Top reads on the Ukraine conflict, war and imperialism

Were we to believe the war propaganda of the western imperialists, we would have to conclude that the current crisis in Ukraine began on 24 February 2022, when Putin ordered Russian troops to enter Ukraine. This is a reactionary imperialist war that we oppose, but our opposition has nothing to do with the hypocritical denunciations of the West. In fact, the crisis has a long background in which western imperialism has played an aggressive role – in Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe.

To cut through this fog, we have compiled a three part reading list, which gives vital background to the current situation: on the current crisis; the longer-term background going back to the 2014 Maidan movement and earlier; and important theoretical material on the Marxist position on imperialism and war.

The war in Ukraine

The Ukrainian war: an internationalist class position – IMT Statement

It is often said that the truth is the first victim of war. Marxists need to be able to cut through the fog of lies and war propaganda. This statement, agreed on by the leadership of the International Marxist Tendency, analyses the real reasons behind the conflict; what caused it; and the real interests that lie behind the excuses and justifications of the different parties involved. Whilst the leaders of the various workers’ parties for the most part go along with the barrage of national chauvinism, and the confusion reigns among the left reformists, the Marxists must stand squarely for the interests of the world working class. The Russian comrades have also fulfilled their internationalist duty in an exemplary manner, as can be seen from their statement on the recognition of the Donbas republics by Putin, and in their statement at the beginning of Russia’s invasion.

Theses on Ukraine – 2014

The recent crisis in Ukraine is only the latest escalation in a conflict whose roots extend back decades. To guide our readers to a more complete appraisal of the situation, we have republished the above document, which was unanimously approved at the 2014 World Congress of the International Marxist Tendency. Despite the time that has elapsed, we believe that the broad the core points of this analysis remain completely valid: the assessment of the situation in Ukraine; of the civil war in Donbas; of the character of the government that emerged from the Maidan events; the role of Russia and NATO, etc.

Ukraine: some observations on the national question and Russian intervention

This document was written in December 2014, in the context of the Maidan movement in Ukraine; the uprisings in the east of the country; and Russia's annexation of Crimea. At that time, a number of so-called ‘Marxist’ organisations had effectively capitulated to reactionary Ukrainian nationalism, as they are once again doing today. We believe that these notes may be of some interest to our readers, as they give vital background on the national question in Ukraine, the attitude that the Bolsheviks took towards it, and the pernicious role of Stalinism in feeding reactionary, right-wing Ukrainian nationalism.

The real role and history of NATO: a reply to Keir Starmer

Across the West, a tidal wave of reactionary, pro-imperialist propaganda is being churned out by the capitalist press and right-wing governments. And, for the most part, the social-democratic and labour leaders are competing to outdo the right wing in their reactionary chauvinism. Perhaps few have been so nauseating in their praise of NATO and western imperialism than British Labour Party leader ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer, who penned a disgusting letter in praise of NATO as a “guarantee of peace and democracy.” But, nothing could be further from the truth – as attested by the number of wars, including in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya, where NATO has zealously undertaken aggressive military intervention.

In this article we look at the real role of NATO. What is this supposed ‘defensive’ military alliance, and whose interests does it defend? What can we learn from the history of NATO and its recent conflict with Russia? And how can socialists effectively fight for peace?

30 years of capitalism in Ukraine: a lesson in the horrors of the market economy

Since the outbreak of the war, the western bourgeois media have engaged in a constant propaganda campaign to build up the image of Ukraine as a model ‘democracy’, and Zelenskiy as a heroic representative of ‘civilised’, ‘democratic’ Europe. In this article, written on the 30th anniversary of the restoration of capitalism in Ukraine, we set the record straight. Far from being a model democracy, since the restoration of capitalism in Ukraine 30 years ago, the ‘free’ market has destroyed living standards, has caused a long-term decline of the Ukrainian economy, and has subjugated the nation to a ruling clique of corrupt gangsters and oligarchs.

Background to the crisis

The present crisis in Ukraine is the result of a long chain of events that lead straight back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the restoration of capitalism in the region. The return of capitalism led to a collapse of the living standard, the resurgence of nationalism, and caused a rupture in modern Ukrainian society.

donbas miners antifascist strikeThe present crisis in Ukraine is the result of a long chain of events that lead straight back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the restoration of capitalism in the region / Image: fair use

It was also accompanied by the massive eastward expansion of the EU and NATO into countries which were formerly part of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. We provide our readers with a timeline of the events, with articles explaining these events, going back to the so-called ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2005 – which led to Viktor Yushchenko being installed as a pro-western president; through the Maidan movement of 2013-14, and the civil war in the Donbas that followed. We believe that only by taking these events into account and understanding their significance in the longer term crisis in Ukraine can the more recent timelines be correctly understood.

Marxists and the conflict in the Ukraine: Both sides are reactionary! Fight for workers' alternative (Fred Weston, 24 January 2005)

This article was written at the time of the so-called ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004-05. The core analysis already points to the key factors of the crisis in Ukrainian society that has only become more acute with the passage of time.

Where is Ukraine going? (Alan Woods, 24 February 2014)

This in-depth analysis by Alan Woods was written just after the fall of Yanukovich, during the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine. Starting with a brief overview of Ukrainian history up to the Soviet Union, Alan Woods discusses the role of the EU, the USA and Russia in the Ukrainian crisis, the rise of the neo-Nazi movement, and perspectives for the labour movement in the country following Euromaidan protests.

Russia, Ukraine and the West: Will there be war? (Alan Woods, 3 March 2014)

Alan Woods discusses the situation in Ukraine following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, firmly answering in the negative all the suggestions that these events could have been the trigger for a third world war.

Kiev loses control of Donbas - What next in Ukraine crisis? (Alan Woods and Francesco Merli, 1 May 2014)

Written at the time of the uprising in the Donbas region, it analyses the defeat of the Ukrainian army and the failure of the Turchynov government to hold Ukraine together in the aftermath of Euromaidan.

Kiev unable to crush the Donbas uprising - White terror in Ukraine (Jorge Martín, 9 May 2014)

On the eve of the two independence referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk, the Kiev government stepped up repression and went as far as integrating fascist militia into the state apparatus. This article deals with the role of the workers in the rebellion in the Donbas region, and explains the 2 May massacre at the Odessa Trade Union House by fascists.

Ukraine: Rebels reject Kiev rule (Alan Woods, 12 May 2014)

On 11 May 2014, people in Donetsk and Luhansk overwhelmingly voted in favour of independence from Ukraine and for self-rule. This article by Alan Woods discussed the events that led to the referendum, and the prospects for the breakaway region.

Ukraine: NATO hypocrisy over “Russian invasion” as Kiev suffers defeat (Jorge Martín, 5 September 2014)

Written on the aftermath of the defeat of Kiev’s so-called “anti-terrorist mission” against the rebel forces in Donbas, this article cuts through the fog of lies and hypocrisy coming from the West, and discusses the long-term decline of US imperialism

Five years since Euromaidan: perspectives for Ukraine in 2019 (Peter Mikhailenko, 11 March 2019)

What were the results of Euromaidan? In this article written five years after those events, Ukrainian Marxist Peter Mikhailenko discusses the legacy of the regime put in place in 2014.

Imperialism and war

The following articles offer a more detailed, theoretical treatment of imperialism and war, helping to provide a deeper understanding of the processes at play in Ukraine. Capitalists do not wage war for high-minded ideals, but to secure markets, and spheres of influence.

imperialism poster Image Kent Wang FlickrCapitalists do not wage war for high-minded ideals, but to secure markets, and spheres of influence / Image: Kent Wang, Flickr

Meanwhile, so-called diplomatic and democratic bodies like the UN are simply a cover for the interests of imperialism, and the impotent pacifism of bourgeois moralists does not bring us one inch closer to lasting peace. Only class struggle, transcending national boundaries, and the overthrow of capitalism, can bring an end, not only to the Ukraine war, but all war.

Imperialism today and the character of Russia and China

This document, written by the IMT leadership as part of a discussion within the International Marxist Tendency in 2016, considers the phenomenon of imperialism with regards to Russia and China today. In his classic analysis of imperialism, Lenin himself cautioned against rigidly applying finished, abstract formulae to unfinished and developing processes. This document provides an important backdrop to the present events in Ukraine, which have laid bare Russia’s imperialist ambitions, which bring it into conflict with US imperialism, which is a far larger imperialist power, but which is in relative decline.

Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism

Lenin’s seminal text on imperialism, published in the midst of the First World War, is a momentous contribution to Marxist theory, backed by a wealth of data and statistics. It defines imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism, in which the growing concentration of capital, dominance of finance capital, and exhaustion of national markets forces the biggest capitalist powers to conquer new markets, and export capital overseas. This results in growing antagonism between nation states, causing both economic and military conflict. The subsequent 100 years have seen all these processes accelerate, while the new outbreak of war in Europe has made Lenin’s analysis more relevant today than ever. We also recommend this introduction to the Mexican edition of Lenin’s Imperialism by Alan Woods.

Pacifism As The Servant of Imperialism

Writing in the middle of the brutal slaughter of the First World War, Trotsky turns his fire on the hypocritical bourgeois and petty-bourgeois pacifists, who deplored the war in Europe, but for years remained silent about the imperialist slaughter and oppression of colonised peoples. Many ultimately turned their backs on pacifism, and ended up siding with ‘their’ imperialists in the ‘Great War’. Trotsky goes on to explain that the pacifists’ call for peace between ‘all men’ rejects class struggle, and calls on the working class to passively accept their domination by capital. By denying the need for workers to fight for their interests across national borders, the pacifists support the continuation of capitalism, a system that makes war inevitable.

War and Revolution

In this lecture, delivered in 1917, Lenin states that the most important aspect of war is its class character: “what caused that war, what classes are waging it, and what historical and historico-economic conditions gave rise to it.” He explains that war is the continuation of politics by other means. When the capitalists cannot achieve their objectives peacefully, they result to the bomb, bullet and beyonet – sending workers to slaughter one another to preserve the bosses’ profits. By contrast, a workers’ government pursues class war to break the hold of imperialism over the peoples of the world, and spread revolution to one country after another. And the task of workers’ parties in capitalist countries is to foment revolution at home, to turn their fire on their own ruling class, and end their country’s participation in fratricidal war. The main enemy is at home!

The United Nations: a tool of imperialism

There are many illusions in the United Nations amongst the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois liberals, pacifists and reformists alike. But far from its stated aim to promote peace and diplomacy among nations, the UN has proved utterly incapable of preventing or resolving war. At best, its resolutions are impotent, and at worst (as we saw in the so-called stabilisation of Haiti and the overthrow of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo) the UN actively participates on the side of US imperialism and its allies to enforce their domination of the world. As this article from 2016 explains, the working class cannot rely on this den of thieves, and must construct its own organisations founded on the principles of class solidarity and genuine internationalism.

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