Russia’s special operation in Ukraine marked the emergence of new “tankies” in the West – socialists, communists and Marxists, who support almost any actions of Moscow as a fighter against “aggressive NATO imperialism.” Gazeta.Ru spoke with representatives of this movement, as well as with Russian experts on political socialism, and tells whether the “world proletariat” will become a true ally of Russia.
“Under the direct sight of imperialism”
On the occasion of the Day of International Solidarity of Workers, the May 1st Declaration dedicated to the events in Ukraine was published on the English Internet. The document , written on behalf of the “international workers’ movement”, proclaims two demands:
“Down with the imperialist NATO proxy war in Ukraine!” and “For the right of Russia to defend itself against the encroachments of imperialism!”
The text of the document explains in detail that Russia’s military operation in Ukraine is Moscow’s “desperate attempt” to defend itself against the West’s plans to turn the Russian Federation into a semi-colony that will supply its resources to imperialist countries.
The authors of the declaration write about the “fascist coup on the Maidan in 2014”; the “imperialist desire for a Third World War” that the working class must oppose; “Ukraine’s integration into the NATO war machine”; the defensive nature of the Russian special operation and the creation of the LPR and DPR as an attempt by the inhabitants of Donbass “to protect themselves from the aggressive Russophobic Kyiv regime and its fascist dogs.”
The declaration also criticizes the Western left, whose stance can be described simply as “anti-war”. Such half-measures, in their opinion, are simply inappropriate in this situation.
“It is not enough to simply oppose NATO intervention in Ukraine. Opposition to imperialism means giving support to those who are under its direct sight.
This means providing support to both the DPR and LPR, and the Russian Federation. Russia has the right to defend its sovereignty by military force against the imperialist proxy war,” reads the text of the declaration.
Who are these people?
The authors of the declaration are the Brazilian organization Liga Communista and the site of Trotskyist content classconscious.org, on which, in fact, the document was originally published.
Upon closer examination, it turns out that the principles described in the declaration are clearly not in great demand among the Western public.
The Liga Communista Facebook page (the company that owns Meta has been declared an extremist organization) barely has 3,000 followers. Canadian-born Trotsky activist Davey Heller, who runs classconscious.org, has about 700 followers on Twitter.
At the same time, the declaration notes that one of its goals is “to establish links between genuinely anti-imperialist Marxist forces,” which its authors apparently succeed in doing. Below the declaration is a list of political organizations from the United States, Britain, Argentina, Brazil, Greece and even South Korea that supported it.
One of these signatory organizations is the Socialist Party of America (SPA), once a major American political force, however, disbanded back in 1971.
Exactly two messages have been published on the website of this signatory organization. The first is about the re-establishment of SPA at the beginning of 2022, the second is a “party statement about Ukraine.”
It is possible to contact the organization through its Twitter account, which coincidentally (?) was registered in February of this year and managed to gain a little less than 500 subscribers during this time.
The person running the account refuses to give his name, explaining that the answers to Gazeta.Ru’s questions were prepared at once by “several members of the party leadership” and offering to quote a “party representative.”
Its representative also refuses to talk about the number of active members in the organization, noting only that their position on the Ukrainian issue is unified.
“We believe that imperialist hegemony is pushing Ukraine into a proxy war with Russia, which was facilitated by the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and, in particular, by the surge in tensions after the Ukrainian coup in 2014.
NATO countries, such as the United States, have no other business in Ukraine than to sell their weapons and profit from the death and destruction of Ukrainians, ”the statement submitted by Gazeta.Ru says.
SPA representatives emphasize that they are “not for the war and not for Russia.” “In fact, we hope this war ends as soon as possible,” they write, adding:
“But at the same time, the people of Donbass have been fighting against NATO-backed Ukraine for almost a decade. Only a few months ago Russia decided to offer its help. This is a war to free people who have been oppressed for too long.”
There are also larger organizations among the signatories. For example, the New Communist Party of Britain, founded back in 1977, or the American Socialist Unity Party (SUP).
The latter was founded in March 2019 and operates on the territory of the United States and its territory of Puerto Rico, whose independence from Washington SUP actively supports. Party member and co-editor of its Struggle-La Lucha organ, Greg Butterfield, in a conversation with Gazeta.Ru, admits: “the party is small but growing” – in three years they opened branches in almost a dozen American cities, including in Los Angeles and New York.
At the same time, in his political activities, Butterfield pays a lot of attention to the Ukrainian issue, which is why he was even included in the list of the Peacemaker website as a person “threatening the national security” of Ukraine.
“I followed this confrontation closely after the Maidan coup and visited the region twice. I have spoken to many people who have been directly affected by the war Ukraine has been waging in Donbas for the past eight years. I have many friends and comrades in Donbass, including Ukrainian activists who were forced to flee the country in 2014 under threat of death. So I understand the real stakes in the conflict. And I am trying to convey my knowledge to the labor movement and progressive forces here in the USA,” Butterfield told Gazeta.Ru.
Marginality with history
A position similar to that of the organizations described above is extremely marginal in the Western left political movement, but has deep historical roots referring to the so-called tankiz movement, Professor Shaninka (Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences) told Gazeta.Ru , MVShSEN) Boris Kagarlitsky .
“The marginality of this position is specific – there is a fairly large part of the left-conservative spectrum, which inertially continues to identify Russia and the USSR.
In addition, they adhere to the following logical chain: since we are fighting against the imperialist NATO bloc, all those who are against NATO and America are good guys, ”the expert explained.
Political theorist Ilya Budraitskis notes that the use of the term “tankiz” in relation to today’s supporters of the Russian special operation in Ukraine from the left camp is problematic, “because today’s Russia, of course, is completely different from the Soviet Union.”
“If in 1968 the Soviet Union still used some kind of left-wing rhetoric — its struggle against the reformist leadership of Czechoslovakia was formalized as a struggle to defend the gains of socialism — then today there is no question of any gains of socialism,” the expert noted.
“Today’s Russia is an absolutely capitalist state. The rhetoric it uses is nationalist rhetoric, the rhetoric of defending national interests, defending sovereignty, fighting for the lands of historical Russia.
Therefore, no argumentation that could attract the sympathies of the left is visible behind all this, ”added Budraitskis.
By the way, the authors of the May 1st Declaration acknowledge that the Russian Federation is a capitalist state, but they do not consider it imperialist. “Imperialism is the stage of capitalism represented by the dominance of finance capital. Russia is not part of the “imperialist club”, but is a relatively backward, dependent capitalist economy,” they explain their support for Moscow’s policies.
And although the American interlocutors of Gazeta.Ru actively refer to the works of Vladimir Lenin, justifying their anti-imperialist position, Ilya Budraitskis assures that their arguments have nothing in common with Leninism:
“Lenin described imperialism not as a quality of individual countries, but as a state of the world in which there is a struggle for the redistribution of markets and spheres of influence. In this struggle, none of the “imperialisms” is more progressive than the other imperialisms. That is why Lenin’s position in the First World War was to refuse support to any of the governments of the warring countries.
The specialist also notes another point in the rhetoric of conditional tankies, which contradicts the mainstream of thought in the left movement.
“According to the picture of the world of these modern tanks, which, in general, coincides with the official Russian position, there are interests of countries such as the United States, China and Russia, but there are no interests of countries such as Lithuania, Ukraine or the Czech Republic – they are considered “puppets” .
Such an understanding of the world is imperialistic: there are subjects of world politics – just those few world powers that are fighting among themselves for influence; but there are objects – some territories inhabited by some people who are doomed to be the “prey” of one or another power, ”the expert said.
“It was precisely this view of the world that the Bolsheviks of the early 20th century fought against when they talked about the right of nations to self-determination and the struggle against colonialism. They criticized imperialism from anti-imperialist positions, and not from the positions of defending one imperialism from another, as weaker or more acceptable, more progressive, and so on,” Budraitskis summed up.
50 shades of left
Greg Butterfield of American SUP noted that the conflict in Ukraine “deepened divisions between the US left and the world.”
“A war, especially an imperialist proxy war like the one the US and NATO are waging in Ukraine, is always a serious attack on the international labor movement.
War brings workers against each other when the whole basis of the workers’ struggle is solidarity and internationalism.
And in the end, only the strength of the workers can successfully stop the imperialist war by taking away the labor force from the imperialists and showing solidarity with their sisters and brothers in the country that has become the target of imperialism,” he said.
“Some anti-war groups, calling themselves anti-imperialist, socialist and communist, have abandoned their principles and succumbed to the US campaign to demonize Russia and Donbass. Others have largely kept quiet or limited their activities to just web events,” Butterfield added.
However, he noted that the SUP, being one of the few organizations in the United States that staged street protests “against the NATO war,” saw firsthand that in society, “opposition and skepticism towards the anti-Russian campaign is actually much greater than expected.”
Greg Butterfield believes that the Western left movement is divided into two camps: “pro-Ukrainian” and “anti-imperialist”. However, Boris Kagarlitsky of MVSESEN notes that there are many more points of view in the left camp.
“Firstly, this conditionally “pro-Russian line”, which has always been in the minority, is much less visible today than in all previous stories. Support for Russia among the left has reached a minimum, – said the expert. – Most of the parties that adhere to such an interpretation of anti-imperialism have at least declaratively condemned Russia.
They assess the war as imperialist on both sides – Russia on the one hand, NATO and other imperialists on the other – but there is practically no direct support for Russia at the level of organized political forces. Even the Greek Communist Party, which has always been more or less pro-Russian, issued a condemnation.”
According to Kagarlitsky, this time among the left, especially in the first weeks of the conflict, the position of “necessary surrender” was much more popular.
“Its meaning is that you cannot fight aggression, because this will lead to the loss of life. Almost the entire liberal West was set up like this: Ukraine must immediately surrender, it is necessary to urgently capitulate, immediately submit.
Because resistance is worse than atrocity. It is necessary to suffer, and we must support the victims of violence and sympathize with them. Because in modern liberal culture there is a cult of the victim: it’s bad to fight, but it’s good to be a victim, ”the expert said.
The absolute mainstream of left-wing political thought in the West, in his words, characterizes Russia “as an aggressor.”
“It is believed that even despite the dislike for NATO, any support for aggression should not be allowed. However, at the same time, discussions are underway on how to ensure that NATO does not become stronger during this conflict,” the expert concluded.