, but the wider working class and the project of self-emancipation. What is the prospect that a collective of workers is both able to defend themselves and to withdraw from the war scenario, addressing workers and worker soldiers in Russia?