Since the beginning of the Russian invasion and the war in Ukraine, there has been a debate in the Left Front-Unity (FITU) of Argentina about what should be the position of revolutionary socialists. This polemic expresses the alignments of the left in the world. Our differences are mainly with the Workers’ Party (PO) and the Party of Workers for Socialism (PTS) and were reflected in the FITU act on May 1.
The Socialist Left’s position was clearly and forcefully stated by our comrade Monica Schlotthauer (see video at www.izquierdasocialista.org). These three slogans are the key: Putin and his troops out of Ukraine, support for the resistance of the Ukrainian people and No to NATO and all imperialist intervention in Ukraine. The opposite position was shown in the long speech of Gabriel Solano, leader of the PO, who said that one should not be on the side of Ukraine and its people because that is to be on the side of NATO. He placed us among “the bootlickers of NATO” (not saying it directly).
The PO did directly accuse our party of being in the NATO camp in an article in Prensa Obrera: “It is clear, clear that Socialist Left is standing in the same political camp as NATO” (…) and “they are tributary to the strategic aim of American and European imperialism” (Pablo Giachello. PO, 3 May 2022).
These are false and regrettable definitions. It is the old method inherited from Stalinism: amalgamating positions in order to slander and confuse the debates. Stalinism used it to attack Trotskyism, for example, arguing that because Trotsky was an opponent of Stalin’s regime, he was with imperialism and Nazism. Or when we Trotskyists opposed the invasions of the Soviet bureaucracy’s troops in Hungary (1956) or Czechoslovakia (1968), the Kremlin bureaucracy accused us of “siding with US imperialism” because the US also “denounced” these invasions.
It is not an Inter-imperialist war
Both the PO and the PTS wrongly define the character of the war. They claim it is a war between imperialisms, Russia and NATO, with the USA at the head. They adopt an indecisive policy, a policy of neutrality, opposing any support to the military resistance of the Ukrainian people and the sending of arms to this resistance.
The PO, wrongly, says that the great enemy is NATO and not the invader Putin, hence the abstract slogan “War on war”. The PTS starts with a correct slogan by demanding Putin’s troops out of Ukraine, but by also defining it as an Inter-imperialist war. In fact, they deny the support to the Ukrainian people and consider that supporting the sending of arms is strengthening NATO.
They are totally wrong. It is not a war between two imperialisms. For now, it is between Russia, a capitalist-imperialist power, and Ukraine, a semi-colony, a poor country, one of the poorest in Europe.
And in the tradition of Marxism, we are with the oppressed and invaded nation. The facts have shown that the aim of the invasion is imperialist. It is not “denazification”. Putin said verbatim in his speech, when he launched the invasion, that the aim was to end Ukraine as a nation. He clearly said that Ukraine is part of Russia, “and it has always been”. That is why in that speech he criticised Lenin for recognizing Ukraine as a nation in the socialist revolution of 1917.
If there was an inter-imperialist war, then we would be in the middle of the third world war and that is not the case. If the war broke out between NATO, led by the USA and Europe against Russia, the third world war would have started and there is hardly anyone in the world, right or left, who says that (neither do the PO and the PTS). We as revolutionary socialists cannot rule it out as a possibility for the future, but one thing is a possibility and another the current reality.
We support the just cause of Ukraine against the imperialist invader, not Zelenskyy and NATO
Of course, the USA, European imperialism and NATO want to take advantage of this war to weaken their imperialist competitor, Putin’s Russia. And to take political and economic control of what is left of Ukraine once the war ends.
But there are no NATO troops in Ukraine. And the weaponry they are sending, only two months into the war, is limited. The claim that NATO is “arming to the teeth” Ukraine is false. If that had happened, it would be hard to understand Ukraine’s obvious military weakness compared to Russia.
Ukraine is only defending itself against the invader and it cannot even launch missiles or a major military counter-attack on Russian territory.
The PO and the PTS affirm their neutrality, saying that Zelenskyy is bourgeois and a NATO ally and pro-US. From the IWU-FI and Socialist Left, we agree with this. Obviously, Zelenskyy represents a capitalist government that wants to subordinate Ukraine to European imperialism and NATO. But we do not support Zelenskyy or NATO. We support the Ukrainian people, the working class, the women who make Molotov cocktails, and those who are fighting alongside the army in defence of their country and their national self-determination. We have an independent policy and we support the Ukrainian left in building a new revolutionary leadership.
This is at issue: is the struggle of the Ukrainian people against an invading power a just cause or not? Independently of whether it has Zelenskyy as its political-military leadership. PO and PTS say it’s not.
This is not the first time there has been a just war with a counterrevolutionary leadership. There have been many. In 1935, the people of Ethiopia, ruled by a bloodthirsty emperor, had to face the invasion of Mussolini’s Italy. In 1937, China’s war against the invasion of Japanese imperialism. China was led by the dictator Chiang Kai-shek, who had killed thousands of workers and peasants in the insurrections of the 1920s. Despite this, Trotsky said that one had to be on the side of China, without supporting Chiang Kai-shek politically. And he demanded arms for China and Ethiopia. In 1982, the Malvinas/Falklands War against Britain and NATO was led by the genocidal dictatorship. In 2001, the Iraq war against the invader USA and NATO. The whole left was in favour of supporting Iraq, which was led by the dictator Saddam Hussein, who repressed the Kurdish people with chemical gases.
In all these cases, we revolutionaries stood on the side of the just causes of these peoples, despite the reactionary and dictatorial leaderships that were at the head.
That is why it is a serious mistake for PO and the PTS to propose for Ukraine to apply the policy of “revolutionary defeatism”. Applied to Ukraine, it means telling the Ukrainian people, the soldiers, who are workers and peasants, and the militias, not to shoot against the Russian invader, to shoot against Zelenskyy and stop fighting the invader. To surrender to Putin. Is that what we are going to say in Ukraine? It is the opposite of what Trotsky and the tradition of the revolutionaries proposed.
It was Leon Trotsky who always argued with those who refused in just wars to support them because they had a treacherous leadership. We claim to belong to the Trotskyist left and follow those teachings. PO and PTS must answer if they consider that Trotsky was wrong.
*Miguel Sorans is a leading member of the IWU-FI and Socialist Left of Argentina. Article originally published in El Socialista, 11/5/2022
See also Trotsky on the Sino-Japanese war of 1937