by Ellen Isaacs
February 3, 2023
Sympathy and help for Ukrainians is everywhere. Blue and yellow flags flying, refugees being welcomed, marches held, monies sent, applause for armaments. What if Russia had invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, for control of cobalt, coltan and gold let’s say? Do you think Americans and Western Europeans would be sending aid and arms and welcoming African refugees? Have we seen
- Mass support for Yemeni civilians suffering the “worst humanitarian crisis” on the planet, according to the UN, while the US armed Saudi aggressors?
- Aid for Haitians lost in a morass of poverty and gang violence after years of US exploitation and manipulation of elections?
- Mass aid for Gazans living without enough food or water as thousands are killed by US ally Israel?
And the list goes on – Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan – many countries that the US has invaded or supported one side in a proxy war causing death, injury and hardship to millions. Where were Ukraine’s supporters when safe passage to Poland was denied to African exchange students? Could racism possibly be at play?
Even those who routinely protest against imperialist war are somehow endlessly confused by this one. It seems we must choose one side over the other and designate Ukraine as both victim and hero. Some choose to excuse the actions of Russia. Is it because the western capitalist media portrays Russia as the bad guy and the US as good? We know the US ruling class is not good, so therefore Russia must not really be so bad. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, no? Is it because the US had engineered a pro-Western government in 2014 and NATO’s borders were creeping east so NATO is the true aggressor? Is the attack on Russia bad because Russia is a formerly socialist country and all socialist or once socialist countries must be defended against US capitalism?
Others condemn Russia for its unprovoked invasion of a neighboring country and approve the US and NATO supporting the Ukrainians. Are the Ukrainians innocent and deserving victims because they were invaded? There is no doubt that millions of Ukrainians have been displaced and that thousands have died, civilians and soldiers. They are indeed caught in the middle of this nasty war. However, what is nearly always left out of the conversation is that all Ukrainians are not equal – it is a class society with greater inequality and corruption than most. Before the war, the European Court of Auditors had designated Ukraine the most corrupt and poorest in Europe. Run by a small group of oligarchs (one, Ihor Kolomoisky,was behind Zelensky’s rise to power), the average worker’s wage was $10,400 and jobs were so scarce that 25% of the work force had to emigrate to work. (See https://multiracialunity.org/2022/03/02/war-in-ukraine-the-only-good-imperialist-is-a-dead-imperialist/ for a more detailed history.) According to the NYT of 2/2/23, graft and corruption continue. Although by no means a majority, the fascist descendants of the WWII pro-Nazis are an important presence in the military and were the main defenders of Mariupol. What is certain is that as the war steadily escalates, with bomber planes next on the list, thousands more Ukrainians will die and more infrastructure be destroyed.
Lenin Got It Right
The fact of the matter is that we are in the age of imperialism, as Lenin so astutely pointed out a century ago. The world has all been divided up between the large powers who seek control of labor, markets and resources, and the struggle to capture pieces of the pie has continued since World War I. Today the main competitors are the US and China, but Russia is now eager to join the fray. Now that it has finished shaking off any remnants of the Soviet past and recovered from ill-fated escapades like its own foray into Afghanistan, Russia has declared its intent to re-establish its regional power. Putin has declared this war to be the “battlefield for our people, for great historical Russia.” (Aljazeera, 9/30/22)
Bigger Inter-Imperialist Battles to Come
In other words, we must view this war as part of the ongoing push and pull of the imperialists’ struggle for supremacy. The US and its allies have been moving their power and influence ever closer to Russia, recently recruiting Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia into NATO. At the same time, the US is now building four new bases in the Philippines to threaten China. Russia has chosen this moment to re-assert its influence over Ukraine perhaps because it judged the US to be vulnerable after the embarrassing withdrawal from Afghanistan and the non-interventionist influence of Trump supporters. Moreover, Russia had a practical need to reassert its control of Crimea, the base of its Black Sea Fleet, and cement control of the Donbas region with its massive coal reserves and industrial plant.
While Ukrainians have endured massive death and suffering, thousands of Russian soldiers have also died , and a new offensive is just beginning. Protestors are being jailed and independent media shut down. However, the main danger is that this conflict is steadily expanding, with direct conflict between Russia and the US/NATO axis becoming ever more likely. Then the true adversaries in this war will be in the open and the onset of World War III may be near at hand. Whoever is losing in this conflict may well resort to nuclear weapons, endangering the entire world.
Even if this war should somehow not escalate, the fundamental competition between imperialist powers continues and more conflicts will ensue, perhaps directly between the US and China or perhaps in new proxy wars. The question for us is not to pick sides, not between the major imperialists who are fighting one another nor the side of the capitalist rulers who run the smaller nations that are attacked or caught in the middle. Unfortunately, all the governments of nations that seem to have escaped colonial domination – from South Africa, to Nicaragua, to El Salvador, to Sierra Leone and dozens of others – are strongly tied to their former imperial masters and their instruments like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Even Cuba, home to advances in equality, is headed back towards capitalism.
Nationalism, patriotism, has been so successfully ingrained in all the workers of the world that most of us unthinkingly look to our own ruling classes as our allies. In reality, the rich rulers of the world have much more in common with each other than they do with us. It was no surprise that many previously battling capitalist countries, including the US, invaded the Soviet Union shortly after the revolution to try and end communism in its cradle. Thus it is hard for us to think of ourselves as the adversaries of our local owning class and as allies of those who may speak a different language or have a foreign culture. Especially in times of war, when we are asked to sacrifice and struggle together, workers must question whose side they should really be on. Within nations, racism is used to divide us against our fellow workers and to turn us against workers of other nations, as the bosses laugh all the way to the bank. In the case of Ukraine, racism plays a role in obscuring the true US goals.
Rely on the Working Class
There is only one group of people who can end this war and all ongoing and future imperialist conflicts – the workers and soldiers who are called upon to fight. The greatest example are the Russian soldiers of 1917, who turned their guns around and overthrew the Czar as they began the world’s first attempt at communist revolution. Although not revolutionary, the 25% of US soldiers who ultimately refused to keep fighting in Vietnam forced an end to that war and to the US draft ever since. We cannot rely on the leaders of the US, Russia or Ukraine to make a peace that will save lives or promise a good life to their citizens. We must instead be demanding an end to any US armaments and support the workers and soldiers of Russia and Ukraine turning their guns around on their own bestial leaders. At the same time we must be building towards that end here, by building multiracial unity against imperialist war, police brutality, and in support of strikes and many other struggles.
Workers of the world unite!!!!