The reality of forced conscription and the lies of defensism and antifascism

2 March, 2022

Russian conscript soldier captured by the Ukrainian army and brought to Ukraine under the guise of anti-fascism.
Russian conscript soldier captured by the Ukrainian army and brought to Ukraine under the guise of anti-fascism.

A bombastic war propaganda based on the old lies of defensism and anti-fascism is attempting to silence the cruel reality of the forced conscription of young people in both Russia and Ukraine.

Table of Contents

Forced conscription for war in Russia

Passport of Pavel Abramov, a victim of forced conscription missing in Ukraine. His mother told Novaya Gazeta the details.
Passport of Pavel Abramov, a victim of forced conscription missing in Ukraine. His mother told Novaya Gazeta the details.

Thanks to the mobilization of the mothers of soldiers engaged in compulsory military service who were shipped off to war, testimonies about how forced conscription is working are beginning to appear in Russian media that are not attached to the Putin regime.

In Russia, the constitution prevents conscript soldiers from going to war abroad. Only professional soldiers can take part in military actions outside the territory. It is, as we have already noted, a consequence of the movement of soldiers’ parents during the war in Afghanistan, which in the 1980s confronted Stalinist militarism and became a catalyst for strikes and clandestine mobilizations all over the country.

The current war was preceded by a long period of exercises involving thousands of soldiers who were undergoing “military service”. The massive participation of these troops, who in theory could not cross the Russian border, was one of the arguments leading to believe that the Russian ruling class would not go beyond a dangerous show of force. But under the silence imposed by the army, the forced conscription of thousands of 17- and 18-year-old boys was actually underway.

All those who refused to sign a contract [to become professional soldiers] were sent to “outfitting,” a very special training camp where you have to carry heavy boxes of ammunition all day. Many couldn’t stand it and signed a contract just to go back to normal conditions. My son’s back hurt so much that he ended up in the hospital. And he decided that from there he would not go back to outfitting, but rather sign the contract.

On February 23 he called late in the afternoon, at ten o’clock. I could tell by his tone that everyone was in shock, prostration and tears. And he said:

“Mom, they put us into formation and told us to illegally cross the Belarusian border, our instructions and the order we signed refer to Bryansk [in Russia], and we had to leave the place of deployment without any permission. From now on, we were told, you have nothing to do with the Russian army, you are deserters.”

This is what their own commanders said. I talked to other mothers, and they told me the same thing.

I did not sleep all night. I calmed down, thinking it couldn’t be true. But when he called at five-thirty, the roar of planes and gunfire could already be heard over the phone.

“Mom, they’re putting us in cars, we’re leaving, I love you, if they have a funeral [declaring me dead], don’t believe it, make sure you check first.”

I don’t know anything else about my son. And no one knows anything about their children, they don’t contact anymore.

Mother of a 23-year-old Russian soldier yesterday in Novaya Gazeta.

Forced conscription for the war in Ukraine.

Recruit transport bus with Ukrainian army license plates machine-gunned in Kiev by nationalist paramilitaries who "suspect" the recruits at a checkpoint. This type of control has spread throughout the East of the country for the forced recruitment of deserters
Recruit transport bus with Ukrainian army license plates machine-gunned in Kiev by nationalist paramilitaries who “suspect” the recruits at a checkpoint. This type of control has spread throughout the East of the country for the forced recruitment of deserters

If the Russian information blockade, reinforced by the closure of radios and Telegram channels reporting on the growing anti-militarist movement, hardly allows a glimpse of the criminal dimensions of forced recruitment, in Ukraine it is the European and American media, devoted to the exaltation of Ukrainian nationalism and the “war of national defense”, which do the most to obscure the reality of the patriotic mobilization.

Only a few testimonies escape which, unintentionally, break the banal epic story attempting to embellish the barbarism and unveil the reality: in Ukraine, the forced conscription of all males between 18 and 60 years of age has turned thousands of young and adult men who try to leave the country clandestinely into deserters. The army and nationalist paramilitary gangs hunt them down – sometimes literally – at roadblocks and pickets at the exit of cities.

The most important thing was to avoid the controls of the paramilitary groups. Every three or four kilometers, private vehicles would intervene to forcibly remove boys who had reached the age of 18 to join the ranks and fight in the resistance.

Account of the Spanish father of a boy with a Ukrainian passport who was escorted out of the country by the special operations corps of the Spanish police in “La Verdad de Murcia”.

The lies of defensism and antifascism.

Defensism has been the main argument for the shipment of arms and equipment from Spain and 18 other European countries to Ukraine.
TORREJÓN DE ARDOZ (MADRID), 27/02/2022.- La ministra de Defensa, Margarita Robles (c) asiste a la carga de un avión A400M con material de defensa con destino a Polonia este domingo en la base aérea de Torrejón de Ardoz, Madrid. EFE/ Fernando Villar

Forced conscription expresses well the lies of defensism that are daily and nightly spewed by the European, American… and Russian media. According to this argument, in every war there is an aggressor nation and an aggressed nation and the aggressed one would have the “right to defend itself” by all available means, starting with the forced recruitment of young people and workers.

The point is that the vulgar argument about the right to defend oneself in a fight between individuals does not apply to nations.

Nations are not a single, homogeneous being. They are divided into classes. And war does not mean the same thing to all of them. For the ruling classes, war is “politics by other means,” that is, an extreme and risky way of advancing their interests. For the workers, war means accepting slaughter and misery so that the ruling classes can obtain what they want, which in the end is nothing more than to obtain more profitability by organizing and exploiting labor.

That is to say, “the right of nations to defend themselves” – invoked by both Moscow and Kiev and their respective allies – is nothing but the “right” of “society’s owners” to sacrifice the lives of thousands and even millions of subordinates in order to maintain in place – that is to say, profitable – the economic system they run and their control over the territory in which they do so.

That is why, in reality, the workers and in general the subaltern classes do not care about who the aggressor and who the aggressed are in an imperialist war, because the main victims will always be the workers on both sides of the front.

On the other hand, “defensism” is no new thing. It was the main hook for the conscription and slaughter of nearly 60 million people in the great imperialist war of 1914. The very enormity of the slaughter – which only stopped when the workers turned the imperialist war into civil war against the ruling class first in Russia and then in Germany – banished “defensism” for decades from the political argument. No one could any longer believe that the cause of the war was the “ambition” of a particular ruler or rulers.1

Therefore, once the revolutionary wave had been defeated with its last episode in Spain, the ruling classes of Russia, France, Great Britain and the United States resorted to a slightly more sophisticated ideology which is also making a comeback today: anti-fascism.

US propaganda has long been trying to equate the Putinist regime to fascism and Russian propaganda has been assimilating since 2014 the nationalism in command in Kiev to the old Ukrainian fascism of the Second World War, which on the other hand they themselves vindicate with the brazen use of the (horizontal) red-black flags.

Now, Putin presents the war as necessary for the “denazification” of Ukraine and summons allied countries to an “anti-fascist summit”; while the European press presents the war as a life and death battle to “defend democracy” and the parliaments of Denmark and Latvia encourage their own citizens to march as soldiers in new “international brigades” once again put forward as an anti-fascist model.

But what is “anti-fascism” really? The idea that one must “sacrifice everything but victory”, that one must once again renounce class interest – ending the war, ending capitalism – in order to unite with the pro-democratic part of the ruling class – in one’s own country or in the government of others – in order to defend “democracy” from its aggressors.

It is in fact a twist on defensism with the same result. The “search for the aggressor” denounced by Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky or Lenin in the First World War becomes a battle to characterize as “true fascist” the imperialist rival. But the conclusion is always the same: the “sacred union” with one part or another of the bourgeoisie and the sacrifice of millions of workers on the battlefield and the bombed cities for interests that are not theirs but those of their exploiters.

Deserters and mothers show the way: there is no need to choose between one side or the other of the slaughterhouse, but to put an end to it.

Riot police arrest a soldier's mother in Petersburg
Riot police arrest a soldier’s mother in Petersburg

In both World War I and World War II, in Korea and in all the wars of the imperialist era that followed, the main task of revolutionaries was to explain patiently and clearly with all the forces at their disposal that for the workers it was not a question of choosing sides, of going to die or kill for the attacked nation or for the “anti-fascist” government, but of raising their own side, rising up against the ruling classes and the system that causes wars. To end the war by ending the dictatorship of the class that leads us to war. In two words: revolutionary defeatism.

The “criticism” both then and now of the only possible position for the workers is its “difficulty”. Empty criticism when there is no other alternative but to go to the slaughterhouse for profit2. Mendacious criticism inasmuch as it is the path already marked by the Ukrainian and Russian “deserters” who refuse to accept compulsory conscription or try to leave the front.

But even if they show a very important glimmer now, the real battle of all wars has not yet begun.

War propaganda shows military men and official buildings, tanks and checkpoints. They never show that during war more than ever, companies open their doors punctually every morning, that workers still go to factories and workshops, hospitals and offices. There is no war without “war effort”. There is no war without production.

But, if the workers embrace the deserters and their families, if they begin to become aware that their most basic interests are not at stake but destroyed at the battlefront, if they resume strikes, if they contest the streets against nationalists and military, if they assert their interest in common with the workers on the other side of the front line, with the deserters and the soldiers who are questioning whether to go on. … the war will become untenable for Putin, Zelensky and the whole swarm of imperialist allies now whipping up the ongoing criminal slaughter.

That is why the Russian military, well trained by Stalinism, sought a “blitzkrieg” that would end before the “enemy within” – the workers – had a chance to react. That is why the Ukrainian government and the international media that support them are trying to cover up the brutality of a compulsory conscription from which thousands are fleeing.

Both this war and its consequences are only hopeless if the ruling classes have their hands free to go ahead with the new militaristic and warmongering drift in which they are embarking us.

The first “good news” that comes to us in the midst of this horror is that this is not going to be as easy and obvious as they thought.


Notes

1. Whatever the truth may be about the direct responsibility for the outbreak of war, one thing is certain: the war which has produced this chaos is the result of imperialism, of the attempt on the part of the capitalist classes in every country to satisfy their greed for profit through the exploitation of human labor and the natural resources of the whole world. “Zimmerwald Manifesto,” LD Trotsky, 1915.

2. The transformation of the present imperialist war into civil war is the only just proletarian slogan […] However great the difficulties of such a transformation may seem at one time or another the socialists will never give up carrying out systematic, persevering and continuous preparatory work in this direction, since war is a fact. “The War and the Social Democracy of Russia”. Lenin, 1914

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