War Escalates in Ukraine – We Need a Genuine Left Antiwar Movement

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Last month, President Biden made a surprise visit to Ukraine, making it clear that the U.S. is prepared to stay invested in this war of attrition for as long as it takes. But each visit, each new weapons shipment and each escalation brings the U.S. closer to the possibility of direct confrontation between NATO and Russian forces. Socialists completely opposed Russia’s brutal invasion a year ago and we defend the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination, but what is clear is that this war, from the start, has become subsumed in the wider Cold War conflict between the U.S.- and Chinese-led imperialist blocs.

Part of what is driving this escalatory spiral is that the U.S. and NATO will not accept a stalemate as the outcome of this war. With the Ukrainian army short of skilled troops and artillery, and the Russian forces making modest gains on the battlefield, the U.S. is looking for ways to reassert its dominance in the area and strike a more decisive blow against Russia. 

Additionally, Ukraine’s goal of reunifying the entire country is growing increasingly unrealistic without serious NATO intervention, which they will be angling for. While NATO is still attempting to put off a more full-scale engagement involving their own forces, they are coming about as close as possible, with Poland and Slovakia now pledging to send fighter jets and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledging that Ukrainian fighter pilots will be trained on NATO standard aircrafts, setting the stage for increased shipments of fighter jets to Ukraine. 

Countries around the world are being pressured by U.S. imperialism to “take a side” in this conflict, which is part of the wider New Cold War between the U.S. and China. For example, the New York Times reports how South Korea’s weapons export business is booming from selling to former Eastern Bloc nations while maintaining the strict line that none of their arms will go directly to Ukraine. Nonetheless, Polish howitzers using South Korean technology have been found there. 

But how do we overcome this trend of increasingly dangerous geopolitics? It won’t be by supporting one imperialist power in this war or another. Instead we need to build an international movement of working people against escalation of the war which consistently opposes all imperialism and imperialist war. For those of us in the U.S., this means first and foremost opposing the Biden administration’s push towards escalation including further armaments. 

The Movement Today

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, it sparked a mass anti-war movement including large parts of the liberal left. Today these forces, for the most part, are either supporting Biden or staying quiet. It is an absolute scandal that the most prominent “anti-war” voices in Congress are people like the odious Marjorie Taylor Greene, while the “left” like The Squad completely backs U.S. imperialism in the name of supporting Joe Biden’s supposed fight of “democracy against autocracy.” Even Senator Bernie Sanders, in an act of betrayal of his long standing anti-war positions, supports Biden’s plan of increasing military spending in Ukraine, saying we can balance war spending with our need to fund social services at home. He also lays the blame for this war solely at Putin’s feet, ignoring the U.S. and NATO’s role in increasing tensions in the area.

The most prominent instance of anti-war activity recently was the “Rage Against the War Machine” protest in Washington, DC. It was organized by YouTuber Jimmy Dore along with the likes of Chris Hedges and Max Blumenthal, founder of the left-wing blog The Grayzone, as well as long-time libertarian leader Ron Paul and other libertarians. Dore and Hedges explicitly argued that this should be a “left-right” alliance against the existential threat of war and accused people on the left who don’t agree with this of living in a “bubble” and being unwilling to work with people with very different views. 

As Marxists, we have no problem working with a diverse array of people. In mobilizing the labor movement and trying to organize the unorganized we of course have to work with people who voted for Donald Trump or consider themselves libertarian or “hard right” even. But when we engage with people who hold these ideas, it must be on the basis of fighting for demands to help working people make real gains fighting to convince as many people as possible of our broader socialist program.

A Marxist view on the war is entirely incompatible with that of the libertarians, who only oppose war and military buildup because they do not see it as in the “national interests” of the U.S. Marxists never begin our analysis from the standpoint of national interests, but instead from the interests of the international working class. We emphasize how dangerous this war is for all workers, especially those in Ukraine whose lives have been completely uprooted, as well as Russian conscripts being thrown into their current offensive, and the working people and poor around the world who have suffered skyrocketing food and energy prices since the war began last year. 

This is why it is absolutely necessary to build a mass, working-class oriented anti-war movement, which crucially is internationalist, drawing the connections between all struggles faced by working people under capitalism.

The Kind Of Movement We Need

We must be very clear that there are no “good guys” in an inter-imperialist conflict. Any anti-war movement must simultaneously condemn Western military aid to Ukraine as well as weapons shipments to Russia. An internationalist anti-war movement must support the right of Ukrainian self-determination. But this will not be achieved by subordinating this struggle to the aims of Western imperialism which will demand a major price in return for the “aid” it sends. Nor does the Ukrainian right of self-determination negate the right of Russian speakers in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and other ethnic minorities in Ukraine to decide their fate free from coercion. 

We must support every independent action by the Ukrainian working class, for example against the Zelensky regime’s vicious anti-union laws. A movement with basic anti-imperialist demands orienting towards working people and young people would point a way forward that doesn’t rely on “strings attached” aid from imperial powers, and would have a much wider draw than any “left-right” alliance. 

While the “Rage Against the War Machine” drew between 2,000 and 5,000 attendees, a demonstration in Berlin on February 25 called by left populist Sahra Wagenknecht drew a crowd of 30,000. The crowd would have been much larger had Die Linke, Germany’s left party where ISA regularly intervenes, not caved to pressures from the establishment and opposed its members attending the event. The organizers also refused to take a hard enough stance against the far-right and fascist elements who attempted to co-opt the protests. However, leftists on the protest helped drive the fascists off. The Berlin demonstration shows the potential for a movement that calls out both Russian and NATO imperialism and falls sharply on the side of working people around the world. 

What’s Next?

There are still anti-war actions gaining traction in the U.S., but they have major weaknesses and do not yet form the basis for an effective anti-war movement. For instance, another protest in March in Washington, DC, organized by the ANSWER coalition, was correct to demand peace and an end to U.S. imperialist aggression but failed to clearly oppose Russia’s invasion or the role of Russian and Chinese imperialism generally. The attendance was relatively small, only garnering a crowd of a few thousand. 

The left needs to answer this with a clearer, sharper anti-imperialist program if we want to bring out the wider sections of the working class ready to see an end to this war. Anti-war, anti-imperialist activists must also not have illusions in the negotiations between the capitalist world leaders to reach sustainable peace. There must be a mass working-class movement including on the ground in Ukraine and internationally if we expect to see a resolution that does not leave the Ukrainian and Russian, and in fact the whole international working class worse off than before this offensive began. 
Neither the U.S. nor Zelensky’s reactionary regime can provide a real path toward peace or a way forward for the Ukrainian working class. In all countries we must start building a real anti-war movement, bringing together all working people in a common struggle against the capitalist system of exploitation which relies on stoking nationalism and waging endless wars. The demonstration in Berlin as well as those in other cities across Europe such as Paris, Rome, Yerevan, and Warsaw show the potential that exists for this, despite their weaknesses. It will take an independent, mass working class movement to end the war in Ukraine, But to end all war, we must fight to end imperialism, and to end imperialism we must fight to end capitalism– and fight for socialism!

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