I recently was sent a copy of an email about the war in Ukraine. It was from some South African trade unionists. In it they repeat all the same old falsehoods and justifications. Before dealing with their arguments, I have to say this:
One would think that the drum beat of Russian war crimes/crimes against humanity would have any socialist – in fact anybody with human values – up in arms. For example, we have the news that Russia has bombed yet another health care facility, this time in Dnipro city. That is part of a wider pattern of attacking Ukrainian society as a whole. It includes not only destroying entire cities as well as mass rape, mass torture and mass murder. Yet the “Marxists”, “anti-imperialists” (except when it comes to Russian imperialism), the humanitarian “peace activists” all ignore these crimes. Or if they pay any attention at all, they immediately shift to blaming US imperialism as well, as if the US were equally bombing Ukraine.
To return to this letter: It raises the same old arguments. Here they are in summary:
- Putin’s invasion is due to NATO expansionism and its encirclement of Russia.
- This is a proxy war between US and Russian imperialism.
- This proxy war actually started in 2014 with the right wing coup in Maidan.
- Socialists and the working class must oppose US imperialism’s arming Ukraine.
- Zelensky is a right wing capitalist politician who deserves no support.
Here is my reply:
US arming Ukraine
First, while it is unusual to support imperialists arming an oppressed nation, it is not unheard of. Let’s go back to Toussaint L’Overture and the Haitian slave revolution. At one point, Toussaint joined the Spanish invaders in order to fight the French. Then he turned around and joined the French to fight the Spanish. So, was that revolution just a proxy war? Or take King Menelik of Ethiopia and the Battle of Adwa (1896). The entire population joined in that battle to defeat the Italian invaders. That was key, but they would not have defeated the Italians without Menelik having been armed by other European colonialists. Should socialists have opposed arming Menelik? Was that just a “proxy war”? Should socialists have refused to support the Ethiopians and instead have called for the downfall of this reactionary monarch? How about the Spanish civil war? Socialists in the US called on the US to arm the Republicans against the Spanish fascists. Were they wrong? How about the French and others sending arms to the Soviet Union during WW II – should we have opposed that?
As for the encirclement of Russia – how about the encirclement of Ukraine by Russia (including Putin’s intervention in and taking over the northern part of Moldova)?
Regarding the alleged “coup” in 2014: This is simply a lie. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians rose up against a completely corrupt president. They wanted Ukraine to be aligned with the EU, not Russia. Say what we like about that desire, that was what they wanted. Every single Ukrainian source I’ve talked with gives that account. See this article, for example. Of course, these apologists for the racist, homophobic, misogynist and fascist connected Putin never bother to actually try to hear what Ukrainians have to say. It would be like if a European were to write something about South Africa in the 1980s and never hear what the black South Africans were saying.
There is another conclusion to be drawn from the Maidan revolt: Imperialist countries go to war over access to markets and for foreign investment. US and Western European imperialism is winning that battle in the economic arena. That’s what the Maidan revolt showed. Therefore, they have no need for a military attack on Russia.
The best friend NATO has is Putin, who is responsible for its increased support throughout Eastern Europe (think: Finland). In fact, there never was a chance that Ukraine would join NATO, which to this day never had any action plan for it to join. Don’t take my word for it; consider the statement of the head of the Retired Russian Officers Association, Leonid Ivashov, who is considered to be a hard line militarist. Speaking on behalf of the association, Ivashov commented “NATO does not directly threaten Russia’s statehood, its vital interest,… strategic stability remains, nuclear weapons are under reliable control, NATO forces are not increasing in numbers”.
The entire reason for the fascist connected Putin’s invasion is Putin’s imperialist agenda. He has openly said that Ukraine has no right to exist. He has intervened in Ukrainian politics for many years. And just listen to his military bloggers, who call for the death of all Ukrainians who resist “Russification”. They are the true voice of Putin. Nor should we ignore the immense war crimes Putin is carrying out – mass torture, mass rape, mass murder, and the utter destruction of Ukraine. This is a war against the people of Ukraine, pure and simple.
Part of a pattern
Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine are part of a pattern that have little or nothing to do with NATO or US imperialism. In the mid 1990s, Russia fought a war in Chechnya against separatists there. By 1996, the separatists fought Russia to a standstill, and Russia negotiated a peace deal. In 1999, Russia resumed the war, killing 300,000 Chechnyans (25% of the population) and all but wiping out the capital city of Grozny.
Then, starting around 2011, Russia entered the war in Syria. There, together with their terrorist ally Assad, they bombed hospitals, public markets and residences.
Zelensky and Ukrainian working class
As for Zelensky, no he has not suspended the class struggle, and yes he is carrying out anti-working class policies. But how about Putin? There is one “little” difference: Ukraine under Zelensky is a bourgeois democracy (with all the warts and pimples that go with that). Ukraine under the boot of Putin is a vicious dictatorship. Some even consider it to be a fascist dictatorship. There are zero workers rights in the parts of Ukraine occupied by the Russians. It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic when the Putin apologists on the “left” talk about the class struggle in Ukraine. They never once have made the least effort to contact or listen to the Ukrainian workers, including Ukrainian socialists, anarchists, trade unionists, feminists, and environmentalists. Nearly the entire Ukrainian population wants to fight the Russian invaders. But yet these Putin apologists, who are oh so concerned with the Ukrainian working class, demand the class struggle in Ukraine – not against the fascist connected invading army, not against the brutal suppression by that army, but against Zelensky.
These apologists for Putin should consider the position of the Ukrainian working class, which is overwhelmingly in favor of fighting the Russian invaders.
Finally, let’s get back to the everyday reality. The Russian invaders are committing atrocity on top of atrocity. We see that every day in the news. Some on the “left” deny this reality. “How do we know those reports are true? How do we know these aren’t just false flag operations?” they ask. Any serious human being should simply dismiss such “questions” as being no different from the neo-Nazis who simply have some “questions” about the history of Hitler’s Holocaust. It is simply a justification of these crimes through denying they are happening.
What do the apologists for the fascist connected Putin propose the Ukrainian people do – just lie down and accept it, or fight back? And if they say the Ukrainian people have the right to fight back, to defend themselves, how do the Putin apologists propose that be done – with sticks and stones, with bows and arrows, or with modern weapons? And from where are they to get those weapons? It’s really quite that simple.