by Charles Pierson
On November 19, the People’s Forum in New York City hosted a panel discussion: “The Real Path to Peace in Ukraine.” The speakers were a rogues’ gallery of tankie royalty: Claudia De La Cruz, co-executive director of the People’s Forum; Noam Chomsky; Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin; the Green Party’s Jill Stein, M.D.; Brian Becker from the ANSWER Coalition; Eugene Puryear of Breakthrough News and the Party for Socialism and Liberation; and Vijay Prashad of the Tricontinental Institute.
You may notice that none of these speakers is Ukrainian. People’s Forum co-executive director Manolo de los Santos neatly sidestepped this difficulty: “You don’t have to be Ukrainian or Russian to call for peace. You have to be willing to be a human being.” That’s a lovely sentiment. Still, how would he react to a panel discussion on Black Lives Matter with no Black speakers, or a panel on LGBTQ issues with no LGBTQ speakers? Maybe the People’s Forum was simply unable to find a Ukrainian willing to sell out their country.
I can’t give a comprehensive account of the “The Real Path to Peace,” which clocked in at a bladder-bursting three hours. Major themes were the need for negotiations; ending arms shipments to Ukraine; and that in the interests of peace, Ukraine should surrender all its territory seized by Russia. Oh, and that the US and NATO are to blame for the war.
Another Word for Surrender
Let’s start with Noam Chomsky, Grand Old Man of the so-called “Anti-Imperialist” Left. Chomsky, who appeared by remote hookup, told the Forum that “US policy…openly, repeatedly announced…no ambiguity… [is to] continue the war in order to severely weaken Russia…so severely that it will not be able to undertake aggression again.”1
You may think this is an excellent goal. Chomsky, however, thinks the West wants much, much more. Chomsky predicts that the US will “impose conditions on defeated Russia which are even harsher than those imposed on Germany at Versailles. Those weren’t harsh enough; they didn’t prevent German aggression.”
Chomsky’s Versailles analogy is wildly off the mark. Germany was conquered and occupied at the end of World War One. Russia is no danger of that happening. Putin’s nukes will see to that.
The panelists want a “negotiated settlement” where, in Chomsky’s words, “neither side achieves its maximum goals.” Medea Benjamin of Code Pink scoffs at “the illusion that the Ukrainians can get back every inch of territory that the Russians occupy, including all of Donbas and all of Crimea.” (Hasn’t she been following the news? Ukraine had already driven Russia out of most of Donbas at the time the panel took place.)
The notion that Chomsky & Co. don’t want Russia to achieve its “maximum goals” is laughable. Their “peace plan” requires Ukraine to surrender huge swathes of its territory. What will Russia have to give up? That’s left unclear. A protester standing outside the event told Ukrainian-American journalist Oliya Scootercaster that “peace” groups like Code Pink always talk about what Ukraine “has to concede…what Ukraine needs to do; it’s always about what Ukraine needs to surrender, what Ukraine needs to give up, how many [Ukrainians] need to be sacrificed….” Another protester said that The People’s Forum event was “basically…designed to tell Ukrainians to surrender, and advocate for Russian success in Ukraine.”
The people who are now calling for negotiations are the same people who were calling for Ukraine’s surrender earlier. Zelensky has declared that there will be no further negotiations until Russian troops have withdrawn from Ukraine. The world must respect that decision. And if Ukraine should decide to negotiate before then, then the world must respect that decision as well.
The speakers also demand an immediate halt to weapons shipments which they say prolong the war. Strangely, it’s only arms for Ukraine that prolong the war; tankies say nothing about disarming Russia. Cutting off arms to Ukraine would result in a bloodbath and the country’s destruction. Therefore, the Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity Campaign demands that the US, UK, and Ukraine’s other allies continue arms shipments to Ukraine.
To Russia, With Love
I perked up when Jill Stein said: “This is a war of choice” (1:24). Yes! Finally, an acknowledgement that Putin didn’t need to attack Ukraine.
My elation didn’t last long. Dr. Stein continued: “This is a catastrophe of choice, and it’s not just Putin’s invasion. Putin’s invasion was the latest response to a buildup and an escalation of mutual attacks that have been going on at least since 2014 with the US support for the coup in the Maidan; the right-wing and Nazis had a very major role to play because they put their hands around the throats of everybody involved” (emphasis added).
Oddly, Stein does not mention NATO expansion. Tankies insist that NATO expansion from 1999 to the present spooked Putin into invading Ukraine, which NATO was going to absorb. Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, sums up the tankies’ position as: “A bunch of neo-Nazis run by a Jewish president one day were going to get a nuclear weapon, and join NATO, and attack and devour Russia.”
Here’s the reality: Ukraine was never close to joining NATO. Ukraine wanted to join, even enshrined NATO membership as a goal in its constitution, but NATO did nothing to make this happen. NATO has been stringing Ukraine along for years, but has never even granted Ukraine a Membership Application Plan, the first step towards joining the alliance.
Brian Becker of the ANSWER Coalition has an…interesting theory about the invasion. Why did Putin invade Ukraine? Because the US made him. The US wanted the war. The proof is that the US refused to negotiate with Russia in the days leading up to the invasion. The US wanted war because Russia challenges US world hegemony. And so, the US lured Russia into attacking Ukraine.
To these so-called “anti-imperialists,” the US is the Big Bad. Every nation which opposes the US—Russia, China, Syria, Iran, North Korea—deserves the Left’s support. Another protester interviewed by Oliya Scootercaster said that people like the Forum panelists “claim to be leftists…and somehow they always agree with” authoritarians like Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, and Hungary’s Viktor Orbǻn—tyrants who are also adored by the Far Right in the US.
In tankie fantasies, the Ukrainians themselves are incidental. Tankies see this as a “proxy” war between the US and Russia. The US is “fighting to the last Ukrainian” in order to advance US imperial interests. Tankies don’t grasp that the people of Ukraine aren’t anyone’s pawns. Ukrainians are fighting for their lives and Ukraine’s survival as a nation.
Professor Putin’s Pseudohistory of Russia and Ukraine
Putin has told the world why he invaded. He invaded because he holds a curious quasi-mystical, pseudohistorical conception of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine.
Putin claimed in a July 12, 2021 essay that Russians and Ukrainians are “a single people,” a notion Putin’s essay develops at length. Putin contends that the name “Ukraine” derives from “the Old Russian word ‘okraina’ (periphery).” Ukraine is merely Russia’s periphery, not a separate nation. “The word ‘Ukrainian,’ judging by archival documents, originally referred to frontier guards who protected [Russia’s] external borders.” It was not until the 18th century, writes Putin, that “the idea of Ukrainian people as a nation separate from the Russians started to form and gain ground”; a notion for which “there was no historical basis.”
While Putin sees Russia and Ukraine as a single people, this most definitely does not mean that Ukraine and Russia are equal. Putin clearly regards Russia as the senior partner which is entitled to rule over the Ukrainians who are too pigheaded to admit that they are really part of Russia.
All this is so daringly nutty that one scarcely knows how to respond. It should suffice to point out that Ukrainians don’t want to be ruled by Russia. To anyone who believes in national self-determination this should be enough to establish Ukraine’s right to exist.
The People’s Forum declares that “People power will end this war.” They’re right. They just don’t realize that the people are Ukrainian.
Oaklandsocialist comments: The majority of the so-called socialist left takes this position that Charles Pierson so correctly condemns. Like Trump supporters and similar types, they ignore, distort or in some cases outright lie about the facts. In fact, it is no accident that their position is essentially the same as the far right. This shows that a new, and entirely reconstituted socialist movement must develop out of the ashes of the old.
Meanwhile, we are proud to participate in the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign, which played the central role in organizing a protest against this pro-Putin forum.We believe in the simple slogan “No Justice, No Peace!”
1 Consider US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s remark on April 25 that the US “want[s] to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”