At the heart of any kind of serious and purposeful left-wing politics and ideology lies the principle of internationalism. In parallel, at the complementary heart of that internationalism is the faith and quest for solidarity and human dignity centered on those who are oppressed, exploited, and suffering regardless of nationality, race, gender, ethnicity, gender or religious identity.
In contrast, this is underlined by two very basic principles; That the starting point must be to hear the voices of the people affected, and that the people of all nations, whatever their size and military might, have the right to self-determination and self-defense.
However, there are a great many people – in South Africa and globally – who proclaim (some very loudly and publicly) that they are on the left who have hypocritically chosen to selectively apply the principle and practice of internationalism when it comes to Russia’s war against Ukraine. In doing so, they betray not only the workers and the poor, but also the real left activists and organizations within Ukraine and Russia, and indeed the whole world. They also play into the hands of the forces of imperialism/great powers as well as right-wing reactionaries, and in the process do untold damage to the credibility of the left among the broader public in their own countries and globally.
In early 2022, a few weeks before Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian Armed Forces to invade Ukraine, Sotsіalniy Rukh (“Social Movement”), a Ukrainian left-social democratic organization working with independent trade unions and other democratic organizations, issued a public statement titled “It is time for international solidarity against warIn it, they called on the international left to condemn the imperialist policies of the Russian government and to show solidarity with it [the] the people”.
They remarked critically: “Unfortunately, the decline of US imperialism was not accompanied by the emergence of a more democratic world order, but by the rise of other imperial predators, fundamentalist and nationalist movements.” As such, “the international left, which is accustomed to fighting only against Western imperialism, must reconsider its strategy.”
Why? Because the condemnation of the “neoliberal and nationalist policies of the Ukrainian authorities … is in no way justified [sic] The imperialist aggression of Russia.
Because the Kremlin “denies Ukraine’s self [and] wants to agree on everything with the United States, while completely ignoring Ukraine, [which] It should not become a bargaining chip in the agreements between the two imperialist states.
Because, although “there are no illusions about the policy of Western governments serving big capital and their own goals … the interests of the Ukrainian workers can only be taken into account under the pressure of progressive movements and the public in these countries. The future of the socialist movement in Ukraine depends on international solidarity”.
This is exactly what some leftist/socialist movements and activists set out to do after the Russian invasion. Two examples provide the rationale.
The Brazilian Left Movement for Socialism (MES) defined Russia’s actions as “the imperialist occupation of a people, of a sovereign democratic state” (even with a new liberal government – just like the ANC) and “took the position of supporting Ukrainian resistance as well as peaceful and democratic forces and oppressed nations.” within the Russian Federation that refuses to be used as cannon fodder in this war.”
Sinn Féin, Ireland’s largest party with a long history of resistance to British colonialism, declared at its conference in November 2022 its full support for the Ukrainian resistance, stating that it “categorically condemns any form of imperialism or colonial aggression… national self-denial – report and all Violations of national sovereignty in all parts of the world without exception. He called for the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces [and] Full restoration of national sovereignty of Ukraine.
Emphasizing the consistency of the international character, the keynote speaker at the Sinn Féin conference was Palestinian Omar BarghoutiFounder Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement) against Israel.
What MEST and Sinn Féin understand is that the principle and practice of internationalism are fundamentally rooted in the acceptance that those who have been confined and used as pawns in the inter-imperialist geopolitical rivalries and struggles, throughout history and in the present, have their own. political self-determination and the right to self-determination. South African workers and poor people know this better than most.
As Ukrainian left-wing intellectual activist Taras Bilos points out, “seeing people only as victims is a very common mistake of the left” and in particular, in relation to Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, “many leftists still … view these people only in terms of Confrontation between the West and Russia.
The hypocrisy of the left
Unfortunately, it is highly predictable that some on the left – including here in South Africa – fail to understand their own hypocrisy in this regard. While constantly calling, loudly and in this case correctly, imperial nations/the West to stop objectifying the peoples of the Global South, ignoring their opinions, dismissing their life experiences, interfering with their sovereign spaces and attempting to delegitimize and/or oppress them. Political and positional struggles, they refuse to apply the same to the majority of workers and the poor as well as the left forces in both Ukraine and Russia.
Moreover, many also aptly pin their “anti-imperialist” criticism when it comes to Putin’s private (but annoying) army of Wagner mercenaries, and especially his activities on the African continent in support of their “regime of kleptocracies” dictatorships.
As if this hypocrisy isn’t bad enough, many go further and double down on it by cloning the historical and contemporary reality of Putin’s regime – just as Stalin did with his own. Instead of seeing it for what it always has been and still is – an imperialist, ultra-nationalist, right-wing, authoritarian, oligarchic, anti-socialist and socially reactionary regime – we get false and corrupt statements about “Putin’s anti-imperialism” and his regime’s “right” to project Russia’s spheres of influence .
Of course, these same “leftists” would not be caught upholding the US “right” to imperial spheres of influence; Imagine how that would go down with audiences in Central and South America or the Middle East.
Regardless that these “attitudes” align very well with how neo-fascists, white nationalists, far-right racists and right-wingers around the world (regardless of their nationality) “see” Putin’s Russia and the war with Ukraine. The most outrageous aspect of this hypocrisy is that it completely abandons the agency of those people and organizations in Russia and Ukraine who espouse progressive ideals and struggle and speak out against militarism, racism, extractivism, ultranationalism, patriarchy and homophobia. The privatization of the oligarchy and for the right to dissent and freedom of expression.
Ukrainian left sociologist Alona Lyasheva It powerfully reminds us that there is a very basic and fundamental issue at stake for everyone on the left:
“It is important to analyze each conflict to understand all the players, the dynamics and the perpetrator. [but] In the case of Ukraine, it is much simpler than many leftists think. Ukraine has been attacked by an imperialist army, and as a result we are in a struggle to defend our lives and our right to exist as a sovereign nation… This is not an abstract question for us.
“Instead of listening to us about our experience, instead of identifying with our struggle, many leftists construct complex narratives around geopolitics, which frankly do not stand up to close scrutiny. The main problem is that 44 million people are denied their nationalism, political subjectivity, and agency.”
The iron hand of Putin’s Kremlin
It is almost impossible to believe that some leftists have chosen to embrace those who are the epitome of everything a self-respecting leftist should hate while ignoring those who do exactly what a self-respecting leftist would do. How far one has to have one’s head in the sand if one cannot see one of the simplest truths for those who live and struggle under the iron hand of Putin’s Kremlin: that is, if one utters or writes even one public word to criticize Putin and/or his regime, his corruption, and the takeover of the oligarchy , his homophobia, his crushing of all meaningful political opposition to his war in Ukraine, too soon either dead or a longtime cellmate with other people who dared do it. The same.
This reminds me of the 1980s when youthful criticism of the authoritarianism, corruption, and betrayal of radical anti-capitalist democracy that spread like a cancer throughout the body politic of the Soviet system (by much of the “established” left, including the South African Communist Party) was met with scathing condemnations (and worse). ) for being “anti-communists” and traitors to imperialism.
It’s sad that, nearly 40 years later, not much has changed except that Putin’s regime is making his immediate Soviet predecessors look relatively benign.
Russian political writer and left-wing intellectual activist Ilya Podratsky They are absolutely correct in saying that for most Russians (and I will defend many on the international left), “the war with Ukraine has only confirmed the divide between those who nostalgia for the era of Soviet state power and those for whom the left stands for a commitment to a democratic, anti-authoritarian, forward-looking project.” “.
In so doing, he reminds us of the central importance of remembering all our national and global histories. In this case, while those in Russia are committed to the “resistance[ing] Imperialist aggression by the Russian government [risk] Repression, hostility … It is worth remembering that in 1917 … those who called on Russian soldiers to disobey the orders of their officers, against all expectations, came to power and established the borders of the present, internationally recognized Ukraine.
Ah… how beautifully anachronistics expose hypocrisy. DM