It sickens me that liberal institutions are jumping on the war bandwagon in the mistaken belief that one side is more virtuous than the other.
The NATO nations and Russia are all imperial powers. NATO wants to expand into Eastern Europe, and Russia wants to rebuild its empire. None is virtuous. None deserves our support. All the combatants plan to incorporate Ukraine into their economies, at the expense of Ukrainian workers.
War madness has taken hold, turning normally peace-loving folks into rabid war-mongers. This madness has infected the school where I used to teach.
In a recent public statement, the school’s President condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “unnecessary, unprovoked, and brutal.” And while the statement expresses “hope for diplomatic resolutions that would restore peace,” it calls on “the global community to condemn the actions of the Russian Government and exert continued pressure to end this senseless attack.”
It is dishonest to call for a diplomatic end to war while also taking sides in that war, especially the side of your own rulers.
Canadians should follow the example of Russian activists and oppose our own government’s participation in this war. We should do more than that.
We should condemn Canada’s weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, whose brutal war against Yemen has caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. Since 2015, Canada has sold over $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, making it complicit in the deaths of more than 400,00 people.
The hypocrisy is astounding. Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister warned Russia, “If you make war on the rules-based international order, we’re going to cut you out of the global economy.” She made no such threat against Saudi Arabia for using Canadian-made weapons against Yemeni schools, hospitals, mosques, and markets. And the United States was never sanctioned for bombing, invading, and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.
Like Russia and the United States, Canada is an imperial power that invades other countries in search of profit, including Indigenous lands at home and Indigenous lands in Latin America.
Some say we should not take sides but simply march for peace.
What does it mean to march for peace? Supporters of US/NATO imperialism insist that peace must be based on a defeat for Russia. Supporters of Russian imperialism insist that peace must be based on a victory for Russia.
There can be no peace in a global capitalist system that feeds on wars of acquisition. Earth has a limited amount of territory, forcing capitalists to war over who will dominate what patch of it. The stakes are high. Domination means profit, and profit becomes the power to dominate more territory and extract more profit.
Pro-war advocates insist that Ukrainians have a right to fight for national independence. Of course they do, in theory. In practice, no nation can exist independent of the global imperialist order. In this context, at best, national independence means substituting foreign exploiters for home-grown ones. Are Ukrainian bosses so much better than Russian ones that it is worth sacrificing thousands of lives to make the switch?
Rich people rarely die in wars. Working people in all nations pay the price. They suffer and die as combatants, as bystanders, as refugees, and as victims of the economic disruption and environmental destruction caused by war. They suffer and die as wealth that could be used to end poverty, prevent disease, restore the environment, and address climate change is lavished on the military instead.
Whoever wins this particular battle, the war for domination will continue, increasing the risk of nuclear war and human annihilation.
There is only one road to genuine peace and self-determination, the one where ALL imperial powers are defeated from below by workers’ revolutions. Because, no matter who wins these wars, workers always lose.
In the spring of 1917, Lenin was asked how the horrible slaughter of World War I could be ended. He replied,
There is no easy way out of this terrible war. The war has been brought about by the ruling classes, and only a revolution of the working class can end it. Whatever sentimental things may be said, however much we may be told, “Let us end the war immediately,” the war which the capitalist governments have started can only be ended by a workers’ revolution.
A workers’ revolution pulled Russia out of that war. A global workers’ revolution can end war altogether.
What is most troubling about this war is that it never had to happen. Many US political thinkers, such as John Mearsheimer (R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Chicago) 1, George Kennan (architect of America’s successful containment of Soviet Union) 2, and even war criminal Henry Kissinger, architect of carpet bombing Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War, all foretold what Russia’s reaction would be by the expansion of NATO to Ukraine. And though many prognosticated the present outcome, the Biden Administration and its coterie of Neocons, now ideologically fully integrated into the Democratic Party, seeing the slow eroding of US power in the world fully pushed Russia to the brink.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the raiding of its economy by the West and the full erosion of the social safety net, regardless what one thinks of Putin, he stemmed the decline and put the country back on firmer footing. He even courted the West in hopes of truly becoming a part of it, only to be continually snubbed.
After the Budapest meetings of the West in 2008 and President George W. Bush calling for the future integration of both Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, Russia saw the writing on the wall. At the time both France and Germany were shocked by this pronouncement. Putin then turned to try minimize his country’s reliance on the West economically and make the West more reliant on Russia.
War is a terrible thing that always hurts citizens and should always be avoided through negotiated settlements. But we cannot escape the fact that in its hubris, this is the war the US wanted. Now people on both sides, and the world economically will suffer, and the threat of nuclear annihilation looms large.
I have to agree. I had hoped for the dissolving of NATO when the USSR dissolved.
Another important point in the generation of this war has to do not only with the expansion of NATO since 1997, which has added 14 nations to what originally was supposed to be a defensive alliance against the threat of the USSR, is the 2004 color revolution in Ukraine, and the more effective Maidan 2014 coup, both orchestrated by the US. The Maidan coup was heavily dependent upon the not-so-covert US backing of Nazi groups such as The Right Sector and the Azov Battalion, both of which openly herald WWII Nazi collaborator and fascist Stepan Bandera as their hero. Former ambassador Victoria Nuland, sworn-in as Under Secretary for Political Affairs in April 2021, was famously recorded in a 2013 phone conversation with the US ambassador to Ukraine not only dismissing the European Union in foul language but also picking who the US wanted to be the next president. This of course came to fruition.
US backing for fascist groups turned what were originally peaceful protests into a violent uprising, causing the democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia. The US wanted him out because he rejected the IMF deal offered by the US. Accepting its austerity measures and cuts to pensions and wages would have been political suicide. Though trying to keep Ukraine in a dance between Russia and the West, Yanukovych took the better deal offered by Russia. This led to the US coup against him, and the placement of Nuland’s choice, Petro Poroshenko.
The fascist groups were then fully integrated into the police and military. After toning down their rhetoric, some were elected to parliament. The US began training the military in counter insurgency methods and supplied arms to the country under Pres. Trump. Even Pres. Obama who supported the 2014 coup was afterward hesitant to send arms to Ukraine. The fact that the US trained in counter insurgency is telling. The US even then foresaw a war where Russia would have no choice to invade and the US could have forces in place for a proxy war that would do three things.
First and foremost, it would reunite a faltering NATO and Europe behind US leadership (which has happened). Second, it would justify harsh sanctions in an attempt to put the Russian people in economic despair and cause enough political unrest to have Putin unseated or assassinated, as Sen. Lindsay Graham called for. Third, it would bog Russia down in a proxy war to drain resources and lives, thus turning the public against them, not unlike what happened to Russia in Afghanistan in the 1980’s.
Not unlike the US backing of the mujahidin in Afghanistan that created and empowered the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the US hopes to use to the radical Nazi elements endemic in western Ukraine. It has no principles. Not democracy. Not human rights. Not self-determination. The final goal is US global hegemony, and nothing – not even potential nuclear winter – will deter it. First it wants to contain Russia, balkanize it if possible, then turn its full attention to China.
It seems the US is not only uniting Russia and China, it is also uniting many other countries around the world that have grown tired of US meddling, coups, economic sanctions, and wars – India, Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Argentina, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and more to follow. The failing overreach and hubris of US geopolitical strategy is beyond reason. And though I realize the need to create a socialist world free from imperialism, capitalism, environmental degradation, and all forms of discrimination, this may be an opportunity to navigate through the fissures.
I agree that neither NATO nor Russia deserve any political or military support, and that only socialism can bring about an end to the economic compulsion for war. However, you leave out the other crucial issue in this unfortunate situation.
Do you or do you not believe that Ukraine has a right to national self-determination and therefore the right to defend itself? If it has the right to defend itself, then it has the right to obtain weapons from anyone it chooses. A revolutionary, in my opinion, would take the weapons from NATO with the understanding that there are no strings attached and that we will continue to fight against NATO imperialism. Of course Zelensky is taking the weapons with strings attached, explicit and implicit.
As for which wars socialists should support or not support, I agree with Trotsky’s “Learn to Think” and with Gilbert Achar’s articles on International Viewpoint. National self-determination is a democratic right, as Lenin understood. We are in an era of fighting for all democratic rights, since the capitalist class won’t do it anymore, as Trotsky’s permanent revolution clearly explains.
Steve – I agree that all nations and peoples have the right to self-determination, to be free of colonial or imperial domination. However, in a world dominated by imperial rivalry, a nation with marketable natural resources or a manufacturing base will inevitably attract imperial predation. Chile is a tragic example. When the Allende government nationalized the American-dominated mining industry, the US engineered a bloody military coup that toppled the government, murdered the elected president, and massacred the popular resistance.
Today’s global economy is so integrated that there is no possibility of genuine independence for any nation, not even the most powerful.
The current war in Ukraine is not primarily a war for national independence, but a proxy war between NATO and Russia over which imperial power will dominate this resource-rich region. Whatever the outcome, Ukraine will have no choice but to hitch its wagon to one or another imperial power. A national liberation movement in Ukraine, or in any other nation, can achieve its aims only by ending the capitalist system that entraps all nations.
Thank you for your reply. Are you saying that socialists should not support Ukrainian self-defense against Russia because they are getting aid from NATO? Does that mean you’d support Ukrainian self-defense if they did not accept aid from one imperialist power or another. To me, such a position amounts to not supporting them, given the circumstances. If Cuba were attacked by the United States, would you not support its right to self-defense if Russia or China supplied it with arms? In such a case, Cuba’s victory would be a victory for the international working class in spite of the support it may have gotten from Russia or China.
Warring imperial powers have far superior military power over any home-grown independence movement. That means no independence movement can arm itself sufficiently without being tied to some imperial power, and there are always strings.
Genuine national independence is not possible in a global capitalist system dominated by warring imperial powers. When a national liberation struggle does succeed, as Vietnam did against French and US imperialism, the best they can achieve is formal independence. Like all nations, Vietnam is locked into a world system where stronger powers dominate and exploit weaker ones.
Nevertheless, any bottom-up defeat of an imperial power is a victory for the global working class. In contrast, a NATO victory over Russia would embolden NATO to target China, bringing more war and more misery.
When it comes to imperial wars, there are two options: We can try to manage them or we can end them.
Managing capitalist wars means choosing sides based on who you think started it, who you think is right or justified, who is bigger and stronger (or smaller and weaker), and what ‘rules’ they may have broken (as if there could be rules in war).
Reformists try to manage or referee imperial conflicts. The task of socialists is to end them.
Ending imperial conflict means rejecting racist depictions of ‘the enemy.’ It means supporting soldiers to stop fighting and to connect with soldiers on the other side. It means workers in warring nations refusing to produce and transport for the war. And it means workers of all nations organizing themselves to end the system of competing nation states that generates war.
Thank you for your clear analysis of this terrible war and its consequences. I do want to quibble with your characterization of the conflict as being between NATO and Russia. NATO was created by the US after WW2 to contain the USSR. NATO does not have an independent foreign policy…it has the US foreign policy. Just like Canada does not have its own foreign policy in spite of the fact that it is a sub imperial power to the dominant hegemon. I think it would be more accurate to describe the war as a conflict between US/NATO and Russia with Ukraine suffering the consequences of being caught in the middle. A role unfortunately it has endured for many hundreds of years with conflicts between East and West.
You are correct, John. Thank you for this important clarification.
Just let me say thank you Susan for your blog, and this particular post that helps educate my instinctual mistrust of both ‘sides’ in this war. The comments of everyone have further bolstered me. Thank you all for this detailing of the history and the complex issues concerning self determination. I am always struck by your constant clarity, Susan, about the necessity of a workers’ revolution, including soldiers, to resolve the problems capitalism creates. It helps galvanize more people to see the connections you all make here! And yet they would face the most daunting system. Thank you for this.
Thanks to Susan and to all who commented. Important perspectives.