By Oleg Vernyk from Kiev
This text is being written as the Russian aggression against Ukraine is exactly 100 days on. On February 24, 2022, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, announced the start of the so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine, which set itself the tasks of “demilitarization” and “denazification”. Shortly before the beginning of the aggression, Putin declared that the very existence of an independent Ukraine was the only product of intrigues by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who created Ukraine on the territory of the former Russian Empire. Therefore, another objective of the aggression was to carry out what is called “decommunization”. That is, at first, to make Ukraine a dependent state of Russia, and then, together with Belarus, to create a single “union state”. However, these plans were not destined to come true. The selfless resistance of the Ukrainian people broke the plans of Russian imperialism for a blitzkrieg victory, and the war took on a long, fierce and bloody character.
The Situation on the Front Lines
In early June 2022, the Russian aggressor decided to focus its attacks in the direction of the Ukrainian-controlled parts of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. Having failed in its offensive against Kiev, northern and central Ukraine in March 2022, the Russian army decided to seek a decisive victory on the eastern front. At this time, there are fierce battles in the cities of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk. These are the last cities in the Lugansk region that are still under Ukrainian control.
Both sides are suffering heavy losses. However, the human potential of huge Russia with a population of over 140 million people is incomparably greater than that of tiny Ukraine with a population of 35 million people. By early June, Ukraine had practically exhausted its stock of artillery shells. The old Soviet artillery weapons cannot cause serious damage to the advancing Russian armed forces. It has a short range and low accuracy. The widely publicized arms deliveries to Ukraine have not yet had a very significant impact on the situation on the front lines, though they are already helping to deter the offensive by superior Russian army forces in several areas.
Russia is actively using the territory of Belarus to carry out massive missile strikes against Ukraine, but the Belarusian army has not directly participated in the aggression so far. Apparently, the Lukashenko regime is trying to manoeuvre and find ways to legitimize itself before Western European capitals. But these manoeuvres by Lukashenko can end at any moment. And the danger of the direct entry of Belarus into the war against Ukraine is quite high. The Ukrainian army is forced to maintain military formations on its borders with Belarus sufficient in the event of an attack by Belarusian troops. Of course, these military units would be very useful to Ukraine on the eastern front.
On the southern front of the occupied Kherson, Mykolaiv and Zaporozhye regions, Ukrainian troops are carrying out small counter-offensive actions, but the Ukrainian army still does not have enough resources to launch a serious counter-offensive to liberate captured Kherson. Many military analysts believe that if the Russian army manages to take control of all the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as retain the captured Kherson and part of the Zaporozhye region, then the situation at the front could enter a stage of a long war of position. In this situation, the Russian army will no longer have enough forces to continue seizing new Ukrainian territories, and the Ukrainian army will not have sufficient forces to liberate the occupied territories. In such a situation, the emphasis will shift to diplomatic efforts, where each side will have its own arguments and its own trump cards.
Poverty and Attacks on Workers
In a difficult situation of war and protection against Russian military aggression, the hardest blow fell on the working class and broad sections of the Ukrainian working people. Price increases, mass unemployment, reduction of entire industries, and total absence or shortage of gasoline and diesel in the country. According to World Bank forecasts, Ukraine’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022 may fall by 45.1 per cent compared to the previous year. This forecast also indicates that inflation in 2022 will be 15 per cent and a year later, that is, in 2023, 19 per cent.
International experts emphasize that war and the displacement of people caused by it can significantly affect poverty rates. The proportion of the country’s population living below the poverty line threatens to rise sharply, from 1.8 to 19.8 per cent.
It would seem that in this difficult social situation and given the struggle of the Ukrainian working people against Russian imperialist aggression, the Ukrainian authorities would have to stop their completely senseless neoliberal social policy. However, the opposite is the case. On March 24, 2022, the Law “On the organization of labour relations under martial law” came into force. It was prepared by the leader of the neoliberal wing of the presidential faction of the “Servant of the People” party in Parliament, Galina Tretyakova. Under this law, employers have the right to unilaterally terminate employment contracts and wages of Ukrainian workers at any time, fire workers without the consent of trade unions, and take other anti-union and anti-worker measures.
However, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s party in parliament does not intend to stop there and is preparing the approval of a new anti-worker and anti-union law, No. 5,371, which will be in force not only during the war period but also permanently and indefinitely. I have already written in a separate article about the danger of adopting this bill. It is important to point out that the votes in parliament that the ‘Servants of the People’ lack for the adoption of such neoliberal anti-worker laws are provided by deputies of the pro-Russian party of large financial and industrial capital “Platform for Life”, dissolved for the duration of the war. These deputies are deathly afraid of being announced as Russian agents and arrested. For this reason, out of fear, they are now voting on almost all of the authorities’ anti-popular bills, giving them the votes they lack for the final result.
Under the current conditions of martial law in the country, the Ukrainian labour and trade union movement is deprived of the possibility of mass protest mobilization and organization of protest actions. Demonstrations and massive protest marches in a situation of war are prohibited. The authorities chose the best moment to attack the rights of Ukrainian workers. However, this is a completely illusory understanding of the situation. This anti-popular policy of the authorities only actively destroys the conviction of the people of the country at war about the reliability of their so-called “social rearguard”, it destroys their confidence in the future and instils concern about their post-war future.
Understanding this, President Zelensky’s entourage is trying to distance the president as much as possible from his own party’s actions in parliament; they don’t want to transfer all that social negativity from his party to him. Zelensky’s team is actively spreading rumours to Ukrainian society that after the war, President Zelensky will start a new political project, and for the most part, he will reject the unpopular “Servants of the People” as politicians “who have not justified their trust” and have been following “the wrong policy” all these years. At the same time, however, he carefully endorses and signs all the anti-worker laws that are now being adopted in the Ukrainian parliament by the “Servants of the People”. In other words, it is obvious that he prefers to dismantle the remnants of the “welfare state” right now, in a difficult war situation and hand in hand with the current legislators of his party.
Ukraine is Less and Less Independent
Ukraine in June 2022 was in an extremely difficult situation. Before, it stood between two fires, between Russian and Western imperialism. However, on February 24, one of the imperialists at war in Ukraine carried out an unprecedented act of armed aggression, calling into question the very existence of the Ukrainian people and their independent state. The Ukrainian people, in fact, in the first period of the war, found themselves alone in the face of the world’s “second biggest army”. Western imperialism did not believe that the Ukrainian people and their army could resist Russian imperialism effectively. At first, the weapons that began to be supplied to Ukraine had only the minimum level of self-defence of individual Ukrainian infantrymen or partisans from the Russian infantry and tanks.
In March-April 2022, anti-NATO sentiments massively escalated in Ukraine in terms of the lack of real assistance to the Ukrainian military. The dedication of the Ukrainian army on the front, coupled with the growing mass disappointment of Ukrainians in the NATO countries, led in the second half of April – early May 2022 to a sharp change in policy regarding the supply of heavy weapons. On May 9, Joe Biden signed the “Ukraine Lend-Lease Act,” which gives the US president expanded powers to transfer or lease defence assets to Ukraine to “protect the civilian population from Russian military invasion” and for other purposes. This tendency was also picked up by other NATO countries.
The Ukrainian army urgently needs the supply of weapons to successfully defend the country from the military aggression of Russian imperialism, which is many times greater than its own forces. At the same time, however, we must be acutely aware that Ukraine’s dependence on Western imperialism will increase with each supply of weapons, and the degree of its independence will only decrease. In the end, more than 90 per cent of all military supplies do not reach Ukraine as free aid but fall into the external public debt, which, one way or another, will have to be paid at some point. The bourgeois policy of the current Ukrainian government cannot change this logic of the development of the situation, and every day the Ukrainian government becomes less and less independent, more and more dependent on Western imperialism. And while the Russian imperialist armed aggression in Ukraine continues, it is very unlikely that this logic of the development of the situation will change significantly.
A Socialist Policy
Leon Trotsky once wrote that in difficult periods of reaction, the main task of Marxist politics is the task of preserving the purity of the socialist program and the Marxist cadre organization. This is, of course, correct. But by no means do we believe that now is the time exclusively for stagnant, self-sufficient existence and survival.
We, as Ukrainian socialists, believe in the victory of Ukraine and fight for the defeat of Putin’s imperialism in this war. This defeat of the Putin regime, in our opinion, will lead to fundamental changes in Russia and Belarus. We await the awakening of the working class in both countries, and the radical democratization of their political life. We do not close ourselves off from the working class of Russia and Belarus, but on the contrary, at this very difficult moment for us in the war for independence and for the very existence of our Ukrainian people, we extend our hands of solidarity to the peoples of Russia and Belarus in its struggle against the authoritarian-bureaucratic regimes of Putin and Lukashenko.
We also understand that the victory of Ukraine in this just war may also be associated with a post-war period of severe neoliberal and the possibility of a far-right backlash. However, we believe in the strength and solidarity of the Ukrainian working class and its trade unions. This strength and cohesion in the fall of 2021 prevented the authorities from carrying out legislative attacks against the working class and the unions. The authorities then had to back down under pressure from the established unions, both official and independent. Even then, in the Ukrainian trade union environment, consultations began on the creation of a broad workers’ party on the basis of the Ukrainian trade unions.
One way or another, sooner or later, the socialist policy in Ukraine will triumph. There is no alternative to the socialist policy, which reflects the interests of a large detachment of Ukrainian workers. The Ukrainian Socialist League (Ukrainian section of the International Socialist League) entered the second year of its existence in an extremely difficult war situation, but, despite everything, we are confidently strengthening our forces and are optimistic about the future. The next victory will be ours!
Courtesy International Socialist League