As was clear in this discussion what we on the Left can all be agreed on is that this war needs to stop immediately as thousands of innocent civilians are suffering. This needs to be stated upfront as does the acknowledgement that Putin is a gangster and the Ukrainian Government has embraced Neo-Nazi influences into its fabric and that both countries have the status as being the most corrupt of all European countries. However, while conceding this was a textual exchange rather than academic writing as such, I have some big issues with McIntyre’s argument as presented, which I found deontological and quite simplistic.
While I disagree with a lot of what was asserted around the nature of Communism and the equating of the Holocaust with Holodomor, I want to take specific issue with the arguments purported by McIntyre as to reasons why the Left should support the Ukrainian Government in this conflict. Particularly that that invasion, as the ‘supreme international crime’ (a term repeatedly invoked) trumps all other considerations and effectively renders further analysis of the context and circumstances of the invasion superfluous. In relation to this McIntyre also appears to assert amongst other things that unless you support the Ukraine politically and support the provision of weaponry to them, then you are not part of the ‘progressive Left’. This effectively ‘wedges’ the Left into choosing a ‘side’. There are however some important points which need to be made.
Firstly, that State sanctioned Neo Nazi violence has been inflicted on ethnic Russians in the Ukraine for years prior to Russia’s military intervention is incontrovertible. Atrocities have been committed during the eight-year war prior to the invasion in the Donbass region that has resulted in 14,000 deaths and the displacement of 1.5 million people (mostly ethnic Russians). Coupled with the implementation of repressive ethnic based legislation, (and notwithstanding atrocities have been committed on both sides) there is clear evidence that ethnic Russians within the Ukraine (half a million of whom were Russian citizens) were being oppressed by Ukrainian Government sanctioned forces prior to Russian invasion. If as McIntyre rightly asserts, the Left should support the oppressed, then this at the very least throws doubt on the use of this criteria as a justification for supporting the Ukraine Government. McIntyre can understandably assert that he supports the Ukrainian people, but they are not the ones receiving the anti-tank missiles and rocket launchers from the West. Notwithstanding this, there is also a legal argument for the invasion under International Law (see Daniel Kovalik, University of Pittsburgh’s invocation of article 51 of the UN Charter). Whether you accept the invasion as legitimate or not, the treatment of ethnic Russians within Ukraine borders should not be simply dismissed as Putin PR or propaganda in order to allow the selection of which oppressed people the Left should ‘side’ with.
Secondly, one cannot understand the reasons for the invasion without taking proper account of Russian security concerns, namely the potential prospect of U.S. troops being based along their border in the event of Ukraine being successfully admitted to NATO. On the one hand, the Ukraine has long been seen as a protective buffer between Russia and the West and on the other the US has a long-standing commitment to destabilising Russia (hence their influence within Ukraine) and to removing Putin from power. This kind of interference has been a characteristic US foreign policy strategy applied to a range of other ‘Communist’ and other States including Cuba which coupled with military threats and actions has paradoxically promoted authoritarianism as a mechanism for their survival. In terms of the ‘supreme international crime’ it is again incontestable that the US has been by far the biggest culprits since World War 2 and have conducted numerous ‘proxy’ wars throughout the globe. Incidentally, if Scott Ritter is critical of the US it is because he has particular insights and experiences of its despicable foreign policy. Given there is also convincing evidence of US involvement in the Donbass war, it is particularly disturbing that McIntyre effectively argues that to be “progressive Left” you (in practice) need to side with the US by supporting their provision of military weapons to the Ukraine Government.
At the risk of being accused of being labelled ‘regressive’, pouring arms into the conflict, like pouring oil on a fire, has profoundly negative consequences. It will inevitably intensify and prolong the war and, as more people die and more cities are destroyed, make a peaceful resolution and settlement less and less achievable. There is also the possibility of this action escalating the conflict by involving other States (something which the Ukrainian government has actively sought to do). It is also the case that effectively arming Neo-Nazis like the Azov Battalion is an act of political legitimization. Moreover, this has spilt over into glorification; here in Australia (and presumably elsewhere) we have seen televised statements from commanding officers of the Azov Battalion broadcasting ‘heroic’ speeches. Such platforms provide clear promotional potential and serve to embolden Neo Fascist elements which are clearly becoming more active across Europe. It is surprising that these consequences have not really been considered in McIntyre’s constant assertion of the need to pick a side in the conflict. Clearly as Mark Hayes argues, each case should be analysed individually; adopting this blanket ‘supreme international crime’ position dismisses context and ignores consideration of negative consequence; the corollary here is that it would have compelled the Left to support sending tanks to Pol Pot to protect his regime from Vietnamese invaders in 1978.
McIntyre also argued a clear deontological message that democracies should always be defended against totalitarian states. I am not contesting this as a general principle, but again the analysis is too simplistic given the inadequacies of Western democracies which we are all aware of. Avoiding my personal gripe at Thatcher’s election with a minority of the vote in ’79 and leaving aside the pervasive warping influence of right wing State apparatus which invariably undermines democratic process (re Corbyn), there was recently only a very narrow avoidance of democratically re-electing Donald Trump (who achieved the second largest electoral vote for a Party in US history). Reminiscent of The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, fledgling dictatorship through democracy was only avoided by a whisker. Moreover, drawing these black and white distinctions ignores the fact that Putin was actually elected and with 77% of the Russian vote. While both systems have been undoubtedly infused with corruption, in practice it is not a simple choice of Democracy vs Totalitarianism for the Left; how does this stack up in considering the US/Vietnam war? What if a Trump led administration entered into armed conflict with Cuba? The point is, evoking absolutist positions at the expense of context does not clarify complex problems, nor do they in and of themselves guide our actions to resolve them.
What is happening in the Ukraine at the moment is clearly atrocious and all efforts should be made to find a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible. This involves addressing the complexities and considering the concerns and motivations of both sides in order to seek to resolve them politically. This involves the rejection of positions and actions that risk the amplification of armed conflict, death and destruction. This involves avoiding positions that support the dominant ‘good guy, bad guy’ rhetoric promoted by the same apparatuses that sold the big lie about WMD in Iraq. It is not an abdication of Left wing principles to refuse to support either side in this conflict nor is it in any way progressive to file in behind the US provision of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to one side.
⏩Paul Aylward is a Public Health academic and researcher working in Adelaide, South Australia. He is a life-long Socialist and committed anti-Fascist from Liverpool.