This week, in the midst of a compounding series of losses for Ukraine that by mid-summer will likely lead to unavoidable NATO humiliation, one of my friends within the anti-imperialist movement presented an argument to me: that Ukraine could have won if it had instead used “unconventional” warfare tactics from the start. At first, this sounded compelling to me. Because for a long time, it’s been apparent to anybody following an honest account of the conflict that Ukraine keeps struggling due to wasting its resources. The country’s own armed forces were rendered unable to handle a war quite early on, and its air force in particular has been incapacitated. It’s long only been able to continue fighting because of outside aid. Therefore if Ukraine had utilized guerrilla-style ways of fighting, designed to minimize the manpower and tools needed to do battle, it wouldn’t have been demilitarized. The problem with my friend’s argument is that even though he was right about certain things, such a strategy wouldn’t have been practicable for a country like Ukraine.
This is because as I learned from some of the responses to my last piece of writing, which initially included my friend’s idea but has since been edited to no longer have that, a fascist state like Ukraine can’t realistically mobilize a guerrilla-style effort. I assumed it could because Ukraine is able to mobilize great amounts of bodies as is, yet I wasn’t considering a crucial factor: the lack of ability to keep control over a mass of people who would have to be drafted into the effort, mostly don’t share the state’s Banderite fascist ideology, and would be expected to remain obedient while not even functioning within the traditional army structure. The only people the Ukrainian government could trust not to defect or go rogue upon getting mobilized for a guerrilla operation are the members of the country’s fascist militias, who represent a tiny minority of the population.
You could argue that Ukraine would have been able to effectively fight a war by relying on them, because as my friend pointed out, the terrorist acts that the Ukrainian side has perpetrated (such as Nord Stream) have been most effective at weakening Russia. Combined with that point about the Ukrainians having been able to avoid military depletion if they’d not fought in the “conventional” way, and this sounded to me like sufficient evidence for his assertion. Yet when you put together all of the evidence for and against it, the conclusion is that Ukraine couldn’t have won under any circumstances.
Because I hadn’t yet learned a crucial detail about this situation, one that’s only recently been made apparent to the anti-imperialist commentary sources who inform my views: that even though the Nord Stream industrial sabotage was successful at destroying Russia’s pipeline project with Germany, overall Ukraine’s guerrilla-style tactics have been ineffectual. (Important disclaimer: when I talk about the Nord Stream explosion as something carried out “by the Ukrainian side,” I specifically mean the U.S. was behind it. Imperialism’s narrative managers have been trying to protect the U.S. government by claiming that a “pro-Ukrainian group” did it, which is misleading as this “group” was the Biden administration.)
As the commentator The New Atlas has assessed, Ukraine’s drone attacks on Moscow have failed to have a serious impact not just strategically, not just narratively, but also psychologically. The Russian people have not been dissuaded from supporting the war effort by these attacks, they’ve only been even more passionately convinced that they must unite behind the effort to crush this menace. How do we know that Ukraine would also have strengthened Operation Z’s social base if it had used these terrorist methods right away? Because as one of the objectors to my writing pointed out, the Ukrainian state’s nature as a fascist state makes it too corrupt, dysfunctional, and at odds with the people for it to sufficiently sustain an “irregular” warfare campaign. And by sufficiently, I mean long enough and hard enough for the Russian people to have been rendered too psychologically weakened to want to carry on.
Again, as I came to realize, the fascist militias couldn’t have done it all themselves. And normal, drafted Ukrainians couldn’t have been forced into acting like committed fascist crusaders upon being given the flexibility of a guerrilla cell. These draftees would have largely fled, and their superiors would have engaged in lootings of the allotted military funds in even greater proportions than they have within our timeline. The effort wouldn’t have been able to be adequately coordinated, and Operation Z would have succeeded even sooner that it has. Incredible that a fascist state’s strategic options are so limited, it wouldn’t even be able to gain an advantage from the resource conservation benefits that guerrilla warfare brings to a fighting force.
It’s obviously also encouraging. I’m glad that the scrutiny on my idea proved me wrong. I wouldn’t want fascist states to have the ability to effectively fight a far superior enemy by adopting a strategy that conserves their resources, like how revolutionary guerrilla armies can do. Fascist guerrilla armies can do this kind of disproportionate damage, except only when their job is not to try to defend an entire state. When fascists are in charge of a state, this makes them more in danger of being defeated, because in that situation they no longer have the flexibility to be able to rely on loose terror cells. They can still use those cells, the problem for them is that if they were to exclusively use them then it would no longer bring overall benefits to them. That’s only the case for fascists who aren’t yet in power, and are fighting to gain control over the state. Once they reach their goal, they become vulnerable in a way they didn’t used to be.
You could say the same about communists to an extent, because state power is a big thing to risk losing for whatever movement has attained it. The difference between communists and fascists, the difference that puts us at ultimately a greater advantage, is we’re capable of getting the vast majority of the people ideologically loyal to our cause. The fascists can only mobilize a “conventional” army through coercion (whether in the form of the actual draft or in the form of the poverty draft), whereas communists can theoretically do this without a draft. When a worker is fighting for communism, they’re fighting for their own material interests, and when a worker is fighting for fascism they’re fighting against these interests.
Russia’s victory hasn’t just aided the cause of U.S. revolutionaries by weakening U.S. hegemony, and thereby the imperial state itself. It’s also given us an opportunity to learn things about war that could make us win against this state. If revolutionaries here were to seize control of the biggest cities, which are likely the first places they’d be able to win due to their high concentration of people with a proletarian class interest, they’d still for the time being have to largely rely on the civil conflict’s initial guerrilla tactics. Aside from the military equipment of the police departments, military equipment is often outside urban areas and in places with more space. So the task of freeing the rest of the land from bourgeois dictatorship would have to be a hybrid-style campaign, one with endless complications to try to sort out.
The great advantage of the pro-liberation side will always be that the reactionaries can’t mobilize a full-scale army without state power. Their reliable base is in the fascist militias, or in those who will be inclined to join these militias when the moment comes. They can’t win the loyalty of the workers, which is why many of those within today’s largely working class-populated U.S. armed forces could be swayed towards the revolutionary side.