by Oksana Dutchak
Discussions with some on the (mostly) western left can be extremely hard. Some of their positions are disheartening to hear. Others seem hypocritical or cynical. There are, in my opinion, certain positions that are far from left principles. These points are not always expressed directly, so I want to briefly dig into some hidden messages underlying positions held by many on the left.
Disclaimer #1: I want to stress that there are also a lot of leftists who take the position of solidarity and will have zero to do with these claims. However, here I am not writing about them.
Disclaimer #2: It really matters how some of these messages are voiced as this draws the line between, on the one hand, points of concern and discussion, and on the other – the central pillar of one’s predetermined and unconditional political stand against Ukrainian resistance. This text is about the second case. I won’t discuss nuances here. This is a polemic opinion, not an analytical article.
Disclaimer #3: I’m frustrated, angry and, hence, often sarcastic here. And yes, I have the right to be so. And yes, I use this piece to channel my frustration and anger.
1. “If another country attacks my country, I would just flee”
Well, I’ve done the same because I have two children. The unvoiced full version of the claim: “In a hypothetical situation which is highly unlikely, but which I still project on you, I will not support any collective resistance to the invasion and because of this projection I oppose Ukrainian resistance”. This claim is mostly expressed by people from countries without any modern history of being subject to nor under the threat of imperial domination. But we are not in an abstract war here or in any version of your projections. It is a very concrete imperial invasion backed by the rhetoric of total submission. Sometimes it also reaches the level of genocidal rhetoric. A Marxist should have a triple facepalm hearing that the war against imperial oppression is not worth fighting. Of course, if something like this ever happens to you, you can choose the option of not resisting and I would never judge you as long as you don’t use your individual choice to condemn the collective defensive struggle of others in a totally and structurally different reality.
2. “I would never fight for my government”
The unvoiced full version of the claim: “1) Ukrainians are fighting for their government, 2) I think so for no reason and I either have not checked this claim with Ukrainians or 3) I don’t think Ukrainians’ opinion should be taken into account anyway”. Well, quite obvious – this war has nothing to do with our shitty (like many others) government. Check the fucking opinion polls which some leftists like so much when they support their point and immediately forget about when they undermine it. If this war ever had anything to do with the Ukrainian government, the government stopped being relevant the second Russian propaganda started to talk about “the solution of the Ukrainian question” and “denazification” of the population, en masse.
The second part of this unvoiced claim is tied to a total detachment from material reality and disregard of it – a very materialist approach, indeed. The third part of the claim has, of course, nothing to do with left principles and is, unfortunately, like many other points, an obvious manifestation of west-centric, patronizing or arrogant “leftism”.
Probably the most stunning variations of this position are “analyses” of the war with numerous factual mistakes by people who know almost nothing about the region and manifestos “against the war” without a single Ukrainian signature. Being a left academic “superstar” is a guarantee many people will still take your text seriously, despite the desperately lamenting material reality and human bodies buried under its rubble.
3. “Our government supports Ukraine and I can never take the side of my government”
The unvoiced full message of this claim is: “In fact I do support my government in many instances, but in such a way I justify my stand against supporting Ukrainian resistance and/or rely on identity politics instead of materialist principles to make my life conformist and simple”. Of course, these people support their governments on some occasions and criticize and oppose it on others. Reality is complicated, you know. Sometimes even shitty governments do the right thing, especially under pressure from popular progressive struggle. It is like opposing migrants and refugees, which the government decided to “let in”, because it was the government’s position. (I know, I know that some do this under the slogans that “they will take our workers’ jobs”). An illusory principled opposition to one’s own government is simply used, again, as a justification of opposition to Ukrainian resistance. Seriously supporting this claim means relying on identity politics based on blind universalization instead of an analysis of the material reality facing Ukraine.
4. “Ukrainian and Russian workers, instead of fighting with each other, should turn their guns against their own governments”
The unvoiced message here is: “I prefer to do nothing in this situation where there is no direct or indirect threat to my life, I’m opposing Ukrainian resistance and I want to find a nice, leftist-sounding justification”. Yeah, we should better pretend to be stones and wait for a global proletarian revolution. Well, I’m afraid at some moment such people will even claim there is no need to wage any social struggle until the global revolution (I know, I know that some almost do). This position, however, is (often) the position of a privileged individual which hides ideological egoism behind nice rhetoric. It is also a product of the years-long decline in left mobilization and the global system’s many reactionary turns. A very good and universal shit, if somebody wants to do the shitbath, I recommend this one.
5. “Who benefits from this war?”
The unvoiced message is: “I know that some parts of the elite capitalist class benefit almost from anything in this world, because it is how the system works, but I still use this question (which is not really a question) to express my opposition to Ukrainian struggle for self-determination”. Opposing such a struggle because western elites benefit from it is like opposing industrial action because a capitalist competitor benefits from it. Another variation of this claim is part of the NATO weapon discussion (though, of course, I know the discussion is more complicated). Sorry, but we live in a world without a progressive state of the size required to provide material support to a struggle of this scale and benefit from its victory. Unless you consider other imperial powers like China to be progressive.
This shithole is also a good one to go for as it is a deep one and can contain many variations. Most of the discussion about the “spheres of influence” falls into this shithole too in one way or another. Taking this position seriously means taking the side of the reactionary status quo we have been living in for decades. It also often goes together with denial, devaluation or even favoritism of Russian (or any non-western) imperialism. Sometimes it also hides all the other thoughts, like supporting any cannibalistic regime against western imperialism. On the part of some leftists from the Global South it can hide the lust for revenge – this lust, though being far more understandable than the conformist identity politics of western observers, contains a nasty disregard of Ukrainian people on whose expense the revenge against western imperialism must be waged.
6. “What about the far right on the Ukrainian side?”
The hidden claim here is: “I use the far right problem as a fig leaf to hide my opposition to Ukrainian resistance”. Yeah, there are far right groups in Ukraine – like in many other countries – and yes, they have weapons now because, surprise, we are at war. But those who voice this claim mostly don’t care about the far right on the side of the Russian army or the general scary far-right path of Russian politics with respective implications for its internal and foreign “affairs” (like, yeah, the row of wars). They don’t care that some left political scientists from Russia now call their regime a post-fascist one. They don’t know about how big is the participation of far right in Ukrainian resistance, they don’t care about participation of other ideological groups and the general scale of the resistance, they don’t know how the empty signifier of “nazi” is used by Russian propaganda to dehumanize whoever they want. It is just a fig leaf which, thanks to Russian propaganda and some other factors, has grown into a colossus.
7. “Russia and Ukraine should negotiate. Upgraded version: here are our propositions for a peace deal”
This claim has many hidden variations, which depends on the propositions of a peace deal those people voice. Depending on these propositions, the unvoiced message can be: “1) Ukraine should capitulate or 2) we are detached from reality and think our relatively reasonable propositions of a peace deal are realistic now”. The first option is the same good old “peace by any means”: the propositions basically presuppose that Ukraine should give up on newly captured territories and follow almost all the absurd political demands of Russia, giving up the country’s independence and people’s self-determination. Very leftist, indeed. In the second option the proposed peace deal is close to the one that was on the negotiation table in spring, when the full scale invasion just started. One of the main points of the proposed peace deal is that the Russian army must retreat from the newly captured territories – to the border on the 23rd of February. This point makes the whole proposition useless at this moment of time and the proposers cannot give a reasonable answer to the questions why should the Putin regime do that on this stage, who and how can “persuade” it to do this.
There is also the uglier version of the unvoiced message: “we are sane, knowing our relatively reasonable propositions are unrealistic at the moment, but we still voice them to show that those stupid Ukrainians don’t want to negotiate”.
8. “The West should stop supporting Ukraine because it may escalate into a nuclear war”
The hidden message: “any nuclear country can do whatever she wants because we are afraid”. You know, I’m also afraid of nuclear war. But keeping to this position is supporting the reactionary status quo and facilitating imperialist politics. And what is missing from this discussion are disastrous consequences of Russia’s attack for the global movement for nuclear disarmament. Now I can hardly imagine why any country would give up its nuclear arsenal voluntarily being afraid to follow the “destiny” of Ukraine (google “Budapest Memorandum”). And this is not the West to blame here.
9. “We won’t even talk to you because you are for weapons”
The hidden message: “we don’t care about the material reality of this war and sorry-not-sorry that you were unlucky enough to be attacked by a non-western imperial country, just do not make uncomfortable interventions into our imagined monolithic unipolar and west-centric internationalism”. This is, of course, an intersection of many of the previous claims but I’ve decided to put it separately because this is a brilliant manifestation we, Ukrainian leftists, hear sometimes and wonder about solidarity, internationalism, attention to the structures of power inequality, anti-imperialism and all that, you know, important things, thrown into the trash at broad daylight in front of our eyes.
10. “Good Russian resistance vs. bad/inconvenient/non-existing Ukrainian resistance”
And last, but not least – actually this one triggers me the most. This shit triggers me immensely and brings some irrational emotions I’m ashamed of. There is no hidden message here. One of the extreme examples is when the left meeting is addressed by a Russian anti-war activist and everybody listens, but when the same meeting is addressed by a Ukrainian left with basically the same messages, some people demonstratively leave the room and boo. The Ukrainian leftists can be questioned as if they have no right to participate in a discussion about this war if no Russian war-opposer is involved – even if just in a few days they participate in another discussion with Russian anti-war representatives. How dare the Ukrainian leftists speak about Russian invasion without the Russian leftists, right?
These are only extreme examples, but there is a sea of moderate variations: supporting and admiring Russian anti-war resistance and being numb about the Ukrainian one. Spreading some messages of the Russian anti-war movement and ignoring the messages of Ukrainian leftist. Pretending Ukrainian resistance does not exist. Writing about brave and strong Russian war-opposers and, at the same time, describing Ukrainians only as civilian losses, refugees, poor victims.
Russian anti-war resistance often voices similar claims and supports the Ukrainian left in relation to the war: they demand weapons for Ukrainian resistance, they want Russia to lose! Puzzling, that this similarity doesn’t matter, right? However, the explanation is simple. Russian anti-war resistance is comfortable, it corresponds to many hidden claims and messages.They are against their government. They don’t have guns in their hands. In the end, they are brave and worth listening to, unlike poor/stubborn/nationalistic/militaristic – in other words, inconvenient – Ukrainian left, who refuse to be comfortable victims. You know why this difference between Ukrainian left resistance and Russian anti-war resistance appeared? Because it is not Russia which is under imperial attack, and it is not the Russian opposition which is waging a defensive war for self-determination.
I know some hidden claims and messages are missing. Some of them are so obviously bullshit to discuss, like “but the USA has done much worse”, “socialist Russia”, “nazi regime in Kiev”, “14000 civilians, killed by Ukrainian government”, “don’t be so emotional”, “there is nothing good to defend in Ukraine” (yes, this is a real one!). There are also some points which are too painful for me to discuss now.
I know that internationalism and practical solidarity are not falling apart for the first time. But you cannot even approach (again) its reconstruction, ignoring what is behind the hidden messages: idealistic delusions, structures of political power inequality, reactionary currents and all the other shit which allows so many to look away in the face of Russian imperialism and Ukrainian struggle for self-determination.
Reprinted from Commons, a left-wing Ukrainian journal about economy, politics, history and culture, founded in 2009.