On the crucial questions of the Ukraine war Ruthless Criticism
[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 2-22]


On the crucial questions of the Ukraine war

In regards to the main article from our last issue, ”Russia is struggling to assert itself as a strategic power — America is struggling to finish Russia off as a strategic power” we have received a number of letters from readers who are bothered by our explanation of Russia’s stock taking in the first part of the article (“I. Russia reaches a turning point”). Where we present Russia’s security interests on the basis of the Russian leadership’s statements, their view of the status of the confrontation with NATO and the status of Ukraine in it, the respondents want to have spotted our deep understanding of Russia's entry into the war and an endorsement of the attack on Ukraine, which they object to.


“Since when is it too much to ask of the former ‘Marxist groups’ to do a class analysis and distinguish between ‘Putin’, ‘Russia’, the ‘Russian people’ and the ‘Russian working class’? The above article takes at its word the incredibly long Kremlin propaganda – which is reproduced with lengthy quotes from Putin and Lavrov – that Putin and his gang of oligarchs speak for ‘the Russians’ and their interests in general. So much understanding and empathy towards a kleptocratic gang of murderers is usually only found in the worst leftist anti-imperialists who always formulate their ‘criticism’ according to the scheme that even the most reactionary nationalist regimes and dictatorships deserve solidarity just as long as they are opposed to the USA and NATO.

Since when has Gegenstandpunkt been so concerned about ‘Russian security interests’ and how are these connected to the interests of the Russian working class? As a reader of the GSP, one would like to know more about this. Instead, not a word about the anti-war protests in Russia. Apparently, for decades, you have tried so hard to interpret the rational cost-benefit calculations of political heads of state that you now take them at face value – as long as they are not those of NATO.”

On the connection of Russian security interests with the interests of the Russian working class: If the Russian state sees itself threatened, defines its security interest as correspondingly damaged, and ultimately takes military action, then it holds its population fully liable for it. Then the working class is able to experience that it is not only a servant of the accumulation of the wealth of its users, but also the dependent variable and maneuverable mass of its state power, behind whose self-assertion everything else has to take a back seat. The Russian state gets back to them, as well as to all the other inhabitants of the country, as its belonging and recruits them for itself and its retention of power: it demands in a very directly brutal sense that its professional soldiers and conscripted men make their sacrifice for the nation; on the home front, the population with its particular class interests is called on as the active basis of Russian state power, especially in the war, in the negative sense that it has to bear the damages and hardships associated with the economic war. [1] Full mobilization means that the population must also be in line mentally and morally: Russian workers, like the rest of the country’s citizens, are not only called on to be good patriots who are in practice responsible for their nation, but to take sides with it and recognize the self-assertion of their state as the premise of all their vital interests. Especially in war, where the conflict between private life interests and the state’s mobilization of its human material becomes total, the unconditional unity of above and below is all the more important. The internal measures taken by the Russian state leadership look accordingly: The Russian population is supplied with relevant stories about the good cause of the special operation against fascism and genocide, complementary to the story, popular in this country, about the brave Ukrainians defending their country and our freedom against the criminal aggressor and his Wehrmacht methods; the media, as the transmission belt for inducting the citizens into the war program of their state, is brought into line through laws and bans where it is not already in line of its own accord; and dissenting political spirits who go public with their protest against the line of the state leaders and the majority of the population are silenced or even completely eliminated with repression. .. Russia is a good example of what it means when a state claims its population for its self-assertion. [2]

As far as the ruling class of the state power is concerned: they are not at all well captured by the denunciatory keywords “kleptocratic gang of murderers” and “Putin and his gang of oligarchs.” For the interest that the ruling class in Russia executes in its political offices is by no means a collection of autocratic particular interests; the joke here is neither private enrichment nor the oppressive protection of one’s own sinecures. It’s worse: These politicians actually represent, and this is precisely the hardness, the security interests of a state, precisely the Russian sovereign subject of violence, which, as a military world power, cherishes and asserts its claims in the big wide world of state powers and which, by referring to its destructive potential, insists on the respect of its peers. This emerges clearly from the “incredibly long Kremlin propaganda” – and in this respect one learns for what the Russian population, not least the working class, is being harnessed and must sacrifice in the war. If one does not want to simply accept the propagandists’ way of saying that they speak for “the Russians and their interests in general,” one should nevertheless not dismiss this as an untrue presumption, but take note of the fact that the political leadership of the state power practically asserts this abstraction from all class interests. What “the Russians” then need and want can only be expressed by the state leadership, because this way of speaking expresses nothing but the subsumption of all private interests under the state regime for carrying out its will to self-assertion.

To take note of this practically valid “cost-benefit calculation of political heads of state” and to identify the rationality of state violence involved in it has nothing to do with good faith or even understanding; on the contrary, precisely this is the criticism of this calculation. In this respect, statements by ruling politicians are nothing more and nothing less than the material which must be taken seriously, although not at “face value,” if one is to criticize the reason for which Russia and other imperialists are carrying out their destructive work in Ukraine. And vice versa: If the criticism of imperialism should consist in refusing allegiance to one side in the war and keeping one’s fingers crossed for the other – which the letter to the editor accuses us and anti-imperialists of doing – then one can confidently save oneself these “decades of interpretation”; then one doesn’t need to know or take note of anything more about Russia’s calculations than that they are (un)justified. In order to find an example of this, one doesn’t even need to peek into bad leftist corners, Germany’s bog standard media demonstrates this sufficiently: It does not need to publicize the statements – after all, the aggressor’s declared reasons for war – that we presented in the first part of our article, in order to assure itself and its audience who one must be for and who one has to be against in this war.


In its own way, the following letter to the editor is linked with the view that the security interests cited by the Russian heads of state can’t be the real reason for the war:

“In the article on the war in Ukraine, I do not see what Russia’s desire for final security is supposed to be based on. I do not see why it can solely be due to the confrontation with NATO. If you limit yourselves in the Russia section to referring to statements by Lavrov and Co., then the picture is as complete as the impression one gets when reading papal encyclicals from recent years and interpreting them as a description of the position of the Catholic Church.

In a nutshell, you write that Russia has been demanding for years that the West respect its security interests, which the West is not doing. What sounds like an objective statement does not take into account how some subjects understand this demand. The vast majority of citizens, especially in the eastern neo-NATO states, do not see Russia as a desirable place where a comfortable life can be lived, whether in poverty or wealth. Apparently, the immaterial and material costs of freedom there are too high for them, which they ‘calculate’ from the comparison of power and rule. (Of course, NATO acceptance does not fall from the sky.) The opinion may also also have spread to Ukraine that Putin’s model of rule, as he enforces it in his area of rule, is unattractive. The Russian capitalists and banks, who mostly bring the wealth generated in the country to ‘safety’ in Western countries, think the same. They settle there with the appropriate citizenships and store their assets there, probably to protect them from the covetousness of the country where the money comes from. But this flight is obviously not a reason for war for Putin. How great can Russia’s fear of the West be when it mines raw materials in cooperation with Western companies and can sell them at world market terms and thereby collect revenues for the state whose size is not negligible? The war also shows that foreign investors in Russia, with a few exceptions, invest only enough of their own money so that they can play in the domestic market, but on condition that in crises there is no more than an ordinarily calculated loss of assets that does not spoil their overall balance sheet. Is that sufficient reason for war?

What was it that so dimmed affection for the West? It’s probably the need for security, but of a different kind. Russia probably doesn’t want to have a state on its border that, with a democratically formatted society, contradicts how Putin and his comrades-in-arms envision and carry out a functioning rule over a people. And this state, according to their logic, must therefore not ‘belong’ to the West.

The skirmishes that the USA, with NATO in tow, engages in against Russia in ‘peacetime’ are mutual. Even Lavrov, who has been quoted several times, knows that Russia’s involvement in events from recent history, such as in Ukraine (eastern Ukraine, Crimea) or in Belarus or in Syria, is preventing the West from continuing to rely on a treaty-based competition. The West does not want to accept another defeat in Ukraine or a retreat from Russia’s claim to rule. How independent can Ukraine be as a state if Russia demands that no one be allowed do anything there that comes at the expense of Russia’s security? This is very malleable. Wanting to clear all two-way incidents leads neither to a valid balance nor to a result from which a reason for war can unavoidably be derived.

Putin and Co have now figured out that the danger to the security of his country lurks outside his dominions and can only be remedied by waging war against this country. Ukraine should function according to rules that he has a say in. Is this sufficient reason to grant him extenuating circumstances for waging war?

Anyone who lives as a dissenter and at the same time as a freeloader on the bourgeois state and its society probably has no other intellectual support than existing as a stoic or a cynic. As is well known, both of them don’t give a damn about anything, the latter still adds his two cents to everything. That’s the only way I can explain your editorial dismissing humanitarianism, which includes love as well as compassion, as an intellectual mistake. Consequently, taking care of refugees is the practical mistake that is made. Humanity plays no role in war, people are used as soldiers and as intellectual partisans. Whether to be an intellectual fire accelerant or an intellectual fire extinguisher is here the question. Most fit into the first role. But only wanting to look at the fire as dissenters and to look critically at which log is burning well and which is not burning so well or not at all, that can be a high political art, but you are not up to it. That’s why I don’t want to evaluate whether I should understand the final sentence as an imperative or a prophecy: ‘Ukraine is only the first battlefield for this (solving the power question through war).’”

The author of this letter begins by expressing his incomprehension of Russia’s security interest; at least, our explanation does not seem sufficient to him: “I do not see why it can solely be due to the confrontation with NATO.” In what follows, he elaborates on his incomprehension of our explanation by bringing into play completely new possible contents of a Russian security interest solely in order to dismiss them as implausible. We likely don’t need to criticize these speculations since they don’t make sense to the author himself. In any case, he does not consider them to be “sufficient reason for war.” He then submits another possible reason which he would find more plausible: If vile money “is obviously not a reason for war” for Putin, then perhaps it is more about suppressing the progressive social model of the neighbor, as one only has an “unattractive” model of rule to offer. But the author does not stop there either. The fact that dealings between Russia and the allied West, which in the form of ex-Soviet pro-democracy republics reach to its border, is about more than state theoretical alternatives is something he is well aware of in the next breath under the keyword “skirmishes.” But he simply does not accept the fact that these sovereigns themselves, and no one else, decides when they have had “enough” of “peacetime” and take up arms, when he presents his idealistic account which adds some freely invented security declarations to Russia’s own and finds them not “valid” overall. For him, the war that they are now waging does not “unavoidably” follow from what the parties involved are concerned with and what he describes in such a trivializing way.

The Russian war justification of a national defense outside the homeland is accordingly nothing but a patently absurd justification for him:

“Putin and Co have now figured out that the danger to the security of his country lurks outside his dominions and can only be remedied by waging war against this country. Ukraine should function according to rules that he has a say in. Is this sufficient reason to grant him extenuating circumstances for waging war?”

With his last rhetorical question, the author finally reveals what his back and forth is aiming at, namely that his question about a sufficient reason is ultimately nothing more than the question about “extenuating” or aggravating “circumstances.” In our article, he has been seeking material for this judicial deliberation, in which he strikes the silly pose of enthroning himself above the nuclear powers and the claims of the warring parties whose deliberations one is, as a human being, in truth concerned with merely powerlessly. Because he seems to see us in this megalomaniac role as well, we should probably also ask ourselves: If we explain Russia’s point of view and what it claims for itself by referring to its existence as an inescapable power – did we then attest to “extenuating circumstances” for Putin with sufficiently good reasons? Who then are we?!

On the question, the author knows what’s what. In the last paragraph of his letter, he finally turns his back on the reasons for the war and settles accounts with what type of people we are: Dissenters with a moral handicap who, as “freeloaders,” are ultimately just parasites on society and its freedom when they give their “two cents” on “everything.” Okay. Only, we did not take a humanitarian position in the editorial of the last issue simply because it is a mistake. Precisely because war is the brutal business of states, in which what the author writes applies – “Humanitarianism plays no role in war, people are used as soldiers and as intellectual partisans” – it is wrong in war to uphold the ideal of humanitarianism, which one knows oneself not a single war decision depends on. Pretending that the question “intellectual fire accelerant or an intellectual fire extinguisher” is decisive for anything other than one’s own conscience is absolutely absurd with respect to the matter judged in this way, because the state’s subjects of violence do not let themselves be measured by anything other than the right which they ascribe to themselves by virtue of their violence and which they assert in war against their peers. That the author denies us the intellectual greatness of participating in these questions of conscience, of sitting enthroned truly sovereign above the ways of the world and staring into the fire to providently assess it – we can only congratulate him on this intellectual triumph. But should he then really not be grammatically up to the last sentence of our article?


Beyond the critical letters, our article, which has enjoyed unexpectedly high demand, has also received a sort of approval that we likewise do not want to leave unchallenged. Particularly in the comments sections in a few corners of the internet and the alternative media where our article has been circulated and defended against some slander, well-meaning commentators have approved of our article according to a pattern – “it’s NATO’s own fault” and “at last someone is saying it” – that often amounts to taking sides with the war party that the mainstream vilifies as evil. They, like our critics, have also taken the relevant passages as an approving analysis of good reasons for Russia’s justified self-defense.

Even these readers must have overlooked the fact that our article aims at what is announced in its main headline: The last section (“III. The power struggle escalates”) explicitly concludes from the explained positions of the responsible politicians what the world powers Russia and America are fighting about inside and outside Ukraine. Both sides are concerned with their status as world powers, which they deny each other. This mutually exclusive claim is the real reason for their conflict and in this respect the necessity for the war that the state leaders have now decided to fight out with each other. In this sense, the final sentence “Ukraine is the first battleground for this confrontation” was actually unambiguous. The necessity for this confrontation between two superpowers reaches far beyond the Ukraine conflict and lies beyond the calculations and trade-offs of the acting warmongers. And it is beyond any good reason or ideological justification they know to put forward for it.

[1] The subsumption of the private person under his function as a possession of his state power is also carried out by the enemy state power in war: Their soldiers kill representatives and executors of the enemy’s state will in battle; and the economic sanctions, precisely by hitting the Russian population’s vulnerability, are intended to weaken the enemy’s state will.

[2] For a case study based on the other warring party, see “Unpassende Klarstellungen zum Mythos des einig-geschlossen-heldenhaft-kämpfenden ukrainischen Volks” [“Inappropriate Clarifications on the Myth of the Unified-Heroic-Fighting Ukrainian People” – untranslated] in this issue.