Italian Anarchist Federation Statement on the War in Ukraine

ACG comments:

Whilst the ACG approves of this Manifesto overall, internal discussions have highlighted some concerns over the use of the term “revolutionary defeatism”. We feel that the document would benefit from either clearer definition of what is meant by the term, or possibly the use of a different term. For us ‘revolutionary defeatism’ can only mean a refusal to call off the class war in the name of ‘national unity’ during a war between states. However it is possible to interpret ‘revolutionary defeatism’ as meaning that the organised working class within a state should work towards the military defeat of that state’s national forces by an enemy state.

In the latter case it might be argued that whichever state has been most ruthless and successful in suppressing its own organised working class in the years leading up to war, might benefit from “revolutionary defeatism” amongst the stronger working class of its “national enemy”. It seems logical that this could contribute to the military victory of the most successfully anti-worker of two warring states.

The ACG would like to emphasise the need for a defensive posture amongst armed workers to, for example, defend their communities (not ‘the nation’) against an army of invasion, and to make explicit our acknowledgement that in the chaos and terror of war an ideologically pure response is often extremely difficult to maintain for both individuals and organizations.

Statement: For a New Anarchist Manifesto Against the War

In these months in which the tragedy of war is increasingly brought to international attention by the crisis in Ukraine, the theme of anarchist anti-militarism is more compelling than ever. We see how, already before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, some heavy-handed criticism of our traditional anti-militarism was carried out by some individuals and groups who declare themselves anti-authoritarian, libertarian or anarchist. We have carefully considered these positions in the last few months, and we believe today that we need to clarify our point of view.

Our thoughts first go to our comrades who, more than one century ago, before the tragedy of the First World War, felt the need to affirm that: “To all the soldiers of all countries who believe they are fighting for justice and liberty, we have to declare that their heroism and their valour will but serve to perpetuate hatred, tyranny, and misery” (International Anarchist Manifesto against the War, 1915). Like Goldman, Berkman, Malatesta, Schapiro and the others, we believe in the need that the internationalist and solidarity voice of anarchism, together with its principles of universal sisterhood and brotherhood, return to speak to everyone, even more in a world that is increasingly fragmented by national, ethnic and identity hatred.

War stands at the origin of the current social order, based on domination, exploitation and oppression. This is a key point for the FAI, as it is exposed in the Anarchist Programme which is the theoretical reference of our Federation: “Not understanding the advantages that could come to everyone from cooperation and solidarity, seeing in every other person a competitor and an enemy, a part of humanity has tried to grab the greatest possible amount of wealth to the detriment of the other. In such a struggle, the strongest, or the most fortunate, ends for winning and variously oppressing and dominating the vanquished”.

This is why we maintain our position of rejection of all wars and of support to the idea of revolutionary defeatism. By defeatism we mean a revolutionary position before war, which implies that one should fight for the defeat of the government and the ruling classes of their own country, believing that wars are fought for the interests and privileges of the oppressors and exploiters. At the beginning of the twentieth century, and especially during the First World War, some European governments used the charge of “defeatism” to repress any form of dissent, opposition to war, political protest or workers’ struggle, which would break the national unity before the enemy. Therefore, defeatism does not accept the suspensions of social struggles that are imposed by governments in times of war through censorship, repression and martial laws. On the contrary, the struggle against the government during wartimes continues, by both sabotaging the war and encouraging social struggles. Defeatism is inserted in an internationalist and revolutionary perspective which aims at provoking the defeat of the imperialism of “our own” countries, and one of its fundamental points is the refusal to support any belligerent party in wars between states and / or imperial blocks.

Dozens of wars are currently being fought, with their load of deaths, destruction, rapes, looting and mass deportation. In the last fifteen years, the crisis of the hegemony system based on globalization has produced a worldwide trend towards authoritarianism and militarization. Globalization as a form of world domination has for a long time ensured a privileged role in the exploitation of the planet’s resources to Anglo-American imperialism, with the support of the privileged classes of various countries. The entry of Russia and China into the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization has shown that the conflicts between these powers do not question the division of society into classes and various hierarchies.

At the FAI Congress that took place in Empoli in June 2022, we issued a statement regarding interpretations of the war in Ukraine, of which we quote a part: “In the last ten years, a very different scenario has been defined by the intensification of tensions between states, the trade and financial wars, the progressive isolation of markets to a greater or lesser extent, the extension of conflicts which occur partly by proxy, but increasingly in direct form, between worldwide and regional powers in different regions of the world. The capitalist model that was imposed in the last century by US hegemony is still the horizon within which contentions between states take place, but the world is no longer dominated by a single superpower. The US have lost the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and compared to a few decades ago their influence in Central and South America, which they used to consider their backyard, has significantly diminished. The AUKUS agreement between Australia, the UK and the US, which reoriented the strategy of these states towards the Pacific with a separate alliance, seemed to challenge the US presence in Europe and the very cohesion, if not existence, of NATO. Thus, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is part of a process of redefining the global balance of power.

The crisis of this global hegemony is closely linked with the crisis of governmental systems based on social cohesion, due to the cutting of social guarantees and the weakening of consensus mechanisms. In many countries, we have seen the rising of movements that, with different forms and characteristics, question the governments and the agreements between the ruling classes. In this context, the use of force becomes these latter’s main instrument for the preservation of power and social order. In this sense, we have discussed in recent years the growing role of the military in societies. The uprising in Belarus in 2020 and the insurrection in Kazakhstan in January 2022 have shown a serious crisis of consensus within the Russian-led system. In the holding of the OTSC, the military has assumed a key role. The Russian military intervention in Kazakhstan to bloodily crush popular uprisings gave a tragic demonstration of this, and paved the way for the invasion of Ukraine in February. Even in the US, the anti-police riots against racist violence in 2020 led the armed forces leadership to support Biden’s installation as president in a prelude to civil war in early 2021, to prevent Trump’s violent supremacism from irreparably exasperating the consensus crisis.”

The response to the crisis is the increase in military spending and the strengthening of the role of the armed forces in political decisions. Once destroyed the mechanisms of economic and political regulation that established the hierarchy between powers and the flows of profits towards the imperialist metropolises, the ruling classes need war to restore the old domination or to define new ones. In the context of this new world disorder, recourse to war and military missions is growing, in whatever way governments define them in their propaganda.

From Ukraine to Yemen, from Sahel countries to Myanmar, from Afghanistan to Tigray and elsewhere, passing through all the regions where genocides such as the Kurdish one and those of indigenous and Afro-descendant populations are underway, we are all potentially under the bombs and the threat of destruction, repression and authoritarian change. We know well that the revolving doors between so-called democracies and the so-called autocracies can move very quickly, and that the state of war quickly reduces the space for those who want to act for social transformation. We always give our human solidarity to those who suffer and risk their lives being in difficult situations, even if they have ideas and practices that are distant from those we express.

However, social anarchism breaks the current imperial, capitalist, nationalist and authoritarian logics, rejecting the divisions imposed by borders. We do not recognize the concept of territorial integrity or territorial “defence” of a state or any entity that aspires to be like a state because, associated with the principle of territorial sovereignty, these principles inevitably end up to foster nationalist or micro-nationalist perspectives. Whatever the word “nation” means, it hides the division between exploiters and exploited, between oppressors and oppressed.

We reiterate our irrevocable and unambiguous condemnation of the Putinian regime and of its criminal invasion of Ukraine, as well as its ferocious repression of internal dissent. But we also condemn the criminal role of all governments that blow on the flames of this and other conflicts by providing weapons, often making money with these supplies. We strongly oppose NATO, which has long been trying to impose the militarization of social life and the increase of military spending in member countries, and which thanks to Putin has gained new strength after the inglorious end of their aggression in Afghanistan. In the same way, we don’t buy the narrative of a war between freedom and dictatorship. From this point of view, Zelensky’s Ukraine is truly a small Russia, with an authoritarian government, a circle of oligarchs who plunder the country, acting a repression against all forms of protest and against minorities that the war has made harder. Today Zelensky, in order to remain in power, is making debts and sells his country to the US, the United Kingdom, the European Union in exchange of their military support. Yet, the penetration of Western interests in Ukraine is far from being only due to the Russian invasion of February 24: multinational agri-food companies, many from the United States and one from Russia, control part of the “granary” of Europe and its main commercial port in Odessa since over 10 years.

The consequences of this war are dramatic on both sides of the front. They are disastrous also for the rest of Europe, with the increase in prices due to speculation, the growing militarization and rearmament, the worsening of the living conditions of millions of proletarians, including fear and violence, which risk to become dangerous tools for authoritarian governments. This situation is once again perceived in Europe, but it actually characterises most regions of the world, paralleling the environmental devastation fostered by the logics of profit, markets and states, which threaten the very life of the planet where we live.

The first commitment of those who oppose the war is the construction and dissemination of mutual aid practices such as networks of solidarity from below to fulfil the immediate needs of the people who suffer most from the consequences of the conflict, being these food or medical support. There is also the need of support networks for those who practice strikes, sabotage, desertion, such as transnational networks for those who hide or flee from or over both sides of the front. In this vein, we reject and fight to deconstruct the patriarchal and domination models imposed by militarism that are endlessly repeated by the war propaganda on official media and on social media as well, where centre stage is always taken the same images of robust and young male fighters.

From various parts it was suggested to take a stand by actually fighting for one of the governments that make this war, as if taking sides for one or the other were inevitable.

Some relics of Marxism think that they can support a minor imperialism in order to defeat the prevailing threat that they identify with the “Western” one. But the strategy of playing with imperialist powers to sharpen their contradictions, like the alliance between workers’ movements and nationalist forces that characterized Stalinism between the two world wars and after, led to destroy all revolutionary perspective and to hinder all autonomous action of the exploited and oppressed classes.

Other interpretations follow different approaches, assessing Russian imperialism as a danger for the whole of Europe and beyond. These interpretations are also endorsed by some components of libertarian orientation. Without questioning the threat posed by Russia’s authoritarianism and militarism, we believe that it will not be Russia’s military defeat in Ukraine that will prevent an authoritarian turn in Western Europe. The authoritarian social processes that are evidently dominant in Russia and in the OTSC countries are also being acted since years in the European Union, and the war is now giving them a further acceleration. Furthermore, “democracy” is based on the condition of someone’s privilege. The vision that presents the European Union as a beacon of democracy, identifying instead Russia, China and their satellites as the heirs of totalitarianism combined with wild capitalism is the quintessence of a Westernism that does not belong to us.

These are our positions, confirming our anti-militarism in an internationalist and revolutionary perspective that should be concretely rooted in social struggles and networks of solidarity, to create collective and libertarian ways out from the vortex of war into which states and world capitalism throw us. This is our contribution to the international anti-war debate. We think that one thing must be clear above all: with or without weapons, to be effective, any fight must be done and organized from below, outside the apparatuses of states, governments and especially outside the armed forces.

Even the belligerent or co-belligerent governments are aware that the war will imply massacres and devastation in the areas directly affected, but also misery, unemployment and hunger in the rest of the world, even in Europe, even in the United States. Governments are aware that the conditions are ripening for an unprecedented social crisis, which is why they are making the brass bands of militarism and nationalism play, to prevent the solidarity of the exploited and oppressed classes.

Since governments are the promoters and beneficiaries of wars, to stop wars, governments must be afraid of popular movements, because the only limit to the whim of each government is the fear that popular movements can instil in it. Opposition to the war is part of our daily commitment, starting from the denunciation and boycott of the productions of death and from the criticism and deconstruction of militarist rhetoric, starting from militarist education and language at all levels. We must stand against all wars and all armies deploying an intersectional strategy that identifies and counters the connections between militarism and other forms of oppression such as patriarchy, racism, capitalism and all kinds of chauvinism, through collective actions as well as personal relationships.

Only the action of the exploited classes can stop the war by boycotting war productions, by refusing to construct, trade and transport weapons and all instruments of death, by participating in the opposition movements to military plants and bases, and by promoting strikes at the national and international level against war and the war economy. The anarchist movement participates in this struggles, in different ways according to the circumstances, by criticising militarist and nationalist ideologies, constructing grass-roots associations and networks from below, practicing direct action, supporting all forms of refusal, desertion and objection to the massacres promoted by capitalism and states.

We are more than ever convinced of the validity of the anarchist principle that means must be consistent with ends. There are no good wars or just wars, and in times of growing nationalist and sovereignist craziness we believe that we must never side in any way with governments or take part in wars between states and imperial blocs. People must never die or kill for territorial sovereignty. Wars are all criminal and armies (including their auxiliary corps) are all instruments of exploitation, patriarchy and more or less “legitimate” state domination over territories and over the bodies of individuals. We do not recognize any of these territorial legitimacies and we are not willing to fight for any of them.

History shows that wars are traditionally fought to hinder the action of the exploited classes for their own emancipation, which is why it is paramount for anarchism to mobilise now against the war, outside and against all military institutions. Our strength lies first in the circulation of ideas and in the defence of spaces for the production and circulation of critical thought, promoting the unification of pacifist and anti-militarist movements in a common struggle against governments. The ability of the anarchist movement to be coherent in the fight against war is the way to activate libertarian practices, organization and ideals among the exploited and oppressed classes that are the first to suffer the consequences of wars. On this basis, a new agency will be possible to provide a different solution to the crisis, looking forward to building a libertarian society.

Italian Anarchist Federation – FAI

[document presented at the XXXI Congress – Empoli June 2022 and ratified in the following weeks]