Ukraine. Where the war is going

The imperialist arms race in Europe and the turn of the war. The crisis on the Ukrainian front. The positioning of revolutionary Marxists

12 Aprile 2024
dove va la guerra

The drums of war are beating, but also improvised readings. It’s best to stick to the reality principle. The method of Marxism.


The arms race by all the imperialist powers, old and new, is in full swing and is far-reaching. If Russian imperialism has structured itself as a war economy, if Chinese imperialism exponentially increases its military investments, so do NATO imperialisms.
Including European imperialisms. In 2021, the European states collectively spent 184 billion annually on defense, by 2024 this will rise to 350 billion. A 90% increase in three years. Adding Britain to the EU countries, their total annual spending on military investment is four times higher than Russia’s military spending and 50 billion higher than China’s military spending.
The war in Ukraine has certainly been a disruptive factor in this expansion of military investment in Europe. At the same time, this expansion is enormously superior in size and rate of growth to military aid to Ukraine (which in reality is increasingly limited).

NATO imperialisms are arming themselves not “for Ukraine” but in anticipation of possible major wars of the future, in Europe and the Pacific, in opposition to China and the Russian-Chinese pole. The arms race is in this sense, from a historical perspective, a race toward war: along the collision course between old and new powers for the partitioning of the world. Opposition to war is, therefore, first and foremost, opposition to imperialism, to all imperialisms, to all their wars of invasion. Which implies the defense of all peoples and nations invaded by imperialisms, regardless of their governments and leaderships.

Central from all sides is the prospect of the revolutionary overthrow of imperialism itself: the only true solution for lasting and just peace on a global scale. “If you want peace, prepare for war” cries the chorus of the imperialist ruling classes, at all latitudes of the world, today also in Europe. “If you want peace, prepare the revolution”, said Karl Liebknecht a century ago. This is our general, working-class and internationalist approach, counterposed to every bourgeoisie, foreign to every reformist and pacifist illusion.

This general framework does not remove the need for a specific reading of each war dynamic, in its concreteness and contradictions. So it is with the war in Ukraine. In the past two years we — as the PCL and as the International Trotskyist Opposition (ITO) — have produced much material on the war. Let us now take stock of the current turn of events. An update of the analysis, confirmation of a method and positioning.


The military front in Ukraine seems to be turning in Russia’s favor. The famous sanctions by the NATO imperialisms that, in their predictions, were supposed to break Russia have had no effect, except to consolidate Great Russian popular support around Putin. Putin has grown stronger on the domestic front. He successfully capitalized on the failure of Prighozin’s revolt until its elimination. He decapitated Navalny’s bourgeois liberal opposition. He has known objective electoral success, regardless of the nature and methods of the regime. He is exploiting the ISIS terrorist attack to unite the population in support of the war.

Militarily, Russia has a far superior force to Ukraine in terms of men, missiles, warplanes, artillery munitions. It exploits the international political context: the war in Palestine diverting US attention and funds from the Ukrainian front, the imminence of US elections, Biden’s weakness, Trump’s strengthening. And also the growing aversion of European public opinion toward military aid to Ukraine, and even more toward increased military engagement on its behalf. The whole international scene seems to be turning in Putin’s favor, including the strengthening of sovereignist right-wingers in Europe.

The EU imperialisms today do not seem able to replace US in military support for Ukraine. Not economically, not politically, and not militarily. The great leap in military investment in Europe has not yet known a timely and corresponding translation into material terms. The EU lacks an industrial-military complex capable of replacing the American one. The various national war industries compete with each other, with 17 different weapons systems. Contradictions between the different imperialist nation-states are also multiplying. Europe’s leading military power, France, via Macron, has alluded to the scenario of a possible direct intervention of French or NATO troops in Ukraine. But this is a blank shot. All military experts agree that France would not withstand even a week of real war on the ground, due to the absence of adequate military support. Why did Macron then come out with this allusion? For a combination of reasons: to emphasize that France is the main military power in the EU and not Germany (despite the 100 billion military investment allocated by the German government); that France, as the main European military power, is entitled to lead any future peace negotiations in Europe, and not Germany. Perhaps it was also an attempt at a deterrent (unrealistic) threat against Russia (of the type “Don’t try to get to Kyiv, because otherwise…”, etc.).

In any case, with his release, Macron has indirectly helped explain to everyone the basic difference between direct military intervention and external military support. NATO and its supporting imperialisms have been quick to declare that they do not want to go to war directly against Russia. The French government itself has folded. The point is that while direct intervention is a blank threat, external support is increasingly weak. This is an objective problem for the Ukrainian government.


The military aid that Western imperialisms have sent to Ukraine has proved far more modest in reality than in propaganda: a failed counteroffensive due to lack of air cover, chronic lack of ammunition, lack of Patriot missile systems to protect cities from Russian hypersonic missiles… The Russian advance on the military front is (also) the result of this. While complicating the internal political front in Ukraine. Zelensky’s bourgeois government has avoided elections, but it cannot avoid the demotivation associated with setbacks. The failed “counteroffensive” has boomeranged. The disenchantment of the population increases recruitment difficulties. Forced recruitment increases internal disconnection.

Zelensky had to forgo the announced recruitment of 500,000 men, merely lowering the age of conscription from 27 to 25. But he does not know what real numbers he will be able to count on. Meanwhile, internal contradictions within the military and administrative apparatus are widening. The Ukrainian president tries to circumvent the difficulties by stalling by maximizing pressure on the US, NATO, EU for new aid, by promoting continuous changes at the top of the armed forces, by centralizing command in its own hands, seeking to multiply Ukrainian military interventions on Russian territory through spectacular drone exploits.

So far, the only successful strikes are the intervention against the Russian Navy in the Black Sea and the bombing of a series of refineries in Russia (despite the contrary recommendation of the US). But the material effect is inevitably modest. And the propaganda effect domestically is ephemeral. While the attacks on the Russian civilian population, although limited to the border, offer new arguments for Putin’s imperialistic chauvinism. Putin even tries to blame Ukraine for the terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall. A grotesque, false, and cynical attribution, which has found support in Italy in some circles close to the newspaper Fatto Quotidiano (as in the case of Pino Arlacchi). But an attribution that in Russia leverages Pavlovian-conditioned reflexes of the war climate. For Ukraine, it is an additional problem.


We do not make military predictions, but political assessments. Putin will probably try to simulate readiness to negotiate to increase the difficulties of the NATO imperialisms on the front of public opinion. But he has no need to negotiate today, being on the offensive on the military front. Nor does he have an interest to do so before the November elections in the US, in which he hopes that a possible (likely?) Trump victory may offer him other cards to play. Putin will, therefore, continue both the military offensive and the diplomatic maneuvering. The military objective is to recapture Kharkiv in the North and to aim for Odesa in the South, the conquest of which would be crucial in order to close every Ukrainian outlet to the sea, precipitate its internal crisis, and be able to display a trophy of great prestige to Russian public opinion. Medvedev, for his part, continues to publicly reiterate that Russia’s underlying goal remains Kyiv, because “the Ukrainian people as a separate entity cannot exist”. Certainly, the imperialist reasons for the Russian war are reiterated at every step. Those who speak of NATO’s “proxy war” remove the reasons Russian imperialism declared from the beginning of the invasion.

Is a collapse of the Ukrainian military front possible? It is possible. In the absence of means, men, ammunition, Zelensky may be forced to pull back the defense lines. In fact, the management of the war by the Ukrainian bourgeoisie and its government is taking a turn for the worse. They have staked everything on the only aid of the NATO imperialisms, with the result that they find themselves uncovered on that very side. Aid not only will not be increased, it will become increasingly problematic. The US Congress has frozen the funds. The proposal of 100 billion over five years aired by Stoltenberg (NATO) finds itself challenged from the start by several countries. The use of Russian funds deposited in the West clashes with the interests of finance capital and its casino rules.

The political promises to Ukraine are marking time. The promise of Ukraine’s entry into NATO must wait until the end of the war, because otherwise NATO would be constrained to direct intervention, which is not what it wants. Ukraine’s entry into the EU will be a long time coming and is opposed for financial reasons by allied countries themselves (Poland), which fear losing agricultural subsidies. Several EU imperialisms enter into bilateral agreements with Ukraine for future reference (usually decades): they all, therefore, concern the post-war and the sharing of the market for reconstruction, rather than the ongoing conflict. Revealing the absence of an EU line within the fierce competition among its national imperialisms.


The Zelensky line finds itself clutching a fistful of flies. In an effort to secure the support of Ukrainian capitalists, Zelensky has multiplied measures in their favor by cutting their taxes, liberalizing layoffs, squeezing union rights, multiplying sell-offs and privatizations for the benefit of Western capital. But this has simply demotivated the defensive energies of the Ukrainian population, which at the beginning of the war had been expressed in the enlistment of hundreds of thousands of volunteers to defend the country from invasion, and have now largely ebbed or been depressed. A war of national liberation under the leadership of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie inevitably revealed all its weaknesses. Two years after the Russian invasion and Kyiv’s victorious defense against the 60-kilometer column of Russian tanks, the Zelensky line is worn thin. A working-class opposition in Ukraine should challenge the bourgeois management of the war by relying in the independent mobilization of the working class and poor people, the ones interested in defending their jobs and rights from the Russian invaders, but also from the Ukrainian oligarchs, whom Zelensky protects.

The imperialist diplomacies, behind the scenes, are looking for a way out for themselves, not for Ukraine. The unofficial plot being worked on, behind the scenes, seems to be that of a truce based on an exchange: Ukraine concedes to Russia the territories it conquered by invasion, NATO offers hospitality to what remains of Ukraine. A compromise between brigands. A partitioning of Ukraine between invading imperialism and NATO imperialisms. Today, the exchange operation struggles to break through. But a Trump election to the US presidency could raise its chances. Much of pacifism would, perhaps, hail this solution as the newfound “peace.” But it would be an imperialist peace. A proxy peace between old and new powers.

It may be that Ukraine will in the future find itself forced into such a solution by an objectively unequal balance of power. In every war, forced and painful surrenders are possible. This even applied to the Bolsheviks at Brest-Litovsk. But this would not change the imperialist nature of the signed solution: Russian imperialism would see the annexationist reason for its war rewarded; the NATO imperialisms would further expand their alliance in Europe, after the entry of Sweden and Finland. Such a peace could not be defined otherwise than as a peace among brigands.


Let us then recapitulate our positioning, as revolutionary Marxists, toward the war in Ukraine.

1. We have defended and continue to defend Ukraine and its right of resistance to Russian imperialism’s war of invasion, which was and is also the right to use the (self-interested ) military aid of NATO imperialisms for this purpose. The history of the resistances of oppressed peoples has shown countless times their use to their own advantage of imperialist contradictions. The Irish resistance to Britain used German support, the Ethiopian resistance to Italy used British support, the Kurdish resistance to ISIS recently used American support… All the supports were self-interested. But their use was legitimate. The same applies to Ukraine.

2. Our defense of Ukraine from the Russian war of invasion does not mean political support for Zelensky. On the contrary. Zelensky’s bourgeois government is against the workers for the benefit of Western oligarchs and imperialisms. The bourgeois management of the war itself has contributed to the difficulties of the resistance. A working-class opposition in Ukraine must fight against the Zelensky government for anticapitalist measures (expropriation of capitalists, cancellation of debt to finance capital, workers’ and popular armament) and for an alternative government (a workers’ government). A struggle for an alternative class leadership of resistance to the Russian invasion. For a socialist solution to the Ukrainian crisis.

3. We are against any inter-imperialist escalation of the war, any sending of NATO troops to Ukraine, any reinforcement and enlargement of NATO, any increase in military spending by our own imperialisms. For this very reason, we have not demanded sending arms to Ukraine. Ukraine has the right to use them to defend itself against Russian imperialism’s war of invasion, we have the duty to warn (also) Ukrainian workers against the predatory interests of NATO imperialisms. All the more reason, if the war transforms into a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO imperialisms, with NATO troops being sent to Ukraine (an unlikely scenario, for now), our position would change in the direction of bilateral defeatism on both fronts

4. Our solution of a just peace has demanded, from the beginning of the war, the withdrawal of the invading Russian troops from the territories annexed after February 2022, the right of free self-determination of the Donbas peoples (which we defended after 2014 against the reactionary Ukrainian post-Maidan government), the recognition of Crimea’s belonging to Russia (as its population is Russian), Ukraine’s neutrality with respect to the imperialist poles. This solution is, today, distant from the relationship of forces on the ground and the plans of the major players. But it is the only solution that respects the rights of the peoples. Other peace solutions may prove, under certain conditions, inevitable. But they would be imperialist solutions, negotiated by marauders.

In conclusion. On every side and in every twist of the war, the positioning of revolutionary Marxists always moves from a working-class, anti-capitalist, internationalist angle. This is what distinguishes us from campists, pacifists, reformists, centrists of all declensions and extractions. We are proud of it.

Communist Workers Party