The Imperialists Gamble, The Masses Pay: On the Russian War against Ukraine

People take shelter at a building basement while the sirens sound announcing new attacks in the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

By Comrade Redbeard

On January 29, Comrade Toussaint and I wrote an article on the Ukraine crisis for this publication. In our piece, we argued that Ukraine has become a proxy for inter-imperialist competition between Russia and the united states/NATO. The Ukrainian and Russian masses have no interest in war.  We also argued that the prospect of a full-scale Russian invasion was unlikely, contrary to the hysterical noises coming out of the capitalist press and the Amerikan and British governments. They shrieked and wailed, “the Ruskies are coming, the Ruskies are coming” and juiced up the fear machine. This is par for the course for their kind: a foreign menace is a reliable distraction from their inability and unwillingness to tend to the needs of the people at home. We argued against this hysteria as well as the excuses deployed to legitimize Russian imperialism’s contributions to this crisis.

At the same time, we recognized that it would be wrong to overestimate the rationality of the imperialists and underestimate their stupidity and incompetence. Brinkmanship is a deadly game, and it doesn’t take much for everything to go sideways. Still, there were open avenues to peace, talks were ongoing, and the Ukrainians and Russians alike seemed far less interested in war than London or Washington.

Sadly, we were wrong. The imperialists allowed diplomacy to fail. Out of one side of their mouth, they spoke about peace and de-escalation. Out of the other, they announced military buildups and made threats. They were unwilling to make compromises. They gambled, and now the Ukrainian and Russian masses are paying the price. Shortly after recognizing the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic (DNR and LNR) ,the mini-states established by Ukrainian rebels after the Ukrainian civil war began in 2014, the Russian Federation launched a massive military offensive against all of Ukraine, far beyond the de facto borders of the DNR and LNR. The anti-communist Putin’s attack constitutes a war of aggression, plain as day. His government has once again shown itself to be criminals and enemies of the working class and oppressed people. But this shouldn’t be a revelation. Just ask Chechens and Syrians.

Mural painted on the rubble of homes destroyed by Assad and Putin by Syrian artist Aziz Asmar.

The reasons Putin and Russian officials have trotted out to justify their assault would be hilarious if their effects weren’t so deadly. Preventing Ukraine from joining NATO? Fighting NATO expansionism is a laudable goal, but Ukraine’s never going to join. Everyone in imperialist circles knows that. De-Nazification? Another noble cause, but I suggest Putin puts his own house in order before he starts anywhere else. There’s an awful lot of swastika sporters walking around free and proud in Russia. Protecting ethnic Russians from genocide? The anti-Russian ultranationalists wield a frightening amount of power in the streets of Ukraine, but they are a minority and in no position to carry out a genocide. Protecting the people of the Donbas from Ukrainian military aggression would be plausible if not for the fact that Russian soldiers are marching all the way towards Kyiv, even after wiping out most of Ukraine’s military capacity. Ukraine is a fake nation cooked up by the diabolical Lenin to undermine Great Russia? All nations are social creations produced by certain historical circumstances, including Russia. These are tragicomic lies, peddled to give a moral mask to a large and powerful country attacking a smaller and weaker neighbor.

The right of nations to self-determination is a basic principle of Marxism. If a colonized or otherwise oppressed nation wishes to secede from the state that rules it, according to the wishes of its masses, so be it. Is Ukraine an oppressed nation? Although nominally independent, it is arguably a semi-colony, caught between rival imperialisms. Neither Russia nor the great powers of the West respect Ukraine’s right to choose its own path. They jockey for economic and political influence like dogs fighting over a bone. They support different factions of the Ukrainian ruling class, who gladly participate in the looting of their country and their people. Ukraine is a plaything, a pawn that has no significance in and of itself, but only in relation to the ambitions of competing imperialist forces. At the same time, we cannot fall into the pit of Ukrainian ultranationalism, which is fascist and viciously anti-Russian. All the nations of the world are entitled to the same rights.

This brings us to the question of Donbas, the region of Ukraine currently divided between an area controlled by the government in Kyiv and areas controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. When the Russian Federation recognized the independence of these two statelets, Although there is no evidence to suggest the people of Donbas consider themselves a nation distinct from Ukraine or Russia, the principle of self-determination must still apply. What do they want? An extensive telephone survey conducted in January (entitled “Public Opinion in the Divided Donbas”) shows that Donbas is divided politically, not just geographically. Impoverished and sick of violence, the people care less about what state they live in than they do about pensions, salaries, wages, food prices, and other basic economic concerns. When asked who they blamed the most for the war, most residents in the rebel-held territories said the Ukrainian government and/or the West, while a sizable amount of respondents in the government-controlled areas shared their opinion. On the matter of geopolitical status, reintegration into Ukraine with or without autonomy was the most popular choice, but integration into Russia also drew support. Few backed the status quo or outright independence. The people of Donbas deserve a truly democratic referendum on their future, but they are treated like voiceless props by all sides.

Let’s make no mistake, however. Putin pressed the detonator, but many other helped put the explosives in place. The NATO powers, and particularly the united states as the head of the transatlantic beast, misled the leaders of the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation about NATO expansion, rejecting Russian proposals to create a new European security system. The alliance founded as a sword pointed directly towards Soviet Russia grew and grew, heading further east even though its original enemy was dead and buried. Many of Russia’s neighbors placed themselves under NATO’s nuclear umbrella-freely and without pressure, of course-hosting all manner of war games and weapons. But Western militarism is good and noble, a beacon of freedom and liberty that must shine over the whole planet and beyond!

The post-Euromaidan governments of Ukraine have made no effort to resolve this conflict peacefully. The Minsk agreements, which were brokered by France and Germany and signed by those two countries as well as Russia and Ukraine, became useless scraps of paper almost as soon as the ink was dry. These agreements stipulated that Donetsk and Luhansk would rejoin Ukraine as autonomous regions.  On the part of Kyiv, implementation of the accords was politically toxic, due in large part to the government’s fear of the fascists in the streets. Much of Ukrainian “civil society” consists of Western-backed Nazis and Western-backed liberals who give the Nazi minority political cover. In the eight years since the civil war began, the Ukrainian army and the rebel forces violated the ceasefire thousands of times.

Activists of various nationalist parties carry torches during a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. The rally was organized to mark the birth anniversary of Stepan Bandera, Nazi collaborator and leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army. During WW2, the OUN/UPA massacred as many as 100,000 Jews and Poles. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Such are the responsibilities of the primary capitalist states involved in this mess, but what of the capitalists themselves? Just as there are divisions within the working classes, there are divisions within the owning classes. We can see this not only in the relationship between the petty bourgeoisie and the big bourgeoise, but within the big bourgeoise itself. There are sections of the capitalist forces that profit from war and destabilization. The most consistent beneficiaries of situations like the ones in Ukraine, or for that matter Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and many other countries, is the military-industrial complex. The fossil fuel industry is often another major pusher of the militarist drug, as exemplified by the American Petroleum Institute’s shameless calls to “unleash American energy” in response to the war in Ukraine. The death of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline (undoubtedly the result of u.s. pressure on Germany) is a welcome opportunity for rivals. There are also capitalist enterprises that do not benefit from war, or stand to lose more than what they’d gain. Small wonder that Western economic reprisals leave the Russian energy sector untouched, and that countries like Italy and Belgium carve out exceptions for luxury goods and diamonds from the European Union sanctions. The interconnectedness of the world economy exists in tension with the inherent need of capital to keep growing by any means necessary. One tendency encourages dependency, and the other encourages conflict. This is a powerful contradiction within the capitalist-imperialist system, and one that has accelerated with the internal restoration of capitalism in formerly socialist countries, and the advent of 21st century technologies and monopolies.

The most pressing issue right now is the issue of peace. The way things stand at the moment, it looks like it will be the peace the occupier forces on the occupied. Russia may seize Kyiv soon. Imperialist wars are repulsive, bloody things. In Russia, many people are risking arrest and felony charges to protest the war. Ukrainian civilians are seeking shelter from Russian bombs, shells and missiles as well as forced conscription from the authorities in government-controlled territories and the DNR/LNR. European countries are opening their doors to Ukrainian refugees-an irony that must weigh like a boulder on the backs of Black and Brown refugees fleeing suffering fueled by capitalism-imperialism, only to die or go hungry on the perimeter of Fortress Europe. Indignant governments announce new sanctions on Russia or members of the Putin regime practically every hour. Weapons pour into the region like a flood.

Anton Vaganov/Reuters
People attend an anti-war protest, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in Ukraine, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Feb. 24, 2022.

The proletariat of Russia and Ukraine, and the masses in all of Eastern Europe, have nothing to gain and everything to lose in such butchery and destruction. This is a firm class line. Revolutionary defeatism, anti-imperialism, and the right of nations to self-determination are basic principles of Marxism, as put forward by Vladimir Lenin and many others. What does that mean in the context of the Ukraine crisis? The Russian government, the u.s. and other NATO powers don’t care about the Russian and Ukrainian people. They should be defeated in the wars they want so badly, and revolutionaries can help them along that road. The gamblers must pay their debts. The Ukrainian government is a bourgeois regime, a capitalist regime. It should fall by the people’s revolutionary hands, not foreign invaders. Ukraine is entitled to choose its own path, dominated neither by Moscow, Washington, or Brussels. We call on all people with the means to do so to support the anti-war demonstrators in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and dozens of other cities in Russia, as well as all Russian and Ukrainian workers struggling not against each other, but their real enemies: the capitalists and their states. Let us all follow their example.

Art by @luchaliberation.

Damn the fascists, damn the imperialists! For a free and socialist Ukraine and Russia! No war but the people’s war!

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