by Renate Hürtgen, March 25, 2023

Why is it so difficult for many on the left to find a position of unreserved solidarity with the attacked country in this war of aggression by Russia to destroy Ukraine? An unfortunately not small part of the German left has even decided to declare Ukraine and Russia equally involved warring parties, both of which are called upon to immediately cease their „acts of war“. „Perpetrators“ and „victims“ of this war are mentioned in the same breath when it comes to crimes committed. No empathy whatsoever emanates from these leftists for the Ukrainian population that has been bombed and massacred for a year. Such an attitude, however, is popular and brings a lot of support to leftists who appeal to the fear and possible concern of the Germans. We saw and heard it in Berlin on 25 February.
In fact, it is much more complicated not to retreat to populist generalities about wars, which are always terrible, and to describe the dilemma that comes with a decision pro or contra arms deliveries to Ukraine. However, showing solidarity with the Ukrainians does not mean approving of German arms deliveries, nor does it mean limiting practical solidarity to humanitarian aid out of pacifist sentiments. So why is it so difficult for the majority of the German left to show solidarity with Ukraine? Why do many remain silent, join the slogan „No violence!“ or otherwise avoid clearly expressing their solidarity with the defence struggle of the Ukrainians?
In January 2023, the SoZ published an appeal for solidarity with Ukrainian trade unions, which it put online in February in an amended version, signed by 75 people from the left-wing workplace and trade union spectrum. It asked for donations for humanitarian aid, namely for the unions of railway workers and hospital staff, which are fighting against the dismantling of the rights of dependent workers in Ukraine. In fact, after the beginning of the war, the government and various oligarchs have massively intensified their neoliberal course and made deep cuts in labour law. The newspaper analyse & kritik reported on the struggle against these deteriorations in labour law as early as May 2022, after it had also established contacts with Ukrainian trade unionists in Lviv; in our group „For the Right to resist – Left Ukraine Solidarity Berlin“, we have been informed about this first-hand several times. Oleg Shkoliar, a railway worker and trade union official, calls their struggle for workers‘ rights „the second battle front“. The „first battle front“ is their defensive war against the Russian army, which they invariably support, albeit in different ways.

The position of left social actors and trade unionists in Ukraine on the military defence of Ukrainian sovereignty has been clear from the outset, regardless of where each finds his or her place in it. And it seems unbroken, despite many existential problems that this war is causing in Ukraine, as I see from the interview with Juryi Samoylov, leader of the Independent Miners‘ Union in Kryvyi Rih (SoZ 2/23, p. 19). He talks about the union’s main task being to help the members who are now in the army, that the army has great support in society, that the army and the people in Ukraine are one and the same and that the majority of people are waiting for victory. He concludes, „We hope for victory, but we also have a class point of view.“
I have admired from the beginning how our colleagues and comrades in Ukraine, despite their existential struggle for a sovereign Ukraine, do not deviate one iota from their criticism of the government and the oligarchs. The authors of the call for tradiere union solidarity fail to make this connection. They do not mention at all that the same trade unionists they want to support are in a defensive war against Russian aggression, that they are not only victims in this war, but are actively fighting in different ways on the „first front“.

For the authors of the appeal, this struggle seems questionable anyway. They write about the motto of „pulling together“ that the government is currently proclaiming and that the people „think“ they have to follow „in order to preserve national sovereignty“. This does not sound at all like a call for solidarity for the Ukrainian people in struggle, including the trade unionists under consideration here. The authors of the solidarity appeal have chosen to support their fellow workers as wage-earners, but to ignore the fact that these wage-earners are engaged in a struggle of resistance against Russia’s troops, without which there would be no Ukraine and no Ukrainian trade unions. The appeal for solidarity does not say a word about this struggle for existence of the Ukrainian trade unions. But what is half solidarity worth?

Addendum: We all face the difficult problem of working out a left position in a defensive war for a sovereign state, in which at the same time the class struggle for trade union and other bourgeois-democratic rights must be waged. But when and where has there ever been a national liberation struggle in a country without classes? Has this ever been an obstacle to left solidarity? Why do many German leftists currently find it so difficult to support the Ukrainian wage-earners in their resistance struggle against an imperialist state in an internationalist way?

Published: express. Zeitung für sozialistische Betriebs- und Gewerkschaftsarbeit, No. 3-4/2023, 61st year, p. 20