Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Imperialism Today : Victory to Ukraine, Defeat for Russia – Responses to Paul Murphy TD

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In an article of 19 September 2022, Paul Murphy, an Irish TD and member of RISE, offered an analysis that attempted to bridge the position between those supporting Ukraine’s right to resist the invasion and those in the west who see NATO, not Putin, as the main enemy here. See https://rupture.ie/articles/imperialism-today?fbclid=IwAR0w3tMJhsTnHFO-FHlJ3j-RC7H-pkG3NaTno2w92aT0ThTNckw1jYIyagg.

There are several problems with this analysis, which places itself within a camp accurately described by Irish Left With Ukraine (ILWU) activist Conor Kostick as “Left Evasionist” See https://independentleft.ie/ukraine-evasions/

We offer two immediate responses. The first is from Conor Kostick :

Both Anti-Imperialist and Inter-Imperialist?

Paul Murphy’s conclusion was :

It means socialists must attempt to disentangle, to the degree possible, the legitimate resistance to Russian imperialist invasion, and the inter-imperialist conflict which we oppose.

It means supporting the right of Ukrainian people to resist. We don’t blame people in Ukraine for getting weaponry from wherever they can source it, but we do encourage them to operate on the basis of complete independence from NATO. If such genuinely independent forces existed, socialists could even fundraise to send them weapons. However, those of us living in the western camp, the dominant imperialist bloc in the world, cannot support NATO forces pouring weapons into Ukraine in the pursuit of an inter-imperialist conflict, risking an escalatory spiral that could lead to armageddon. We should support the Russian anti-war movement and demand the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine.

If a pure, revolutionary workers movement existed in Ukraine that was genuinely independent of NATO then RISE would not only support them, but would even fundraise for their weapons. It’s good to have such revolutionary credentials. Unfortunately for the actually existing socialists in Ukraine, such as Taras Bilous and those linked below, they aren’t sufficiently anti-NATO or in some other unstated way fail to pass the RISE test. Still, at least they aren’t to blame for their decision to fire guns and other weaponry supplied by the West and that will no doubt be comfort to their troubled consciences.

This ‘test-the-left’ position is evasionist in regard to the question of whether a victory for Ukraine under the neo-liberal Zelensky is preferable to a victory for Russia (or a peace with Russia having made territorial gains). The answer that Murphy skirts around seems to be ‘no’, because of the inter-imperialist aspect of the conflict. To achieve a Ukrainian victory risks armageddon.

The mistake here is to see the activity of the US and its goals in regard to Ukraine as being on a par to the those of Putin. There is a vast difference between the two. This is not a symmetrical inter-imperialist war where victory for either side would make no difference to the lives of Ukrainians and the fate of the world more generally. This is an imperialist invasion by Russia, where the defeat of Russia is by far the best outcome for everyone who dreams of a “just and humane world” as Boris Kagarlitsky puts it.

Victory for Russia or a settlement that gives it control of Ukrainian territory leads to ruthless military rule over the conquered people; it plays into the hands of the far right world wide; it increases the possibility of other land grabs by militarily strong powers; and, in particular, it keeps Putin in power. Defeat for Russia retains the space in Ukraine for trade unionists, social rights activists, and civil society generally to organise. It also has the potential to unleash revolution in Russia. Kagarlitsky believes, plausibly, that the defeat of Russia will bring about the end of Putin and deep changes in Russia.

Yes, defeat for Russia means temporary gains for the US but a free Ukraine would not be a satellite of the US, its people would not be under military rule and it might not even become a member of NATO. Moreover, as Kagarlitsky warns, there are those in the West who are deeply uneasy about the prospect of revolution in Russia. They would prefer Putinism without this particular Putin to a popular revolt.

The RISE position of seeing the war as both inter-imperialist and anti-imperialist separates that organisation from the Ukrainian left and any anti-imperialist revolts that develop as a result of Ukrainian military victory.


A correspondent sent us a second response :

Question 1 : Is NATO currently defending democracy in Ukraine? Obviously yes. Question 2 : Does that mean we should support joining and expanding NATO? No.

Paul Murphy, on his Facebook Page, highlights paragraphs from his long read that are critical of an article written by Murray Smith.

“Failure to expose the real motives of the Western powers now, or even worse, wrongly suggesting like Murray Smith, that NATO is a force to defend people in the West, undermines the left’s anti-militarist argument in the future. If we give succour to the idea that NATO can be a force for defending democracy and human rights, where will that leave us when its members engage in another blatantly imperialist anti-democratic intervention somewhere in the world? The question will be asked – if we accept that NATO is actually concerned with protecting democracy in Ukraine, then why not support joining NATO and expanding it further?”

The Art of the False Dichotomy :

It is a false dichotomy. Is NATO currently defending democracy in Ukraine? Obviously yes. Russia is less democratic than Ukraine, Russian controlled regions of Ukraine are even less democratic than Russia, colonisation by invasion is antidemocratic – and so on and so on. Does that mean we should support joining and expanding NATO? No. Only that we welcome the fact that for their own reasons they are supporting the Ukrainian government at this time.

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