By ERNIE GOTTA
Russia has launched what is the first significant imperialist invasion on European soil since World War II. The political, economic, and social impact of this action has the potential to spiral toward a third inter-imperialist world war. The fact that President Vladimir Putin has said that he is placing Russia into a state of nuclear readiness gives some idea of the terrible consequences that such a conflict might lead to.
Russian forces advanced easily through a large area of Ukraine, rolling through the Donbas region in the east and capturing the Chernobyl nuclear site in the north. However, Russian troops encountered heavy resistance on the approach to the capital of Kyiv. After four days of a fierce defense by Ukrainian armed forces and Territorial Defense militia units against the Russian invasion, a diplomatic ceasefire discussion was underway on the border of Belarus.
Despite the talks, however, fighting intensified in both Kyiv and the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv. Reports state that Russia has been launching rockets and deadly cluster bombs against residential areas in Kharkiv and other locations. A government official said that there were “dozens of victims” in Kharkiv.
Thousands of civilians armed and organized by the government have mobilized for the defense of Kyiv. In a RICT interview, Kharkiv-based socialist Ingmar Vshtyrsky said, “But one thing is certain: a lot of people volunteer to help the army, the authorities and ordinary citizens. I don’t think the right-wing forces play much of a role in grassroots organizing of citizens right now. People of all sorts of political views go to the military and Territorial Defense. Some socialists are among them.”
Over half a million refugees have fled to neighboring countries, while working people in Russia are beginning to contend with the effects of their country’s economic isolation due to the imposition of Western sanctions.
As food and other essential supplies began to dwindle in Ukraine, socialists in the Ukraine Social Movement demanded that “the government should nationalize strategic enterprises, as well as seize the property of billionaires to ensure public access to medicine, transport, housing, and food. That is why the policy of the state should be aimed at ensuring the interests of workers who are at the forefront. We consider it necessary to participate in volunteer activities and organize mutual assistance on the basis of trade unions and other communities.”
Zelensky government’s measures against workers and farmers
A revived and fighting Ukrainian labor movement that takes leadership in this moment over mutual aid and armed training could challenge the current framework of capitalist misleadership. The result could mean defending the working class against both the invasion and the anti-labor reforms and land commodification that the Zelensky government was attempting to pass to attract international investors prior to the invasion.
On Feb. 8, I wrote in a Socialist Resurgence article, “The instability caused by the situation in Ukraine can only spell disaster for workers living there and in the region. The war threats come on top of developments in Ukraine in which the workers—like workers in other former Soviet states—are fighting an all-out assault on wages, working conditions, public ownership, and trade unions.”
When the Ukrainian working class talks of freedom, they mean the ability to live without repression and to earn enough to take care of their families and have access to good housing, jobs, and education. But the Zelensky government’s idea of “freedom” is hitched to dependence on Western imperialism. While working people should support the Ukrainian fight against the Russian invasion, absolutely no confidence or political support should be given to the Zelensky government. Instead of nationalizing businesses to provide for the defense of Ukraine, and thus rallying the support of the working class, Zelensky dialed into a Feb. 25 teleconference of the European Union, where he renewed his pleas to join the EU and to choke Russian workers with harsher economic sanctions.
Unfortunately, the Confederation of Ukrainian Trade Unions has made the mistake of supporting the call for sanctions on Russia. They stated, “The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine calls all global trade-union organizations, brothers and sisters from trade unions in different countries for solidarity. The KVPU calls to continue and strengthen international diplomatic and economic pressure on the Russian Federation and provide all possible measures to stop war and withdraw her forces from the territory of Ukraine. An effective package of sanctions must be imposed immediately against the Russian Federation. We call to provide all possible assistance to Ukraine.”
While we support the ability of Ukrainians to procure arms and food to defend themselves, further Western imperialist measures such as sanctions, no fly zones, and boots on the ground come at price. History has shown that the direct intervention of imperialism into military conflicts often comes with strings attached; the dependent nations become tied ever more firmly to the major powers, which then act to exploit them.
Sanctions in particular will do little to stop the imperialist aims of Putin and his inner circle of oligarchs. Instead, sanctions will only help destabilize the Russian working class. Currently, the ruble is plunging—losing close to a third of its value in a matter of days—and interest rates have doubled. Long queues have formed in Russian cities to withdraw money from banks before the ruble falls much further. At the same time, according to the Levada Center polling group, as of last October only 32% of Russians had bank savings. Without savings in reserve, the living standards of working-class Russians stand to drop dramatically as the value of their wages decreases.
It is important that Ukrainian workers and the working class of Russia and surrounding nations establish bonds of solidarity—including appealing to the Russian soldiers to halt the invasion. Kenny Stancil, a writer for Common Dreams, reported that the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR), with 2 million members, had demanded, “All disagreements and contradictions—however deep and however long standing—must be resolved by negotiations, on the basis of goodwill and adherence to the principle of world peace.” KTR continued, “This vision has been an integral part of the global and anti-militarist outlook of the workers’ movement for more than a century, and has been realized through the establishment of international institutions and mechanisms tasked with ensuring peace … It is the working people of our countries, on both sides, who are suffering as a direct result of military conflict.”
After thousands of Russians joined antiwar protests last week—defying heavy repression and arrests—some Russian politicians and celebrities have spoken out against the war. At least one parliament member from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has publicly opposed the war, despite the party’s earlier support for recognition of the breakaway “Peoples Republics” of Donetsk and Lusansk.
The Russian Socialist Movement, which is in sympathy with the Fourth International, addressed an open letter to the Communist Party, stating: “We appeal to every member of the Communist Party and other “communist” parties whose leadership has supported the foreign policy of the Kremlin.
“A few days ago Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the so-called ‘People’s Republics.’ This is a logical continuation of the Kremlin’s imperial ambitions and the revival of a single and indivisible “prison of peoples” for the destruction of which our ideological predecessors, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, fought to destroy. In addressing the Russians with an openly anti-communist speech, Putin was right about one thing—the right of nations to self-determination and revolutionary defeatism have always been integral parts of communist ideology.
“Today, the military invasion of Ukraine has become a fait accompli. All along, your leaders have called for belt-tightening for the regime’s military adventures and applauded the decision to use the military outside of Russia.
“Comrades! Do you really want our sisters and brothers to die in the trenches, while the Zyuganovs and Taisaevs sit in their comfortable chairs in the State Duma? We call on all members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation to openly oppose the war and call the leadership of the party to account. The Russian Socialist Movement is ready to extend a comradely hand to you and accept into its ranks every communist expelled from the party for an antiwar position. Down with the war, long live the antiwar unity of all socialist forces!”
Ilya Budraitksis, a leader of the “Vpered” (“Forward”), Russian section of the Fourth International, which participated in the founding of the Russian Socialist Movement in 2011, had this to say in an interview with New Left Review about the attitude of the Russian working class toward the situation in Ukraine: “Unlike in 2014, there is no patriotic enthusiasm in Russia today. Part of society is obviously outright opposed to the war with Ukraine, while the majority simply believes that it will soon be over and Russia will restore peace. There are very few actual revanchists who welcome the war and are prepared to make any sacrifice for the sake of Russia’s geopolitical triumph. On the other hand, during the long years of Putin’s rule, the vast majority of Russians have adopted the attitude that they have no ability to influence anything, and that everything will be decided without their participation anyway.”
Budraitksis continued, “This background of depoliticization and demoralization may provide passive support for the war for some period of time. However, if the war drags on and its economic and social consequences are felt by the majority of Russians, their mood may change dramatically. It should also be remembered that for Russia, the perception of Ukrainians as culturally and historically the closest people is very important. Also many Russians have Ukrainian roots or relatives who live in Ukraine. All this creates extremely shaky ground for continued approval of the war from below.”
Europe is rearming
As working-class militants across the globe try to find a way forward to building mass popular resistance to wars and occupations, Europe is rearming. While many thought Germany would remain on the sidelines due to economic ties with Russia, German Chancellor Scholz has invoked parliament to significantly increase war spending. Christopher F. Schuetze reported in The New York Times, “Mr. Scholz announced a one-time increase of 100 billion euros ($113 billion) for defense spending and a pledge to spend more than 2 percent of Germany’s economic output annually on defense. He also proposed enshrining that threshold in the country’s Constitution, ensuring that future governments follow it. The moves were part of an astonishing—and sudden—reversal to decades of German foreign policy that has come as European nations join together to oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Scholz described the Russian military action as having ‘created a new reality’ that ‘requires a clear response.’”
In Belarus, which has more and more become a Russian client state, a majority of voters supported a call by the illegitimate regime of Aleksandr Lukaschenko to renounce nuclear neutrality. Al Jazeera reported, “Voters in Belarus have approved constitutional reforms that will allow the country to host nuclear weapons at a time when the former Soviet republic has become a launch pad for Russian troops invading Ukraine. Russian news agencies on Monday [Feb. 28] cited the Belarusian elections commission as saying that some 65.2 percent of people who took part in a referendum voted in favor of the change.”
China has yet to condemn the Russian invasion and was slow to evacuate its 6000 civilians living in Ukraine. President Xi Jinping appears to be watching the situation closely following the pre-invasion statement he signed with Russian President Putin that pledged closer economic and political ties. The danger of a successful Russian operation in Ukraine could mean a similar move by China on Taiwan. Lam, a Marxist in Hong Kong, responded, “Xi Jinping also observed that he hopes this incident is a preview of future invasions of Taiwan. If Putin succeeds in occupying Ukraine, then Xi Jinping will be more confident in attacking Taiwan. The relative decline of U.S. imperialism has made Xi Jinping think it is worth the gamble.”
China’s recent intrusion on airspace in Taiwan has signaled alarm. U.S. president Biden recently dispatched a delegation that included Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen to the island to show support. Reuters correspondents Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom reported, “Mullen’s delegation marks the first public visit of a group of former officials to Taiwan at Biden’s behest since April 2021, when former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd and former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg traveled there and met with Tsai, who Beijing accuses of seeking independence. The latest trip comes days after a U.S. warship sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, the waterway between China and Taiwan. The U.S. military described its passage as routine but Beijing said it was “provocative.”
The U.S. response
The U.S. has sent additional troops, planes, and heavy armaments to Eastern Europe and Germany in response to the crisis. The U.S. now has close to 100,000 soldiers in Europe. Biden and the U.S. establishment are under pressure to drive forward a response to Russian aggression that can put Washington back decisively into the driver seat of world politics.
Former President Trump in recent weeks has alluded to Biden’s weakness by stating that if he were in office, Putin never would have invaded Ukraine. The macho posturing is all building up to the idea of a 2024 Trump presidential candidacy. John McCormick of the Wall Street Journal reported: In a speech to staunch conservatives, the former president said Russian President Vladimir Putin has played President Biden ‘like a drum’ when it comes to the deadly fighting in Europe. ‘It would have been so easy for me to stop this travesty,’ Mr. Trump said, describing his relationship with Mr. Putin as friendly, but also tough. ‘He understood me and he understood that I didn’t play games.’
However, U.S. foreign policy is anything but “playing games.” In fact, the most “progressive” Democrats, “The Squad,” led the charge for sanctions against Russia. Moreover, there is widespread bipartisan support for a broad range of military actions taken in the global South. For example, Kenny Stancil reported in Common Dreams, “In a statement released Wednesday, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said its Tuesday [Feb. 22] airstrike targeted suspected al-Shabab militants “after they attacked partner forces in a remote location near Duduble [Somalia].”
That U.S. airstrike in Somalia was the fifth since the start of President Joe Biden’s tenure in the White House. “Before him, Donald Trump escalated the U.S. war in Somalia like no one else had, bombing the country more in the first two years of his presidency than Barack Obama had in eight, all the way up to January 19, 2021,” journalist and author Spencer Ackerman wrote on Feb. 25 in his Forever Wars blog. “George W. Bush plunged the U.S. into conflict in Somalia in the first place in 2006.”
People in the U.S. are more antiwar than at any time in our history. James Carden of The Nation reports on a survey from 2018 that shows, “among other things, that 86.4 percent of those surveyed feel the American military should be used only as a last resort, while 57 percent feel that US military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive. The latter sentiment ‘increases significantly’ when involving countries like Saudi Arabia, with 63.9 percent saying military aid—including money and weapons—should not be provided to such countries.”
Activists have the task of mobilizing antiwar sentiment into protests in the streets that involve hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Rebuilding an antiwar movement independent of the Democratic and Republican parties is essential for extending solidarity with workers in Ukraine fighting for their lives and workers in Russia mobilizing to stop Putin’s war.
We ask our readers and supporters to organize events and turn out for the March 6 international day of actions called by Code Pink and other antiwar coalitions. Their call states, “The war in Ukraine is a disaster for the people of Ukraine and a terrible threat to us all. We oppose the Russian invasion and call for the immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops. We recognize that the expansion of NATO and the aggressive approach of Western states have helped cause the crisis and we demand an end to NATO expansion. We also oppose sanctions that will harm ordinary Russians and call on all countries to welcome refugees fleeing the war.”
Photo: Russian protester on Feb. 23 holds sign: “No war with Ukraine,” as a police officer films her. (Nikolay Korzhov / AFP / Getty)