The Russian proletariat can stop the war in Ukraine

      Comments Off on The Russian proletariat can stop the war in Ukraine

The Russian imperialism entangled in the war

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine on 24th February 2022 was a double mistake. It was a mistake on its army’s capacities, and it was a symmetric mistake on Ukraine’s capacity for resistance. Yet, despite all Patriarch Kirill’s blessings, the initial failure of invading Kiev in a couple of days, the poor reception to the troops while Putin explained that they were about to tear down a fascist, the disorderly conduct of the military operations with many human and material losses were a sign of the Russian imperialism’s weakness.

Ukraine, while rallying the national sentiment, while receiving help from the Western intelligence, troops’ training and military equipment from NATO’s member states, Ukraine even managed to push the Russian army back in the North, in the East, and partly in the South. The latter still occupies 20 % of the territory of Ukraine. Since then, it the stalemate in the front without any significant advance from both sides, despite tens of thousands of deaths.

Like in 2014, during the annexation of Crimea and the carving up of Donbass, Putin resorted to several independent militia that are independent from the Russian regular army, including Ramzan Kadyrov’s Ismalist battalions, to whom Putin delegated Chechenia’s management, and the private armies Patriot, Redut and Wagner.

As well as the US companies Academi (ex-Blackwater), KBR, MVM, Vinnell, Custer Battles…the Wagner Group is a capitalist firm closely related to the top of the State apparatus. It is under the control of Prigozhin, an oligarch, it is led Outkine, a neo-Nazi and it consists with mercenaries with diverse expertise and with habitual criminals. The Wagner militia had already intervened for account of the Russian, in the 2018 Donbass war, in the 2015 Syrian civil war, in the 2020 Libyan civil war, in the 2020 Central African Republic’s confrontations, in which Rwanda was also involved…

Yet this militia’s involvement in Ukraine proceeds under Prigozhin’s autonomous command, concurrently with the regular army, which is an additional illustration of the weakness of the arrangements of the Russian imperialism. As for now, Ukraine’s resistance to the imperialist Russian attack is the main reason of the increasing political problems of the Russian power. Indeed, the vast majority of the Russian proletariat remained passive, nor without showing any spontaneous support to the war waged by Putin, neither without proving a strong organized opposition. With clubbing and arrests (2.000 according to Novaïa Gazeta), with fines and prison, the authorities managed to deal with the repeated and brave demonstrations by thousands of opponents in big cities

However, it did not have the political means to prevent hundreds of thousands of draft evaders from fleeing the country following the partial mobilisation decided in September 2022.

Russia is imperialist

Only the British SWP believed that the USSR was capitalist in Stalin’s time. Today, there are still “Marxist” organisations which believe that Russia has not become capitalist: LO in France, the PTS and the PO in Argentina, etc.

The entire Russian bourgeoisie has emerged from the same mould: the break-up of the Soviet Union -where the workers had no control over the collectivised economy- in 1991 and the restoration of capitalism in 1992 (“the Shock Therapy”). After Gorbachev’s failure to modernise the economy by introducing more market forces, Yeltsin abandoned the plan, turned labour power into a commodity and let the best-placed former Stalinist bureaucrats, businessmen and gangsters shared the spoils of the degenerated workers’ state. Hence the commodification of the economy, the reappearance of unemployment and a surge in inequalities of income and wealth.

The oligarchs who were prepared to auction off what could be converted into cash to foreign capitalists were dismissed or liquidated by Putin from 1999 onwards. The former secret service FSB member put in the saddle by Yeltsin consolidated global industrial and banking firms and re-established a structured bourgeois State on a shrinking territory, reactivating Russian nationalism and the Christian religion. Russia has become at least as imperialist as it was in 1914 (Lenin clearly characterised the Russian empire as an imperialist power despite its backward features), by maintaining national minorities by force, by trying to loosen the military encirclement operated by the United States on its borders, by intervening in Asia and Africa to guarantee its place against its rivals (the United States, China, Germany, Japan, France, Great Britain…).

There is no difference of class between a Putin, a Prigozhin or, for example, a Sechin, the head of the Rosneft oil corporate group who was for a time Putin’s deputy prime minister. They all know each other, did business together. Business and political ramifications are closely intertwined.

Divisions in the Russian bourgeoisie

But faced with the difficulties on the military front, and the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies, with their political and economic consequences, including increased dependence on neighbouring China, the national bourgeoisie is divided over what to do.

While there is inevitably a significant faction of the Russian bourgeoisie that wants to put an end as quickly as possible to this disastrous adventure in Ukraine, which is resulting in substantial losses of revenue, it does not have the strength to appear publicly until now in the context of a semi-dictatorial regime. Navalny’s imprisonment serves as an example.

The two factions which are publicly confronting each other today are both in favour of continuing the imperialist war. But they are opposed on the means to be implemented and, from there, on the form of the regime which should lead them.

The faction behind Putin is in favour of continuing the war, but without pushing foreign and domestic policy beyond what it believes it can control. Internationally, this faction is well aware, for example, that the use of tactical nuclear weapons to defeat Ukraine, while technically possible, would lead to a considerable worsening of economic sanctions and the isolation of Russia. On the domestic front, this faction fears that a total militarisation of society, a “general mobilisation”, would meet with such resistance from the working class, national minorities, women and young people that it would be threatened and could be overturned, because even if the workers have not moved collectively for the moment, it would be a different matter if the majority of young men had to go to the front. This majority fraction governs by sight, empirically.

The other faction that emerged was in favour of stepping up the war effort, militarisation, mobilisation and the repression of opponents. Prigozhin was its leading light, but he necessarily had support in the state apparatus and in the bourgeoisie, if only because of the position he had acquired. Prigozhin is openly defending the path of fascism, mixing populist accents against those in hiding, the incompetent generals, the profiteers and the corrupt (of whom he is one…) with excessive militarisation…

If ordinary Russians continue to collect their children in zinc coffins while the children of the elite bask in the sun, Russia could face a crisis of the kind that led to civil war in 1917. The division could end, as it did in 1917, in revolution. We are in a situation where we could quite simply lose Russia. (Prigozhin, 24 May) He advocates the introduction of martial law, general mobilisation and a war economy. In this way, the opposition between the two factions takes on a political dimension and not just a military one.

Prigozhin’s attempted coup d’Etat

The struggle between these two factions took a turn for the worse after the clashes between the Russians in Bakhmout, with the capture and detention of a high-ranking Russian army officer by Wagner’s troops, Wagner’s accusations that the Russian army had bombarded his positions and refused to supply him with arms and ammunition, etc. In agreement with Putin, who had until then protected Prigozhin, the Russian army command resolved to bring all the militias, particularly Wagner, into line and to silence him.

In agreement with Putin, who until then had protected Prigozhin, the Russian army command decided to bring all the militias back into line, in particular Wagner, and to silence any criticism of its conduct of operations. Firstly, the direct recruitment of Wagner in prisons was stopped, and then the obligation to sign a contract of allegiance to the Russian military command was introduced. This triggered Prigozhin’s reaction and his attempt at a military coup, probably well before he was fully prepared, because it meant the disappearance of his forces in the very near future.

On 23 June, with disconcerting ease, Wagner’s mercenaries seized Rostov “without firing a shot”, then travelled in columns of thousands of men and military equipment almost 800 km by road towards Moscow, to within 200 km of the Russian capital without encountering any strong resistance, except for the engagement of a few air force aircraft which were shot down. On the contrary, at least one regular army regiment pledged allegiance to them, while others refused to fight. Prigozhin called on the National Guard and the population to “liberate”, but the scenes of fraternisation remained limited.

It was Putin who started the civil war. Instead of sending one or two degenerates into retirement, he gave the order to neutralise the most combat-capable unit in the whole of Russia. The lives of one or two traitors were placed above those of 25,000 heroes. (Prigozhin, 23 June) Given the gravity of the situation, Putin mobilised the FSB and made a speech to the nation.

Today, Russia is fighting the most difficult war for its future, repelling the aggression of the neo-Nazis and their sponsors. All the West’s military, economic and information machines are turned against us. [We are fighting for the life and security of our people… Anything that weakens us must be put aside. Our external enemies use every argument to undermine us from within. So actions that divide our unity are acts of betrayal against our people, our brothers in arms who are currently fighting on the front line. It is a stab in the back to our country and our people. This is exactly what happened in 1917, when our country took part in the First World War but was robbed of victory. The intrigues and quarrels behind the army’s back turned out to be the greatest catastrophe, the destruction of the army and the state, the loss of huge territories, leading to tragedy and civil war. Russians killed Russians, brothers killed brothers. But the beneficiaries were various politicians of fortune and foreign powers who divided the country and tore it into several parts. We will not let that happen. (Putin, morning of 24 June) Prigozhin immediately replied on Telegram: “Putin made the wrong choice. The worst for him. Soon we will have a new president”.

A last-ditch agreement that settles nothing

But, as the Greeks used to say, “it’s a long way from the cup to the lips”. Despite his appeals to the “people”, Prigozhin has not seen any significant political or military support for his attempted putsch. On the contrary, the main military and political leaders are cautiously lining up behind Putin or keeping quiet. Deprived of decisive relays and support, on the one hand Prigozhin steps into the void.

On the other, Putin is not sure of anything, and in particular of the loyalty and valour of the armed forces that he will have to oppose to Prigozhin’s mercenaries. His reference to 1917 shows that he is on the side of the Tsar (or Kerensky), condemning the revolution as a betrayal of the fatherland. But this could not reassure him about the solidity of his regime. If he did not have the means to immediately crush the 25,000 men marching on Moscow, as their lightning advance suggested, anything was possible.

The opponents agreed to ward off any risk of revolution, even though, unlike in 1917, there was no revolutionary workers’ party in Russia.

As a result, on the afternoon of 24 June, the two opposing forces, who seemed to be inexorably pitted against each other, surprisingly reached an agreement, the exact content of which was not made public. The leader of the “traitors” made his men turn back. They were all granted amnesty and would not be prosecuted. Belarusian President Lukashenko, who has appeared like the rabbit in the hat, will accommodate Prigozhin and the mercenaries who wish to follow him. The others were invited either to return home or to sign a contract to join the Russian army.

The very next day, Lavrov, Putin’s foreign minister, confirmed that Wagner’s missions in Africa consisted mainly of protecting corrupt dictators and heads of state in no fewer than 12 countries, in return for payment, and also benefiting from rights to exploit and plunder resources on behalf of Russian capitalism.

New missile and drone strikes are raining down on Ukraine, as if nothing had happened.

To lay the foundations of a revolutionary workers’ party in Russia

However, this coup d’état, even if aborted, is a sign of the profound weakening of the Russian regime, which is entangled in an imperialist war that it wanted and from which it cannot emerge victorious by force of arms or defeated by withdrawing from Ukraine. Putin’s pusillanimity towards the “traitor” Prigozhin, even though he would be poisoned or killed in a traffic accident a little later, bears witness to this weakness. It augurs other possible rifts between the fractions of the Russian bourgeoisie that Putin will have less and less means of keeping under wraps. But it may also herald the arrival of the Russian proletariat on its own class terrain.

For that, what the Russian proletariat lacks above all is a class programme and a class political organisation. The slightest economic demand on a national scale, the slightest democratic demand, immediately clashes head-on with the semi-dictatorial capitalist regime now embodied by Putin. This means that they are immediately revolutionary, in the sense that satisfying them means dealing mortal blows to the regime, putting forward its overthrow. So this class political organisation can only be revolutionary if it is coherent and faithful to the objectives it puts forward.

We need to revive the tradition of the Bolshevik Party and start putting together the building blocks of this programme to enable the Russian working class to build its revolutionary organisation. At the forefront of this programme must be:
  • The working class, the vast majority of the Russian population, needs peace, not imperialist war against our Ukrainian neighbours.
  • Immediate end to the colonial war that the Russian bourgeoisie has unleashed against Ukraine!
  • Withdraw Russian troops, return conquered territories to Ukraine!
  • Soldiers at the front, turn your weapons against your generals and force an immediate halt to the fighting!
  • Immediate repatriation of all soldiers from the front to their homes!
  • Democratic rights for non-commissioned soldiers!
The Ukrainian government is a capitalist government. It is strongly supported by the North American and West European imperialists opposed to Russian imperialism, grouped in and around NATO. But the Russian proletariat has no interest in clashing with the Ukrainian proletariat. On the contrary, if the Russian proletariat succeeds, against its generals, in imposing peace, it will be able to find the means to renew ties with the Ukrainian proletariat and fight together for their emancipation.

Putin’s government cannot tolerate any opposition; it arrests, truncheons, judges and imprisons.
  • Immediate release of all political prisoners!
  • Legalisation of the Memorial association!
  • Respect for democratic freedoms and national minorities!
  • Separation of the State and the Orthodox Church!
The perpetrators of the imperialist war are the Russian capitalists, their government with Putin and all his clique who are monopolising the wealth produced by the working class in Russia, who are stealing and seizing the wealth produced in Africa and who have set their sights on Ukraine for the same purpose.
  • No Putin, no Prigozhin!
  • Down with the capitalists’ government!
  • Form workers’, students’ and soldiers’ councils!
  • Expropriate all the oligarchs!
  • For a workers’ government in Russia that revives the October 1917 revolution, and in particular proletarian internationalism!
As for the workers’ movement in other imperialist countries, it must remember that the main enemy is its own bourgeoisie and it must encourage the class struggle of its brothers and sisters in Russia by fighting for:
  • The abolition of NATO,
  • The withdrawal of American troops from Europe, the closure of all American, French and British military bases, the withdrawal of war fleets from international waters, an end to foreign interference by their own state,
  • The restoration in Ukraine of the democratic freedoms suppressed by Zelenski, respect for the Russian language by the Ukrainian state, self-determination for the population of Donbass,
  • The overthrow of all bourgeois governments, a socialist United States of Europe open to Russia and Ukraine.
June 29th 2023