Given the speed with which the events of the war in Ukraine are advancing and the fragmentation, confusion and bias of the information that reaches us through the different media, the Moiras group decided to send some questions this week to the Russian section of the AIT-IWA, with in order to obtain a libertarian perspective about the conflict that helps us position ourselves and make decisions based on expanded knowledge. In the text that follows, these questions are collected together with the answers sent by KRAS, to whom we thank from here for their quick and clarifying response.
Moiras: In your statement to the AIT-IWA about the war in Ukraine, you point to the gas markets as the main reason for the conflict. We would like you to tell us more about what the specific capitalist interests are behind this war, both on the Russian side and on the pro-NATO side, and tell us about the recent evolution of politics in your area, based on these markets and their influence on the economy of Western countries. This information usually remains in the background in the version of the media here, very focused on daily news, but where there is little analysis.
KRAS-AIT: First of all, it is necessary to understand that there are different levels of conflict and different levels of inter-capitalist contradictions.
At the regional level, today’s war is just a continuation of the struggle between the ruling castes of the post-Soviet states for the division/sharing of the post-Soviet space. Contrary to popular myth, the Soviet Union collapsed not as a result of popular liberation movements, but as a result of the actions of a part of the ruling nomenklatura, which divided territories and zones of influence among themselves, when their usual and established methods of powership were in crisis. Since that initial division, which was based on the then balance of power, a constant struggle for the redistribution of territories and resources has developed, leading to constant wars throughout the post-Soviet region. At the same time, the ruling classes of all post-Soviet states (all of them, to one degree or another, come from the Soviet nomenklatura or its successors) have adopted militant nationalism in ideology, neoliberalism in economics, and authoritarian methods of management in politics.
The second level of conflict is the struggle for hegemony in the post-Soviet space between the strongest state in the region, Russia, which calls itself a regional power and considers the entire post-Soviet space as an area of its hegemonic interests, and the states of the Western bloc (although here, too, the interests and aspirations of the United States and individual European NATO and EU states may not be exactly the same). Both sides seek to establish their economic and political control over the countries of the former Soviet Union. Hence the clash between NATO’s expansion to the East and Russia’s desire to secure these countries under its influence.
The third level of contradictions is of an economic-strategic nature. It is no coincidence that modern Russia is called “an appendix to the gas and oil pipeline.” Russia plays today on the world market, first of all, the role of supplier of energy resources, gas and oil. The predatory and completely corrupt ruling class, purely parasitic in its essence, did not begin to invest in the diversification of the economic structure, contenting themselves with super-profits from oil and gas supplies. Meanwhile, Western capital and states are beginning the transition to a new energy structure, the so-called “green energy”, aimed at reducing the consumption of gas and oil in the future. For Russian capital and its economy, this will mean the same strategic collapse that the fall in oil prices once caused for the Soviet economy. Therefore, the Kremlin seeks to prevent this energy turnaround, or slow it down, or at least achieve more favorable conditions for itself in the redistribution of the energy market. For example, looking for long-term supply contracts and better prices, pushing out competitors, etc. If necessary, this can involve direct pressure on the West in various ways.
Finally, the fourth (global) level is the contradictions between the main capitalist superpowers, the United States which are are retreating and China which is advancing, around which ones blocs of allies, vassals and satellites are forming. Both countries are now vying for world hegemony. For China, with its “one belt, one road” strategy – the gradual conquest of the economies of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the penetration of Europe – Russia is a minor but important partner. The response of the United States and its allies in the West is NATO’s expansion eastward, reaching out through Ukraine and Georgia to the Near and Middle East and its resources. This is also a type of “belt” projection. It encounters resistance from imperialist rivals: China and Russia, which are increasingly dependent on each other.
At the same time, the internal political aspect should not be overlooked. The Covid crisis has exposed the deep internal instability of the political, economic and social structure of all the countries of the world. This also applies to the states of the West, Russia, Ukraine, etc. The deterioration of living conditions, the growth of prices and social inequality, the massive indignation of the population against coercive and dictatorial measures and prohibitions gave rise to widespread discontent in society. And in such situations, the ruling classes have always resorted to tried and tested methods to restore the notorious “national unity” and the population’s confidence in power: by creating the image of an enemy and whipping up military hysteria, even by a “victorious little war”.
Moiras: In the countries of the European Union, the media, echoing the governments, continually repeat to us that Putin is solely responsible for this war. Knowing the history of NATO, with the United States in the lead, we think that this is not the case. How to explain this to our populations without appearing that we are justifying the Russian attack and siding with the Putin government?
KRAS-AIT: Unfortunately, the public opinion consciousness tends to look for simple, crude answers to questions. We have no reason to sympathize with the owner of the Kremlin and its administration. His neoliberal policies have led to a true collapse of both health and education systems, to the poverty of retirees and public sector workers in the province. Wages in the country are monstrously low, the labor movement is really paralyzed… But, regardless of this, we understand that all this is the product of a certain system based on the State and Capital. We do not live in the 17th century, not in the era of absolutist monarchies. To consider everything that happens in the world as the work of a few individual “heroes” or “anti-heroes” is naive to say the least, but in fact it is one of the forms of the conspiracy theory itself. This was forgivable in the 19th century, with romantics like Thomas Carlyle or the writer Alexandre Dumas. But in our time it is already worth understanding that the world is much more complicated, and that capitalism, as a social system, works differently. Therefore, our task is to explain to people the systemic conditionality of the problems that shake the world today. Including the wars of this world. And that the only way to solve these problems is to destroy the social system that creates them.
Moiras: The schemes of the Cold War are being reproduced, so that it seems that if you criticize one side it is because you are with the other. Anarchists find this very problematic, especially when we have no social force. We want to act, but we fear being dragged down and used by the armies of the states. In the demonstrations that are taking place in our cities, the proclamation of “no to war” is being mixed with requests for NATO intervention. Journalism related to the government of the Spanish socialist party, the PSOE, presents us with the need to intervene, sometimes drawing a historical parallel with the Spanish civil war and the consequences of non-intervention by European countries, or the participation of Spanish exiles in France, many anarchists, in the Free French Army against the Nazis. So what to do? Pacifism and non-intervention, as was the majority position of anarchism against World War I, or support the Ukrainian resistance against the invasion of Russian troops? Could this second option be considered as an internationalist action against imperialism?
KRAS-AIT: From our point of view, there is no comparison with the situation of the civil war in Spain and it cannot be. The Spanish anarchists advocated a social revolution. Similarly, there can be no comparison between, say, the Makhnovist movement in the Ukraine and the defense of the modern Ukrainian state. Yes, Makhno fought against the foreign invaders, Austro-Germans, and against the Ukrainian nationalists, and against the Whites and, in the end, against the Reds. But the Makhnovist partisans fought not for the political independence of Ukraine (which, in fact, they were indifferent to), but in defense of its revolutionary social achievements: for peasant land and workers’ management of industry, for free soviets. In the current war, we are talking exclusively about the confrontation between two states, two groups of capitalists, two nationalisms. It is not up to anarchists to choose the “lesser evil” among themselves. We do not want victory for one or the other. All our sympathy goes to the ordinary workers who die today under projectiles, rockets and bombs.
At the same time, it is worth remembering that the position of most anarchists in the First World War was not simply pacifist. This, as stated in the 1915 anti-war manifesto, is a way to turn the imperialist war into a social revolution. Whatever the chances of achieving this at the present time, anarchists, in our opinion, should constantly formulate and propagate such a perspective.
Moiras: On the other hand, we get images from the internet of armed groups that present themselves as an anarchist battalion in the Ukrainian army. Do you know if they really are anarchists and what is their way of seeing the conflict? And as for the reliance on Western weapons to combat the Russian attack, doesn’t that condition too much the possibility of libertarian battalions in the army or of an independent Ukrainian anarchist guerrilla? Do you know what has remained of the Makhnovshchina, the anarchist revolution of a century ago, in the memory of the Ukrainian people? Is there an anarchist movement in Ukraine today?
KRAS-AIT: In 2014, the Ukrainian anarchist movement was divided between those who supported the liberal-nationalist Maidan protest and later helped the new government against the separatists in Donbass and those who tried to adopt a more internationalist position. Unfortunately, the second were fewer, but at least they were. Now the situation is similar, but even more acute.
Broadly speaking, there are three positions. Some groups (such as “Nihilist” and “Revolutionary Action” in Kyiv) consider what is happening as a war against Russian imperialism and the Putin dictatorship. They fully support the Ukrainian nationalist state and its military efforts in this war. The infamous photo of the “anarchist” fighters in uniform shows exactly the representatives of this trend: it specifically shows the fans of the “anti-fascist” football club Arsenal and the participants of the “Revolutionary Action”. These “anti-fascists” are not even embarrassed by the fact that openly pro-fascist armed formations, like Azov, are among the Ukrainian troops.
The second position is represented, for example, by the group “Black Banner” from Kyiv and Lvov. Before the war, they expressed harsh critics of the Ukrainian state, the ruling class, their neoliberal policies and nationalism. With the outbreak of the war, the group declared that capitalism and the rulers on both sides were to blame for the war, but at the same time called for joining the forces of the so-called “territorial self-defense” – volunteer military units of light infantry – which are formed on a territorial basis, on the ground.
The third position is expressed by the group “Assembly” in Kharkov. He also condemns both sides of the conflict, although he sees the Kremlin state as the most dangerous and reactionary force. It does not call to join armed formations. The group’s activists are now organizing assistance to the civilian population and the victims of the Russian army’s bombing.
The participation of anarchists in this war as part of the armed formations operating in Ukraine, we consider a break with the idea and cause of anarchism. These formations are not independent, they are subordinate to the Ukrainian army and carry out the tasks set by the authorities. They do not raise political programs or social demands. Hopes of carrying out anarchist agitation among armed formations are doubtful. There is no social revolution that must be defended in Ukraine. In other words, those people who call themselves anarchists are simply sent to “defend the motherland” and the state, playing the role of cannon fodder for Capital and strengthening nationalist and militarist sentiments among the masses.
Moiras: In our towns, the communities of Ukrainian migrant workers, with the collaboration of humanitarian organizations and municipalities, are organizing the collection and shipment to Ukraine of food, warm clothes, medicines… The Spanish population is very supportive but neither the war nor the the Covid pandemic seems to have served our societies to question the dependencies on energy resources and raw materials, dependencies that sustain neo-colonialism and destroy the natural balance of the planet. Given the scarcity of resources, a return to coal and a boost to nuclear power is expected. Perhaps Russian society is more aware of the dangers and the need for alternatives? Is there an action plan in this sense from the social movements?
KRAS-AIT: Unfortunately, the state of social movements in modern Russia is deplorable. It is true that, even in recent years, there have been several active and persistent environmental protests at the local level: against dumpsters, waste incinerators or environmental destruction by the mining industry, including coal mining. But they never resulted in a powerful movement at the country level as a whole. As for the fight against atomic energy and nuclear power plants, which reached its peak in the Soviet Union and Russia in the late 1980s and 1990s, there are practically no such uprisings now.
Moiras: The demonstrations of Russians against the war help to understand the European peoples that it is not the Russians who are attacking Ukraine, but the army of the state that rules Russia. This is being reflected by the media in our countries, and we know that there are thousands of detainees there in Russia as a result of the demonstrations, how is this affecting Russian anarchism? What will this mean for your freedom of expression and action in your country?
KRAS-AIT: Demonstrations and various other actions against the war have not stopped every day since the first day. Thousands of people participate in them. The authorities prohibit their celebration under the pretext of “anticovid restrictions” and brutally disperse them. In total, until March 8, some 11,000 people were detained during demonstrations in more than 100 cities in the country. Most face fines of 10,000 to 20,000 rubles for holding an “unauthorized” protest. However, there are already crueler accusations: 28 people have already been accused of vandalism, extremism, violence against the authorities, etc., for which they face sentences of up to many years in prison. The authorities are clearly using the war as an opportunity to “tighten the screws” inside the country. Critical media outlets are closed or blocked. A hysterical war campaign is being waged in the official media. A law has been passed according to which spreading “false information” about the activities of the army and “discrediting the army”, as well as resisting the police, are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A bill has even been submitted to parliament that would allow arrested opponents of the war to be sent to the front lines. People are fired from their jobs, students are expelled from universities for anti-war speeches. Military censorship was introduced.
In this situation, the small and divided anarchist movement in Russia is doing what it can. Some participate in protest demonstrations. So, two of our colleagues were also arrested and heavily fined. Others are critical of these demonstrations, as calls for them often come from the right-wing liberal opposition and are often not so much anti-war as pro-Ukrainian (and sometimes even pro-NATO). There remains the possibility of going to demonstrations with their slogans and banners (some anarchists do), or of undertaking small independent and decentralized actions. Anarchists write anti-war slogans on the walls, paint graffiti, paste stickers and flyers, hang anti-war banners. It is important to convey to the people our special and independent position, at the same time anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian and internationalist.
Translated from Spanish to English by the Olga Taratuta Solidarity Initiative