Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) opposes and condemns the Russian military invasion of the independent nation of Ukraine. We oppose it without reservation––without qualifications or excuses, without the whataboutism (“but what about the role of the US and NATO in all this?”) that some of the so-called left continues to put out.
Russian Imperialism vs. National Self-Determination
Russia’s invasion is motivated by naked imperialism, as Russian President Vladimir Putin himself explained in seemingly deranged speeches right before he invaded. On February 21, Putin declared that he is rebuilding the former Russian empire—the empire of the Tzars as well as Stalin’s empire. He denied that Ukraine is a separate nation from Russia, stating that their peoples are “bound by blood, by family ties,” that Ukrainians used to identify as “Russians and Orthodox Christians,” that Ukraine has “historically been Russian land,” and that “modern Ukraine was entirely created by … Bolshevik, Communist Russia.”
Putin went on to scoff at the principle of national self-determination. He claimed that Lenin put forward “a slogan about the right of nations to self-determination, up to [the right of] secession,” in order to appease “nationalists” (i.e., non-Russians in Russian-controlled territory who sought self-determination). Thus, “Soviet Ukraine … can be rightfully called ‘Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine.’” Yet, according to Putin, “Lenin’s principles of state development were not just a mistake; they were worse than a mistake” (emphasis added).
Putin’s plan is to absorb Ukraine into Russia or, more likely, to set up a puppet government. He has carried out this strategy in stages. First, he declared that two areas in Eastern Ukraine with large Russian populations, Donetsk and Luhansk, also known collectively as Donbas, were independent nations. The next day, he claimed that these newly-minted nations had invited Russia in to “defend” them against a non-existent threat. And on the third day, he invaded.
This repeats the manner in which Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The fact that Putin suffered little retaliation for that act has undoubtedly emboldened him now.
As his February 21 speech made clear, Putin’s justification for his invasion of Ukraine is rooted in a repudiation of the Marxist principle of national self-determination. So-called leftists, in the West and elsewhere, who condone Putin’s invasion, similarly do so in blatant disregard for the principle of national self-determination.
In contrast, MHI stands firmly on the ground of Raya Dunaveyskaya’s Marxist-Humanism, including its further development of the principle of national self-determination articulated by Lenin. We consider the self-determination of each nation to be a fundamental, inviolable right. That right includes the right of people everywhere to determine for themselves whether they constitute a people, a nation. It is not up to Putin to decide what constitutes a nation, or whether the people of Ukraine are a nation, as he tried to do in his February 21 speech. It is up to the people who live there.
Protesters in Melitopol, Ukraine singing the national anthem. Credit: Franak Viačorka.
This does not mean that MHI supports the government of Ukraine (or any government). It means that we support the population’s right to have its own nation, to choose its own government––and to repel and defeat Putin’s invasion in order to defends these rights.Putin’s claims of Ukrainian aggression are ludicrous. For months, Ukraine was surrounded on three sides by tens of thousands of Russian troops—150,000 strong as of February 24, when the full-scale military invasion began.
Moreover, Russia has spent the last two decades grabbing off pieces of Eastern Ukraine and incorporating them into Russia. Earlier, while still under the control of Stalinists, it fought the Afghans for control of their country for 10 years. More recently, it intervened in Syria, adding massively to the death and destruction there. So anyone who doubts that Russia is imperialist had better think again.
What is the current basis of Russian imperialism? As long as there is capitalism, whether in its private form or its state form (like the Soviet Union), there is competition for control of the world’s resources and markets. This competition for control often crystallizes in the form of competition between nations and blocs of nations. War is the ultimate result of this competition. So it is no surprise that the current state of Russia’s economy––its weakness and dependence on energy revenues––enticed its dictator, Putin, to seek a more favorable military-strategic position, as well as land and glory, by conquering its neighbor. Putin says explicitly that he is restoring the Russian Empire. At the least, he is trying to stabilize his regime by distracting the Russian masses from their poor economic conditions.
After Ukraine became an independent country in 1991, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia maintained a collaborative government there until 2014, when a popular uprising set the country on a different track. Putin is still fighting this diminution of his power in the world—now by direct military conquest.
Calls for “peace” are clearly futile. “Peace” may make the objective tendency toward imperial domination operate more slowly, but it cannot abolish the tendency itself. This is why Marxist-Humanism has put forth the same antiwar slogan for many decades:
The opposite of war is not peace; it is social revolution!
Slaughter of Civilians
The fighting has killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of people already. The victims include many civilians killed by Russian bombs and many Russian soldiers who have died in combat. Russia aimed to capture the capital city of Kyiv within a few days, but its military has been slowed by mass popular resistance and trouble with its supply lines. As we write, a 40-mile-long convoy of Russian army vehicles is on the way to the capital from the east, but supply problems (and, perhaps, Ukrainian military counterattack) have halted its progress.
Meanwhile, the population of Kyiv is fleeing to the Polish border or living in the subways for shelter from the bombs. Refugees are fleeing from the whole country—more than 1.7 million people thus far. Other Ukrainians are becoming internal refugees, fleeing the fighting for parts of the country where the invasion has not yet reached. All men between 18 and 60 are required to stay and fight, and many women are voluntarily learning to fighting as well. Only Kherson, a city of about 300,000 near the Black Sea, has thus far fallen to Russian troops.
The Ukrainian people are fighting with a military that is a fraction of Russia’s in numbers of soldiers, arms, tanks, and airplanes. Yet civilians are constantly joining the fight, even as the cities are being bombed. People who never held a gun before are teaching themselves how to shoot. Molotov cocktails are the weapon of choice for many, who throw them at the Russian tanks rolling into town. Some brave souls are putting their bodies in front of tanks to stop them. It is clear that even if Russia technically conquers the country in a short while, it will face months and years of resistance from the population, including guerilla warfare.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine is the largest land invasion in Europe since World War II. Unless Putin is stopped, as many as 50,000 Ukrainian civilians may be killed and 3 to 5 million refugees may flee the country. We can also expect additional Russian incursions into nearby countries.
Massive Opposition within Russia
From the start, there have been protests against the war throughout Russia, even though protests are illegal there and Putin’s government has now shut down the few independent media outlets that still existed. On the very first day of the war, about 90 protests broke out. By the fifth day, 6,000 people had been jailed for protesting. In St. Petersburg, their signs read, “Against war, for freedom at home.” And yesterday, in response to a call by opposition leader Alexei Navalny for antiwar protests, Russians demonstrated against the war in 56 different cities. More than 4300 protesters were detained by authorities. Opposition politicians and sports figures are denouncing the war as well.
Sometimes the act of resistance
doesn’t have to be loud or bold,
it just has to be.”
Photo and caption credit:
Belarus Free Theatre
Opinion polls by Levada, an independent pollster, show that fewer than half of the Russian people support the war. This is very different from 2014, when Putin invaded and annexed part of eastern Ukraine, including the province of Crimea. Tellingly, there have been no demonstrations in support of the war. And we can expect to see even more intense opposition in Russia as more of its soldiers return home in body bags.
Meanwhile, the invading army is suffering desertions and leaving some dead soldiers behind; this is greatly demoralizing. Russian soldiers look surprised when they are confronted by Ukrainian civilians yelling at them, telling them to go home, and physically blocking their way. It seems that many, if not most, of the invading troops had been misled by the Putin government about the nature of their mission in Ukraine. Some Russian soldiers have said that they were not even told that they were going to Ukraine.
In contrast, Ukraine has been unified in opposition to the invasion. Once notoriously anti-Semitic, the Ukrainians now stand firmly with their Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who refuses to go into hiding, or to leave the capital, in spite of being target number one on Putin’s kill list.
Putin has shut down every independent group within Russia, including mothers’ groups, as well as all independent media. The war is not discussed on Russian TV. In fact, it is illegal even to mention that there is a war taking place. Thus, many if not most Russians do not know that their government has invaded Ukraine, much less why. Nonetheless, opposition within Russia to Putin’s war is strong and growing. How much stronger will it get if he can subdue Ukraine only by means of a protracted and costly war that he can’t hide from the Russian people?
Putin hoped to subdue Ukraine in lightning-swift fashion, with minimal losses. That strategy failed miserably. His apparent belief that pro-Russian Ukrainians, and Russian people residing in Ukraine, would organize a “fifth column” to assist his war effort has failed as well. In southeastern Ukraine, the supposed center of pro-Putin sentiment, the population has prevented Russian tanks from staying in the town squares. Putin’s military has starting bombing these areas.
So Putin now has to fear that the war will indeed be protracted and costly. Even worse, he now has to fear that internal opposition to the war within Russia, as well as the economic hardship that foreign sanctions are inflicting on Russia, will cause him to be ousted from power.
Opposition throughout the World
There are huge protests taking place throughout Europe and around the world. Far from the war bringing it international glory, Russia is now being widely ostracized and excluded from sports and cultural events.
Nations around the globe are imposing economic sanctions that will further weaken the Russian economy and drastically hurt its financial markets. Some of the sanctions will hurt Putin and his oligarch cronies personally.
Since he is a multi-billionaire and has assets all over the world, Putin may not care about having some bank accounts frozen. He is out for worldwide power and influence, even if world dominance is not possible. And the West’s previous economic sanctions did nothing to deter his drive to war, at least in part because they were weak. The countries that imposed sanctions purposely kept them weak, because strong sanctions would hurt their own economies as prices of imported heating fuel and gasoline rose.
But economic sanctions have now been strengthened substantially, even by energy companies and others that need to trade with Russia. The exclusion of Russian entities from the SWIFT international banking network, and Russian banks’ sudden inability to do business with banks abroad, will undoubtedly have a big impact on Putin and his oligarch cronies as well as on ordinary people.
In fact, due to the central bank’s inability to use foreign currency reserves to buy rubles, the ruble is in danger of collapse. Its value fell by 25 percent by Day 5 of the war. At the moment, the decline in its value since the invasion began exceeds 40%, and Russian debt has been downgraded to junk-bond status by Moody’s, which deems the risk of default as serious.
The value of the ruble would have fallen much further, if Russia’s central bank had not responded to the emergency by boosting a key interest rate by more than 100%. There is a clear limit to how much further the interest rate can be raised. If and when the limit is reached, massive deprecation of the ruble will be inevitable.
Thus far, however, Western economic sanctions contain serious loopholes and exceptions, largely because the countries that have imposed sanctions are unwilling to take measures that threaten their importation of cheap Russian energy. Their support for Ukraine only goes so far. It is still unclear how much damage to Russia’s economy sanctions will actually do, and how seriously they will impede the Putin government’s war against Ukraine, unless and until the loopholes and exceptions are closed.
Blaming the US and NATO
In the run-up to the war, much of the so-called left tried to blame the Ukraine crisis on the US and NATO. That effort did not stop once Putin invaded Ukraine.
On February 24, right after the invasion started, the Stop the War Coalition, a British group, blamed the invasion––which it delicately called “the movement of Russian forces into Ukraine”––not only on the Russian government, but also on the Ukrainian government, and on the “expansion of NATO and US hegemony,” and on “major wars of aggression by the USA, Britain and other NATO powers.” Putting forward this “evenhanded” perspective at the very moment when Putin is invading Ukraine, and when people throughout the world are responding with disgust and horror, can only lend assistance to Putin’s war effort, by blunting the opposition to it.
Also on February 24, Thomas Palley, co-editor of the Review of Keynesian Economics and former Assistant Director of Public Policy at the AFL-CIO, wrote that
The inevitable has happened. Russia has invaded Ukraine. It was inevitable because the US and its NATO partners had backed Russia into a corner from which it could only escape by military means.
This is complete nonsense. In the first place, there is widespread opposition to Putin’s war even within the Russian government and military. How “inevitable” can a war have been if much of its leadership opposes the war even after it has begun?
Secondly, Palley would have us believe that the invasion was inevitable because “Russia” was backed into a corner once NATO refused to exclude Ukraine from the alliance in perpetuity. However, Putin would have attempted to take over Ukraine even if NATO had agreed to that demand. As he made clear in his speech of February 21, Putin’s aims are not merely, and not mostly, defensive. He wants to obliterate an independent Ukraine, to bring the country under his control, to re-establish a Russian empire and to widen his regime’s global power and influence.
Most importantly, it is not inevitable that Russia be ruled by a bloodthirsty, klepto-fascist, imperialist dictator like Putin. A pro-democracy Russian government would not be waging this war!
It was not even inevitable that Putin emerged victorious over political opponents who were quite different from him. He wrested his near-total power slowly, bit by bit, suppressing, intimidating, poisoning, and murdering dissidents and political opponents in the process. And as he did so, he profoundly altered Russia’s geopolitical orientation, making the rebuilding of empire a top priority.
But although empire is Putin’s top priority, it is not the top priority of the Russian masses or of pro-democracy Russian forces. And because the continuation of Putin’s rule is not inevitable, it is also not inevitable that imperial conquest remain the top priority of Russia’s government.
Rhetoric like Palley’s hides all of these realities and possibilities. It is far worse than mere “whataboutism.” The crucial but unstated premise behind the claim that “Russia” was backed into a corner is the falsehood that Putin’s rule and Putin’s goal of rebuilding a Russian empire are inevitable––or, at least, that these are settled facts that we have to accept unquestioningly. By trying to foist this unstated premise on us, Palley and others like him are trying to get us to join them in tacitly supporting authoritarianism and imperialist warmongering. They want us to support authoritarianism and imperialist warmongering at least to the extent that we accept these things unquestioningly, instead of searching for and working for a revolutionary alternative.
But another world is possible; and another Russia is possible. Putin’s heavy-handed overreach and blundering have made it more possible than it was just two weeks ago. To repeat, the opposite of war is not making peace with imperialist dictators, but social revolution.
Putin Aims to Destabilize the West, Establish Multi-Polarity
Putin’s primary foreign policy aim is to weaken and destabilize the US and NATO. Their weakening is seen as the way to restore Russia’s relative political and economic influence––in effect, to return to the Cold War era, when the world was bi-polar and all countries were in one camp or the other.
Some of the so-called left has cheered Putin on because it likewise thinks that “multi-polarity” is a great way to weaken US hegemony. It looks forward to the replacement of the uni-polar world, that prevailed after the end of the Cold War, with a world in which US power is challenged by Russia and China and perhaps other countries like Brazil, India, Iran, and so on.
This vision of a multi-polar capitalist order is not in the interests of the working people of this world. It has nothing in common with anti-imperialism. As the invasion of Ukraine shows, multi-polarity means multi-imperialism. The drive to restore multi-polarity is, for the masses, the drive to subject them to the domination and oppression and violence of multiple imperialist powers instead of just one. This is no substitute for social revolution, and multi-polarity is not the road to social revolution.
It is not even an improvement over the status quo. In fact, the drive for multi-polarity has exposed the people of the world to a renewed threat of nuclear annihilation, as Putin threatens to launch nukes against those who would dare interfere with his conquest of Ukraine. The threat of nuclear war had greatly subsided after the end of the Cold War—that is, after the end of the bi-polar struggle of the US and the USSR for world domination. Now it is back with a vengeance.
The Effort to Impose “Neutrality” on Ukraine
Influential voices, some of them on “the left,” contend that the solution to the Ukraine crisis is to impose neutrality on Ukraine. In a 2014 article in Foreign Affairs, University of Chicago political scientist John J. Mearsheimer, an architect of the “offense realism” school of geopolitical ideology, blamed the Ukraine crisis of that time on liberals in the West, and he called for “a deal that guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence in exchange for guaranteeing its neutrality.”
This “realism” has been and continues to be repeated by some on the left. In a Washington Post piece of February 15, 2022, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, pretended to affirm that “Ukraine certainly has the rights of a sovereign nation.” Yet, in a verbatim repetition of Mearsheimer, she called for “a deal that guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence in exchange for guaranteeing its neutrality.” Similarly, in his blog post of February 24, Thomas Palley opined that
Ukraine must agree to permanently being a neutral state, as were Finland and Austria in the Cold War.
The [sic] Ukraine should be reconstituted as a federal state, and it may even need to be partitioned given the new facts that have been created. With US encouragement, Ukraine played with fire and it has gotten burned.
Palley’s utter lack of empathy for the Ukrainian people is appalling enough, but the key point here is that he, and other elite foreign-policy “experts” like Mearsheimer and vanden Heuvel, have no business dictating the fate of Ukraine and its people. That is totally antithetical to the right of national self-determination.
Clearly, the right of national self-determination means nothing to such “experts.” But it is an inviolable principle of socialist internationalism. We must uphold and defend the right of the Ukrainian people to decide whether they want to be an independent nation––truly independent, not “neutralized,” partitioned, or otherwise “reconstituted” through the machinations of big-power politics. We must uphold and defend their right to ally with those they wish to ally with, just like every other sovereign, independent nation. (Is it any wonder, in light of the Russian government’s brutal war against the Ukrainians, that they have chosen a different ally?) Mearsheimer’s and vanden Heuvel’s fusion of imposed neutrality with sovereignty and independence––talking about them as if they were parts of one and the same thing, rather than opposites––is just high-falutin doubletalk.
To avoid being taken in by those who call for Ukraine’s neutrality––that is, to avoid thinking that such calls are truly in the interests of neutrality rather than clever argumentation that serves Putin’s aims––ask yourself, “Why is Ukraine is being singled out for neutralization?” Why not call for the Russian military to remain neutral in this war? Why not “solve” the crisis by making the Russian government agree to permanently be neutral, neither on the side of the US and NATO, nor on the side of Putin and Russia’s oligarchs?
It then becomes clear that the calls for Ukraine’s forced neutrality flow from an imperialist mentality much like Putin’s, according to which Russia is a real nation, with legitimate security concerns that need to be accommodated … while Ukraine is not. Efforts to impose neutrality in a one-sided way––on weaker, peripheral countries, but not on stronger, core countries––make sense only if one accepts imperialism and takes its existence for granted.
In the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud
Many commentators fear that Putin will become increasingly desperate as victory evades him, and will increase the slaughter of troops and civilians. He may begin to carpet bomb the cities, as Russia did during Chechnya’s war for independence in 1999–2000, killing tens of thousands.
The US and the European NATO countries are sending military aid but not troops to Ukraine. Nonetheless, the situation is ripe to start World War III, by accident or by Putin’s design. He might, in desperation, use tactical nuclear weapons. Putin has even raised that prospect. Some foreign-policy experts worry that he is losing his grip on reality and might actually do it.
Consider that, in the war on Ukraine, one of the first tasks of Putin’s invading army was to seize Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident in 1986. The area still contains dangerous radioactive material. And last Friday, Russian forces shelled the largest functioning nuclear power plant in Europe, in Zaphorizhzhia, setting it on fire. Luckily, the Ukrainian army fought off the Russians and extinguished the fire before radiation was released, preventing a disaster that could have been ten times worse than Fukushima. Zelensky termed the attacks “nuclear terrorism.”
Although nuclear weapons are inherently frightening, a generally accepted policy of deterrence, “mutually assured destruction,” prevented the use of nukes during the Cold War that followed World War II. But Putin, like Donald Trump, has a different perspective. Fiona Hill, a foreign policy specialist at the Brookings Institution and longtime Putin-watcher, recently said that
if [Putin] has an instrument, he wants to use it. Why have it if you can’t? He’s already used a nuclear weapon in some respects. …
The Russians have already used a weapons-grade nerve agent, Novichok. …
So if anybody thinks that Putin wouldn’t use something that he’s got that is unusual and cruel, think again. Every time you think, “No, he wouldn’t, would he?” Well, yes, he would. And he wants us to know that, of course.
The Struggles Against Trumpism and Putinism
The struggles against Trumpism and Putinism are two facets of one and the same struggle.
There should no longer be any doubt that the Putin regime is the image of the US’s own future if Trump manages to return to power––authoritarian, anti-democratic, brutal, kleptocratic. The US already has traveled far down that road since Trump became president.
This is not accidental. Trumpism and Putinism are two manifestations of a rising global tide of authoritarianism and rejection of liberal democracy. Furthermore, Trump has consistently been and continues to be Putin’s “poodle.” Putin’s Russia is a model he wishes to emulate. Just look at how Trump, and Trumpites like Tucker Carlson, have continued to defend and express admiration for Putin, even in the midst of his attack on Ukraine.
It is true that, owing to widespread support for Ukraine’s resistance among the American people, the Trumpites have recently begun “pulling back and biding their time for another opportunity to once again aggressively mainstream authoritarian politics,” as Salon’s Amanda Marcotte noted a week ago. But “[w]hen playing peekaboo, the fascist doesn’t just disappear because they put their hands in front of their face.”
Ideological affinity is not the only thing at work here. There are, in addition, connections between Trumpism and Putinism that bear directly on the war against Ukraine.
Putin’s attack on Ukraine is incomparably more vicious than was his assault on the American electorate in 2016, when the Putin regime colluded with the Trump campaign in a successful effort to interfere in the election and get Trump elected as president. Yet the two events are both parts of a single overarching goal: to weaken the power of the US and NATO. As Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King noted on February 25,
Putin … had his reasons for wanting Trump in the Oval Office. As with the buildup in his campaign to take Ukraine, Putin was clearly playing a long game: put in place a U.S. president who would pursue policies that weaken the European Union and NATO, the bulwarks against Russian expansion into former Soviet countries. Trump was the answer. …
The simple truth is that Putin believed Russia would benefit from having Trump in the White House, and he pushed his intelligence services to help secure that outcome. Just as he perceives that a subjugated Ukraine benefits Russia and is now working to achieve that end.
Alexander Vindman, a former US Army lieutenant colonel who is now a foreign policy fellow at Johns Hopkins University, recently pointed to another connection between Trumpism and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine: Trumpism in general, and the fascistic Capitol insurrection of January 6, 2021 in particular, have divided America, polarizing the population and weakening the country. They have thereby given Putin a golden opportunity to invade Ukraine. Vindman said,
The Tucker Carlsons, the Donald Trumps, the Mike Pompeos, they and other Republicans … are the reason that Russia launched this operation.
Putin could have done this at any time. The reason he acted now is not coincidental. Putin started building up his forces in the spring of 2021. This was weeks after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Putin, like Trump, smells vulnerability and exploits it. …
There is blood on the Republican Party’s hands. They were partially responsible for what is happening in Ukraine. Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump were basically as popular on Russian TV as they are here in this country. They’re constantly being played there. What is the impression given? The United States is divided, and there’s an opportunity there.
We should also recall that the Trump regime had its own designs on Ukraine. It interfered in Ukrainian politics and withheld aid, in an effort to gain Ukraine’s help in smearing Joe Biden and thereby manipulating the 2020 US presidential election. Trump was impeached––the first time––for these actions, but acquitted because Republican senators were unwilling to cross him.
Putin is the enemy of …
The world is not divided between “an imperialist camp” and an “anti-imperialist camp,” i.e., between pro- and anti-US countries, despite what some so-called leftists contend. US imperialism is only one imperialism; Russian imperialism is another; and there are still others. The fundamental division in the world is between the rulers and the masses of common people struggling for freedom. As Raya Dunayevskaya continually emphasized, there are “two worlds in each country.”
It is obvious that Putin is the enemy of the Ukrainian masses.
As we have just explained, Putin is also the enemy of the American masses, because of his collusion with Trumpism and his interference in US politics in furtherance of his imperialist ambitions.
Above all, Putin is the enemy of the Russian masses. He has ruthlessly crushed dissent, including that of the anti-corruption movement headed by Alexei Navalny, and he has killed and harassed opposition leaders and journalists. He has presided over the failure of the Russian economy—and the looting of the economy by his oligarchic cronies and himself. And his regime is sending Russians to die in a war that they do not want, at times lying to them about what they are doing in Ukraine.
Down with the klepto-fascist, imperialist, Putin regime!
Down with “left” apologetics for Putinism!
Victory to Ukraine!
Victory to Russian pro-democracy forces!
Please also see
No to War–Russia’s Hands Off Ukraine!
Statement launched by the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign
There’s further discussion of the Trumpism/Putinism relation with respect to Ukraine, in a piece today by Jonathan Chait: “How Trump and Putin Have Been Allies Against Ukraine.” https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/03/how-trump-and-putin-have-been-allies-against-ukraine.html
David Harvey’s recent piece about the invasion of Ukraine:
It is a classic exercise in the very what-aboutism that this editorial so rightly criticizes. Putin is mentioned in passing 3 times in the piece whereas the term “NATO” occurs 11 times and “US” occurs 25 times. The entire piece is a laundry list of bad things done by the US and NATO as if Russians are incapable of acting imperially or fascistically on their own.
The only criticism of Putin in Harvey’s piece is this, “None of this justifies Putin’s actions, any more than forty years of deindustrialization and neoliberal labour suppression justifies the actions or positions of Donald Trump. But neither do these actions in the Ukraine justify the resurrection of the institutions of global militarism (such as NATO) that have contributed so much to the creation of the problem.”
Just as this MHI editorial rightly identifies Trumpism and Putinism as two sides of the same coin. So are the left apologists for Trump and Putin two sides of the same coin. The same arguments and tactics are used in both cases.
Truly disgusting piece by Harvey. As the editorial says about something similar, it “can only lend assistance to Putin’s war effort, by blunting the opposition to it.”
Harvey says, “None of this justifies Putin’s actions, … these actions in the Ukraine ….” But none of it condemns Putin’s brutal imperialist invasion, either. Harvey can’t even bring himself to mentions what “actions” he’s talking about. Is Putin using the wrong fork at dinner, or is he engaged imperialist subjugation, mass slaughter of innocent people, and denial of their right to national self-determination?
Some decent, genuinely leftist, pushback against similar “left” apologetics from Chomsky and others:
This is good. It makes strong and convincing points and I enjoy reading it.
Nevertheless, there are two issues I keep stumbling over every time I read the editorial and every time I think about it.
The first issue I have is “Blaming the US and Nato” — I agree. But later on, in the section “The Struggles Against Trumpism and Putinism”, there is some blame on the US. Sure, this section discusses different issues than the earlier section. Nevertheless, there is blame, specifically on Trumpism and the Republican party:
“Alexander Vindman … pointed to another connection between Trumpism and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine: Trumpism in general, and the fascistic Capitol insurrection of January 6, 2021 in particular, have divided America, polarizing the population and weakening the country. They have thereby given Puting a golden opportunity to invade Ukraine. Vindman said, …”
Here, the editorial has a three-paragraph quote that culminates in:
“They were partially responsible for what is happening in Ukraine.”
The second issue I have is that I do not find Vindman’s connection convincing. Instead, I cannot shake the feeling that this is a case of “correlation but not causation”.
I’m wondering how Dombas fits into your national self-determination narrative? Do you see Dombas as fighting for it’s own self-determination against Ukraine? And if not why not?
Because of the many claims and counterclaims regarding what has been going on in the Donbas region, and because events there have been heavily manipulated and even engineered from the outside, esp. by the Putin regime, it is hard to be definitive. But (speaking only for myself) I find it very difficult to regard the separatism there as a demand for national self-determination, for 2 reasons.
1st, I don’t think people in the region regard themselves as members of a distinct nation (the Donbas people or Donbas nation). If they don’t, then whatever their demands may be, they’re not demands for national self-determination.
2nd, given the heavy manipulation of events from the outside, it’s far from clear what people in the region want, and even less clear what they would want in the absence of manipulation. Nor is it clear that any orientation is widely accepted enough to be characterized as “what people in the region want.”
In regards to point one: The article says “[…]we support the population’s right to have its own nation, to choose its own government” So if a significant proportion of the people of Donbas *do* regard themselves as part of a distinct nation – the nation of Russia – and wish to dissociate themselves from the Ukrainian State, what would you call that? And why wouldn’t you support it.
Point two: But has there been any national identity that is not the product of some kind of ideological manipulation? Can you give examples?
Another thought is that if you are a male subject of the Ukrainian state and of fighting age you are currently conscripted and unable to leave the country. How can *that* be an example of self-determination of any kind?
Where I’m going with all this is the idea that “national self-determination” is not a logically defensible concept for socialists. States exist, but nations only as myths to legitimise them.
On point 1: Yes, the Russian people are a nation, including people in Donbas who identify as part of the Russian nation. I support their right to national self-determination. I don’t support the kleptofascist regime that rules over their nation launching a murderous invasion of another nation in order to create an additional Russian nation at the expense of a different people. That’s called imperialism.
On point 2: I wasn’t referring, of course, to what you call “ideological manipulation.” I referred twice to “manipulation of events” (emphasis added). The manipulations of events that I had in mind were things like “Donetsk and Luhansk … since 2014 have been controlled by two puppet separatist governments that Moscow armed and helped establish”; “Russia sent operatives in, both military and political, to create the appearance of separatist movements, and then they sort of brought them to life. These movements would take over city halls in the region, and we’d see pictures of Russian special forces with them” https://abcnews.go.com/International/ukraine-separatist-regions-crux-russian-invasion/story?id=83084803 .
On your 3d point: A nation’s mobilization of a military (even a non-volunteer military) to defend itself and its people against murderous imperialist invasion is a classic example of national self-determination. If you want to blame someone for Ukraine’s emergency policy, put the blame in the right places–on Putin’s imperialist regime and on Putinite-Trumpite and “left” apologists abroad.
On your 4th point: Yeah, I know where you’re going. In other circumstances, I might be interested in arguing against you. But in the present circumstances, discussing this in the abstract, “at the very moment when Putin is invading Ukraine, and when people throughout the world are responding with disgust and horror, can only lend assistance to Putin’s war effort, by blunting the opposition to it,” as the editorial notes in a slightly different context. So no thanks.
OK. Usually I agree with most if not all of the analysis from the MHI, but on this issue we can agree to disagree for now. For the record, I’m not interested in Putin apologetics either.
My view is that it is in the interests of the people living in Ukraine that the conflict stops right away, by whatever means necessary, even if this means the Ukrainian state losing territory and influence. However, it is in the interest of the Ukrainian state to prolong the war in order to hold onto as much territory and power as it can. These two sets of interests are not aligned. Right now the lives of people living in Ukraine are being ruined and sacrificed for the interests of others, be that Russia, NATO or the Ukrainian state. This is a fact about how a world filled with capitalist states operates – at a time of war I think we are doing a disservice to forget it.
The Ukrainian people’s understanding of their interests is the polar opposite of yours.
When millions of people who are being slaughtered, terrorized, and displaced overwhelmingly oppose appeasing the perpetrator, I’m going to listen to what they say is in their interests.
Also, appeasement didn’t work out so well prior to WWII, or during the last 8 years in Ukraine. Etc.
This is the best statement from a Marxist/Leftist group I have come across. Too much of the ‘Left’ is falling into moral equivalence between Putin and Ukraine and the ‘West.’ Supporting the Ukrainian resistance seems to be the only appropriate position.
It is very disappointing to see MHI align itself with the interests of one capitalist state against another. The question of “moral equivalence” is irrelevant although it has to be said that the Ukrainian regime, like the Putin regime, is also a corrupt obnoxious authoritarian regime undeserving of working-class support, least of all from those who call themselves socialists or communists. What is the point of such support except to keep such a regime in power and maintain the existence of one capitalist nation-state in the face of another that seeks to extinguish it? That is surely not the business of socialists or communists who oppose nationalism and the very institution of the nation-state itself as a product of capitalism.
Of course, the invasion is a criminal and heinous act on the part of the Putin regime but how does it serve the interests of Ukrainian workers to take up arms to resist this invasion in the cause of Ukrainian nationalism? All that will do is result in the slaughter of many more Ukrainian and Russian workers than would otherwise be the case – not to mention the wholesale destruction of the economic infrastructure of the country. There is little point in being a hero when you are dead
A far more prudent and wiser position to take would simply be not to get involved in this inter-capitalist conflict or become a refugee and live to see another day. The Russian workers in uniform are no less duped by capitalist propaganda into supporting “their” supposed country and they should equally be persuaded not to take up arms in support of that country.
Of course, I understand that in the present circumstances there is little chance of that happening but that slim chance is further reduced by a supposed Marxist organisation actively urging Ukrainian workers to support a capitalist state on the utterly specious grounds that one has to “listen to what they say is in their interests”. Really? So when equally duped Russian workers say it is in their interests that Russia should invade Ukraine will MHI go along with this view as well?
Andrew, for the national self-determination of Ukraine, would you support the intervention of other imperialist countries (including yours) to arm Ukrainian resistance, to create no-fly-zone over the Ukraine and to put ballistic missiles there against Russia? As long as the military capacity matters because it is a war, apparently, there is no chance for Ukraine to establish its national self-determination without this support. In this case, do you think that the western countries will support the Ukrainian resistance without expecting to create their own puppet-pro-western government? Bringing the right of self-determination to the discussion as a key concept is complete nonsense when it is impossible.
The national self-determination is brought to the discussion by the MHI, not because it is derived from the current case but because it is the political principle which is where all doors of science are closed. This is why it is not surprising that the text above explains the authoritarian regimes of today not by the laws of our society but by the mind of some crazy people like Putin, Trump etc.
Andrew, you have criticized many economists who tried to explain economic crises by the wrong economic policies and it was you who emphasized the role of the laws in our current economy but now you are basically ignoring the role of these laws. Andrew, do you really think that the reason for ongoing wars all over the world are dictators like Putin or their mindset like putinism? This text puts you into the same boat of David Harvey and other leftists.
Robin Everett Cox–You mischaracterize MHI’s position, as well as what I wrote in a comment above.
According to you, “It is very disappointing to see MHI align itself with the interests of one capitalist state against another … the Ukrainian regime, like the Putin regime, is also a corrupt obnoxious authoritarian regime undeserving of working-class support.” But MHI’s editorial states explicitly, “This does not mean that MHI supports the government of Ukraine (or any government). It means that we support the population’s right to have its own nation, to choose its own government––and to repel and defeat Putin’s invasion in order to defends these rights.”
I understand that you oppose the socialist-internationalist principle at issue here–the right of national self-determination–but that’s no warrant for mischaracterizing support for this principle as support for “the Ukrainian regime.” It simply isn’t. In particular, supporting a nation’s right to choose its own government is not tantamount to support for that government.
You refer to “a supposed Marxist organisation actively urging Ukrainian workers to support a capitalist state on the utterly specious grounds that one has to ‘listen to what they say is in their interests,'” but MHI didn’t write the phrase you quote. I wrote it, in a personal capacity. The bigger problem, though, is that you seriously distort what I wrote.
I did not make what people say is in their interests the basis for supporting anything–much less “a capitalist state”! I made it a basis for understanding what’s in their interests. Two completely different things. I conclude, largely on the basis of what they say, that capitalists have an interest in preserving capitalism and Trumpites have in interest in preserving white supremacy–I don’t go in for “false consciousness”/”people are duped” rhetoric–but that certainly doesn’t mean that I’m going to support capitalism or white supremacy.
Bulend–it’s just not true that “the text above explains the authoritarian regimes of today not by the laws of our society but by the mind of some crazy people like Putin, Trump etc.” The 1st section asks “What is the current basis of Russian imperialism?,” and the answer it sketches is rooted in “the laws of our society.” The editorial’s whole analysis of Putin’s aggression is based on that.
It is true that the editorial doesn’t pretend that his current war against Ukraine can be explained exclusively in terms of objective economic/geopolitical factors. As it notes, “there is widespread opposition to Putin’s war even within the Russian government and military. How ‘inevitable’ can a war have been if much of its leadership opposes the war even after it has begun?” So, to adequately account for why the Putin regime has launched all-out war against the Ukrainians, the ideology and mindset and isolation, etc. of Putin can’t be ignored, either.
You write that “there is no chance for Ukraine to establish its national self-determination without this support”–i.e. “other imperialist countries” establishing a no-fly zone and introducing ballistic missiles into Ukraine. But you contradict this later in the same paragraph: “Bringing the right of self-determination to the discussion as a key concept is complete nonsense when it is impossible.” The first statement is questionable (and I can think of other ways the Ukrainians can defeat the imperialist invasion, including international recruitment of volunteers to defend Ukraine (as in Spain in the 1930s) and assist in toppling the Putin regime, airtight sanctions, etc., etc.). The second statement is just plain wrong (as even your own 1st statement attests).
I’m not going to oppose the Ukrainians getting help from capitalist powers any more than I would have opposed Lenin and other Bolsheviks getting help from the German state to return to Russia in 1917 and stimulate the revolutionary upsurge there, https://www.dw.com/en/how-germany-got-the-russian-revolution-off-the-ground/a-41195312 . The Ukrainians would be wise to be careful–they’ve been sold out and used as pawns before–but I think they’re very well aware of that.
Sir, yours and the editorial’s point briefly is that Putin is killing but we should/can kill more of them. There is nothing wise in this position and nothing scientific, in fact, it is quite scary.
No, you’re wrong. National self-determination it’s not a “socialist-internationalist principle”. The right to self-determination is just a bourgeois right. It is also not an absolute right. No one would defend by case the right to national self-determination of a sclavist nation. Two people who thought very differently about national self-determination, like Lenin and R. Luxembug, were very clear that it was a bourgeois right. In Lenin’s approach, for example, the right to self-determination is defended as a way of weakening, not exalting, nationalism.
No, you’re wrong. It’s a socialist-internationalist principle to support the bourgeois right of national self-determination.
Nice try. But once you admit that national self-determination is a bourgeois right, you simply can’t say “It’s a socialist-internationalist principle to support the bourgeois right of national self-determination”. Why? Well, because you can’t say that socialists must defend that right in all cases. Suppose a Nazi-Fascist State (hence capitalist) invaded by a Workers State. Can the right of the bourgeoisie of the Nazi-fascist state to national self-determination be defended? According to Kliman, yes. Because this is a “socialist-internationalist principle”. And we are flexible in tactics and rigid in principles. National self-determination is a formal, bourgeois right. Of course, it must be defended against imperialist aggression. Beyond that in the current phase of capitalism colonial possession is irrelevant. Capitalism did not invent imperialism but it substantially modified its form and today imperialist capitals impose the subsumption of labor throughout the world by purely economic means. The same thing happens with bourgeois, representative democracy. Obviously it is an inalienable right against exceptional capitalist regimes or military dictatorships, such as those that the United States supported everywhere in the “fight against communism” (and the people I know had to suffer in my country). But faced with the rise of socialist democracy, no Marxist could maintain that democracy must be maintained within the limits of bourgeois representativeness.
Let it be well understood that with this I want to establish a position only with respect to the supposed “socialist-internationalist principle” of self-determination, which in reality is nothing more than a practical policy, a concession to bourgeois right that made a lot of sense in the era of classic imperialism (predominance of colonial possession), and which still makes sense in many settings. For example, in the current Ukraine, beyond the fact that the information we have is being heavily manipulated by both the “East” and the “West”.
“once you admit that national self-determination is a bourgeois right, you simply can’t say ‘It’s a socialist-internationalist principle to support the bourgeois right of national self-determination’. Why? Well, because you can’t say that socialists must defend that right in all cases.”
Yes I can, and do.
“Suppose a Nazi-Fascist State (hence capitalist) invaded by a Workers State. Can the right of the bourgeoisie of the Nazi-fascist state to national self-determination be defended? According to Kliman, yes. Because this is a ‘socialist-internationalist principle’.”
You might wish to FIND OUT my answer instead of making one up and imputing it to me. My actual answer is that the right of self-determination is a right that pertains to nations/peoples. It does not pertain to the bourgeoisie of the Nazi-fascist state.
Also, your hypothetical scenario has absolutely nothing to do with the right of self-determination being a bourgeois right. The latter term is used by Marxist to refer to rights that are consistent with (correspond to) the capitalist mode of production, and/or rights that can be granted within capitalist society.
I appreciate this article as it’s a perspective I haven’t seen articulated much on the left.
My attitude, however, is that what must come first is avoiding (or minimising the risk of) World War III, with it’s danger of a nuclear exchange. So long as that (and other existential threats) are avoided, hope exists in the future. But if the bombs go up, then humanity is either dead, or, more likely from what I’ve read, reduced hugely in numbers, with industrial civilisation collapsing. We would need to start again, on an irradiated globe.
I’d like to ask whether you all see this concern as, all things considered, compatible with what has been written here, or whether you see some other principle (such as that of national self-determination, or social revolution) as trumping it – i.e. that you would be willing to (run a heightened) risk (of) nuclear war on such basis?
Ross–I don’t think this is a case of one thing trumping another. You seem to presuppose that appeasement of Putin and his regime is a viable strategy to prevent WW3. But appeasement of the Nazis didn’t prevent WW2, or the Holocaust, and appeasement of Putin since c. 2014 hasn’t assuaged him at all.
In a recent article, “Ukraine’s Protracted Struggle for National Liberation,” Rohini Hensman (who we interviewed in an episode of Radio Free Humanity that will go live in a couple of days), wrote:
Bulend–your indifference to the right of national self-determination of the Ukrainian people is heartwarming.
You of course mischaracterize what the editorial says and what I say. Defeating the imperialist invasion and toppling the Putin regime isn’t needed only to secure Ukrainians’ right of national self-determination. It’s also the best way to minimize bloodshed–see my reply to Ross Hetherington, above, about the non-viability of appeasement.
Finally, I note that you’re changing the subject, failing to respond to my answers to the claims you made earlier.
In your response to my first comment, you suggested two things for the supposed self-determination of Ukraine in the current world. They are firstly to create international brigades like in Spain in the 1930s and secondly, to receive military support from other imperialist countries like Lenin did in 1917.
What would be the meaning of these proposals but that Putin is killing but we should/can kill more of them? Please help me to understand yours and editorial’s proposal for the war in Ukraine. Your fever to escalate the war is amazing!
And in your response, you said “It is true that the editorial doesn’t pretend that his current war against Ukraine can be explained exclusively in terms of objective economic/geopolitical factors.” So, there is no base to discuss. Which other factors can explain the current war? Putin is a crazy authoritarian guy, this is why there is a war in Ukraine, is it? And you added in your comments “the ideology and mindset and isolation, etc. of Putin can’t be ignored”. Following your other comments, it seems that WWII happened because of Hitler. Any other discussion on the reason for WWII is whataboutism.
Sir, beside crazy Putin, there is nothing in this text but the principle of self-determination. This is why I will leave a little quote from Engels’ Anti-Duhring in order to make my position clearer.
“What he is dealing with are therefore principles, formal tenets derived from thought and not from the external world, which are to be applied to nature and the realm of man, and to which therefore nature and man have to conform … but what we are dealing with here is solely forms of being, of the external world, and these forms can never be created and derived by thought out of itself, but only from the external world. But with this the whole relationship is inverted: the principles are not the starting-point of the investigation, but its final result; they are not applied to nature and human history, but abstracted from them, it is not nature and the realm of man which conform to these principles, but the principles are only valid in so far as they are in conformity with nature and history. That is the only materialist conception of the matter, and Herr Dühring’s contrary conception is idealistic, makes things stand completely on their heads, and fashions the real world out of ideas, out of schemata, schemes or categories existing somewhere before the world, from eternity …”
As I said before, the national self-determination is brought to the discussion by the MHI, not because it is derived from the current case but because it is the political principle which is where all doors of science are closed.
Something is seriously wrong when Putin is the one perpetrating genocide against the Ukrainian people, including civilians, but you don’t say a word to condemn that, or about how to stop it and punish it, but instead vent your anger against those of us on the other side.
I don’t want anyone to die. I want the Russian troops to desert, surrender, and turn on their officers. I want Putin to emerge from his Kremlin bunker with his hands up, waving his underwear as a white flag of surrender. But as long as they persist in trying to subjugate Ukraine and slaughtering Ukrainians, I’m going to support Ukrainians’ efforts to defend themselves. Failure to support this is “kill[ing] more of them.” And as I said in the comment to which you respond, appeasement of Putin will not stop the bloodshed:
You make no sense when you quote “the editorial doesn’t pretend that his current war against Ukraine can be explained exclusively in terms of objective economic/geopolitical factors” (but omit my emphasis) and then conclude “So, there is no base to discuss.” See https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/logicalfallacies/False-Dilemma .
Although you choose to disregard what I say, I’ve already pointed out to you that the editorial does not ignore objective economic/geopolitical factors:
I was referring especially to the part of the editorial that states:
Let me also say that I think it’s a crime against humanity to sell out the Ukrainians and their right of national self-determination for the sake of (one dreams) heading off WW3. They aren’t pawns in a game of geopolitical strategy that one is entitled to push around and sacrifice.
It’s important to head off WW3, but the responsibility of revolutionaries is to find ways to head it off that don’t involve throwing OTHER PEOPLE to the dogs.
‘It’s important to head off WW3, but the responsibility of revolutionaries is to find ways to head it off that don’t involve throwing OTHER PEOPLE to the dogs.’…Well said. Too many on the ‘Left’ are willing to do just that. The Ukrainian resistance is performing better than anyone expected. Historically the failure of Russian military adventures make stuff happen in Russia (1905 loss to Japan, 1917 WWI, even 1980s failure in Afghanistan). Perhaps we’ll see some interesting developments if the resistance holds up. It’s just a matter of supporting the Ukrainian resistance against Russian imperialism. It should be easy.
‘It’s just a matter of supporting the Ukrainian resistance against Russian imperialism. It should be easy.’
Yes it’s easy, especially if you are physically removed from the conflict. If wanting to prolong the conflict, while not being a part of it yourself, is not ‘throwing other people to the dogs’ I don’t know what is.
As far as I’m concerned this ‘national self-determination’ bullshit was settled over one hundred years ago. In the context of capitalism no state can deliver freedom, not even the Ukrainian one. And what’s more, it’s impossible to see the world as dividing into neat geographical zones each with its own ‘peoples’. On this issue unfortunately, the MHI actually has more in common with the blood and soil far right than it would care to realise.
Darren, it might help to read what Joe Grosso wrote. He was talking about “the failure of Russian military adventures mak[ing] stuff happen IN RUSSIA” (my caps). His point was that it should be easy for RUSSIANS to “make stuff happen” there because “It’s just a matter of supporting the Ukrainian resistance against Russian imperialism.” So your comment
was seriously off the mark and not called for.
Much if not most of my extended family was exterminated by the Nazis, so I’m deeply offended by your “blood and soil” comment.
Do you really not see that, by plying your anti-nationalism dogma at this particular moment, you’re putting yourself on the same side of this imperialist war as Putin and serving his aims? You’ve gone out of your way to concur with him that the Ukrainians have no right of national self-determination and that the principle is “bullshit” (your word). And you’ve come within a millimeter of declaring along with him that the Ukrainians aren’t a nation. Thiat is, precisely, the ideology with which he has justified his imperialist invasion.
OK. The tone of my last message was not constructive. I fully apologise.
I still don’t see why the MHI has chosen to frame this in terms of ‘national self-determination’. OK, I know why – because of the group’s historical Leninist and Trotskyist background.
When one state starts attacking people living within another I think we don’t *need* to adopt a nationalist framework to condemn it. This is not apologetics, nor does it serve to strengthen one side against the other, our actual influence in the events is zero. We can argue, to echo Rosa Luxemburg, that; “The substance and essence of the modern state comprise not freedom and independence of the “nation,” but only the class dominance of the bourgeoisie, protectionist policy, indirect taxation, militarism, war, and conquest.” That doesn’t mean that we think it’s fine if the Russian state blows the hell out of Ukraine.
I think the idea of ‘self determination of nations’ throws up a whole bunch of serious theoretical and ethical problems for socialists, in times of peace as much as in times of war. What is important is how we act and what concepts we promote. I can only assume you are aware of these arguments, so I will leave it for now..
Darren I would like to take you up on this line:
You said, “In the context of capitalism no state can deliver freedom, not even the Ukrainian one”
But this is not true. Capitalist states, even though they don’t provide absolute individual and communal freedom, do provide some degree of freedom, actual concrete freedom.
I, for example, am happy that the capitalist state that I live under upholds my right to free speech, or that it allows women to go to school. Both rights are not just “means” towards human self-development but are in fact human-self development in action as such. furthermore, the capitalist state you live under allows you to even discuss this matter, both the content of relative and absolute freedom and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while the Russian state will allow you to discuss neither.
Please refer to Andrew’s “On What Grounds Should We Defend Liberal Democracy?”, linked here:
You claim this “bullshit was settled over one hundred years ago”, but your opinions make me think that it has been far from settled correctly, at least in your mind, much less in social reality. Otherwise… we wouldn’t have to even discuss it.
To refer to this line of yours:
“And what’s more, it’s impossible to see the world as dividing into neat geographical zones each with its own ‘peoples’.”
I would argue that it’s not so much a neat geographical zone as you imagine it to be but a phenomenon of human language and the necessary expression of the material development of human culture that produces different peoples, regions and worlds. A psychoanalyst once said that a language is a world. As a humanist I believe that the multiplication, development and ac-knowledgement of such worlds enriches the human experience, while oppressive wars impoverish it.
Yes, I agree with you, some states grant more freedoms than others and a certain amount of political freedom makes organising for socialism easier, if not possible in the first place.
But this is not what is defended in the article above. The article was about the right to national self-determination, which is not the same thing.
I don’t think ‘peoples’ fit into “neat geographical zones” either, so we both agree on that also. The problem is that governments, by definition need to be strictly defined by borders, one state rules one area of geography at the exclusion of others. So if “the population’s right to have its own nation” is manifested through it having the right “to choose its own government” we have a problem, how can we draw a boundary around something which is not bounded?
For the notion of “national self-determination” to make any sense you need to have to have some kind of pre-political notion of what the people are. “The Welsh people are the citizens of the state of Wales” is no good, since it is circular.
You seem to think sharing a common language is what makes a people? This is an unsatisfactory explanation of what makes a nation, most nations are multi-lingual and a lot of the time where monolingualism is the norm it is due to the enforcing actions of the state.
Any of the other common features you could draw on for marking out ‘a people’ are going to be porous, non-exclusive and historically variable they are also going to be non-bounded. So the problem of defining who “the people” actually are is as problematic as defining where the territories of these people actually should be.
This is just the roughest of outlines. Hopefully, I’ve shown that I am not just talking off the top of my head. If you want to look into the issue more I suggest the work of scholars like Nandita Sharma or Kwame Anthony Appiah.
Darren, our editorial’s position on national self-determination is immune to your objections about problems with defining peoples/nations.
Your objections are about objectivist, scientistic definitions. Our position has nothing in common with them. In the 7th para., we write,
So it’s simply untrue that “[f]or the notion of ‘national self-determination’ to make any sense you need to have to have some kind of pre-political notion of what the people are.”
For background on our position, see Dunayevskaya’s 1946 “Com. Coolidge, Com. Trotsky and the Negro Question” (which starts on p. 300 here: https://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/RD-on-Coolidge.pdf) and some discussion of this in a Radio Free Humanity ep. of last year: https://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/episode-35-from-the-archives-dunayevskaya-on-the-independence-of-the-black-struggle-from-the-general-class-struggle).
Andrew, if you took what I said as being a problem with the definition of a nation – which on one level it is – then your objection might be right. But it is not just that, it’s a description of the actual factual situation.
In any particular geographical zone you may well have a group of people who do consider themselves to be a nation – but you will also have people within that area that either do not or are not considered part of that national group (no matter how long they have lived there). So, the history of “national self-determination” has turned out not to be one of freedom and liberation but one of forced migrations and genocides.
That’s why I mentioned people like Nandita Sharma in a previous comment. To be clearer, my interest in “national self-determination” comes not only from studying the various historical debates amongst socialists but also from contemporary studies about the ethics and practice of immigration.
I can’t shake the feeling that some of the critical comments are of apologetic nature — finding reasons why not directly opposing the Russian invasion without ifs and buts.
This is classic left stuff: “yes, but”. It’s what the communists started after 1917 and it continues to this day. The words change, but the principle is always the same.
We on the left have to rid ourselves from apologetic thinking. Apologetic is the kind of thinking that throws other people to the dogs. we must end this.
Darren, I have major qualms about the morality of carrying on a abstract discussion of the right to national self-determination, so I’m not going to participate indefinitely. It seems to me to distract from the urgent need at this moment to focus discussion on assisting the Ukrainian people’s fight to repel the imperialist invasion/slaughter and on discussing how to turn Putin’s imperialist war into civil war in Russia and giving him a taste of his own Novichok.
So I’ll just say this: You made two or more distinct points in your comment. I responded to one–your claim that the notion of ‘national self-determination’ requires some kind of pre-political notion of what the people are. I responded to that point to make clear that the editorial’s defense of the right of national self-determination requires no such thing, because it holds that it is “up to the people who live” in Ukraine to decide whether they are a nation.
I didn’t respond to the rest–territorial boundaries, etc.–because I’m not interested in an abstract discussion about national self-determination at this moment. The other stuff isn’t a different “level” of the same issue of “what constitutes a nation?” Also, national self-determination isn’t synonymous with statehood or territorial boundaries.
As for your claim that “the history of ‘national self-determination’ has turned out not to be one of freedom and liberation but one of forced migrations and genocides,” all I can say is that this is an ultra-idealist reading of history and a slippery-slope argument that assumes what it needs to prove. One could–and many do–employ the same kind of “reasoning” to conclude that Marxism leads to the Gulag and Pol Pot’s killing fields. One could equally well condemn opposition to Nazism on the grounds that it (supposedly) leads to Putin’s murderous “denazification” campaign. There’s a simpler and better explanation: the use of language by the enemies of humanity is Orwellian.
MHI wishes to inform our readers that we have not approved another comment submitted by luisgac, because it lies about the view of a person who has written prominently in these comments. In fact, in a recent exchange on this topic, the defamed person explicitly stated the opposite of what luisgac’s new comment alleges.
We are glad to debate anyone who argues in an honest manner, but we will not endlessly repeat matters we have already answered if they are lied about over again.
This article is ridiculous. Kliman’s desire to be anti-Tankie has blinded him to the facts. Kliman and MHI have never done a good job of discussing imperialism. Its always been smear attacks and charges of being a tankie. As usual Kliman and company are digging themselves deeper into the hole they’ve dug.
I really appreciate this non-ridiculous comment from Amar Sen. Very thoughtful and perceptive. It does an excellent job of supporting its claims, about the facts and about how imperialism should be discussed, with evidence and careful arguments—the very opposite of the smear attacks it rightly condemns.
Victory to Ukraine! Victory to Russian pro-democracy forces!