“Ukraine Resists!”: New book challenges prejudices and misconceptions regarding Putin’s war on Ukraine

Ukraine cover cropped

Ukraine Resists! Left Voices on Putin’s War, NATO and the Future of Ukraine
Ultimo, Resistance Books, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-876646-90-5
Available as paperback or PDF

Resistance Books, an Australian based non-profit, progressive book publisher, has published a new book dealing with the Ukraine War — the single most important event in the current conjuncture of world politics.

“Ukraine Resists! Left Voices on Putin’s War, NATO and the Future of Ukraine“ is a compilation of 20 interviews with socialist activists from Ukraine, Russia and other countries. In addition, it contains a few documents including two statements by the Socialist Alliance (SA), the political force behind the publishing house, as well as an introduction by Federico Fuentes, a member of SA National Executive and editor of LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Most interviews have been previously published either by LINKS or Green Left, likewise related to Resistance Books.

The book consists of four parts. In the first section, several Ukrainian socialists discuss the background to the current war as well as various issues related to Ukraine’s national liberation struggle against Putin’s invasion. Among those interviewed are: Yuliya Yurchenko, a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Greenwich; Hanna Perekhoda, a graduate assistant at the University of Lausanne and founder of Comité Ukraine Suisse; Vitaliy Dudin, a labour lawyer and co-author of the book “Alternative Mechanisms for the Socio-Economic Development of Ukraine”; Vladyslav Starodubtsev, a student activist and historian of Central and Eastern Europe; Nataliya Levytska, Deputy Chairperson of the Independent Mineworkers Union of Ukraine and Deputy Chairperson of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine; Viktoriia Pihul, a Ukrainian feminist and anti-capitalist activist; and Mykhailo Amosov, a land use expert at Ukrainian environmental NGO “Ecoaction”. All of them, except Levytska and Amosov, are members of Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement), a broad democratic socialist organisation that was formed in the aftermath of the Maidan rebellion in 2014.

The second section presents interviews with socialists in Russia who take a clear stance against the Putin regime and its criminal war against the Ukrainian people. I have a number of comrades in Russia, and I have been closely collaborating with activists of the Chechen diaspora for many years. I am therefore familiar with the political conditions in that country and know that taking such an anti-imperialist stance demands a lot of political and personal courage. This section contains interviews with: Ilya Matveev, a political economist; Boris Kagarlitsky, a well-known author who heads up the Institute for Globalization Studies and Social Movements in Moscow; Feminist Anti-War Resistance, a collective of Russian feminists founded in February 2022 to protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; and Kirill Medvedev, a poet and a member of the Russian Socialist Movement.

The third section compiles interviews with socialists from other countries in which they outline their approach to pro-Ukrainian solidarity work. Among them are: Zofia Malisz, a leading member of Lewica Razem, a party with deputies in the Polish parliament; Tobias Drevland Lund, a Rødt MP in Norway’s parliament; Christian Zeller, a professor of economic geography and editorial board member of the journal emanzipation; Hisyar Özsoy, a leading member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party in Türkiye; Israel Dutra, secretary general of the Socialism and Liberty Party in Brazil; Sam Wainwright, a national SA co-convenor in Australia; Phil Hearse, a member of Anti*Capitalist Resistance in England & Wales; and Howie Hawkins, a former US Green Party presidential candidate and a founder of the Ukraine Solidarity Network in the US.

The appendices include an interesting analysis by Ukrainian socialist Daria Saburova regarding political developments in Ukraine in the years before the beginning of the war. This is followed by an interview with Nataliia Lomonosova and Oleksandr Kyselov – both members of Social Movement – which focuses on the work of left-wing activists in the current situation.

The book closes with two SA statements, one about the Ukraine War and the other about the Western powers’ militarist offensive against China. Both documents take a principled stance of support for Ukraine’s war of national defence without lending any political support to NATO. Likewise, SA denounces the AUKUS pact directed against China. At the same time, the comrades rightly call to “respect the right of the Taiwanese people to self-determination” and are “opposed to the forcible integration of Taiwan into the People’s Republic of China.”

Fortunately, not a “neutral” book

The book itself is not “neutral”. It is a compilation of numerous interviews and statements which, irrespective of different analysis and outlooks, share a common viewpoint that Fuentes apply summarises in his introduction: “[T]hey are unanimous in supporting the Ukraine people’s right to resist, their right to self-determination and their urgent need to receive material solidarity from left and progressive people around the world.”

Neither is the author of this review a neutral reviewer of this book. Together with my comrades in the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, I have supported Ukraine since the first day of Putin’s invasion. In addition to publishing numerous documents about the war and intervening in public debates, we (co-)organised three convoys – in collaboration with activists from the Chechen diaspora as well as with the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles – bringing material aid to the Ukrainian people (as well as to Crimean Tatars) and helped to organise solidarity rallies. Our Russian comrades, working under semi-legal conditions, uphold the same anti-imperialist and pro-Ukrainian position.

I therefore strongly welcome the publication of a book like “Ukraine Resists!”. As a broad compilation of interviews “from the frontlines”, it provides readers with views and analyses from activists in Ukraine (as well as Russia) — some of whom I know personally from my last visit to the Ukraine. Such a publication is all the more important because it challenges prejudices and misconceptions that are widespread among large parts of the global left. It is an unfortunate reality that many parties influenced by the traditions of Stalinism and/or left-populism either openly support Russia (and China) as an anti-imperialist force or, at least, view these powers as a “lesser evil” compared to their Western rivals. Of those who do not share such an approach, many prefer to take a neutral position, that is, they put an equal sign between the invasion of an imperialist Great Power with the resistance of a semi-colonial country against that invasion.

It is only a small current among the global left that recognises that it is not only the US and Western Europe which are imperialist powers, but that Russia and China are the same. Consequently, these socialists rightly draw the conclusion that the aggression of the latter must be equally opposed. It is only this consistent anti-imperialist current that recognises the Ukrainian people as a subject which has the right to defend their freedom by any means necessary, including the right to get weapons — the same right that the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya and many other countries have.

Critical comments

Naturally, a book with viewpoints from so many activists will contain different positions, something Fuentes notes this in his introduction, writing: “The interviewees at times express differing opinions on important issues”. Some of these positions I agree with more than others. For example, some of the Ukrainian comrades have, in my view, a not sufficiently critical analysis of the character of the Maidan movement. While there was certainly nothing to defend about the capitalist and pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych, it would also be mistaken to view the pro-Western Maidan rebellion as something “progressive”.

However, I wish to close my review with a brief discussion of two important issues that are controversial within the pro-Ukraine solidarity movement and that also find expression in different contributions in this book.

One issue is the question of Western sanctions against Russia. Social Movement activists tend to support such measures as an instrument to weaken the aggressor. Vladyslav Starodubtsev, for example, says in his interview: “If stronger sanctions are not imposed on Russia, then there will be many more deaths, many more refugees, much more social collapse, much more hunger. We need to sanction Russia so that it cannot afford to pay for soldier’s wages or more military equipment. If they cannot do this, then the war will stop. We need to continue pushing for sanctions.”

Psychologically, I can understand why socialists from Ukraine adopt such a point of view. However, for the international solidarity movement, particularly in Western countries, it is impermissible to take such a position since it expresses support for an instrument of Great Power policy to advance their interests in the inter-imperialist rivalry. The issue of sanctions needs to be differentiated from the issue of sending weapons. The latter strengthens Ukraine in its just war of national defence, but Western sanctions against Russia strengthen, first and foremost, Western Powers and help to spread imperialist chauvinism among the population (“We against them”). I therefore agree with Phil Hearse who stated in his interview: “I am against sanctions on Russia.“

Another controversial issue is Ukraine’s membership in Western imperialist institutions like NATO or the European Union. Here, I miss a clear statement against NATO membership from the interviewees from Social Movement. They rather tend to downplay the question by saying it is not an actual question since NATO does not want Ukraine joining anyway. In fact, it is a highly relevant issue since the bourgeois Volodymyr Zelensky government has made NATO membership one of the top priorities of its foreign policy. Socialists in Ukraine must take a clear position against the governments’ desire to make the country a member of this imperialist alliance.

In the case of EU membership, things are even worse. Starodubtsev effectively supports Ukraine joining. While he recognises that there will be negative consequences, he thinks that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. “Most of the left in Ukraine is supportive of European integration. We understand all the problems associated with the European Union and its neoliberal policies. (…) In that sense, Ukraine has already experienced the worst aspects of the European Union; what we have not yet experienced is its good elements. For example, the European Union has a lot stronger labour protections and rights compared to what currently exists in Ukraine. It also has a lot more socially progressive policies that Ukrainians would benefit from through integration into the European Union. So, I would not say that European Union integration will necessarily harm the possibilities for Ukraine to reform in a more progressive direction, as the European Union is a lot more progressive than Ukraine is at the moment: membership would actually be a barrier to our ruling class adopting some of its most reactionary policies. Moreover, by integrating into the European Union, Ukraine — as the largest country in Europe geographically — would be able to participate in the politics of the union. (…) I think Ukrainian membership could be very important for the future of the European Union too, as it will have to change its policies to facilitate Ukraine’s entry. This, in turn, will create possibilities for reimagining another Europe and developing socially progressive, even socialist, alternatives to the neoliberal project of the European Union. (…) We need to start fighting now for European integration on the basis of special conditions to allow Ukraine to carry out a social reconstruction. (…) But we can point to the example of the Danish people who joined the European Union with a lot of special conditions. Such conditions should be granted to Ukraine for its reconstruction to allow it to rebuild a social state after the war.”

Such an approach overestimates the supposed advantages of EU membership in terms of social protection. Furthermore, it ignores the fundamental question that EU membership will strengthen and consolidate domination over Ukraine — a poor, semi-colonial country — by Western European monopolies and governments. EU membership will certainly be beneficial for Ukrainian capitalists as well as for sectors of the middle class — including academics who can move to prestigious universities in the West. But for the broad mass of the working class, such membership does not offer a promising perspective. To all this, one should add another fundamental question: that Ukraine’s accession would also strengthen the EU as an imperialist alliance in the global arena of Great Power rivalry.

Naturally, such critical remarks do not minimise my appreciation of the book. Such differences of positions reflect the simple fact that the pro-Ukraine solidarity movement is a broad current that integrates different progressive forces coming from different traditions. Such issues need to be debated but they should not become an obstacle for collaboration.