The Proxy War in Ukraine Must End

Photograph Source: Jeanne Menjoulet – CC BY 2.0

* No Guns For Nazis, No Love For Putin!

* End The Proxy War Between NATO & Russia Now!

* Demand A Negotiated Peace (This Is Not The Left’s Fight)!

There is never a moral justification for arming Nazis.  The government of Ukraine is the only government in the world (since the fall of Franco’s Spain) with organized Nazi and fascist units officially incorporated into its armed forces.  And let me be clear: I do not mean the only nation with individual self-described fascists in the army or right-wing mercenaries employed to kill for a political cause; I mean the only national army with specific self-contained fascist units, such as the Azov Regiment, built into its basic structure. The Azov Regiment espouses Nazi ideology, utilizes Nazi embalms as part of their official uniform, its civilian counterpart (the National Militia) took part in violent anti-Roma pogroms prior to 2022, and its founder & leader, Andriy Biletsky, unapologetically states that the fate of the Ukraine is to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led [Jewish] Untermenschen [sub-humans].” These are Nazis, and the only ammunition given to Nazis should be aimed at them, and not handed to them.

In the year since Putin’s Russia (itself a right wing, authoritarian, capitalist state with imperial ambitions) invaded Ukraine, the Ukrainian Government sought, demanded, and achieved massive weapons shipments from the U.S. and NATO (shipments that if not continuous would spell the fall of Kyiv).  Throughout this period (and up to this present moment) Zelenskyy and his Administration have refused to disband Nazi units such as Azov, and instead have allowed them to grow (even heralding them as national heroes).  As recently as this past month it was announced that Azov would be assigned to a new “Stormtrooper” grouping tasked with the reconquest of territories presently controlled by Russia (including the Russian speaking break-away region of Donbas and the Crimea, a region who’s indigenous people are the Tatars – not Ukrainians).

The Biden Administration and NATO, for their part, have also refused to make the liquidation of such Nazi formations a condition of support, instead insisting that to speak of them is to play into the hands of Russian propagandists.  As a result, as this brutal war claims the lives of tens-of-thousands, the power and prestige of armed fascists in the Ukraine, now with Western rifles and rockets, grows by the day.

But here the Ukrainian Government’s embrace of armed Nazism is not its only sin.  The right-wing government in Kyiv, the capital city now littered with memorials to fallen Azov fighters, has also used the war to consolidate its hold on power, taking steps to massively undermine union and worker rights and outlawing left leaning opposition parties it deems potentially sympathetic to Russian speakers in the Donbas (who since 2014 have claimed the right to autonomy and self-determination).  Further, unlike in numerous armed conflicts of the past (from the American Revolution to the Spanish Civil War), no progressive social movement or revolution has risen up to challenge the status quo from the left.  Rather the Kyiv government continues to lurch further and further to the right.

Regardless of the right-wing character of the Ukrainian Government, for U.S. and European capitalists, the war serves its purpose of weakening Russia, an imperial competitor.  Thus the fact that the conflict is empowering fascists is of little consequence in their more immediate strategic calculations.  However, as was the case with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s (who themselves were resisting a Soviet military presence), a rational person, one not consumed by the fog of war or blinded by short term capitalist self-interest, would have to ask, ‘what political reality are we setting in motion for Ukraine in the post-war period?’

After a year of intense warfare, it is clear that the powers-that-be in the West will not impose anti-fascist conditions on Ukraine as the price for the continuing flow of armaments.  Nor will the West demand that the Ukrainian Government halt its assaults on the unions and working class.  The capitalist class in the West are content to prop up a right-wing Ukrainian government as long as it continues to kill Russian soldiers and continues to bog down Putin in a costly conflict with no end in sight (even if such a war risks nuclear conflict).

While we are right to condemn the Russian invasion as an imperial act (although not one which was unprovoked by NATO’s own imperial ambitions), and while we are not wrong to feel a sympathy for the suffering Ukrainian people, we, as workers and as a Labor Movement, cannot and must not lend support to the unconditional supply of arms to the reactionary Ukrainian government.  We cannot and must not, under any circumstances, deem it justifiable or moral to effectively hand weapons to Nazi formations.  And as long as Ukraine deems the continuing maintenance of their Nazi formations such as Azov as non-negotiable (as justified), we as workers and the labor movement would be right to demand that the flow of arms be halted in full.  If such is the priority of Ukraine, Ukraine’s government has the right to choose its doom and fall to the larger aggressor (or to negotiate a compromised peace).   As long as Stormtroopers with SS emblems on their arms wield rifles in defense of Ukraine (with the unqualified sanction of the capitalist Ukrainian government), the war in Ukraine shall not be our battle, shall not be our fight.  And until and unless the people of Ukraine rise up, reject and dismantle the empowered fascists within their own ranks, their fate should not be intertwined with our own; this is a braiding that must be rejected.  There can and must never be a red-brown alliance.

So as we approach the one year mark of the horrors that are war, we must face with sober senses that, for now, the days of Makhno riding out to vanquish the Whites and Nationalists has been buried in the Ukrainian past.  Rather it is the memories of Bandera which seemingly give a twisted courage and vision to too many Ukrainian fighters on the front lines today.  And that is a darkness that must never be welcomed into our souls and must not be supported with Western arms.

No War But Class War.

David Van Deusen is the president of Vermont AFL CIO.