After the dramatic turn in events, with Russian President Vladimir Putin recognising the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine followed by the sending in of Russian military forces, we are publishing a statement by the Russian IMT comrades, elaborated together with Marxists in Ukraine and the Donbas, in opposition to this inter-imperialist conflict.
On 15 February, the Russian State Duma voted in favour of a proposal for immediate diplomatic recognition of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR). The majority of the Security Council of the Russian Federation spoke in favour of recognition on 21 February. The president followed suit. Finally, on the night of 21-22 February, a direct military intervention of Russian troops into these territories began.
The initiators of this procedure appeal to the fact that the diplomatic recognition of the republics is a response to the military threat from Ukraine and the NATO bloc, and that the NATO countries are riven with internal divisions, both in relation to the Putin regime and the ongoing conflict. This line of argumentation reveals the hypocritical essence of the behaviour of the Russian political elite, which has so far stubbornly maintained that it “does not participate in the intra-Ukrainian conflict.” It was already obvious to anyone with eyes that there was Russian interference in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Now, it has turned into an open invasion. Equally hypocritical are the statements made by the leaders of the NATO countries and their media servants, who pretend that they care about “human rights", “territorial unity” and “Ukraine's freedom from interference”.
Hypocrisy is a trait common to all major parties in the conflict. The governments of Russia, the United States, the EU countries and Ukraine all justify their actions in every possible way by waxing lyrical about peoples’ interests and their rights. In practice, they are all interested in these people as nothing but cheap labour, and in the territory of the Donbas as an object for plunder and the creation of new markets. The lofty phrases of all bourgeois governments are but a cover for a cynical policy directed everywhere against the interests of the working-class majority and its rights.
A propaganda war seeks to trap communists and leftists from different sides in a false choice between different imperialist forces, of an international or regional scale; between different cliques of capitalists; between different ethno-chauvinist positions. As internationalists, we affirm that we will not allow ourselves to be deceived by capital and its spokesmen, and turn ourselves into their voluntary servants, no matter where they are - in Moscow, Brussels, Washington or Kiev. We speak on behalf of only one interest - the common interest of the working class of all nations.
However, the strategy and tasks of the communists in different countries differ at specific moments. Local workers and communists must proceed not from the position of ‘geopolitics’, not from arguments about who started what first. Our task is to stop a possible war, and support the formation of an anti-war movement of the working-class in Russia, Ukraine and the republics. The only way to do this is to act on the basis that “the main enemy is in one's own country.” Each side has a different enemy. We must not allow ourselves to be confused by shifting the blame to the “external aggressor” and cannot align ourselves with our governments in any way.
Self-determination of the Donbas
Before discussing a future peace settlement, it is necessary to point out the main thing: the people of the Donbas have the right to self-determination. And this self-determination must be predicated on a free, democratic choice. Any indication that the fate of the Donbas should be decided by “all Ukrainians”, the government of Ukraine, or, even more so, the United States and Russia, is a betrayal of the democratic principle of the right to self-determination, no matter how it is presented.
Those who deny the right of the Donbas to self-determination say that it is “not a people”; they argue that it belongs to the “Ukrainian” or “Russian” people, depending on the nationalist inclinations of the speaker. They go so far as to deny the ability of the inhabitants of the Donbas to make an independent choice in principle. None of this stands up to scrutiny. In fact it comes down to shameful chauvinism and the denial of democratic rights to four million people.
However, firstly, upholding the right to self-determination does not mean automatic support for any separatism. We unconditionally recognise the right to self-determination of the DPR and LPR, and recognise the democratic decision of their people, whatever it may be. But we also consider it possible to speak about the most-progressive ways of exercising self-determination from the point of view of general interests of the working class and the fight for socialism. We believe that the choice, within the framework of self-determination, should proceed from the prospect of future cooperation and comradeship between the workers of Kiev, Donetsk and Moscow; unity between a miner and a programmer, a doctor and a teacher; between all of those who create value in society. That is why the choice must be free and conscious.
Secondly, we refuse to recognise a vote at gunpoint, with the imperialists and their satellites’ fingers on the trigger, as self-determination. A genuine democratic choice is possible only in conditions of political democracy and freedom of opposition. But at the moment, the authorities of the republics have degraded into corrupt clients controlled by Russia, and the opposition is being persecuted. Self-determination of the DPR and LPR is a matter for the future democratic and labour movement, which, in deciding on the fate of the Donbas, will inevitably act contrary to the existing authorities in the republics.
Positions and intentions of the bourgeois governments
The war is causing great damage to Ukraine and, it would seem, its government should be most interested in a peaceful resolution. However, the political forces that came to power after the Maidan are one of the main obstacles to this.
Firstly, the leadership of Ukraine itself plays up to the ethno-nationalists and nurtures them, in fact legalising ultra-right political organisations, and bringing them under the wing of the authorities. Following the Poroshenko regime, and contrary to its campaign promises, the Zelensky government is using nationalist rhetoric and policies to oppose language freedoms for Russian speakers, and continues to glorify Nazi collaborators. Such a policy excludes any peaceful consensus with the population of the DNR and LNR, and precludes their voluntary reintegration.
Secondly, for eight years, the grinding war has been a source of enrichment for corrupt Ukrainian oligarchs and kleptocrats. Therefore, the reactionary clique in power in Ukraine, contrary to the interests of the people of Ukraine, benefits from a low-key war, and not a truly democratic peace settlement.
US imperialism is even less interested in a peaceful settlement to the conflict, and instead uses it to put pressure on Russia. To do this, for eight years, it has been supporting the so-called “war party", consisting of the most reactionary and militaristic forces in Ukrainian politics, including neo-Nazis.
The position of the Russian government is especially hypocritical. Despite official statements about non-interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine and of the DNR and LNR, in fact, Russian imperialism held these republics by the throat. After the recognition of the LNR and the DNR, there is no need to talk about non-intervention.
Russia uses the Donbas republics to put pressure on the government of Ukraine and as a bargaining chip in political games with the US and the EU. Russian imperialism needs obedient regimes and malleable politicians in these republics. In the event of reintegration with Ukraine, these will serve as Russia's instruments to influence Ukrainian politics. Moreover, while pretending to speak about protecting people from the “fascist junta”, Russian capitalism uses the inhabitants of the Donbas as semi-disenfranchised and ultra-cheap labour, including in the coal mines of Kuzbass inside the Russian Federation. The biggest centres of EU capitalism exploit the labour force from the main part of Ukraine in the same way.
In addition, the Russian government uses this conflict to sow toxic nationalism in Russian society, intimidating the people with threats of external aggression, NATO encroaching on Russian borders, etc. This is intended to distract the Russian people from class antagonism, inequality and injustice in their own country, redirecting their anger and fear towards an “external enemy”.
The assertion of the Russian authorities that only Ukraine is the aggressor in the conflict does not stand up to criticism. The Russian regime has not only constantly maintained tension, but has repeatedly deployed lies and provocations. This was especially evident during the current escalation, underpinned by a large-scale campaign of misinformation, launched by the Russian regime to create a convenient justification for its actions. For instance, there was the pre-recorded ‘video evidence’ of shelling of the republics, and appeals for support by the heads of the LPR and DPR, issued a few days before the start of the evacuation of the civilian population. All of this reveals the absurdity of statements about the Kremlin's unwillingness to escalate the current conflict, as well as attempts by some on the Russian left to portray it as a ‘lesser evil’.
Therefore, a peaceful democratic settlement is not in the interests of Russian capitalism, which benefits from, at least, constant tension in the Donbas. And that is why left workers' organisations upholding a fundamentally anti-war position in Russia is progressive, and is the only way to develop the class consciousness and self-organisation of the working class in relation to this question.
Finally, the governments of the LPR and DPR are currently the clientele of Russia and the local oligarchy, cut off from the people. The endless war is the source of their special position, and therefore they are not interested in a truly democratic solution either. Russia not only supports, but controls the LPR and DPR governments. Without this support, the current governments in the republics would not have survived. With the support of Russian imperialism, opposition is persecuted, all independent workers' initiatives are ruthlessly suppressed, and even field commanders who have shown any degree of independence have been assassinated with the participation of Russian special services.
In sum, eight years later, neither the government of Ukraine, nor the Russian authorities, nor the United States, nor even the governments of the DPR and LPR are interested in a truly democratic peaceful settlement of the conflict.
Reintegration or independence?
If we proceed from the interests of the international socialist future of humanity and the growing forces of the labour movement, then, as a rule, the preferred option for resolving a national conflict will be one that will lead to the resolution of national contradictions, the cessation of sectarian divisions, the reopening of workplaces, and that will not create new protracted national conflicts.
If we approach the conflict in the Donbas from this perspective alone, then one of the options for resolution would consist of the peaceful democratic reintegration of the republics into Ukraine, with the preservation of linguistic and other freedoms, and the guarantee of any degree of autonomy that the peoples of the DPR and LPR request.
We are talking about peaceful democratic reintegration, and not about forceful annexation. Any variant of forced reintegration will only deepen national divisions and inflict a deep wound on the labour movement. And democratic reintegration into today's Ukraine is impossible as long as the current government and the “party of war” remain in power there.
An alternative to reintegration is the true independence of the DPR and LPR. However, without a change of regime in Russia, the independence of the republics would be a fiction, because in reality the war-ravaged LPR and DPR will remain appendages of and a source of cheap labour for Russia. Moreover, if Ukraine remains hostile, then the republics will continue to depend on military support from Russia.
At the moment, the independence of the DPR and LPR is not only recognised by Russia, but also reinforced by the introduction of troops. But under the circumstances, the official recognition of the republics by Russia means only a more official existence of the LPR and DPR regimes as Russian clientele. This has nothing to do with true independence, and even less with the self-determination of the DPR and LPR.
Thus, the real independence of the DPR and LPR is possible only as a result of the democratic choice of their peoples, with the support of the democratic labour and anti-war movement in Ukraine and Russia.
Regardless of the assessments of possible options for the future resolution of the crisis, the Marxist Tendency, first of all, fundamentally stands for the support of the right to self-determination. The final decision on the future of the Donbas must be made by the people of Donbas, in the course of exercising their right to self-determination through a peaceful, democratic process. Forced reintegration cannot be the basis for camaraderie and cooperation.
It is also necessary to point out the most fundamental truth. That, in the long run, there can be no complete solution to the problem of linguistic, ethnic and social conflicts outside the movement towards socialism. The restoration of capitalism and the collapse of the USSR created the conditions in which various bourgeois cliques, within states of the post-Soviet sphere, will systematically set the working class of different ethnic and linguistic groups against each other. All this, in order to distract workers on opposing sides of national borders and lines of military demarcation from the fact that they have one common enemy: capital.
The ethno-linguistic squabbling and mutual enmity between working people, imposed by the capitalists, serve only to divide the working class. In reality the conditions in which the working people of Ukraine, Russia, the DPR and the LPR find themselves mean that they have much more in common with each other than with their rulers and bosses.
This fact alone means that there is an alternative. It is the duty of communists to fight in word and deed for a united independent movement of working people of different nations, capable of prosecuting a struggle for a genuine way out of the bloody impasse in which we find ourselves.
For a free socialist federation of workers' states, not only of the former Soviet Union, but of the whole world! This means that we don't simply have to wait for something to happen, or for events to reach a natural conclusion. On the contrary, it is necessary for all genuine Marxists in Russia, Ukraine and the Donbas to work together, to create a force capable of unleashing the potential power of the organised working class throughout the post-Soviet sphere, to build a revolutionary communist party.
A united democratic movement of workers is the only real way out
The main condition for overcoming the current tragic situation in the Donbas is building a united, democratic movement of workers on all sides, free from the pressure of any imperialist blocs. This is an extremely difficult task, but it is also the only truly realistic one for anyone who wants to put an end to the barbarity of war, which destroys the living conditions of the working class on both sides of the military lines. It is also necessary to understand that, without a strong, independent labour movement, based on a socialist internationalist political programme, ‘freedom’ for workers on either side will be a sham.
The formation of a broad democratic movement, and a strong labour movement in the republics are the pre-conditions for making possible the self-determination of the republics, as well as winning genuine freedom for the working people of Ukraine and Russia. The authoritarian kleptocratic cliques, the governments of the republics, express only their own interests. If this future democratic movement decides to separate itself from Ukraine, such a decision should be made and respected. The key issue is that the working people should be able to carry it out without external pressure from alien class forces.
The task of the left in Ukraine, Russia, the LPR and the DPR is to collectively strive for the freedom of the working people to determine their future, which can take the form of both the independence of the republic and the peaceful reintegration of the LPR and DPR, with respect for linguistic and other freedoms, as part of Ukraine, depending on the political will of the working-class majority. The movement to accomplish this must, as a necessity, be a single movement in Ukraine and the republics. A fundamental condition for its formation is a ceasefire, demilitarisation and mutual withdrawal of Russian and Ukrainian troops from the line of contact. We should reject the bourgeois blame game of each government accusing the other, which only seeks to confuse the working class.
The real achievement of independence and freedom of self-determination in the territory of the current DPR and LPR is possible only through the taking of power by the working class, backed up by the “force of the rifle”, directed against their mutual class enemy. The current policy of the authorities of the isolated republics and, consequently, Russia is directed against this in principle. Both the official recognition and military intervention of Russia oppose this objective.
The only real way out is the independent struggle of the organised working class for socialism!
Our position is clear:
Against Russian military intervention!
Against the war and drawing the working class of Ukraine and Russia into mutual slaughter!
For genuine freedom of self-determination of the working people!
For a strong and independent democratic movement led by the working class!
For a socialist federation of the working peoples of all countries!