Wednesday, April 20, 2022

War in the Ukraine: the socialist response, Part II

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Ukraine swallowed by Tsarist Empire, 1650-1812

by Alex Steiner

Ukraine’s right to self-determination


A cornerstone of a Marxist approach to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine is Ukraine’s right to self-determination.  This was a principle that was strongly advocated by Trotsky in an essay published in 1939 that we had previously discussed. In an introduction to Trotsky’s essay that we published shortly after the Euromaidan events of 2014 we noted that,

…the task for revolutionaries is not to fold up their arms and ignore the national aspirations of the masses, but to put forward a program that can begin to pry away the Ukrainian working class from right wing nationalists and fascists…

Moreover, it is not possible to oppose the right wing regime in Kiev and their fascist allies by conceding the Ukrainian national question to the right,  unless that is, one is convinced that the consciousness of the Ukrainian masses does not matter and that the only thing that can be done is to support Putin's Russia as if it were a bulwark against Western imperialism and fascism. [15] 

This is even more true today than it was in 2014 when the very existence of the Ukraine as a sovereign state is threatened, not to mention the lives of millions of people.  Socialists must support without reservations the right of Ukraine to defend itself against the Russian invasion. Socialists must call for an immediate cease fire, for the withdrawal of all Russian troops from the Ukraine and encourage as far as possible acts of solidarity between the Russian and Ukrainian working class as part of a struggle against their respective governments.  It is difficult to see how this can be done concretely given the lack of any major political force in either Russia or Ukraine that opposes Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine on the basis of socialist principles of international class solidarity.  We are therefore involved in what is primarily an educational endeavor. But the very significant opposition to the war in Russia, where tens of thousands have been arrested, shows the potential for building an international anti-war movement.

Ukraine Socialist Republic of USSR


Is Ukraine a fascist country?


Some of the arguments put forward by left groups who support Putin’s invasion of Russia, whether they do so with reservation (what they call “critical support”) or enthusiastically, is the charge frequently raised that the Ukraine is a hotbed of fascism and therefore doesn’t deserve to be defended by leftists.  There has been much ink spilled on the subject citing the Azov Brigade (a neo-Nazi battalion embedded into the Ukrainian military), the persecution of left wing Ukrainians by fascists, the major role that fascists played in the overthrow of the Yanukovych regime in 2014 that brought the present right wing government in Kiev to power.  Many of these arguments are correct. Ukraine does have a fascist problem. While we reject the arguments of those who would write off the entire Ukrainian working class by claiming they are without exception fascists, it must also be acknowledged that Ukrainian fascists play an outsized in the political and military affairs of the country.  There is lots of documentation of the war crimes of Ukrainian fascists by Amnesty International and other international organizations.  There is also a good deal of information about ties between the Ukrainian fascists and American fascists. [16] That is one more reason why calling for military equipment to aid Ukraine when funneled through NATO must be opposed. It is clear that under those circumstances a good portion of those weapons will wind up in the hands of fascists.


But Ukraine is not a homogenous society and the great majority of the population of 45 million aren’t supporters of fascism or (for now anyway) supporters of socialism. Should we abdicate all efforts to reach the Ukrainian working class with the principles of socialist internationalism because their government and military harbor a significant assortment of fascists ?

The surest way to bolster fascism inside Ukraine is for socialists to reject the country’s right to self-determination. It is also the surest way to undermine the courageous opposition to the war inside Russia.


Is Ukraine solely a proxy of NATO imperialism?


Another argument employed to justify the position of those left groups who turn their back on Ukraine is the claim that the country does not really exist as an independent actor in these events, that it is solely a proxy of NATO imperialism.  This argument is similar to the one labelling all of Ukraine as “fascist” mass.  We will concede that in many respects Ukraine is under the thumb of the U.S. and NATO although it is nominally “independent”.  Nevertheless this position is just another excuse for looking the other way when thousands of civilians are being bombed by Putin’s vicious assault on the cities. We concede that Ukraine is not a fully independent actor in these events.  But the conclusion to draw from this fact should be not to cheer on Putin’s assault but to recognize that every country in the world is to one degree or another subject to the system of global capitalism.  The only meaningful liberation is the one where the working class begins to take matters in its own hands and oppose the policies of its own government.  Those groups on the left who claim to support “solidarity between the Ukrainian and Russian working class” but dismiss Ukraine as simply a pawn of NATO imperialism and refuse to explicitly oppose Russia’s invasion are simply indulging in empty sloganeering.


The larger context in addressing the national question – an inter-imperialist conflict


Finally what we consider the legitimacy of Ukraine’s right to self-determination must not be taken in isolation from the larger context of the inter-imperialist conflict between Russian and NATO/U.S. We cannot lose sight of the basic truth that Ukraine’s right to self-determination is intertwined with NATO’s hostile actions against Russia.  We do not take either side in this conflict and stress that those who live in countries allied with NATO have a particular responsibility to oppose NATO and specifically to oppose NATO’s intervention in the war.


Opposition to sanctions and the anti-Russian witch-hunt


Finally we must oppose all sanctions against Russia and the anti-Russian witch hunt currently being pushed by the EU and the Biden Administration.  Sanctions are a form of economic warfare and therefore just another means of carrying on and extending the war. Support for sanctions by NATO countries is in fact support for the war drive by NATO.  While we understand why many of those who wish to show their solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance support sanctions, it is the duty of international socialists to oppose them.  There are many precedents in the history of the revolutionary socialist movement for opposing sanctions.  For instance, when writing about fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, Trotsky emphasized that,


The struggle against war, properly understood and executed, presupposes the uncompromising hostility of the proletariat and its organizations, always and everywhere, toward its own and every other imperialist bourgeoisie. Yet among the announced adherents of the London Bureau congress are to be found such notorious supporters of the League of Nations (i.e., imperialist) "sanctions" as the Italian Socialist Party, which is presumably to organize a common struggle against war with opponents of these "sanctions," such as the British ILP claims to be. A prerequisite for the proletarian struggle against war is not unity between pro-"sanctionists" and anti-"sanctionists" but the ruthless separation of them. [17]

Along with economic sanctions we have witnessed a torrent of sanctions aimed at prominent Russian cultural figures. Russian cultural figures - from chess players to musician to sportsmen - are suddenly banned from international events or have their engagements cancelled.  These kind of actions, which have the unanimous support of the mainstream press, are a retrogressive step back to the days of McCarthyism and must be opposed. Russian musicians and sports figures are not responsible for the acts of the Putin regime.


Independent Ukraine following dissolution of Soviet Union

War Crimes


Now that Putin’s initial goal of a lightning victory in Kiev has morphed into the reality of an undisciplined army forced to retreat and regroup for a long term siege the inevitable byproducts of shocking war crimes have been exposed.   And here the willful blindness of much of the left to the culpability of Russia is clearly on display.  No sooner had the revelations about civilians being executed in the town of Bucha hit the news than the chorus of left wing Putin apologists chimed in with excuses, pseudo-legal arguments  defending Putin and even the concoction of an alternate reality to explain this war crime.   The crudest attempt to absolve Putin of war crimes came from those radical groups who are most attuned to conspiracy thinking.  They immediately claimed that the evidence of Russian war crimes in Bucha was a case of a “false flag” operation manufactured by NATO and Ukrainian fascists. [18]

Now we would be the last to deny that “false flag” operations have not played a role in the bloody history imperialism.  There are examples one could cite of the use of false flag operations for providing a casus belli  for initiating or escalating a war.  Hitler manufactured a false flag operation as an excuse for invading Poland in 1939 and starting World War II. [19]  But false flag operations are relatively rare.  Dressing up your own soldiers in the uniform of another country and staging a phony attack of your own territory does not happen often.  On reason for the sparse use of this method is that it is incredibly difficult to pull off without being exposed.  Much more common is the use of propaganda and disinformation to paint your opponent as committing a heinous crime. [20]  The Gulf of Tonkin incident, often cited as an example of a U.S. false flag operation is actually not so clear.  There were two separate incidents involving a North Vietnamese attack against an American warship.  The first one actually took place while the second incident never happened. It was the second incident, the one that never happened, that was used to stampede an act of Congress authorizing a serious escalation of the war. Whether the Gulf of Tonkin incident can be classified as a false flag operation or as a disinformation campaign to justify military action is a matter of debate.   A genuine false flag operation was planned by the U.S. military against Cuba in 1962 but never got beyond the planning stage because of resistance from the civilian sector of the Kennedy Administration.  [21] On the other hand, the use of disinformation, with the cooperation of the mass media, to paint your opponent as committing an atrocity has been an all too common weapon used to justify a military offensive.  The false claim that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” as an excuse by the Bush Admiration to launch the Second Gulf War is a well-known example of this mechanism. 


Credit...Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As to the execution of civilians in Bucha, there is no evidence that this was a false flag operation carried out by Ukrainian fascists.  Rather, although not all the facts have been established, the overwhelming body of evidence clearly indicates that Russian soldiers were the perpetrators of these war crimes in Bucha. [22] It should also be remembered that war crimes against civilians has lots of precedent in wars led by Putin.  The Second Chechnya War provides a stark example of Putin’s willingness to use extreme methods against civilians to achieve a strategic goal. [23] At the same time the actual scope of these crimes has yet to be determined. While it is clear that some civilians were summarily executed, we do not know how many of the total number of civilian casualties in Bucha were due to deliberate executions and how many perished as incidental targets during street to street fighting. An official from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, speaking anonymously, recently provided some context on the massacres at Bucha,

It is ugly, but we forget that two peer competitors fought over Bucha for 36 days, and that the town was occupied, that Russian convoys and positions inside the town were attacked by the Ukrainians and vice versa, that ground combat was intense, that the town itself was literally fought over. [24]

But for Putin apologists on the left, “bringing context” to Russia’s actions in the Ukraine means nothing else but finding excuses for Russia’s culpability in the war.  When it comes to a discussion of the war crimes in Bucha,  our Putin apologists are quick to point out that the U.S. has been guilty of much worse war crimes.  That is of course true, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cannot compare to the toll enacted on civilians by the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and its current sponsorship of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.  But the obvious thing to remember is something that most people should have learned as six year-olds, that two wrongs do not make a right.  The crimes of U.S. imperialism, even though they outweigh the crimes of Russian imperialism by several orders of magnitude, do not excuse the crimes of Russian imperialism in the Ukraine.  Nor does citing the crimes of the Ukrainian fascists against the Russian speaking minority in the Ukraine excuse Russia’s war crimes. Yet some on the left act is they do just that since their only response to the news of the massacre of civilians by Russia is to cite other war crimes of the U.S.

Another variety of Putin apologists on the left are those who, while stopping short or explicitly claiming that the Bucha massacre was a false flag operation,  seek to provide pseudo-legal arguments that cast doubt on Russia’s culpability and invite the jury to conclude that perhaps there was indeed a false flag operation.  A good example of this mode of operation can be found on the World Socialist Web Site. Arguing like a good Mafia lawyer, the WSWS writer Andre Damon claims that because he has not been convinced of the evidence of Russian war crimes, then the only possible explanation is that those war crimes either never happened or someone else must have carried them out.  He writes,

Given the systematic use by the United States of false allegations of atrocities to justify wars all over the world, and absent clear and convincing evidence, there is no reason to view the claims of a massacre in Bucha as anything other than war propaganda, aimed at enraging the population to justify military escalation. [25]

It doesn’t seem to occur to Mr. Damon that it is very possible that the allegations of atrocities at Bucha are true and that at the same time they are being used as a pretext “to justify military escalation.” One also wonders what kind of high bar Mr. Damon requires for finding “convincing evidence” of a Russian massacre in Bucha.  As if that were not enough, Damon goes on to argue a hypothetical situation that even in the worst case scenario, his client, Putin, could not be accused of any crime.

         Even if it were established that Russian troops fired on civilians—and that has not been established—that would not mean that they were acting under the instruction of the Russian government. [26]

In other words, “even if you proved that soldiers ultimately reporting to Putin committed this crime, and you have not yet proven that, Putin would still be legally protected because you cannot prove that those soldiers were acting under the direct order of my client Putin.”    Mr. Damon does not seem to be aware that it is a well-established principle of international law,  going back to the Nuremburg Trials against Nazi war criminals, that the political and military leadership of a country whose military has committed war crimes or crimes against humanity is ultimately responsible for those crimes.[27] If Russian soldiers committed war crimes in the Ukraine, then it is Putin and his leading generals who bear ultimate responsibility and in theory could be put on trial. Of course, we know that in the real world this will never happen just as Bush will never be tried for the war crimes of American soldiers in Iraq.   But it is important not to dismiss the principle that the political and military leadership of a country bears the ultimate responsibility for the war crimes of its armies.

On the other side of the apologists for Putin are those who would demonize Russia. This includes the entire liberal mainstream of the Democratic Party and their admirers on the left, including the mainstream press. They paint Russia and Putin in particular as singularly evil, as a genocidal maniac on the order of Hitler.  They have used the evidence of Russian war crimes as a pretext for further escalating the war in the Ukraine.  Thus we have Biden making the claim that Putin is guilty of the crime of genocide. The Ukrainian President, Zelensky, has used the Bucha massacre as a bargaining chip to pressure NATO to provide more direct military aid.  And the U.S. and NATO has complied.  The Biden Administration just authorized another $800 million in military aid to the Ukraine, including for the first time sophisticated offensive weapons.  This is a dangerous escalation of the conflict that poses a real threat of a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO.  The possibility of the use of nuclear weapons has even been hinted at by both sides. 


Where is the left in this situation of unprecedented danger for the entire planet?  Basically it is everywhere and nowhere. The left is all over the map in providing opinions about what is happening – opinions devoid of any serious analysis.   At the same time the left is nowhere when it comes to providing guidance to end the war. What is called on is a massive anti-war movement, a campaign to de-escalate the conflict, calling for an immediate cease fire and the withdrawal of Russia forces from the Ukraine. But instead what we are seeing is an anemic and divided left where some groups are lining up behind Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and others are lining up behind NATO escalation of the military confrontation.  Support for either side in this conflict, encouraging more military action, is a betrayal of the most elementary principles of international socialism.  It is also suicidal in the current situation where the danger of escalation into nuclear war is closer than at any time in history.  



[15] Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads,


[16] Amnesty International Briefing, Ukraine: Abuses and war crimes by the Aidar Volunteer Battalion in the north Luhansk region,

"Defend the White Race": American Extremists Being Co-Opted by Ukraine's Far-Right,


[17] Leon Trotsky: Resolution on the Antiwar Congress of the London Bureau (1936), in: Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, p. 99


[18]  One example of this rush to judgment is the following article from Philip Agee’s magazine, Covert Action,

While many of the articles in Covert Action Magazine provide valuable insights into the machinations of U.S. imperialism, they also suffer from an all too eager acceptance of unverifiable conspiracy theories.  The article here cited provides lots of information about a particularly vile Ukrainian fascist but implies that the massacre in Bucha was a “false flag” operation solely on the basis that the subject of the article, Sergey “Botsun” Korotkikh, entered Bucha shortly after the Russians left!


[20] False flags are real, but far less widespread than social media suggest,



[21] U.S. Military Wanted to Provoke War With Cuba,


[22] Among sources that investigated the war crimes in Bucha were Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the New York Times.  One can argue that the New York Times has a built in bias against Russia and that is certainly true, but is it credible to then claim that this bias extends to the facts reporters on the ground are revealing or that not a single survivor of the massacre at Bucha has come forward to expose the alleged “false flag” operation conducted by Ukrainian fascists? Some sources:


Ukraine: Russian forces extrajudicially executing civilians in apparent war crimes – new testimony,

Ukraine: Apparent War Crimes in Russia-Controlled Areas,

Bucha’s Month of Terror,

Satellite images show bodies lay in Bucha for weeks, despite Russian claims,


[23] War Crimes In Chechnya and the Response of the West,


[24] How U.S. Intelligence Sees Russia's Behavior After Bucha,


[25] The Bucha atrocity allegations: A pretext for escalating NATO’s war against Russia,


[26] Ibid.


[27] The leadership clause in the crime of aggression and its customary international law status,



James Creegan said...

I think Steiner's criticism of left Putin apologists is on the money. The article does, however, fall short in its near neglect of the other side of the ledger: the cheerleading for the Ukrainian "resistance" on the part of groups that either call themselves Trotskyist or derive more indirectly from that tradition. The two names that come most readily to mind are the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec) and the magazine New Politics. Both these groups have a position to the right of DSA (whose response has been pretty good, IMO); they claim that US/NATO designs against Russia, or the fascists embedded in the Ukranian government, are largely irrelevant to the single question of Ukranian self-determination.

USec's support for anti-Soviet Eastern European reactionaries--including not only Polish Solidarity, but the Estonian Forest Brothers, who fought witht e Nazis in WWII--goes back to the 1980s, when they lauded just about anyone opposing the Soviet government in the name of democracy, and distorted reality by portraying the Stalinist bureaucracy as the principal agents of capitalist restoration in eastern lands.

The New Politics milieu evinces more of the right-Shachtmanite tendency to credit the bona fides of bourgeois democracy as opposed to Soviet--or in this case, Russian--totalitarianism.

I've been more influenced by Trotsky than any other thinker besides Marx himself, but am not an "orthodox Trotskyist", like those groupuscules who are sill trying to fit the reality of 2022 into that of 1937. But I think one of the major contributions Trotsky made was to expose Stalinism without giving an iota of comfort to the relentless bourgeois campaign to oppose "Soviet totalitarianism" in the name of allegedly classless parliamentary democracy. Max Shachtmman and Sam Marcy, among others, supplied proof that Trotsky's position was difficult to maintain amid the bi-polar politics of the cold war.

This difficulty hasn't vanished with the fall of the Soviet Union. The war in Ukraine is now being portrayed by the US government as a contest between democracy and authoritarianism, and by Putin as a purely defensive war against US/NATO aggression. As during the cold war, many left groups haven't been able to resist being flung to one side or the other. It is essential to combat this tendency and maintain our critical Marxist faculties in the face of what can seem like overwhelming forces, as Trotsky was able to maintain his in an earlier epoch.

Alex Steiner said...

I agree with the main point Jim Creegan makes about the need to call out those groups on the left who have become cheerleaders for the Biden Administration and NATO. The article was not meant to be an exhaustive survey of the response of different left groups to the Ukraine-Russian war. I did mention the two main tendencies found on the left, support to one degree or another for Putin, or support to one degree or another for NATO. The examples I provided came from the groups supporting Putin because those are the groups I am most familiar with and that are the most vocal in the American left. Obviously this is a big topic that could probably use a separate article.

Karin Hilpisch said...

Alex, I’d like to offer a few critical observations concerning the reasoning and rhetoric in both parts of your account of the Ukraine war, which I perceive to be informed by your arguments and polemics being inextricably intertwined.

First off, I completely agree with you that
“It it is possible to concentrate our fire on NATO, which is certainly a responsibility of those of us living in NATO aligned countries, and at the same time denounce the Russian invasion of the Ukraine” (P. I).

As I understand it, that socialists in NATO affiliated countries concentrate their fire on NATO is the form that their acting upon Karl Liebknecht’s slogan, “the main enemy is at home!” takes. But you, by contrast, unmistakably concentrate your fire on Russia. You state it was true that NATO provoked Russia but you do not provide so much as a rudimentary analysis of the way in which the U.S./NATO has systematically provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and keeps escalating the war. Why not? Because too much ink has been spilled on this subject already?

You write,
“It should be clear to all but the willfully blind apologists for Putin, that Russia, in invading the Ukraine, is pursuing its own geo-political interests as much as it is reacting to legitimate fears of being encircled by a hostile NATO.“

If Russia’s course of action can be said to have been provoked by the U.S./NATO’s course of action, what further motivation on Putin’s part needs to be invoked to account for the way he acts? To put it another way: If Putin can be said to be “reacting to legitimate fears of being encircled by a hostile NATO,” as you point out — rightly, in my view — what explanatory function does the notion of Russia’s “pursuing its own geo-political interests,” understood to be imperialist interests, serve?

The former statement (A) cannot coherently be qualified by the latter (B); rather, B constitutes an incongruous qualification, or implicit disqualification, of A. One might also say B functions to obfuscate A, while A, incongruently qualifying B, functions to disarm any criticism of B.

Noam Chomsky, for example, is doing the same thing when he describes, on the one hand, in all detail the long-term preparation of this war by the U.S./NATO, and on the other, classifies it as ranking alongside the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland.

The fact that NATO provoked Russia to invade Ukraine thus obfuscated (C), anyone who does not concentrate their fire on Russia turns out to be a “willfully blind apologist for Putin” (PI), one of those who display “willful blindness … to the culpability of Russia” and “ turn their back on Ukraine” (PII).

It is precisely against the background of C that publicly discussing the possibility that war crimes in Ukraine have been committed by other than Russian forces, pointing out the political function of false-flag war propaganda, turns out to be “just another excuse for looking the other way” and making “crude[] attempts to absolve Putin of war crimes” (PII).

All things considered, Alex, I‘m not entirely sure your approach is conducive to international working class solidarity.


James Creegan said...

Replying to Karin:

Alex's articles are primarily a polemic against those on the Marxist left who side with Putin in this war, overtly or implicitly. As I say above, I think Alex might better have included more specific criticisms of those self-professed Marxists who have thrown in with the US/NATO. But assuming that the focus of Alex's polemic is valid, there was no need to recapitulate the history of US/NATO provocation over which, as you yourself note, has already been thoroughly exposed by many critics.

For the rest, you seem to base your criticism on a highly questionable dichotomy that has arisen in speculations regarding Putin's still-elusive motives. Some argue that 1) Putin is conducting a defensive war in response to Western provocations; others contend that 2) Putin's real aim is to totally subjugate Ukraine, making it into a Russian vassal state. But, as Tony Wood points out in an article I highly recommend in the current New Left Review, these two aims are far from mutually exclusive. Why can't Putin be trying to protect Russia against US/NATO encroachment by turning Ukraine into satellite state?

I think there is a vital distinction to be made between the fact that the invasion was reactive and the way Putin chose to react. To cite an historical example: Trotsky and the Left Opposition in the 1920s sought to strengthen the Soviet planned economy against the growing power of private peasant agriculture, which they saw as a danger of capitalist restoration. So in 1928, when Stalin, having defeated the Left Opposition, and in a panic over mounting grain shortages, embarked upon an aggressive policy of grain confiscation, culminating in forced collectivization (particularly horrific in Ukraine), many in the Opposition took this turn as a sign that Stalin was carrying out their program, and hence capitulated.

Trotsky wasn't one of them. He viewed hasty collectivization, without the necessary technical foundations, carried out by brutal bureaucratic methods, as alien to the Left Opposition program of gradual, voluntary collectivization.

The analogy isn't exact. But I think it necessary to point out that Putin, while indeed reacting to mounting US/NATO threats, is reacting entirely as a nationalist autocrat. Whatever his ultimate aims, he has no thought of attempting to persuade the Ukrainian people to a different political course, as Marxists would do if in power. He is responding with purely military means, making no distinction between the Ukranian government and the country's people, whom he is attempting to terrorize into submission. Putin is, in other words, combating US imperialism by trampling on the elementary right of all nations to self-determination. Whether we direct our fire mainly at the US or Putin depends in part upon whom we are talking to. Alex and PR have been mainly talking to Putin apologists, so I think the focus of Alex's articles is understandable. Someone (either Alex or someone else) simply needs to supplement this polemic by taking to task those who have come out on the other side.

Alex Steiner said...

Response to Karin:

James Creegan has already said much of what needs to said. While it may be an eye opener to some to have discovered an analysis of NATO as an imperialist alliance with many crimes to answer for, it is not a revelation to the typical reader of the permanent revolution website. This website is not for those who have no background in the basic principles of Marxism, the class struggle and imperialism. I assume a certain basic level of understanding when I write.

As to your discussion of who is acting and who is reacting, I would say this is a perfect example of non-dialectical, I would even say anti-dialectical thinking. Russia and NATO are both participants in an inter-imperialist conflict. That means they are interrelated. If one pushes (action) the other pushes back (reaction). But guess what, they can and do trade places. He who is pushed in turn pushes back causing a reaction from the one who did the pushing at first. To give a simple analogy from Newtonian physics: The famous third law of Newton says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A good explanation of what is happening is that "forces always come in pairs - known as action-reaction force pairs... For example, consider the interaction between a baseball bat and a baseball.
The baseball forces the bat to the left; the bat forces the ball to the right. Together, these two forces exerted upon two different objects form the action-reaction force pair. Note that in the description of the two forces, the nouns in the sentence describing the forces simply switch places.
Physics Classroom

An analogy closer to home would be the events of 9/11. I recall that some of us in the immediate aftermath of that terrible day, dominated by an outpouring of nationalism and anti-Arab hysteria, got lots of flack for trying to understand the motives behind that event that killed over 3,000 innocent people. We explained that while the action was a heinous crime it must be understood as a reaction - of a twisted sort - but still a reaction to the decades of imperialist savagery in the Middle East. It was hard for some people to understand that trying to understand this action was in no way to excuse it. We were duty bound to denounce this horrendous crime and at the same time understand what it was a reaction to. In turn, the crime of the 9/11 destruction of the Trade Center became a pretext for launching the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fact that those events were a pretext for launching wars based on lies does not mean that the events of 9/11 never happened or that it was not a reactionary Islamic terrorist group that was responsible for those events. Some radicals could not acknowledge the latter fact and sought refuge in conspiracy theories that blamed the destruction of the Towers on an "inside job". It seems that if those who are "pushed" are victims it then becomes inconceivable for non-dialectical thinkers to consider that the victim could also be a victimizer.

I would also like to draw attention to your dishonesty when you claim that I said that,
'anyone who does not concentrate their fire on Russia turns out to be a “willfully blind apologist for Putin”'. I never said that it was necessary to "concentrate their fire on Russia." What I said was, It should be clear to all but the willfully blind apologists for Putin, that Russia, in invading the Ukraine, is pursuing its own geo-political interests as much as it is reacting to legitimate fears of being encircled by a hostile NATO.

Mark said...


I vividly recall 9/11, the destruction of twin towers had an unbelievable reality to it and is partly responsible for my distrust of the US government and my alignment with Socialism. I know we have had disagreements about this in the past, but for those that support the official narrative of 9/11, how do we explain the nano-thermite structures found in the dust surrounding the trade towers? For the so-called "conspiracy theorists", that would seem to support a controlled demolition theory of the destruction of the twin towers.

I have noticed that you have fairly consistently supported official narratives, I just wonder where do you draw the line? Did you think that Iraq had WMDs? Do you think that Assad gassed his own people? Do you have the faintest idea that any kind of Russian "atrocity" in Ukraine would be the pretext for the US to ramp up its involvement in the Ukraine-Russian conflict?

I might have more to say, just limiting myself to the most obvious points here.

Karin Hilpisch said...

Replying to Jim:

My criticism concerns the rhetorical function of Alex’s reasoning, not any empirical claim he makes; it’s not, to use a literary metaphor, about whether or not Brutus is an honorable man but about what Mark Antony is achieving with his famous speech.

Is it mutually exclusive to say that Kyle Rittenhhouse, on the one hand, felt threatened by the men he shot down allegedly in self-defence, and on the other, that he had entered the scene with the intention to use his guns? Perpetrators tend to feel threatened by their victims but the question is, does it make sense to say that a man armed with a lethal weapon acted in self-defense against an unarmed man by killing him? Can stating that a man had the intention to kill coherently be qualified by suggesting that he felt threatened by the person he ended up killing? I think not.

My point is that claiming Putin, in invading Ukraine, is pursuing expansionist interests erases any meaning of simultaneously granting that he is reacting to an existential threat.

It can hardly be missed that the PR articles pertaining to the war in Ukraine are, on the whole, a polemic against whomever the authors deem Putin apologists. All I’d venture to suggest is that in NATO countries, the bigger problem and a target worthier of socialists’ fire are NATO apologists. And I don’t think our response should depend, not even in part, upon whom we are talking to.

Besides, I also disagree that the PR authors have been talking “to” their opponents. There is an important distinction, though it may not always be obvious, between making someone the addressee or the target of a message. Alex’s polemic is in the same rhetorical territory as Michael Pröbsting’s by which it is apparently inspired. In the latter’s reply to his critics linked to in Part I, he attests to his opponents on the left that they are motivated by a “political appetite for .. political crime.” Sounds to me a bit like thirst for blood. Does this give you the impression Pröbsting is “talking to” his critics?

By the way, if someone accuses Pröbsting of being a NATO apologist, embellishing this verdict with the polemic epithets he himself uses, this qualifies as doing the same kind of thing logically but not, in my view, politically. Because in the western world, apologists for NATO, not for Putin, represent the paradigm and as such are nearly invulnerable to criticism.

Alex Steiner said...

Response to Mark:

I gave up on responding to 9/11 "Truthers" years ago. After expending a considerable amount of energy responding their arguments I finally came to the conclusion that engaging in discussions with that group is no different than engaging in discussions with creationists and cult members. It is a waste of time and energy to debate with people who are "evidence-free" and whose mind is made up regardless of the facts. So I will be not spending any time here doing that and will not be posting any comments on that topic. To respond to your accusation that I rely on "official narratives", I will say that what I rely on is evidence. While we should all be skeptical of accounts coming from sources with ties to the state or the mainstream media, it does not follow that you should automatically reject all such sources. The latter reaction is typical of a simple minded anti-authoritarianism of anarchists and libertarians unmoored from the working class. On the other hand there are sources such as the Alex Jones conspiracy web site that should be tossed into the sewer from which they came from. It is sad to see some groups who claim to be "leftist" or even "Marxist" spreading conspiracy theories about "false flag" operations for which they have no evidence because the discovery that Russian soldiers committed war crimes makes them uncomfortable. And yes these incidents of war crimes are definitely being exploited by the Biden Administration and the mainstream media in order to ramp up the war effort against Russia. But it does not follow that these war crimes were a false flag operation. The overwhelming body of evidence points to Russian soldiers committing these atrocities. This makes it different than the use of a fictional narrative of WMD's by the Bush Administration to justify the war against Iraq.

Alex Steiner said...

Response to Karin:

I want to respond to this comment:

"My point is that claiming Putin, in invading Ukraine, is pursuing expansionist interests erases any meaning of simultaneously granting that he is reacting to an existential threat."

Actually it does not. You can be reacting in many different ways. There was nothing in NATO's provocations - and there were indeed a number of serious provocations - that forced Putin to invade the Ukraine, a war that has resulted in the death of at least 20,000 Russian soldiers so far and probably many more Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. You seem to have a very mechanical and deterministic model of how events take place. As I tried to explain in my previous comment even Newtonian mechanics recognizes that things are not so simple. Action and reaction do not just move in one direction. Just who is reacting to who is completely relative and indeed those who act and those who react trade places. But the other and more important point is if one says B is reacting to A means that you now have a complete understanding of what B will do and that any attempt to explain B's actions in terms of his own agency is tantamount to denying that he is reacting to A is an elementary error in logic. It smacks of the kind of simplistic and reductionist arguments that are the stock in trade of analytic philosophy and so called "rational choice theory".

You also continue your dishonest suggestion that I am trying to concentrate attention away from NATO's responsibility in the current inter-imperialist war. I have explained that I did not claim to take an exhaustive survey of all the left groups and their positions in the current conflict but selected a few that I felt were a good example of the typical thinking of the apologists for Putin. I could and perhaps will in a future article write something about the apologists for NATO who in many ways mirror the thinking of the apologists for Putin except that their target of choice is Russia instead of NATO. In either case I think this is an appalling example of the failure of the left to build a genuine anti-war movement based on the principles of internationalism. I made it clear that it is a betrayal of fundamental principles of international socialism to take either side in this inter-imperialist war. At the same time the right of Ukraine to self-determination is also an important principle that cannot be ignored - but how we defend that right is intertwined within the context of this inter-imperialist conflict.

On the other hand, I have not heard you say one word in defense of Ukraine's right to exist.

You also spill some ink trashing Michael Probsting, whose polemical style you do not like, but you have nothing to say about the important theoretical contribution he has made to our understanding of Russia and what motivates Putin's actions.

Mark said...


There wouldn't be a so-called "Truther" movement if the US government was capable of doing a proper investigation into the events of 9/11. Instead they sold us pseudo-scientific, physically implausible explanations of observed demolition like events, destroyed actual evidence so that no else could investigate, and told us the attacks were all masterminded and coordinated by a Saudi living in a cave in Afghanistan. You would have to be a child to believe any of this, but apparently Americans have a very child-like mentality as roughly half of Americans believe this official narrative, and this narrative was critical for justifying the war in Afghanistan.

Shouldn't socialists have demanded an independent investigation into 9/11? Is it possible that the US government played some criminal role in the events of 9/11? If the US government played a criminal role then are they capable of producing anything other than systematic cover up of that role? The answers to these questions should be obvious to any critical thinker let alone socialists. The fact there was no independent investigation means that whatever was done was left to independent journalists, authors, and scientists, the people that you disparage as "conspiracy theorists".

But I digress, my point is not to relitigate what I think might be some valid points of the 9/11 truth movement. My point, at least in my prior message, was that you seem to put an inordinate amount of trust in official narratives. The sources you cite include organizations like the New York Times, who propagated the lie about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction along with countless other lies, unnamed intelligence officials, and strangely enough Bellingcat, a known CIA cutout[1].

In regard to the so-called "human rights" organizations you cite, they don't fare much better in terms of trustworthiness when you examine their past record. Amnesty International was a known collaborator with the UK Foreign Office in the 1960s, the UK equivalent of the State Department[2], it also helped to confirm and propagate the lie that Iraq had committed atrocities in Kuwait[3] which helped motivate the first Gulf War. Human Rights Watch, another organization you cite, has a record of opposing left wing governments in line with the US State Department[4].

It seems your purpose in this article is not simply to 'debunk' false flag theories about Bucha but also to prop up official narratives of Russian atrocities. Since you acknowledge that "incidents of war crimes are definitely being exploited by the Biden Administration and the mainstream media in order to ramp up the war effort against Russia", shouldn't we be a bit more cautious about promoting (AKA propagating) these reports which we can't verify? I wouldn't take any of sources that you cite at face value, many accounts agree, but at least as I hope to have demonstrated that you are really just taking the perspective of one side, a US/Western aligned perspective which is engaging in a massive propaganda war in addition to the economic warfare against Russia and the proxy-war via Ukraine.

All of this is not strictly necessary if your purpose is arguing that Russia is indeed an imperialist power and was considering its own geo-political interests in launching the invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately you don't have much to say about the motivations aside from comments on the ideology of Eurasianism, we only get some inkling of that along with the only mention of something called the Minsk agreements in Frank's comment in part III.