Ukraine’s Popular Resistance

Resistance to Russia is the choice of the Ukrainian people, and deserves the support of socialists in Scotland, writes Colin Turbett.

Bill Bonnar and I were Scottish Socialist Party comrades but parted company at the 2023 National Conference when a majority of the sixty or so present resolved the position on Ukraine that he outlines. Bill describes this as a ‘principled socialist’ position which I believe is wrong on both counts. It lacks principle because it will not be heard in Russia and therefore serves Putin’s purpose by calling for no arms supplies to Ukraine, and it is not socialist because it denies to the people of Ukraine the right to self-determination and the choice to resist invasion by any reasonable means available.

Whatever was agreed between Gorbachev and Western leaders at the end of the Cold War is of marginal relevance today. Poland and other former Eastern Bloc countries joined NATO because they wanted to, and although I don’t like that and see NATO as serving capital’s global interests, Putin’s actions have served to confirm their fears about greater Russian imperialist ambition. Now Sweden and Finland have been brought into the fold. Ukrainian membership had been denied prior to the invasion and Volodymyr Zelenskyy was amongst those against it. NATO countries had provided basic hand-held weaponry, armour, and other military equipment, but were very reluctant in the period after the invasion to provide more. Germany, for example, would only provide helmets and body armour. What changed things
was the Ukrainian popular resistance that stalled the Russian blitzkrieg attack on Kyiv and Kharkiv with simple hand-held anti-tank weapons, and the sinking of the Russian Black Sea flagship the Moskva in April 2022. From that time on, with Russia’s expected quick regime-change operation no longer on the cards, resistance was not a case of martyrdom, but a means for Ukrainians to defeat Putin’s plans and win a future for their country.

unexploded ordnance
Unexploded ordnance, Lyman, March 2023. Jen Stout –

To ask the Ukrainians to sue for peace on the basis of territorial status-quo represents nothing short of Munich-style appeasement of Putin. The Russians have pulverised Ukrainian communities quite indiscriminately, committed mass murder in Bucha and elsewhere, kidnapped Ukrainian children, and of
course lied to their own people about it all. Through non-total control of the media, and brutal quelling of anti-war opposition, the Putin regime ensures that this ‘special operation’ is swallowed wholesale by most Russian citizens. To suggest that UK-based journalists of the calibre of David Pratt and Jen Stout are
telling us similar lies from the other side is not serious.

The people of Ukraine are not nazis or extreme nationalists. Those elements exist but are a small minority and pale into insignificance compared with the rise of Putin’s openly fascist support-base in Russia, and his brutal suppression of any semblance of opposition that followed the start of his “special operation” (calling it war is a criminal act). Ukrainian nazis certainly don’t include Zelenskyy, whatever his faults: his background is that of a Russian-speaking Jew whose family fought fascism in the Red Army along with millions of other Ukrainians in the Second World War. Socialists, anarchists, and free trade unionists in Ukraine support the resistance and are strongly represented in particular fighting units. The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, and its sister organisation in Scotland, were set up to make the links between their struggles and ours and to win them practical support for their fight for survival. They also need support to resist the neo-liberal reconstruction of Ukraine.

Defenders of the neutral (effectively pro-Putin) position also quote the popular “Maidan” revolution of 2014 as evidence of western intrigue; the fact is that two free and open elections have taken place since, and there should be no doubt now that the majority of Ukrainians see their future lying in a European rather than Russian direction. Even the previously pro-Russian mayor of Kharkiv has condemned the invasion and supported resistance, as have the majority of Russian speakers in the country – preposterously described by Putin as facing genocide.

Stop the War and their supporters are one end of a continuum (I exclude genuine pacifists) who want to stop arming Ukraine; it includes those who swallow Putin’s line on everything despite the rise of his totalitarian regime in gangster-capitalist Russia. Their position will do nothing to support the beleaguered opposition in Russia (who support Ukraine’s right to self-determination), or Ukrainian socialists who support the resistance.

Of course Stop the War, the CPB, SWP, SSP and others rightly fear a descent into global, even nuclear war. However, it is simply an arrogant idea that the people of Ukraine, in whose interests peace is paramount, are wrong in their majority view. It is ridiculous to suggest (as I heard at SSP conference) that 40 or 50 SSP
members have a “socialist duty” to correct 40 million Ukrainians. Resistance was their choice, and they deserve our support.

Developments since the start of the war confirm that they were right to fight. The insulting suggestion that “NATO will fight to the last drop of Ukrainian blood” came from Putin, and ignores the agency of Ukrainians themselves. This might have become a proxy war between NATO and Russia, but it is above
all a genuine freedom struggle. Our rulers may have their own reasons for sending arms to Ukraine, but that should not obscure our view on the need to support its people.

We are delighted at the position on Ukraine taken by the majority of trade unions at the last STUC congress. Support from the left needs to be stepped up and USCS welcomes individual membership and organisational affiliation. No one wants peace more than the people of Ukraine and they should collectively decide what are acceptable terms for any negotiated settlement – including questions about the territories annexed and invaded militarily by Russia since 2014. A simple call for an end to arms supplies and for peace sounds warmly persuasive, but betrays Ukrainians if they are denied the means to defend their right to self-determination. Ask any and see what they tell you.