A Roundtable on the War

Published date23 June 2022
Publication titleStatesman, The (India)
With the aim of overviewing what happened from the beginning of the war, reflecting on the role of NATO, and considering possible future scenarios, I have conducted a roundtable interview with three internationally well-known scholars from the Marxist tradition: Étienne Balibar, Anniversary Chair of Contemporary European Philosophy at Kingston University (London – UK), Silvia Federici, Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at Hofstra University (Hempstead – US) and Michael Löwy, Emeritus Research Director at the National Center for Scientific Research (Paris – France). The discussion summarized below is the result of numerous exchanges that have taken place over the past couple of weeks, through e-mails and phone calls

Marcello Musto (MM): The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought the brutality of war back to Europe and confronted the world with the dilemma of how to respond to the attack on Ukrainian sovereignty.

Michael Löwy (ML): As long as Putin wanted to protect the Russian-speaking minorities of the Donetsk region, there was certain rationality to his policies. The same can be said for his opposition to Nato's expansion in Eastern Europe. However, this brutal invasion of Ukraine, with its series of bombings of cities, with thousands of civilian victims, among them elderly people and children, has no justification.

Étienne Balibar (EB): The war developing before our eyes is "total". It is a war of destruction and terror waged by the army of a more powerful neighbouring country, whose government wants to enlist it in an imperialist adventure with no turning back. The urgent, immediate imperative is that the Ukrainians' resistance should hold and that to this end it should be and feel really supported by actions and not simple feelings. What actions? Here begins the tactical debate, the calculation of the efficacy and risks of the "defensive" and the "offensive". However, "Wait and see" is not an option.

MM: Alongside the justified Ukrainian resistance, there is the equally critical question of how Europe can avoid being seen as an actor in the war and contribute instead, as much as possible, to a diplomatic initiative to bring an end to the armed conflict. Hence the demand of a significant part of public opinion – despite the bellicose rhetoric of the last three months – that Europe should not take part in the war. The first point of this is to avoid even more suffering for the population. The danger is that already martyred by the Russian army, the nation will be turned into an armed camp that receives weapons from Nato and wages a long war on behalf of those in Washington who hope for a permanent weakening of Russia and a greater economic and military dependence of Europe on the United States. If this were to happen, the conflict would go beyond the full and legitimate defense of Ukrainian sovereignty. Those who, from the beginning, denounced the dangerous spiral of war that would follow shipments of heavy weapons to Ukraine are certainly not unaware of the daily violence perpetrated there and do not wish to abandon its population to the military might of Russia. "Non-alignment" does not mean neutrality or equidistance, as various instrumental caricatures have suggested. It is not a question of abstract pacifism as a matter of principle, but rather of a concrete diplomatic alternative. This implies carefully weighing up any action or declaration according to whether it brings nearer the key objective in the present situation: that is, to open credible negotiations to restore peace.

Silvia Federici (SF): There is no dilemma. Russia's war on Ukraine must be condemned. Nothing can justify the destruction of towns, the killing of innocent people, and the terror in which thousands are forced to live. Far more than sovereignty has been violated in this act of aggression. However, I agree, that we must also condemn the many maneuvers by which the USA and NATO have contributed to foment this war, and the decision of the USA and the EU to send arms to Ukraine, which will prolong the war indefinitely. Sending arms is particularly objectionable considering that Russia's invasion could have been stopped, had the USA given Russia a guarantee that NATO will not extend to its borders.

MM: Since the beginning of the war, one of the main points of discussion has been the type of aid to be provided for the Ukrainians to defend themselves against Russia's aggression, but without generating the conditions that would lead to even greater destruction in Ukraine and an expansion of the conflict internationally. Among the contentious issues in the past months have been Zelensky's request for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, the level of economic sanctions to be imposed on Russia, and, more significantly, the appropriateness of sending arms to the Ukrainian government. What are, in your opinion, the decisions that have to be taken to ensure the smallest number of victims in Ukraine and to prevent further escalation?

ML: One could level many criticisms at present-day Ukraine: the lack of democracy...

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