I am appalled and saddened by the photographs of corpses in the streets of the Ukrainian town called Bucha. I am equally appalled and saddened by the reports of Ukrainian soldiers killing every person in Buka who was not wearing a blue-colored patch signifying their Ukrainian citizenship. These photos remind us once again how brutal and horrible war actually is. In both instances, I am skeptical of the absolute truth of both claims. After all, mainstream media is not known for its truthfulness in wars. In fact, the media has all too often lied in order to get populations to support war. I am further appalled by those on the Left who support a wider war. Of course, most of these folks live hundreds if not thousands of miles from the actual killing and dying.
Let’s get something clear. The government in Kyiv is not a progressive government, much less a revolutionary one. Those liberals, leftists and anarchists who act as if it is are at best confused. At worst, they are supporting the relentless expansion of the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. In other words, the United States. Is Russia’s invasion wrong on multiple levels? Of course it is. Was Washington’s multi-pronged pressure over the past couple decades to get Kyiv to join its side wrong on multiple levels? Of course it was.
Yes, Russia is the primary culprit in the current situation. It should go back to its pre-invasion borders and accept that the good old days with the Tsar before the October revolution are never coming back, no matter what Alexander Dugin or Vladimir Putin believe.
The war in Ukraine is not a revolutionary struggle for national liberation. While certainly a defensive and understandable operation at this point, let’s be honest: this situation involves two different capitalist governments sacrificing human beings. Can it be said that Ukraine has a history of oppression at the hands of the Russians? Yes. Likewise, can it be said that many if not most of those who have historically carried the Ukrainian colors high and demanded their countrymen kill and die for those colors were reactionaries whose primary interest was gaining power and ethnically cleansing the nation? Yes. As always, this doesn’t mean that the regular folks who fought for their town, family and even nation were as racist as those who led them, but then again, many probably were. Ask someone whose Jewish ancestors escaped Ukraine during World War Two about who the oppressors were and who the liberators were..
I know people and the countries they live in change. More than a century after slavery was made illegal in the United States the descendants of slaves (and those who look like them) are almost but not quite equal in most places. Still, the legacy of slavery and the myths of white supremacy define much more of the political and social reality in that nation than they ever should have. Since I have never lived in Ukraine, I have no idea if its people have done better that the US in terms of moving beyond its ugly past. I hope so. The fact that a Jewish man is the current head of state might indicate this is taking place. Nonetheless, the incorporation of fascist paramilitaries into the regular armed forces of Ukraine indicates that the political and cultural presence of the World War Two Nazi collaborator government (Reichskommissariat Ukraine) exists in a very real fashion in modern day Ukraine. Like the United States, racism, antisemitism and fascism are a reality with a power well beyond the actual numbers of people promulgating those views. As Donald Trump and his followers proved to the people of the United States, that power can change a nation forever—and not for the better. My point is simple: those who dismiss the presence of Nazis and ultra-nationalists in the Ukrainian military and political system are in denial. Likewise, those who deny Moscow’s coziness with various fascist manifestations in Russia and around the world are only fooling themselves.
In the years just before the First World War it was clear to the international Left that capitalism was nearing a breaking point. The colonialist powers were heading towards a cataclysm. Little did anyone know just how much of a cataclysm it would be. European monarchists and their regimes prepared for war while working men and women protested and lobbied against it. Popular agitators and organizers like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht wrote and spoke about the dangers of militarism and reminded their fellows that militarism “arms the people against the people itself; it is insolent enough to force the workers … to become oppressors, enemies and murderers of their own class comrades and friends, of their parents, brothers, sisters and children, murderers of their own past and future.” (Liebknecht Militarism & Anti-Militarism, 1907) With this understanding, socialists organized across national boundaries against war—in Europe and in European colonies overseas. Luxemburg wrote “The fatherland of the proletariat, the defence of which must take precedence over all else, is the socialist International.”(Either/Or, 1916)
In a history that should be familiar, the events of 1914 ripped the international solidarity against war to shreds. Within weeks of the June 28, 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Bosnian revolutionaries, the world powers were choosing sides in what would become the bloodiest war in human history up to that time. Socialists in national legislatures forgot their internationalism and voted in favor of building up national armies and sending men off to kill and die in battles the like of which humanity had never seen. Those leftists like Luxemburg and Liebknecht who maintained their antiwar stance were ignored and shunned by former allies and persecuted by the State. Militarism became the order of the day and death was its watchword. Before the war ended, the Russian people had overthrown the Tsar and a revolutionary regime was in its place. One of its first orders of business was to end Russian involvement in the war. This move would help precipitate the war’s end. Mutinies took place in other armies and a revolution in Germany almost succeeded; it was destroyed with the help of some of the same socialists who had voted to go to war for the German Fatherland and the Kaiser.
In 1999 many on the Left supported NATO’s attack on Serbia as a humanitarian action. Those of us who didn’t engaged in numerous debates with those who were. In recent weeks, I have argued with leftists who insist that the war in Ukraine is a fight for national self-determination. This particular take ignores the essential nature of the post-Maidan government in Kyiv as one willing to let its people die for an invite to the table of western capital and militarism. Those Ukrainians who support self-determination that serves the working people as much as it does the oligarchs are virtually silenced. Nationalism without an anti-imperialist context is a dead end; it’s not enough to be against only Russian imperialism in this instance. The nationalism expounded and celebrated by modern rulers is a means to keep and expand their power and the power of the class they represent. In times of peace, this often means incessant indoctrination leading to the general population believing their interests are the same as those who rule them. In addition, this nationalism usually means an expanding war budget that takes precedence over the needs of the people. Those on the Left who put Ukrainian nationalism as defined by the rulers in Kyiv and Washington above all else are fetishizing nationalism at the expense of an approach that calls for and defends internationalism. This scenario describes much of today’s world. It also forebodes an ugly future.
It is that future we must resist. Now that the never-ending third world war has once again reached into Europe, many who place themselves in the political left are choosing sides: Kyiv or Moscow. Like their predecessors over a century ago, these leftists are giving their agency to rulers who have little to no genuine allegiance to the people dying in their war—Russian or Ukrainian. Furthermore, the governments that have aligned themselves with the government in Kyiv seem overly willing to watch the Ukrainian people suffer and die for the cause of capitalist entities whose only allegiance is to capital. The ever-increasing and ever more lethal arms shipments from NATO member countries make it clear that neither Washington, London or Berlin are as interested in peace as they are in making war on Moscow. Militarism is once again the order of the day in Europe ans its watchword—as ever—remain death.
Those on the left who think they have found a good guy they can support in Kyiv are ignoring the facts. The same can be said for those who support Moscow. Choosing sides in a war between capitalist nations and cartels is a defeat for the people around the world. Our enemy is militarism and the capitalist economy which profits from it. When all is said and done in Ukraine—and if the current war doesn’t go beyond its current boundaries—the people of Ukraine will have won very little compared to what they lost. The families of Russian troops will find themselves in similar straits. Most of us in the rest of the world will not be in better shape financially or otherwise. The men and women who run this war, those who cheer it on in the media, and those who profit from it are the enemies of the majority of the world’s population. As leftists and actual anarchists, the only side we should be choosing is the side that opposes all capitalist wars. That is the side we won’t be hearing about on CNN, NPR or any other media outlet that serves the progeny of militarism and nationalism—war. The same can be said about Russian media, I suppose. Given the censorship of that media in much of the west, I can’t verify that.
My father always told me once I began reading the newspaper in 1963 that if you believe everything you read, you are acting a fool. This is even more so the case during times of war. Likewise, tossing about of the word genocide diminishes what genocide truly is. Unfortunately–especially for the people caught in the middle–this is war. It is true barbarity. And, when all is said and done, the powerful in both nations will still be in power and the people will be left to pick up their shattered lives. Have war crimes been committed? Yes–and as a person who pays attention to every war, not just those in Europe–I’m certain both sides have committed such crimes…If this turns into a wider war, then soldiers of other nations will end up committing war crimes, too. WAR IS THE CRIME. The worst war criminals are those who plan wars, profit from wars, convince their citizens to go to war, and reject diplomacy that would prevent war.
Stop the war. Resist the war.