Russia’s murderous invasion and bombardment of Ukraine has drawn international condemnation. What is unfolding now, as the Freedom Socialist goes to press in late March, is an almost unthinkable tragedy for Ukrainians.
And it is an epically unsettling development across the globe. People everywhere are already being hurt economically, and many have reasonable concerns that the conflict could grow into World War III, possibly involving nuclear weapons.
While sympathy pours out for the people of Ukraine, who are valiantly holding off the Russian incursion as best they can, the question of “why” lingers. What drove Putin to resort to such a risky, costly bid for more territory and power?
And, as people protest Russia’s aggression from New York and London to Athens and Bangkok, they question even more urgently how this war can be ended.
Understanding imperialist war. Western mainstream media acts as though Vladimir Putin is some sort of outlier among government leaders — if not a madman, then at least an anomaly. Their heads of state, in contrast, are peace-loving small “d” democrats, who, if they are ever pushed to go to war, only do so with the noblest of intentions.
But this is far from the truth in a world dominated by imperialist powers, the U.S. chief among them — for now.
In his book Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, written in 1916, V.I. Lenin explains what imperialism is and how it arose. Essentially, it is the dividing up of the globe by different large capitalist countries into colonies and spheres of influence.
Imperialism is not and cannot be a static system. As countries’ economic fortunes rise and fall, as trade routes open and close, and as finance capital grows and requires new markets and resources, competition among nations becomes violent. When a country’s financial state is in shambles, the impulse to try to conquer new territory becomes acute. In other words, economic crisis breeds war.
This is the case for Russia today. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s economy and world standing nosedived during the ugly march backward to capitalism. Putin’s rain of death upon Ukraine, resource rich and strategically located, is a bid to pull Russia out of its crisis and climb the imperialist ladder.
World capitalism under stress. Of course, Russia is not the only country experiencing economic travails. The crisis is global, with the Covid epidemic only aggravating an already precarious and unhealthy international system. Cruel shortages and rampant inflation are just two symptoms that workers and poor people everywhere are suffering from.
For a time after the breakup of the USSR, the world was a “unipolar” one dominated by the U.S., which stayed on top through its dominance of institutions like NATO and the UN. Washington used these supposedly independent entities as a fig leaf to disguise the imperialist nature of its calamitous wars, occupations, and sanctions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Cuba, and elsewhere.
But the imperialist status quo has come under increasing challenge as the international economy deteriorates. And Eastern Europe — the countries of the former Soviet bloc — is a prize both Russia and the West have been seeking.
NATO has been steadily expanding eastward, provocatively bringing countries of the former USSR into its fold despite a pledge to post-Soviet Russia that it would not do so. Russia has gone to war with Georgia to establish itself as the reigning power in separatist areas, annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and backed pro-Russian presidents in the region against protests by their own people.
Turn resistance into revolution. Putin claimed that Moscow’s “special operations” in Ukraine were necessary to “denazify” the country. It’s true that there are far-right nationalists in Zelensky’s government, as there are, dangerously, in many governments around the world.
But the basic character of Zelensky’s democratically elected administration is not fascist. However, he is a capitalist leader with the “normal” baggage of corruption and exploitation. As such he does not deserve the political support of socialists and class-conscious workers, even as justice demands solidarity with Ukraine against the Russian invader.
In contrast, Joe Biden, leading the U.S.-allied countries, has no trouble with political support for Zelensky. Armed support is another matter, as this would almost certainly incite direct war with Russia. And, at this moment, Washington calculates that there is more to lose than gain from such a conflict — although that could change.
The hope for Ukraine lies not with its self-interested imperialist “friends,” but with resistance at home and internationally, including the United States and above all in Russia.
Anyone following the news knows what the war is costing the Ukrainian people as they make the agonizing choice to flee from their homes as refugees or stay to fight or try simply to survive. They have seen the incredible defiance of ordinary Ukrainians who have made so much headway against Putin’s onslaught.
Those with eyes on the news probably also know that the morale of many of the Russian soldiers is reportedly low. And they are most likely aware that anti-war protests are taking place even in Russia, in the face of terrible repression.
But what is still obscured is the breadth of Russian opposition to the war, from pop culture celebrities to journalists, human rights campaigners, socialists, and feminists.
Two of the first opponent groups to form are the Feminist Anti-War Resistance and Socialists Against the War Coalition. Each have issued inspiring and illuminating manifestos. (Find their statements at internationalviewpoint.org and greenleft.org.)
If there is any way out of this catastrophe other than wider war or the complete subjugation of Ukraine, it will be through a mass uprising of Russian anti-war activists against Putin, and women will be playing a key role.
If it happens, it will not be the first time. War often begets revolution, and it has done so once already in Russia, in 1917. In the middle of the harsh scarcity of World War I, Russian women’s cries for bread were the first sounds foreshadowing the creation of history’s first workers’ state (whose story over time can be found at socialism.com).
Make no mistake, the world today is again crying out for socialist revolution. The free rein of capitalist oligarchs, from Putin to multibillionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, must be brought to an end.
- Russia out of Ukraine!
- Close down U.S. military bases abroad and bring the troops home!
- Disband NATO!
- No workers’ blood for imperialist war!
- Open the borders to all refugees!
- Victory to the Ukrainian and Russian resistance!
- For international working-class solidarity and a Socialist United States of Europe!
See statements on Ukraine by the Freedom Socialist Party and the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment at socialism.com.
Vea las declaraciones sobre Ucrania del Partido de Libertad Socialista y el Comité por el Reagrupamiento Internacional Revolucionario en socialism.com.