Ukraine War, divided left: “social patriotism” and the “anti-imperialism of idiots”!
Since Russia’s military operation commenced on February 24, the socialist left has been divided in its response to the armed conflict in Ukraine. On one side are those who align with the US, NATO, and the Ukrainian state in denouncing Russia as the principal villain. In opposition are those who view: the conflict as the outcome of the West’s new cold war against Russia, and the post-coup regime in Ukraine as a willing pawn of the West (US and its geopolitical allies) in that new cold war. There are also some groups who condemn both: Russia for its February 24 military action, and the US and NATO for their provocations against Russia’s national security concerns. Many of the left’s published commentaries: repeat invalid assumptions, evade crucial issues, and/or misrepresent the realities of the conflict.
Divided left. There being differing political perspectives on the left is nothing new. For example, during the Vietnam War some avowed socialists (actually liberals) initially supported the US policy in Vietnam from a number of rationales. Those rationales included: acceptance of the pretense that US foreign policy was about defending the “free world” for the sake of “democracy”, unswerving opposition to Communism as an existential enemy of liberal freedoms, being blind or indifferent to the racist realities of Western imperialism. As the War dragged on with no end in sight and as a large popular antiwar movement emerged, those prowar “socialists” either switched over to the antiwar side or became discredited. Finally, realists in the foreign policy establishment and national politics, realizing that the War was undermining US influence around the world, switched over to the antiwar side (thereby dividing the ruling class). At that point, the antiwar forces were strong enough to force an end to US continuation in that War. Defeat in Vietnam was a setback for US imperialism, but only a temporary and limited one. It did not end US imperial interventionism or divisions within the “socialist” left.
In speaking about the current Ukraine War, every group branding itself as “socialist” claims to be “anti-imperialist”. However, they differ as to which imperialism to oppose in the current conflict: Russia, the US and NATO, or both. With the conflict portrayed (by the bipartisan political establishment and the liberal mainstream news media) as having begun with an “imperial” Russia threatening and then invading an “independent” “democratic” Ukraine, and with images of Ukrainian suffering and heroic resistance in one-sided daily news broadcasts; it is all too easy to endorse the establishment narrative. Meanwhile, any socialist who disputes that narrative must expect to be dismissed and/or denounced by those “anti-imperialists” who put all blame upon Russia. In fact, many leftist online publications have been publishing such dismissive, condescending, and/or denunciatory commentaries by Russia-blaming “socialists”. A few of the more erudite examples:
- Fletcher, Bill Jr, Bill Gallegos, & Jamala Rogers [F&G&R]. “When Should We Stop Excusing the Russian Invasion?”. New Politics, May 11, 2022. (Republished by Portside and by LeftLinks – CCDS.)
- Bilous, Taras [TB]. “Self-Determination and the War in Ukraine”. Dissent, May 09, 2022. (Republished by Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.)
- Gosse, Van & Bill Fletcher Jr [G&F]. “Whose Side Are We On? The War in Ukraine and the Crisis of the Left”. Portside, April 19, 2022.
This critique [with relevant references to the foregoing commentaries] neither approves nor condemns Russia’s action. Its essential purpose is to refute the misinformation and misconceptions which have proliferated (especially those from the anti-Russia pro-Kyiv left) in US leftist commentaries. Consequently, it takes issue with arguments propagated by those leftists who have evaded, or failed to ascertain, the relevant facts and context of the event. In fact, the anti-Russia left (like the mainstream liberal news media) has joined the US and its NATO allies in purveying falsehoods which portray the Kyiv regime as an innocent victim of “unjustified” or even “unprovoked” Russian aggression [F&G&R, G&F]. Such war propaganda for the US-NATO-Kyiv narrative severely undermines the fight against imperialism. [Relevant sources may be accessed by clicking on hyperlinks.]
Unprovoked? Some of the evaded facts.
- The US and NATO violated their promise that NATO would not expand into central and eastern Europe, promise given in 1990 in order to obtain needed Soviet consent for the reunification of Germany.
- The US placed nuclear-capable missiles (capable of quickly striking Moscow and other Russian targets) in Poland and Romania (planned from 2008, installed in 2018). Not a provocation? Do we remember how the US pushed the world to the brink of nuclear apocalypse when the USSR placed such missiles in Cuba after the US had placed similar missiles in Turkey?
- NATO has repeatedly conducted war games, practicing for war against Russia, in the Baltic states on Russia’s border.
- The US and NATO consistently responded to the past 25 years of Russian protests (against the foregoing NATO threats to Russian national security) with an arrogant intransigence. Continued diplomacy was clearly not a viable means for obtaining redress.
- The US, especially thru its National Endowment for Democracy [NED], has been funding and training anti-Russia pro-West political organizations in Ukraine (also in Belarus and other former Soviet states) since the collapse of the USSR. It funds and trains pro-Western media and civil society organizations in scores of countries (which have also included Russia). NED was created by Congress in 1983 to replace the CIA as the principal US agency for surreptitiously promoting regime-change in countries (including liberal democracies) which refuse to comply with US dictates.
- The US incited and abetted the 2014 coup which, spearheaded by violent neo-Nazi militias, ousted the democratically-elected government of Ukraine. Why? Because said government had chosen to keep Ukraine neutral between Russia and the West. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the US choice to lead Ukraine, then became Prime Minister.
The post-coup regime (far from innocent) has consistently pursued anti-Russia policies:
- revocation of a 2012 law providing language rights for minorities, plus new legislation to restrict the use of the Russian language (the first language of 30% of Ukrainians);
- outlawing and repressing Communists (under its 2015 decommunization law) and every other political party deemed to be in opposition to its anti-Russia policies;
- giving impunity to neo-Nazi militias when they have terrorized Russian, Roma, and other ethnic minorities;
- lauding, as national heroes, wartime collaborators with Nazi Germany and participants in its genocidal crimes;
- refusal to implement its promise (in the 2014 and 2015 Minsk accords) of autonomy for the Donbas regions which had resisted the 2014 coup and rebelled in response to regime attempts to crush that resistance by means of repressive armed force;
- refusal to respect the will of the people of Crimea to reunite with Russia; and
- in the anti-Russia NATO military alliance.
The US had been arming and training Ukrainian military forces, including the neo-Nazi Azov regiment, for military operations against the Donbas rebels.
There clearly was a lot of provocation: by the US, by NATO, and by the post-coup regime in Ukraine. Moreover, but for those provocations, this war would not have occurred.
The belligerents and their objectives. To reduce this war to a case of evil Putin-Russia preying upon innocent Ukraine is simplistic delusion. The current conflict (certainly since the 2014 coup) was never simply between Russia and Ukraine. And now, the US and NATO, with their economic siege (draconian sanctions) against Russia and their supplying of huge amounts of advanced weaponry to the Kyiv state, are very much belligerents even though not putting their own soldiers into the fight. The belligerents’ objectives.
- The US-NATO objective (since before the 2014 coup) has been: to turn Ukraine into a client state of the West, to weaken Russia, to strip it of its limited sphere of influence, and to effectuate a regime change to replace Putin with someone who will be submissive to Western imperial dictates.
- The post-coup Kyiv regime, prompted by the US and dominated by chauvinistic Ukrainian nationalists (including neo-Nazis), has consistently pursued anti-Russian policies and sought: to make Ukrainian language and national identity dominant throughout the country, to marginalize or Ukrainianize ethnic minorities, to eliminate Russian influence, to impose its absolute rule over predominantly-minority regions seeking autonomy or independence, and to integrate Ukraine into the West both economically and militarily.
- to uphold the decision of the people of Crimea to reunite with Russia (along with ensuring Russia’s continued control of its Crimean naval base), and to protect the rights of the predominantly ethnic Russian population in Donbas (which as part of Ukraine would also serve as an obstacle to Ukraine’s joining any anti-Russia alliance).
International law? The US-NATO-Kyiv aligned part of the “socialist” left attributes this War to Russia committing “violations of international law” and “of the UN Charter” by “invading a sovereign nation” [F&G&R]. This oversimplifies and worse.
Firstly, it evades the fact that the Kyiv regime, with US encouragement and deliveries of ever more-lethal arms, remained intransigent in response to appeals by Russia and the breakaway Donbas Republics to resolve the Donbas conflict peacefully. Kyiv was refusing to even talk to the leaders of said Republics and was evidently intent upon crushing them thru brute military force. Moreover, it was the coup regime in Kyiv which first resorted to violence when (in 2014) it sent newly-formed armed forces, including neo-Nazi militias, to crush Donbas resistance to said coup (the regular army then lacking sufficient motivation for doing so). Russia insists that its military action against Ukraine is, at least in part, a response to Kyiv’s aggression in Donbas; and, in fact, it was the Kyiv regime which first resorted to armed force. Thusly, Russia makes its case that its military action in Donbas was a justified response to Kyiv’s continued military aggression against the breakaway Donbas Republics, and therefore allowed under the UN Charter. As for Russia’s invasion of the rest of Ukraine, Putin regards Kyiv’s collaboration with NATO’s increasing moves to threaten Russian national security as providing his justification. Although one may question the validity of one or both of those Putin rationales, it is not a clearcut case of Kyiv-NATO all right versus Russia all wrong.
Secondly, in their legalistic diatribes against Russia, the US-NATO-aligned leftists [F&G&R, G&F] either: (1) make unfair comparisons (such as to the US-British 2003 invasion of Iraq which was, in fact, purely an imperial regime-change war “justified” by nothing other than an absolute lie); or (2) altogether evade the history of repeated and massive violations of the UN Charter and of international law whenever said law has stood in the way of the unjust aggressions by their own imperialist states. Those aggressions include:
- arming violent reactionary insurgencies (such as the Mujahidin in Afghanistan and the Contras in Nicaragua) in resistant countries;
- murderous economic sieges (Cuba, Iraq, Venezuela, Iran, …);
- threatening war games (Baltic states, south Korea);
- inciting and abetting coups, even against democratically-elected governments (Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and dozens more);
- assassinations and attempts (Lumumba, Castro, Qasim, Allende, Gaddafi, …);
- interference in many other countries’ elections (beginning with Italy in 1948);
- devastating murderous military interventions on the side of repressive reactionary regimes in other countries’ civil wars (Greece, China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Colombia, …);
- arming and shielding states which perpetrate massive crimes against human rights (the Zionist state, Saudi Arabia, …);
- regime-change military invasions (Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Libya, …).
Those racist imperial interventions (scores of them since 1945) have left many tens of millions impoverished, terrorized, displaced, injured, or dead.
Finally, none of those victims of Western imperial violations of international law were able to have it enforced against their oppressors. In fact, the US and its major allies routinely violate the Charter and international law; and, given the lack of any authority with the power to enforce said law against them, they (its major violators) are never held accountable. Nevertheless, our anti-Russia “socialists” are now repeating verbatim the US-NATO one-sided application and misapplication of international law [F&G&R] in order to justify their backing for the West’s intervention against Russia. They may argue that US crimes are a separate case and therefore irrelevant. The fallacy in that argument is that the US and NATO have been anti-Russia participants in this armed conflict ever since the 2014 coup. Consequently, our US-NATO apologists are, in effect, calling for the worst outlaw in a lawless world to enforce the law against a lesser alleged offender notwithstanding that said enforcer is itself a perpetrator acting in furtherance of its own criminal objectives. This is not support for law enforcement; it is giving de facto assistance to the worst criminal gang in the world.
“Imperial Russia”? Our anti-Russia leftists make much of Putin’s Russia as an “autocratic”, “anti-democratic” “imperialist” state [TB, F&G&R]. Certainly, much of Putin’s ideology is reactionary; and there is much to fault in Russia’s domestic policies. There may even be valid criticisms for some aspects of Russia’s actions in Donbas and/or Crimea and/or elsewhere. Nevertheless, Russian imperialism, in striving to preserve its limited sphere of influence, is essentially defensive. Moreover, Russia (with military spending less than 1/17 that of NATO member countries collectively and with one military base outside of former Soviet countries) pales to insignificance in comparison with Western imperialism which: maintains hundreds of military bases all around the world, attempts to impose its will upon nearly every other country, exploits and oppresses all around the world, and is led and dominated by the world’s only current superpower. Finally, Russia’s grievances against US-NATO imperialism and against the post-coup regime in Ukraine are real and valid. Making an issue of Russia’s deficiencies, while evading that reality, is simply a convenient pretext embraced by those in need of an excuse for aligning with Biden, Stoltenberg, and the Kyiv regime against Putin’s Russia.
“Democratic” Ukraine? Apologists for the Kyiv regime propose that Ukraine deserves support against “autocratic” Russia because it is (they assert) a “democracy”. They [including G&F, TB, F&G&R] omit and evade numerous contrary facts: that the current regime was established thru the US-backed 2014 coup against an actually popularly-elected government; that Zelensky’s initial popularity rested largely upon his promise (broken soon after he took office) to make peace with the breakaway Donbas Republics; that (in 2021) the leading opposition party (which was then beginning to outpoll Zelensky’s party) was suspended and its leader (Viktor Medvedchuk) placed under house arrest and subsequently charged with treason; that voices of opposition to Kyiv’s anti-Russia policies have been routinely repressed by the post-coup regime. While human rights abuses (some of them probably fabricated) alleged against Russian soldiers are expansively reported by Western states and their supportive mainstream news media; the Kyiv state’s reign of terror, with torture and murder of dissenting Ukrainians and of captive Russian soldiers go entirely unreported in said news media. In fact, the Kyiv state is at least as far from being a liberal democracy as is Putin’s Russia.
The national question? Some Russia-blaming “Marxists” make an issue of Russia allegedly violating the Leninist principle that nations (specifically including Ukraine) have the right to self-determination and separate existence as an independent nation-state [G&F, TB, F&G&R]. Certainly, Putin’s statement regarding the history of the creation of present-day Ukraine as a separate East Slavic nation is problematic from a Leninist viewpoint. However, the assumption and assertion that Putin has denied Ukraine’s present-day national legitimacy, or sought to eliminate its existence as a separate and independent country, is an absolute falsehood. What he actually said was that Russia and Ukraine, like Germany and Austria, have common ancestral and cultural roots and ought to have friendly relations. He definitively acknowledged: that “historical circumstances” had resulted in Ukraine being “a separate nation”; and that as to “How should we treat that? There is only one answer: with respect!” Substituting imagined extensions of Putin’s sentimentalities for his actual deeds and evident intentions, in order to justify siding with Western imperialism, is simply deceitful. The relevant facts.
Firstly, Putin has clearly acknowledged the impossibility of resurrecting the Soviet Union. He has evidenced no intent to deprive Ukraine of its existence as a separate independent country, but only to prevent it from becoming a threat to Russian national security. He persisted for nearly eight years in seeking Ukraine’s implementation of autonomy within Ukraine for the Donbas regions (as Kyiv had agreed to do in the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements) even though much popular sentiment in said regions was for unification with Russia. Nothing, that Russia did, prevented Kyiv from implementing the promised autonomy. Those are crucial facts which the anti-Russia “socialist” commentators generally omit and always evade.
Secondly, these “Leninists” echo the US and NATO by branding Russia’s “annexation” of Crimea and its assistance to the breakaway Donbas regions as “violations of Ukrainian national sovereignty” [TB, F&G&R]. So doing necessitates a gross oversimplification and misapplication of the national question as applied here. These “Leninists” join the US and NATO in insisting upon the “right” of ethnic Ukrainians to exercise absolute sovereignty over the entire ethnically diverse territory of an independent country separate from Russia; but (contrary to Lenin) they deny the self-determination rights of smaller ethnic populations to even have autonomy within regions wherein they predominate.
Moreover, some of these “Leninists” try to justify their one-sided application of national rights by questioning [F&G&R] whether the peoples of Crimea and Donbas ever actually chose independence from, or autonomy within, Ukraine. They have evidently rushed to judgment without bothering to ascertain the relevant factual evidence.
- 1954. Khrushchev orchestrated the decision (of dubious legality) to transfer Crimea from the Russian Soviet Republic to the Ukrainian SSR without the consent or approval of the people of Crimea.
- 1991. At the breakup of the USSR, Crimea’s elected leaders attempted to obtain recognition of Crimea as an independent Republic separate from Ukraine.
- 1992. After disputes between Kyiv and Crimea over the scope of Crimea’s autonomy, Kyiv agreed to a compromise recognition of Crimea as an Autonomist Republic within Ukraine.
- 1995. Kyiv abolished the Constitution of Crimea, abolished its office of President, made the elected Crimean parliament’s choice of its Prime Minister subject to veto by Kyiv, and imposed other severe limits upon its authority (largely negating its autonomy).
- 2008. Polling by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies (not an agent of Moscow) found that 64% of Crimeans would like Crimea to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
- 2009—11. The United Nations Development Programme (not an agent of Moscow) conducted periodic opinion polls in Crimea. Each time, at least 65% of Crimeans favored Crimea leaving Ukraine and reuniting with Russia.
- Crimea’s break with Ukraine was a direct popular response to the US-backed 2014 coup in Kyiv (Crimea having voted overwhelmingly for the ousted government). Assertions, that Crimea’s reunion with Russia was effectuated by a Russian “invasion”, is another falsehood. Although Russia’s authorized military forces already based in Crimea assisted local forces in effectuating the independence referendum and the subsequent secession and reunion with Russia, those actions were welcomed by a huge majority of Crimeans, they being already so inclined. Moreover, given the history of past denials of their self-determination rights by both Moscow (1954) and Kyiv (after breakup of the USSR); the people of Crimea had more than ample justification for seceding and reuniting with Russia. Lenin, insisting that socialists are “the most consistent enemies of oppression”, would have agreed.
Our anti-Russia “Leninists” have joined the US, NATO, and Kyiv in insisting upon national rights for Ukrainian nationalists but denying such rights for the peoples of Crimea and Donbas. They sanctify “territorial integrity” and “sovereignty”; but, contrary to Lenin, they negate the fight against oppression and injustice.
Trap? Some anti-imperialist analysts believe that the US, with its intransigence regarding Russian security concerns, deliberately set a trap for Russia; and there is precedent for that proposition. Jimmy Carter (beginning in 1979) armed the reactionary Mujahidin insurgency against the Soviet-allied revolutionary government in Afghanistan: in order to provoke Soviet military intervention in defense of that government, and (as his national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has stated) draw the USSR into a Vietnam-like quagmire. A 2019 report titled “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia” by the US-military-funded think tank, Rand Corporation, proposed that the US goal should be “to undermine Russia just as it did the Soviet Union in the cold war”. Until there is access to the internal communications of Biden’s national security team, we cannot say with certainty that they intended to trap Russia into a self-destructive war in Ukraine. However, there was apparent advocacy for that policy within the US foreign-policy establishment; and, with the US encouraging Kyiv intransigence in peace talks, that clearly is the current US policy objective. As for our anti-Russia “socialists”, they refuse to even acknowledge the clear fact that the US and NATO were acting to isolate and weaken Russia. Why? Because, with their distaste for Putin’s Russia, these “socialists” evidently share that objective. Thusly, they have all-too-willingly fallen into the trap of misdirected “anti-imperialism” (denouncing an “imperialist” Russia acting in defense of its national security while whitewashing the machinations of US-NATO imperialism). So, when should Western anti-imperialists direct their fire primarily against Russia? How about when, and if, Russia makes truly unprovoked attacks upon an independent country which is not allied with, and a pawn of, a hostile scheming Western imperialism!
Should US foreign military action never be supported? There are dogmatic leftist sects which, evading analysis of relevant social justice considerations, reflexively oppose every Western foreign military operation, deeming such opposition to be an anti-imperialist obligation. To insist upon opposing every such military intervention, regardless of context, is problematic both pragmatically and in principle. In exceptionally rare events, socialists have appropriately supported such interventions. Example: US and British empires against Nazi Germany (1941—45). A recent case, where it may be argued that such support was justified, is US military assistance to the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] in their fight against the Islamic State [IS] Caliphate which was subjecting people in Syria and Iraq to horrendous persecutions (killing and enslaving masses of innocent people) pursuant to its intolerant medievalist perversion of Islam. Much of the US left was silent with respect to US action in that event. Had socialists expressed conditional support for that US military intervention (as I believe they should have), they would have been obligated at the same time to explain: (1) that the US was acting for its own imperial interest (already fighting IS in defense of its nearly-collapsed client state in Iraq) and would otherwise not have cared about the victims of IS oppression, (2) that the US and its allies had been backing Al-Qaeda-linked regime-change Islamist insurgency against the Syrian state (targeted for its resistance to Western imperial dictates), and (3) that the US would likely become a treacherous ally (as indeed it did in 2019 when it abandoned the SDF to attack by NATO ally Turkey). In keeping silent, socialists not only failed to take a stand in support of the SDF fight against IS oppression; they also missed the opportunity to educate their listeners to the facts of US imperialism’s real motivations and treacherous nature, even when incidentally acting on the side of justice. The SDF is a popular revolutionary organization fighting for social justice. The Kyiv regime is a repressive chauvinistic state and a willing pawn of US-NATO imperialism in the latter’s new cold war against Russia. Huge difference!
Even if support for US-NATO intervention in Ukraine could be justified, anti-imperialists would be obligated to educate their listeners to the self-serving motives (investments, trade deals, arms sales, displacement of Russian by US fossil-fuel sales in Europe, and especially geo-strategic goals) in said intervention. Have our US-NATO-Kyiv aligned “anti-imperialists” done so? They have not; not one word. Their commentaries simply imply that the US and NATO are acting, however hypocritically, as benevolent friends aiding Ukraine in its time of distress. Two of the above-named commentaries [G&F, F&G&R], after giving lip-service disapproval of NATO expansion, then contradict themselves by asserting that it was a benefit for former East-bloc states (evading the reactionary natures of their post-Soviet ruling regimes). While the bipartisan foreign policy establishment falsely portrays this current US-NATO intervention as being for the sake of liberty, human rights, justice, and democracy; these “anti-imperialists” say nothing to contradict them.
Domestic politics. Socialists, whatever their views of the war in Ukraine, are rightly concerned about the rise of bigoted reactionary political factions in the US and many other countries. Liberal “socialists” (certainly in the US) respond by portraying the capital-serving centrist-dominated supposedly “center-left” political parties as champions of progress and “democracy”; and that is especially problematic with respect to foreign policy. In fact, the center-left parties are thoroughgoing supporters of the imperialist military alliances and policies to which their governments are committed. Moreover, centrist politicians have no progressive principles which they will not jettison whenever it becomes politically expedient to do so. Actually, the increased influence of bigoted reaction and the electoral weakness of the center-left parties is a result of the latter’s subservience to capital and of their consequent failure, for the past four decades, to use their capacity, when in power, to make reforms which actually would improve conditions for most of their base working-class constituencies. With growing homelessness, increasing inequality, declining labor unions, decreased job security, burgeoning debt burdens, and ever more disruptions of lives by capitalist-fueled climate disasters; conditions have actually worsened for much of that constituency. Consequently, there is an increased tendency for many potential supporters to stay home on election day (or be seduced by reactionary bigoted scapegoating).
In the US, many liberal-reformist “socialists” habitually respond to Republican reaction by giving their allegiance to the Democrats despite the latter’s longstanding betrayal of their working-class electoral base. Sadly, while such “socialists” acknowledge centrist Democrat resistance to parts of the progressive domestic agenda; they largely give them a pass in order to direct their fire against Trump Republicans and “renegade” Democrats (Manchin, Sinema, et cetera). Moreover, with their preoccupation with domestic politics, liberal “socialists” routinely neglect to seriously challenge the Democrats’ commitment to US imperialist hegemony over the world and the consequent imperial crimes in US foreign policies (especially when perpetrated under Democrat Presidents). Biden promised to end Trump’s new sanctions against Cuba; but, aside from a few belated minor changes, he has not done so. He promised to return to the Iran nuclear agreement; he has not. Biden has also continued the economic sieges against Venezuela and other countries resisting US dictates. He promised a non-racist and more humane policy on migrants; but he then summarily deported some 20,000 Haitians to hellish conditions in Haiti, and he now welcomes white European refugees from Ukraine. Such perfidy is nothing new for centrist Democrats like Biden. Consider his past reversals on school bussing and tough-on-crime legislation as he chose to pander to racial prejudices among his white voters. For more on Democrat betrayals of social justice, see here.
One problem with “socialists” giving their allegiance to the Democratic Party is that they then can only give lip-service to anti-imperialism. So, when Democrats are in control, such “socialists” generally do nothing to organize popular opposition to US imperial crimes against peoples in foreign lands. In fact, they even become willfully blind to some of said crimes as they join the US foreign policy establishment in one-sided out-of-context vilifications of the targeted country as an offender against democratic dissent or human rights, thereby excusing US funding and training of opposition groups within said targeted countries. And, of course, they always ask people to vote for said Democrats (nearly all of whom subscribe to US interventionism based upon the notion of the US being the world’s “indispensable nation” and champion of “freedom” and “democracy”). The correct policy for socialists is to tactically ally with centrist Democrat politicians when they actually fight for social justice and to support their election at the federal level in 2022 as a tactical measure in our fight against Trump-Republican attacks on our voting and other democratic rights (rights which we utilize in our fight against social injustices, for people power, and for constraints upon the power of capital). However, it is necessary at the same time to educate the people as to the perfidy and betrayals of social justice by said Democrats. Failure to so educate is: to tail after the agents of capital, and to perpetuate existing ignorance and prejudices within the populace. We need to build a social-justice solidarity movement, not a constituency committed to the Democratic Party. Hence: temporary limited tactical alliances, yes; allegiance, no.
Outcomes. While the US and NATO send ever increased and ever more lethal weapons which serve to prolong the horrors of this war, it is Ukrainian and Russian (not NATO-country) fighters and civilians who suffer and die. Anti-Russia “socialists” [G&F, TB, F&G&R] are actually backing this US-NATO arms-to-Ukraine policy despite the reality that Russia’s peace terms (neutrality and no hostile military bases in Ukraine plus respect for the self-determination rights of Donbas and Crimea) are an entirely reasonable basis for a peace agreement. Regardless of who prevails, both Russia and Ukraine will have paid a huge price. Meanwhile, transnational capital, especially in the arms industry and fossil fuel companies, will reap increased profits. If Russia obtains its objectives, that will weaken Western imperialism. If Russia is ultimately compelled to give up in defeat and humiliation: the US hold over Europe will be solidified, Western imperialism will be greatly emboldened to intensify its new cold against China, and it will have a freer hand as it perpetrates its crimes against other resistant countries. Yet, our anti-Russia “socialists” give their support to the West’s new cold war in Europe and refuse to oppose more arms to Ukraine.
Principal contradiction. Portside (an avowedly “leftist” online publication) published a solidly anti-imperialist analysis of the Ukraine war by the US Peace Council [USPC], subsequently indicating that it did so in order to present an alternative viewpoint with which Portside did not agree. Shortly thereafter, Portside published 11 comments in response to the USPC statement, all but one opposing the USPC analysis, several in very denunciatory words. Two of those joined a number of other anti-Russia leftist commentators in denouncing the anti-imperialist analysis as the “anti-imperialism of fools” or “idiots”. A third, prominent avowed US “Marxist” Carl Davidson, commented that the “principal contradiction” in this conflict is “the Russian invasion of a sovereign nation and Ukraine’s defense of their sovereignty”. Evidently, anti-Russia “socialists”, that one among others, have decided that the contradiction, between Western imperialism and its worldwide numerous targets (Russia, China, Iran, Syria, DPRK, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, …) for containment, subjugation, and/or regime-change, is no longer paramount for anti-imperialists. And what of the contradiction in US machinations against democratically-elected leftist governments in multiple other countries (most recently in El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, …)? Being in sync with the US and NATO in this Ukraine conflict, they have devolved into social patriots. A social patriot is any avowed socialist who supports and whitewashes the predatory imperial intrigues and aggressions of his/her own imperialist state against another state and justifies so doing by falsely branding the opposing state as the sole villain. The term, social patriot, originates with the leaders of the socialist parties in the major belligerents who (in 1914) concocted pretexts to justify backing their respective imperial governments on both sides in the Great War (after having neglected for years to educate their members with respect to imperialism). Our present-day social patriots, obsessing over the need to prevent election victories by Trump bigots, apparently go along, consciously or unconsciously, with the imperialist liberals for the sake of political respectability and popular influence at the expense of principle. Given their past contributions in fights for social justice, we can only hope that they, unlike their 1914 predecessors, will recognize and correct their error.
Our current task. We may consider Russia’s military response in Ukraine to be an inappropriate excess or imprudent or both, and we may fault Russian methods in its military operations; but, while we may state our disapproving opinions, we have no capacity to influence Russia’s decisions. Our job, as anti-imperialist social-justice activists in the West, is to condemn and vigorously oppose US-NATO imperialism (including arms to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia) as well as the mainstream media’s grossly one-sided and essentially deceptive portrayals. It is not to tail after the misinformed public and the Democrat politicians (who are all too eager to support: the bipartisan imperialistic foreign policy consensus, the massive military spending, and the cold wars and regime-change sieges against the peoples of countries which resist US dictates). We should recognize that said Democrats, with very few exceptions, readily jettison their anti-racist and other progressive pretensions whenever it becomes politically expedient to do so. “Anti-imperialists”, who evade the reality of the Ukraine War being the result of Western imperial machinations and provocations so as to simplistically blame it solely upon Putin’s Russia (while exonerating the US, NATO, and the Kyiv regime), become social patriots serving the real imperialist enemy of peoples throughout the world. We must avoid obsessing over the faults, real and imagined, of Russia; we must expose the falsehoods in the Russophobe war propaganda; and we must persist in supporting the fight against that real enemy. That is our obligation even though we will be defamed by some avowed “socialists” as “Putin apologists”, “fools”, and “idiots”.
Author: Charles Pierce Date: 2022 June 18
Note. An online magazine has published a revised version of this commentary (with some improvements (notably direct quotes), some significant deletions, and lots of relevant pictures. It can be accessed as follows. Ukraine War, Divided Left: “Social Patriots” and the “Anti-Imperialism of Fools”! (Covert Action Magazine, 2022 Sep 17) @ https://covertactionmagazine.com/2022/09/17/ukraine-war-divided-left-social-patriots-and-the-anti-imperialism-of-fools/ .
Charles Pierce is: a social-justice activist (anti-racist and anti-imperialist since his youth in the early 1960s), a former labor activist (union steward & local officer), and currently a researcher and writer on history and politics. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .