Since Russia’s military operation commenced on Feb 24, the socialist left has been divided in its response to the armed conflict in Ukraine. On one side are those who align with the US, NATO, and their client state in Kyiv in denouncing Russia as the only real villain. On the opposing side are those who recognize the conflict as the outcome of the West’s new cold war against Russia and the post-coup regime in Ukraine as a willing pawn of the West in that new cold war. There are also many who condemn both: Russia for its February 24 action and the US and NATO for their provocations against Russia’s national security concerns.
Purpose herein. This critique neither endorses nor condemns Russia’s action. It does, however, take issue with arguments proffered by those leftists who have evaded, or failed to ascertain, the relevant facts and context of the event. In fact, much of the liberal left has responded by joining the US and its NATO allies in portraying the Kyiv regime as an innocent victim of “unjustified” or even “unprovoked” Russian aggression. Actually, the key fact is that the war in Ukraine would not have occurred but for the machinations and provocations by Western imperialism using the Kyiv regime as a pawn against Russia which (with China) had become an obstacle to Western imperialism’s pursuit of total domination of the world.
Unprovoked? Some of the evaded facts.
The US and NATO violated their promise that NATO would not expand into central and eastern Europe, promise given in 1990 in order to obtain needed Soviet consent to the reunification of Germany.
The US placed nuclear-capable missiles (capable of striking Moscow, St Peterburg, et cetera) in Poland and Romania (planned from 2008, installed in 2018). Not a provocation? Do we remember how the US pushed the world to the brink of nuclear apocalypse when the USSR placed such missiles in Cuba after the US had placed similar missiles in Turkey?
NATO has repeatedly conducted war games, practicing for war against Russia, in the Baltic states on Russia’s border.
The US and NATO consistently responded to the past 25 years of Russian protests (of the foregoing NATO threats to Russian national security) with an arrogant intransigence; continued diplomacy was clearly not a viable means for obtaining redress.
The US, especially through its National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has been funding and training anti-Russia pro-West political organizations in Ukraine (also in Belarus) since the collapse of the USSR. It funds and trains pro-Western media and civil society organizations in scores of countries (including Russia itself). NED was created in 1983 to replace the CIA as the principal US agency for surreptitiously promoting regime-change in countries (including democracies) which refuse to comply with US dictates.
The US incited and abetted the 2014 coup which, spearheaded by violent neo-Nazi militias, ousted the democratically elected government of Ukraine because said government had chosen to keep Ukraine neutral between Russia and the West.
The post-coup regime (far from innocent) has consistently pursued anti-Russia policies:
revocation of a 2012 law providing language rights for minorities plus new legislation to restrict the use of the Russian language (the first language of 30% of Ukrainians);
outlawing and repressing Communists (under its 2015 decommunization law) and every other political party deemed to be in opposition to its anti-Russia policies;
allowing neo-Nazi militias to terrorize Russian and other ethnic minorities;
lauding, as national heroes, wartime collaborators with Nazi Germany and participants in its genocidal crimes;
refusal to implement its promise (in the 2014 and 2015 Minsk accords) of autonomy for the rebel regions in Donbas which had resisted the 2014 coup and rebelled in response to regime attempts to crush that resistance by means of repressive armed force;
refusal to respect the will of the people of Crimea to return to Russia; and
pursuit of membership in the anti-Russia NATO military organization.
The US had been arming and training Ukrainian military forces, including the neo-Nazi Azov regiment, for military operations against the Donbas rebels.
There clearly was a great deal of provocation: by the US, by NATO, and by the post-coup regime in Ukraine.
The belligerents and their objectives. To reduce this war to a case of evil Putin-Russia preying upon innocent Ukraine is simplistic to the point of ridiculous. The current war is not simply between Russia and Ukraine. The US and NATO, with their economic siege (draconian sanctions) against Russia and their supplying of huge amounts of lethal arms to Kyiv, are very much belligerents even though not putting their own soldiers into the fight. The belligerents’ objectives.
The US-NATO objective (since the 2014 coup) has been to weaken Russia, to strip it of its limited sphere of influence, and to effectuate a regime change to replace Putin with someone who will be submissive to Western imperial dictates.
The post-coup Kyiv regime wanted and wants to impose ethnic Ukrainian dominance throughout the country, to eliminate Russian influence, to impose its absolute rule over predominantly-minority regions seeking autonomy or independence, and to integrate Ukraine into the West both economically and militarily.
Russia has been striving: to prevent the presence of hostile military bases (including nuclear-capable missiles) in neighboring Ukraine, and to protect the rights of ethnic Russians and Russia-friendly political factions in Crimea and Ukraine.
International law? The Russophobe part of the left is condemning Russia for its alleged “violations of international law” and “of the UN Charter.” This oversimplifies and worse.
Firstly, it evades the fact that the Kyiv regime, with US encouragement and deliveries of ever more-lethal arms, remained intransigent in response to appeals by Russia and the breakaway Donbas Republics to resolve the Donbas conflict peacefully. Kyiv was refusing to even talk to the leaders of said Republics and was evidently intent upon crushing them through brute military force. Moreover, it was the coup regime in Kyiv which first resorted to violence when (in 2014) it sent armed forces, including neo-Nazi militias, to crush Donbas resistance to said coup. Russia insists that its military action against Ukraine is, at least in part, a response to Kyiv’s aggression in Donbas, and, in fact, it was the Kyiv regime which first resorted to armed force. Thus, Russia makes its case that its military action in Donbas was a justified response to Kyiv’s continued military aggression against the breakaway Donbas Republics, and therefore allowed under the UN Charter. As for Russia’s invasion of the rest of Ukraine, Putin regards Kyiv’s collaboration with NATO’s increasing moves to threaten Russian national security as providing his justification; and, although some may regard that as an implausible stretch, it is not a clear-cut case of all right versus all wrong.
Secondly, in their legalistic diatribes against Russia, the US-NATO-aligned leftists generally say not one word regarding the repeated and massive violations of the UN Charter and of international law whenever said laws have stood in the way of the unjust aggressions by their own imperialist states:
arming violent reactionary insurgencies (such as the Mujahidin in Afghanistan and the Contras in Nicaragua) in resistant countries;
murderous economic sieges (Cuba, Iraq, Venezuela, Iran, …);
threatening war games (Baltic states, south Korea);
inciting and abetting coups, even against democratically-elected governments (Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and dozens more);
assassinations and attempts (Lumumba, Castro, Qasim, Allende, Gaddafi, …);
interference in many other countries’ elections (beginning with Italy in 1948);
devastating murderous military interventions on the side of repressive reactionary regimes in other countries’ civil wars (China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, …);
regime-change military invasions (Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Libya, …).
Many of those racist imperial interventions (scores of them since 1945) have left several tens of millions impoverished, displaced, injured, or dead.
Finally, none of those victims of Western imperial violations of international law were able to have it enforced against their oppressors. In fact, the US and its major allies routinely violate the Charter and international law; and, given the lack of any authority with the power to enforce said law against them, they (its major violators) are never held accountable. Nevertheless, our Russophobe leftists are now echoing the US-NATO one-sided application and misapplication of international law in order to justify their backing for the West’s new cold war against Russia. They may argue that US crimes are a separate case and therefore irrelevant. That is wrong because that argument is, in effect, calling for the worst outlaw in a lawless world to enforce the law against a lesser alleged offender notwithstanding that it is doing so solely in furtherance of its own crime. This is giving de facto allegiance to the worst criminal gang in the world.
“Imperial Russia”? Our Russophobe leftists make much of Putin’s Russia as an “autocratic,” “anti-democratic,” “imperialist” state. Certainly, Putin’s ideology is highly reactionary; and there is much to fault in Russia’s domestic policies. As for Russian imperialism, although striving to preserve its limited sphere of influence; it is primarily defensive. It pales to insignificance in comparison with Western imperialism which dominates and oppresses most of the world and is led by the world’s only current superpower. Moreover, Russia’s grievances against US-NATO imperialism and against the post-coup regime in Ukraine are real and valid. Making an issue of Russia’s deficiencies, while evading that reality, is simply an irrelevant pretext embraced by those in need of an excuse for aligning with Biden, Stoltenberg, and the Kyiv regime against Putin’s Russia.
The national question? Some Russophobe “Marxists” allege that Russia is violating the Leninist principle that nations such as Ukraine have the right to self-determination and separate existence as an independent nation-state. Certainly, Putin’s statement, challenging the legitimacy of Ukraine as a country separate from Russia and expressing his romantic notion of a grandiose east Slavic nation, must be condemned. However, substituting Putin’s fantasies for his actual deeds, and evident intentions, in order to justify siding with Western imperialism is both illogical and deceitful. The relevant facts.
Firstly, Putin has clearly acknowledged the impossibility of resurrecting the Soviet Union. He has evidenced no intent to deprive Ukraine of its existence as a separate independent country as long as it does not become a threat to Russian security; and he persisted for nearly 8 years in seeking Ukraine’s implementation of autonomy within Ukraine for the Donbas regions (as Kyiv had agreed to do in the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements) even though popular sentiment in said regions was for unification with Russia. Nothing, that Russia did, prevented Kyiv from implementing the promised autonomy.
Secondly, these “Leninists” echo the US and NATO by branding Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its assistance to the breakaway Donbas regions as “violations of Ukrainian national sovereignty.” So doing necessitates a gross oversimplification and misapplication of the national question as applied here. These “Leninists,” like the US and NATO, insist upon the right of Ukrainians to have an independent country separate from Russia; but (contrary to Lenin) they deny the self-determination rights of smaller ethnic populations to even have autonomy within regions wherein they predominate.
Moreover, some of these “Leninists” try to justify their one-sided application of national rights by questioning whether the peoples of Crimea and Donbas actually wanted independence from, or autonomy within, Ukraine. They have evidently rushed to judgment without bothering to ascertain the relevant factual evidence.
1954. Khrushchev orchestrated the decision (of dubious legality) to transfer Crimea from the Russian Soviet Republic to the Ukrainian SSR without the consent or approval of the people of Crimea.
1991. At the breakup of the USSR, Crimea’s elected leaders attempted to obtain recognition of Crimea as an independent Republic separate from Ukraine.
1992. After disputes between Kyiv and Crimea over the scope of Crimea’s autonomy, Kyiv agreed to a compromise recognition of Crimea as an Autonomist Republic within Ukraine.
1995. Kyiv abolished the Constitution of Crimea, abolished its office of President, made the elected Crimean parliament’s choice of its Prime Minister subject to veto by Kyiv, and imposed other severe limits upon its authority (largely negating its autonomy).
2008. Polling by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies (not an agent of Moscow) found that 64% of Crimeans would like Crimea to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
2009—11. The UN Development Programme (not an agent of Moscow) conducted periodic opinion polls in Crimea. Each time, at least 65% of Crimeans favored Crimea leaving Ukraine and joining Russia.
Crimea’s break with Ukraine was a direct popular response to the US-backed 2014 coup in Kyiv. Although Russia’s authorized military forces already based in Crimea assisted local forces in effectuating the independence referendum and the subsequent secession and reunion with Russia, those actions were welcomed by a huge majority of Crimeans most of whom were already so inclined. Moreover, given the history of past denials of their self-determination rights by both Moscow (1954) and Kyiv (after breakup of the USSR); the people of Crimea had more than ample justification for seceding and reuniting with Russia. Lenin, insisting that socialists are “the most consistent enemies of oppression,” would have agreed.
Our Russophobe “Leninists” have joined the US and NATO in insisting upon national rights for Ukrainians but denying such rights for the peoples of Crimea and Donbas.
Trap? Some genuinely anti-imperialist analysts believe that the US, with its intransigence regarding Russian security concerns, deliberately set a trap for Russia; and there is precedent for that proposition. Jimmy Carter (beginning in 1979) armed the reactionary Mujahidin insurgency against the Soviet-allied revolutionary government in Afghanistan: in order to provoke Soviet military intervention in defense of that government, and (as his national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has stated) draw the USSR into a Vietnam-like quagmire. A 2019 report titled “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia” by the US-military-funded think tank, Rand Corporation, proposed that the US goal should be “to undermine Russia just as it did the Soviet Union in the cold war.” Until there is access to the internal communications of Biden’s national security team, we cannot say with certainty that they intended to trap Russia into a self-destructive war in Ukraine. However, there was apparent advocacy for that policy within the US foreign-policy establishment. That aside, our Russophobe “socialists” refuse to even acknowledge the clear fact that the US and NATO were acting to isolate and weaken Russia. Why? Because, with their distaste for Putin’s Russia, these “socialists” evidently share that objective. Thus, they have all-too-willingly fallen into the trap of misdirected “anti-imperialism.” So, when should anti-imperialists target Russia? How about when, and if, Russia makes truly unprovoked attacks upon an independent country which is not allied with, or a pawn of, a hostile scheming Western imperialism.
Should imperial-state foreign military action ever be supported? To insist upon opposing such military interventions, regardless of context, is dogmatic and wrong. In exceptional events, socialists have appropriately supported such interventions. Example: US and British empires against Nazi Germany (1939—45). A recent case where it may be argued that such support was justified is US military assistance to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their fight against the Islamic State (IS) Caliphate which was subjecting people in Syria and Iraq to horrendous persecutions pursuant to its medievalist perversion of Islam. The US left was mostly silent with respect to US action in that event. Had socialists expressed conditional support for that US military intervention (as I believe they should have), they would have been obligated at the same time to explain: (1) that the US was acting for its own interest and would otherwise not have cared about the victims of IS oppression, and (2) that the US would likely become a treacherous ally (as indeed it did in 2019 when it abandoned the SDF to attack by NATO ally Turkey). The SDF is a popular revolutionary organization fighting for social justice. The Kyiv regime is a repressive chauvinistic state and a willing pawn of US-NATO imperialism in the latter’s new cold war against Russia. Huge difference.
Domestic politics. Socialists, whatever their views of the war in Ukraine, are rightly concerned about the rise of bigoted reactionary political factions in the US and many other countries. However, it is wrong to portray the capital-serving centrist-dominated supposedly “center-left” political parties as saviors of progress and “democracy”. Those parties are thoroughgoing supporters of the imperialist military alliances and policies to which their governments are committed. In fact, centrists have no progressive principles which they will not jettison whenever it becomes politically expedient to do so. Actually, the increased influence of bigoted reaction and the electoral weakness of the center-left parties is a result of the latter’s subservience to capital and of their consequent failure, for the past 4 decades, to use their capacity, when in power, to improve conditions for most of their base working-class constituencies. With growing homelessness, increasing inequality, declining labor unions, decreased job security, mushrooming debt bondage, and ever more disruptions of lives by climate disasters; conditions have actually worsened for much of that constituency. Consequently, there is an increased tendency for many potential supporters to stay home on election day.
In the US, many liberal-reformist “socialists” give their allegiance to the Democrats despite the latter’s” longstanding betrayal of their working-class electoral base. Although it is appropriate to tactically ally with centrist Democrat politicians when they actually fight for social justice and to support their election at the federal level in 2022 and 2024 in hope of reversing Trump-Republican attacks on voting and other democratic rights; it is necessary at the same time to educate the people as to the perfidy and betrayals of social justice by said Democrats. Failure to so educate is: to tail after the agents of capital, and to perpetuate existing ignorance and prejudices within the populace. Sadly, many liberal “socialists” downplay Democrat betrayals domestically, and they almost completely avoid challenging the Democrats’ allegiance to US hegemony over the world and the consequent imperial crimes in US foreign policies (especially when under Democrat Presidents). Biden promised to end Trump’s new sanctions against Cuba; he has not. He has also continued the economic sieges against Venezuela and other countries resisting US dictates. He promised a non-racist and more humane policy on migrants; but he then summarily deported some 20,000 Haitians to hellish conditions in Haiti, and he now welcomes white European refugees from Ukraine. Also, there are Biden’s past flip-flops on school bussing and tough-on-crime legislation as he pandered to racial prejudices among his voters. For more on Democrat betrayals of social justice, see here. Hence: temporary limited tactical alliances, yes; allegiance, no.
Those “socialists”, who give their allegiance to the Democratic Party, can only give lip-service to anti-imperialism. So, when Democrats are in control, they mostly remain silent with respect to US imperial crimes against peoples in foreign lands. They even become willfully blind to some of said crimes, as they ask people to vote for said Democrats (nearly all of whom subscribe to US interventionism based upon the notion of the US being the world’s “indispensable nation” and champion of “freedom” and “democracy”).
Outcomes. While the US and NATO send ever increased and ever more lethal weapons which serve to prolong the horrors of this war, it is Ukrainian and Russian (not NATO-country) fighters and civilians who suffer and die. This despite the reality that Russia’s peace terms (neutrality and no hostile bases in Ukraine plus respect for the self-determination rights of Donbas and Crimea), both before and since its invasion, are entirely reasonable. Regardless of who prevails, both Russia and Ukraine will have paid a huge price. Meanwhile, transnational capital, especially in the arms industry and fossil fuel companies, will reap increased profits. If Russia obtains its objectives, that will weaken a defeated Western imperialism. If Russia is ultimately compelled to give up in defeat and humiliation: the US hold over Europe will be solidified, Western imperialism will be greatly emboldened to intensify its new cold against China, and it will have a freer hand as it perpetrates its crimes against other resistant countries. Yet, our Russophobe leftists refuse to oppose more arms to Ukraine.
Principal contradiction. Portside (a very moderately left-leaning online publication) published a solidly anti-imperialist analysis of the Ukraine war by the US Peace Council (USPC), subsequently indicating that it did so in order to present an alternative viewpoint with which Portside did not agree. Shortly thereafter, Portside published 11 comments in response to the USPC statement, all but one opposing the USPC analysis, several in very condemnatory words. Two of those joined a number of other Russophobe leftist commentators in denouncing the anti-imperialist analysis as the “anti-imperialism of fools” or “idiots”. A third, namely prominent “Marxist” (Carl Davidson), commented that the principal contradiction in this conflict is “the Russian invasion of a sovereign nation and Ukraine’s defense of their sovereignty”. Evidently, Russophobe “socialists” such as Davidson have decided that the contradiction between Western imperialism and its victims throughout most of the world is no longer the principal one for anti-imperialists. Being in sync with the US and NATO in this Ukraine conflict, they have become social patriots. A social patriot is any avowed socialist who supports and whitewashes the predatory imperial aggressions of his/her own imperialist state against another state and justifies so doing by branding the opposing state as the sole villain.
Our task. We may consider Russia’s Ukraine response to be an inappropriate excess or imprudent or both, and we may fault Russian methods in its military operations; but we have no capacity to influence Russia’s decisions. Our job, as anti-imperialists in the West, is to condemn and vigorously oppose US-NATO imperialism (including arms to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia) as well as the mainstream media’s grossly one-sided and extremely deceptive portrayals. It is not to tail after the misinformed public and the Democrat politicians (who are all too eager to support: the bipartisan imperialistic foreign policy consensus, the massive military spending, and the cold wars against the peoples of countries which resist US dictates). We should recognize that said Democrats (with very few exceptions) readily jettison their anti-racist and other progressive pretensions whenever it becomes politically expedient to do so. “Anti-imperialists,” who evade the reality of the Ukraine War being the result of Western imperial machinations and provocations so as to simplistically blame it solely upon Putin’s Russia (while exonerating the US, NATO, and the Kyiv regime), become social patriots serving the real imperialist enemy of peoples throughout the world. We must avoid shifting our focus onto the faults (real and imagined) of Russia; we must persist in supporting the fight against that real enemy, even though we will be defamed as “Putin apologists,” “fools,” and “idiots.”
Image credit: Marxist-Leninism Today