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You are here: Platypus /Ukraine: More of the same

Ukraine: More of the same

Chris Cutrone

Platypus Review 145 | April 2022

WHY IS THERE WAR? Because capitalism is self-contradictory, and this is expressed in conflicts among workers as well as among capitalists, and between “national” working classes and capitalist states, between politicians and political parties both within and between nation-states, and often these conflicts are violent. But this does not mean that economics determines politics in capitalism. Quite the opposite. Neither does politics determine economics. Indeed for Marxism politics means the “class struggle” — and the class struggle means overcoming capitalism in socialism — and anything less than that is not really politics at all — not struggle for the direction of our freedom — but just Darwinian struggle for existence and gangsterism: eating and being eaten.[1]

There is thus no alignment of economic and political interests. There is not only independence of politics from economics but also within politics. The Marxist approach to socialism is in crucial ways fundamentally different from capitalist (pseudo-)“politics” in that it seeks however conjuncturally — in revolution — to line up economic and political interests in proletarian socialism, but this is not normative and applies to literally no other form of politics and is moreover critical in character: that economics and politics should be made identical so that they can be overcome through their mutual contradiction. Indeed this is the very point of Marxism: in capitalism there is not only no alignment of economics and politics, but they are in direct contradiction to each other. The proletarianized working class is the most self-contradictory of all subjects of capitalism: they have no objective interest other than their self-abolition as laborers — though they have a subjective interest in their self-fulfillment as workers.[2] The workers’ individual and collective interests are contradictory.[3] The capitalist bourgeoisie can seem by contrast to have identical political and economic interests — and identical collective and individual interests — and hence appear to represent the interests of society as a whole in a non-self-contradictory way.

The lack of contradiction leads us to the slaughter. There is no reason whatsoever to doubt that the present conflict is between the Ukraine and Russia. Under present conditions it makes no sense to say that it is a conflict between Ukrainian and Russian capitalists to whom the Ukrainian and Russian workers and other people are subject. Nor does it make sense to say that this is a conflict between imperialism and anti-imperialism — however one might regard this, whether of U.S./NATO imperialism and/or Russian imperialism. This is not only because national-communitarian conflict predates the current crisis — the breakaway Russian-majority provinces in the Donbas region of Ukraine and Ukrainian nationalist militias as well as the Ukrainian government’s attempts to suppress them — but because there is no possible or potential alternative political leadership in the current conflict other than capitalist ones; only an alternative opposition to capitalist leadership would make the present leadership specifically capitalist as opposed to something else — other than simply nationalist.[4] The Ukrainians and the Russians have the leadership they do in this moment, and this shapes the nature and character of the conflict. There is no point to pointing to contrary “underlying causes” for this conflict other than the obvious ones: it really is Putin vs. Zelensky; and, yes, Zelensky is receiving support, albeit qualified, from the U.S. and NATO (as well as from the greater “international community” i.e. other capitalist leaders — from whom Putin also receives support, including from the U.S., for instance through oil sales). That war is a horror show and miserably sordid affair is captured well by the image of rusting Russian tanks swerving to crush fleeing cars and shooting up apartment blocks in their invasion of the Ukraine. — Superfluous labor and capital indeed.[5]

A Marxist approach hence has little if anything — perhaps nothing at all — to say beyond what in the capitalist policy debates is already being said.[6] For example, the “Realist” academic International Relations professor John Mearshimer has criticized the U.S. political consensus of liberal humanitarian interventionism and neoconservatism that has dominated policy for decades — except Trump.[7] As was observed recently by Christoph Lichtenberg of the former Spartacist “Trotskyist” Bolshevik Tendency, Fox News conservative pundit Tucker Carlson has a more accurate analysis of the Ukraine war and its causes than most ostensible “Marxists.”[8]

The “Left” has fallen out over Ukraine depending on which capitalist politicians they want to tail after and follow in the present conflict, cheering from the sidelines in the usual ways of unseemly sports spectatorship. Some on the “Left” are positioned as “anti-fascist” — whether Russian or Ukrainian — in Russia’s “military operation of denazification” of the Ukraine; others of the “anti-imperialist Left” lick their chops in hopes of a new anti-war movement — which will not happen out of fear that criticizing the Biden Administration will help Trump’s otherwise inevitable return to the U.S. Presidency: the “Left” in all its varieties is as ever switched on and off as needed by the Democrats; and the Democrats are beating the drums for war against Russia, convinced by their own lies about Trump and other Republicans’ “Russian collusion;” and anyway desperate to stem their coming rout in the 2022 midterm Congressional elections due to their cascade of failures from COVID to crime to inflation — and now Ukraine.

The Millennial Left was born in the anti-war movement against the George W. Bush Administration that vanished upon Obama’s election in 2008.[9] Its revival in Occupy Wall Street and other anti-austerity protests in the Great Recession led to the rebirth of the Democratic Socialists of America under the leadership of Jacobin magazine’s editorial board convened by Bhaskar Sunkara, boosted by the Bernie Sanders campaign that was part of the same moment as Trump’s election in 2016.[10] It is telling that DSA today is equivocal on the war: they have nothing new to say; neither does anyone. “World War III” is just yet another 1980s remake streaming on multiple platforms. Condoleezza Rice said that she didn’t want the “smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” but we know that was never going to happen. Now, after the death of the Millennial Left,[11] a new generation can come back full circle to the terrifying spectacle of war 20 years later — long enough to have forgotten the last war and requiring the same lessons to be learned — which weren’t — again.[12] They won’t be.[13] | P


[1] See my letter, “Platypus ‘position’ on ‘imperialism’,” published as “Platypus fuss” in the Communist Party of Great Britain’s Weekly Worker 964 (May 30, 2013), available online at <https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/964/letters/>.

[2] See my “The dictatorship of the proletariat and the death of the Left,” Platypus Review 141 (November 2021), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2021/11/01/the-dictatorship-of-the-proletariat-and-the-death-of-the-left/>.

[3] See my “The negative dialectic of Marxism,” prepared opening remarks for the Platypus Affiliated Society public forum panel discussion on “The politics of critical theory,” transcript published in Platypus Review 140 (October 2021), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2021/10/01/the-politics-of-critical-theory-2/>.

[4] See my “Internationalism fails,” Platypus Review 60 (October 2013), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2013/10/01/internationalism-fails/>.

[5] See Moishe Postone, “History and helplessness: Mass mobilizations and contemporary forms of anticapitalism,” Public Culture 18, no. 1 (Winter 2006), available online at <https://read.dukeupress.edu/public-culture/article-abstract/18/1/93/31815/History-and-Helplessness-Mass-Mobilization-and>.

[6] See Spencer Leonard, “Nothing left to say,” Platypus Review 10 (February 2009), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2009/02/03/nothing-left-to-say-a-critique-of-the-guardians-coverage-of-the-2008-mumbai-attacks/>.

[7] See my “Why not Trump again?,” Platypus Review 123 (February 2020), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2020/02/01/why-not-trump-again/>.

[8] See the Platypus Affiliated Society public forum panel discussion “Crisis in Ukraine! The Left and the Current Crisis,” held on March 10, 2022 in New York City: watch online at <https://youtu.be/Uyoe5ml05LQ>.

[9] See my “Iraq and the election: The fog of ‘anti-war’ politics,” Platypus Review 7 (October 2008), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2008/10/01/iraq-and-the-election-the-fog-of-anti-war-politics/>.

[10] See my “The Sandernistas: The final triumph of the 1980s,” Platypus Review 82 (December 2015 – January 2016), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2015/12/17/sandernistas-final-triumph-1980s/>; Postscript on the March 15 Primaries, Platypus Review 85 (May 2016), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2016/03/30/the-sandernistas/>; and P.P.S. on Trump and the crisis of the Republican Party (June 22, 2016) appended to the prior Postscript.

[11] See my “The Millennial Left is dead,” Platypus Review 100 (October 2017), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2017/10/01/millennial-left-dead/>.

[12] See my “Afghanistan: After 20 and 40 years,” Platypus Review 139 (September 2021), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2021/09/02/afghanistan-after-20-and-40-years/>.

[13] See my “1914 in the history of Marxism,” Platypus Review 66 (May 2014), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2014/05/06/1914-history-marxism/>.