From the hot autumn to the spring of uncertainty

The urgent need for peace in Ukraine

More than a year has passed since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. During all this time, German public opinion and most political parties have shown absolute support for Vladimir Zelensky’s government. This includes the shipment of weapons worth 2.2 billion in 2022 alone, ten successive packages of economic sanctions on Russian imports and the reception of more than one million Ukrainian refugees. [1] However, this policy has begun to show its first signs of exhaustion. Very slowly and from different political perspectives, diplomatic negotiations are emerging as necessary.

That the war is an expression of inter-imperialist interests, was already expressed by the Latin American Bloc from the very start. If we return to the subject today, it is not to congratulate ourselves for the wisdom of our political intuition, nor to offer an exhaustive review of the causes and development of the confrontation. Instead, it is an ideological reading of the geopolitical conflict and the current situation in Germany formed in the heat of the political praxis of a popular and migrant organisation in the very heart of the empire. We are trying to contribute some elements to the debate between the German and European Left which we can use to develop a concrete line of action.

The German government at the crossroads

Only a week after the outbreak of war, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) authorised an extraordinary budget of 100 billion euros for the German army. He is now under great political pressure, facing a profound upheaval. Social democracy’s cultivation of international relations with the East dates back to the “new Eastern policy” [neue Ostpolitik] of Willy Brandt (SPD) in the 1970s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rapprochement with the Kremlin was deepened by  former chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin’s personal friend Gerhard Schröder, Manuela Schwesig through her support for the Nord-Stream-Pipeline. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, president of the republic [Bundespräsident] and foreign minister during the last Merkel government, coined the slogan ‘intertwining and integration’ and played a key role.


Scholz has to manoeuvre through a process of profound geopolitical reconfiguration, both inside and outside the SPD, with a military conflict a thousand kilometres away from Brandenburg Gate. But it is not only US economic interests in bringing liquid gas into Europe and NATO’s geopolitical ambitions that are dragging Germany towards the war front. The image of a perplexed and vacillating chancellor that has managed to establish itself in public opinion is also due to the internal pressure on Scholz resulting from the political and economic interests of the liberals (FDP) and the Green party (Die Grüne). It is above all the members of the latter, the clumsy heirs of a pacifist and environmentalist legacy, who are the most fervent supporters of arms exports and the implementation of economic sanctions against the Russian economy. “We are fighting a war against Russia!” exclaimed foreign minister Annalena Baerbock in her fury at the European Council conference in Strasbourg on 24 January, causing an international scandal that forced her own ministry to make it clear to Russia and the rest of the world that Germany was not in fact at war with them!

Scholz has to manoeuvre through a profound geographical reconfiguration following a military conflict a thousand kilometres away from the Brandenburg Gate. This reconfiguration is taking place both inside and outside the SPD. it is not only US economic interests in bringing liquid gas into Europe and NATO’s geopolitical ambitions that are dragging Germany towards the war front. The political interests of the liberals (FDP) and the Green party (die Grünen) have created internal pressure which has created the image of a perplexed and vacillating chancellor. The latter are the most fervent supporters of arms exports and economic sanctions against the Russian economy. “We are fighting a war against Russia!” exclaimed foreign minister Annalena Baerbock on 24 January.

The German government and Europe see a geopolitical confrontation in which the main imperial blocs (the US, Europe and China) vie for global hegemony.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), states states  that European arms imports increased by 47% over the previous five years. Despite a global fall of 5%. The systematic increase in the region’s military spending was long before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. European companies and their governments envisage a scenario of armed confrontation with Europe at the centre.

In 2022, the Middle East became the leading region for arms imports, accounting for 32% of the world total [2]. Since 2011, the confrontation in Syria between allies of the West and those of Russia completely destroyed the country. On the export side, the top five countries remain the United States (40%), Russia (16%), France (11%), China (5%) and Germany (4%). The map of weapons flows matches the collision of interests between the world’s major powers. NATO and Europe were arming and preparing for a conflict like the one Ukraine, Western governments were not surprised.

That Baerbock’s statement betrays the Greens’ (Die Grüne) support for economic sanctions against Russia. These have mainly harmed workers in both the EU and Russia. They consist of interrupting natural gas and oil imports,  making fuels more expensive, which impacts food prices and heating costs.  The Hans-Böckler-Stiftung, found that inflation caused a real wage loss of 4.7% in 2022. Finance minister Robert Habeck (Die Grüne), recently introduced a bill to ban all gas and oil-fired heaters by 2024. Supposedly to encourage the transition to “renewable” energies. But these alternatives to Russian gas  (Colombian coal or Bolivian lithium) also have disastrous environmental consequences. Habeck’s law means enormous costs in infrastructure and housing refurbishment, which falls on the shoulders of workers or the public coffers.

The German Left and the spring of uncertainty

Last year, the slogans “the hot autumn” [heißer Herbst] and “the winter of rage” [Wutwinter] became very popular slogans. heralding a winter full of demonstrations and social struggles. Despite alliances formed by left-wing groups and some important trade union strikes such as those of Ver.di (public services) and EVG (transport and railways), the government implemented successfully subsidy packages worth 95 billion euros and managed, to contain the social outburst from the economic crisis. [3]

Diplomatic negotiations in Ukraine is becoming recognised by some political actors and journalists who question the hegemony of the warmongering discourse. One dissident voice was Sahra Wagenknecht (Die Linke), with Alice Schwarzer. Their manifesto for peace, called to mobilise broad sectors of society and different civil initiatives to become a movement for peace [Friedensbewegung]. Another call for an armistice came from the historian Peter Brandt, signed by historical figures from the SPD and trade unions. Now various progressive media outlets publish opinion pieces critical of the indiscriminate delivery of weapons and the prolongation of the conflict. Why has it taken so long for these voices to speak out? Why has the German left been paralysed by the outbreak of war within Europe’s borders?

From the start, progressive and left-wing groups presented the armed conflict as an imperialist advance on an independent country. They promoted unconditional and widespread support for the attacked country in the name of free self-determination of peoples and against Russian imperial interests. However, it is not entirely legitimate to compare the current struggle of that nation with the classic examples of countries (mainly in Africa or Asia) confronting European imperial powers for their autonomy during the 20th century. To adopt the classical analysis of the self-determination of peoples, of Lenin, to speak of a war of liberation in the case of Ukraine we should argue against both NATO forces and Russian interests. [4]

Moreover some progressive sectors ignore the chronological events. Prior to the Russian invasion – NATO and Western elites supported conservative and neo-fascist groups, parties and governments in Ukraine. During the 2014 ‘Euromaiden’, far-right political and paramilitary groups showed extensive and public links with Western powers and their institutions. Western countries financed, organised and supported neo-fascist sectors to conclude agreements with the EU and the IMF, distancing Ukraine from Russia. This catapulted  Swoboda and Right Sector to fame, and began armed conflict persisting to today. The current conflict in Ukraine is not comparable to wars of liberation such as those in Vietnam or Cuba. The main difference in these cases is the existence of a hegemonic aggressor, the USA, and of populist and leftist forces fighting to break this colonial domination.

In this context, Trotsky’s words before the Zimmerwald Conference are strangely contemporary and alert us to the historical continuity of concessions and capitulations on the part of progressivism: “The capitalists of all countries, who mint with the blood of the peoples the red coin of war profits, claim that the war will serve for the defence of the fatherland, of democracy and of the liberation of the oppressed peoples. They are lying… What will result from the war will be new chains and new burdens, and it is the proletariat of all countries, victors or vanquished, that will have to bear them.”

Those who promote the advance of Ukrainian troops as a way of defending the right of peoples to freedom and democracy, deliberately hide the neo-conservative and neo-liberal character of the Zelensky government and the previous semi-colonial status of Ukraine.

We should not be surprised by this warmongering discourse of some sectors of the European left and progressivism, as it manifests an unfortunate historical continuity. Remember that in 1914 Russian social democratic parties approved and promoted the war efforts that triggered the First World War. At the end of it, there were tens of millions of dead bodies, and the first workers’ state in the world was torn between a warlike position and one that sought peace at all costs. Lenin as head of the Soviet government, resolved this tension in favour of peace, arguing that continuing an imperialist war would only delay the possibility of improving conditions for the working class sectors of the countries involved in the conflict. His position was rejected by of large sectors of the left both within and outside his party. However, time proved that it was precisely peace that enabled the survival of the Soviet Republic, and the beginning of revolutionary processes in Germany and Europe. The history of the 20th Century would have been completely different without opposing the worst warring confrontation of mankind, not on ethical stances but as the basis for the reconstruction of the popular forces to revolution.

However, today we are told that to defend a “revolutionary” standpoint we must impose peace by force, that we must go all the way to Moscow to banish roots of the oligarchic danger. Again the fable of a clash of antagonistic civilisations, again the fable that the greatest danger to democracy is to be found in the Kremlin. We have learned little from the successes and failures of the past and the saddest thing of all is that the argument put forward by these sectors is very similar to that of revolution by conquest, which Stalin and his allies used to impose puppet governments in all the Eastern countries where the Red Army advanced after the Second World War.

The situation reached its paroxysm when some extra-parliamentary leftists supported sending arms to Ukraine in the hope that they would reach revolutionary groups, favouring a popular rebellion. They wanted a version 2.0 of the Kurdish experience in Rojava with weapons from the US. In the case of Ukraine,  at the beginning of the war small groups of militias independent of the state were armed and organised with the aim of defending the main cities and especially Kiev from the advance of the Russian army. The hope was that these militias would contribute to a revolutionary movement opposed to the Zelensky regime. But the conflict showed that these militias are completely irrelevant. After the end of the siege of Kiev these groups were disbanded or incorporated into regular state forces or official paramilitary groups.

The only forces benefiting from Western arms deliveries and funding are the official Ukrainian army, under the orders of a neo-conservative government; and far-right groups allied to the government – the Azov battalion and Kraken regiment. The latter gained international fame  as key players in the repression  after 2014, being accused of committing war crimes against the civilian population in the low-intensity confrontation against the pro-Russian separatist provinces in the Donbas.

To believe that weapons alone can contribute to political change in Ukraine is to overlook the absence of the key factor represented by the organisations of the left as the only possible protagonists of a real social transformation.

For all these reasons, those on the left who advocate a military victory for the Ukrainian government or the Russian government are mistaken. A military victory for Putin would condemn Ukraine to the status of a Russian semi-colony. If Zelensky’s government is maintained, Ukraine would be reduced to the status of a US protectorate. There is no progressive outcome if the war continues.

At present the war front has been virtually stabilised, despite minor advances and setbacks, for more than six months now. The Russian army and its shareholders know that a defeat in the Donbas could mean extending the war within Russia’s borders that could delegitimise the  Russian government. Zelensky and the Ukrainian bourgeoisie know that the funding from Western resources, will only come with continued war success. Finally, NATO, the great director of the play, has nothing to lose.

In the absence of an immediate possibility of a cessation of hostilities, we stress the geopolitical value of the Latin American countries’ homogeneous rejection of the German government’s request to contribute to the supply of armaments. After Scholz’s recent tour of Latin American, a wedge in the geopolitical conflict needs to be shored up by political work from below demanding an immediate cessation of hostilities, the recovery of the territories annexed by Russia and a policy of disarmament by the NATO powers.

It is along these lines that we welcome the peace initiatives in Germany mentioned above. This is not because we agree more or less with any of the protagonists but because these experiences require us to generalise the social ruptures where we can work closely with the sectors most affected by the inflationary crisis unleased by the war – most notably wage earners and migrants – and to bring them together in a popular movement.

After a prolonged winter in which German government subsidies contained social rage, spring has arrived in Berlin. New energies are making their way through the jungle of warmongering, pragmatism and political follow-through. Now it is time to move forward. After mass demonstrations for May Day in many German cities, new energies are emerging in opposition to the jungle of warmongering, pragmatism and political follow-through. Now it is time to move forward to ensure that this warm spring awakening turns into a summer of burning certainties among German and migrant left-wing groups. The need for peace in Ukraine is a fundamental condition for true internationalist political praxis.


[1] The budget for equipment and armaments to be sent to the Ukrainian front in 2023 amounts to 2.4 billion Euros. Germany exports more war supplies than France and Great Britain combined and is second only, of course, to the United States. The extensive and detailed list of military supplies can be found here.

[2] At the national level, the main arms importers are Qatar (10% of the total), India (9%) and Ukraine (8%), followed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (7% each) and Pakistan (5%).

[3] Industry and the business sectors have been the main beneficiaries of subsidies. Public spending on these measures is expected to amount to 200 billion Euros

[4] In the discussion with Polish militants and especially in the face of Rosa Luxemburg’s arguments, Lenin argued that advocating national self-determination was a slogan that should appear in the programmes of social democratic parties. It was not a revolutionary slogan in itself. However, the formation of an autonomous bourgeois national state implied better conditions for the development of the revolutionary struggle than remaining under the imperialist mantle. In 1917, during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, the Bolshevik delegation, led by Trostky, defended a similar position in the cases of Poland and the Ukraine vis-à-vis the German and Austro-Hungarian empires. There it was argued that defending the right to self-determination did not mean accepting the autonomy of these countries under the tutelage of the German-Austrian power.

This article first appeared in Spanish in a longer version on the Website of the Bloque Latinamericano in May 2023. Reproduced with permission