We must also defend the right of Ukraine’s people to self-determination and self-defense. They are waging a liberation struggle to defend themselves against a brutal assault by an imperial power. Ukrainians throughout the world have poured into the streets in anti-war protests. Their struggle, just like that of Palestinians, deserves the unconditional support of unions, progressive organizations, and the international left.
Ukrainian resistance has sparked a wave of anti-war actions and popular solidarity throughout the world, most importantly in Russia itself. There, faced with a right-wing, capitalist regime that regularly suppresses protests by feminists, LGBTQ+ organizations, unions, and democracy activists, Russians have risen up in large antiwar demonstrations. Over 750,000 Russians have signed a petition against the war. Scientists have issued statements condemning Putin’s aggression. Entertainers in state-funded institutions have come out against the war. Athletes like tennis star Andrey Rublev have openly opposed the invasion. They have done so at great personal risk, as the regime’s police forces have already arrested thousands and threaten further crackdowns on dissent, something that will likely intensify if Putin’s war goes badly for his forces.
We all know that the Ukrainian resistance and international solidarity actions have a range of political currents within them. Out of sheer desperation, some look to the US and NATO for solutions, even going so far as to call for their intervention by demanding things like a no-fly zone. While we express our solidarity with protests, socialists should always maintain an independent stance. We must argue against demands that strengthen one imperial bloc against another. The US and NATO powers have a wretched history of waging imperialist war, overseeing colonial empires, and betraying liberation struggles for their own reactionary aims. As their track record in Afghanistan and Iraq proves, they will not intervene for the benefit of Ukraine’s people. We already know Washington’s record in Ukraine. Among other things, it has neoliberalized the country through the International Monetary Fund, which has trapped the country in debt and imposed structural adjustment programs on it, with devastating impacts on workers and oppressed peoples. It has funded neofascist, far-right elements such as the Azov battalion which brandishes neo-Nazi insignia and has been absorbed into the country’s National Guard (Putin, no enemy of the far right himself, has invoked this as a cynical pretext for his invasion; this does not, however, license total inattention to its cozy relationship with the U.S.). The US and NATO seek not to free Ukraine but to incorporate and subordinate it within its imperial bloc.
As an alternative to looking to the US and NATO for solutions, the international left must point to the potential and urgent necessity of international solidarity from below against all the belligerent powers. With protests emerging throughout the world, this is not utopian strategy but a real possibility. Only such solidarity can advance progressive solutions to this catastrophe. We must express solidarity across borders with progressive forces on the ground in all countries – the internationalist left, unions, feminist organizations, and all other forces fighting for justice and equality – against Russia’s war. And we must do everything we can to stop its transformation into an inter-imperial and potentially nuclear one between Russia and the US. Only the ruling classes and the far right in all the combatant countries will benefit from this mess, at least in the immediate term. Working and oppressed people will pay for it, especially in Ukraine, but also in Russia, the NATO countries, and other nations around the globe.
To build real solidarity, the international left must categorically reject the politics of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” This position has led some on the left and in progressive circles to openly side with Russia against the US. Others have justified or excused Russia’s invasion citing its “legitimate national security concerns.” Still others refuse to condemn its war, abandoning the internationalism that has always been at the heart of the left and reducing its responsibility only to opposition to Western imperialism. This is a disastrous position that sides with the Russian state against its people, who do not support this war; ruptures solidarity with Ukrainians fighting Russian imperialism; and unnecessarily isolates all antiwar organizing from all around the world who are rightly repulsed by Russia’s invasion.