No War But Class War!
Socialists should certainly condemn Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. Wars throughout history have never benefited the working-class — only the wealthy. As Eugene Debs said, “The master class has always declared the wars. The subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose — especially their lives.”
Russia’s assault on Ukraine — while, again, criminal — was not unprovoked. The narrative in this war is not as simple as “Russia evil,” or “Putin-Hitler,” as the capitalist media make it out to be. The truth is the U.S. should have seen this latest escalation on Russia’s part coming. There are no “good actors” in this war — if, indeed, there ever are. Socialists must stand in solidarity with the people of the Ukraine and the working-class of Russia. The Russian people have taken to the streets to protest their country’s military aggression.
The working class has no country to fight for. The only war we should be invested in waging is class war.
Russia is Responding to U.S. Aggression
The United States, along with its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), have stoked this latest conflict for decades. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union over 30 years ago, NATO has expanded its reach eastward in an effort to swallow up many of the former communist countries in Eastern Europe. In addition, the U.S. has armed Ukraine to the teeth. (Recall that President Donald Trump’s initial impeachment was sparked by his threat to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to halt weapons sales if he did not do his biding.) The U.S. in particular has armed Ukraine’s fascist paramilitary forces.
All of this has left Russia feeling isolated and threatened. Contrary to the media’s portrayal of Vladimir Putin as a “madman,” a “psychopath,” and a modern day Hitler, Putin’s reaction to the U.S./NATO incursion is completely rational. And, again, it is also highly predictable. This should not be read as apologia for Putin. The Russian president is a wealthy oligarch who represents Russia’s tsarist past. Russia ceased being communist decades ago. It, like China, is a thoroughly capitalist nation.
As the editors of the World Socialist Web Site write of Putin’s cynical motives:
In the two major statements that he has made during the past week, Putin has justified his actions by enumerating the provocations and crimes of the United States. There is, no question, much that is factually true in his denunciation of Washington’s hypocrisy. But the viciously anti-communist and xenophobic ideology that he invokes and the interests that he claims to be defending are thoroughly reactionary and incapable of appealing to the broad mass of the working class in Russia, let alone in Ukraine… A substantial section of the working class in Russia and Ukraine will be repelled by the cynicism of Putin’s glorification of the heroic struggle waged by the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany in World War II while denouncing the October Revolution [of 1917] and the existence of the USSR as a multi-national state.
Biden Wags the Dog
President Joe Biden’s claim that U.S. “forces are not and will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine,” is laughable. The U.S. absolutely is at war — even if it does not (currently) have ground forces in Ukraine. The U.S. and NATO have already deployed thousands of troops to Eastern Europe. And the Pentagon ordered the deployment of 7,000 additional troops to Europe, on February 24.
The war serves multiple functions for the flailing Biden administration. First and foremost, it offers the president a much-needed distraction from his botched efforts at Build Back Better and his aborted “promises” to drastically curtail student loans, raise the minimum wage, and meaningfully address climate change. With Republicans’ prospects for the November midterm elections rapidly rising (The Republicans could take both houses of Congress), Biden desperately needs a “win.” That said, it remains unclear who would emerge as the “winner” in a potential nuclear war with Russia…
There is Nothing “Nonviolent” About Sanctions
Still, Biden realizes the American public has little appetite for a full-scale war with Russia. Working-class Americans are already burdened with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, “inflation” due to corporate price-gouging, and the continued threats of a creeping fascism on the right. According to a recent poll by YouGov and The Economist, 55 percent of respondents believe “Sending soldiers to Ukraine to fight Russian soldiers” is a “Bad idea,” while a mere 16 percent called it a “Good idea.” (Twenty-nine percent were “Unsure.”)
Thus, Biden will likely take various “soft” measures in confronting Russia, chiefly in the form of economic sanctions. Already, the U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia have crippled its economy. All of the “progressive” members of the congressional “Squad” support Biden’s latest round of sanctions, viewing them as a “nonviolent” alternative to military action.
But sanctions are, in fact, a form of warfare. They are economic warfare. And they always disproportionately harm the poor and working-class. Wealthy elites — the very people sanctions are allegedly intended to target — inevitably find ways around the economic blockades. Sanctions are not a “humane” alternative to war. Any serious antiwar movement must reject sanctions along with conventional forms of military action.
Rejecting the “White Man’s Burden”
But doesn’t the United States have some “duty” or “responsibility” to intervene in the war? This is a rhetorical argument many of my coworkers have made in recent days. And the U.S., they insist, is the “only country” that can do anything to protect the people of Ukraine. The death and suffering in the Ukraine certainly call for some sort of intervention. But further military action on the part of the United States will not save lives. It will only lead to more death.
There is no such thing as a “humanitarian” war. Wars throughout history have been ended through public protest, demonstrations, and by masses of working-class people taking to the streets and refusing to leave until the fighting stops. A key turning point in any antiwar movement is when the soldiers — the majority of whom are, of course, drawn from the working class — defect en mass and refuse to fight. This was what helped turn the tide during the Bolshevik revolution.
As Paul Street writes in CounterPunch, “People of the West, fight your own capitalist-imperialist governments and social orders. People of Russia, resist your own capitalist-imperialist government and social order. People of the world: struggle against capitalism-imperialism, which is leading human civilization to literal ruin through war, poverty, and ecocide.”
Certainly, the U.S. has no moral legs to stand on in denouncing Russia’s invasion of a sovereign country. The recent condemnations of Russia by former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush — two of the worst war criminals in modern history — are downright laughable in their hypocrisy. Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, actually went on cable news to, without a trace of irony, decry Russia’s invasion as illegal. As one of the chief architects of the invasion of Iraq, she should certainly know.
Left-Wing Anticommunism: An Infantile Disorder
All of this comes at a time of heightened anti-Russian sentiment within American politics. The U.S. seems hellbent on starting a new Cold War. And most of this anti-Russia rhetoric is coming from the Democratic Party. (NATO itself is a relic of the Cold War era. The U.S., Canada, and several European nations formed NATO in 1949 as a “protective alliance” against the “threat” of Soviet communism.)
Many liberals still genuinely believe that “Russian hacking” robbed Hillary Clinton of the presidency in 2016. Others believe that Donald Trump was a Manchurian Candidate-style Russian agent or some such nonsense. Contrary to popular belief, so-called “fake news” and belief in farfetched conspiracy theories are not exclusive to the right. Large sections of the left believe in equally ignorant fantasies as well. The right has its QAnon and “Stop the Steal.” The left has “Russiagate.” Thus, the political elites have been fanning the flames for some sort of a confrontation with Russia for the past few years now.
And, at the heart of this new anti-Russia hysteria, is often good old-fashioned anticommunism, which remains strong among American liberals — especially among Baby Boomers. Never mind that Russia has not been a communist nation for three decades now. This fact matters little to liberals. Just look at how liberal Boomers reacted to Bernie Sanders’ tepid, reformist brand of New Deal-style social democracy. Can you even imagine their revulsion to actual communism?
Even the renewed interest in socialism among young Americans has not, sadly, lead to a corresponding decrease in anticommunist sentiment. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the largest socialist organization in the country, has its roots in anticommunist and anti-Soviet ideology. DSA founder, Michael Harrington, was a staunch Cold Warrior.
Left-wing anticommunism is very much alive and well in 2022. And it was driving much of the animosity toward Russia long before Putin launched an attack on Ukraine.
War is Over (If You Want It)
Howard Zinn was correct: “War itself is the enemy of the human race.”
We must end the assault on the Ukraine the same way wars throughout history have always been ended: Through mass collective action, protests, walk-outs, and disruptions of “business as usual.” Socialists must occupy the streets, their schools and workplaces, and the offices of their congressional representatives and demand that Russia end its imperialist war on Ukraine. We call for the resumption of diplomatic negotiations. And we also call for the abolition of NATO — an antiquated, imperialist relic that serves no humane function. Banning Russian vodka from grocery stores will not end this war. Only international working-class solidarity can.