It is worth psychoanalyzing the Ukrainian flag sign, now posted ominously on every American lawn. Interestingly the Ukrainian flags tend to pop up next to signs that say liberal things such as “All Are Welcome Here” (not to be taken literally, of course!). I tend not to see these signs on the Republican lawns, who are honest enough to just put up an American flag instead.
I have discussed before that as Trump rose in the United States, the American flag became an explicit sign of fascism (bonus points for thin blue line or confederacy but these are not necessary). Hence liberals largely abandoned American symbolism. They called to Make America Great Again in their own ways but settled for a more modest line of Make America Good (Decent?) Again.
Trump talked a game of making America white and male again but also of reindustrialization and deglobalization which may be linked to race and gender in a conservative way (they may not be) but also of course are related to class, in a progressive way. What Trump tried to achieve in nationalist terms, Biden has achieved, namely an increased cold war towards China and a hot war towards Russia.
Russian propagandists will claim Ukrainian Flags symbolize Ukrainian fascism. I don’t want to get into things I don’t know about. I am comfortable calling it a Russian invasion rather than a special military operation (the Russian line) but I am not comfortable calling it an unprovoked invasion (the American line). I am sure both sides must be lying even if I am unaware of the truth.
Rather than decide which state I like best and who are fascists I want to ask how Ukrainian flags function in the United States for people who were frankly not interested in Ukraine before the war. I don’t think socialists should be interested in taking sides in war. On both sides, the working class loses.
That being said, the Ukrainian flags in American lawns are at this point an open call for war, perhaps an open call for risk of nuclear war. I don’t think this is always a conscious desire but I do think the American public, even the liberals, is blood-thirsty.
The Ukrainian flag is a fascinating one in the post-Trump/New Cold War American context because it is used most often with genuinely liberal sentiments which don’t include class solidarity, something that is obvious to any Counterpunch reader but perhaps not obvious to those who identify as liberals. The arming of Ukraine is seen as an extension of liberalism, not as imperialism, but rather as self-defense against the aggressiveness of Russia, which is in their eyes ia conservative which means MAGA which means working class which means socialist which means we can fight the same cold war thinking we are doing something different.
This is more complicated than it seems because Putin’s Russia is indeed not only anti-liberal but also anti-left. So maybe I am wrong. Maybe the liberals are communists now and simply more militant than I am. If they are then my work is done here, but if they are not, I will continue.
The Ukrainian flag is a symbol of not only war but endless war. War to weaken Russia. War, which by weakening Russia, will make the United States relatively more competitive. This is a relatively straightforward proposition. As is the previous proposition, namely that Russia is linked with the right, or the left, which are one and the same to liberals because both signify disorder, which represents the growing discontent of the working class. There is a third proposition, which has a short memory to put it generously, which is that Russia, not the United States, is the one provoking conflict in the region.
Again this depends on one’s definition of imperialism. If imperialism is economic, then the capitalist takeover of the world by the United States is to blame. Even if imperialism involves interference in the general affairs of government and industry within the region, the United States has been largely to blame. If imperialism involves a global prescriptive then the United States is again to blame as we have encroached upon Russia’s border against previous agreements. If regional imperialism by force is to blame, Russia is to blame.
In my mind none of these questions matter. The working class should not be nationalists, even if we are. Rather we should want to end the war and the United States has not tried to do that and the Ukrainian flags represent the opposite tendency. Modern wars arise not out of geopolitics so it is pointless to take a side in such arguments even if one is more sympathetic. Modern wars arise rather out of a crisis of the capitalist mode of reproduction which is unable to reproduce profit and therefore lacks the proper investment to reach society’s needs during peacetime. Therefore a liberal with a Ukrainian flag is not to be blamed or canceled, but rather to be met with serious psychoanalysis.
Why do liberals want this war? Haven’t we had enough wars? Well, I suppose the reason all the Democrats love this war is that it is recycled liberal imperialism all over again. Different, but also the same. Ukrainians are white. They ARE welcome here, to a limited extent, but far more than brown people.
Liberals may agree with Trump that brown countries cannot be saved and we shouldn’t be at war there (even if neither care enough to do anything about it). The disagreement lies in whether the white subject can be redeemed. For liberals, Trump was a shithole (not my) President and he brought shame upon the civilized white subject. Trumpists are no better, in fact they are far worse. They see themselves as bourgeois gangsters who can ruthlessly apply the business model to take over the world.
Liberals, at their best, see this side in Putin, and think paying a little more at the pump is worth it to stop him. However, we shall fail to overcome such a monsterous tendency if we don’t recognize that the reason the United States is doing relatively well (in nationalist terms, not in working-class ones) to the rest of the world, is that our imperialism is mostly done in broad daylight, in times of peace, and that looting the resources of countries for private investment only impoverishes each country to the point of famine, war, and eventually victim blaming.
In short, liberals would be advised to ask themselves the same question they ask of the MAGA guy, who is not as working class as they think. They would be wise to ask: am I really superior to the Russian? Do they deserve to suffer while I live in the satisfaction that I am a good person living in a redeemable society? Likewise are the Ukrainians worth sacrificing for my fantasy of winning a war I am not willing to fight in?
In capitalism, there is no society. Each day we reproduce our sustenance we further destroy the planet, ourselves and each other. By necessity we commit daily violence upon said subjects, whether we want to or not. The civil liberties we hold dear do not count when we are at work, at war, or hit by environmental destruction from these two inevitable modes of reproduction under capitalism. Our society has never been more barbaric. The destruction of life on earth has never been compared to our present time.
We think we are redeemed by modernity’s complexity which we do not understand. We think that we wake up each day and make decisions that make the world a better place and not a worse one. This is a redeemable quality and one that must be actualized. The task of the socialist is to make the liberal’s fantasies a reality. Rather than live in a theoretically civilized society where war makes peace, and peace, through its expansion of civilized industry, makes war, we should have peace make peace.
We must peel back the layers of propaganda to see that the same people who once supported the war in Iraq now support the war in Ukraine. War is plain as day and it is not as complicated as we think. We complicate such atrocities only to justify them. Do we hate Trump because he was a nationalist or because he was a failed nationalist? Competency, when upping the rhetoric around nuclear weapons, should not be underestimated. It appears that is all we ever wanted.