Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Ukraine: war and nationalisms

The bloodless annexation of the Crimea and the so-called “war of liberation” of the Ukraine’s supporters of independence on Russia’s borders has for months occupied the East European stage. Once again the European continent is agitated by the spectacles of old and new nationalisms destined to multiply – nationalisms which will never cease to put on a show of muscle power until the terrain they grow out of, the national States, has been removed. Against them, the international and internationalist battle cry lives on: “Proletarians of the world, unite!

All the ideological aims – “democracy”, “freedom”, “self determination of the people”, “humanitarian intervention” – advanced as justifications for solving the so-called “national crises” are merely paper screens that do not prevent military clashes but instead fuel them. The collapse of Russia and German unification in 1989-90 took the lid off the Pandora’s vase: widespread imperialist war, still lying in wait at the moment, will be the most “genuine” product of capital accumulation and its consequent nationalisms. Those former events, which have been celebrated for 25 years now, arose out of profound economic upheavals (the crises of the 1970s/1980s) that had their effect on the economic, social and political dynamics previously imposed by the victorious powers at the Yalta Conference in Crimea in 1945. The solid power front that came into being after the second world war is gradually disappearing: new signs of an approaching storm are to be sensed and the war on the south-eastern borders of the Ukraine is its latest manifestation.

First in the Balkans and now in the territory of east Europe, the nailed boots are marching again, as in the past. The clash between the vast economic interests of France, Germany, the USA, Great Britain and Russia has started to make itself felt precisely where, from the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht onwards, that ghostlike construction known as the European Union has attempted, by means of the single currency, to glue together the numberless marginal economic entities that never cease to churn chaotically, moved by the alternating waves of overproduction and crisis. Nothing can resist the energy released by these waves, which follow one another in rapid succession. Capital, labour-force, productivity, degree of exploitation, production times, plus-value, profit rate, which are at the basis of a capitalist economy, seem to be facts lacking any real consistency in the eyes of the bourgeoisie. The enormous anomalies in productivity, differences in wages, the varying profit rates in capitalist countries, on which the gap between growing wealth and poverty are founded, seem like vague figures devoid of any value. Above all this, blinding the eyes and the mind, rises the leviathan of financial capital.

The economic, social and political limits of small, national units, but also those of the great powers, are not indeterminate. They are firmly traced: all the more rigidly in proportion to the degree of freedom that they (the great powers) presume they possess. If it is true that the European Union is proving to be merely a Teddy Bear hanging from a hook on a stand in the Fun Fair, at the mercy of economic forces, it is undeniable that Germany cannot afford to clash with her Russian provider of energy, on which she isvitally dependent (and vice versa) and with which she has, for decades, been pursuing a very close policy of economic collaboration and historical tradition (Ostpolitik); yet, at the same time, she cannot afford now to abandon the political (Atlantic) position she occupies. To sink the Russian economy by means of sanctions would mean halting the process of integration and capitalist connection so necessary for Capital and which began precisely with the crises that preceded and followed the fall of the Berlin Wall – that same process of integration and connection that will inevitably provide the impulse towards the next war. Inflation, the virtual standstill in the growth of GNP, the plunge in the value of the rouble and oil prices, all point to the fact that it is impossible to disconnect economic systems without paying the price. The historical lesson learnt is that a long period of peace is proportional to the amount of destruction caused by the previous war and to the weight of the chains imposed on the class war.

The boogeyman clad in Stalinist-Soviet disguise has accompanied the great Russian-American lie of the post-war period about so-called “real socialism”. One thing was certain in the second world conflict: the real enemy of the bourgeoisie was (and remains) the international proletariat, whose German representatives are (and will be) the most advanced faction in the class conflict. Thus, the surgery performed by the great imperialist powers was carried out without doubts: the division of Germany and of Berlin was necessaryand its only aim was to divide the German proletariat at the heart of Europe into two separate parts. This division tells of counter-revolution, the defeat of the proletariat before and after the conflict and the desertification known as peace that came after it.

France, another pawn in the game, no longer manages, as she once did, to keep a short lead on the German wolf entrusted to her, which can no longer be economically or politically tamed. The USA, the only real winners, have no intention of giving up their own hold on Europe and having established themselves in the east after the fall of the Wall, are seizing the opportunity to create difficulties for the continent’s east-west links, playing on the tensions between the old Russian leader, ex-Soviet satellites and yesterday’s defeated. London, standing outside the games of unified Europe, goes further, attributing to European weakness (that of France and Germany) one of the substantial causes of Russian arrogance and the far from remote possibility that the Baltic States may come under the attack of “Russian imperialist capitalism” – the self-interested remark of a former imperialist and colonial power that has since become the USA’s court jester. With the same “satisfaction”, those taking part in the war simulation games amuse themselves by throwing around the Italian standard to see which allied side it will land on, whilst they have no doubt that the British pound sterling will fall onto American ground. It is no coincidence that faced with the US demand for a clear condemnation of Russia’s “invasion” of the Crimea, Germany immediately assumed an accommodating tone, aiming for a compromise that would save her good relations with the eastern giant, guaranteeing mutually favourable business deals and perhaps leaving open the prospect of something more for future international political relations.

The big imperialist powers know quite well that the great world contest will also, and mainly, be played out in the East Pacific, where the two new major powers, China and India, will come heavily into play with their immense proletarian masses destined for massacre, unless the proletarian revolution should stop it in time. With Hobsbawm’s “Short Twentieth Century”, Fukyama’s “The End of History”, Gorbaciov’s “Common European Home” and the protective wings of Boris Yeltsin’s NATO-Russia set aside, where has the post-Wall message of peace and progress ended up? The message that should have united everybody in one big embrace? Looking over our shoulders, in these years of cemetery-like peace, we have been witnessing one endless devastation after the other: from Somalia to Afghanistan, from Iraq to so-called Palestine, from the Balkans to Libya, then Syria and now the Ukraine, the hefty American harrow (with labour provided by the States of Great Britain, France and Italy) has sown death and devastation. The seeds planted have sprouted bands of adventurers who run amok in the most diverse territories: Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan, free traders and smugglers of gas, oil and arms, those that improperly refer to themselves as the “Caliphate”…

The ghosts of the past? Still today mere shadows that move in a hazy landscape, where several theatres of war are still open, all of them fatal to the proletariat. Of significance are the increasingly strong rumours suggesting that a growing portion of Germany’s ruling class (especially in the great economic-industrial groups) is looking towards re-conquering their old “living space” (Lebensraum), a “re-conquest” that has already begun by establishing production facilities in countries directly adjacent to eastern borders, opening up a natural overflow route through Poland and the Baltic skittles to the borders of St. Petersburg. This “space” extends along another line to the south through the Balkans, dismantled and taken apart so that the mark (and then the euro) could follow the old warpaths towards the Middle East. It is understandable that the USA tends to dramatize the Ukrainian crisis, using it against Russia, threatening to send heavy arms to the “poor nation” of the Ukraine, to dispatch “impartial” international observers to the front; and that London does all it can to keep the Baltic front united with Denmark and Poland. This is an open contest, in which the position assumed by Germany will play the key role, whilst Italy is once more condemned to dance between one partner and another, as in the satirical drawings produced in countries of the Central Powers at the beginning of the Great War, or to make her appearance by intervening as in the Lebanon (1982), Somalia (1992), Kosovo (1999), Iraq (2003) and Lybia (2011).


Just as the Balkans, reduced to a jigsaw of marginal political and economic entities, has become the transit route for oil pipelines and bridges to the markets of Asia, for the Ukraine, too, there will be no escaping its balkanization under the pressure from capital. Kiev is not only the gate of entry for Moscow: it is also the point where a wide-reaching network of seven bordering states meets. Volhynia and Galicia (Lviv), so closely attached to Poland, will not hesitate to present their present “mother country” with their demand for a “just divorce”, as the Czechs and the Slovaks did pacifically and as Slovenia, not so pacifically, did towards Yugoslavia. 

Numerous armies have crossed this “middle earth”, called Ukraine (whose etymology, we should remember, is “land on the edge, on the border or periphery”!), in all directions, and this is why its destiny is clearly written. Its survival and political ideology are founded on a state of permanent instability towards its neighbours and this is also the reason why it will remain nailed to square one, whilst waiting for the leaders of the packs in Europe to make their moves. That Germany and France should come to Minsk 2 to uphold a truce with the Russian independence fighters, that the USA should agitate for Germany to intervene heavily and that Poland should exert more pressure than the USA in favour of this intervention – all this should come as no surprise. A great Poland pushes eastward because that was her “space” in the past, the space of Belarus and the Baltic regions, notoriously more fragile than the great German block to the west. Can the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, a naval base and arsenal of light and heavy weapons partly separating Poland from Lithuania, stop this? It is certainly not a casus bellithat the latter should become uneasy enough to announce the return of obligatory military service to face the growing threat from Russia, or that at the same time military training should be held on the borders of Estonia and Latvia, as well as joint Anglo-American parades in Estonia: these are just fairly indicative signals that there is a growing probability of fireworks starting to go off. It is widely known that the nationalism of the Baltic countries may explode again from one moment to the next: this means billions of euros of English and American military aid and freecredit disguised as support for the economy. One thing is certain in this situation: today the status quois once again Germany’s strongest guiding principle.

The bourgeois States, functional to their own economies and their own military capacity, nonetheless have a far harsher role: to place iron shackles on the wrists and feet of their proletariat. All the rest, the ideals of “democracy, justice and freedom” and the ceaseless chatter about “European institutions” are just for the middle classes and the fools. Yet it is just as undeniable that countries unable to sustain the impact of the great historical forces of imperialism will be swept away by the dynamics of Capital, as its centralisation continues on an ever-widening scale. Thus, division and at the same time centralisation and concentration, accumulation and consequent overproduction and thence increasingly devastating crises: to save ourselves from this destructive mechanism, the little tramp steamer of national reform is just a powerless utopia.


Up to the present there have been almost 5500 deaths (soldiers and civilians), 13000 wounded and over a million and a half refugees from this middle earth (Luhans’k, Donec’k, Debaltsevo, Mariupol), towards Russia. In this borderland, war games are being played (and it will not be long before they extend to the far side of the Crimea, as far as Odessa and from here to Moldova and Transnistria). There is talk of thousands of prisoners, of factories destroyed, of gutted houses and abandoned towns: human masses that have failed (and fail) to understand that this pseudo-independence merely fuels the horrendous murder game by the very bourgeoisie that sets itself up as “the bringer of peace, well-being and development” 1.

Dribbling democracy, the western journalist demands passionately, “To die or not to die for the Ukraine?”. Poland and her Baltic siblings, who have everything to gain from a disaggregation of the Ukraine, insist that heavy arms should be dispatched to Kiev. Not even Hungary holds her tongue. The defenders of “freedom”, as against “imperial Russian barbarity”, demand that the requests for help from the “Ukrainian patriots” be sustained and, in turn, the supporters of “the self-determination of peoples” demand that the Ukrainian Nazis and the American imperialists be driven back.

If the game ends with Ukrainian defeat, who will support the cost of reconstructing the economy in these territories? It is not just a matter of blocking supplies of gas, oil and coal: it will mean the disappearance of all the Russian orders for heavy goods, both civilian and military (between 5 and 10 billion dollars), which for years have been guaranteed by a tissue of relationships. In this situation the Ukraine’s economy will precipitate: the exchange between her products for rail transport, means of production and arms (of which she is one of the ten leading exporters in the world), is bound to the prices of gas and oil coming from Russia. The gap in the Russian demand for arms and the offer of raw materials, which has long been connected, will create an authentic vacuum in the economy and in production. Breaking off relationships due to the war will necessarily lead to a reindustrialization of the whole system: but who will provide the capital, given that today the Ukrainian economy is in a state of financial collapse (a 50% currency devaluation, inflation standing at 17.5%, monetary reserves reduced to the point where they are unable to cover six months of imports, the banking system almost ruined)?

How will infrastructures destroyed in the war be rebuilt? According to experts, it will cost 100 billion dollars just to rebuild the Donbass. Who will generously offer loans – the European Union or the IMF? Who will pay the heavy bill of 276 billion dollars for re-building the whole of society? The proletarians will find out to their cost how much their so-called “self determination” and the independence so dear to the hearts of the petit bourgeoisie is worth. What will the so-called “warriors” (patriots, right- and left-wing partisans), so attached to their oligarchies and their corruption, use to feed the masses, even poorer than they were beforehand? What is certain is that very soon the proletariat will discover that, as well as suffering, it is wearing far heavier chains than it did before, so that it can pay the bill by means of forced labour: new salaried labour to produce new means of production and new arms.

With what salaries, what currency, how much work, how much productivity and intensity? In the end, things will be as they were at the start, admitting that there is no solution to the tragedy. Whether Russian, German or American, the victorious bourgeoisie will hound the proletariat until it (the bourgeoisie) is overthrown. The advancing balkanization thus accelerates the development of great, international capitalism, to which local capital is subordinated, riding roughshod over the corpses of ephemeral nations. The proletariat must give all patriotic sirens a wide berth, because the bourgeoisie will want to re-establish the “national factor” as the inescapable effect of the profound crisis. Under the disguise of the “freedom of the people”, “democracy”, “free trade”, imperialist war also serves to stop the proletariat from recognizing the real cause of it: Capital.


[1] And this is a real war, not the celebratory enactment of partisanship, barricades, skirmishes between bands. As in every war, there are tens upon tens of thousands of deserters, entire units refuse to fight or be used to quell people’s uprisings in the Russian-speaking regions, other units surrender… And again: exchanges of prisoners, regiments that pass from one side of the battlefront to the other, supplies of arms, troops and equipment, night-vision equipment, artillery, armoured vehicles, tanks, aeroplanes and helicopters shot down, unofficial bands of nationalists: the modern, international Expo of the arms trade, where efficiency, power and firing range, automation and innovation are all to be seen. In addition: puppet soldiers sent to the battlefront with no training (only 10% of the 78 000 troops in the Ukrainian army has been judged fit for battle, only 15% of the material officially in use – aeroplanes and helicopters – in working condition); operations involving defence and population control; the inevitable “anti-terrorist” brigades; and, over and above all the rest, legions of volunteers, mercenaries, military advisors, combat teams, CIA and FBI staff… The economic spin-off for the arms trade in both nations (Russia and Ukraine) is worth billions: 15% of military production consists in elements of vital importance for equipping Russia’s armed forces and the consequences are serious for Kiev, too, considering that 35% of Ukrainian industry consists of enterprises working in the military sector, for whom trade with Russia accounts for over 50% of their orders (over 400 firms work for the Army: military components and end products, Cargo vehicles, prototypes for the Airforce, companies producing engines and those producing various types of ballistic missiles and fighter-bombers)… For all this data and more, see issue 12/2014 of Limes, entitled “La Russia in guerra”.

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