Sharp divisions among revolutionary socialists
The question of war has always been a key division among socialists. It divides reformist supporters of the capitalist state from revolutionary opponents of the capitalist state. Since the late 1800s, it has divided soft supporters of imperialism from those who want to destroy imperialism.
In the U.S. today, DSA politicians have shown where they stand. They claim to want peace and diplomacy, but vote for military budgets. They criticize Israel, but vote to fund the Zionist entity. They appeal to pacifist sentiments, but support war policies.
Unfortunately, this division has even impacted organizations in the socialist tradition.
This division has manifested around the Russian war on Ukraine. Sections of the U.S. far left have sided with either U.S. or Russian imperialism in this conflict. Some are quite open in only opposing one or the other major power bloc. Some, such as PSL, defend Russia’s “legitimate security concerns” as an excuse for its invasion of Ukraine. DSA politicians and many DSA members have fundamentally backed the U.S./NATO position. They support the tens of billions that the U.S. has sent to this war.
Sadly, even Trotskyist organizations have been divided over how to deal with the war.
Recently, Left Voice and Workers’ Voice have engaged in a polemic on this issue. Left Voice is opposed to both the U.S. and Russia in the war. It opposes any U.S. intervention, including NATO arms shipments to the government of Ukraine.
Workers’ Voice says that the war is overwhelmingly a war for Ukraine’s national independence against the imperialist power of Russia. Based on this, Workers’ Voice argues that the primary duty of socialists is to support Ukraine against Russia.
The primary role of U.S. revolutionaries regarding foreign policy is to win as many workers as possible away from support of U.S. imperialism. We cannot build an effective revolutionary movement while most workers still support “their” government and imperialism.
The Workers’ Voice position is wrong on two counts: First, the war in Ukraine is not only a war of national independence. It is also an inter-imperialist conflict. It is true that no NATO troops have fired on Russian troops or vice versa yet, but the U.S. and EU are using military, financial, and humanitarian aid to do what Russia is trying to do through invasion and annexation: to subjugate Ukrainian land and labor under their domination.
Secondly, Workers’ Voice misconstrues the position of revolutionary Marxists on self-determination. From the time of Lenin, revolutionaries have favored national independence struggles. They have supported the right of nations to separate off from dominant states and empires. However, this was one of many democratic demands that had to be seen in the context of the needs of the international working class.
If a call for self-determination of a nation was used primarily to back the interests of one imperialist power against another, Marxists opposed it. One clear example was the case of Serbia in 1914. Socialists supported the right of Serbia to independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire. The empire invaded Serbia, Russia came to the defense of Serbia against the empire. This quickly spiraled into World War I. The slogan of self-determination of Serbia became a slogan used by Russia, Britain, and France against the German/Austrian bloc. When this happened, Marxists opposed that slogan and instead fought against both sides in the war.
The analogy of Serbia 1914 and Ukraine 2022 may not be exact, but it does have strong common elements. Marxists today would like to see Ukraine defeat Russia and win its independence. However, we cannot support U.S. imperialist intervention in this conflict. We must first oppose “our own” imperialist power. As German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht said, “The main enemy is at home.” Obviously, he did not say that the only enemy is at home. Marxists need to oppose both imperialisms. This means opposing U.S. military intervention, sanctions against Russia, etc. It also means opposing any U.S. arms shipments to Ukraine.
Opposing U.S. arms to Ukraine is not the same as criticizing Ukrainians for accepting arms from NATO. We should not do that.
Of course we want Ukrainians to defeat the Russian invasion, but we cannot sacrifice our opposition to U.S. imperialism to try to bring that about. Our support for arming Ukrainians by the U.S. would do little to actually help Ukrainians. However, support for the U.S. intervention would do a major disservice to our ability to build a strong Marxist current in the U.S..
We cannot always have all the answers. Too often, some leftists feel obligated to have the correct answers on all possible questions. This is understandable, but it can lead to negative results. We have to be clear on what questions we can answer and what questions we can’t right now.
Saying that we support the Ukrainians but do not support U.S. intervention will seem contradictory and will not satisfy most people who support Ukraine. Sometimes we have to take positions that don’t seem logical to non-Marxists.
Our duty as revolutionaries in the imperial core
The primary role of U.S. revolutionaries regarding foreign policy is to win as many workers as possible away from support of U.S. imperialism. We cannot build an effective revolutionary movement while most workers still support “their” government and imperialism. As Engels said “No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.” U.S. intervention is always in the interest of the U.S. ruling class and against the interests of the working class at home and abroad. This means we must be in opposition to any U.S. intervention.
As an organization in the U.S., Workers’ Voice has forgotten this primary objective. It is so concerned about winning support from Ukrainian workers that it ignores its primary duty of opposing U.S. imperialism.
Unfortunately, Workers’ Voice has raised the principle of self-determination above the need for international working-class solidarity against imperialism. It has said that socialists should not oppose U.S. arms aid to Ukraine:
Socialists should continue supporting the Ukrainian resistance and defend its right to ask and receive U.S. and NATO military aid. The use of U.S.-supplied war materiel does not change the character of the war, which is a national liberation war against Russian imperialist aggression.
This does not mean calling for the United States and other countries to stop sending arms to Ukraine, which would only weaken the Ukrainian military and strengthen Russia’s attempt to directly colonize large portions of the country.
If Workers’ Voice had representatives in Congress, its voting position would be very similar to the pro-imperialist members of the DSA! They would presumably vote for continuing the U.S./NATO arms shipments to Ukraine. This would be like Social Democratic parliamentarians in 1914 Germany voting for “war credits” for World War I. Would Workers’ Voice representatives support U.S. arms to Taiwan to defend it against China? This is not a revolutionary Marxist position!
Workers’ Voice’s position is a move in the wrong direction from its previous position. Shortly after the Russian invasion, it joined with the rest of the Revolutionary Socialist Network, Left Voice, Tempest, the Revolutionary Socialist Organizing Project, and other socialist groups in opposing both sides in the war:
We oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and call for the immediate withdrawal of all troops. The invasion has created a humanitarian crisis and has moved the world closer to a war that could have dire consequences for all people and life on this planet.
We support the Ukrainian people’s right to self-defense without giving political support to the Ukrainian state. The real potential power in Ukraine is the workers of that country. We support their right to national sovereignty and to resist invasion, while we strongly oppose any foreign intervention. We also support their struggle for class independence, against Ukrainian capitalism and homegrown fascism, while they fight against the Russian invasion.
We oppose NATO expansion, U.S. militarism, and any U.S. or NATO intervention. We know that U.S. imperialism and its allies have no progressive or humanitarian role to play in the world. NATO is and has been an instrument of imperialist aggression and must be dismantled. The genocidal U.S.-backed wars and occupations, including Yemen and Palestine, must end now.
It seems that Workers’ Voice has gradually acceded to the position of its international, the International Workers’ League-Fourth International. The position of the IWL-FI has been worse than Workers’ Voice’s position. For example, it has raised the demand to “send more arms to Ukraine” and has said:
It is a duty of the organizations of the workers’ movement that support the Ukrainian resistance to denounce the deficient shipment of arms by imperialism, to demand more arms for Ukraine, and to denounce the ineffectiveness of the imperialist sanctions, which only go as far as the interests of the imperialist countries
Marxists in the U.S. need to be clear. We need to oppose both imperialist blocs, first and foremost the U.S. bloc. This means following the demands of the anti-war coalition above. No intervention means no intervention, including military aid.
Workers’ Voice’s current position is a real setback for the revolutionary socialist left. We call on Workers’ Voice to retract its position that is in essence support for U.S. imperialist intervention and return to a Marxist, anti-imperialist position!