Peter Gelderloos – The Invasion of Ukraine
The Anarchist Library
Title: The Invasion of Ukraine
Subtitle: Anarchist Interventions and Geopolitical Changes
Date: March 14, 2022
Source: Retrieved on 14th March 2022 from itsgoingdown.org
The current war in Ukraine is difficult to grapple with and not only for those of us with friends and comrades who are over there, fighting or surviving, or who have already fled and now find themselves homeless, many of them for a second time, in the case of the many refugees who had taken shelter there over these last several years.
It is also difficult to know how to position ourselves, given that this overwhelmingly appears to be a conflict with only two sides, and both sides—NATO and Russia—are systematically involved in torture, murder, repression, exploitation, racism, and ecocide domestically and around the world.
As anarchists, though, when we look at the world around us, we have to be aware of the campaigns of states and the structures of capitalism, but to also always create room in our analysis for the needs and actions of people outside of and against those forces.
As we often do, many anarchists in Ukraine and surrounding countries are focused on providing support—by building up resources and sharing them in an empowering way—with people who have been injured and those made homeless, as well as with the one million refugees produced by the war.
Many anarchists are also choosing to fight against the Russian invasion, even though that requires some level of collaboration with Ukrainian government forces. It is significant, though, that many of those fighting are Russians who had already fled their country as Putin’s regime became more totalitarian.
Revolutionary experiences from the Makhnovschina and the Mexican revolution a hundred years ago to Kurdistan today have shown us that states do not leave us any terrain in their conflicts. It is in their interests that their conflicts are always between slightly different versions of the state. Since for a long time now there has been no large territory of total statelessness to defend, an anarchist positionality means carving out our own space, fighting alongside state forces willing to offer us an alliance against other state forces that would annihilate us in a moment. The historical lesson seems to be that in these situations, we need to maintain as much autonomy as possible, to continuously think about a revolutionary, transformative horizon, and not place any naïve trust in the decency of state allies. We also learn that revolutions, subordinated to the needs of pure warfare, wither and die, but sometimes, for mere survival, people need to engage in warfare and fight back. In the Spanish Civil War, even disciplined individualists supported engaging with the imperfections of the situation rather than running away to maintain their bubbles of purity.
This can be a hard lesson to affirm, because in all other moments our position of not making alliances with political parties or other governmental structures has proven correct. As far as I know, the false pragmatism that justifies such alliances—with this new law in place, with that new government in power, our revolutionary movements will be stronger—is never borne out.
But we have also seen that when a major social conflict erupts, we need to find a radical position within it, even and especially when the mainstream framing of that conflict leaves no room for anarchist positions. Staying home as the proper anarchist thing to do nearly always facilitates centrists or the far Right taking over such conflicts.
War is the health of the state and war is where revolutions die, but ignoring them is not an option as they threaten our individual and collective survival, destroy social movements, and crush communal infrastructures. In situations of warfare, anarchists have no easy answers; we must balance the conflicting needs of short-term survival and a revolutionary horizon, the conflicting lessons of always making space for anarchist positions in a conflict, never trusting states, and not being able to act from a place of purity and isolation.
I would suggest another lesson. We have not done an adequate job of analyzing the failings of anarchist movements throughout the 20th century. It has been vital to remember our dead, but often that has translated into romanticizing a collective death wish. We need to acknowledge how the deaths of our collectives has caused a grave interruption to the continuity of our struggle. This resulting loss of memory and intergenerationality has set us back. The lesson is that we really do need to place more value on survival.
Those who lose the most in any war are people and the land, and those who are oppressed in one way or another are the most vulnerable to the violence unleashed. No matter who wins or loses, the bravery of fighting back to defend the collective should be celebrated, but war itself should not be.
On the contrary, we should condemn war and its instigators, while also trying to understand each war’s particularities. How will the outcome of this conflict affect ongoing geopolitics, shaping the wars to come, both cold and hot?