Monday, 17 March 2014


The US and EU are making themselves look increasingly ridiculous and hypocritical over Crimea. Whatever, the bourgeois democratic niceties over the referendum, it is clear that the large majority of Crimeans wish to rejoin Russia. Marxists support their right to do so, and oppose the increasingly hysterical attempts of the West to prevent it. It really is farcical to see the US and EU complain about the referendum in Crimea, on the basis that Russian troops are present in the province. When the US and EU prised Kosovo away from Serbia, of which it had been a part for centuries, it was done on the back of a massive campaign of bombing and military intervention. At the moment, the only Russian troops in Crimea are the ones that have been there for years legally, and unlike Kosovo, there has been not one shot fired in anger in the Crimea.

The idea that the referendum in Crimea is all the work of Russia, is as wacky and unfounded as Russian claims that the Maidan was all the work of the CIA. Outside forces played a role in both, but the majority of people in the Maidan crowds were honest opponents of a corrupt regime, just as its clear even in the coverage of the western media that the vast majority of people in Crimea want out of Ukraine, and to rejoin Russia, of which they were a part for centuries. The US and EU argue that the referendum is unconstitutional, but the Ukrainian Constitution ceased to exist when the Maidan overthrew it. The US and EU complain about a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has not yet happened, whilst over the last fifty years, they have repeatedly invaded sovereign states in order to push forward their own agenda. But, saying all this does not at all mean giving any support to the Bonapartist regime in Russia either. It simply means that we expose the hypocrisy of both camps, without being lured into the idea that just because the regime in Russia is reactionary and undemocratic we should see the US and EU as in some sense a lesser evil.

In the Balkan Wars, people were fighting for liberation against the reactionary and oppressive Ottoman Empire. That Empire carried out many atrocities, but when liberal interventionists in Russia sought to provoke intervention in support of those fighting for liberation, Trotsky made clear his opposition to it. He made clear that the interventionist forces were carrying out their own atrocities, that were just as bad. Socialists in the countries that were intervening, therefore, had a duty to oppose that intervention, and to point out the atrocities that were being committed, and which were being hushed up by their own media and politicians. It was against the atrocities committed by those interventionist forces that Trotsky made his comment,

“An individual, a group, a party, or a class that ‘objectively’ picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive.

“On the other hand, a party or the class that rises up against every abominable action wherever it has occurred, as vigorously and unhesitatingly as a living organism reacts to protect its eyes when they are threatened with external injury – such a party or class is sound of heart. Protest against the outrages in the Balkans cleanses the social atmosphere in our own country, heightens the level of moral awareness among our own people. The working masses of the population in every country are both a potential instrument of bloody outrages and a potential victim of such deeds. Therefore an uncompromising protest against atrocities serves not only the purpose of moral self-defence on the personal and party level but also the purpose of politically safeguarding the people against adventurism concealed under the flag of ‘liberation’.” (p 293)

The liberal-interventionists attacked Trotsky for opposing the intervention, and for writing about these atrocities. But, Trotsky responded,

“But it is not at all a matter of indifference by what methods this emancipation is being accomplished. The method of “liberation” that is being followed today means the enslavement of Macedonia to the personal regime in Bulgaria and to Bulgarian militarism; it means, moreover, the strengthening of reaction in Bulgaria itself. That positive, progressive result which history will, in the last analysis, extract from the ghastly events in the Balkans, will suffer no harm from the exposures made by Balkan and European democracy; on the contrary, only a struggle against the usurpation of history's tasks by the present masters of the situation will educate the Balkan peoples to play the role of superseding not only Turkish despotism but also those who, for their own reactionary purposes, are, by their own barbarous methods, now destroying that despotism...

Our agitation, on the contrary, against the way that history's problems are at present being solved, goes hand in hand with the work of the Balkan Social Democrats. And when we denounce the bloody deeds of the Balkan 'liberation' from above we carry forward the struggle not only against liberal deception of the Russian masses but also against enslavement of the Balkan masses.” (p 293-4)

There is no chance, other than by accident, that the US and EU will intervene in this way, militarily in Ukraine. Their interests are against it. Even any economic sanctions will be limited, because they will back-fire on Europe. If Russian and other oligarchs take their money out of London property, or sell their UK Bonds, for example, it would cause a financial crisis in Britain. Nor is the West likely to provide the economic support required by Ukraine, the majority of whose economic power, such as it is, resides in the South-East, rather than the North-West. But, Marxists have a duty to oppose the imperialist posturing of the EU and US, and to point out this hypocrisy, just as we oppose any military intervention by Russia into Ukraine. Our focus is on building the unity of workers across all these borders to resolve the problems that exist.

Writing about these questions, Lenin argued,

“Norway was ceded to Sweden by the monarchs during the Napoleonic wars, against the will of the Norwegians; and the Swedes had to bring troops into Norway to subdue her.

Despite the very extensive autonomy which Norway enjoyed (she had her own parliament, etc.), there was constant friction between Norway and Sweden for many decades after the union, and the Norwegians strove hard to throw off the yoke of the Swedish aristocracy. At last, in August 1905, they succeeded: the Norwegian parliament resolved that the Swedish king was no longer king of Norway, and in the referendum held later among the Norwegian people, the overwhelming majority (about 200,000 as against a few hundred) voted for complete separation from Sweden. After a short period of indecision, the Swedes resigned themselves to the fact of secession.”

For the US and EU to claim that the Crimean referendum is illegitimate because the fascists and nationalists that have now taken over many of the positions in the Ukrainian government are opposed to it, shows just how little the US and EU really care about democracy and the right of self-determination, other than where it can be used in their own interest, as in Kosovo, or as with Britain in the Falklands. When their puppet Saakashvili invaded South Ossetia, in 2008, and began a campaign of genocide against its people, the western governments and media began by attacking Russia for sending in its troops to defend the South Ossetians. They claimed that it was the Russians that had started things. Today, they make the same claims, as a means of attacking Russia. Yet, even within weeks, western journalists reported that it was Georgia that had invaded, and kicked off the fighting. That was confirmed by later independent inquiries into what happened.

Even so, Marxists could not support Russian intervention in South Ossetia, to prevent such crimes by Georgia and its western backers even on the grounds of 'liberal intervention' to protect its people, any more than they could support such action by western imperialism in Libya, Syria etc. Our job is to argue against all such intervention, against all such reliance on external intervention by our class enemies, and instead to do whatever we can to build an independent working-class solution. The fact that we are weak, and so may likely fail, does not change that. We are likely to lose many strikes and other industrial actions for the same reason. It is no cause for us then to place our faith in the capitalist state, in its institutions and so on, to provide us with the solution that our own weakness denies us. It is instead a lesson that we have to remedy that weakness quickly.


Jacob Richter said...

Given the mess in the Ukraine, the mass Crimean move to join the Russian Federation, and Putin's dubious blaming of both Western powers and "the Bolsheviks, for a number of reasons -- may God judge them -- [who] added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine [...] with no consideration for the ethnic makeup of the population, and today these areas form the southeast of Ukraine," isn't it about time that the Russian Left respond to this speech and background history thinking outside the geopolitical box?

Much of the Russian Left's (from the Left Front to well-meaning leftist activists within the RCWP-RPC and within the CPRF cesspool) nostalgia for the Soviet Union is misplaced. Shouldn't it start thinking outside the geopolitical box by rehabilitating the "greater" RSFSR idea put forward in 1922 by the People's Commissar of Nationalities as the alternative to the Soviet Union?

The near abroad should be welcomed with open arms into a stronger geopolitical entity, but that entity for the Russian Left should be a new Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic.

Boffy said...

Actually, the Russian Left should be looking to working with the rest of the European Left towards the establishment of a United States of Europe, in which the kind of border issues arising in Ukraine could be resolved, and which would provide a basis for greater working class unity across the whole of Europe including Russia.

It would need to raise demands for the convening of Constitutional Assemblies to developed a democratic constitution for that United States of Europe rather than the one proposed by the current elites.

A look at Ireland is instructive. A large part of the reason a settlement could be reached was the fact of both parts of Ireland being subsumed within the EU.

Economic processes will be likely to undermine continued differences further. For example, the house price crash in Ireland sent prices down around 60%. That affected North and South equally, whereas UK house prices in general are still in a huge bubble yet to burst. The reason obviously is that if you live on the Northern side of the border, you are not going to pay £200,000 for a house, that you can buy for just £80,000 a few miles away on the other side of the border. Increasingly, these kinds of relations bring the economies of North and South closer together than the North to the UK.

Going back to Russia, its a bit like a discussion I was having recently in relation to Africa. There are AU proposals to establish an African economic union by 2030, but there are already existing economic blocs in East Africa, West Africa and so on. The question being is it better to pursue these more limited blocs as a stepping stone to the wider union, or might they end up as a roadblock to such a wider union?

Jacob Richter said...

First steps first, Boffy. Workers' struggles and solidarity in the EU are one issue. Workers' struggles and solidarity in Russia and the FSU are, for now, another.

I'll make an anti-chauvinist addition to my RSFSR revival statement above: "with open arms and affirmative action" (going by a critical read of Terry Martin's description of the early Soviet Union as an "affirmative action empire").

Heck, now that Putin's nationalist brain trust has revived the "Novorossiya" concept for southern Ukraine (, even replacing "Russia" itself with a "New Russian" SFSR / Sovetskaya Novorossiya would be thinking outside the box!

On your second point, I'm no fan of Constituent Assemblies. Forget the history of Russia's failed Constituent Assembly, I'm talking about the worm-creeping pace in Nepal!