Summary: A review of Ukraine Resists! Left Voices on Putin’s War, NATO and the future of Ukraine. Published by Resistance Books (Australia), www.resistancebooks.com — Editors
Twenty-one months after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, the war drags on with no end in sight, as Ukrainian forces make slow progress in re-taking territory occupied by the Russians.
Swirling around the war is a battle of ideas, in which the international left is sharply divided, with some tendencies and individuals supporting Ukraine, some supporting Russia, and others supporting neither side in what they view as an inter-imperialist conflict.
Ukraine Resists! is a collection of interviews with socialists from Ukraine, Russia, and other countries. While a range of views and tendencies are represented, the contributors are united in supporting Ukraine’s resistance and opposing Russia’s invasion, while opposing capitalism within Ukraine (and worldwide), and calling for a pro-worker, feminist, and green reconstruction. It is published in Australia by Resistance Books, and the interviews originally appeared in LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal and Green Left.
After an introduction by Federico Fuentes, who conducted many of the interviews, the book is arranged into three sections: “Voices from Ukraine” (seven contributions); “Voices from Russia” (four contributions); and “Voices from Beyond” (Poland, Norway, Austria/Germany, Turkey, Brazil, Australia, Britain, and the United States).
Most of the “Voices from Ukraine” are members of the new-left organisation Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement). Another is deputy chairperson of both the Independent Mineworkers Union of Ukraine and the Free Trade Unions of Ukraine Confederation.
To summarise a few key points made by Ukrainian comrades, the left and the unions face a dual fight, against Russia’s invasion and the capitalistic policies of the Kyiv government. Volodymyr Zelensky and his party, Servant of the People, while progressive on some issues like LGBTQ rights and opposing violence against women, are neoliberal market enthusiasts who have truncated workers’ rights. Since the book was published, we must add Zelensky’s support for Israel’s onslaught on Gaza. Still, this is far from the Nazi regime conjured up by Russian propaganda.
On the positive side, people are organising themselves to meet the acute social needs of wartime, gaining a strong sense of solidarity, cooperation, and empowerment.
In “Voices from Russia”, Ilya Matveev examines Russian imperialism. He argues strongly that Putin’s war is not about Russia’s own security, but imperialist interests. He notes Russia’s “strange combination of economic weakness and military strength” (dating right back to Tsarist times). He reports that many Russian capitalists favour closer ties with the West, while the military, foreign policy, and national security elite have a different ideology. He writes “For the Kremlin, a Ukraine that is independent of Russia… is unacceptable”. He calls on the left to reject “campist” logic (which sees the main divide in world politics as between the “camp” of the US and its allies, and the “camp” of opposing state powers).
He concludes, “What we need to do is develop a genuine analysis of what Russia is and what Russia does, instead of trying to fit Russia’s actions into some kind of preconceived notion of imperialism. Perhaps we should even update our theory of imperialism to better explain Russian aggression in Ukraine.”
Kirill Medvedev writes, “… a false, reactionary alternative to liberal globalisation has emerged: the ‘multipolar world’ project that Putin and his associates in various other countries dream of today. This is a world in which a few major players divide the world into spheres of influence, subjugate neighbouring countries, do not interfere with each other’s ability to exploit their own peoples, and help each other to suppress internal discontent. All of this is done in the name of some special, supposedly inherent ‘national’ or ‘civilisational’ values. Putin saw the war in Ukraine as a step in this direction. It is monstrous that this is happening under anti-fascist and even anti-colonial slogans, which many take at face value.”
The “Voices from Beyond” section presents us with an interesting range of perspectives from around the world. It is heartening to read expressions of solidarity from members of Lewica Razem (Left Together) in Poland, Rødt (the Red Party) in Norway, Halklarin Demokratik Partisi (People’s Democratic Party) in Turkey and Movimento Esquerda Socialista (Socialist Left Movement, MES) in Brazil.
From Brazil, Israel Dutra asserts that “In the Ukraine war, Putin represents the global threat of the extreme right”, pointing out that Bolsonaro supported Putin, while also criticising Lula for refusing to send arms to Ukraine, and for calling for negotiations but not for Russian forces to leave Ukraine.
On the question of NATO (and the AUKUS pact between Australia, Britain, and the US), there is general agreement that these are key components of the dominant “Western” bloc within the global capitalist system and that the notion that the West stands for freedom and democracy versus tyranny and aggression is hypocritical and ideological and at best inconsistent, considering the autocratic nature of Erdogan’s rule in Turkey, the armament of Saudi Arabia and Israel, and so on.
However, within that consensus, there are differing perspectives about whether, or how far, NATO expansionism was a factor leading to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
One view is summed up by a statement of Socialist Alliance (Australia): “We also recognise and oppose the United States’ relentless drive to expand NATO up to Russia’s border, to encircle it militarily”.
Zofia Malisz, of the Polish left party Lewica Razem (Left Together) argues: “I do not think that we can honestly talk about NATO expansion in our region. Instead, what we had was countries desperately applying to join NATO in the 1990s, while the US was initially not so favourable to us joining. For people in our region, Russian expansionism is the existential threat.” She adds, however, that Razem opposed Polish participation in NATO interventions in Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq.
One might add that Finland’s joining NATO, and Sweden’s application to join, were a response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine Resists! is an important contribution to understanding the war in Ukraine, and the global politics surrounding it. I hope that some on the left who do not yet support the Ukrainian resistance will read it and change their minds.
Postscript: A Ukrainian Letter of Solidarity with Palestinian People was posted in the Ukrainian journal, Commons, on 2 November 2023. As of 23 November, there were 422 signatories.