What Can Russia-Ukraine Tell the American Left?

Ukrainian refugees taking shelter under a bridge in Kyiv. Photograph Source: Mvs.gov.ua – CC BY 4.0

The reason the United States is unlikely to go to civil war is the same reason there likely will be no nuclear war with Russia. The ruling class is interested in neither. The logic in such a system does take us to the precipice however and as we saw recently surprises can happen when tensions escalate. The system has no control over itself. However, if it did have control, who would control it? Not the side of our friend. Not the side of our enemy. The side of the ruling class would control it if they knew how to.

The bulk of this piece will come from the idea that war is an extension of politics and if there is no place for the left in war then we likely have no place in politics. First to address the American Left’s response to this war. The divide amongst the left is obvious and the same people keep emerging on each side.

Half of the people seem to be pointing out that Russia is imperialist too, echoing one ruling class narrative. The other half says that the cause to get rid of Nazis in Ukraine has some sort of justification echoing the other ruling class narrative. Ironically the leftists who are saying that Nazis took over Ukraine are the same ones in denial about the 1/6 insurrection and fascism at large in the United States. Likewise, those claiming Russia is imperialist are ironically the leftists who claim liberal pluralism as a justification for authoritarianism.

I’ve been circling this debate and it re-emerges on every issue seemingly, whether it be war, culture, or COVID. What I’m beginning to realize is that both sides are suckers and the real left position is to not embrace either ruling class narrative. This is because ultimately politics is war and the masses are enlisted to take a side.

For example, my recent support of the vaccine mandates seems hollow and I’d like to retract that position. However, I would also reject the logic against the vaccine mandates as I did previously. The claim by socialists that the working class believes in freedom and doesn’t want a mandate is as false as the claim that the working class wants the mandate for public safety. The reality is that people disagree and claiming to represent a popular position is the only lie.

I have been trailing the liberal side of the divide largely because of course the conservative side is worse and the leftists who trail the conservatives seem to be especially virtuous. This logic doesn’t take one anywhere for is not Russia, in these crude terms the good guys in comparison to the West? The role of the working class is always to be a pawn in such disputes. On any of the hot button issues like COVID, police or war which imply life or death it is the same marginalized groups that die if we take either argument of common debate to their logical conclusion.

Where does this leave the left? Because even one does see Russia as a victim of NATO imperialism or Ukraine as a victim of Russian imperialism where does that leave the Russian or Ukrainian people? Certainly, the West could have stopped the bleeding by not expanding to Russia’s border and knew that war was likely and didn’t care. Certainly, also Russia could have chosen human life over political control and not invaded. But for both actors what was the point of caring about these things when the working class would be fighting each other?

The painfulness of neighbors fighting each other as they are in Russia and Ukraine brings to mind the divide in the United States and how many commentators talk about a civil war here, often with glee. There is an argument that the American Civil War, like World War II, brought us forward. It depends on who you ask. For those of us in a different time or space than those dead, sure it did, arguably.

But can the subaltern speak, to echo Spivak. The answer is no. The answer even comes from the colonizer for the subaltern has no response. Within this gap we fill in our own values and we tell ourselves that by playing politics we are making the world a better place.

In some ways, the United States is currently in a good reflection of what politics actually is because we have two sides that only exist to stop the other with a third side that has no power and is blamed for everything, especially by its own ranks. This is a clarifying position for the Left.

So let’s call a truce on the American Left. I have been on the side of the American Left that is being accused of being liberal and I have been much too hard on the side of the American Left who can be accused of being conservative. While the positions aren’t the same both are taken up for the same reason: the American Left has no power and we rhyme with the ruling class position of trying to stop the other side of the ruling class.

This is a crisis but it can be a productive one. I know the liberal side of the Left is accused of being the intolerant side and I’ll again say that this side is equally intolerable to the other side. For example, I changed my thoughts on the vaccine mandate when I saw Cory Morningstar being interviewed on the subject. She is certainly on the conservative side of the Left which usually is more radical on civil liberties and gun rights undoubtedly.

Morningstar had so much compassion for the working class that when she joined hands in protesting the vaccine mandates I felt embarrassed to ever support the position of mandates. She detailed the brutality of state violence upon the protestors and the overreaching power of the state to control financial networks of solidarity. However, she concluded with typical anti-leftism that I’m accused of (rightly so).

Why can’t the Left have solidarity with the Left? This is because the left is on the side of the subaltern, especially the working poor. The Left sees other leftists, perhaps even themselves, as attempting to speak for the subaltern and therefore rejects the Left position while of course being unable to escape it for the subaltern needs a representative in the eyes of the left, even if it cannot speak for itself within politics. The Left rejects itself because the Left does not speak for itself, but rather speaks for the powerless, which must be continually liberated from the power attempting to control it.

Capitalism is a system with no logic in regards to the subaltern. In such a system no matter the population there are excess people who must be dealt with. In a world gaining people and rapidly losing resources such a population becomes exponentially expendable. War is seen as a way to end such a crisis but like most solutions it is only a way to divert and exasperate the problem. The solution always comes from the Left’s resistance to the solution because those who see the working class as the problem are those who are profiting off the reproduction of people’s existence.

Such a process exhausts the natural resources needed to survive. This system brings down the rate of profit over time. It advances technology as it consolidates power into the hands of those who own it. It creates expendable people at the same time it increases the framework of their theoretical rights. In war there is a clarity that the whole system is violence. The Left’s position in war is never on either side of the conflict but rather always with those forced to fight or flee.

What if this became our political position? What if it already is? What if we recognized that politics is war and that the other side carries a cause that is not their own?

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com