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The Internationalist
February 2022

Oppose Imperialist-Provoked Russia-Ukraine War – For Revolutionary Struggle Against the Capitalist Rulers in Moscow and Kiev!

Behind the War: U.S./NATO
War Drive Against Russia, China

Defend Self-Rule in Southeastern Ukraine! Smash the Fascists – For Proletarian Internationalism Against Russian and Ukrainian Nationalism!

U.S. delivers hundreds of Javelin anti-tank missiles, Kiev, January 2022. NATO countries have been pouring in large quantities of arms to prop up Ukraine regime.  (Photo: Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times)

FEBRUARY 28 – On February 24, Russian president Vladimir Putin launched a military operation in Ukraine. The first day consisted of dispatching troops to bolster the breakaway “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk, accompanied by air strikes against military targets in many parts of Ukraine. This quickly turned into an invasion by Russian ground forces surrounding and launching attacks on several Ukrainian cities. After previously talking of defending the embattled regions of the Donbass, upon launching his military attack Putin declared its purpose to be to “to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.” This is now a war between the Russian capitalist state, with its nationalist ruler in Moscow, and that of Ukraine, whose nationalist regime in Kiev has acted as a cat’s paw of Western imperialists and uses fascist forces to besiege the Russian-speaking population of southeastern Ukraine. We Trotskyists call for revolutionary defeatism on both sides in this reactionary nationalist war, for internationalist proletarian struggle against both capitalist regimes and, above all, against the U.S. and European rulers who set off this conflagration.

Having provoked this war, the U.S. government of Democrat Joe Biden and its European allies, accompanied by a chorus of liberal and “left” camp followers, spread the lie that they and their flunky president in Kiev are supposedly defending “democracy.” In reality, the main enemies of the world’s workers and oppressed that has spurred this escalating conflict are the U.S. and West European imperialists, through their military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). After proclaiming a U.S.-dominated “New World Order” with the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union three decades ago, the NATO imperialists have sought for years to encircle post-Soviet, now-capitalist Russia, incorporating the nationalist capitalist regimes of former Soviet bloc countries as their instruments.

The masters of Wall Street and Washington are desperately seeking to shore up decaying U.S. world hegemony following their humiliating defeat and flight from Afghanistan last year following two decades of imperialist occupation. Since the 1990s they have ramped up their drive to the east, adding more and more East European client states to NATO and provocatively pushing to move its front line to Ukraine, on Russia’s western border. After goading Putin into taking action, rejecting out of hand any security guarantees for Russia and sharply increasing shelling of the Donbass region, they have now ordered economic sanctions against Moscow. These measures and NATO’s arms deliveries to Ukraine are part of gearing up for an imperialist World War III, against Russia and particularly China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state.

We reiterate the League for the Fourth International’s call to “Defeat U.S./NATO War Drive and Sanctions Against Russia!” (The Internationalist, 23 February). In that statement, issued before Putin launched the attack on Ukraine, we called (and continue to do so today) to “defend self-rule in the breakaway regions of southern and eastern Ukraine and to defeat the war drive against Russia and China.” We also declared that “If clashes lead to a full-blown war between Russia and Ukraine, Trotskyists would be for a policy of revolutionary defeatism in both of these regional powers, calling for workers to actively oppose the war effort of ‘their’ bourgeoisies and to wage intransigent class struggle against the capitalist rulers in Moscow and Kiev.” That situation very quickly came to pass with the Russian offensive for Putin’s expanded war aims, which go far beyond defense of the southeastern breakaway regions. At the same time, we noted that if the conflict “turned into a war by Ukraine’s imperialist backers against Russia that would be a very different matter.” With the U.S. and NATO warmongers’ responses to Putin’s attack, that danger is very real.

That being said, contrary to our and many others’ expectations, after decades of imperialist misinformation, in this case the increasingly bizarre scenarios painted by U.S. intelligence agencies of an adventurist Russian action turned out to be fairly accurate. The Great Russian chauvinist ruler in the Kremlin has embarked on a course that, whatever his calculations based on overwhelming military superiority in the immediate theater, will whip up nationalist hatred against Russia in the Ukrainian population and will accelerate U.S./NATO preparations (already well advanced) for imperialist war on Russia. Even if Putin is able to wring concessions from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky for some form of Ukrainian “neutrality,” and even if the fascist and ultra-nationalist Ukrainian militias besieging the embattled Donbass regional republics can be militarily neutralized, the war will increase the weight of fascistic forces within the Ukrainian state.

We support the right of national self-determination of Ukraine, as did Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, an expression of revolutionary internationalism denounced in the February 21 anti-communist tirade of the current inhabitant of the Kremlin (see “Russian Nationalist Putin vs. Bolshevik Internationalist Lenin,” The Internationalist, 23 February). At the same time, we are for the right of self-determination of the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Donbass and defend Crimea’s democratic decision to join Russia. We are for bringing down both the Ukrainian and Russian capitalist regimes through internationalist workers revolution. We combat Putin’s overt Great Russian chauvinism (as well as that of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, lionized in the West as an “anti-corruption activist”) – and we combat the reactionary nationalism of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie looking to be the front line of NATO and the European Union (EU). Zelensky just applied for emergency entry into the EU, the very issue that set off the 2014 “Euromaidan” Kiev putsch, as the German government announced it would double its military budget and begin delivering arms to Ukraine, in the name of peace and “democracy.”

Ukrainian nationalism has always appealed to imperialism against communism and Russia, and is historically anti-Polish and anti-Semitic. That was the case with Symon Petliura and the Ukrainian Rada (governing council) in 1917-18, which allied with the German imperial army and Russian White Guard generals against the Bolsheviks. This was also true of Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera, who joined with the German Nazis and the SS extermination squads to fight the Soviet Union and terrorize the Ukrainian population. Today, as well, Ukrainian nationalists of all stripes – from the fascist Svoboda, Right Sector, Azov and Dnipro battalions, etc., to business moguls beholden to Wall Street, to comedian/president Zelensky, a protégé of Israeli/Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Komoisky, funder of several militias – one and all aspire to be the tools of imperialist domination.

In the former Soviet bloc deformed workers states, now capitalist countries of Eastern Europe, Putin’s attack on Ukraine has activated anti-Russian sentiment and a beefed-up NATO presence. Poland’s racist, anti-woman, fascistic regime, which last year used its military to keep out Middle Eastern refugees, letting them die in the woods along the Byelorussian border, now welcomes white Christian Ukrainian refugees as well as thousands more U.S. troops. This highlights yet again the vicious anti-refugee and anti-immigrant offensive of “Fortress Europe.” In the Baltic statelets, which celebrate the fascist “Forest Brothers” who killed thousands of Soviet citizens in World War II, post-Soviet independence was accompanied by anti-Russian language laws such as Ukraine has enacted since the 2014 Kiev coup. “Plucky little Lithuania,” where local nationalists carried out some of the worst anti-Jewish pogroms on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of the USSR (and whose rulers dream of medieval glory when the Lithuanian Grand Duchy ruled Ukraine and Byelorussia), now hosts a German army battalion. The Baltic barons who governed Estonia and Latvia in the years between World War I and II acted then as agents of German imperialism. Today they offer their lands for NATO military maneuvers and practice landings for U.S. imperialist war on Russia.

While Western media proclaim that Ukrainian president Zelensky has “found his roar” and is reveling in his new role acting as wartime leader, Democratic U.S. president Joe Biden is trying to regain his stature after the Kabul exit fiasco, posturing as a statesman firmly upholding the international security order (i.e., U.S. hegemony). In his February 24 speech announcing his war aims, Putin took aim at “the whole so-called Western bloc formed by the United States in its own image and likeness” which is an “empire of lies.” As New York Times Editorial Board member Farah Stockman noted in a round-table discussion of pundits of U.S. imperialism’s house organ: “It’s bigger than Ukraine because he’s been watching for the last, I don’t know, 20 years – he’s been watching the United States do things like this [invading countries]…. He hated what we did in Libya. He was furious. He hated the Iraq war invasion. He has been seeing us throw our might around and call it international law. And I think he’s just saying, well, I can play that game, too. And this is really about telling the United States that it’s no longer the sole superpower and showing that we are weak.”1

Russian rockets hit Kharkov headquarters of Ukraine secret police, SBU (above), on March 2, where repression of Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine was orchestrated.  (Photo: European Press Agency)

At the level of geopolitics, Stockman went on, Putin “went to Beijing before this and basically got some kind of agreement from President Xi that somehow China was going to back them up with economic deals so that they could live maybe without Europe for a while.” The February 4 Putin-Xi joint statement of Russia-China mutual support greatly worried the war gamers in the Pentagon and “defense” think tanks. “U.S. Officials Repeatedly Urged China to Help Avert War in Ukraine,” headlined the New York Times (26 February). The Beijing bureaucrats would have to be blithering idiots to fall for this sucker bait, as Biden has made it perfectly clear that the U.S. war drive against Putin’s Russia is only a way station on the road to a showdown with China. The massive hysterical bipartisan propaganda war blaming China for the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic underlines once again that the U.S.’ ultimate aim is counterrevolution in the bureaucratically deformed workers state.2 Yet China’s Stalinist rulers are still forlornly seeking the will o’ the wisp of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism.

Back in Ukraine, the super-corrupt “oligarchs” who dominate the economy skipped town in their private planes as the war threats heated up. The Ukrainian kleptocrats are exclusively interested in their own enrichment, grabbing whatever formerly state-owned properties they can at fire-sale prices. Their Russian brethren on the other hand have to deal with Putin, who draws on the lessons of Russian history, as tsars from Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great understood the imperative of keeping the boyars (barons) subordinate and beholden to the autocracy. Many ordinary Ukrainians have responded to Zelensky’s appeals to resist the Russian attack, practicing with plywood mock AKs in rudimentary training. Now actual rifles are being handed out. This is a cynical ploy to increase the number of civilian casualties, by a reactionary regime which offers its services as imperialist stooges to provoke war on Russia, and that has been persecuting the Russian-speaking population for years. The Ukrainian fascists besieging eastern Ukraine are a threat to all working people. These murderous thugs must be permanently stopped and brought to justice, and their program of “ethnic cleansing” smashed.

In the imperialist West, the population is being subjected to an endless barrage of overblown war propaganda. No mention of the fact that Ukrainian border guards put up little resistance. And the 82 Ukrainian navy men reported killed by Russian bombing of Zmeiny (Snake) Island on the border with Moldova – who Zelensky announced would be posthumously awarded the title Hero of Ukraine for their “defiant last stand”?3 They actually surrendered to the Russians and turned up in Sevastopol, Crimea “safe and sound.”4 More sober war-mongering military analysts report a Russian “operational pause on February 26-27” to bring up additional forces, fuel and artillery, while “Russian forces have encircled Mariupol” (a majority Russian-speaking city that voted for self-rule in 2014 but was brutally retaken by fascists) and “threaten to isolate Ukrainian forces in place on the line of contact in Donbass if they do not withdraw.”5 In all the imperialist media coverage there has been zero about the precarious situation of the besieged population in Donetsk and Lugansk, regions with a population of over 4 million (more than that of Estonia and Latvia combined), where 14,000 people have been killed in eight years of war by Ukrainian forces.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the Western left has lined up with the NATO imperialists in one-sidedly denouncing the Russians. The French Communist Party (PCF) “condemned” Putin’s “grave decision” to launch a military operation in Ukraine, while only complaining of NATO “fueling the fire of confrontation.”6 The ex-Stalinst PCF called on imperialist France (i.e., the anti-worker government of Emmanuel Macron) to push for peace negotiations “under the aegis of the U.N.,” which has served as a cover for imperialist aggression and occupation from Congo to Haiti. The German Left Party, home to many former members of the East German Stalinist ruling party, issued a February 22 statement opposing Russian recognition of the independence of the East Ukrainian “people’s republics” as “violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” It also called the Russian attack a “war contrary to international law, and which we unequivocally condemn.”7 These pseudo-communists and “left” social democrats are a prime case of what Lenin denounced during World War I as “social-imperialists,” who are actively supporting the imperialist war drive.

Screen shots from New York Times video of fascist paramilitary militia preparing to strike near the “line of contact” with the eastern Donetsk republic. Over 14,000 people have been killed in eight years of Ukrainian nationalist war against the predominantly Russian-speaking regions. Top: the red-and-black banner of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera now adopted by the “Ukrainian Volunteer Army.”  (Photo: screenshot from New York Times video)

Of the smaller left groups, the pseudo-Trotskyists almost all join the anti-Russia front, sometimes trying to cover their tracks with fig-leaf criticism of NATO. This is most blatantly the case with the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) tendency, which called for “full solidarity with the people of Ukraine” and demanded that “Russian troops should be immediately withdrawn from Ukraine.”8 No call to cut off NATO arms to Kiev, however. A previous SAlt statement9 vituperated against “Russian imperialism,” a claim of many Trotskyoid groups which we definitively refuted at the time of the 2014 pro-imperialist Kiev coup.10 That statement also denounces “Chinese imperialism,” a constant theme of the SAlt tendency, which was perhaps the most virulent left “cheerleader” for the pro-imperialist Hong Kong riots of 2019.11

Also pushing the “Russian imperialism” claim is Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers International (CWI), from which SAlt split in 2019. An anti-Russia and de facto pro-imperialist stance is par for the course for a tendency that backed U.S. puppet Boris Yeltsin in the 1991 U.S.-engineered countercoup that brought counterrevolution in the USSR. Another of the NATO socialist currents vituperating against “Russian imperialism” is the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), from which the CWI split in 1991. An initial commentary by IMT guru Alan Woods, “Imperialist hypocrisy and the invasion of Ukraine,”12 made mention that “our fight is against imperialism.” But the operative line was the call by Russian supporters of the IMT for “No to war with Ukraine! Against Russian military intervention!” which opposed Russian recognition of the independence of the Donbass republics and said nothing about opposing NATO or the Ukrainian nationalist government.13

These mealy-mouthed statements pale in comparison to the position of the “International Bureau of the Fourth International” (formerly United Secretariat), which we have previously cited, that grotesquely proposed a “democratic” means for Ukraine to join the NATO imperialist military alliance. 14 What an abomination coming from groups that falsely lay claim to Trotsky’s Fourth International, which stood for the most intransigent struggle against imperialism! Now, in response to the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the International Bureau published two articles by one Gilbert Achcar. The first compared Putin’s attack on Ukraine to Saddam Hussein’s ill-fated takeover of Kuwait in 1990. The second calls for “the delivery of defensive weapons to the victims of aggression … in this case the Ukrainian state….”15 This grotesque call for NATO arms to Ukraine recalls Achcar’s support for the NATO attack on Libya in 2011, and how he has helped train the British military’s Defence Cultural Specialist Unit for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

This brings us to the misnamed Trotskyist Fraction (FT), whose modus operandi is to pose as left critics of the leaders of whatever mass movement is currently in vogue, sometimes citing Marxist positions on paper, only to go with the flow of these class-collaborationist mobilizations. Thus an article on the FT’s U.S. site is headlined, “Protesters Across the Globe Demand ‘No War in Ukraine!’ But Not All Demonstrations are the Same” (Left Voice, 26 February). It notes that in various countries, protests “against the war” have “demanded more intervention by NATO to ‘save’ the Ukrainian people,” pleading for “help from the United States” and its partners in the military alliance. In the past, the FT has polemicized against the false claim that Russia is imperialist. But as always with the FT, what it writes in analytical articles remains academic and what it does on the ground is another story. Praising a Madrid rally that chanted “Neither Putin nor NATO,” the same article calls for an “anti-war movement” based on “denunciations of both Russia and NATO” – i.e., equating Russia and the imperialist military alliance, and carefully omitting any denunciation of the Ukrainian forces. In Mexico, the FT affiliate called an “antiwar” rally – in front of the Russian embassy.

In times of war, the real nature of political forces on the left is sharply exposed. The assorted social-imperialists, social-pacifists and double-talking pseudo-Trotskyists stand counterposed to the most basic principles and program of revolutionary Marxism. In the urgent fight for revolutionary leadership, as we wrote in our February 22 LFI statement: “Trotskyists defend the democratic, national and linguistic rights of all sectors of the population, seeking to unite Russian and Ukrainian workers in common struggle together with the workers of East and West Europe. As the imperialists continue to whip up war fever and impose escalating sanctions that ultimately point to world war, those who follow the internationalist program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks fight for world socialist revolution against all the bourgeois ruling classes.” ■

  1. 1. New York Times, 25 February.
  2. 2. See “Biden Escalates Anti-China War Plans,” The Internationalist No. 64, July-September 2021; and “U.S. Big Lie Over Wuhan Is War Propaganda,” The Internationalist, No. 65, October-December 2021.
  3. 3. Washington Post, 25 February.
  4. 4. News Front, 27 February.
  5. 5. Institute for the Study of War, “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 27, 2022.”
  6. 6. Parti Communiste Français, “Ukraine : Non à la guerre, la France doit porter urgemment une offre de paix” (24 February).
  7. 7. Die Linke, “Erklärung zur Abstimmung über den Ukraine” (27 February).
  8. 8. International Socialist Alternative, “No War in Ukraine!” (24 February).
  9. 9. ISA, “What Now for Ukrainian Conflict?” (22 February).
  10. 10. See “The Bugbear of ‘Russian Imperialism’” (May 2014), The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015.
  11. 11. See “Hong Kong Democracy’ Riots: Pro-Imperialist, Anti-Communist, Fascist-Infested,” The Internationalist No. 40, Winter 2020.
  12. 12. In Defence of Marxism, 24 February.
  13. 13. In Defence of Marxism, 24 February.
  14. 14. International Viewpoint, 1 February.
  15. 15. “A memorandum on the radical anti-imperialist position regarding the war in Ukraine,” International Viewpoint, 28 February.