Russia has launched an imperialist war on Ukraine. In turn, a list of nations including the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Canada, and others have contributed military aid to Ukraine’s defense. Russia’s aim, as President Vladimir Putin has made abundantly clear, is to push back the US and NATO and to rebuild its former empire in Eastern Europe. Putin’s regime has struck all of Ukraine’s military bases, paralyzed its government with cyber-attacks, and deployed troops and munitions from Odessa to the breakaway republics in Donbas. Putin’s forces are laying siege to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and to its other major cities, including Kharkiv and Kherson. Everyday Ukrainians have heroically resisted the invasion, slowing Russia’s conquest of the country.
Putin’s regime has put the world’s powers on notice that it will respond to any interference with force, going so far as to put its nuclear arsenal on high alert. The US and its NATO allies—still drenched in the blood of Iraqis and Afghans—have imposed sanctions designed to target Putin and the Russian oligarchs who back him. These will no doubt severely impact the Russian economy, with disproportionate harm to poor and working class people in Russia. Meanwhile, the US and NATO have increased troop deployments and weapons shipments to their member states in Eastern Europe. Predictably, European powers are beginning to increase their military budgets to prepare for extended conflict with Russia, with Germany announcing one of the largest of these increases. The entire continent is at risk of war between nuclear armed powers. We have entered a new epoch of great power rivalry for dominance over a world capitalism mired in crises.
In the fog of war, with clashes subject to the law of unintended consequences, it is hard to predict the course of events. However, the international left must stake out a clear, anti-imperialist and internationalist position amidst the conflagration. We must unequivocally oppose Russia’s aggression, demand the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces—not only from Ukraine and its Donbas region, but also Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014. These are imperialist occupying forces that have violated Ukraine’s right to self-determination.
At the same time, we must also oppose the US and its NATO allies. Their imperial aims in Eastern Europe through NATO expansion are one of the key underlying causes of the conflict. Their interests are predatory in nature and not aligned with those of Ukrainian workers and oppressed peoples. They aim to solidify their NATO bloc, shore up the neoliberal order they have imposed on Eastern Europe, and defend Washington’s rule over the world economy against any rivals – most obviously Russia, but also China, which is challenging US economic supremacy as part of its attempt to restore its great power status.
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.
The politics of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” discredits the left that ascribes to it and puts them in uncomfortable company with far-right figures like Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Tucker Carlson. Even reactionaries who have supported Putin, like Marine Le Pen, far-right leader of the National Front in France, are now squirming to extricate themselves from alliance with Putin’s regime. Those on the left similarly trying to distance themselves from such a position must also dispense with the framework that led them to a pro-Putin stance. Washington’s imperial rivals are not our friends. Our only friends are the workers and oppressed peoples of the world fighting for peace, liberation, democracy, justice, and equality.
In organizing solidarity from below, we must be clear as to our central demands. We must oppose Russia’s war and demand the withdrawal of all its forces. We must oppose the US and NATO from turning this invasion into an inter-imperial war for dominance in Europe. We should call for them to open their borders to all Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, as we demand the same for all migrants and refugees fleeing oppression anywhere in the world. We should demand that the US cancel all of Ukraine’s debt so that, whenever it liberates itself from Russian occupation, it is not trapped in the debtor prison of Western imperialism.
Finally, we must understand the significance of Russia’s invasion and the historical moment it represents. This is among the most important geopolitical events since the end of the Cold War. It has inaugurated a new epoch of great power rivalry, not only between the US and Russia, but also between the US and China, which has positioned itself as Russia’s economic sponsor..
The conflicts of this new epoch have already had massive impacts on geopolitics, economics, and the domestic politics of countries throughout the world. Russia’s war, Western sanctions, and the threat these pose to international investment and trade have triggered extraordinary volatility in stock markets around the globe. The possibility of Russia’s oil and natural gas supplies being cut off from Europe and Ukraine’s grain exports being disrupted by war will drive up the cost of fuel and food. That will, in turn, drive up inflation and slow the world economy, intensifying the trajectory of the system into a stagflationary crisis of low growth and high inflation. That scenario will put pressure on central banks to raise interest rates, increase the cost of debt held by corporations and states, and compel governments to launch a broad austerity offensive with public sector layoffs and cuts to social benefits. As always, the poorest, especially in the global South, will suffer the most. Nothing will be immune from the impact of this war.
In this new epoch, the international left must rise to the occasion. The right will try to take advantage of this disaster as well, offering its reactionary, racist, and nationalist false solutions. It is our responsibility to organize a broad popular alternative. Immediately, we need educational events to help people understand how the world got into this mess. That is essential to building a principled anti-war movement rooted in the struggles of working-class and oppressed peoples throughout the world. We must oppose any attempt to tamp down domestic struggle to achieve national unity amidst war. Instead, we should aim to build struggles against attacks on our standards of living, from union drives at Starbucks, to rent strikes, eviction moratoriums, and campaigns to protect social services. We are entering an epoch where such struggles within nations states must be united as part of a global struggle against capitalism and imperialist war. In this conflict, our guiding slogan must be: Neither Washington, nor Moscow, but the working class worldwide!