I went to a meeting of the East Bay DSA “Night School” last night. This was a presentation supposedly on Ukraine. As I expected, the meeting was a not-so-subtle cover for Putin from start to finish. The presentation was broken up into three parts.
The first part focused on the history of NATO, so right from the start implication was that Russia’s invasion was due to NATO’s expansion. What they presented wasn’t entirely wrong but it was like what a magician does – wave one hand around and use a constant stream of patter to distract the audience from what the other hand is doing. He also said that he didn’t want to focus on Putin, because it’s mistaken to focus on individual personalities.
After this first section, there was a discussion and I got up and said I knew where he was going with this, that NATO’s expansion is not the basic cause of Russia’s invasion, etc. I also explained the basis of Putin’s rule – chauvinism, etc. – and that NATO’s expansion was not the main reason for Putin’s invasion.
The main reason was that Putin is trying to restore a Greater Russian empire similar to the old Tsarist Russia and that Putin has stated that he doesn’t believe Ukraine has a right to exist. I also pointed out that the Western left doesn’t talk with the the left in Ukraine and doesn’t read their material. It is like white people talking about racism in the US without communicating in any way with black people or reading what black people have to say.
In the second section, he talked about the restoration of capitalism in Russia although he didn’t use that term. It wasn’t entirely wrong, but again a bit of a cover up for the former Soviet bureaucracy. He explained that the introduction of a “market economy” (vs. a “planned economy”) was through “shock therapy” in which the “moderately rich” bought up the state owned enterprises and became “super rich”. He said that during this period “the Russian government is trying to figure out how to do a market economy.” He commented on Putin’s increased popularity until a couple of years ago due to economic recovery there. He also talked about two different definitions of imperialism – basically the old style colonial invasions vs. Lenin’s definition of what amounts to economic imperialism. He did admit that Russia engages in the latter, but to a much smaller degree than does the US.
I was able to reply despite their reluctance to call on me. I commented first of all that he was entirely leaving out the views inside Ukraine itself; it was like these people don’t exist! I also said that it was not the “moderately rich”; it was the old “nomenklatura” – the former bureaucrats – and they basically stole the state owned industries in the process of forming a mafia capitalist class. There was one mafiosa who was more ruthless and clever than any of the others and rose to the top to become the head gangster. That was Putin. His increased support, yes, was partly due to the economic recovery but also was due to the base he’d built through support for Great Russian chauvinism and the Russian Orthodox Church. I also pointed out that Ukraine was entirely missing in his presentation and that the return of capitalism there wasn’t entirely different as far as the rise of a mafiosa capitalist class although there were some differences.
The last part of his presentation was on Ukraine, which he pictured as a country that historically had had a “huge ethno cultural divide”. He talked about the Maidan revolt mainly from that point of view. This was where his point of view became more clear as his basic point was that this is a proxy war. “We (the US) are at war along with Ukraine (against Russia),” he said. “The US is using Ukraine to fight Russia” and is willing to fight “to the last Ukrainian”, he said. “This is a proxy war,” he claimed. The one piece of evidence he presented for that was some statement of some Republican congressman. He also said it’s “not political” to talk about the course of the war and what the Russian troops are doing there. In other words, we should not discuss the massive atrocities and war crimes of which Russian troops are guilty. Nor should we discuss the fact that Russia is on its way to annex the parts of Ukraine that it now controls militarily.
By that time they were unwilling to call on me, but here what amounts to an imperialist point of view came into full bloom. (It’s true that I had talked quite a lot, but it was clear that – to be frank – I know a lot more about the topic than does the presenter. That was because I’ve been in Ukraine and am in regular contact with people there, as well as having read what Ukrainians themselves have to say.) What the Ukrainians want, their views on the invasion didn’t exist in his mind. The fact that at the start of the invasion so many Ukrainians were volunteering for the army that the government couldn’t accept them all didn’t exist in his mind. And any discussion of the horrific atrocities and war crimes that Russia was committing was “not political”, according to him. In other words, the Ukrainian people have no agency; they are just pawns to be pushed around in the “Great Game”. And since they have no agency, no role in history, their experiences don’t matter either.
There is no way to avoid it: This is an imperialist point of view.