April 27, 2023

Waiting for Victory: Afterword to “Diary of War”

Irina Zherebkina

Bridge of life, in the countryside near Kharkiv. Photograph by the author, 2023.

When February 24, 2022 came and the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine began, it seemed that something unthinkable and impossible was happening, and that it would all soon end and dissipate like a bad dream. But months passed, then a year passed, and we became more and more aware that everything happening to us was real, and that the situation we found ourselves in was the terrible possibility of the impossible. In philosophical terms, to cite Jacques Derrida, this is called a situation of undecidability, where: 1) no rational choice is possible; or 2) choice is possible only in the form of an impossible forced choice. As Slavoj Zizek defined this situation: “We are faced with an impossible choice: if we make compromises to maintain peace, we are feeding Russian expansionism, which only a ‘demilitarization’ of all of Europe will satisfy. But if we endorse full confrontation, we run the high risk of precipitating a new world war.”1

The longer the debate goes on between political analysts, military experts, and philosophers, who look for a way to rationally resolve and stop the catastrophe that is growing before our eyes, the more the state of undecidability caused by this war is aggravated, and all the proposed solutions to the “antinomies of war” turn out to be absolutely ineffective, unrealizable, useless.2

All except for one solution, the one that is desired by all the warring parties, and which is presented as complete, final, and salutary. This decision is Victory, an event that, as soon as it happens—and, as the warring peoples are told by their leaders, it will arrive soon enough—will immediately end the state of undecidability, which is becoming more and more unbearable for all participants in the conflict. But this coming redemptive Victory is not handed to us as a gift. Just like the long-awaited Peace, it must not only be earned, but acquired, conquered. Victory is the empty master signifier in which our collective desires, passions, and hopes are invested today. In the situation of ongoing war, it has become the object of an intense and uncompromising hegemonic struggle between various parties and ideologies that seek to fill it with their own political content.

What image of Victory is gaining hegemony amidst the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war?

If we remain at the level of mass-media discourse, it seems obvious that the nationalist version of Victory is gaining hegemony, which ensures mass mobilization and a long chain of equivalences that overcome class, racial, gender, age, and other differences. A key element of the nationalist version of Victory is the identification of victorious subjectivity with the nation-state: the nation stands above all, and any individual or social group that does not contribute to the self-assertion of the nation is defined as a “foreign agent,” “collaborator,” “undesirable organization,” and so on. Victory in the war of nationalisms means: 1) total humiliation and disintegration of the nation-state’s enemy; and 2) the rise and endless strengthening of the power of one’s own nation-state, which must be revived and renewed as a result of the war. Here, the nationalists of all the countries in the war are in complete agreement and complete international solidarity. Also, in the universal nationalist picture of the world, Victory is described as the completion of profane historical time and the transition to a messianic time of new beginnings and the birth of a completely new super-nation.

This version of Victory is challenged primarily by the traditional opponents of the nationalists: Marxists and anarchists. They believe that in a war of competing nationalisms, victory, as the triumph of one political force over another, is in principle impossible. Their argument is based on a thesis regarding the symbiotic relationship between the state and war, which forms one of the constitutive ontological forces of capitalism. As Eric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato state in their study Wars and Capital: “War is as integral a part of the Capital-State machine as production, labor, racism, and sexism.”3

From the Marxist point of view, as long as the capitalist state exists, war is permanent­—including in the form of “peace”—as a world civil war waged among populations and against the population. When permanent capitalist war changes from bloodless to bloody, it simply changes form; in this case, there can be no question of any other victory than the victory of world capital. And the state ensures this victory of capital with the help of ideological apparatuses.

In modern total war, both sides fight on the side of capital. Therefore, the democracy-autocracy opposition is false, according to Lazzarato: “The confrontation between the United States and Russia that is the backdrop to this war is not between a democracy and autocracy but between economic oligarchies that resemble each other in many aspects, in particular as rentier oligarchies.”4

Wars that are not part of the total war of capital against the population­­—i.e., anti-capitalist wars—include, according to Alliez and Lazzarato, revolutionary wars waged against Western imperialism (for example, the revolutionary war in Haiti at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and today’s anti-colonial guerrilla movements in Africa and Latin America).

Therefore, the correct political opposition is between revolution and counterrevolution. Every ongoing war must be evaluated according to the following criteria: Against whom is the war being waged? Whose subjugation/domination does it reinforce?

As for feminists, they are often critical and suspicious of the theories and political strategies of Marxists and anarchists. But when it comes to the question of war, the feminist position is closer to the position of Marxists than nationalists. This is especially true of anarcho-feminists, who see the origins of misogynist politics and violence against women in the patriarchal organization of the capitalist state, against which they call for “polymorphic and heterogeneous struggles in defense of life. Yes, of life threatened by capital.”5 In this they align with autonomist Marxists and their critique of violence and war, although feminists criticize Marxists for not always being consistent about putting their egalitarian revolutionary principles into practice.

Whose side are Ukrainian feminists on today, many of whom support Ukrainian nationalists and the nationalist version of Victory? What does feminism stand for in Ukraine today: revolution or counterrevolution?

After the collapse of the USSR, three revolutions took place in Ukraine: in 1991, 2005, and 2014. During this span of time, according to researchers, there was a steady regression towards a conservative agenda, i.e., towards counterrevolution. Each subsequent Ukrainian revolution has been more nationalistic and less focused on social transformation.6 Can we say that civil society (and feminism) in Ukraine is being counterrevolutionized by the rise of nationalist identity politics and a narrow notion of decolonization?

In my opinion, it is important not to forget that after the above-mentioned three revolutions, another one took place in Ukraine: the Fourth Revolution, in which 13.5 million people mobilized against nationalist, right-wing, and conservative forces, which lost crushingly. This Fourth Ukrainian Revolution was the presidential election of 2019, when 73.22 percent of voters cast ballots against the nationalist, militarist, patriarchal slogans of Petro Poroshenko and his so-called “ArMoVira” (Армія-Мова-Віра, Army-Language-Faith). The nationalists who lost in 2019 will never forgive Zelensky for this defeat, despite the fact that he took their side very soon after, long before the war.

If we consider the experience of the Ukrainian revolution of 2019, it turns out that contemporary Ukrainian society contains a great revolutionary egalitarian potential, which remains alive and has not been corrupted by counterrevolutionary forces. Today, this revolutionary Ukrainian spirit is manifest in the popular resistance to aggression, both on the front lines and at home; and in the solidarity of the international battalions, where people from around the world and the former USSR, including people from the Russian Federation, are fighting together. The Ukrainian people’s revolution continues at a grassroots level, in contrast to the vertical institutions of power, which are based on exclusion and oligarchic power.

From the beginning of the war, feminism in Ukraine has also proved to be transnational and grassroots. Ukrainian women have supported and shown solidarity with each other, regardless of ethnic, cultural, or social background, as my friends and neighbors did starting in the first hours of the war. I tried to tell about this in my “Diary of War.”7

It’s in this everyday grassroots solidarity that the revolutionary potential of Ukrainian feminism was revealed. The same grassroots solidarity has been demonstrated by people from around the world—including the former USSR—who have unconditionally condemned the aggression against Ukraine and have opposed the war.

This transnational feminism is the future. This will be our common future feminism, the “feminism to come.”


Slavoj Žižek, “From Cold War to Hot Peace,” Project Syndicate, March 25, 2022 .


See Irina Zherebkina, “Antinomies des Kriegs: Philosophieseminare in Charkiw warend der russishe Aggression,” in Aus dem Nebel des Krieges: Die Gegenwart der Ukraine, ed. Katharina Raabe and Kateryna Mishchenko (Suhrkamp Verlags, 2023).


Eric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato, Wars and Capital, trans. Ames Hodges (Semiotext(e), 2016), 15–16.


Maurizio Lazzarato, “The War in Ukraine,” The Invisible Armada, July 8, 2022 .


Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, “Feminism in Defence of Life,” Autonomies, March 7, 2023 .


Volodymyr Ishchenko, “Ukrainian Voices?” New Left Review, no. 138 (November–December 2022) .


Ирина Жеребкина (Irina Zherebkina), “Дневник войны: Часть 1” (Diary of War: Part 1), Sygma, March 2, 2023 ; “Дневник войны: Часть 2” (Diary of War: Part 2), Sygma, April 3, 2023 .

War & Conflict
Ukraine, Russia

Irina Zherebkina is a professor at the Center of Humanitarian Education, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and a founder of the Kharkiv Center for Gender Studies. She is currently a visiting senior fellow at the Department of Gender Studies, London School of Economics.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.