In The Brooklyn Rail of May 2022, Charles Reeve, who is considered a council communist, published the article “War, Nationalism, and the Collective.” As usual, Reeve has replaced class struggle with the struggle of rich and poor, of ideas and forms of organization. But now, we see that the war in Ukraine causes him to slip into … Bolshevism. What didn’t help, is that most of the articles in the Field Notes section of the Rail are characterized by a journalistic storytelling style, attuned to the “armchair” revolutionaries in contemporary Greenwich Village, artists and intellectuals and who want to pass for it.
In Ch. 1. Reeve introduces Russian and Ukrainian “oligarchs” to show that “nationality” is a “commodity” based on a myth. Against this, Reeve sets the goal of his text: “Remaining conscious, however, helps us take a position from which we can stand up to inhumanity, helps us identify the stupidity and mediocrity of those who are dragging us to the abyss.” We will see that to “remain conscious” with Reeve means to stick to “class analysis” that is limited to the “super-rich” and “poor” and a false Marxist “commodity analysis” that prevents taking a position from the class interests of the proletariat. While Reeve invokes Karl Korsch in Ch. 2, who criticized the concept of geopolitics because it obscured the causes of war in capitalist class society, Reeve shows a very limited understanding of ‘class.’
Paraphrasing a Spanish journalist “that the Ukrainians were fighting not for the right to carry Louis Vuitton handbags, but for freedom” only brings Reeve to the following persiflage of class analysis: “those who fight and die will never possess Vuitton bags, and that ‘freedom’ will belong to those who do not fight and who already own those bags and may other good things of that nature”. A poor weapon of critique that corresponds to the rioting criticism of the street stones through the windows of luxury stores on the Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
The critique by Korsch was that the ‘geopolitical’ approach replaced “analyses based on competition between capitalist forces and the imperialist forms of the system.” While Reeve, in the face of Russian newspeak of the “special operation in Ukraine,” likes to underline that it is a war, he is very much more sparing with the word ‘imperialism.’ Reeve mentions ‘imperialism’ only twice. The first time as a term that disappears in the bourgeois ‘geopolitical’ approach. The second time to explain, “Given Russia’s weakness, we are faced not so much with a clash between two imperialisms as with a defensive struggle of a military power without the economic means to accomplish its goal, the defense of its interests threatened by Western capitalism.” (Ch. 4.) So, it is not only ‘geopolitics’ that makes [russian] imperialism disappear, but Reeve as well.
Reeve proudly states he never reads Lenin. Too bad, because then he would know that his “analysis” that Russia is non-imperialist (but merely capitalist) is based on … Lenin.1 In note 10, Reeve reveals that M. Roberts’ article “Ukraine: the Economic Consequences of the War,” The Brooklyn Rail, March 2022, is the source of the economic data Reeve cites. Perhaps Reeve is unaware that Mr. Roberts is a Trotskyist who, as usual in any war, seeks an “oppressed nation” to be protected from “imperialist” aggression, a people sighing under the debt burden of parasitic banking capital imposed by an imperialist country. At first, Reeve – following Roberts – describes Ukraine in this way: “One debt followed another. In exchange for its intervention-and with its loans-the IMF imposed, as always, neoliberal policies of privatization and social austerity. We know how this works: wages stagnated, social welfare programs and pensions were attacked, the public services-the crumbling heritage of the old state-capitalist regime [in Bolchevist language identical with workers’state] – were dismantled, social spending was cut by half in a few years.” Further on, Russia is considered the ultimate underdog and likely looser, while both the Russian and Ukrainian “people” will pay the price of the war, plus the consequences of the neo-liberal policies imposed by the IMF.
On the subject of class struggle, Reeve reveals his old illusions in formulating that the defeat and decomposition of the old workers’ movement, “the crisis of representation and political action, seemed to leave the space of collective behavior empty. Actually, however, new movements erupted in modern societies, seeking to construct another idea of collectivity, based on real democracy, autonomous and emancipatory in opposition to the bureaucratic functioning of the old institutions.” It perhaps escapes Reeve that the new ultra-right forces that operated in the yellow jacket movement, the anti-vax movement, and now preparing to play a role in the mass protests against inflation are using the same empty slogans. Emptied from the proletariat’s class interests, emptied from workers’ struggles against the consequences of the war and therefore of the possibility of addressing the causes of the war: the prevailing relations of production by abolishing wage labor. In the face of this all, Reeve has nothing to offer but the darkest “pessimism”: “Every war pushes back the time and the possibility of a new world. War proves that the barbaric nature of capitalism has not changed. It is the highest stage of our powerlessness. To go beyond this stage as far as possible is the only struggle fit for us.”