by Yorgos Mitralias
A first conclusion of the reading of Trotsky’s texts “Learn to think” and “On the Sino-Japanese war” is that they explain in a very convincing and detailed way, the position that people of the left should adopt… in Putin’s ongoing war against Ukraine! It would be enough, for example, to replace in Trotsky’s text, with the very eloquent title “Learn to think”, the words Algeria by Ukraine, France by Russia, and Italy by the United States, to provide today’s leftists with an extremely useful practical guide on the question of the war that Putin is waging against the Ukrainian people. And here is a key passage from the text to which we refer:
“Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists.
At the same time, the French maritime workers, even though not faced with any strike whatsoever, would be compelled to exert every effort to block the shipment of ammunition intended for use against the rebels. Only such a policy on the part of the Italian and French workers constitutes the policy of revolutionary internationalism”.
Knowing who he was dealing with, it is no coincidence that Trotsky anticipates possible challenges by citing – “purposely” as he says – the most extreme example possible, that of “rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism“! Indeed, who would dare to say that NATO, the EU or the US sending arms to Ukraine are worse than the fascist Italy of the Duce? Or that the imperialism of Putin’s Russia is better than the “democratic imperialism” of interwar France?
Of course, no one is naive enough to believe that our current Putinists will not frantically look for something that differentiates Trotsky’s Algerian example from the present Ukrainian tragedy. Like, for example, that unlike Algeria, which was a French colony, Ukraine was never a colony of Russia. The best answer to this “objection” is not provided by the centuries of subjugation of the Ukrainian nation to Russia, but by what the current Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, who have taken turns at the helm of the country for the last twenty years, say almost daily. Both of them declare either that … Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation do not exist (!), or that they are an integral part of the Russian motherland, to which they must return even … razed to the ground and in ruins! And all this in the same language and with the same “arguments” used by all French political personnel when they “swore” for a century and a half that Algeria was and should remain an integral part of metropolitan France in the same way as Alsace, Provence or any other region or province of the French state. As for the popular uprisings against foreign colonialism – French or Russian -, to the 4-5 great Algerian uprisings of the 19th and 20th centuries which were suppressed in bloodbaths by French imperialism, the Ukrainian nation has to offer at least as many popular uprisings which have also been drowned in rivers of blood by Great Russian imperialism through the centuries .…
A second conclusion one could draw from reading these texts is that today’s Putinists and Putinisants [the term refers to those who only “somewhat” support Putin] are not an unprecedented phenomenon since they have brilliant spiritual ancestors whom Trotsky had no problem calling …. “imbeciles”! But the similarities end there. Today we are not dealing with “imbeciles” but in bona fide, as were probably the “ultra-left” criticized by Trotsky. In fact, today’s Putinists and Putinisants cannot unfortunately be called ultra-left or imbeciles, because they are usually fully aware of the choices they make. But then why do they make them?
•More concretely, some of them, especially the post-Stalinist Putinists, known for their theoretical and practical primitivism which makes them think the moon is made of green cheese. This has, among other things, made them take – rather often, in the last 70-80 years – the “anti-imperialism” of a certain extreme right as a sign of progressivism, to the point of making this extreme right their interlocutor if not a potential ally and worthy of their support! This is exactly what is happening today, with Putin’s anti-Western rhetoric, as yesterday with that of Karadzic-Mladic, which, combined with their belief – so naive and dangerous – that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, makes them not realize (?) and pass over in silence the fact that this anti-Western rhetoric of the Kremlin has nothing progressive about it, being on the contrary extremely reactionary and obscurantist.
However, the attraction or rather the fascination that Putin exerts on this part of the left cannot be fully explained if one does not take into account some of their… elective affinities. Thus, the fact that these post-Stalinist leftists are not shocked and remain apparently impassive before the daily display of extreme conservatism of Putin and his regime (as well as their counterparts all over the world) is due to the fact that they are themselves very conservative, even reactionary. And to call a spade a spade, it is well known that they have always – and often ostensibly – abstained from all the major social movements of our time, such as the feminist and LGBTQ+, pro-immigrant and pro-refugee, ecological and anti-climate catastrophe movements, while they have never distinguished themselves by their fervent support for human and minority rights movements of all kinds, often not hesitating to even call them a sham and an invention of . .. imperialism, something they also say about climate change!
So why should they rebel against Putin’s extremely conservative, obscurantist and terribly repressive actions towards all these movements in Russia, when they themselves are inspired by the same conservatism they inherited from counter-revolutionary Stalinism? Why should they revolt when they have come to consider the triptych “fatherland-religion-family” as a kind of quintessence of… their totally perverted and deviated Marxism?
But the tragedy of this left does not stop there, it has a continuation and a conclusion that is already beginning to unfold before our eyes. Given the convergence of views between this left and the extreme right on many of the most crucial issues of our time and of humanity, the conditions are now ripe for the gradual absorption of at least part of this left by a much more powerful and constantly rising extreme right. And this is all the more true since this nightmarish process is reinforced in a planned and coordinated way by their common idol Vladimir Putin, who plays the go-between and mediator, building bridges between them while literally pulling the strings at the international level. And let no one tell us that all this is just an improbable scenario of political science fiction, because we have already been witnessing the beginning of its realization for several years. And not only in Greece…
Unlike the post-Stalinist Putinists, who do not shine with their analytical skills, the left Putinisants are prepared to understand to a large extent the ins and outs of Putin’s war against Ukraine. So why do they… Putinize? Why do they often end up contradicting and self-ridiculing themselves by trying to justify the unjustifiable with improvised and cheap “theories”?
The answer to these legitimate questions is that they dare not go against the current. That they are hopelessly terrified of being cut off from the “mass” of people on the left, that they might isolate themselves. In other words, they are opportunistic. Even if this is done – at least for some of them – with the best intentions in the world and with the perspective of returning to more acceptable positions once they have positively influenced the “masses” from which they would not have been cut off.
Unfortunately, reality contradicts them: they are not the ones who influence the mass of Putinists, but rather the opposite. As their compromises follow one another, it is in record time that these Putinisants turn into … Putinists, losing what was left of their theoretical capacities and, above all, of human sensitivity!
But their wanderings and fall from grace are – alas – not without precedent. Unfortunately, the history of the labor and socialist/communist movement is full of similar cases of militants who, for various reasons, refused to go against the current even if it made them accomplices to the most monstrous crimes of modern history! And in this respect, our left-wing Putinisants of today are the worthy continuators of a pitiful tradition that has cost and continues to cost the international labor and socialist movement dearly…
Finally, there are those on the left who, while being neither Putinists nor Putinisants, are also responsible for the current situation since they have chosen… to turn a blind eye. Although they are perfectly aware of what is going on and express – but only in private and never in public – correct opinions, they refrain from speaking and writing about the “Ukrainian question”, preferring to deal with more anodyne issues, waiting – apparently – to see which way the wind will eventually blow before deciding to take a stand. However, as the months go by, as Putin’s war on Ukraine drags on and the scales are desperately slow to tip one way or the other, they begin to get used to the cynicism and insensitivity they have to show towards the suffering of the Ukrainian people. And one day, they discover that, without having wanted it, this cynicism and insensitivity become little by little a second nature for them, distancing them irremediably and in a record time from what they were and what they wanted to become…
Knowing that one of the strong arguments of the various left Putinisants is that they refuse to choose between two “bourgeois regimes”, namely the Russian and the Ukrainian, we end this text as we began it, that is to say, by resorting to the writings of Trotsky. This time it is fourth text in which he invites his “ultra-left” interlocutors to take a stand not on a hypothetical example but on a real one: the colonial war of conquest of fascist Italy against the Ethiopia of Emperor Haile Selassie (Negus).Trotsky thus writes the following:
Maxton and the others opine that the Italo-Ethiopian war is “a conflict between two rival dictators.” To these politicians it appears that this fact relieves the proletariat of the duty of making a choice between two dictators. They thus define the character of the war by the political form of the state, in the course of which they themselves regard this political form in a quite superficial and purely descriptive manner, without taking into consideration the social foundations of both “dictatorships.” A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history; for example, Oliver Cromwell, Robespierre, etc. On the other hand, right in the midst of the English democracy Lloyd George exercised a highly reactionary dictatorship during the war. Should a dictator place himself at the head of the next uprising of the Indian people in order to smash the British yoke – would Maxton then refuse this dictator his support? Yes or no? If not, why does he refuse his support to the Ethiopian “dictator” who is attempting to cast off the Italian yoke?
If Mussolini triumphs, it means the reinforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism, and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of the Negus, however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this”.
Paraphrasing Trotsky’s words in the above passage, we would ask our left Putinisants the following question: “Why do you refuse to support the bourgeois Ukrainian Prime Minister Zelensky who is trying to break the Russian yoke”, while the international workers’ and communist movement to which you refer has always supported – and rightly so- with all its might bourgeois leaders like Kemal Atatürk, Gamal Abdel Nasser and so many others in their wars against Western imperialism? Is the bourgeois Zelensky worse than Atatürk or Nasser who systematically exterminated their communist compatriots? Or is his regime worse and more illiberal than those of so many Third World anti-imperialists who were – rightly – supported by the international radical left? Why the double standards?
Trotsky wrote at the time that “The victory of the Negus, however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples “. In an earlier article, we wrote essentially the same thing, pointing out that “a final victory, even on points, of the Ukrainians will undoubtedly have cataclysmic consequences not only in Russia. It will be a tremendous encouragement and source of inspiration for movements and struggles for social emancipation and national liberation far beyond Europe!”. And Trotsky concluded then with the following sentence, which is perhaps even truer today: “One must really be completely blind not to see this”.