Why History Matters: the Left and Ukraine

Photograph Source: G. V. Buck, from U. & U. – Public Domain

When US President, racist, segregationist, eugenicist, and liberal Democrat Woodrow Wilson sent soldiers from the American Expeditionary Force to ‘negotiate’ the aftermath of the October Revolution in the USSR in 1919, the Indian Wars in the US were still underway, slavery had only recently been abolished, and the inconclusive end of the first global imperialist war—WWI, was setting up a sequel—WWII, to be fought. That Wilson’s worldview in 1919 formed the basis of German fascist ideology a decade later provides insight into how ruling-class ideas take root.

In contrast to liberal political theory where people develop opinions in isolation, Wilson was very much a person of his economic class and time. American capital had close to a billion dollars invested in Russia when the Bolsheviks turned the world upside down by launching a revolution to govern themselves. American (and German) industrialists, having convinced themselves that were rich because they were genetically / racially / morally superior to workers, imagined that a successful workers revolution would place inferiors in charge of their superiors (went the logic).

Since then, an odd selectivity has overtaken Western historians whereby Russian and Soviet history is imagined to have started with the October Revolution (1917), whereas most of two centuries elapsed between the American Revolution (1777) and the point where American history is ‘morally’ imagined to have begun (1945). The history now excluded includes three-centuries of chattel slavery and the extermination of the indigenous population of what is now the US through intentional and unintentional genocide.

This post-War history includes the partial or total destruction by the Americans of Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Of these nations, only those that threw off the yoke of American imperialism are prospering today. The child-refugees still finding their way northward to the US from Honduras, ‘illegals,’ are mostly orphans fleeing the political violence that was set in motion when American liberals supported a Right-wing coup there in 2009.

Chart: the oil producing nations that currently are, or have recently been, subject to regime change operations by the US all have large supplies of oil and gas that the Americans want to control. It was therefore unsurprising when the first action taken by the Americans upon commencement of Russia’s SMO (Special Military Operation) was to seize control of oil and gas pipelines. Source: https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/oil-reserves-by-country

Why would American liberals support a Right-wing coup in Honduras when liberalism is ‘Left?’ The more historically informed question is: when did American liberals ever not support authoritarian and repressive regimes and governments? Until the so-called ‘war on terror,’ liberal wars were launched against Left-wing governments. The first eight wars listed above featured the Americans using every tool at their disposal to crush (real or imagined) Left-wing governments. The point here is that liberal moral posturing only works once history has been erased.

The tie of American liberalism to ‘the Left’ is recent. Historically, ‘Left’ was anti-capitalist by definition, as it emerged from Marx’s critique of capitalism. As anti-capitalist revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks were Left. Woodrow Wilson, and later the Nazis, were vying to lead an international capitalist Right. More recently, the Russian Federation abandoned communism prior to its inception. The Left interest in contemporary Russia comes through battling neocolonialism. The New Wilsonians in the Biden administration intend regime change there, or to end the world trying.

Ironically (not), a similar sleight-of-hand is behind competing claims of who started the current war in Ukraine. The Americans claim that the war is unprovoked, thereby wiping away the deep and involved history of US – Russia relations that preceded it. In contrast, Russian claims tie to specific actions and policies by the Americans that the Americans are free to characterize any way they wish. In practical terms, the Russians laid out negotiating points while the Americans maintain that there are none. It is the Americans who have thus far refused to negotiate.

The most basic question then is how the war, and the residual Russian security concerns that motivated it, gets resolved? A loss for Russia would imply a change in its political leadership (regime change) and effective US control of Russia and the region. This is the type of existential threat that would motivate both the leadership and the people of Russia to fight to the bitter end. The more likely partition of Ukraine would leave the US launching CIA-allied attacks against Russia every few days even if it is negotiated. This is a problem.

One would imagine that since the Americans – the CIA, the MIC (Military Industrial Complex), the oil and gas industry, Wall Street, and Big Tech wanted this war with Russia, that there is a plan for ending it. In case you missed it, none of these but the Russians are known for strategic thinking. For the last five decades the US has been systematically de-industrialized with no apparent plan for what else the American people might do to earn a living. Remember when the US was outsourcing its military production to China? The same people are still running things.

From the launch of the Russian SMO (Special Military Operation) in February 2022 to the present, the self-appointed leadership of the American Left has reiterated State Department / CIA talking point that diplomatic solutions to the crisis were available to the Russians, but not taken. With the recent revelation from former French President Francois Hollande that the Minsk Accord was a diplomatic fraud intended to buy time for the Americans to arm and train the Ukrainian military to attack Russia, this position is no longer viable. This kind of duplicity by the Americans may seem clever until the question of how the war will end is considered.

Mr. Hollande’s characterization of the Minsk negotiations as not serious confirms cynical interpretations of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s analogous comments regarding the talks. At the behest of the very same American government that ousted the duly elected President of Ukraine in 2014 to appoint a new government more to its liking, the French and Germans gave credence to fake negotiations between US-allied Ukrainians and the Russians that were never intended to resolve political differences.

Back in the US, the liberal-Left appears to be ignorant of the basic facts of the crisis as it continues to insist that French President Emmanuel Macron was in the process of negotiating a settlement to preclude war in Ukraine when Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that ‘he had to go ice skating’ as he ended the call. While the prior thirty years of bad-faith assurances from the Americans that NATO wouldn’t be used to hem Russia in militarily would seemingly justify Mr. Putin’s dismissal of Macron’s words, both Merkel and Hollande sealed the deal with their Minsk revelations.

When he was Governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson also signed a bill making the forced sterilization of the ‘feeble minded’ law. And in terms that still resonate today, Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI), the first official government agency charged with creating and disseminating state propaganda in the service of promoting American wars. If this reads like the German fascist program that followed, you are correct. Republican Herbert Hoover was busy trying to feed the world while Wilson was stockpiling government jobs for white people.

This question of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ has a history outside of American electoral politics. Woodrow Wilson was everything that modern liberals claim to oppose. However, Progressive science was there to support Wilson’s ‘scientific racism’ like eugenics. And his conspicuous class loathing of the Bolsheviks reads quite like the bitter liberal rants decrying the moral depravity of the American workers who were tossed onto the waste-heap by deindustrialization. Wilson’s racism had the imprimatur of bourgeois respectability when he expressed it.

In the documentary film Harlan County, USA, coal miners in Kentucky in the 1970s were shown to know and use Left political theory in their struggle. What tied industrial workers in the US to antiwar demonstrators was that both had been tossed into the meatgrinder of capitalist imperialism. The coal miners were dying in the mines and the antiwar demonstrators were being sent to kill, and possibly die, in a war that they wanted no part of. In other words, the side of power was with war and the union busters.

If this reads like the stakes were different then than they are now, that depends on where you sit in the social order. The military draft in the US was ended in the early 1970s in favor of an economic draft where poor ‘volunteers’ have replaced the already meager numbers of urban bourgeois who fight American wars. Through the position that Ukraine has been put into by the Americans, the Ukrainian people now exist alongside the poor and downtrodden of the world as willing and unwilling conscripts in an American war. This, while being told by the Americans and their own political leaders that they are the chosen people for fighting and dying for corporate profits and oligarchic control.

With the American Left now channeling Woodrow Wilson with respect to the war in Ukraine —as Russophobic, Nazi- minimizing, peacocks whose political reach is in precise proportion to how little it knows about the conflict, manifest destiny is looking iffy. Liberalism is a class ideology. The PMC (Professional Managerial Class), the manager class, gets paid to take positions on public policies irrespective of their ideological place in the broader political landscape. This is how ‘the Left’ ends up advocating the policies of the neoliberal-Right like the ACA.

Claims of missing ‘nuance’ are related to— while being ignorant of, the point that any statistical result can be undone by redefining the variables. People who don’t like one arrangement of facts use the fact-making process to create another. American liberals are currently allied with WWII-era Nazis in Ukraine because the not-Nazis are the Russians. The ethnic Russians who were Ukrainian before the ‘breakaway’ regions broke away aren’t Nazis, they are ethnic Russians. So, the American Left allied with self-described Nazis to do what? To liberate Nazis?

This isn’t to minimize the plight of the Ukrainians being used as pawns of US foreign policy— some willing, some not. Revisit the list of nations that the US has destroyed since WWII (above). Which benefited from being destroyed by the Americans? None did. And with Nazis and nuclear war back in the mix, what security was gained for the people of the US from this history? Stumbling from one deranged slaughter to another can only be rationally explained through the economic power that is consolidated by doing so.

In fact, the US could have given the Russians the security guarantees that they asked for prior to the start of war at no cost. If the terms were honored by the Americans but not the Russians, international agreement could have been had that the Russians were to blame for the conflict. Recall, US President Joe Biden spent three months trying in vain to convince Chinese Premier Xi Jinping that the Russian move against Ukraine was ‘unprovoked’ while Xi had the evidence in front of him that it was provoked.

How do readers imagine that Biden is now viewed by Xi? More likely than not as a dim con man who can’t distinguish his own bullshit from reality. Moreover, the American political leadership has been so bad for so long for a reason. Capital, in the form of oligarchs and corporations, runs the country. There hasn’t been a military draft in the US since the war in Vietnam for a reason. American foreign policy is a business plan, not a national strategy. If Biden et al imagine that they can raise an army, that is a social experiment that is supported here. Here is where supporters of the war can sign up to fight.

For those interested in ending the war, the first step is to get past the profoundly ill-considered propaganda that the US has been putting out regarding its own history and policies. Again, there is no way to resolve the crisis until the Americans are forced to the negotiating table. Like the US war in Iraq that was sold on lies and deception, there is history between the Americans and the Russians that should be resolved. But the Americans are not going to do so voluntarily. There is no cost to Joe Biden for dead Ukrainians. And given deindustrialization, there is little to the American path forward without an industrial policy. The Green New Deal was an industrial policy.

Counting on the American political class to plot a course forward ignores both that oligarchs and corporations run the country, and that these are the same people who thought that passing NAFTA and deregulating Wall Street were great ideas that have worked out well. The Biden administration reportedly views the war against Russia to be part of a ‘pivot’ toward some nebulous future. While there is no telling how much of the administration’s position is geopolitical posturing, there is also no hiding what a mess the political class has made of the US.

There is no need for virtue for a political solution to the war to be found. ‘The world’ existed for thousands of years before the uninformed idiocy of liberal moralizing was imagined to be ‘politics,’ The irony is that it (moralizing) is political, just not ‘politics.’ Dr. Martin Luther King addressed the difference in ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’ While the liberal class was sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement, it had no stake in it. This meant that the liberal timeframe was infinite, while that of actual Civil Rights workers could be measured in days, weeks, and months.

To assertions that there is a ‘Left position’ in favor of battling the Russians, here is where you sign up. Please don’t crash the website by all signing up at once. (Note to Russians: this is irony).

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.