Sweden: Assessing Socialistisk Politik and Internationalen’s position on the Russo-Ukrainian war
“I have already told you, we are against Russia’s invasion. How many times do I need to repeat it?”
Ever since Russia’s war on Ukraine began, I have run into indignant statements of this type from those that oppose arms deliveries to Ukraine. This is especially true for supporters of Socialistisk Politik (Socialist Politics, SP) in Sweden, an organisation of which I was a member of thirty years ago.
After 16 months of full-scale war, Internationalen, the SP’s weekly newspaper, has more or less ceased its coverage of Ukraine. But it is useful to review some of the positions presented by SP leaders in Internationalen. The SP has not retracted any of its views, which means we can assume they hold onto the positions published by its leadership and the editors of Internationalen, even if sometimes it is possible to note some nuances.
Radical pacifism or lip service?
It is of course preferable if someone says they support Russian troops withdrawing from Ukraine rather than cheering on Russian president Vladimir Putin. In Sweden, it is difficult to find people who openly support Russia’s war. According to a poll in February 2023, only 6% of Swedish respondents favour a Russian victory. Most likely, they primarily overlap with supporters of the extreme right-wing Sweden Democrats party or similar outfits.
But vocal opposition to Russia’s war seems to be largely paying lip service if, at the same time, you oppose arms deliveries to Ukraine on the argument that this is “not a task that socialists can implement” — as if someone had requested SP provide arms to Ukraine. Apparently, however, according to SP, opposing arms to Ukraine is a task that socialists can implement.
I had previously assumed that the issue of arms deliveries to Ukraine was the foundation upon which other positions on this war were derived; that it was basically a question of maintaining a radical pacifist position or not. But I have started to doubt whether the arms issue forms the motivation for SP’s position.
Svenska Freds (The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society) is Sweden’s leading peace organisation. Reading their material, you can sense a certain engagement with Ukraine’s cause and an anguish among many of their followers over its stance of not supporting arms deliveries to Ukraine, even if they support Ukraine’s right to armed self-defence. I would define its position as radical pacifist.
On the surface, the SP’s position is almost identical to that of Svenska Freds. But, in reality, it is much more treacherous.
There are a number of questions we could pose in order to evaluate a political organisation’s real position on the war. For example: Do they take part in protests to support Ukraine’s defensive struggle? Are they demanding sanctions on Russia? Are they contributing to spreading knowledge of Russia’s war crimes?
If the answer is “No” to all of these questions, then any demand for Russia to leave Ukraine seems to be mainly a fig leaf to hide their real position. Using one’s publication to constantly attack Ukraine and repeat central elements of Putin’s narrative would make it seem that, in reality, they favour a Russian victory.
Here are a few examples of what I mean.
Who is the warmonger?
A few weeks prior to the start of Russia’s full-scale war of aggression, Internationalen expressed its support in January 2022 for Putin’s November 2021 “disarmament proposals” — proposals that were in actual fact ultimatums on NATO and, in retrospect, were clearly intended to prepare world opinion for the coming war.
During the period before the full-scale invasion, Internationalen accused on several occasions those warning of an approaching conflict of “warmongering” and spreading panic. According to SP thinking, those that raised the alarm over Russia’s plans were co-responsible for the war due to their so-called warmongering.
Then, on February 24, the day the invasion started, the SP steering committee issued a statement that shamelessly downplayed Russia’s responsibility for the war, arguing: “Both the Putin regime, as well as NATO and the United States, bear responsibility for what is happening. Both sides have been inciting war, once more showing the bloodstained dead end of nationalism.”
Ukraine and NATO
It is symptomatic that in the analyses presented by the SP and Internationalen of the war after February 24, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the low-intensive war it has been waging in eastern Ukraine since 2014 are completely absent. One exception to this was an editorial in Issue #10/2022 — which raised concerns that Ukraine, with NATO support, might reconquer Crimea.
Another was an article by Håkan Blomqvist in Issue #15/2022, that read: “That NATO has encircled Russia ever closer is uncontroversial, as is the fact that Ukraine’s NATO membership would aggravate this development. From the point of view of the Putin regime, the security status of Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbas would drastically deteriorate, something unacceptable for a regime whose self-perception is an unwavering defence of Russianness.”
Here, the SP displays its understanding for why Putin felt compelled to invade Ukraine to defend his previous annexations. In other words, Ukraine provoked the war by seeking NATO membership — a move which was, above all, caused by Russia annexing part of Ukraine.
The reality is that Ukraine’s future membership in NATO has only become a real possibility during the past year. The big NATO powers opposed Ukraine’s membership prior to the full-scale invasion and NATO does not allow a country involved in a border conflict to become a member.
Throughout the years, there have been a long series of opinion polls conducted in Ukraine on the question of NATO membership. As late as 2012, less than 20% of Ukrainians were in support of applying for NATO membership. In 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, the number rose to 40-50%. Now, after the full-scale invasion, the figure is well above 80%. The same pattern can be observed regarding public opinion towards NATO in Sweden and Finland. Putin has clearly turned out to be NATO’s best friend.
But when it comes to Ukraine, the truth is that NATO membership is of less importance to Putin, as his real goal is to annihilate Ukraine as an independent nation.
Articles in Internationalen often recall a promise US Secretary of State James Baker supposedly made to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, that NATO would not expand eastward. In the end, no formal agreement was reached, as it was not viewed as an important issue at that time.
On the other hand, Internationalen never mentions the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, an agreement in which Ukraine surrendered its Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Russia. Under that treaty, Russia, Great Britain and the United States — all nuclear powers — promised, in return, to respect Ukraine’s borders and desist from threatening the country, militarily or economically. It is worth noting that the security assurances given to Ukraine by the US and Great Britain in the event of Russia betraying its promises turned out to be null and void when Russia finally invaded and annexed Crimea.
SP and Internationalen keep repeating the myth of NATO’s encirclement of Russia, which, in their opinion, placed enormous pressure on Putin and was the main motivation for the full-scale invasion. But it is worth recalling what Putin himself said in connection to NATO’s expansion.
In March 2004, NATO welcomed seven new members from Eastern Europe — its single largest moment of expansion. At that time, Putin met with the NATO general secretary and publicly stated that “every country has the right to choose the option that it considers most effective for ensuring its own security”.
One year later Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said of Ukraine and Georgia’s right to join NATO: “That is their choice. We respect the right of every state — including our neighbours — to choose their own partners, to decide for themselves which organisation they wish to join.”
What has happened since 2004-05 to make Putin and Lavrov change their mind so drastically? This change can hardly be put down to an intensification of NATO encirclement, as only Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and now Finland, have been added since then as members.
Instead, the explanation for the full-scale invasion lies in Putin’s ever stronger fixation to walk in the footsteps of Peter the Great and Josef Stalin, and go down in history as the person who restored Russia as an empire right throughout its old borders.
SP refuses to acknowledge or even comment on this. Instead they simply paint Putin as the alleged victim of relentless US/NATO pressure. They seem to prefer the ideas of certain bourgeois political commentators, according to whom Russia must have the right to maintain its spheres of influence at the expense of surrounding states, and thereby ignore what the peoples of these countries want for themselves.
From the beginning, SP has made it clear that they believe Ukraine cannot possibly win without direct US/NATO intervention. For this reason they demand an immediate ceasefire — that is, Ukrainians should immediately cease their efforts to regain their territories from the occupying forces. This is why Internationalen, perhaps more than any other newspaper in Sweden, has tried to inflate Putin’s nuclear blackmail into a reality that one must bow down to for the sake of peace.
It was almost tragi-comical to read Per Leander’s article on the editorial page of Issue #47/2022 discussing the missile that mistakenly landed on the Polish side of the border with Ukraine in November last year. Leander was of the opinion that “had it been a Russian missile that flew into Poland, even if by mistake, it would have, in a worst case scenario, risked escalation into World War III. This demonstrates how insanely dangerous this war is and why an immediate ceasefire is necessary before an even worse mistake is made.”
Is there anybody other than Leander who believes that this is a credible scenario for how World War III might start? When only Putin has threatened nuclear escalation? It seems when it comes to promoting the slogan of “immediate ceasefire”, any argument can be justified.
SP and the solidarity movement
One year ago, SP tried to kick off an alternative international “peace movement”: the Association for a Global Left Conference for Peace. This organisation, in contrast to existing left-wing networks such as ENSU (European Network in Solidarity with Ukraine), opposed arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Among the obscure organisations that took part in the “preparatory conference” for the new movement held in May last year, where some that demanded soldiers on both the Russian and Ukrainian side unite in a “class war” against their own oppressors. Of course, such an outcome was hardly realistic. Otherwise, it is surely worth asking, why had these organisations not started a “class war” in their own NATO countries?
The only organisation present that claimed to be active inside Ukraine, the Workers’ Front of Ukraine, signed a manifesto together with a number of Stalinist and Putinist “Communist parties” on November 24, 2021, regarding the situation in Donbas. Among other things it declared that “during the last seven years, Ukraine has developed into a real fascist state”, and criticised Russia for not intervening with more force in Donbas.
Since the “preparatory conference”, not a sound has been heard from the new “peace movement”.
Democracy in Ukraine and Russia
Internationalen’s coverage of Russia and Ukraine has largely centred on portraying Ukraine as being undemocratic as Russia. Everybody that follows sources other than Internationalen realises that this is simply untrue.
While the democratic restrictions that have been introduced in Ukraine during the war have received quite a lot of coverage in Internationalen, a lot less has been written about the growing fascism in Russia, where all protests against the war are punished. Simply liking an anti-war message on social media can lead to years in prison.
In a war, it is often hard to find the truth about what is happening. You can never trust official information to be correct and the war itself leads to many things being kept secret or censored. But to conclude that both sides are equally bad is plain stupid.
While Russia has step-by-step suppressed all access to independent media, the flow of information in Ukraine is free, except when it comes to such things as numbers of troop casualties or military movements. In contrast to the Russian public, people in Ukraine have full access to the internet.
There are loads of journalists from all over the world inside Ukraine reporting on the war. The only “opposition” that is tolerated in Russia are the military bloggers and analysts on state-censored television who demand Russia attack Ukraine with even more ferocity. Many of these “experts” also demand Russia attack Western European cities with nuclear weapons, something that is intended to give greater credibility to Putin’s nuclear blackmail.
Repeating Putin’s narrative
It is remarkable, when studying SP and Internationalen’s coverage of Ukraine, how time and again they lapse into repeating Putin’s narrative.
The Maidan insurrection of 2013-2014 was a massive popular uprising, in which president Viktor Yanukovich was ultimately abandoned by even his own supporters who realised that the game was over for him. Internationalen, while referring to the role played by the extreme right-wing during the insurrection, describe Yanukovich’s resignation as a “coup”, despite all parties — including his own — unanimously voting in parliament to dismiss him after he chose to flee Kyiv.
On numerous occasions, Internationalen has exaggerated the measures taken within Ukraine to restrict the status of the Russian language after Maidan. On the other hand, they hardly mention that the Ukrainian language is suppressed in the occupied areas.
They also never explain why Putin and his spokespeople repeatedly claim that Ukraine does not really exist and that there is no such thing as Ukrainian language, culture or history. Nor do they described how thousands of Ukrainian children have been kidnapped and taken to Russia, where they are indoctrinated into forgetting their Ukrainian origins — a clear violation of the Genocide Convention, which has led to the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for Putin.
Internationalen has twisted the truth about the banning of pro-Russian parties in Ukraine, depicting all opposition forces as having being suppressed, despite parliamentarians from all the various parties elected in 2019 continuing to sit in parliament, and despite left-wing organisations such as Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement) continuing to organise in the open.
Internationalen’s coverage of Amnesty International’s August 2022 report, which accused Ukraine of illegally endangering citizens by stationing armed forces in civilian areas, was among the most positive of any Swedish media outlet, despite it being severely criticised for not differentiating between aggressor and victim. On Internationalen’s editorial page, Åke Eriksson happily thanked Amnesty for the report. The fact that Russia referenced the report to justify continuing unscrupulously attacking all kinds of civilian targets did not bother the peace activists on the editorial board of Internationalen. In contrast, an internal review carried out by Amnesty in April this year harshly criticised the same report that Internationalen celebrated.
And why has Internationalen not mentioned how the “People’s Governor” of the “Donetsk People's Republic” Pavel Gubarev expressed himself at the start of October: “We aren't coming to kill you, but to convince you. But if you don't want to be convinced, we'll kill you. We'll kill as many as we have to: 1 million, 5 million, or exterminate all of you.”?
SP has continued to repeat Putin’s narrative of fascist groupings having decisive influence over political life in Ukraine. It deserves repeating that while extreme right-wing parties received about 2% of the vote in Ukraine’s last parliamentary elections, their Swedish counterparts got ten times that vote in the 2022 elections. Meanwhile, Putin and his kleptocrats have in practice assumed the political line of the fascist right-wing — something Internationalen has hardly bothered to mention.
The newspaper has given positive coverage to the “peace protests” in Europe that oppose arms deliveries to Ukraine, and approvingly repeated the argument that arms to Ukraine will only prolong the war — or, in other words, delay Russia’s unavoidable victory. When a minority of the left in Berlin demonstrated for “peace” on the anniversary of the invasion, it did so arm-in-arm with the right-wing extremists of Alternative for Germany (AFD) and other openly fascist groups. Despite this being reported in the mainstream media, Internationalen suppressed this information in its reporting. It is striking how this contrasts with the fact that, at every opportunity, they play up the role of the extreme right in Ukraine.
Perhaps the worst thing about SP’s orientation is its twofold betrayal of Ukraine socialists, especially those of Social Movement. Not only is it enormously depressing for Ukrainian socialists to see Western socialists undermining support for Ukraine’s defensive struggle against an imperialist enemy. Even worse, SP and other Western “left wing” organisations help strengthen right-wing and neoliberal forces in Ukraine when they argue that, like them, “left-wing” forces in Ukraine support Russia.
The war against Ukraine is not just one more political issue among others, where it is possible to have different opinions within the left. It is a watershed moment, much like the split within the international workers movement at the outbreak of World War I.
Internationalen may still run good articles on what is happening in Sweden or other parts of the world. But through its consciously misleading coverage of the Ukraine war, the newspaper has, in my view, lost all credibility.
At the beginning of this text, I expressed my doubts as to whether the question of arms deliveries to Ukraine was the real motivation for the positions SP has taken in statements and articles in Internationalen. Compared with the radical pacifists of Svenska Freds, I believe we can conclude that there is no innate driving force that forced SP to line up behind Putin’s narrative and slander Ukraine’s cause. This is a choice they made themselves.
Given this, I do not believe that the SP leadership can be viewed as genuine radical pacifists. In fact, they have a background of taking a clear stand in favour of armed resistance to defend a country being attacked by an imperialist great power, and not urging a ceasefire, peace negotiations and, implicitly, accepting annexations by great powers.
In Ukraine’s case, it seems they are continuously trying to find differing and odd explanations as to why Ukraine is not worthy of unconditional support. So what might be motivating their terrible position? That question, I pass on to the reader to reflect on.
Jan Czajkowski is a member of the Ukraina-Solidaritet network in Sweden and ENSU.