Oleg Vernik's final material in a polemic with the Turkish group SEP on the Ukrainian war (15/11/2022)
All-Ukrainian independent trade union "Zakhyst Pratsi"
By Oleg Vernik, Ukrainian Socialist League
1. After reading the SEP’s document, I refrained from writing a kind of “response to the Turkish comrades” for myself, because: a) I already dealt with the main aspects of comrade Volkan’s criticism and the SEP’s position in my previous document, published in the Internal Discussion Bulletin and b) I have seen clearly that the Turkish group does not listen at all to the comradely and constructive criticism of the International Socialist League.
During the last ISL International Executive Committee meeting that Comrade Volkan attended, he declared that the Ukrainian “Defence of Labor” Union uses “nationalist Baderaist colors” on its flag. Even then, it seemed to me that Comrade Volkan was deliberately saying this nonsense, not to hold a serious Marxist debate, but to find an excuse, to lower the level of the debate as low as possible and make it as unnecessary as possible. At the time, I pointed out to Comrade Volkan that those colors are actively used by precisely left-wing political formations. For example, the Cuban “July 26 Movement,” led by Fidel Castro, which used black and red horizontal stripes on its flag, while the anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-communists use the same red and black colors, in a diagonal arrangement. Personally, I saw from a hotel window in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a mobilization in which the colors black and red were used on flags carried by some Peronist columns. It seemed to me that Comrade Volkan, after receiving this information I provided, would no longer use this foolish argument of his. However, the SEP document reiterates these stupid and morbid fantasies of Comrade Volkan’s. In doing so, it clearly confirms that the Turkish comrades are determined to not have a serious and deep discussion, but to self-destruct as a serious political group.
The deliberate and repeated use by the SEP comrades in their document of the expression of Putin’s imperialist propaganda: “the Kyiv regime,” is also very revealing. Of course, nowhere in their text do expressions like “Moscow regime,” “Paris regime,” “London regime” or “Peking regime” appear. Their complete compromise, even in lexical terms, is quite obvious and they emphasize it in every possible way. Consequently, I have also stopped feeling pity for this agent of Russian imperialism in the international labor movement, ideologues and practitioners of social treason and campism.
In its document, the SEP is downright hostile even to formal logic. In particular, they point out that, since in the numerous texts of Oleg Vernik and the comrades of the Ukrainian Socialist League there is not a single word that personally criticizes Stepan Bandera, this indicates that we have taken the position of Ukrainian nationalism. Really?
I have carefully analyzed the materials on the SEP website (https://www.sosyalistgundem.com/) and have not found a single article (!) criticizing the hateful Turkish far-right nationalist organization “Grey Wolves.” Of course, this led me to the unequivocal conclusion that the SEP stands in solidarity with the far-right Turkish nationalists of the “Grey Wolves” organization. Yes, I am jesting. But it is very revealing, because it directly points to the extremely low and primitive level of argumentation of their Turkish counterparts.
22 empty pages of aggressive eclectic attacks on the ISL and uncritical reproduction of Russian imperialist propaganda. It is a sad result of our cooperation and interaction, but we must accept this situation for what it is. No illusions or hopes for this small and extremely sectarian group in Turkey.
However, there are a number of points that have come up in this debate that I think are quite important and that I would like to draw your attention to. And they are important to us, not only and not so much in the context of the debate with the Turkish SEP, but for our own successful development in the ISL.
2. In the Turkish document, there was an unexpected attack on the ISL in the context of its Latin American tradition, linked to the person of Nahuel Moreno and “Morenism,” as a kind of phenomenon separate from the Trotskyist tradition in general, which arose from nothing in the debate. In addition, the SEP attributes to Nahuel Moreno that the struggle for democracy in Latin America follows the Stalinist “stages theory.” We can clearly see that, within the framework of its theoretical campism and practical Stalinism, the Turkish group uses the category of “democracy” exclusively in terms of offensive words in the document offered to us. One gets the feeling that the SEP has categorically forgotten the fundamentals of Marxism and Leninist analysis in the context that, for the development and strengthening of the revolutionary workers’ movement, any bourgeois democracy, however limited, is better than any bourgeois dictatorship.
The ISL is proud to fully and unconditionally support grassroots progressive liberation movements against any form of state-bureaucratic dictatorship anywhere in the world. We have consistently fought for the democratic rights and liberties of workers. Campism is deeply foreign to us. We have given our strong support to the Belarusian workers who opposed the state-bureaucratic regime of Lukashenko in 2020, regardless of cheerfu considerations that the Lukashenko regime is anti-American. We support these totally democratic movements and, at the same time, we advocate that, within them, the working class and the forces of the left must fight for leadership in them, not cede the initiative to the forces of the right, and always offer the working masses who came out to protest a left-wing socialist alternative from the base. Only a totally inadequate and insane sectarian could see in this policy any support for the Stalinist “stages theory.”
Nahuel Moreno’s legacy is not and has never been an unbreakable dogma or a metaphysical guide to action for the ISL. Of course one has to be very respectful of the history of its tendency, but when the Argentine comrades took the initiative to create the ISL, they always underlined that a qualitatively new political project of international socialist association was being formed. And this project, qualitatively new, calls for the unification of all the revolutionary forces regardless of their past traditions. It calls for unification on the basis of what is common in the current revolutionary program, and not on the basis of digging into the past that no one needs. That is our paradigm. What does “Morenism” and the legacy of Nahuel Moreno have to do with the analysis of our current disagreement on the current Russo-Ukrainian war of 2022?
It would be very strange if the ISL conducted its polemic with the SEP in terms of criticizing the tradition of the “theory of state capitalism” and the views of Tony Cliff, as they are defended and still formally held by the SEP comrades. Despite all my criticism of Tony Cliff and his theory, I don’t think he is to blame for the current stupidity of the Turkish SEP group. And their departure from Tony Cliff’s “state capitalist” tradition to join the orthodox Trotskyists in the ISL and then, accepting campism, actually falling into the reactionary Stalinist camp, is but another manifestation of their extremely immature and superficial theoretical level, based on mechanism and simplification, and of the highly eclectic political trajectory of a very unstable sect.
3. The SEP, in the context of its polemical fervor against the ISL, writes: “If the main issue is Ukraine’s victory, why do you want NATO to withdraw from Eastern Europe?” This is a very important point, not only as part of our polemic with the primitive Turks, but also for the future shaping of ISL positions towards particular regions of the globe where there are wars of national liberation or simply questions are being raised about overcoming colonial or postcolonial discourse.
These slogans are called “packages.” And this is an absolutely necessary condition for the formation of a correct and precise Marxist political line. I am not surprised that the SEP has shown its general ignorance, demonstrating its extreme limitations in the schematic application of even formal logic. For example, in a situation where some imperialist power interferes with its interests in the national liberation movement of a people against their oppressor, we Marxists simply have to raise simultaneous package slogans.
For example, in a situation where the Abkhazians raised a national liberation movement against their oppression by Georgia (which Abkhazia was a part of in the early 1990s), and Russian imperialism, acting in its own interests, intervened militarily in support of the struggle of the Abkhazians, it is clear that in this situation Marxists should advance exactly the following (simultaneous) set of slogans:
1. Long live the self-determination of the Abkhaz people!
2. Russian imperialism: Out of Abkhazia!
And the ISL is absolutely correct and precise in forming its package of slogans in relation to the Russian military aggression against Ukraine in 2022. It is a package of very clear Marxist slogans:
1. Long live the victory of the Ukrainian people over the Russian imperialist aggressor!
2. Western imperialism: Out of Eastern Europe!
And we, contrary to the SEP’s mechanistic analysis, do not care at all that the Russian imperialist army has given military support to the fighting people of Abkhazia or that the Western imperialists, based on their own interests, support the fighting Ukrainian people with arms deliveries, when we form and present our package of Marxist slogans. Only primitive mechanists like the SEP will try to find formal logical contradictions between the slogans in the package taken in their simultaneity and unity.
4. Another important point that I noted is related to the use of the semantic construction “Ukraine is a puppet of the United States” in the document of the SEP and Comrade Volkan. This construction is only capable, at first sight and very superficially, of explaining the complex phenomena of Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policy. This analysis is important not so much in the context of the polemic with the early Turks of the SEP, but for our own in-depth analysis and understanding of this phenomenon.
For many years, domestic Ukrainian politics, in the absence of a strong left wing, has focused on the struggle between the Ukrainian oligarchy (representatives of the largest Ukrainian financial and industrial groups) and the open representatives of Western influence (the conventional designation is the “Soros pool”). The Ukrainian authorities (both President Poroshenko and President Zelensky) balance between the two, periodically scaring one or the other into going over to their opponents’ side. And this precarious balance itself shows the obvious weakness of our extremely corrupt Ukrainian bourgeois state apparatus. With the start of the large-scale Russian military aggression, of course, the influence of US and Western imperialism in Ukraine has multiplied. However, the Ukrainian authorities do not always follow the instructions of the United States, sometimes demonstrating their relative independence and autonomy.
In particular, just these days there is a rather sharp confrontation between leading US politicians and Ukrainian leaders over the possibility of holding peace talks with Russia. We also see that Zelensky has categorically prevented the US from placing its people in key positions in the Ukrainian judicial and police system. And he has also categorically refused so far to extradite Igor Kolomoysky, a Ukrainian oligarch close to him, to the US which has a long-standing criminal case against him for illegal money laundering in the US. All these processes are complex and must be analyzed in their dynamics. The category “puppet of the United States” does nothing but simplify and take the primitive nature of its analysis to the maximum. This is acceptable for the mechanistic Turks of the SEP, but highly unacceptable for a serious analysis of the ISL.
To illustrate this, we can also cite the example of Israel, which is also traditionally considered a “puppet of the United States,” but in this Russia-Ukraine conflict has clearly and unambiguously adopted a position of support for Russia (formally one of “neutrality”) and has categorically refused to supply weapons to Ukraine. Once again, in our analysis of this phenomenon, the category “US puppet” does not help at all and does not explain anything. A large number of different aspects need to be further analyzed in order to really get to the root causes of this situation.
5. The SEP writes in its document that “In reality, many socialist activists were forced into exile in Europe after the regime change of 2014, long before the current war.” Let’s break this down. Can the SEP give us the name of a single Trotskyist activist who has left Ukraine since 2014? Can the SEP give us the name of a single social democratic activist who has left Ukraine since 2014? Can the SEP give us the name of a single anarchist activist who has left Ukraine since 2014? Can the SEP give us the name of a single trade unionist who has left Ukraine since 2014? Of course not!!! Not because the SEP does not know them, but because there are none. There isn’t a single one. It turns out that only a small group of hateful pro-Russian Stalinists from Borotba left Ukraine in 2014. Some of its imperialist Stalinists have already been fighting with weapons in hand as part of the Russian army and its proxies in this aggression-2022. A perfect self-revelation of the Stalinist transformation of the SEP!
6. The SEP writes that “USA finally took over the administration of Ukraine starting in 2014 and dragged the country into war.” That is, it was not Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation who attacked Ukraine with an army of 120,000 soldiers and occupied a quarter of the country, but “USA dragged the country into war.” The logic of the SEP is extremely revealing. No one denies the obvious interests of US imperialism in the Eastern European region. But the SEP’s cheerfulness makes its analysis simply a shining example of the most flagrant idiocy. One remembers the bitter and sad joke that “a woman’s rape was entirely her fault, as she was wearing a skirt that was too short and thus provoked her rapist.”
7. I think it is also very important to analyze the application by the SEP of a highly mechanistic analysis of the so-called “categories of imperialist hierarchy.” They write in their document that the International Executive Committee of the ISL did not oppose their theoretical development regarding these levels of the “imperialist pyramid.” This may be true. No one, of course, would object to attempts to analyze the combined strength, economic and military might of the various imperialist states. Both the conventional “old imperialisms” (United States, Western Europe) and the conventional “young imperialisms” (China, Russia, Turkey). Of course, there will be many such indicators for our analysis (GDP levels, volumes of state budgets, indicators of the military power of the army, sizes and levels of expansionist policies in different regions of the globe, etc.). Once again, there is no point in objecting to these metrics and rankings (in and of themselves). But it does make sense to put up a strong fight against the SEP’s resulting mechanistic campism.
What did the Turkish SEP actually do? The SEP created a kind of “pyramid of imperialism” as a mechanical result of its analysis of the different imperialist countries. The United States is the apex of the world imperialist hierarchy. Western Europe is the second level of the world imperialist hierarchy. Russia and China constitute the third level of the world imperialist hierarchy. Turkey is probably the fourth level. On the basis of this pyramid/ladder, the SEP was able to elaborate its position toward the situation of various inter-imperialist contradictions in various parts of the globe in an extremely mechanical way. That is, if we are faced with a clash between the interests of level 1 and level 3 imperialism anywhere on the globe, then Marxists must assume that our main enemy is exactly level 1 imperialism (USA) and, therefore, build our analytical paradigm precisely on the concept of the need and priority of defeating level 1 imperialism. It is an extremely mechanistic analysis that does not take into account that inter-imperialist contradictions in any part of the world are usually associated to the national and anti-colonial liberation movement of many peoples. The imperialists at all levels of the “imperialist pyramid” will try and try to exploit the just demands of the oppressed peoples to advance their own imperialist interests. And the SEP, instead of clearly separating the interest of the oppressed peoples from the imperialists’ interests, builds a mechanical hierarchy for its support of the lower level imperialists.
Marxism has always and everywhere opposed mechanism, schematism, and primitivism. The SEP, on the other hand, stands as an apologist for mechanism, schematism and primitivism. It is simply surprising that this misfortune and narrow-mindedness of the Turkish comrades has only become apparent in connection with the Russian military aggression against Ukraine, and only now has this latest document emerged as a kind of “litmus test.”
8. The final and very important issue in the debate with the SEP has a complex philosophical basis. This is the category of “support for one’s own national bourgeoisie” which is actively used by the SEP and similar quasi-Stalinist groups. This accusation is usually leveled at all Marxists who support the national liberation movements of oppressed peoples. That is, those Marxists who understand the dialectical relationship between the tasks of national and social liberation of the peoples and the working classes.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are known to have strongly supported the struggle of the Indian people against British imperial rule. Marx and Engels also strongly supported the struggle of the Polish people against the occupation of Poland by the Russian Empire. And we have never heard from them any hypocritical (SEP-style) suggestions for Hindus or Poles fighting against external occupation that “it is better to point guns at your own bourgeoisie” rather than fight an external oppressor.
There is a very important point in our analysis, which is related to the lack of understanding of the logic of action in the social space of the key law of Hegel’s dialectics – the “law of unity and struggle of opposites.” Karl Marx, after applying this law of Hegel to social matters, finally turned dialectics “upside down.” In the social space, the “struggle of opposites” is the class struggle. In capitalist society it is the struggle of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. And what is the philosophical aspect of the “unity of opposites” in capitalist society that exists simultaneously with the “struggle of opposites?” That is, what exactly are the common (inter-class) social interests? Obviously, those that are related to the common questions of survival and existence of the national communities themselves: the free development of their culture, their language, science, education, productive forces and the like. There is no doubt that these cross-class interests are in many ways intertwined with class interests and in many ways tailored to class interests. But conventionally taken “by themselves,” they are common to both the bourgeois class and the proletarian class. And it is here that it is important and fundamental for me to point out that the defense by the proletariat of these “common” national-cultural interests with the bourgeoisie is not the defense of “alien” (that is, bourgeois) interests, but precisely “its own” interests, that is, of the proletarians! By defending these “inter-class” interests (the free development of its people), each class does not protect the interests of others, but precisely its own! The defense of interclass (“common”) interests does not conflict with the aspect of the class struggle with those class interests that are and cannot be common and overlapping, that is, when there is a class contradiction of antagonistic order .
Hence, we understand all the hypocrisy and lies of groups like the SEP that accuse the ISL of supporting the national bourgeoisie of the oppressed peoples. Only a total disregard for the fundamentals of Marxist dialectics can lead a formerly Marxist group in Turkey into the camp of campism, Stalinism and outright reaction.
I am absolutely convinced that the ISL will end up finding genuine internationalist Marxist forces in Turkey that will not engage in a dirty campaign in support of the Russian imperialist invasion of Ukraine. That said, I believe that our interaction with the SEP was not a mistake for us. We have gained very important and invaluable experience, which will allow us in the future to fully optimize our international work and bring the ISL to a qualitatively new level of development and tasks. The end means the beginning.