I came of age during the US war against Vietnam. I marched in protests against that war and helped organize some anti-war events. At the same time, I was highly influenced by the rebellion of black people – especially black youth – against racism. Later, when I entered the work force, in addition to organizing for a stronger union and against the employer friendly union bureaucracy, I protested against US militarism in Central
America, against the US invasions of Iraq, and against the US-supported Israeli racist policies.
So, how did I come to find my political life so immersed in supporting Ukraine, including support for US arms to Ukraine?
One thing that was a sub theme was my questioning of the guerrilla strategy of groups like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. This strategy moved the most dedicated fighters away from the working class. A similar sub theme was the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa in the 1980s. There, too, the Communist Party of South Africa, which was and remains an important wing of the ANC, took the most hard core youth to training camps outside the country. There, they were trained in guerrilla warfare. It never made sense to me. I never thought apartheid could be overthrown by these methods. The rise of the powerful black unions confirmed that belief of mine.
These sorts of criticisms were denounced by many on the left as support for US imperialism or something of the like. These denunciations were just meant to intimidate people, to discourage people from thinking for themselves. My main activity was among rank and file members of the carpenters union, so I didn’t really care that much what these people said.
Arab Spring and Syria
Then came the Arab Spring. I was inspired by it and made two visits to Egypt to see it first hand. There followed the revolution and counter revolution in Syria. I remember some of the first articles I wrote for my blog on it, back in 2013. They are here and here. Looking back on them now, I completely reject that position that I took. I am embarrassed about them and am tempted to take them down altogether, but they stand as a record of my journey. My visits to Tahrir Square, as well as my base in the rank and file in my own union, helped me. It was obvious that the Arab Spring was a working class revolt against repressive dictatorships, Assad’s included. I learned from the Arab masses.
As the counter revolution in Syria heated up, I started to watch more closely what was happening there. The actual facts, the actual events, proved that Assad was, indeed, organizing a counter revolution. Anybody who doubts that can read Michael Karadjis’s blog Mkaradjis.com, for example this article. Assad’s crimes against humanity were clear. A whole layer of the left actually covered up for those crimes. It was bad enough for them to refuse to accept the evidence that it was Assad, and his backer Putin, who were responsible for the gas attacks on the Syrian people. It was (and is) far worse to pretend that this was a “proxy war” between US imperialism and Russia. In fact, as Karadjis and others proved, the overwhelming emphasis of US intervention was to attack ISIS, which meant in effect to give support to Assad.
It was shocking that a whole layer of the left engaged in what amounted to taking the side of counter revolution, and I engaged in sharp debates with some of them.
Also, around that time Putin’s counter revolutionary role became clearer. I first became aware of it through his criminal role in Syria. (I must say that reading the book “Burning Country” by Yassin and Katab had a big influence on me, and I wrote this review of the book.) That forced me to look more closely at what he represented. It became clear that he was at the center of the global movement of the far, far right, including outright fascists. From reading about him, I ended up writing the pamphlet Putin, Assad and the Syrian disaster.
At that time I was very involved in a group called Workers International Network, whose central leader was Roger Silverman, for whom I had a great deal of respect despite the fact that we differed somewhat. One difference in orientation was that I found him reluctant to take positions that were at odds with the majority of the socialist left. That included on Syria, where he could not fly in the face of reality, but he was reluctant to openly oppose the pro-Assad socialist left. Recently I wrote this article which explains the process more in depth.
But I still was not all the way there yet. In January of 2022, I wrote this article on Ukraine. I stand by much of what I wrote, but I was not clear especially about what exactly happened in the 2014 Maidan protests. One of my first articles was criticized by a comrade of mine, CWA Local 7250 president Kieran Frazier Knutson, because I didn’t really explain what had happened in that uprising. I had avoided the issue because I didn’t know that much about it. At his suggestion, I read Ukraine Diaries by Andrey Kurkov. I wrote a review of that book, and later actually interviewed Kurkov. That cleared matters up for me; the Maidan revolt was a revolt against a corrupt politician who was oriented towards Russia and Putin whereas the majority of Ukrainians wanted an orientation towards the west and the EU. We in the West can think what we like about that, but that was the desire of the majority of Ukrainians.
My interview of Kurkov also set me down another trail: Interviewing a whole series of Ukrainian socialists.
Invasion of Ukraine & a leap in consciousness
But that came later, after the last straw: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. For a day or so, I struggled with the issue of the US helping arm Ukraine. All my political life I had opposed US military involvement anywhere in the world. But yet it was clear to me that this was a counter revolutionary invasion, an imperialist invasion, and it would not be defeated by nice words nor appeals to the fascist-connected Putin. It would only be defeated physically, which meant with arms in hand. But from where could Ukraine get those arms? There was only one source: From the US and its allies.
A leap in my consciousness was required to support arming Ukraine. But I’d already made a similar leap back in 2016, when I was shocked to see Trump elected and then even more shocked to see that the US capitalist class was unable to get him in line. “Something is happening in the US that I’ve been unaware of,” I concluded. I had to stare that in the face. It was a similar process when looking at Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But the majority of the socialist left – most of whom were unable to recognize the real significance of Trump – could not make that leap. For some, it meant being stuck in the concessions to Stalinism. For others including my former comrades in Workers International Network first and foremost Roger Silverman, it was simply opportunism; they were too concerned with being popular with the majority of socialists.
Here is one article of mine that explains what is actually happening in Ukraine and why – based on actual facts – supporting arming Ukraine is the only possible socialist position: Fight a war armed with sticks and stones? A reply to the Putin apologists. Among other things, it explains that while it’s unusual for socialists to support military support from countries like the US, it’s not unheard of.
Old Socialist left cannot be saved
What has happened is this: From making concessions to Stalinism, the majority of the socialist left has come to betray its most important duty: international working class solidarity. There is no going back from there. An entirely new socialist movement must be built from the ground up. That cannot happen without a renewed struggle of some significant portion of the working class. How, when, where and through what channels such a movement will develop is impossible to predict. Meanwhile, there are several means through which we can help prepare for it:
- One is by struggling to clarify what is happening in Ukraine from a socialist perspective. Anything other than support for Ukrainian people’s military struggle is a betrayal of socialism.
- A second is to look back and see how and why this Putinized left developed. In covering for Putin, they have actually taken up the position of fascists and near fascists. Here is an article explaining that historical process.
- And if supporting arms for Ukraine is the only possible socialist position, then this also means looking at US politics through fresh eyes, including recognizing the serious threat that the fascist-connected Republican represent – that they are not the same as they were 10 or 15 years ago, nor is their base the same. This also means taking a second look at how to defeat them.