The well known left intellectual Ron Jacobs has written an article in the equally well known left magazine Counterpunch, on the war in Ukraine. The article is called called “We need an international antiwar movement not a cheering squad for the arms industry.” While couched in left and anti-capitalist terms, it actually is an appeal to selfishness.
What Jacobs has written is based on assumptions that are so clearly false, and on ignorance of the situation that is so profound that it is hard to believe he doesn’t know better. He opens his article: “A ceasefire between the warring parties, a Russian withdrawal, a halt to arms shipments, a negotiated peace and an end to NATO. This is what the international left should be organizing around in regards to the Russia-Ukraine war.”
Basic Assumption False
The entire basis of the article, everything Jacobs writes, is predicated on the belief that Putin will somehow voluntarily agree to a ceasefire and voluntary withdrawal. What evidence exists anywhere for this assumption? After Putin’s denial that his troops were guilty of crimes in Bucha, after his targeting civilians in one city after another, after his refusal time and again to agree to a ceasefire merely to allow civilian evacuation from Mariupol, after his continuing to mass troops and arms along the northern and eastern front, after his continued advance down the Black Sea coast, after his having bombed as far south as Odessa, after Putin’s continued war rhetoric…. how can anybody except the most extreme denialists possibly believe that such a voluntary ceasefire and withdrawal is possible? How can anybody believe that Putin will not agree to this without a military defeat?
Jacobs then states “this war is truly a proxy war and that Ukrainians are being sacrificed by Washington and its clients (including the government in Kyiv) while Russians are being sacrificed by their government.” Maybe he is simply unaware of the situation within Ukraine, in which case he is writing out of ignorance, but anybody who has been in touch with the left (Social Movement) in Ukraine knows that what Jacobs describes in Ukraine is not the case at all. There are numerous reports that so many young men are volunteering to fight that the military cannot accept them all. In fact, there are widespread rumors that people are actually offering bribes to military recruiters to get into the military, not to get out! Even if these rumors are false, the fact that people believe them shows what the real situation is.
And why shouldn’t it be different? There is an overwhelming sentiment that Russia is the oppressor in Ukraine. That sentiment is based on a long, long history. It is also based on the nature of the present Putin regime. In 1991, well over 90% of Ukrainians voted for independence from Russia. Does Jacobs think that sentiment has lessened after Putin’s invasion? As for NATO: If Finland and Sweden are now considering joining NATO as a result of Putin’s invasion, what does Ron Jacobs think is the sentiment within the country immediately suffering from the invasion – Ukraine? I have interviewed various members of Social Movement and spoken with more while I was in Ukraine. Several report that the mood has vastly increased to join NATO. In other words, Putin’s invasion has strengthened NATO, made its ending even less likely.
Of course the US and the NATO nations are looking out for their own imperialist interests. But that doesn’t mean that workers and even more so socialists in the West should simply consider their own selfish interests rather than linking up with the interests of the masses of the people in Ukraine. To do so would be merely adopting the very same approach as our capitalist masters! Yet that is exactly what Jacobs advocates in effect.
Jacobs writes, “it’s not criminal to oppose the crime of war.” He continually opposes “war” in general. This is simply pacifism. Wars are inevitable under capitalism, as are invasions. For socialists it is not a matter of opposing “war” in general, no more than opposing gravity in general. The task is to understand what forces drove any particular war and what are the interests of the working class. Anything less is simply pacifist idealism.
It is a shame to have to restate the obvious: This is an invasion which is being carried out with the most brutal atrocities. It is being resisted by the masses of Ukrainians. That opposing imperialist powers have their own self interest in supporting that resistance changes nothing in this regard. What Jacobs (and others similar to him) claim would be similar to the discrediting of the Black Lives Matter movement just because it was supported by Putin in RT dot com! If the U.S. were to invade Venezuela and the Venezuelan people rose up against that invasion and Russia sent them arms, would that mean it was merely a “proxy war” and Russian socialists should oppose any support for a hypothetical Venezuelan resistance?
It is no accident that Jacobs’ entire article differs not in the slightest with what Putin’s puppet and the living embodiment of selfishness and greed, Donald Trump wrote: “It doesn’t make sense that Russia and Ukraine aren’t sitting down and working out some kind of an agreement. If they don’t do it soon, there will be nothing left but death, destruction, and carnage. This is a war that never should have happened, but it did. The solution can never be as good as it would have been before the shooting started, but there is a solution, and it should be figured out now—not later—when everyone will be DEAD!”
In Trump’s case, he said this because he has been aligned with Putin and the Russian oligarchs ever since his days as a money launderer for them. In Jacobs’ case, he is simply appealing to selfishness and idealism. Sure, the war bothers us here in the U.S. and in the West in general. Sure, we are paying for it in terms of increased inflation. But given that anybody who has even superficially followed the news must know that Putin will never accept a voluntary ceasefire and withdrawal, what does anybody think is the possible outcome if what Jacobs’ advocates is adopted? The only possibility is that Putin’s military will seize an increased portion of Ukraine including Donbas and further down the Black Sea Coast, probably at least as far as Crimea and all the way to Odessa if possible. And already there are indications he’s set his sights on Moldova.
Over 5 million Ukrainians have been driven out of the country and many others are internally displaced. Most are from the areas mentioned. If Putin’s military seizes and holds these areas, it would be foolhardy to think he will allow the original population to return, or that many of them would even want to under Putin’s rule. The only logical conclusion would be that the Putin regime would send hundreds of thousands,
millions maybe, of Russians to settle the seized regions, while the displaced Ukrainians would live as semi-permanent refugees without a homeland. Meanwhile, a low grade (at best) battle would continue along the new borders and inside those borders. The Russian settlers would develop fascist sentiments while inside Ukraine a bitter nationalist hatred of all things Russian would take an even stronger hold.
Sound familiar? Sound like Palestine, Israel and the West Bank? Like it or not, that is the kind of situation Jacobs’ policies are headed for if they were adopted. He substitutes short term selfishness and idealism for an even worse outcome in the longer term.
Meanwhile, the actual needs and real desires of the Ukrainian people are thrown to the wayside.
Update: Ron Jacobs Replies
I sent this article to Ron Jacobs and got the following reply: “My article reflects the historical understanding that people make history. If the Vietnamese had used the rationale you and others use, they would have given up. Also, having a different understanding of the mood inside Ukraine is not the same as not understanding history, imperialism, capitalist rivalry. My article assumes nothing but the fact that wars usually end with a negotiated settlement and the nature of such conflicts is neither static or predictable. An international antiwar movement would add an element in favor of a peace agreement–an important element. I don’t presume magic. The withdrawal of some kind would be part of a peace deal. Short of a wider war, Ukraine would be wise to see negotiations as part of their strategy, not as a sideshow. “
Aside from all the gobbledygook, he stands matters on their head. He is the one whose position would have led to the Vietnamese giving up rather than repulsing the US invasion!