A critical opinion piece about the unfolding conflict in the Ukraine. This article was published on It's Going Down, with a disclaimer reading "The editorial collective of IGD finds disagreements with the following text but in the spirit of good faith and broadening discussion, we are publishing this with the hopes that others will respond with their own reflections and critiques."
No War But Class War: Against State Nationalism and Inter-Imperialist War in Ukraine
The role of the Anarchists in the present tragedy… is to continue to proclaim that there is but one war of liberation: that which in all countries is waged by the oppressed against the oppressors, by the exploited against the exploiters.
Imperialism and its servant, militarism, will calculate their profits from every victory and every defeat in this war… From the standpoint of class for the European proletariat as a whole the victory and defeat of any of the warring camps is equally disastrous.
Written in 1915, when the Polish-born, Jewish revolutionary was imprisoned for her anti-war agitation, Rosa Luxemburg’s Junius Pamphlet, or The Crisis of Social Democracy, is one of the most powerful indictments of World War I and the bourgeois society that produced it ever published. Over 100 years since her assassination by the German Freikorps in 1919, Luxemburg’s words against war seem eerily appropriate today. She condemns Europe’s socialist parties for betraying the First and Second International’s foundational position against imperialist war by backing the governments of their respective countries in the “Great War.” In the case of her own party, the Social Democratic Party of Germany, Luxemburg rejects its claim that the country is engaged in “a war for Liberty against Russian despotism,” instead showing how it is an imperialist war on the part of Germany, as much as it is on the part of the Allied powers. Among anarchists, a similar split occurred at the time: Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin advocated joining the war on the side of the Allied powers and was (correctly) denounced by most anarchists, including Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and Errico Malatesta.
The capitulation of many socialists and anarchists to state nationalism during World War I and the subsequent damage to global class struggle remains one of the most tragic cautionary tales of modern history. The war divided radical leftists, socialists and anarchists of all stripes. No one tendency was united against the war. Rather, all opponents of imperialism and state nationalism were forced to attack pro-war elements within their own ranks. With the threat of another world war looming, we unfortunately find ourselves forced to do similar with many anarchists today.
We write to address a tendency we have observed: an increasingly pro-war, US/NATO-aligned and fascist-minimizing discourse among some North American anarchists and publishing projects. Having been influenced by some of these anarchists and contributed to some of these projects, we have been silent up until now, assuming good intentions on their part. Nevertheless, over the last few years, we have found positions consistently taken to be incompatible with actual opposition to US intervention in foreign wars (whether in the form of sanctions, no-fly zones or military aid), and it’s been unsettling. With regard to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, in particular, we are deeply disturbed by anarchist support for the so-called “Resistance Committee,” given that it (like many far right militias in Ukraine) is part of a broader state initiative directed toward strengthening Ukraine’s armed forces. To be silent would be to act towards our own defeat as influential North American anarchists take up positions that are, in effect, identical to those repeated ad nauseum on 24-hour liberal news channels and by war hawks in DC.
SOLIDARITY, NOT MORALITY: BACK TO BASICS
We see our lives as a project to be created, and putting this project into practice requires an analysis of the local and global conditions of the class war, social struggles that are underway, and the projects designed and implemented by the exploiters. It requires communication between anarchist companions, the deepening of mutual understanding that is referred to as “affinity.” It involves the development of an infinite variety of specific projects that antagonize the authorities and expand our freedom.
The basis of our theory and practice is that the demands of liberatory struggle do not conflict with those of international solidarity. While states attempt to set us against each other for the sake of the capitalist class, global class struggle brings us together against capitalism and the state. Our targets include racializing/hierarchizing state infrastructures of containment, repression and surveillance that foster conditions favorable to the ascendance of fascist projects as well as the fascist projects themselves. As tens of thousands oppose war in the streets of Russia, so too must those of us in the so called US attack it from within. Those who appeal to the US for no-fly zones, military aid and sanctions do not act in solidarity with us. We do not act in solidarity with them.
Who we do and do not act in solidarity with is rooted in the conditions of global class struggle, not morality, which we define here as an invention of liberal conscience, a universalizing system of values and principles of individual conduct that is compatible with capitalism and class society. As a tool of state nationalism, war propaganda makes appeals to morality. We must be prepared to combat it. States present wars as moral issues, framing states at war in terms of “good” and “evil,” “innocent” and “guilty,” to rally public support for what is done in the interests of capital and the state, at the public’s expense. It’s no coincidence that anarchists who support Ukrainian nationalism frame it as the “lesser evil.” It’s telling that they cast deepening cooperation between the Ukrainian state and NATO, a tool of US imperialism, as part of a “defensive war,” while casting cooperation between Russian separatists in parts of Ukraine’s Donbass region (also known as the “People’s Republics”) and Russia as “imperialist aggression.” Inter-imperialist conflict, where 52% of residents have expressed prioritizing their economic well-being over the identity of their government, as in the disputed territories of the Donbass, would be a much harder sell.
We are not saying Ukrainian nationalists and Russian separatists warring in Ukraine are “imperialist puppets.” We reject such baseless denials of agency and strategy. What we’re saying is that war propaganda doesn’t exist to advance global class struggle, while anarchists do. Wherever thousands of flag waving patriots are set into relief against a backdrop of war between “good” and “evil,” we see the subjugation that marginalized people within a state’s population experience at the hands of “good,” flag waving patriots. In Ukraine, these include (but are not limited to) the African, Arab, Indian, Roma, queer and trans people whose marginalization has recently been compounded by their new status as refugees. Their well documented treatment by Ukraine’s government and many of its citizens – not just those belonging to neo-Nazi, fascist or other far right groups – illustrates exactly what uncritical “allyship” with any European nationalism endorses.
Black teachers stranded at Ukraine-Poland border
It’s also important to be clear: the imperative anarchist, as well as Leftist, platforms continue to insist on – that we “listen” to anarchists in Ukraine – will not address structural issues any more than “listening” to marginalized individuals in the US. It’s not surprising, but it’s still disappointing to see anarchists who deride basic ally politics, in the context of Black and other nonwhite struggles in the US, deploy them in the context of Ukraine. Ally politics use “representatives” to speak for entire races, ethnicities, countries, etc. regarding struggle, positing groups with no significant intragroup conflicts and disagreements about the means and ends of struggle. Those of us in the US have seen this politics of representation facilitate the state’s recuperation of potentially liberatory struggle. What this amounts to in the context of Ukraine plays directly into the hands of Ukrainian nationalists, while obscuring the reality of martial law in a country that, among other things, has barred men and trans women between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving “in an attempt to force the country to defend itself.” Put another way, ally politics obscure the struggles within struggles – struggles that, unlike the war between Ukraine and Russia, have liberatory potential.
One struggle that has been sidelined by the fetishisizing of militancy in the form of state-backed militias is the struggle at the borders of Ukraine. As millions of displaced people flee the country, the situation opens a strategic opportunity to attack border enforcement systems and infrastructure, build solidarity structures (as some anarchists already have) that offer transport, shelter, and assistance to refugees, as well as to other migrants, and fight for the principles of anti-racism/anti-fascism throughout this process. The consequences of the war between Russia and Ukraine will be international. They will literally traverse (many) borders. Now is the perfect time for anarchists to intervene at these chokepoints of social control, while the bulk of the military is occupied elsewhere and masses of people seeking asylum bottleneck at these arbitrary dividers and threaten to explode them.
MINIMIZING FASCISTS: “THERE ARE FASCISTS ON ALL SIDES”
Fascism is a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy.
– Matthew N. Lyons
In 2018, Greg Johnson, editor-in-chief of the US based, white nationalist publishing house Counter-Currents, opened his presentation at the Second Paneuropa Conference in Kyiv by commenting on what he saw happening in Ukraine:
“I see that you are actually building an alternative social order here, an alternative society, and that’s what we all need to be doing in all white countries. We need to have some kind of organizational nucleus that can demonstrate it can do all the things necessary to secure a society’s future because that will give us the ability to actually take power someday, and I think that that process is most far along in this country, and that’s what’s most impressive to me.”
Johnson is far from alone in his admiration. Since the Maidan Revolution in 2014, the successes of far right nationalists in Ukraine have been an inspiration for many far right individuals and groups, including Christchurch shooter Brentan Terrant, Atomwaffen Division, The Base, and the Rise Above Movement, and the country has become a “tourist mecca” for fascists and neo-Nazis from all over the world.
For those of us who have been in life or death conflicts with “American” neo-Nazis who have traveled to Ukraine to train, it has been infuriating to see the contortions that some anarchists will twist themselves into to downplay the dominance of fascists and neo-Nazis there. Ukraine’s far right movement has been institutionalized within Ukrainian government. Neo-Nazi battalions have been incorporated, fully intact, into the country’s armed forces. Fascist militias have formed street patrols contracted by municipal governments in the capital and other major cities. Former leaders and members of neo-Nazi militias and paramilitary groups have established themselves as “civic activists,” taking advantage of the liberal obsession with abstract “human rights“ discourse to make inroads into Ukraine’s “third sector” as a legitimate interest group. With its access to weapons, infrastructure built up over many years, and various sources of private, state, and city funding, the Ukrainian far right’s formal (but not total) integration with the state affords it power and influence unrivaled in the context of the global far right.
That Ukraine’s far right has gained little in terms of parliamentary representation belies the movement’s growing presence and power, not only within organs of the state, but also in the streets. As Volodymyr Ishchenko, a sociologist at Kyiv’s Polytechnic Institute, has said: “Electorally they are weak, but in extra-parliamentary terms, they are among the strongest groups in civil society. The far right dominates the street. They have the strongest street movement in Europe.” The significance of this street dominance should be clear to anarchists and anti-racists/anti-fascists in the US. The threat of it certainly was to CrimethInc. in 2014 when, reporting on the Euromaidan in “The Ukrainian Revolution and the Future of Social Movements,” the publishing project described the revolution’s front lines as “dominated by fascists, who attacked anarchists and feminists when they tried to organize under their own banners.” In other words, while most of the protesters were not fascists, they didn’t have to be for fascists to emerge dominant and keep anarchists and leftists from participating in the Euromaidan on their own terms.
Familiar with the radical potential of extra-parliamentary politics, anarchists and anti-racists/anti-fascists in the US know the power, as well as the danger, of intervening at the level of the street. As dangerous as it’s been, it could always get more dangerous, as it has for many in Ukraine since 2014. Anarchist and leftist organizing was curtailed by armed far right groups not only during the Euromaidan, but afterwards as well: far right violence against anarchists, anti-fascists, feminists and LGBTQ activists became commonplace, limiting their ability to organize. Pogroms against the country’s Roma community by neo-Nazi and other far right groups have also been on the rise. In 2018, after neo-Nazi groups burned down a Roma settlement in Kyiv, stabbed a Roma man to death in Lviv, and far right groups in cities across Ukraine attacked International Women’s Day marchers, Amnesty International wrote, “the Ukrainian state is rapidly losing its monopoly on violence.”
We are not arguing that “Ukraine is a fascist state.” We are making an argument about the rising power of Ukraine’s far right movement (full of fascists and neo-Nazis), as it seems that the Ukrainian state is either unable or unwilling to do more than share power with it. This power-sharing is evident, not only in the far right’s presence within the state and on the streets, but also in the state’s attempt to legislate history through “decommunization laws” passed in the spring of 2015. These four laws criminalize the use of communist symbols and any positive public mention of the Soviet era, while granting legal protection to the surviving members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Public criticism of these groups is criminalized, despite their ties to neo-Nazis and history of ethnic cleansing, pogroms, and collaboration with German Nazis during World War II. It was on the basis of these “decommunization laws” that communist parties were also banned in 2015, and recently, citing martial law, Ukraine’s current president Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the immediate suspension of 11 more parties, none of which are far right, and the nationalization and merging of all major news stations into a single media entity called “United News.”
“It’s hard to deny that the current situation definitely serves the reactionary forces,” as a comrade in Ukraine recently put it. With this in mind, we find anarchist support for the “Resistance Committee” (from here on referred to as the RC) and the lack of detail with which anarchist platforms have presented and promoted the RC alarming. The RC exists within the purview of Ukraine’s armed forces, as part of the country’s widely popular, all volunteer Territorial Defense Forces. The group includes Arsenal Kyiv ultras and is pictured on the Instagram of Hoods Hoods Klan (the core of Arsenal Kyiv ultras). Given the publishing project’s support of the RC, we were shocked to learn from two texts CrimethInc. published in 2014, that Arsenal Kyiv ultras called a truce with neo-Nazis and collaborated with “national anarchists” (fascists) during the Euromaidan. According to a member of the Autonomous Worker’s Union in Kyiv interviewed by CrimethInc., in one of the published texts:
“Antifascist football fans of ‘Arsenal-Kiev’ decided to join the protest against police brutality. They declared [a] truce with Nazis and joined the fights against the police. Also, ‘Arsenal-Kiev’ fans made a call for all anarchists and anti-fascists to join their struggle, while they were cooperating with national-anarchists from ‘Avtonomy Opir.’ After anarchists spoke some criticism about such alliance, football fans threatened everyone criticizing them with violence. Of course, this proclamation [had] a reverse effect as even more people turned their back to football fans.”
In our research, we found other first-hand accounts that confirm Hoods Hoods Klan Arsenal Kyiv ultras participated in the Euromaidan protests. These accounts also confirm that there was, at least for a time, a truce with neo-Nazis, and that the ultras, as well as many Leftists, collaborated with url=https://px50keb.sharing.bublup.com/ui/landing_page?item_id=001-i-47a7cd51-5241-41c5-ba36-d6f97d81a15a]Avtonomy Ophir/Autonomous Resistance[/url], an organization of third-positionist “national anarchists” closely associated with Svoboda until they split from the ultranationalist political party during the Euromaidan.
Clearly, some anarchists have not been unaware of the strength of Ukraine’s far right movement and its deeply negative implications for liberatory struggle, which require us to look beyond flags and symbols to the conditions that empowered that movement in the first place. The issue isn’t one of “imperfection” or “impurity” among the forces of resistance. For Ukraine, war with Russia will continue to favor fascist violence for the sake of the “nation” and “national unity.” Dissent will continue to be suppressed as “pro-Russian.” People looting to survive will continue to be beaten and stripped and taped to lamp posts and telephone poles for “trying to capitalize on the Russian invasion.” Not only has any Left or anarchist movement, with any chance of countering the far right, been successfully marginalized by neo-Nazis, fascists and the broader far right movement since 2014 (or before), but also, within the framing of war between the Ukrainian state and the Russian Federation, there are no liberatory horizons. That is the issue. It’s important to be clear about that.
To praise Ukrainian democracy, on the basis of its parliamentary system and veneer of civil rights, obscures both the fascism latent in liberal democracies, as a form of depoliticized social control, and the relationship of the country’s far right movement to Ukrainian politics. It is, in fact, the tendency positioned to most benefit from war with Russia. Given this context, anarchist platforms that insist on supporting the RC and/or the broader military the group is a part of are colluding with neoliberal and ultranationalist war mongering and espousing militarism. As complicated as they would like their position to be, it isn’t.
In order to understand how some see militarism as justified for the defense of Ukrainian “democracy,” we have to address the tendency among anarchists and Leftists that is, implicitly or explicitly, partisan to Western liberal democracy. This tendency rests on the belief that the conditions of capitalist class rule afforded by liberal democracy are more favorable to liberatory struggle. However, this involves a progressivist view of history that forecloses on the very possibility of anarchy. Anarchy is the inseparability of means and ends. As the comrades wrote in At Daggers Drawn:
Liquidating the lie of the transitional period (dictatorship before communism, power before freedom, wages before taking the lot, certainty of the results before taking action, requests for financing before expropriation, ‘ethical banks’ before anarchy, etc.) means making the revolt itself a different way of conceiving relations.
There is no path “from democracy to freedom.” True collective liberation has only antagonism for liberal democracy.
Moreover, helmed as it is by Euro-American economic interests and military might, any defense of the Western liberal-democratic project runs inherently counter to any form of liberatory struggle. Subordinating anti-militarism to taking a stand against “dictators” and supporting calls for “help from the West,” as we are told to do in “War in Ukraine: Ten Lessons from Syria,” an article recently published by CrimethInc., is wholly incompatible with any meaningful anarchist, never mind anti-war, position. The US itself has a history of invasions, proxy wars, regime change “operations” and empowerment of far-right forces around the world that dwarfs the imperialist aspirations of the Russian Federation under Putin. In fact, through calls for sanctions against Russia, the US is currently disrupting Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and increasing its own exports of liquefied natural gas, and the Ukraine-Russia conflict is a boon for US defense contractors. Capitalists are going to continue to pursue their own interests in global class struggle, even if we stop pursuing ours.
Still, the anarchist- and Leftist-shift toward side-taking among competing imperialist and nationalist camps, has become increasingly evident over the last several years, especially to those of us who have been involved in Rojava solidarity efforts.
The original anarchist formation in Rojava, the International People’s Guerilla Forces (IRPGF), was explicitly allied with communist parties (that had decades of experience in the Kurdish Freedom Movement) on the ground and a member organization of the International Freedom Battalion. Early solidarity efforts focused on promoting the anarchist guerrilla position and strengthening that position within the alliance. However, as more US anarchists began participating in solidarity efforts, these perspectives were increasingly neglected, and the realpolitik of the People’s Defense Units (YPG), as the umbrella organization and primary authority among various viewpoints, won out. US anarchists argued that the call to expand US involvement was what “the community” wanted, while in actuality, they themselves had chosen not to amplify the position of the anarchist guerrillas (and their communist allies) and to encourage imperial reaction instead. Our intention here is not to overstate the influence and impact of solidarity groups, but to highlight a trend: US anarchists are promoting, strengthening and siding – very deliberately – with reactionary and counter-revolutionary forces around the world, landing again and again on the wrong side of global class struggle.
A concerning and not-unrelated double standard has also developed among some US/NATO-aligned anarchists, with regard to anarchist and anti-racist/anti-fascist struggle in the US. In August 2020, on the heels of the George Floyd Uprising, anti-fascist Michael Reinoehl shot and killed fascist Aaron Danielson, a supporter of the far right group Patriot Prayer in Portland, OR. Before anyone knew the details of what had happened, CrimethInc. and their allies at Ill Will Editions and the Vitalist International (two projects that include “Tiqqunists” who have flirted heavily with the far right) denounced what they assumed had happened by calling on comrades “not to be drawn into grudge matches…[or] seek revenge in symmetrical warfare.” They lamented, “The escalation to lethal force is tragic for all.” However, it seems, when it comes to straight-up militarism aligned with US/NATO strategy abroad, at least CrimethInc. is willing to subordinate all considerations to the war effort, in a “popular front” with white nationalists not unlike those whose deaths at home they consider so “tragic.” The defensive allegiance to whiteness on display is nauseating.
As tensions at home and abroad continue to escalate, civil wars are not unimaginable. In the spirit of advancing class struggle and avoiding heartbreaking situations, we hope to abate the concerning tendencies of nationalist creep. We have no desire to hear https://twitter.com/macc_nyc/status/1183121269111300096any more militarist calls for the escalation of inter-imperialist wars among anarchists. We have no desire to hear anarchists calling for “de-escalation,” in contexts like that of Reinoehl again.
AGAINST ALL NATION-STATES
We certainly don’t think that the Russian Federation is by any means anti-fascist. On the contrary, Putin has opportunistically been backing far-right movements across Europe for many years. Olena Semenyaka, the “first lady of Ukrainian nationalism” and the international secretary of the Azov Battalion’s political party the National Corps, was friendly and even collaborated with Aleksandr Dugin (“Putin’s Rasputin”) until the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. It’s true that there are fascists on all sides of the conflict. There are fascists everywhere, but this fact should not be used to minimize their disproportionate power in Ukraine. Although Neo-Nazis around the world may share a similar vision with the Azov movement’s founder when he proclaimed his group’s historical mission to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans],” it is in Ukraine that a homegrown far right movement has amassed the strength and popularity to actually begin to manifest such a heinous goal.
We can oppose a Russian victory while finding antifascist value in a Ukrainian defeat
It is not only the authoritarian left and “Russian disinformation” that are critical of and opposed to NATO imperialism, the far right movement in Ukraine, and Ukrainian nationalism. These should be obvious positions for all anarchists, anti-racists/anti-fascists and anti-authoritarians. Our opposition to US involvement in foreign wars and to joining forces with the Ukrainian state and far-right militias in the territorial defense of Ukraine, does not make us allies of the Russian state: we condemn invasion and militarization and act in solidarity with anti-war protestors, defectors from the armed forces, and conscription saboteurs risking their lives and freedom in Russia, in Ukraine, and the world over. But to oppose Russian aggression must not equate support for Ukraine, if we are to maintain a commitment to the principles of anti-fascism, anti-nationalism, the destruction of all borders dividing supposed “deserving” citizens from migrants and refugees, and the state militaries that conscript or coerce its poorest citizens into fighting wars on behalf of the ruling classes.
Molotov being thrown into Russian conscription site
Anarchists do not fight to create or defend the sovereignty of states. We fight to dismantle the divisions, both material and ideological, that create them. In this spirit we take issue when, within our movements, it becomes challenging to distinguish the interests of US foreign policy and weapons manufacturers from our own. The dangers of reactionary and counter-revolutionary tendencies necessitate vigilance. We welcome the principled refusal to stand on any side of a war between imperialist states, the refusal to support NATO hegemony and US imperialism, and refusal of a popular front with fascists.
In the spirit of Sholem Schwarzbard,
-Anarchists in Oakland, San Francisco, New York, and Pittsburgh
"In the Spirit of Sholem Schwarzbard" - Addressing Confusion about the War in Ukraine
Another response to the "No War But Class War" text, critiquing the historical revisionism of that article and looking at the positions of the Eastern European anarchist movement. This article was first published on the Autonomous Action site.
A text recently appeared on It’s Going Down decrying support for anarchists in Ukraine who are fighting against the Russian army. Entitled “No War but the Class War,” it begins with a quotation from Rosa Luxemburg and concludes with a dedication: “In the spirit of Sholem Schwarzbard.” These two historical figures—a Jewish Marxist from Poland, active in Germany, and a Jewish anarchist from Ukraine, active in France—are conscripted to legitimize the authors’ polemic.
This juxtaposition between Luxemburg and Schwarzbard is typical of the quality of the scholarship of the whole text. While Luxemburg indeed wrote that “the international proletariat” should “intervene in a revolutionary way” in response to the First World War, Schwarzbard—contrary to the authors’ implications—took a different path. Though an anti-militarist, Schwarzbard enlisted in the French military as soon as World War I broke out and fought against Germany for a full year and a half before going to Ukraine to fight alongside other Jewish people against pogromists and alongside other anarchists against the reactionary White Army.
Let’s spell out Schwarzbard’s military career in detail, so there is no confusion about this. In August 1914, as soon as Germany invaded Belgium and France, Schwarzbard—already long an anarchist—volunteered for the French Foreign Legion. “Like thousands of others,” he later wrote, “I believed that the land was threatened by German militarism.” While explicitly opposing French colonialism and understanding that (as he put it) “the war would not establish justice in the world,” Schwarzbard nonetheless believed that if Germany conquered France, it would be a catastrophe even greater than war. Moreover, Schwarzbard regarded the Russian Tsar—an ally of the French government—as one of the foremost propagators of anti-Semitism; he must have weighed this consideration as he made his choice, the same way that many anarchists in Ukraine today weigh their opposition to NATO, the Azov battalion, and the Ukrainian government while nonetheless mobilizing against Russian bombs and tanks.
In addition to these motivations, according to his biographer, Schwarzbard “revel[ed] in the potential for Jewish power in the hundreds of thousands of soldiers learning to fight in the World War.”
We don’t have to agree with Schwarzbard’s reasoning or with his decision to enlist—or with his apparent enthusiasm for militarism. But if we want to honor his memory and grasp the complexity of the choices he faced—let alone to act “in his spirit,” should we deem that advisable—we owe it to him not to misrepresent his life for our own purposes.
A month after his deployment, Schwarzbard fought in the Battle of Champagne, then, in May and June 1915, in the Second Battle of Artois. A tremendous number of his fellow soldiers were killed and wounded around him. Afterwards, his regiment in the Foreign Legion demanded the right to be discharged or transferred to a regular unit of the French Army. Schwarzbard himself did not leave the military, but accepted transfer to the regular French 363rd Infantry Regiment, with whom he continued fighting for the next seven months.
Finally, on March 1, 1916, Schwarzbard was hit by a German bullet and nearly killed. It took him a year and a half to recover, after which he went to Ukraine to participate in the Ukrainian revolution and the defense of Jewish communities from pogroms, drawing on the skills he had acquired in the French military. Some years later, he assassinated Symon Petliura, former president of Ukraine, whom he held responsible for the pogroms.
If you want to learn more about Schwarzbard’s life, you could start with “Sholem Schwarzbard: Biography of a Jewish Assassin” arguably the most comprehensive text available in English.
As anti-militarists, we can’t endorse Schwarzbard’s decision to serve in a state military. But for the authors of “No War but the Class War” to imagine that they are speaking on Schwarzbard’s behalf when they denounce anarchists fighting in Ukraine today is the height of irony.
This error shows how quickly things can go wrong when you don’t bother to do a little research—when you assume, as some anglophone North Americans tend to, that you already know everything there is to know about a subject and those who disagree with you must simply be “US/NATO-aligned” or “fascist-minimizing.”
The questions that the authors of “No War” raise are important for all anti-militarists. Yes, “anarchists do not fight to create or defend the sovereignty of states.” We can also agree with them when they say “to oppose Russian aggression must not equate [sic] support for Ukraine”—provided that by “Ukraine” they mean “the government of Ukraine,” not “human beings who live in Ukraine.” They don’t seem especially concerned about what is happening to Ukrainians, Belarusians, or Russians as a result of the invasion.
Anti-militarism deserves advocates who can show that it is a way of solving people’s real problems, not an excuse to pass moralistic judgments according to a doctrinaire ideology. If we would prefer that anarchists like Schwarzbard not join state militaries when the armies of other states attack them, we need to propose a better alternative. It will not suffice to warn them that somebody in San Francisco is going to call them “US/NATO-aligned” or “fascist-minimizing.”
Why Did Sholem Schwarzbard Join the Army?
Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist. In the same text that the authors of “No War but the Class War” quote, she proclaims blithely that “Imperialist world domination is an historical necessity” and therefore that “imperialism ultimately works for us” [i.e., the proletariat]. Nonetheless, when the government that ruled her invaded another country, it was clear enough to her that she could not endorse this. In that regard, she was wiser than every tankie making excuses for Putin today and every liberal making excuses for NATO.
As an anarchist, Schwarzbard had no recourse to determinist frameworks like Luxemburg’s. Why, then, did he conclude—in August 1914 and then again and again for the next year and a half, at tremendous risk to himself—that his best option was to fight in the French military? If we are going to summon his spirit, we had better hear out his testimony.
We can answer that question with another question. Which city would you rather live in today—Kyiv or Mariupol? Kyiv is the city that has been successfully defended against the Russian invasion; Mariupol is the one that has not been successfully defended. Take a minute to familiarize yourself with everything that has occurred in Mariupol before you answer. Pro-Putin trolls blame the victim, saying it wouldn’t have been necessary to displace hundreds of thousands of people if they had welcomed the Russian tanks with open arms or that it was worth all that suffering to kill a few hundred Azov fascists, but if you ask anarchists from Donbas and Crimea, they will tell you very clearly why so many people in Ukraine are risking their lives to fight the Russian army. We might as well have urged the residents of Kobanî to reject militarism back in 2014 when the Islamic State was besieging their city. Sometimes you do not have the choice to opt out of war.
We can criticize Schwarzbard and others like him for risking their lives to defend state democracies rather than fighting to overthrow them. We can argue that they should have formed an anarchist military and immediately attacked all the other (much bigger) armies, or that they should have fled, leaving the entire battlefield (and their hapless neighbors) to other forces. But if we want the Schwarzbards of the world to reject state militarism, too, we had better make proposals that address their actual needs and concerns. Otherwise, they will rightly disregard our criticism as idle talk, no matter how many Rosa Luxemburg quotations we toss at them.
It’s one thing to say that it is not *anarchist* to participate in a state military mobilization. Of course it’s not! Under duress, anarchists do all sorts of things that are not anarchistic, that do nothing to advance any anarchist project—laboring to enrich capitalist bosses, for example, or paying rent to landlords. If we can understand why workers alienate their labor in return for a wage in order to survive, we can understand why they might join a state military in hopes of resisting an invasion, as well. This is not to justify what Schwarzbard did, nor to suggest that militarism solves the problems it purports to address; it is just to ground our discussion in reality.
But it’s another thing altogether to allege that anarchists who participate in the territorial defense of Ukraine against an invading army—and those who provide those anarchists with a platform via which to communicate about what they are doing—are necessarily “minimizing fascism” and “colluding with neoliberal and ultranationalist war mongering.” This charge is decidedly not “in the spirit of Sholem Schwarzbard.” If anything, the anarchists in the Resistance Committee in Ukraine are attempting to improve on Schwarzbard’s example by establishing their own group, drawing on anti-authoritarian models from Rojava. Their open clashes with fascists—both before the invasion and since it started—are publicly documented for those who care to look.
Seen through a Telescope, Hazily
Undeterred, the authors of “No War” sketch out a tenuous string of allegations intended to discredit the Resistance Committee, seeking associate them vaguely with Ukrainian fascists. If the Resistance Committee had meaningful ties to fascists, you would think we would already have heard about it from other anarchists in Ukraine, Belarus, or Russia. At the worst points in their text, the authors of “No War” employ the sort of methodology via which alienated information consumers create conspiracy theories, associatively arranging random material they have encountered online. In one case, they link approvingly to an article by a writer for the Ron Paul Institute in which the author (who lives in Chile and seems to have no particular credentials regarding Ukraine other than appearances on Russian state media platforms Sputnik and RT) promotes bona fide conspiracy theories and puts “global white supremacist terror threat” in scare quotes—arguably “minimizing fascism,” if anyone is. This is an indication of what sort of echo chambers the authors have been spending time in instead of communicating with anarchists in the affected regions.
In their entire discussion of the Russian invasion and the Ukrainian response to it, the authors cite only two contemporary anti-authoritarian sources from the former Eastern Bloc, neither of which corroborate their allegations about the supposed fascist ties of the Resistance Committee.
The sole Ukrainian anti-authoritarian they cite in reference to the Russian invasion, Andrew, makes a thoughtful, if bookish, argument in favor of focusing on building solidarity structures and awaiting more promising opportunities for insurrection. He argues that “this war is unwinnable, and every minute of denying it kills more and more people” and points out that “fighting in the regular army is definitely not the way to defeat the state,” while allowing that “sometimes volunteering to fight might be a safer option than continuing to hide out.” By his own account, Andrew is practically the only anarchist publishing from Ukraine who believes there is nothing to be gained by fighting against the invasion, though this does not diminish the value of his perspective.
The only other anti-authoritarian author from the former Eastern Bloc that the “No War” authors cite in reference to the invasion is a Russian speaker named Saša Kaluža who appears to be writing at some distance from the events in Ukraine. Saša Kaluža made an earnest case at the very beginning of the war that anarchists should focus on organizing solidarity efforts while opposing both the Russian and Ukrainian governments:
“Initiatives such as the Resistance Committee are formed within the military structure of the Ukrainian state. They are not anarchist initiatives, even if most of the participants are anarchists. All territorial defense structures are controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces; their actions and capabilities are limited by the strategy and policies of the state and the Ministry of Defense. We can only have a dialogue or compromise with the state when we have strength and sufficient support from the people, otherwise we will end up repressed in prisons or destroyed by any of the opposing forces, whether it is the Ukrainian armed forces and the nationalist formations on their side or the Russian armed forces and the FSB. Perhaps we will see more positive examples of anarchist organizing in Ukraine, both military and civilian, in the future."
This is a reasonable and principled position, wisely forgoing speculation and hyperbole. It occasioned a similarly even-handed response from the Russian insurrectionist project Anarchist Fighter.
It’s worth quoting the response of Anarchist Fighter at length for several reasons. First, it addresses some of the more substantive critiques in “No War but the Class War.” Second, it was written after Saša Kaluža’s text, which included some predictions that did not come true. Finally, it arguably presents the analysis that is most widely held among anarchists throughout the former Eastern Bloc—and as Anarchist Fighter were writing from a Russian perspective rather than a Ukrainian one, their perspective cannot be written off as Ukrainian nationalism. Here are the concluding paragraphs of Anarchist Fighter’s response:
“We are ready to agree with the comrade [i.e., Saša Kaluža] in many respects. This is what anarchists should prioritize—not just defending one capitalist state from another, but using the situation of instability to transfer power to the people.
“The only problem here is that in the conditions of ongoing hostilities, while the parties to the conflict [i.e., the Russian and Ukrainian governments] are strong, the ‘third’ force will be the target of an attack by both of them as soon as it goes beyond the limits of ‘neighborly mutual assistance’ and tries to present itself as a party to the conflict with its own position and decisions. And also, it will become the object of massive [negative] propaganda, on the grounds that it is interfering with the defense of the country from the invaders. […]
“Here, we move on to the comrade’s criticism of initiatives like the Resistance Committee. Yes, formally, the comrade is right in this criticism. However, we must not forget that history is not made by keeping your hands clean. Simply put, obtaining a weapon and the ability to act without fear of catching a bullet from the Ukrainian Armed Forces represents a significant gain.
“As for the complete dependence of the territorial defense forces on the state and their subordination to the Armed Forces, we think that there is a significant exaggeration here. In conditions of war, such formations will inevitably have a certain autonomy within the framework of the tasks that, yes, the coordinating unit sets before them.
“Due to this autonomy, they can promote the ideas of self-organization, and promote them among the people of Ukraine with deeds as well as words. They can carry out all the tasks that the comrade [Saša Kaluža] writes about in the article (including assisting and organizing people), not on behalf of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but in their own name, as anarchists. At the same time, they can develop as an organization in order to subsequently use the achievements and social influence they have earned to transform the capitalist war into a class war.
“But yes, here it is extremely important not to lose your own identity and dissolve into the general patriotic forces.
“Moving on to the conclusion of the article. Yes, there is a capitalist war. And yes, our goal is the destruction of both the Russian and Ukrainian states, and the transfer of control of society into the hands of the people.
“However, one should not fail to act practically out of a simplistic desire to keep one’s hands and ideals clean. In our opinion, at the current stage, assisting the Ukrainian people, even if that means interacting with the Ukrainian state (for the time being), will allow anarchists to more effectively accumulate the resources and influence necessary to eventually overthrow both the Ukrainian and Russian states.”
Here, Anarchist Fighter briefly explain what anarchists might hope to gain by participating in the territorial defense of Ukraine and why it does not currently seem timely to them to prioritize attacking the Ukrainian army. Nestor Makhno and his comrades made similar calculations at various points in the course of their fight against the armies of several different aspiring governments. Elsewhere, Anarchist Fighter have argued that the defeat of Russia would be the best outcome for anarchists throughout the post-Soviet regions, since Putin has played the role of backing the forces of repression in crushing labor struggles and social movements in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and elsewhere.
Again, we need not agree with the assessment of Anarchist Fighter, any more than we must agree with Schwarzbard’s decision to join the French military. But neither should we misrepresent it as a merely pro-NATO or pro-nationalist position.
In fact, there is a broad consensus among practically all of the significant Russian anarchist projects that anarchists in Ukraine, including those in the Resistance Committee, have a right to participate in the territorial defense without being accused of being pro-state, pro-fascist, or pro-NATO. You can find this consensus among practically all of the significant Belarusian anarchist projects, as well, and it is shared by anarchists in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
There are fierce debates and conflicts between anarchists in all of these countries, and these will likely only intensify as the war drags on. But the critics from Oakland and San Francisco appear to be out on a limb by themselves in claiming that the Resistance Committee are fascist adjacent and that the only possible outcome of their experiment is the further development of fascism and the expansion of NATO’s power.
If the authors of “No War but the Class War” had found any credible statement from anarchists in any of those countries accusing the anarchists of the Resistance Committee, Black Flag, Operation Solidarity, Assembly, or some other Ukrainian anarchist initiative of being pro-fascist, surely they would have directed us to it, rather than linking to The Daily Star (a cheap tabloid from the UK) and someone from the Ron Paul Institute. It’s also worth noting that no Russian, Belarusian, or Ukrainian anarchists have republished or translated their article.
We could conclude that the discrepancy described here indicates that nearly all the anarchists across the entire former Eastern Bloc are fake anarchists, and only a handful of real anarchists in Oakland and San Francisco are keeping the faith. Or we could conclude that we should not depend on a couple anarchists in US metropolises for a proper analysis of events in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, especially not when we can hear from anarchists in the latter regions themselves.
To suggest this is not to argue for “ally politics” or to legitimize a politics of representation. It’s a matter of basic common sense. If you think that Sholem Schwarzbard was a staunch anti-militarist, if you think that you can understand the decisions anarchists are making in the middle of a war on another continent without communicating with them, you are bound to make mistakes.
If you’re concerned that people in the United States are paying more attention to what’s happening in Ukraine than to what’s happening in Yemen, Palestine, Sudan, Tigray, or Myanmar, fair enough. The best solution might be to publish interviews with anti-authoritarians in those countries and organize solidarity actions supporting them, rather than composing yet another text about Ukraine. Don’t berate other English-speaking anarchists for publishing perspectives from anarchists in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and the neighboring regions as if it would improve matters for people to be even more ignorant about the situations there.
And What Should We Do?
Yes, anarchists must fight for the defeat of the Ukrainian government, but not by some more powerful government. If Ukraine is defeated by Russia, the same authoritarian government that has systematically tortured anarchists and crushed social movements and labor organizing in Russia will control more territory and more people’s lives. Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian anarchists who are participating in the territorial defense have been very clear that they are not fighting for the Ukrainian government but rather against the Russian government, in hopes of staking out a foothold from which to transform Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian society in the future. The consistent anarchists among them, at least, do not argue that Ukrainian democracy is worth defending, but rather that it is impossible to organize in the conditions that prevail in Russia and Belarus right now. They don’t seek to stabilize the Ukrainian government, but to destabilize the Russian government, as they believe this will create the greatest possibility of upheaval in the entire region.
As anarchists and anti-militarists, we ought to be critical of every undertaking that involves any kind of compromise with the state. But our critiques will be most useful if they are well-informed. To willfully shut one’s ears to the pleas of actual Russian and Belarusian anarchists who have fled from repression in those countries to Ukraine—and who cannot easily flee to Europe!—in the name of a doctrinaire “anti-militarism” is a poor excuse for solidarity. To shout over their voices, attempting to drown out their pleas with ignorant platitudes from the other side of the ocean, is still more reprehensible.
Yes, we should work towards the defeat of the Russian government, but not by some more powerful government, not by NATO—and not by nationalists of any country. If we make it clear to the millions of ordinary people in Ukraine, the Baltic countries, Georgia, Poland, and for that matter Syria, Myanmar, and everywhere else on the receiving end of the Russian government’s threats that anarchists do not give a damn what happens to them—that they can all die under Russian bombs for all we care, and that if they do anything to defend themselves, we will declare that they are fascist-adjacent—then we will put NATO and the nationalists in a much stronger position. In that case, the vast majority of those who are afraid of ending up like the residents of Mariupol will opt for nationalism or call for more NATO-backed militarization, seeing that we have no real solidarity or strategy to offer them. Proponents of both Putin and NATO would love for anarchists everywhere to adopt such a self-defeating position. So would proponents of the Azov Battalion.
Yes, we should work towards the defeat of NATO, but NATO’s eventual collapse will leave something equally terrible in its wake unless we organize on an international basis starting now. Supposed anti-imperialists whose response to the Russian invasion is to call for isolationism—effectively saying that everyone should just fight against his own (!) state, or against the biggest imperial force, and leave the other states alone—are giving Putin a free hand to torture every anarchist he can get his hands on. They misunderstand the global capitalist ruling class, which is an international entity bound by its own internal solidarities, even in the midst of a war like this. No proletarian has capitalists or politicians of his or her “own.” Empire is not a matter of one nation ruling other nations; it is a structure, like the state itself, that has multiple interconnected centers. Internationalism means fighting against all the politicians and capitalists of the world and standing in solidarity with all others who fight them, even if our comrades in warzones are forced by their dire circumstances to prioritize which ones they confront first. If all of us had extended proper solidarity to Russian anarchists starting in 2012, when the crackdowns there began, perhaps things would never have reached this terrible juncture.
It’s not surprising when the lackeys of certain politicians and capitalists accuse anarchists of serving rival politicians and capitalists. Their agenda is obvious. But anarchists should not sling such accusations at other anarchists lightly. If all it takes to be accused of being pro-NATO and pro-fascist is to defend yourself against a government that is opposed by NATO and fascists, it will take very little to disrupt our networks. Actual pro-Putin tankies would love to have such an easy means to fracture our movements. So would the FBI and FSB.
If it’s awkward to find yourself opposing the same enemy that another of your enemies is fighting, just wait until civil war arrives in the United States. Many anarchists have already experienced being called Nazis when they fight against the police and being accused of being shills for neoliberalism when they fight against the Nazis. We know better than to pay any mind to the liberals and fascists who attempt to reduce all conflict to a false binary between nightmarish alternatives. When people who call themselves anarchists attempt to do the same thing, we should not be cowed by their invective.
So what should we do, if we don’t look to armies to bring an end to wars? What alternative can we propose to the Sholem Schwarzbards of our day, lest they join the military?
If we want to stop the Russian invasion without legitimizing militarism, nationalism, and government, the first step is to support grassroots anti-war organizing in Russia and Belarus, which is disproportionately anarchist, and to support anti-authoritarian prisoners in Russia and Belarus, of whom there are many. The next step is to target capitalists of all nationalities who continue to finance or benefit from Putin’s imperial adventures—we should do this via direct action, sending the message that social movements can address militarism directly without seeking protection from any rival militarist state. If we can do those things effectively, it will position us well to exert pressure against NATO militarism, fascist recruiting, and Ukrainian state repression. If we don’t do those things effectively, pro-NATO and pro-nationalist critics will be able to argue persuasively that we are doing nothing to halt the Russian assault on Ukraine, and they will consequently be able to continue to use the Russian invasion to rally support.
We will be most effective in achieving our immediate aims and in building long-term networks of international solidarity if we are communicating directly with anarchists from a variety of tendencies and vantage points in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Likewise, we ought to do our best to maximize the likelihood that anarchists in Ukraine survive the war, including the ones who are fighting against the Russian invasion. It is a good thing that the anarchists who have chosen to fight in Ukraine have access to medical IFAKs, plate carriers, and the like. We should have raised money years ago to supply the same resources to anarchists fighting in Rojava, quite apart from the question of whether participating in military action qualifies as “anarchist.” There are really not that many of us and we should treat each other’s lives as precious even when we disagree. Having failed to do so in the past is no justification for failing to do it now.
We should oppose all tendencies to dehumanize people on all sides of the war, whether by calling Russian soldiers “orcs,” changing the subject to Azov in discussions about the suffering inflicted on Ukrainian civilians, or centering the lives of Ukrainian refugees over the lives of refugees who do not benefit from white privilege.
Finally, we should be organizing to support refugees and migrants of all nationalities—as Ukrainian and Polish anarchists aligned with the projects attacked in “No War but the Class War” have already been doing, despite the authors’ citationless claim that anti-border organizing has been “sidelined by the fetishisizing of militancy in the form of state-backed militias.” We need to organize with refugees from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, and everywhere else, learning from their experiences and analyses, not immediately branding them as “defen[ders] of the Western liberal-democratic project” when their perspectives differ from ours (as the “No War” authors do in their efforts to discredit Syrian refugees who fled the Putin-backed massacres in Western Syria).
Solidarity with refugees should also extend to the Ukrainian citizens that the Ukrainian government has forbidden from leaving Ukraine on account of their age and ascribed gender.
The only hope for lasting peace in Ukraine lies in not military conflict but in mutiny and rebellion—especially on the side of Russia, which initiated this war. A unilateral mutiny in the Ukrainian military alone would only guarantee that Kyiv and Lviv end up looking like Mariupol (and that there would be endless sequels to the Network case in the territories of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan as well as Russia). We have to foment rebellion on both sides of the battle lines; as Andrew argued, it will take “a mass movement on both sides of the frontline and in the armies themselves.” Presumably, that is just what Russian and Belarusian and Ukrainian anarchists are working towards in their various efforts to cooperate, none of which received a mention in the “No War” text—either because the authors are oblivious of them or because they consider them to be “NATO-aligned.”
Mobilizing an international resistance that can prevent wars like the one in Ukraine is already challenging. It will only become more difficult if we needlessly write off massive segments of the worldwide anarchist movement as pro-NATO or pro-fascist. We should maintain dialogue with those who are trying out hypotheses other than our own, the better to learn from the results and refine our own critiques.
What proposal do the authors of “No War but the Class War” make regarding how to respond to invasions without participating in state-aligned military formations the way that Schwarzbard did? They speak abstractly about “condemn[ing] invasion and militarization” and “solidarity with anti-war protestors, defectors from the armed forces, and conscription saboteurs.” Condemnations alone are not worth the bytes they are printed on, and as for solidarity with anti-war protestors, the authors’ chief contribution to that seems to be smearing the anarchist projects that have been translating and publishing Russian anarchist perspectives.
The most concrete thing we have to go on from the authors about how they intend to express this “solidarity” is the image they use to illustrate their article: a screenshot of a video taken by an anti-war arsonist who set fire to a military registration and enlistment office in the city of Lukhovitsy. Once again, however, the witness they have summoned testifies against them: the Russian anarchist venues that have circulated news of this action, foremost of which is Anarchist Fighter, are advocates of anarchist participation in the territorial defense of Ukraine. Neither Russian nor Ukrainian anarchists accept a false dichotomy between fighters in Kyiv and arsonists in Lukhovitsy—that dichotomy is an import product from San Francisco.
In this case, as well as in their ill-fated choice to invoke the spirit of Sholem Schwarzbard, the authors appear to have made the classic insurrectionist error of assuming that those they perceive as employing the most militant tactics must therefore share their politics. Somebody burned a recruitment center, so he or she must agree that Ukrainian nationalism is as terrible a scourge as Russian militarism—never mind that the arsonist spray-painted a Ukrainian flag as a part of the action! Sholem Schwarzbard shot a former president—therefore he cannot possibly have violated Rosa Luxemburg’s instructions and enlisted in the French army to fight in the Second World War!
One of the most fundamental divides in the world is between ideologues who assume that everything is simple and those who suffer the complications of the world in their own communities, on their own bodies. It’s effortless to “refus[e] to stand on any side of a war between imperialist states” when you’re ten thousand miles away, but it is more complicated for people in Kharkiv, Minsk, and Moscow right now. Do we have more to learn from dialogue with those for whom such a question is easy because it is abstract, or from those for whom it is painfully complicated?
Let’s close with one of the tortured poems that Schwarzbard left us from his time in the military.
And like the bones of Ephraim’s Tribe
That were scattered in the Valley of Jezreel,
The dead men now stirred from the trenches,
Belted, and armed with arrow and bow
Driven, flushed out by wild vengeance
Against God, against heaven, against earth and against men,
Against everything that drove them to their fate
They must now defend their bitter enemies
To fight with their own brothers…
The bottom line is that we have to ensure that the next time a war breaks out, people like those who are fighting in the Resistance Committee have a better option than organizing under a state formation. This is a gigantic responsibility. If we don’t want, like Sholem Schwarzbard, to end up defending our bitter enemies and fighting with our own brothers, if we don’t want to have to choose between two nationalist armies, we need to be working very hard now to establish a concrete alternative. No amount of name-calling or historical revisionism can accomplish this for us. It requires us to be humble, to listen carefully to each other, to be serious about building something together. Despite our differences, we hope to be part of this with the authors of “No War but the Class War,” with the anarchists fighting in Ukraine right now, and with you.
A Response on Ukraine and “No War But Class War”
The following submission is a direct response to the essay, "No War But Class War: Against State Nationalism and Inter-Imperialist War in Ukraine". This article first appeared on It's Going Down. A German translation of this article is available here.
The recent text, “No War But Class War: Against State Nationalism and Inter-Imperialist War in Ukraine” is an interesting and worthwhile one, setting out a well-argued case for a particular anarchist position, and I’m glad to see it being circulated. It’s also, in my opinion, seriously flawed, and almost insultingly wrong in some cases. Here are a few notes on the content:
In passing, while not a major point, I was slightly disappointed to see the authors warning against “uncritical “allyship” with any European nationalism.” The anarchist position against all forms of nationalism is a bold and important one, and I’m not sure what the purpose of adding qualifiers to it is, unless to suggest that the nationalism of a Bolsonaro or a Modi is somehow more virtuous and desirable?
More importantly, one of the major planks of their argument is:
…the imperative anarchist, as well as Leftist, platforms continue to insist on – that we “listen” to anarchists in Ukraine – will not address structural issues any more than “listening” to marginalized individuals in the US. It’s not surprising, but it’s still disappointing to see anarchists who deride basic ally politics, in the context of Black and other nonwhite struggles in the US, deploy them in the context of Ukraine.
But if we take a moment to compare “anarchists in Ukraine” and “marginalized individuals,” we can immediately see that one of these categories is not like the other, and anyone trying to equate the two is clearly up to something. One of them describes the overlap of an identity category and a political position, the other is just an identity category. This is an important difference. The true analogy to “listen to marginalized individuals” would be “listen to Ukrainians.”
Such a slogan may be tempting at times, especially when dealing with that variety of US leftist whose understanding of the outside world clearly comes entirely from other US leftists who go on Tucker Carlson sometimes, but it is indeed “basic ally politics,” of the kind that entirely fails to deal with the vast diversity of opinions that will always exist in any identity position.
“Listen to anarchists in Ukraine (and indeed Russia and Belarus),” on the other hand, is a very different position – one that starts out by looking for people who share our basic values and principles, and then seeks to learn from people who have more understanding of their own context than we do. To say that we should listen to them doesn’t mean that we have to turn our brains off and uncritically accept everything they say, but that their positions do deserve serious consideration. And that if someone wrote an article about race where their only engagement with Black anarchists was to talk shit on them, or an article about feminism where women anarchists were only mentioned in order to dismiss them, that might raise a few eyebrows as well.
The authors suggest that to take a position of solidarity with Ukrainian anarchists is to “obscure the struggles within struggles.” I agree with them that such struggles should be a key focus for anarchists, but not about who’s doing the obscuring. As someone who believes that groups such as the Resistance Committee are worth supporting, I’d say that’s at least in part because of the role that they can potentially play in the struggles within the Ukrainian resistance; I’d say that it’s the authors’ position, which seems to operate on a simple equation that “Resistance Committee = the state = Azov” that obscures such struggles.
Another point of agreement is where they write:
As millions of displaced people flee the country, the situation opens a strategic opportunity to attack border enforcement systems and infrastructure, build solidarity structures (as some anarchists already have) that offer transport, shelter, and assistance to refugees, as well as other migrants, and fight for the principles of anti-racism/anti-fascism throughout this process… Now is the perfect time for anarchists to intervene at these chokepoints of social control…
I fully agree that such interventions sound desirable, and it would’ve been good if they could’ve expanded further on the solidarity structures that some anarchists are already building; it’s my understanding that the useful practical projects that exist on the ground tend to be aligned with the ABC Dresden/Operation Solidarity tendency that’s fully supportive of resistance within Ukraine, which would seem to slightly undermine the article’s attempt to set the two things against each other.
Moving on to the question of minimizing fascists, they write “there are fascists on all sides” in scare quotes, presumably to set up a position they’re arguing against rather than something that’s straightforwardly true. There is some truth in the claim that Ukraine’s far-Right has been institutionalised within the Ukrainian state, although even there it’s not clear whether we can say that the Ukrainian far-Right is more institutionalised than in the so-called People’s Republics, and it certainly isn’t the Ukrainian state that has ties to the far-Right paramilitaries accused of massacres in Mali.
More interesting for antifascists is the question of what it means for far-Right forces to be integrated into the state. The authors would presumably argue against anarchists becoming part of the Ukrainian, or any other, state, on the very solid and justifiable grounds that doing so would automatically undermine their autonomy and radicalism. Do we really think that nazis are magically immune to the same pressures and processes? Of course, the contradictions between anarchists and the state are far sharper than those between fascists and the state, but anyone who’s learned even the most basic lessons from the three-way fight approach will realize that the interests of nazis are not identical to those of a neoliberal like Zelensky. The debate around the significance of the Azov battalion and how far it’s been successfully defanged and declawed is certainly not yet settled, but the article doesn’t give much consideration to those questions.
Another flaw of this section is that it seems to take an ahistorical approach, citing sources from all over the last seven or eight years without indicating when they’re from, as if Ukrainian politics had just been proceeding in a single direction this whole time, and without distinguishing between conditions under Porosheko and under Zelensky, or before and after the resignation of Avakov. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking an article seriously that treated the US far-Right as being essentially the same, or heading in the same direction, in 2017, 2020 and today.
This section also contains some of the most explicit arguments against any support for Ukrainian anarchist resistance, on the grounds that the group includes Arsenal Kyiv ultras, and some Arsenal Kyiv ultras called a temporary truce with Nazis and had some cooperation with third-positionists in 2014. To be clear, while I don’t claim to be an expert on how to navigate difficult conditions such as those faced by antifascists during the Maidan, I don’t think that cooperation with “national anarchists” is a good thing; but if we’re going to be making arguments about the Resistance Committee, I’m more interested in hearing about what that group is doing now, rather than about the bad decisions that a subcultural street formation made eight years ago, even if there is some overlap between the two.
Concluding this section, they write:
Not only has any Left or anarchist movement, with any chance of countering the far-Right, been successfully marginalized by neo-Nazis, fascists and the broader far-Right movement since 2014, but also, within the framing of war between the Ukrainian state and the Russian Federation, there are no liberatory horizons. That is the issue. It’s important to be clear about that.
And that is one way of approaching the issue. Another would be this: in 2014, the anarchist movement failed to organise themselves as a serious material force, and were marginalized, with consequences that we can all agree are disastrous. In 2022, the anarchist movement is making a real attempt to constitute a serious material force, one that’s serving as a pole of attraction for other leftists and antifascists… and the authors of “No War…” decide that it’s important to attack them and argue against any support for this effort.
Beginning the next section, they write that the far-Right:
…is, in fact, the tendency positioned to most benefit from war. Given this context, anarchist platforms that insist on supporting the RC and/or the broader military the group is a part of are colluding with neoliberal and ultranationalist war mongering and espousing militarism.
Again, this logic seems twisted to me – the far-Right seem like they’re likely to benefit from the current situation, and so…it’s important to oppose the attempt to form an antifascist force that could contest their narratives and offer an alternative to people who justifiably want to resist Russian imperialism?
They caution that, “The US itself has a history of invasions, proxy wars, regime change “operations” and empowerment of far-Right forces around the world that dwarfs the imperialist aspirations of the Russian Federation under Putin,” but if you’re writing a whole article that attacks the idea of “lesser evilism,” it seems a bit inconsistent to then dig out your evil-measuring equipment to prove that Russia is the lesser evil after all. Bafflingly, they then add that “In fact, through calls for sanctions against Russia, the US is currently disrupting Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and increasing exports of liquefied natural gas.”
No-one except for very self-obsessed Americans thinks that US natural gas is an important factor here. What is the actual argument about “the US… disrupting Europe’s dependence on Russian oil” supposed to be – is it that the US masterminded Russia’s invasion of Ukraine so they’d have an excuse to increase natural gas exports? Or that the war was happening anyway, but that European economic sanctions against Russia are solely down to calls from the US? What would be happening if the US wasn’t making those calls for sanctions, are we supposed to imagine that European governments would all just say “well, one of our major rivals has just launched an invasion of a country that was heading towards membership of our bloc, but that’s no reason to react, we’ll just sit here and not do anything to show disapproval?” This feels like classic imperial narcissism, and it’s slightly astonishing to see someone start off an article by quoting Rosa Luxemburg and then wander into making arguments that only make sense if you forget that European states are imperialist powers with their own interests.
Perhaps the most interesting section of the article is a reflection on the contradictions of Rojava solidarity efforts. As someone whose own tendency to ask awkward questions has often (not always, but often) meant that I’ve been more of a critical observer of than an active participant in Rojava solidarity projects, I would very much like to see North American anarchists making an active effort to engage with the difficult questions that have often gone unanswered around Rojava. Above all else, I’d like to see more engagement with the difficult set of relationships between the PYD/YPG/YPJ, non-Kurdish Syrian revolutionaries, Assad and Russia, which have often been left out in favour of a simple narrative of “Rojava vs ISIS” or “Rojava vs ISIS and Turkey.” (Respect to Hamilton anarchists for being an honorable exception to this.)
Sadly, “No War…” continues the failure to engage with these questions, which is a shame, because learning from the experiences of Syrian revolutionaries might help the authors to be a little less blasé about Russian imperialism. Still, I would be interested to hear more about what they see as the differences between those of anarchist guerrilla forces and the narratives that became dominant in the Rojava solidarity movement.
It does also feel somewhat odd to see, after all the attacks on the Resistance Committee for not being pure enough, the authors championing the International People’s Guerrilla Forces and International Freedom Battalion, while also freely admitting how closely those groups were/are allied with Turkish Maoists and Marxist-Leninists. As though all the criticisms and arguments that anarchists have always made against Maoists and Marxist-Leninists somehow don’t apply to TİKKO or the THKP-C/MLSPB!
As I’ve mentioned, I’d like to hear more about the arguments the authors hint at here, but from what I have seen, I think I’m more convinced by the more limited anti-fascist position that argues that life under the more democratic capitalism of the PYD is preferable to the horrors of ISIS or Assad. That might not be the most inspiring and uncompromising slogan, but some of us found it more convincing than some of the overheated rhetoric coming from IRPGF types that tried to portray a small group of people picking up guns, posing with English-language banners aimed at Western audiences, and making friends with Maoists as a dramatic leap forward in anarchist theory and practice.
Less impressive is their attempt to highlight an alleged double standard by comparing the current situation in the Ukraine to that in the US in August 2020, when Kyle Rittenhouse’s killing of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber was followed by Michael Reinhoehl shooting Aaron Danielson. For some reason, the deaths of Rosenbaum and Huber disappear in their telling, which mainly aims to condemn Crimethinc and other projects for calling for de-escalation in August 2020 while reacting differently today, a supposed double standard that they can only explain through “defensive allegiance to whiteness” (as opposed to the Blackness of Vladimir Putin, perhaps?)
I’m not convinced that it’s possible or helpful to make any direct or straightforward comparisons between the deaths of three anti-racists and one fascist in August 2020 and the current war, but if they really want to go down that route, I’d suggest that one possible explanation for the different reactions might be that in August 2020, the situation was one that had the potential to escalate to further para/military conflict, but that potential escalation could still be prevented; whereas the situation in Ukraine after the Russian invasion had begun was one where a military conflict was ongoing. I’m not convinced that wanting to avoid further militarization of a conflict in one situation, and recognizing that a military conflict is already happening in a different situation, is quite the shocking hypocrisy the authors of “No War…” seem to think it is.
Approaching the conclusion, and almost 4,000 words into their argument, they finally offer a few words of criticism for the Russian state, before issuing one of the stupidest lines of the entire piece: “We can oppose a Russian victory while finding antifascist value in a Ukrainian defeat.”
By way of comparison, in 2001 Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, a regime that anarchists would have little sympathy for. Indeed, if we were getting into evil-measuring, it might well score worse than Ukraine under Zelensky. Can you imagine anyone at the time of the US invasion suggesting that they could find antifascist, or anti-fundamentalist, value in an Afghan defeat, and expecting anarchists to take them seriously? And how well would that stand up today?
To take just a few examples, we’ve seen how the previous Russian occupation of Afghanistan ended up contributing to the strengthening of the brutal reactionaries who formed the Taliban; and then how the American occupation of Afghanistan eventually ended with the Taliban triumphing once again; and how the occupation of Iraq led to the horrors of ISIS finding room to grow. And yet some anarchists can see “antifascist value” in this invasion and occupation. At the risk of being accused of “basic ally politics,” is it any surprise that this antifascist value is less visible to our comrades in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus?
No war but the class war is an important principle, and if we depart from it, whether in Ukraine, Rojava or anywhere else, it’s important to keep it in mind, and to stay open to critiques from those who refuse to cross that particular line. But when those who would advocate for it seem to lapse into apologies for Russian imperialism – whether in the explicit form of “finding antifascist value in a Ukrainian defeat” and putting scare quotes around the very concept of “Russian disinformation,” or the more implicit form of writing long articles about the conflict, antifascism and the far-Right that never once mention Wagner, Rusich, the Russian Orthodox Army, and so on – it becomes harder to take their critiques seriously.
At this point in time, my sympathies are still with those who are trying to organise anarchist and anti-fascist projects within Ukraine that could point in the direction of a less bleak future, whether those take the form of mutual aid efforts or direct resistance to the invasion. Certainly, they’re operating in challenging conditions, ones that make it hard to put our shared principles into practice, but I remain unconvinced by the idea that our comrades in Ukraine, who seem to have the support of those in Belarus and most of the Russian movement, are all just getting it wrong.
A Response to a Response About Militarism, Nationalism and War
By Mike Gouldhawke (Métis & Cree, Treaty 6 territory)
The anonymous author of a recent response to the text “No War But Class War: Against State Nationalism And Inter-Imperialist War In Ukraine” starts off by claiming that they were “slightly disappointed to see the authors warning against uncritical allyship with any European nationalism.”
Personally, I’m disappointed to see that someone else is disappointed by critical thinking around state nationalism, particularly European and subsidiary settler colonial nationalisms. I’m also not sure what the purpose of expressing disappointment in critical thinking would be other than to discourage others from engaging in it and thereby protect the particularly flimsy narrative of someone else.
While conceding that the “anarchist position against all forms of nationalism is a bold and important one,” the author wonders “what the purpose of adding qualifiers to it is, unless to suggest that the nationalism of a Bolsonaro or a Modi is somehow more virtuous and desirable?”
Firstly, I wonder why we should care how bold such a claim is, rather than how correct it is, since that would seem to be what’s most important.
Secondly, I wasn’t among the writers of the “No War But Class War” text, but I’d speculate the purpose of singling out European nationalism is because that’s what we’re actually dealing with at the moment and where we’re at, both in terms of Russia’s war on Ukraine as well as the support that Euro-American settler states, the United States and Canada are giving and have been giving to the Ukrainian military, including it’s explicitly fascist and therefore nationalist regiment.
A position against all states and their nationalisms moreover does not require one to ignore the fact that some states are more powerful than others, as is the case with the U.S. being more powerful than Canada, and Russia being more powerful than Ukraine. Canada is still an imperialist and colonialist state regardless of it being much smaller in terms of population and much less powerful than the U.S.
Thirdly, it seems to me that the response author only brings up the Brazilian and Indian presidents as a moralistic sleight of hand, suggesting without any evidence or reasoning that the writers of the “No War But Class War” piece are implicitly suggesting that the nationalism of those presidents is “somehow more virtuous and desirable.”
This despite the writers explicitly critiquing all nation-states and their nationalism, not just the nationalism of particular presidents.
Rather than deal with the actual analysis of the piece in question, the author of the response to it continues to attribute secret ulterior motives to the writers, claiming that they are “clearly up to something,” simply because they critiqued the political position that listening to arbitrarily-selected individuals from an attacked group (anarchist or otherwise) can or should be the basis of anarchist analysis and practice.
The response author even falsely implies that the only purpose of the original article was to dismiss anarchists in Ukraine. If this were actually the case, an article containing analysis and positions (these also not limited to being about anarchists in Ukraine) would not have been necessary in the first place. The writers could have simply dismissed anarchists in Ukraine privately and without any wasted effort in terms of writing an article.
The response author claims that listening to anarchists in Ukraine is different from listening to all Ukrainians because it “starts out by looking for people who share our basic values and principles, and then seeks to learn from people who have more understanding of their own context than we do.”
However, this would be the opposite of the abandonment of critical thinking suggested at the start of their response. Anyone can call themselves “anarchists,” but not all anarchists mean the same thing by it. To find people who share our values and principles would precisely require going beyond superficial labels to discover what the content behind the label is, and this requires critical thinking and actual information, not vague uncritical cheerleading for certain aesthetics.
No doubt, those who live in a place likely know more about their context than those outside it. But this applies equally to North America as to Ukraine, since anarchists here likely know more about North American states’ military support for the Ukrainian state, how this plays into expanded militarism here, and the history of military force being deployed here in North America against Black and Indigenous peoples. Anarchists here have a clear and present stake in opposing the militarism of North American states.
Even if a North American anarchist was to defer all responsibility for critical thinking on Ukraine to their most trusted and familiar Ukrainian comrade, this would still do absolutely nothing to divest that North American anarchist from their responsibility of understanding and opposing North American states and their militarism. Even putting aside thinking and instead relying on natural sympathy alone, it’s not clear why this sympathy for people in Ukraine would override sympathy anarchists here feel for all those targeted by North American states and their militarism, both here and abroad, especially if their own people are among those targeted. The Americas are not a sacrifice zone for the supposed greater good somewhere else, anymore than anywhere else in the world should be for here.
The response author claims, with reference to the Resistance Committee, that the “No War But Class War” writers are obscuring the character of the struggle in Ukraine. The Resistance Committee is worth supporting, the responder proclaims. But they don’t deal with the point made in the “No War But Class War” article referencing a report by an anarchist in Ukraine, where it is stated that “Initiatives such as the Resistance Committee are formed within the military structure of the Ukrainian state.”
The response author falsely claims that the “No War But Class War” writers are putting forward a “position, which seems to operate on a simple equation that ‘Resistance Committee = the state = Azov’”.
This is not in fact the case, as the writers of the “No War But Class War” article never draw up such an equation.
Furthermore, how the Resistance Committee actually operates and whether it does so under the Ukrainian state is not a “position” at all, nor an “equation.”
It is either a practical fact that the Resistance Committee operates under the official military structure of the Ukrainian state, or it isn’t. The anarchist position, at least one anarchist position, is to oppose all states and their armies, and to be clear about whether self-proclaimed anarchists are actually acting on their own or as part of a state’s official army.
How an autonomous militia could operate in practice in a high-tech war zone involving two official armies (Ukrainian and Russian) is not something the response author, or any other anarchist has even mentioned let alone tried to explain, as far as I’ve seen. The author of the response seems to be the one doing the obscuring, not the writers of “No War But Class War.”
The response author even decries any attempt to separate actually autonomous anarchist initiatives to support migrants from participation in an official military structure, claiming that the writers of “No War But Class War” are attempting to “set the two things against each other,” as if this would be a bad thing for anarchists to do, as if this isn’t something anarchists have always done.
The response author then questions whether the Ukrainian far-right is more institutionalized than the Russian far-right, links to a story about Russian paramilitary massacres in Mali, and claims that the official Ukrainian fascist military battalion Azov is somehow being denied its autonomy and radicalism by the Ukrainian state, that it is still supposedly a question as to “how far it’s been successfully defanged and declawed” by the state.
We might instead question whether it’s been “defanged and declawed” at all, and why a fascist military battalion that’s more tightly-managed by the state would be acceptable. The fascists’ interests don’t need to be identical to the neo-liberal Ukrainian president for them to be amenable to each other, and both opposable by anarchists.
The incorporation of anarchists and fascists into the military also shouldn’t be equated with each other, since anarchists are ostensibly opposed to the state, while fascists are very much in favor of it. The state can use fascists to their benefit and fascists can benefit from integration into the state. The same should not be true for anarchists. If the state is trying to integrate anarchists, it’s to weaken or destroy us.
The response author seems to be trying to minimize the significance of fascist groups in Ukraine and the harm they are doing to Roma and other people. Precisely the kind of minimization the “No War But Class War” writers critiqued others for engaging in.
The responder also dismisses the “bad decisions that a subcultural street formation made eight years ago” (in making a truce with “national anarchists” and fascists) because of the potentially better things the same people might be doing now in the Resistance Committee. Critical thinking and positions against fascist movements are to be set aside for a supposed greater good, something that some anarchists, at least elsewhere, can’t necessarily afford to do even if they wanted to.
The response author goes on to make the seemingly grandiose claim that “In 2022, the [Ukrainian] anarchist movement is making a real attempt to constitute a serious material force, one that’s serving as a pole of attraction for other leftists and antifascists,” without any evidence of this actually being the case, and while expressing dismay that the “No War But Class War” writers might detract from support for this effort simply by making a critique.
But if a material force crumbles in the face of mere critique and analysis, we might feel the need to consider how forceful and real this material force actually is, whether we really want to support it, and whether it even needs our support, since the Canadian and American states are already supplying more weapons, military equipment and intelligence to the Ukrainian military than ragtag groups of anarchists in North America ever could, even if they wanted to.
The response author implies that building this nominally-anarchist force in Ukraine will help build opposition to the far-right that stands to benefit from the current situation. But building a force within an official army is not the same as building an autonomous force. And this is mere speculation at any rate.
The response author then somehow gets baffled by a critique of “lesser evilism” that also acknowledges the relative strength of the American empire. However there is no contradiction between two things being bad, one thing being worse, and taking the position that therefore we shouldn’t support either thing. This is precisely what the critique of “lesser evilism” consists of.
Then the response author hurls an unfounded accusation of being “very self-obsessed Americans” at the writers of “No War But Class War,” simply because they analyze how the U.S. state (which they find themselves in) and American capitalists seek to use this war to their benefit. One would think that anarchists in the U.S. opposing the U.S. state and American capitalists would be admirable to anarchists abroad instead of repugnant.
At any rate, in order to be in solidarity with others, one needs to start with one’s own struggle, where one is at, and this begins with an analysis of what the state and capitalists are doing in whatever country we happen to live in. Simply labeling anarchists in other countries as self-obsessed or narcissistic is not a form of analysis.
As the response author proceeds in their article, they continue to cast aspersions at the “No War But Class War” writers, accusing them of being “blasé about Russian imperialism” and of having attacked “the Resistance Committee for not being pure enough,” stances the writers do not actually take in their article. Again, the response author’s point seems to be to deflect from actual critique by making a straw-man argument against the article’s writers and disparaging their character.
Then the response author engages in a bizarre sarcastic comparison of the critique of American anarchists’ defensive allegiance to whiteness to “the Blackness of Vladimir Putin, perhaps?”
The point of this oddly abrupt and racist quip seems to be to suggest that American anarchists couldn’t possibly have a defensive allegiance to whiteness if they also oppose the white president of another country, but I’m not sure how this logic is supposed to follow. All white people don’t have to agree with each other at all times in order for them to still feel a defensive allegiance to whiteness. More basic class divisions within a country don’t even undermine this allegiance.
The response author follows up by equating anti-fascist militancy in the U.S. to “further militarization of a conflict.” However, militancy and militarism are not the same thing. The difference is exactly the one which the author deflects from throughout their whole response, the difference between autonomous groups and the state.
A difference that played out in this case precisely in the use of paramilitary force by the American state in the extrajudicial execution of an anti-fascist, Michael Reinoehl, by police.
For the overly-polite response author, “one of the stupidest lines of the entire piece” that they are critiquing is when the “No War But Class War” writers state, “We can oppose a Russian victory while finding antifascist value in a Ukrainian defeat.”
The response author incredulously asks, “Can you imagine anyone at the time of the US invasion suggesting that they could find antifascist, or anti-fundamentalist, value in an Afghan defeat, and expecting anarchists to take them seriously?”
This however completely misses or reverses the point of defeatism, which for anarchists in North America at the time meant the defeat of North American states in Afghanistan, just as currently, anarchists in North America cannot cheer for North American states to benefit from their military support of the Ukrainian state.
Today Afghanistan remains one of countless reminders that imperialist states like Canada and the U.S. have only a negative role to play in any part of the world, including here in North America.
Moreover, we should always remember that states aren’t equivalent to peoples.
Finally, the response author falsely accuses the “No War But Class War” writers of somehow lapsing “into apologies for Russian imperialism” because they state they can find “antifascist value in a Ukrainian defeat.” However, the responder here leaves out the first part of the same sentence, where the writers stated, “We can oppose a Russian victory…” and fails to mention that the “No War But Class War” writers pointed to past collaboration between Russian and Ukrainian fascists.
The responder ends their piece with an appeal to their own sympathy “with those who are trying to organise anarchist and anti-fascist projects within Ukraine that could point in the direction of a less bleak future…”
The responder asks how comrades in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia could possibly be “just getting it wrong.”
But sympathy is not the question. Nor is how many things an ambiguous conglomeration of comrades in those countries might be getting righter or wronger with regards to a situation they are more familiar with than we are here in North America.
The question is the State itself, its militarism and nationalism, the relation between fascist or nationalist movements and the State, and finally, how anarchists in North America analyze their own situation, so as to even be capable of solidarity in the first place.
We can’t and don’t need to sacrifice our own opposition to North American states and their associated fascist and nationalist movements in order to oppose invasions and wars overseas. Just the opposite. We oppose all nation-states, militarism, fascism and state nationalism here, there and everywhere, for ourselves and in solidarity with others.
Another reply on Ukraine, war and class war
It’s good to see that my article on Ukraine and anti-war/class war positions has provoked a few responses, and I hope that discussion will continue elsewhere. By this point, the most important arguments have probably been made, so there’s a danger that diminishing returns and petty point-scoring might set in; but for what it’s worth, here’s a few comments on the two responses.
One response, from an anarchist who fought in Rojava, is relatively short and straightforward. On a factual note, they dispute whether the Turkish Marxist-Leninist group THKP-C/MLSPB were or are involved in the International Freedom Battalion. Other participants in the IFB, for instance in this interview, do list the MLSPB as one of the IFB’s component groups. Perhaps they’re wrong; but even so, if we exclude the MLSPB altogether, that would still make it a coalition of at least four other Marxist-Leninist groups and two Maoist groups together with Tekosina Anarsist. That is to say, a coalition dominated not just by non-anarchist groups, but by the kinds of groups who, in most situations, we would have no problem identifying as being hostile to anarchism.
To say that the IFB is a coalition primarily dominated by non-anarchist groups is not to say that anarchists are or were wrong to take part in it. But it is to say that it still feels strange to see people holding it up as a more righteous alternative to the supposedly unacceptable compromises made by Ukrainian anarchists.
They also criticize me for failing to mention “the large-scale medical project that the anarchists created and engaged in”. I fully agree that medical and other caring work is important and undervalued in comparison to other, more visible and easily glamorized, forms of militancy. But I can also remember how the IRPGF presented themselves at the time of their foundation. It wasn’t critics of the IRPGF who decided that their introduction video should contain lots of shots of guns and weapons and no mentions of medical work, or indeed that their flag should contain a picture of a gun rather than medical equipment; if former members now think that focus was misguided, that’s fine, but they can’t blame other people for remembering the way that they chose to present themselves.
It might be straying too far from the current discussion, but it would certainly be worthwhile having a broader discussion of the attractions and flaws of militant aesthetics, and what seems to be a tendency among some anarchists to orientate toward groups that fit a certain image of militant struggle, without properly evaluating how far those groups fit with our aims and values. We could ask, for instance, why it is that Abolition Media has taken to running completely uncritical coverage of the Colombian FARC and ELN - not critical analysis of how those groups relate to current struggles within Colombian society, but simply reproducing reports of their actions without comment.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the “anarchist who fought in Rojava” response is what it doesn’t mention - at least six years after these questions were first raised, and in response to an article that explicitly raised the issue, there’s no attempt at an independent anarchist analysis of the relationship between Rojava, non-Kurdish revolutionaries, and Assad. The question of the SDF role in the fall of Aleppo, and what all this means, is still left unaddressed. I don’t think there are any easy answers to these questions - “Rojava should have simply simultaneously defeated ISIS, Turkey, Assad and the Russian and Iranian interventions” is a line as simple and as unhelpful as “the Ukrainian working class should simply rise up and overthrow Zelensky and defeat Azov while also fighting off the Russian invasion”. But it’s the fact that they’re difficult and complicated that means that more thoughtful analysis would be welcome, and makes the continued silence so disappointing.
While Turkish Marxist-Leninists and Maoists tended to be militant supporters of Rojava, this line was not echoed by their ideological comrades in other parts of the world. In the US and other Western countries, many tankies were happy to dismiss and attack the entire project, on the grounds that the US and other NATO countries were providing support to the YPG/YPJ, and that told them all they needed to know. For those of us who argued against such simplistic positions then, and were also not convinced by the rejection of any support for Rojava on “no war but the class war” lines, it’s disturbing to see similar lines of argument emerging from anarchists.
The other response, from Mike Gouldhawke, is more substantial. It opens with an expression of disappointment at my criticism of the line warning against “uncritical allyship with any European nationalism”, asking why I would warn against critical thinking. There seems to be a misunderstanding going on here, as I wasn’t objecting to the call for critical thinking, but rather to the decision to introduce a qualifier, as if there are some forms of nationalism where uncritical allyship would be an appropriate response. So we can add Mike Gouldhawke’s reading comprehension skills to the list of things that people are disappointed in. Similarly, the line about Modi and Bolsonaro was an, admittedly provocative, attempt to think through where taking a less critical attitude to non-European nationalisms could lead.
Gouldhawke accuses me of wanting to listen to “arbitrarily-selected individuals” from Ukraine. This glosses over the distinction between individuals and organized collective projects such as Operation Solidarity and the Resistance Committee, which I think is quite an important one, but I think it’s “arbitrarily-selected” that’s the really telling phrase here. For some North American anarchists, those who are not connected to any ongoing networks of international solidarity and action that include participants from former Eastern Bloc countries, and do not have any close connections with anyone working in those countries, or indeed with any groups that include migrants and refugees from those countries, the choice of whether to listen and who to listen to may well be an arbitrary decision. For some people, there’s a bit more at stake.
To give one example, people who were paying careful critical attention to the Network case will understand why some of us have a great deal of respect for ABC Dresden, as a group who have a track record of approaching difficult situations with honesty and integrity, and why we might think of the A2Day collective in Russia as a group who are certainly not willing to silence their criticisms of alleged comrades in the name of false unity.
Other people may not have been paying this kind of attention, and that’s fine. The world is a big and complicated place and you can’t pay attention to everything. There’s nothing wrong with not being familiar with the recent history of the anarchist movement in Russia and Eastern Europe, it just means that you should probably not be writing articles about that subject. To be fair, at some points Gouldhawke seems to be suggesting that the real victims of the war in Ukraine are people living in North America, which is certainly a novel approach, but not a particularly helpful one in my opinion.
Developing the “war in Ukraine is really about North Americans” position, Gouldhawke writes:
“No doubt, those who live in a place likely know more about their context than those outside it. But this applies equally to North America as to Ukraine, since anarchists here likely know more about North American states’ military support for the Ukrainian state, how this plays into expanded militarism here, and the history of military force being deployed here in North America against Black and Indigenous peoples… it’s not clear why this sympathy for people in Ukraine would override sympathy anarchists here feel for all those targeted by North American states and their militarism, both here and abroad, especially if their own people are among those targeted. The Americas are not a sacrifice zone for the supposed greater good somewhere else.”
As far as I can follow this line of argument, it seems to suggest that, when analyzing a war happening elsewhere, the issue of “military force being deployed here in North America” should be a primary concern for North American anarchists. To be clear, I have never said anything endorsing military force being deployed in North America, and I don’t think I’ve seen any Ukrainian anarchists or their supporters doing anything along those lines, so I struggle to see where this particular argument is coming from. If Gouldhawke cannot imagine a way to maintain opposition to one state at home, while also acting in solidarity with those fighting another state elsewhere, I would suggest that might be his own problem rather than a dilemma for the anarchist movement more broadly.
Gouldhawke also questions “[h]ow an autonomous militia could operate in practice in a high-tech war zone involving two official armies (Ukrainian and Russian)”, saying that this point “is not something the response author, or any other anarchist has even mentioned let alone tried to explain, as far as I’ve seen”. In which case I would direct him to try learning more about Rojava, as there are many sources available covering precisely that question.
On the question of mutual aid initiatives and work with migrants, Gouldhawke stresses that anarchists should “separate actually autonomous anarchist initiatives to support migrants from participation in an official military structure”, skipping over the point that, as far as I can tell, the majority of these “autonomous anarchist initiatives” are connected to groups such as ABC Dresden and Operation Solidarity, which are also supportive of military resistance. As of April 19, Operation Solidarity have just started a separate fundraising account solely for refugees and war victims, but again it will still be the same group running both accounts, so it might seem a bit of a stretch to call it autonomous.
Of course, human beings are complicated creatures, and it’s perfectly possible for a single person or group of people to behave in ways that are self-contradictory. But still, the line that “we should support the good autonomous anarchist initiatives, like the work of ABC Dresden and Operation Solidarity, and oppose the bad statists who are aligned with the official military, like ABC Dresden and Operation Solidarity”, seems a bit muddled and confused to me.
Gouldhawke also criticizes me for making “the seemingly grandiose claim that “In 2022, the [Ukrainian] anarchist movement is making a real attempt to constitute a serious material force, one that’s serving as a pole of attraction for other leftists and antifascists,” without any evidence of this actually being the case”. I’m fully willing to admit to my mistake here - as I was drafting the piece, I meant to add in all the supporting links I was thinking of, but in this case I forgot to edit in the link to an interview with Vitaliy Dudin, of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organization Sotsyalnyi Rukh/Social Movement. Having now provided the relevant link, I trust that Gouldhawke will agree that the projects initiated by Ukrainian anarchists do indeed seem to be serving as a pole of attraction for other leftists and antifascists.
He also disputes the characterisation of the Resistance Committee as being a serious material force, sneering that “if a material force crumbles in the face of mere critique and analysis, we might feel the need to consider how forceful and real this material force actually is”. Which is certainly a snappy line, but not one that holds up to a great deal of scrutiny. Whether in Rojava, North America, Ukraine or elsewhere, it’s possible to name any number of examples where liberatory movements have constituted a serious material force, while also facing opposition from much stronger state forces, and so have been in urgent need of all the help they can get. When looking at the Wet’suwet’en facing raids from the Canadian state, or Turkish attacks on Rojava, I would suggest that offering solidarity might be an appropriate response; if someone decided to firstly attempt to undermine those solidarity efforts, and then mock the targeted group for how quickly they “crumble”... well, you can decide for yourself how you would view such a person.
Gouldhawke professes to being baffled by my critique of the conspiracist idea that European sanctions on Russia are really about American natural gas exports, writing that “[o]ne would think that anarchists in the U.S. opposing the U.S. state and American capitalists would be admirable to anarchists abroad instead of repugnant”.
For anyone else who struggles with this idea, a few comparisons. To start off with, it is, I think, now broadly accepted among anarchists and other radicals that “white allies” who insist on making every conversation about them, their privilege and their guilt, are not very helpful, that this particular form of “white people opposing whiteness” is more repugnant than admirable. Similarly, there are U.S. liberals, leftists and perhaps even anarchists who, in the name of opposing the U.S. state, see its hand at work in everything from uncontrollable rowdiness at Black Lives Matter protests to kids setting off fireworks. These people are not very helpful, their focus on the U.S. state is more repugnant than admirable, because it leads them to mis-identify things which are actually separate from it, like insurgent crowds and kids with fireworks, as being about that state.
A similar observation could be made about North American observers who viewed Rojava as really being about the U.S. state and a CIA plot to undermine the sovereignty of Syria; or those who viewed social movements in Hong Kong as really being about the U.S. state and a CIA plot to undermine China; or those who can only understand the 2014 Maidan as being about U.S. intervention, rather than putting in the effort to try and understand the internal tensions within Ukrainian society that led to it.
Returning to the debate around August 2020, Gouldhawke complains about me “equating anti-fascist militancy in the U.S. to “further militarization of a conflict.” However, militancy and militarism are not the same thing. The difference is exactly the one which the author deflects from throughout their whole response, the difference between autonomous groups and the state.”
Again, to describe the situation in the US in late August 2020 as just being about “anti-fascist militancy” means erasing the Kyle Rittenhouse shootings in Kenosha. If we take a more rounded view, and include the killings of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber as part of a situation that people might want to de-escalate, then it becomes easier to see that anarchist analysis cannot be as simple as “state bad, autonomous groups good”. Forces can be autonomous from the state and still be contradictory, or even outright opposed to liberation.
To assess how far a development is genuinely subversive, and how far it can lead to the re-assertion of some forms of hierarchy, is a more complicated challenge; as I’ve mentioned above, I think one question worth bearing in mind is how far it allows all participants in a movement to be fully involved and have their contributions valued, and how far it tends towards a macho glorification of the gun over caring and reproductive work.
There’s not else to add about the remainder of the essay that wouldn’t just be repeating what’s already been said, although I would critique the formulation that “Afghanistan remains one of countless reminders that imperialist states like Canada and the U.S. have only a negative role to play in any part of the world”. Given the relative importance of Russia and Canada in Afghanistan’s history, why put the emphasis on Canada here, why not “imperialist states like the U.S. and Russia” or even “imperialist states like Canada, the U.S. and Russia”?
If Gouldhawke’s understanding of anarchism and internationalism means always talking about Canada as much as possible, and doing his best to avoid uttering any criticism of states that aren’t aligned with Canada, then that’s up to him; but he may find that presents serious difficulties when trying to communicate with comrades outside of North America, if that’s something he has any interest in.
Anarchist who Fought in Rojava: Response to ‘No War But Class War’ Debate
Disclaimer: commenting on this text, Enough is Enough wrote: "In contrary to the part about funding of the resistance in Rojava in the article on Abolition Media, many anarchists on the European territory supported funding of the Kurdish resistance in Rojava (& beyond), actually we organized two campaigns ourselves. Maybe its because we have direct contact with many Kurdish groups, as millions of people with kurdish backgrounds are living in Europe, that we funded several of these groups directly. The piece on Abolition Media is written from an US perspective and obviously without much knowledge about the situation on the ground in Ukraine and other parts of eastern Europe. Parts of the funding of Operation Solidarity is used for mutual aid projects for the population in Ukraine, something which “response to a response” is ignoring completely. And we could write a lot more about the piece on Abolition Media, but we won’t, it’s just too tiring. But people should decide for themselves.
I left Rojava nearly three years ago now and up until this point has chosen to remain quiet, leaving the writing to those who prefer to talk rather than act. I’ve looked on as the Ukrainians have gotten more support amongst the western anarchist milieu than the Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Yezidis and others could have ever imagined.
In the first month alone tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised for the “anti-authoritarians”. Truckloads of medical ifaks, plate carriers, optics, thermals, and other combat supplies were sent at a moment’s notice. There was zero hesitation amongst western anarchists when it came to mobilizing solidarity efforts for those affected by the Russian invasion.
My initial reaction was one of confusion. If the anarchist milieu has the capacity to fundraise money and donations on such a massive scale why in Rojava were we rationing what little celox we had and sharing a single plate carrier amongst many comrades rotating it based on who was going to the front? Our donations were in the hundreds of dollars and our collective funds were mostly built upon the stipend given by YPG. I recall the personal project of a close heval (comrade) who later fell sehid (martyr) which was to raise enough funds to obtain a single thermal for our unit. A project he spent months trying to coordinate and in the end was a failure. Simply no one cared enough to contribute.
The wildly disproportional logistical international solidarity for the struggle in Rojava compared to that of Ukraine aside. I find the ideological creation of the Ukrainian resistance as sacred to be the most disturbing. Recently an article was published on Abolition Media as well as with a disclaimer on It’s Going Down. It was a critical take on the situation in Ukraine. I’m not going into the merits of the article because that simply is not the point of this piece. However, the article has caused shockwaves in the milieu by committing blasphemy against anarchism’s new sacred cow: the Ukrainian resistance. A response article was published to IGD some days after and it is this which I’d like to respond to. Both the initial article and the response deal with a comparison between Rojava and Ukraine. The conflict voyeur who authors the response begins engaging with the question of Rojava by stating, “As someone whose own tendency to ask awkward questions has often (not always, but often) meant that I’ve been more of a critical observer of than an active participant in Rojava solidarity projects, I would very much like to see North American anarchists making an active effort to engage with the difficult questions that have often gone unanswered around Rojava.”
From the very start of their discussion they admit that they were a critical observer of Rojava and ask the North American anarchists to engage in the “difficult questions unanswered around Rojava”. This isn’t necessarily wrong insofar as analyzing the contradictions of the Rojava project is beneficial for further radical development. It does, however right from the get-go demonstrate an entirely different approach than that of the unquestioning support for Ukraine. The struggle in Rojava which has a many decades-long history of radical politics and participation in militant struggles from training and fighting with Palestinians to contemporary resistance to Turkish Fascism and occupation was born and remains firmly within the revolutionary struggle. Rojava is very much at least within our purview if not tangential to our tradition. The resistance in Ukraine has absolutely nothing to do with the anarchist tradition whatsoever. Sure one can make arguments about the necessity of defense against encroaching imperialist interests and that’s all fine and good but it’s not a radical project. So then why is any criticism of the Ukraine resistance met with overhand bad jacketing and slander? I’ve never encountered something in the anarchist milieu to be so impenetrable to critique and elicit such a vile response if one dares to. From the Zapatistas to the Spanish Civil War to Rojava, everything is fair game for critique but daring to be critical of Ukraine is met with a venomous assault and accusations of apologism for everything from rape to genocide.
I’ll continue quoting the drivel of this arm-chair author. They go on to state, “It does also feel somewhat odd to see, after all the attacks on the Resistance Committee for not being pure enough, the authors championing the International People’s Guerrilla Forces and International Freedom Battalion, while also freely admitting how closely those groups were/are allied with Turkish Maoists and Marxist-Leninists. As though all the criticisms and arguments that anarchists have always made against Maoists and Marxist-Leninists somehow don’t apply to TİKKO or the THKP-C/MLSPB!” This quote is a perfect example of not letting absolute ignorance stop you from spewing your dumb opinion. First, where does this author pull MLSPB from? MLSPB didn’t even have people in IFB, they had a few kadro in Seri Kaniye, and there was limited interaction with them. As far as their discussion of TiKKO it was a relationship of material solidarity and TiKKO respected the full autonomy of the anarchists. TiKKO allowed political protection to the anarchists while they built capacity and diplomatic relations with the broader movement. Furthermore, there were many discussions with members of TiKKO recognizing the antithetical political positions and necessary conflict if the situation ever changed.
The author’s discussion of tentative alliances with communists demonstrates the absolutely absurd purist standards they held anarchists in Rojava to while simultaneously apologizing for cooperation with nationalists and the literal state military in Ukraine. It should be noted here that there is NO anarchist battalion in Ukraine. If you believe otherwise you need to research the topic further. They may be clustered but they are dispersed amongst regular territorial defense units. They are necessarily working alongside at the very least liberals if not nationalists and take their orders directly from the Ukrainian military. So according to the author, this is no problem and we can’t be too critical but damn those anarchists in Rojava for having an autonomous unit that had tentative diplomatic relations with some communists.
The last point that the author uses to delegitimize anarchist militants who lived, fought, and died in Rojava is as follows, “That might not be the most inspiring and uncompromising slogan, but some of us found it more convincing than some of the overheated rhetoric coming from IRPGF types that tried to portray a small group of people picking up guns, posing with English-language banners aimed at Western audiences, and making friends with Maoists as a dramatic leap forward in anarchist theory and practice.” Here from the comfort of rhetorical fantasy the author attacks anarchists for “picking up guns” and “posing with banners”. First off, what do you think the RC is doing? Every single day there’s a new drop in telegram of them waving guns and sending messages to their supporters in the west. They make these posts precisely for the western IGD reader. And second, this is a massive oversimplification of what the project in Rojava was in order to dismiss it as larping foolishness. There’s no mention of the large-scale medical project that the anarchists created and engaged in often operating as the only medical unit directly on the front line. Or perhaps the experience and training it gave to many radicals in the tradition of the Bekaa Valley? Omission of these critical aspects is essential for the author’s narrative of westerners going to play militant.
The fact that I’m still defending anarchists going to Rojava years later while any criticism of Ukraine is met with moral outrage and vehement personal attacks demonstrates that western anarchists have a peculiar and visceral attachment to the situation there. I can only conclude that this is indicative of latent white supremacy within the anarchist milieu. Anyone who points out any contradictions with the situation in Ukraine is immediately ripped to pieces and bad-jacketed. People were openly shedding tears on anarchist podcasts for those in Ukraine while not a drop was spilled for the occupation of Afrin or Seri Kaniye. In fact, the radical milieu has largely forgotten about Rojava, and even when they did care, the solidarity efforts were infinitesimal compared to that of those in Ukraine.