As the global news media continue to document the Russian military’s indiscriminate shelling of civilians in Ukraine, many in the U.S. have been voicing support for action. Even those with the best of intentions want to “do something” and do it immediately.
We believe this can lead to a self-destructive and disastrous strategy. “Doing something” has tended to mean demanding increased action from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to protect Ukraine, which, we insist, will only reproduce the conditions that helped produce the current conflict in the first place.
This is not a defense of Russia. The primary responsibility for this conflict lies with Russia. But just as we don’t side with Russia because we’re critical of NATO’s imperialist motives in the region, we also don’t align ourselves with NATO just because we condemn Russian aggression.
This may seem obvious, but unfortunately it isn’t the standard position in the U.S. Rather, Russia and NATO tend to be pitted against each other as if they were antitheses forcing a choice. Despite the fact that neither one is perfect morally, the argument often goes that because of their mutual opposition, we must choose the lesser evil.
We want to make it clear: This reductive calculus can lead to dangerous thinking.
Both NATO and Russian President Vladimir Putin want to expand their geopolitical spheres of influence. This is a fancy way of saying they both want to have access to Ukrainian resources. Despite Mikhail Gorbachev’s assurances to the contrary, NATO moved more eastward after the dissolution Soviet Union. This was not because of any Western benevolence. It was because it extended U.S. economic access. For Soviet-controlled states, NATO membership meant more integration into the dominant European economic systems.
NATO is a crucial part of the U.S. strategy of economic domination — a domination that we on the left must oppose on principle. As anti-capitalists, we mustn’t accept the enrichment of a handful of oligarchs via the increasing immiseration of the majority. This principled anticapitalism should also inform our rejection of Putin. His invasion of Ukraine is not motivated by humanitarian considerations. Like U.S. and Western European capital, Russian capital is also driven by access to Ukraine’s minerals, rich earth, pipeline infrastructure, waterways and strategic ports. This economic interest is, of course, covered with a thin veneer of justification — from a chauvinist restoration of Russian imperial culture to Putin’s hollow claim to be leading a campaign of denazification — but here too we find that the two have quite a bit in common.
We must reject the notion that NATO is a morally superior way to live and condemn the burgeoning Russophobia which blames all Russians on a war that many of them oppose. Yet we must equally condemn Putin’s dangerous Russian chauvinism, as it denies Ukraine’s independence and the right of an oppressed people to self-determination.
While Russian capital is obviously comparatively weaker than its larger NATO counterparts, Putin’s hot war was neither necessary nor liberatory, and the refugee crisis, loss of life, and mass trauma it has caused are abominable. Meanwhile, NATO’s “colder” violence of economic compulsion stems from the bloc’s economic superiority, which it uses to force the sacrifice of Eastern European social services on the altar of capital in ways that destabilize, dehumanize and atomize. Unfortunately, NATO’s neoliberal onslaught has been invoked by some on the left, tragically, as grounds for declaring Putin a “lesser evil.”
Putin and the Growth of the Far Right
Many of those on the U.S. left who present Putin as a “lesser evil” have been quick to accept his attempts to justify the war through narratives about a need to “de-nazify” the country. But Putin’s rhetoric is cynical and misleading. He has himself continued to work with far right actors, both in Russia and abroad, many of them sympathetic to the so-called “alt-right” in the U.S.
The Russian seizure in Crimea was largely responsible for the revival of neo-Nazism within Ukraine. To put it mildly, the idea that expending force in ways that have already fueled fascist flames would somehow extinguish them seems absurd.
In response to this message from Putin and his support, U.S. media and European corporate media also misled readers by downplaying Ukraine’s far right and its power in Ukraine. They have, for example, obscured the role played by far right, openly neoNazi elements in Ukraine, such as the Azov Battlion. The far right was not able to reach the electoral threshold necessary to win any parliamentary seats. However, the Azov Battalion has been absorbed into Ukraine’s regular military forces since the 2014 Maidan upheaval. Stepan Bandera is openly portrayed as a hero for Ukrainian nationalism. He was a well-known antisemite and fascist collaborator with Hitler. Because the Nazi regime was opposed to the interests of Ukrainian nationalism, he was later imprisoned.
A more accurate view of the situation of the far right in Ukraine would acknowledge that the Ukrainian resistance does indeed contain reprehensible elements, and that it shouldn’t be uncritically celebrated or reduced to a monolith. But the bulk resistance It isIt is worth valuing, but it is equally wrong to reduce the whole thing to its neoNazi fringe elements. This is to not mention the far right elements of Russian separatists.
A more accurate view would also acknowledge how, even as Putin claims “denazification” as his goal, the Russian invasion has the effect of emboldening and legitimizing the far right in both Ukraine and Russia. Russia’s antiwar protesters are being silenced, and even persecuted. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, announced the ban on 11 left-liberal political parties. This ban is in addition to the ban placed on far-left parties following Maidan. One of these parties, the Opposition Platform for Life, has 44 democratically elected seats in Ukraine’s 450-seat parliament. Further, the Ukrainian film director Sergei Loznitsa was recently expelled from the Ukrainian Film Academy for being an unpatriotic “cosmopolite” who spoke out in solidarity with antiwar protesters in Russia.
Far right extremists travel to Ukraine to obtain training opportunities and bragging rights. International fascism has thrived in the war.
International observers should be skeptical of popular perceptions of war as a simple matter of good versus bad. Yes, we unconditionally condemn Russia’s invasion and wish for a quick victory in the Ukrainian struggle for self-determination. But this shouldn’t lead us to celebrate Zelenskyy as a friend of this cause, let alone side with NATO’s imperialist motives.
In the U.S. and Europe today, rather than examining the historical roots of the conflict, Russophobia is the norm. Italian universities banned Fyodor Dostoyevsky (a Russian novelist), but only after pressure. In the U.S., the University of Florida removed Karl Marx’s name from a campus study room, “given current events in Ukraine.” And the Boston Marathon banned all Russian and Belarusian runnersParticipating this year is like comparing private citizens with the actions taken by their governments.
Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we see a far right emboldened internationally — including in Russia, where a chauvinistic attitude is enforced through the near ubiquity of state media and propaganda. Internationally, left-leaning peace activists are being marginalized, including in Russia or Ukraine. The corporate media in the United States are engaging in mass denial and obfuscation about the reality of far-right and fascist tendencies. Instead, calls for a no-fly zone, a move that would draw more of the world’s most powerful nations into open conflict and thereby bring us uncomfortably closer to World War III, grow louder and louder. It is potentially fatal.
The international left is disoriented and weakening at the moment. Without its own momentum or ability to lead, many are forced to pick sides with capitalist governments or institutions hellbent upon war or whose demands will increase its likelihood, such as Russia, the U.S./NATO and Ukraine.
These are conditions that the far right — not just in Ukraine and Russia, but globally — is well-positioned to exploit.
What is the Next Step?
The U.S. antiwar movement is very rare, and the organized left is too focused on domestic politics. In such moments, there are two tendencies. On the one hand solidarity becomes highly individualistic, reduced to just displaying the colors of Ukraine’s flag or making individual contributions for charity drives.
On the other side, individuals who feel they are toothless often seek out institutional actors. Unfortunately, in this instance, it is necessary to support state action, with avowed progressives, such as Alexandra Ocasio Cortez calling for sanctionsUnder certain circumstances, tacitly supporting U.S. military intervention into Ukraine. Instead of looking to left-wing Ukrainian militants and Russian antiwar protesters, or developing meaningful channels of solidarity, the focus is on addressing one’s own government, which typically takes the form of tried-and-true liberal demands.
Sanctions, once they are proposed, seem reasonable enough. Who could possibly be against sanctions targeting Kremlin officials and Putin-aligned Oligarchs? We could. The “surgical” imagery tied to these sanctions is largely propaganda, cover for much broader, indiscriminate sanctions. These sanctions are likely to cause a drop in the ruble. This adversely affects the working-class Russians more than the imagined Russian oligarchs who may be close to turning against Putin.
Second, there are many American commentators, from members of CongressTo self-proclaimed Ukraine expertsZelenskyy’s call for a no flying zone is being echoed by many others. A no-fly zone can be described as a massive physical barrier that stops Russian planes entering Ukrainian airspace. A no-fly zone It is a physical barrier — one comprised entirely of gunfire. NATO forces would have to shoot down Russian aircraft in Ukrainian airspace if they were trying to enforce a no fly zone. It would be a declaration war.
The U.S. Biden government, along with other NATO countries has taken steps to get weapons into the hands Ukrainian forces. Although the idea of distributing weapons to resistance fighters may seem good in theory, it is actually a hasty dump of weapons caches into a country with political fractures and a well-organized far right movement with openly fascist elements. This isn’t to say we don’t want to see the resistance armed. It is dangerous to simply move on and unload weapons. We’ve been here before: in Afghanistan in the 1980s, in Kosovo in the 1990s, in Iraq in the 2000s. We know what happened in these scenarios.
In the absence any viable alternatives and with very little media coverage, an entirely human and justified sense of moral disaster is being funneled into unreasonable. actionism — an “act first, ask questions later” approach to foreign policy.
An honest assessment reveals that the left does not have enough power to impose its political will. We should side with the brave journalists reporting the complexity and nuance that is required to understand the situation — or those who resign when doing so is impossible. This is why we should support peace protesters, army deserters, and anti-imperialists from every camp. We support the formation of a transnational coalition between groups in order to continue this theme. Permanent Assembly Against the War.
The notion that we must support this capitalist bloc or another is only a symptom that there is no organized antiwar movement. Thus, the task of the left is not to choose sides amid inter-imperialist rivalry, but to raise mass consciousness regarding the history and present circumstances of international conflicts and to build a mass internationalist, anti-imperialist, antiwar movement capable of intervening on the side of peace, even when the ambitions of the world’s ruling classes demand bloodshed and war.