What does it mean to fight for peace?
In the midst of a war that has triggered many processes at the geopolitical level which will affect the establishment of a new order and new power relations between states and alliances at the global level, it seems that the perspective we are missing is the one from which we see and hear the people, their aspirations, proposals and decisions. And unless we take it (such perspective), we cannot know if there is politics on their side.
The number of killed civilians and Ukrainian refugees is growing day by day, while those who remain in the war zone are fighting together with the Ukrainian army against the Russian occupation and military offensive in all ways available. In a sense, it could be said that their participation in the armed conflict is a defense of peace in which they had lived before the Russian invasion, considering that now it is a defense against direct, destructive military intervention. However, is there a possibility for the defense of the people to be interpreted also as a defense on the side of the people and in it, reveal a politics that would be on the side of the people? In the situation of the current war conflict, can there be talk about peace established on the side of the people, starting with a political proposal from their point of view – a proposal that should be completely separated from the war politics of the state? And then we can ask the question – which state?
If we remember Clausewitz, we could say that what is at work today is a war, which is a continuation of state politics by other means. As he adds, it’s about a war as “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will”, by which under this “we” and “opponent” he means states which are in conflict. However, it is necessary to say that today the war is taking place in the context of the dominance of a state politics and the government that manages crime and corruption, which is why it is said that this politics deals with the practice of war thanks to which it becomes extended beyond armed conflicts. It would be the famous Foucault turn of the original thesis according to which state politics is a continuation of war by other means.
That is why it is difficult to say today, especially in the midst of armed conflict and invasion of one country against another, and when people are not able to say anything and come to each other with proposals, what the peace established on the side of the people would be?
Today, Ukrainians defend the territorial integrity of the state, they defend themselves from aggression and, in a certain sense, defend state peace, regardless of the fact that it is part of the state politics that today manages corruption as much as crime manages the state politics. In it lies the greatest predicament, and that is the issue of peace politics of people who are facing a direct danger of war. Perhaps it can be said that their commitment to peace is only mediated by the armed defense and resistance they are providing together with the Ukrainian government – particularly since it is not only armed but also bare-handed resistance: protests, standing in front of Russian military vehicles and verbal arguments with Russian soldiers who have entered Ukrainian cities thinking they have occupied them. The political manifestations in the midst of battle are truly striking and encouraging.
Their resistance is resistance to invasion and war, but also to the peace imposed upon them by the Russian state. In previous cases, before the new wars that began in Yugoslavia in the 90s which were waged by state elites with criminal organizations against civilian population, the wars were interstate wars and the winning side had a mandate to put pressure on the defeated to accept its terms of ending armed conflict, that is, its conditions of peace. Putin may have played with this invasion in a Cold War manner, wanting to impose his terms of peace, but what makes his intervention one of a new war is the force he uses against the civilian population and with which he destroys the civilian infrastructure of Ukrainian cities, which is not only military, but also paramilitary (paramilitary formations that operated in Syria and many other places in the world have operated in Donbas as well). With such “peace”, he finally puts an end to earlier attempts to build a modern state which rested on the idea of civil peace and the rights of all citizens, which had to be guaranteed and respected. This raises the question of whether the Russian state is the only secure modern form of the state: authoritarian, militaristic and criminal? And consequently, what is it that the Ukrainians are defending and could they have the Russians on their side? Not Putin and his regime, but the people, who care about peace, and perhaps even the same one.
What is certain is that the Russian offensive met with resistance from the Ukrainian government together with the people joined in to defend the territorial integrity of the state, but also the legitimacy of the government that Putin wants to challenge and replace. So, if there is a proposal here on the side of the people that would advocate for peace, in a situation of direct armed aggression, it is mediated by armed defense and national resistance, which is resistance of the politics of the Ukrainian state. The people’s resistance is thus appearing as state’s and in the name of the state that needs to be liberated. To what extent is such resistance on the side of the people if such politics is always at a distance towards the state, and then the Ukrainian one as well.
Do proposals for peace in this situation, direct and unequivocally peace-oriented, exist? “No to war” is an unequivocal message sent to everyone from the protests, but which mostly shows solidarity with the Ukrainians, which many movements and public figures around the world have done. Another important thing is organizing a series of humanitarian actions to take care of Ukrainian refugees. However, humanitarianism and manifestations for peace, as much as they are needed, do not say much about the politics that would be on the side of the people in terms of what is possible for them in a situation of war. In other words, do people today think it’s possible to make a proposal for peace that would be completely separate from the war politics of the state, and how can they share it amongst themselves?
There are proposals that arise from treating the Ukrainian war as a symptom of a crisis of a much more complex and difficult historical and geopolitical situation, and which therefore must be radical in order to contribute to fundamental changes of the overall system in which we live. Those proposals come from academic discourse and it is important to state them in order to see how detached they are from what is really happening in terms of reactions to the war, primarily from all the Ukrainian people, and then all the anti-war protests organized around the world as well. One of them is pointing out the necessity of a quick and radical intervention – “either there will be a revolution or we will no longer be”. Or, rather, a call for alliance of those who are class-conscious and who will unite at the international level, starting with the values of anti-imperialism, anti-militarism and non-alignment, and which must inevitably take into account social justice and environmental issues. Thus, a total overhaul of global society is required, its re-establishment on the foundations that are contrary to the tendencies and trends dictated by global forces. In that sense, such appeals act as a maximalist geopolitical response to the world geopolitical situation, but, it has to be said that, in reality, revolution as a politics that happens when no one can go on any longer as they did before, neither those who rule nor those being ruled – does not exist.
Although academic cries can be pleasing to the ear precisely because of their maximalism, it is good to pay attention to what people, anti-war activists and human rights activists say, all those who wonder what is possible for them in a war situation and how to advocate for peace, in Ukraine, Russia and many other places. These proposals speak of the need to connect the Ukrainian resistance and the Russian opposition in the broadest sense – political and one of civil society, which exists despite the constant pressures of the Putin regime to which it is exposed. Moreover, it is necessary to connect outside the Cold War divisions, because within those confines, today’s peaceful resistance to Russia’s violence is called “NATO fascism”; it takes work with people to see if there can be peace established on their side today and how they see and propose it. It is necessary to argue for peace, which must take into account the war politics of the state and radically separate from it, because it is truly a continuation of the war by other means. We know this very well because we have been living in one such war for thirty years.
Photo source: Euromaidan press, “Citizens of Mariupol stop Russian tanks to enter the city”
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