War in Ukraine: An Internationalist Voice from Russia

An interview with KRAS – IWA by Grupo Moiras (Spain)

Grupo Moiras is an anarcho-feminist group in Spain inspired by the ‘Mujeres libres’ of the Spanish Civil War. KRAS is one of the rare groups in Russia, from the anarcho-syndicalist milieu, who has defended a proletarian internationalist position for years. The interview presents the groups’ view on the character and stakes of the present war in Ukraine, on the contradictory positions that divide anarchists in Ukraine, most of whom are siding with the Ukrainian bourgeoisie and its army against the Russian military invasion; on the difficulties of anyone in Russia who tries to protest against the war in face of the military censorship and the brutal state repression of the Putin regime, and on the difficulties of the anarchist milieu in particular.

Given the speed with which the events of the war in Ukraine are advancing and the fragmentary, confusing and biased information that reaches us through the different media, the Moiras group decided to send this week some questions to the Russian section of the IWA, in order to obtain a libertarian perspective on the conflict that will help us to position ourselves and make decisions based on a broadened knowledge. In the following text these questions are collected together with the answers sent by KRAS, to whom we thank them for their quick and clarifying answer.

Grupo Moiras, March 13, 2022.

Moiras: In your communiqué to the IWA about the war in Ukraine, you point to the gas markets as the main reason for the conflict. We would like you to explain more about what are the concrete capitalist interests behind this war, both on the Russian side and on the side of the pro-NATO countries, and to tell us about the recent evolution of the politics of your region, depending on these markets and their influence on the economy of the Western countries. This information usually remains in the background in the version of the media here, very focused on the daily news, but where there is little analysis.

KRAS: First of all, it is necessary to understand that there are different levels of conflict and different levels of inter-capitalist contradictions.

At the regional level, today’s war is only a continuation of the struggle between the ruling castes of the post-Soviet states for the re-division of the post-Soviet space. Contrary to popular myth, the Soviet Union collapsed not as a result of popular liberation movements, but as a result of the actions of a part of the ruling nomenklatura, which divided territories and zones of influence among themselves, when the usual and established methods of their rule were in crisis. Since that initial division, which was based on the balance of power at the time, a constant struggle for the redistribution of territories and resources has developed, leading to constant wars throughout the post-Soviet region. At the same time, the ruling classes of all post-Soviet states (all of them, to one degree or another, come from the Soviet nomenklatura or its successors) have adopted militant nationalism in ideology, neoliberalism in economics and authoritarian methods of management in politics.

The second level of conflict is the struggle for hegemony in the post-Soviet space between the strongest state in the region, Russia, which claims to be a regional power and considers the entire post-Soviet space as a zone of its hegemonic interests, and the Western bloc states (although here, too, the interests and aspirations of the United States and the individual European states of NATO and the EU may not be exactly the same). Both sides seek to establish their economic and political control over the countries of the former Soviet Union. Hence the clash between NATO’s eastward expansion and Russia’s desire to secure these countries under its influence.

The third level of contradictions is of an economic-strategic nature. It is no coincidence that modern Russia is called “an appendage of the gas and oil pipeline”. Russia today plays on the world market, first of all, the role of a supplier of energy resources, gas and oil. The predatory and completely corrupt ruling class, purely parasitic in its essence, did not begin to invest in the diversification of the economic structure, contenting itself with the super-profits from gas and oil supplies. Meanwhile, Western capital and states are beginning the transition to a new energy structure, the so-called “green energy”, aimed at reducing gas and oil consumption in the future. For Russian capital and its economy, this will mean the same strategic collapse that the fall in oil prices once caused for the Soviet economy. Therefore, the Kremlin seeks to prevent this energy turnaround, or to slow it down, or at least to achieve more favorable conditions for itself in the redistribution of the energy market. For example, seeking long-term supply contracts and better prices, pushing competitors out of the way, and so on. If necessary, this may involve direct pressure on the West in various ways.

Finally, the fourth (global) level is the contradictions between the main capitalist superpowers, the United States in retreat and China in advance, around which blocs of allies, vassals and satellites are forming. Both countries are today vying for world hegemony. For China, with its “one belt, one road” strategy, the gradual conquest of the economies of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the penetration of Europe, Russia is an important junior partner. The response of the United States and its allies in the West is the expansion of NATO to the East, approaching through Ukraine and Georgia to the Near and Middle East and its resources. This is also a kind of “beltway” project. It meets resistance from imperialist rivals: China and Russia, which are increasingly dependent on it.

At the same time, the internal political aspect should not be overlooked. The Covid crisis has exposed the deep internal instability of the political, economic and social structure of all countries of the world. This applies likewise to the states of the West, Russia, Ukraine, etc. The deterioration of living conditions, the growth of prices and social inequality, the mass indignation of the population with coercive and dictatorial measures and prohibitions led to widespread discontent in society. And in such situations, the ruling classes have always resorted to tried and tested methods to restore the notorious “national unity” and the confidence of the population in [state] power: creating the image of an enemy and whipping up military hysteria, up to a “small victorious war”.

Moiras: In the countries of the European Union, the media, echoing the governments, keep repeating to us that Putin is the only one responsible for this war. Knowing the history of NATO, with the United States at the head, we think that this is not the case. How can we explain this to our populations without appearing to be justifying the Russian attack and siding with the Putin government?

KRAS: Unfortunately, the mass public consciousness tends to look for simple and crude answers to questions. We have no reason to sympathize with the owner of the Kremlin and his administration. His neoliberal policies have led to a real collapse of health care systems, education, poverty of pensioners and public sector workers in the province. Wages in the country are monstrously low, the labor movement is really paralyzed… But, regardless of this, we understand that all this is a product of a certain system based on the State and Capital. We do not live in the 17th Century, not in the era of absolutist monarchies. To consider everything that happens in the world as the work of a few individual “heroes” or “anti-heroes” is naive to say the least, but in fact it is one of the forms of the same conspiracy theory. This was forgivable in the 19th Century by the romantic Carlyle or the writer Alexandre Dumas. But in our time it is already worth understanding that the world is much more complicated, and that capitalism, as a social system, works differently. Therefore, our task is to explain to people the systemic conditionality of the problems that shake the world today. Including the wars of this world. And that the only way to solve these problems is to destroy the social system that creates them.

Moiras: The Cold War patterns are being reproduced, so that it seems that if you criticize one side it is because you are with the other. This is very problematic for anarchists, especially when we have no social force. We want to act, but we are afraid of being dragged in and used by the armies of the states. In the demonstrations that are taking place in our cities, the proclamation of “no to war” is being mixed with calls for NATO intervention. The journalism affectionate to the government of the Spanish socialist party, the PSOE, presents us with the need to intervene, sometimes drawing a historical parallel with the Spanish civil war and the consequences of non-intervention of the European countries, or the participation of the Spanish exiles in France, many of them anarchists, in the French army against the Nazis. What to do: pacifism and non-intervention, as was the majority position of anarchism against World War I, or support the Ukrainian resistance against the invasion of Russian troops? Could this second option be considered as internationalist action against imperialism?

KRAS: From our point of view, there is no comparison with the civil war situation in Spain and there cannot be. The Spanish anarchists were advocating a social revolution. Similarly, there can be no comparison between, for example, the Makhnovist movement in Ukraine and the defense of the modern Ukrainian state. Yes, Makhno fought against foreign, Austro-German invaders, and against Ukrainian nationalists, and against the Whites and, in the end, against the Reds. But the Makhnovist partisans fought not for the political independence of Ukraine (which, in fact, was indifferent to them), but in defense of its revolutionary social achievements: for peasant land and workers’ management of industry, for free soviets. In the present war, we are speaking exclusively of the confrontation between two states, two groups of capitalists, two nationalisms. It is not for anarchists to choose the “lesser evil” between them. We do not want victory for one or the other. All our sympathy goes to the ordinary workers who are dying today under shells, rockets and bombs.

At the same time, it is worth remembering that the position of most anarchists on World War I is not simply pacifist. This, as stated in the anti-war manifesto of 1915, is a path to turn the imperialist war into a social revolution. Whatever the possibilities of achieving this at the present time, anarchists, in our opinion, should constantly formulate and propagate such a perspective.

Moiras: On the other hand, we are receiving on the Internet images of armed groups presenting themselves as anarchist battalion in the Ukrainian army, do you know if they are really anarchists and what is their way of seeing the conflict? And as for the dependence on Western weapons to fight the Russian attack, doesn’t that condition too much the possibility of libertarian battalions in the army or of an independent Ukrainian anarchist guerrilla? Do you know what has remained of the Makhnovchina, the anarchist revolution of a century ago, in the memory of the Ukrainian people? Is there an anarchist movement in Ukraine today?

KRAS: In 2014, the Ukrainian anarchist movement was divided between those who supported the liberal-nationalist protest on Maïdan and then helped the new government against the Donbass separatists and those who tried to take a more internationalist position. Unfortunately, the latter was less, but they were. Now the situation is similar, but even more acute. Broadly speaking, there are three positions. Some groups (such as “Nihilist” and “Revolutionary Action” in Kiev) consider what is happening as a war against Russian imperialism and Putin’s dictatorship. They fully support the Ukrainian nationalist state and its military efforts in this war. The infamous photo of “anarchist” fighters in uniform shows exactly the representatives of this tendency: it specifically shows fans of the “anti-fascist” Arsenal soccer club and participants of the “Revolutionary Action”. These “anti-fascists” are not even embarrassed by the fact that openly pro-fascist armed formations, such as Azov, are among the Ukrainian troops.

The second position is represented, for example, by the “Black Banner” group in Kiev and Lvov. Before the war, it was a harsh critic of the Ukrainian state, the ruling class, its neoliberal policies and nationalism. With the outbreak of the war, the group declared that capitalism and the rulers on both sides were to blame for the war, but at the same time called for joining the forces of so-called “territorial self-defense” – volunteer light infantry military units, which are formed on a territorial, on-the-ground basis.

The third position is expressed by the “Assembly” group in Kharkov. It also condemns both sides of the conflict, although it considers the Kremlin state to be the more dangerous and reactionary force. It does not call for joining armed formations. The group’s activists are now organizing assistance to the civilian population and victims of Russian army shelling.

We consider the participation of anarchists in this war as part of the armed formations operating in Ukraine, a break with the idea and cause of anarchism. These formations are not independent, they are subordinated to the Ukrainian army and carry out the tasks set by the authorities. No programs or social demands are put forward in them. Hopes of carrying out anarchist agitation among them are doubtful. There is no social revolution defended in Ukraine. In other words, those people who call themselves anarchists are simply sent to “defend the fatherland” and the state, playing the role of cannon fodder for Capital and strengthening nationalist and militarist sentiments among the masses.

Moiras: In our towns the communities of Ukrainian migrant workers, with the collaboration of humanitarian organizations and town halls, are organizing the collection and shipment to Ukraine of food, warm clothes, medicines… The Spanish population is very supportive but neither the war nor the Covid pandemic seem to have helped our societies to question the dependencies on energy resources and raw materials, dependencies that sustain neo-colonialism and destroy the natural balance of the planet. Faced with the scarcity of resources, a return to coal and a push for nuclear power are foreseen. Perhaps Russian society is more aware of the dangers and the need for alternatives? Is there any plan of action in this sense from the social movements? What are KRAS and IWA thinking about this?

KRAS: Unfortunately, the state of social movements in modern Russia is deplorable. It is true that, even in recent years, there have been several active and persistent environmental protests at the local level: against landfills, waste incinerators or environmental destruction by the mining industry, including coal mining. But they never resulted in a powerful movement at the country level as a whole. As for the struggle against atomic energy and nuclear power plants, which peaked in the Soviet Union and Russia in the late 1980s and 1990s, there are virtually no such uprisings now.

Moiras: The demonstrations of Russians against the war, help to understand to the European peoples that it is not the Russians who attack Ukraine, but the army of the state that governs Russia. This is being reflected in the media in our countries, and we know that there are thousands of people arrested there in Russia as a result of the demonstrations, how is this affecting Russian anarchism, what is it going to mean for your freedom of expression and action in your country?

KRAS: Demonstrations and various other actions against the war have not stopped every day since the first day. Thousands of people take part in them. The authorities prohibit their holding under the pretext of “anti-Covid restrictions” and brutally disperse them. In total, as of March 8, some 11,000 people were arrested during demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country. Most face fines of 10,000 to 20,000 rubles for holding an “unauthorized” protest. However, there are already more vicious charges: 28 people have already been charged with hooliganism, extremism, violence against authorities, etc., for which they face sentences of up to many years in prison. The authorities are clearly using the war as an opportunity to “tighten the screws” inside the country. Critical media are closed or blocked. A hysterical war campaign is being waged in the official media. A law has been passed according to which the dissemination of “false information” about the army’s activities and “discrediting the army”, as well as resistance to the police, are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A bill has even been submitted to parliament that would allow arrested war opponents to be sent to the front lines. People are fired from their jobs, students are expelled from universities for anti-war speeches. Military censorship has been introduced.

In this situation, the small and divided anarchist movement in Russia is doing what it can. Some are participating in protest demonstrations. Then, two of our comrades were also arrested and fined. Others are critical of these demonstrations, as the calls for them often come from the right-wing liberal opposition and are often not so much anti-war as pro-Ukrainian (and sometimes even pro-NATO). There remains the possibility of going to demonstrations with their slogans and posters (some anarchists do this), or of undertaking small, independent, decentralized actions. Anarchists write anti-war slogans on walls, paint graffiti, paste stickers and leaflets, hang anti-war banners. It is important to transmit to the people our special and independent position, at the same time anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian and internationalist.

Source: KRAS-AIT ACERCA DE LA GUERRA EN UCRANIA (March 13, 2022. Translation by AFRD)

Editor’s note:

In this interview KRAS has been very brief on the position taken up by “most anarchists” in face of the First World War world, by summarily referring to “the anti-war manifesto of 1915”. We presume that they refer to the Anarchist International’s Anti-War Manifesto that was published on February 15 of that year at London, cosigned among others by Enrico Malatesta, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Gerhard Rijnders and F. Domela Nieuwenhuis. (March 28, 2022)

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