by Davey Heller, 15th March 2022
The sad truth is that the millions who out of sincere anti-war sentiments have joined rallies or plastered their social media with solidarity messages for Ukraine are being used by US Imperialism. The war in Ukraine cannot be separated from the drive of the US Empire to crush Russia and China to maintain its global hegemony. Events have an inexorable logic building towards a massive military confrontation between NATO and Russia that could draw in all major powers and result in a nuclear holocaust. The demands for “action so save Ukraine” are giving political cover to the imperialist war as are all the anti-war groups campaigning under the banner of “no to Moscow and NATO”. Demanding “peace” in Ukraine is simply joining the demands that Russia and China join the “Pax Americana”. The mistaken assumption is that war can be avoided avoided only by allowing US and Western imperialism to exploit the world’s resources unhindered. The only real anti-war position is to fight US imperialism’s crazed efforts to dominate the globe, including by encircling Russia, and support the right of countries in the cross hairs of imperialism to defend themselves.
The images of Ukrainian suffering and the empathy they arouse are being cynically used to justify aiding Ukraine by flooding the country with NATO and EU weapons, the imposition of sanctions to cripple the Russian economy, and even demands for an insane “no-fly zone”. A tsunami of imperialist propaganda portrays Putin as yet another “new Hitler” who must be stopped by any means.
Yemen and the “logic” of Imperialism
Of course, there is very real civilian suffering due to the Russian military onslaught. War is hell, and this war is no different. How are we to explain though the wall-to-wall coverage of Ukraine the utter silence on Yemen? During Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Saudi Arabia has continued to drop bombs on the people of Yemen supplied by the US and the UK. The US has continued helping to guide these bombs and to refuel Saudi planes. So far, the eight-year conflict the bombing is estimated to have killed 100,000 people including many civilians, with over a hundred thousand more dead from disease and famine. According to the logic of imperialism the Yemeni dead are ignored since those killed to advance the interests of western imperialism simply do not count to our ruling classes. They are the “price of doing business”. this twisted logic was most nakedly articulated by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1996 when was confronted by the fact that the Iraqi sanctions had killed over half a million children. Albright calmly stated, “we think the price was worth it”
However, each case of suffering and death inflicted upon those who undercut the interests of US imperialism is cast as an epic tragedy. This is because the ruling classes of the US and other major imperialist powers such as France, Germany and the UK are genuinely outraged when a less powerful country resists them. Just witness the seven-decade blockade of Cuba. In addition, those deaths inflicted by the “enemy” are amplified as proof of the “evil” being fought. Whilst the Western press has portrayed Putin as a villain straight out of central casting for years, his decision to invade Ukraine stands as “proof” of his barbarity, and even madness. Now there’s a tsunami of propaganda demonizing Putin as the “next Hitler”. It can’t be lost on Putin that in the last forty years, leaders similarly labelled have ended up killed in the most gruesome fashion, or sent to prison.
So what realities are obscured by the avalanche of propaganda focussed on the suffering of civilians in Ukraine and the emotional response it is whipping up around the world?
The 2014 coup, Ukraine’s civil war and its “Nazi” problem.
The first “reality” is that horrible things have been happening in Ukraine for far longer than the last few weeks. The UN estimated that over 13,000 people had been killed in the Ukraine civil war in the east centred around the two separatist Russian speaking Republics, Donehsk and Luhansk, in the east. Over one third of those deaths were civilians.
This civil war only began in the first place because US and Western Imperialism intervened to foment the Maiden Coup in 2014 to install a puppet regime that could be used in the drive to isolate Russia. This is not a conspiracy theory. Victoria Nuland, Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, openly admitted in 2014 that the US had invested $5 billion dollars “promoting democracy” in Ukraine, an unsubtle euphemism for the trying to ensure a pro-US regime in Ukraine. Nuland was later recorded discussing with the US Ambassador to Ukraine which figurehead the US wanted to install as the next Ukrainian PM. She even handed out cookies to protestors while other major US figures like John McCain literally spoke with protestors in the Maidan Square! The next important “reality” being hidden by the avalanche of propaganda is that armed fascists played a key role in the Maiden Coup by providing the shock troops who escalated the protests. Credible evidence suggests that it was these forces who fired on protestors in a “false flag” operation that precipitated the final fall of the Yanokovych Government. Nuland, in her recorded conversation referred to Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the openly fascist Svoboda Party, as one of the leaders they were working with. Tyahnybok has openly campaigned against the “Russkie-Yid mafia that controls Ukraine”. Svodboda was rewarded with three cabinet posts in the post-Maiden Coup government.
These fascists went on to massacre the anti-Maiden protestors in Odessa at the Trade Union Hall building whilst police stood by and did nothing. Fascist militia such as the Right Sector and the Azov Battalion have served as crucial forces throughout the civil war in the east. The Azov Battalion has been incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard, part of the assimilation of fascist forces into the Ukrainian military.
Supporters of NATO and Ukrainian nationalism are quick to downplay the fascists connection by pointing to Zelensky’s Jewish heritage, and the low vote in the 2019 election for explicitly fascist parties. However, the reality is fascist ideology is deeply intertwined with the nationalism promoted in Ukraine after the 2014 coup. In 2018 the Ukrainian government declared January 1st a national holiday to celebrate Stephen Bandera’s birthday. Bandera was the leader of the Ukrainian fascist nationalist OUN. During the Nazi invasion of Ukraine over one million Jews were murdered as well as tens of thousands of Ukrainians of Polish descent. The OUN participated enthusiastically in these massacres. “Decommunisation” laws have led to the banning of Communist Parties and the replacement of monuments to the USSR with hundreds of monuments dedicated to the OUN and Bandera. The repression of the Left by the Kiev regime has continued during the invasion with the arrest of the leaders of the underground Communist Party by the USB. A dark new chapter has been opened by Zelensky’s call for an “International Legion” to fight the Russians. This Legion will be a site for global fascist recruitment in a dark inversion of the international brigades of the Left who fought fascism in Spain in the 1930’s.
Whilst it is not necessary to accept Putin’s justification that an aim of the invasion is “denazification” of Ukraine, at the very least opponents of the Russian invasion should have the honesty to acknowledge that the Ukrainian fascists pose a deadly threat to the people of the breakaway regions in the East. Since 2014 the post-Maidan governments have fueled fanatical anti-communism, closely linked to Russophobia. Whilst of course not all Ukrainians are fascist, it only takes a few thousand heavily armed Nazis backed by the state to ruin the working class’s day! Western media largely refuses to even acknowledge Ukraine’s “Nazi problem” and has even amplified the propaganda directly, such as the infamous photo of the “Ukranian grandma” taking up arms in Mauripol, a photoshoot organised directly by the Azov battalion.
NATO’s existential threat to Russia
The most important “reality” being obscured is that Russia has launched its war on Ukraine in the context of its encirclement by US imperialism. After the collapse of the USSR and the restoration of capitalism in Russia, the new capitalist ruling class hoped to be able to exploit the Russian working class on its own and to be left in peace by US imperialism to grow rich. They were given assurances that NATO would not move “one inch east”. However, imperialist appetites know no bounds. Why should the new and relatively weak capitalist rulers of Russia be the ones to benefit from the sea of natural resources of the Russian landmass? Nor was it acceptable that the Russian ruling class inherited a massive nuclear arsenal and powerful military in which to guard these natural resources and act independently. So, since 1997 NATO expanded its membership ever eastward. Now over half of its member states are former Soviet Republics and Russia is nearly encircled from its Eastern flank from Estonia in the North to Turkey in the South. Is it any wonder that Ukraine’s desire to add its 2295 kilometre border with Russia to the NATO camp is seen as deeply threatening? How could Russia not see the potential placement of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, so close to Moscow, as anything other than preparation for a pre-emptive nuclear strike capacity?
Even without Ukraine joining NATO, the civil war in Ukraine has given cover for the deepening of military cooperation between Ukraine and NATO. As recently as last December, the Biden Administration and the Ukrainian Government signed an agreement that not only committed the US to supporting Ukraine joining NATO but included its open intentions to make Ukraine a defacto NATO member in the meantime:
“The United States remains committed to assisting Ukraine with ongoing defense and security reforms and to continuing its robust training and exercises. The United States supports Ukraine’s efforts to maximize its status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner to promote interoperability.”
The US makes no bones of its posture towards Russia. Since George Bush Snr in 1990 announced a “New World Order,” the US’s own official documents openly assert its aims for “full spectrum dominance”. Any actions taken by Russia, China, Iran or Venezuala that cuts across US domination is seen as an attack on the “rules based order” of Pax Americana. It has openly designated Russia a target for “great power conflict” along with China. The aims of US imperialism go further than subjugating Russia as the architects of US imperialists policy have long wanted to open up Russia for full imperialist exploitation. Robert Gates, former US Secretary of Defence in his 2014 Memoir stated:
“And when the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself”
Russia’s right to self-defence
So the reality is that Russia rather than being an imperialist behometh whose invasion of Ukraine signals the start of its plans for a blitzkrieg heading towards central Europe, it is rather a desperate act of “offensive” defence, against the long held plans of US imperialism to tighten the noose. Russia is in reality a mid-range capitalist economy comparable to Brazil, Iran, or South Africa. Whilst Russia inherited the scientific and military legacy of the USSR, giving it an outsized military capacity and whilst Putin has used some of the gas and oil money to enhance Russia’s military it does not change the fundamental power imbalance between Russia and US imperialism.
Imperialism from a Marxist perspective is not simply the use of force by one country against another to advance its interests but a form of capitalism which signifies the dominance of monopolies and finance capital. Russia’s relative backward Russian economy sets it about from the major imperialist powers such as the US, Germany, France, UK, Australia and Canada. For a more detailed explanation on why Russia is not imperialist read article I co-wrote with Robert Montgomery “Setting the record straight: Ukraine, Russia and Imperialism”.
This imbalance is on full display in the marshalling of the awesome economic firepower now levelled at Russia in the form of sanctions, themselves an act of war. The US via its Wall St tentacles can organise and demand Russia be thrown out of the banking system and have every western corporation from Shell down to Netflix refuses to trade with Russia. The Western press is not hiding its glee at the thought that the Ukrainian invasion may turn out to be a case of Russia walking into a trap laid by imperialism. They potentially smell blood in the water. The onslaught of sanctions against Russia post-invasion demonstrate conclusively that the war in Ukraine is now simply a proxy war to enable the “mother of all” regime change operations.
It is in this context that critical support for the Russian invasion should be given, on the grounds of self-defence of a country that is in the cross hairs of US imperialism.
What about Ukraine’s right to self-defence?
Of course many would counter this argument that if Russia has the right of self-defence doesn’t Ukraine? The answer is of course Ukraine has the right to self-determination, but this right was undermined long before Russia invaded on February 24th. Ukraine emerged as a weak capitalist state after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, until 2014, the oligarchs and political class of Ukraine has maintained Ukraine as a neutral country between its more powerful neighbours to the east and west. Internally there was also an unsteady but delicate balance between the EU orientated populations of the west of Ukraine and the Russian orientated populations of the east of the country.
All of this changed in 2014, with the Maiden Coup and the installation of what are pliant if not outright puppet regimes of the US in KThe elections that have been held cannot be seen to be either democratic or legitimate expressions of self-determination of Ukraine as a whole under conditions of the violent repression of any pro-Russian sentiments through fascist thugs committing massacres on the streets, attempts to ban Russian as an official language, “decommunization laws”that celebrate Nazi war criminals and ban Communist Parties and the mass shelling of the eastern separatist regions.
This has all been combined with the usual imperialist tactics of undermining sovereignty through IMF loans that enforce austerity and the exploitation of a country’s resources by the West. Where were all the defenders of Ukrainian self-determination when all of this was happening? Where have they been “standing” since 2014! It is US imperialism that has turned Ukraine into a piece of the chess board and like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya , it is the people who pay the price as the processes it has set off literally tear the country apart.
All of this however should not be seen as a blank cheque to the reactionary Putin’s “great Russian Chauvinism”. Critical support of the invasion of Ukraine should only extend as far as the war aims to bolster Russia’s self-defence and remove Ukraine as a spearhead of imperialism. It is not a greenlight for the incorporation of the whole of Ukraine into “Greater Russia’ as part of an indefinite occupation.
The fact that Russia has played the role of regional bully towards its neighbours for centuries has colored how this invasion has been seen both within Ukraine and around the world. It is through this prism that many have interpreted the image of Russian tanks crossing over into Ukrainian There was a reason that Lenin called Tsarist Russia a “prison house for nations”. Stalin, despite being from Georgia continued the tradition of Russian chauvinism within the borders of the USSR. Putin himself has hardly helped the situation with his speech justifying the invasion on grounds that included the loss of Russia a historical tragedy that can be blamed on the hated Bolsheviks!
However that history does not change the context that defines Russia’s actions within Ukraine as essentially defensive. Putin’s pipedreams of the return of Greater Russia don’t change the character of Russia in relation to US imperialism. Nor does the political character of Putin’s reactionary capitalist regime that exists to defend the economic interests of the Russian oligarchs change this essential relationship. Opposing the US invasion of Iraq did not mean the anti-war movement endorsed Saddam Hussein. Anti-war activists who opposed the US funding and arming of Islamicists forces in Syria did not politically endorse Assad. Opposing sanctions against Iran does not mean endorsing the Mullahs of Tehran. These regimes had the right to defend their countries against imperialism. There is no contradiction in saying that an anti-war position must be fuelled by anti-imperialism.
The interests of the working class
On a fundamental class level the defence of Russia’s right to self-determination is not an embrace of “Russia’s national interests” in terms of the interests of Russia’s bourgeoisie. A defeat of Russia by US imperialism in Ukraine will only hasten its neo-colonial subjugation by imperialism. This will mean that the Russian working class will face the “double yoke” of their own undemocratic ruling class and its imperialist overlords in their own fight for socialist liberation. This is the double bind the Ukrainian working class faces today. If there were large organised socialist working class movement operating within Russia or Ukraine which could intervene to redirect the conflicts in a revolutionary direction this analysis would change, but our analysis must be grounded not in the abstract, but in concrete objective reality.
Some Marxist groups have argued that neither side in this war should be backed as both are capitalist and there “no war but the class war”. Of course, it is fundamentally true that war can only be ultimately stopped through the overthrow of capitalism itself. However this does not mean that throughout the historical period as we fight for socialism we do not stand in solidarity with nations targeted by imperialism and side against the imperialist oppressor.
A defeat of Russia will also be a set back for the international working class as it will embolden and advance US Imperialism’s openly expressed desire to subjugate China. If the military and economic power of Russia, including its nuclear arsenal are neutralised one way or the other, the path is clearer for the US to move on the rising power of China. China’s attempts to construct an alternative economic framework outside the control of US Imperialism in the form of the Belt and Road Initiative must be stopped and the US is determined to tighten its grip on the Eurasian landmass to achieve this. Although, in the short term the war in Ukraine has increased the risks of nuclear war, the anti-war movement needs to understand that a victory by the US over Russia will not stop but accelerate the drive to World War 3.
The Anti-war movements gift to US imperialism
The obliteration of all of this context under an avalanche of war propaganda, justified by the suffering of civilians within Ukraine is giving a free hand to the US to posture as the defender of peace! What other explanation could there be for the obscenity of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who stands upon the mountain of corpses that lies under US Imperialism, being able to tweet out footage curated by the State Department of people holding “No War” signs at rallies from around the world.
A former head of the Australian Securities and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Denis Richardson, the Australian domestic spy agency recently observed that
” If you go back over the last 20, 30, 40 years its difficult to think off people demonstrating in Western countries other than against wars. By and large the wars that western countries have been involved in over the last 40 years have had some significant opposition from within their own domestic reach. This is a conflict in which up to now the weight of popular opinion appears to be on western governments to do more not less. Not necessarily to engage in conflict but certainly to do more and I cant quite remember the last time there was something like this where people were out on the streets demanding that their governments do more and I think social media has a lot to do with that.”
Australia is one of the members of the imperialist “Five Eyes” intelligence network and Richardson is one of Australia’s most well connected spooks. His comments show what a gift the cooption of antiwar sentiment has been to US imperialism in this conflict with Russia.
For a socialist, anti-imperialist movement against WW3!
The failure of the majority of the anti-war movement to unequivocally oppose NATO’s war drive against Russia and to offer critical support to Russia’s attempts to defend themselves with military intervention in Ukraine has only served to put a left face on the drive to World World Three. The anti-war movement must rediscover an essential truth and quickly. To be anti-war means being anti-imperialist and means standing by countries rights to defend themselves against imperialism. The actions of a weak Russian ruling class with its back to the wall cannot be equated with the reckless efforts of US Imperialism, possessing the largest military and financial empire the world has ever seen fighting to maintain its global dominance at all costs. The fight must begin to build an international anti-war movement that understands that waging an anti-imperialist struggle is the only way to stop the almost unimaginable horror of a third world war.