Should socialists support or oppose NATO arms to Ukraine?

A woman walks alone by destroyed tanks and other debris on a muddy path

Above: Russian tanks destroyed in Bucha – do we support Ukraine defending itself?

By John Reimann, a US Marxist and retired union militant, who blogs at Oakland Socialist:

Today the majority of socialists in the West argue that it is our duty to oppose “our” government’s sending arms to Ukraine. They equate the situation today with that at the start of WW I. At that time, almost all socialists supported their “own” capitalists in sending their workers to that imperialist slaughter in the interests of their “own” imperialists. By doing so, those socialists not only betrayed socialism, they betrayed the working class.

“Learn to Think”
At that time, those socialists who opposed supporting that war called on workers to “fight the enemy at home”. They were right. Today, most socialists mechanically repeat that phrase in opposing the NATO nations sending arms to Ukraine. These socialists today think that means that whatever our “own” capitalists say or do, we must everywhere and always say the opposite. That is letting the capitalists control us, but in reverse. It’s not that Trotsky was always right, but he wrote a very good little essay called Learn to Think. In it he dealt with exactly this issue. He pointed out that 9 times out of ten we will oppose what “our” capitalists say or do, but there can always be that tenth time. We have to judge the situation based on the actual conditions. Among other things Trotsky posed the question of a hypothetical uprising of Algerians against French colonial rule. He asked what should be the position of socialists if the fascist Mussolini wanted to send arms to the Algerians. Mussolini would be doing so for his own imperialist reasons, but Trotsky explained that even so, socialists should not only support that, they should actively help sending those arms to Algeria. Doing so had nothing at all to do with supporting Mussolini. It is similar with the NATO nations sending arms to Ukraine.

In any case, today the situation is much more similar to the onset of WW II, when the Nazis invaded one country after another.

The Coup in Myanmar/Burma
The fact that the Western capitalists are supporting Zelensky against Russia is used to claim that this is just an interimperialist war. That is nonsense. Would they make the same claim about the situation in Myanmar/Burma? There, the military seized direct power through a bloody coup. Hundreds of thousands of workers and young people rose up to resist that coup. They were mowed down in the streets by the Myanmar military. Now there is something of a civil war going on there. The US and other Western capitalist countries support the opposition (although minimally so). The Chinese and Russian imperialists support the coup. So would the Western socialists claim that what is happening there is simply an inter-imperialist war?

Some counterpose the arming of the Ukrainian army with a call for unity between the Russian and the Ukrainian working class and for the revolutionary overthrow of both capitalist governments. Again, we should think about the situation in Myanmar:

Similarly to in Ukraine, the resistance to the generals in Myanmar is being led by the capitalist former government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. She was the head of state who at best stood by while the Rohingya were being slaughtered by the military. In fact, she somewhat justified it. So, should socialists simply say “we must not support either side in Myanmar, and instead call for unity of the Russian, Chinese and Myanmar working class and the overthrow of capitalism in all three countries together?

This argument is a form of “ultamitism”. It is saying in effect: “Until you workers in both countries are ready to act together and overthrow capitalism, there is nothing to be done, and we will not support any resistance to Russia’s invasion (or to the coup in Myanmar) Until then, this is nothing but an inter-imperialist war and we won’t support either side.” The fact that Myanmar does not face an invasion from outside makes the argument even stronger.

Theory a Guide to Action
If theory is not a guide to action it is just sophistry. Many of those socialists say they are opposed to the invasion, but what does that mean in practice, given their opposition to the NATO nations arming Ukraine? Do they think that mere words, mere propaganda, mere pressure will stop Putin? He has proven in the only arena that really counts – the arena of action – that it will not. What partially stopped Putin – at least for now in his drive for total regime change – was a military defeat.

That is what will stop the invasion, and for that arms are necessary. There is only one source of those arms: the NATO nations.

No-Fly Zone & Blue Helmets
The call for a no-fly zone is a different question. That would be an invitation for Western imperialism to directly send in its own troops. In the future, those troops would be used to reinforce the the Western imperialist interests against any movement of the Ukrainian working class.

It is similar with the issue of calling for the UN “blue helmets” to be sent in as a peacekeeping force. Given the presence of both China and Russia on the UN Security Council, there is only one instance in which such troops could be sent in: If Russia is defeated and is being driven out of Luhansk and Donetsk, and if the other imperialists on the UN Security Council felt threatened by a possible workers uprising in the region, and if they simply wanted capitalist stability in Ukraine, then both sides might agree to send in UN troops in order to maintain the status quo prior to Russia’s invasion.

Russian Working Class
As far as the Russian working class: It’s impossible to know what the mood is right now. But until the invasion, Putin’s support was pretty widespread. The best, in fact the only way to seriously cut into that support and turn workers against Putin is through the military defeat of the Russian army. That, for example, was why the great bulk of the US working class turned against the Vietnam War – because they saw their sons, brothers and friends coming home maimed or dead. Nobody likes to see this sort of human suffering, but if Putin’s invasion succeeds it will increase the patriotism and chauvinism in Russia and will increase the support for Putin. So if socialists want to see the Russian working class take its leave ot Putin and rise up against him, then they must support the military defeat of the Russian army.

Once again, we return to the question of arms for Ukraine, because such a defeat is just as impossible without receiving arms from the West as it was for the American Indians to defeat the US cavalry with bows and arrows vs. the Gatling gun.

The defeat of Putin’s invasion will be a gain for the working class in Ukraine, in Russia and around the world. That defeat can only happen militarily. For that, Ukraine needs arms and the only source of those arms is the NATO nations.  War is a horrible thing, but like gravity it is here. How long and at what cost Putin’s invasion can be fought is up to the Ukrainian people, not us here in the West.

From every angle, opposition to the West sending arms to Ukraine means in practice calling for the victory of Putin’s invasion. There is no way around it.

16 thoughts on “Should socialists support or oppose NATO arms to Ukraine?

  1. Oh my I appear to have touched a nerve. The preceding post on this blog did not advocate NATO sending arms to Ukraine and I pointed out the stupidity of this position and also made the point that opposing NATO weapons shipments was effectively supporting victory to Putin. And what was your response well that of a 5 year old confronted by something the kid does not want to hear: shut eyes, cover ears and sing ‘la la la la la’ and then publish a post attempting to correct the previous nonsense posted. With the exception of AWL views of early Soviet history and your constant attempts to placate the rest of the hard left by qualifying your positions with a little craziness I’ve always considered the AWL the most honest and sane of the hard left. This experience has caused me to re-evaluate. When push comes to shove you can’t accept criticism, make it up and pretend it never happened. The AWL also has the problem of congenital dishonesty.


    1. From Andrew Murray’s ‘Eyes Left’ feature in today’s Morning Star:

      Solidarity is great – but war isn’t popular

      The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign demonstration on April 9 appears to have been a flop Despite the official endorsement of several unions, barely a few hundred people showed up.

      That is not surprising. Most people surely sympathise with Ukraine and oppose Russia’s invasion and its accompanying brutalities – but they do not want the war prolonged, preferring to see it ended as soon as possible through negotiations.

      They understand that the longer combat continues, more civilians will die and more of Ukraine will be laid waste.

      People also know that escalating conflict raises the likelihood of war spreading, by accident of design, into a direct Nato-Russia clash, even if some liberals seem intensely relaxed, to coin a phrase, about such a development.

      The policy of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, mainly motivated by the pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers Liberty, is to dismiss negotiations, urge still greater arms deliveries to Ukarine, and fantasise about Vladimir Putin being overthrown.

      It would be fine if the war could end tomorrow with Russia giving up and withdrawing. But to put it at its mildest, a diplomatic solution is more likely. That is not the same as a Ukraine capitulation.

      The outlines of an agreement are in view – but there are powerful Nato forces who do not want a deal. Starmer and the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign support them. At best they are completely aligned with Johnson’s government, at worst they are to the bellicose right of it.

      The divide in the labour movement today is between those who urge such a peaceful resolution and want the British government to help work towards it and those willing to see Ukranian people suffer and risk a wider war, as long as the Russians are being held militarily.

      Most trade unionists know which side they are on given such a choice. They can recognise dangerous posturing when it parades down Whitehall shouting “arms, arms arms.”

      Hopefully, the unions which have allowed understandable sympathy with the Ukranian people’s ordeal misdirect them into an alliance with the pro-Nato crowd will reflect on the feeble turnout.


  2. I reply to what’s in front of me and the previous post on this blog did not support NATO weapons to Ukraine and when I challenged it I did not get point taken but we put the pro NATO weapons supplies elsewhere i got you’re too stupid to read the article properly and the claim that it said what it didn’t.


    1. Dave: the entire point of the article was predicated on the *fact* that the AWL defends the right of Ukraine to obtain weapons from Nato and has stated that Nato *should* arm Ukraine – but that doesn’t necessitate more general political support for Nato. Although approaching the matter from the opposite side to the SWP (and Stalinists like Andrew Murray – see above) you seem incapable of understanding this quite straightforward point.


      1. Jim it takes a special type of stupid to fool yourself but you manage it. Your dishonesty takes the breath away.


      2. Jim that ‘fact’ is not present anywhere in the article (that is the article on the previous blog not this one.) In fact reading the article the opposite would be taken to be the case. The idea that I have to be aware of your groupuscules position on the issue independent of the article I am reading is a little ‘silly.’ If the writer supports the supply of NATO weapons the writer should say so. It’s ‘marvelous’ that you guys ‘support’ NATO supplying weapons while as I understand it objecting to NATO’s existence which while its a ‘bit’ of a logical contradiction is fine in its practical aspect. Not that it matters. After this nonsensical and not particularly enjoyable exchange I’m done.


  3. It looks certain that the Labour Party are supporting weapon supplies to the Ukranian regime. We got it wrong when we supplied the Nazi Croats during WW2. But who cares they are miles away.


  4. And anyway you said my problem was I didn’t read the article properly which would indicate it was explicit in the article which it is not. Suddenly you’ve discovered the word predicate.


  5. “If the writer supports the supply of NATO weapons the writer should say so”: Dave: the article attacking the AWL (by the SWP) and Mohan Sen’s reply *only* make sense if that is, indeed, the case. Perhaps Mohan Sen should have spelt this out, but it’s been stated many times in other articles from the AWL. I think it’s reasonable to expect you to have some understanding of what the AWL’s position actually is (even if you don’t agree) before writing such an ignorant, ill-informed and simply *wrong* series of comments in response.


    1. I’ve seen no such article on your blog until the one above which was posted as I’ve said as damage limitation. I read your blog and also the TC blog that’s it. The article we’re arguing about was not pro-NATO it displayed hostility to groups who claimed it was pro-NATO and did not support arms supplies. You’re big on insult but really you need to get a grip. You are a member of a tiny ultra left groupuscle yet you expect people to be aware of all your positions. The ignorance is entirely on your side. My my trots have always been best at turning people against you it’s the one thing you guys do well. And I’ll remind you again Jim your original insult was that I hadn’t read the article properly. You now accept I did but now say I should have read earlier articles. You’d be a lousy witness in court.


      1. I expect some understanding of context and background from people who take the trouble to comment here or elsewhere. Evidently, that’s too much to ask of a willfully ignorant sectarian.


  6. I have ‘some’ understanding and I wouldn’t be tossing the word ‘sectarian’ around pal you’re the one who inhabits a groupuscle and your ‘comrade’ who wrote the article is a fool as are you in your twist and turns defence. Meanwhile the real world moves on.


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