On Tuesday, Feb. 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Since then, Russian troops have been meeting heavy armed resistance from Ukrainian forces, including civilian militias. As this is being written, the number of Russian and Ukrainian troops killed in action is unclear. Sources estimate thousands of civilian casualties in Ukraine, but exact numbers of killed and wounded are unknown. At least 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine and an unknown number are internally displaced. The hypocrisy of European governments and the U.S., which have not welcomed or protected the rights of refugees from Africa and the Middle East, is on full display.
In a televised speech to the Russian people on Feb. 21, Putin recognized the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Additionally, in his speech Putin put the blame for Ukrainian independence on Lenin and the Bolsheviks and their policy of the right to self-determination of the captive nationalities of the old Russian empire.
Putin said: “So, I will start with the fact that modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia. This process started practically right after the 1917 revolution, and Lenin and his associates did it in a way that was extremely harsh on Russia — by separating, severing what is historically Russian land. Nobody asked the millions of people living there what they thought.”
The Biden administration reacted with a denunciation of the invasion and steadily increased sanctions against Russian banks and corporations over the span of several days. The U.S., Germany, and other countries have said that more arms, including anti-tank missiles, will be supplied to the Ukrainian government, probably through neighboring Poland. Ukrainian politicians have called for the U.S. and NATO to provide even more weapons and to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
The administration has extended sanctions to Russian oil and energy sales and moved to freeze or seize assets owned by oligarchs on U.S. soil. This is made more difficult by U.S. property laws and the political and economic ramifications considering the overlap of interests between U.S., European and Russian capital. Likewise, a call from some pundits for a crackdown on Russian media like RT, which has suspended U.S. operations, has dangerous implications for press freedom. The Biden administration and the European Union have also extended sanctions to Belarus banks and capitalists.
Mass demonstrations opposing the Russian invasion have taken place in cities around the world. Most significantly, thousands protested in Russia under threat of police repression and arrest. So far, almost 13,000 Russians have been arrested or detained for protesting the invasion of Ukraine.
For months there was a build-up of forces by both sides. Russia moved extensive forces into areas adjacent to Ukraine, including Belarus. The U.S. and NATO engaged in dangerous saber rattling and sent additional troops and advanced armaments to the region. The U.S. has approximately 90,000 troops in Europe, and the Pentagon announced that additional troops would be deployed to Germany, Poland, and the Baltic states. In the run-up to the invasion, the Biden administration shifted 800 soldiers to the Baltic region and F-35 fighter jets to areas on NATO’s eastern flank. Additionally, the U.S. will deploy 32 Apache attack helicopters to the Baltic region and Poland.
Originally formed to counter the Soviet Union after the Second World War, NATO was key to the postwar anti-communist alliance of Western imperialist powers. With the collapse of the USSR, the U.S. and its allies could have dissolved NATO in the interests of peace, but chose instead to expand NATO into countries of the former Warsaw Pact. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and it is unlikely that NATO states would intervene by sending troops into the conflict in Ukraine. That said, Western imperialism is pouring weapons into the region.
Revolutionary socialists denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine and support the Ukrainian people resisting it. We oppose any U.S. and NATO involvement in the conflict — directly or indirectly. This means opposing sanctions and possible no-fly zones. Working people in the U.S., Western Europe, Ukraine and Russia have no interest in the predatory wars of their ruling classes. Additionally, we oppose the repression of those Russians who are standing up to their own government’s military misadventure, and call for the release of all political prisoners.
What is the best way to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine?
Many people are rightfully outraged at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but what are we to do? Solidarity with Ukraine cannot take the form of action by American imperialism. It is imperialism, and its constant grasp for new markets and new bases for military expansion, that has helped to cause the game of brinksmanship that got us here. Our task is to oppose the transformation of Ukraine into an arena for armed conflict between the world’s two greatest nuclear powers. American intervention can only create more suffering and lay the basis for future similar conflicts.
Ukrainian working people are arming themselves, as well as joining the government-organized Territorial Militia, to resist the invasion. Ukrainian President Zelensky was slow to decree the general mobilization of the population to take up arms and defend itself from aggression, but the order was issued on Feb. 25. At the same time, 18,000 arms were distributed to civilian volunteers in the region around Kyiv, and instructions have been given to fabricate Molotov cocktails. A bottom-up and democratically organized popular resistance of the people of Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine can contribute to stopping the advance of Russian troops. Working-class organizations in neighboring countries and all over the world should organize solidarity demonstrations, welcome the Ukrainian refugees, and provide material support to the popular resistance in Ukraine to defeat the Russian troops.
Russian citizens are already showing the real path of solidarity through their inspiring antiwar demonstrations — which they know put them at great risk for arrest in Putin’s authoritarian Russia. Several thousands have already been arrested for protesting the war, facing potential jail sentences of up to 15 years, but antiwar protests keep growing despite the terrible repression. We must all do the same, standing steadfastly against the imperialism of our own country, which seeks profits through war at the expense of the safety and health of the Ukrainian people. We must also stand in solidarity with those in Russia who have been arrested. We demand the liberty and safety of our comrades in the struggle against imperialist war across national borders.
The true motives of the invasion are not the defense of Russia’s security
Some anti-imperialist socialists portray this conflict as one between rival “camps” — U.S. imperialism and its opponents. Accordingly, they side with Russia as the enemy of the United States while ignoring or downplaying Russian aggression against Ukraine. Putin’s Russia is an imperialist country. The Putin regime is a reactionary capitalist regime built on the remains of the economy built by the workers and peasants of the USSR through years of struggle and sacrifice. This regime has targeted LGBTQI people, repressed national minorities, and restricted women’s reproductive rights. Putin dreams of restoring the Tsarist Empire, not the Soviet Union. Putin’s speech announcing the invasion of Ukraine was an anti-communist, anti-Bolshevik speech.
Yes, there are some fascist forces involved in the Ukrainian government and armed forces. However, Putin’s claim that this invasion is about combating Nazism is ridiculous given his own regime’s ties to the Western European far right, including such figures as Marine LePen of France’s National Front, Norbert Hofer of Austria’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party, and Britain’s Nigel Farage of the Brexit Party. There are also links between the Putin regime and the fascist “philosopher” Alexsandr Dugin. Dugin, a founder of the Russian National Bolshevik Party, has ties to U.S. fascists like Richard Spencer and David Duke. Here in the U.S., reactionary former President Trump and white nationalist TV personality Tucker Carlson have criticized Biden’s anti-Putin policies.
Energy geopolitics — who controls and supplies gas to Europe — lie in the background of the present conflict. The Russian state-owned company Gazprom exports natural gas to Europe, and Russia supplies around 40% of Europe’s gas needs. Also, according to Eurostat, 30% of the EU’s oil imports came from Russia in 2017. Russia accounts for more than 75% of petroleum imports by Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, and Finland. The Czech Republic and Romania are 100% dependent on Russian gas.
Ukraine gets transfer fees from the pipelines that cross its territory, which is why they have lobbied so hard to kill the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would bypass their territory. The invasion of Ukraine has effectively destroyed the Nord Stream 2 project and compelled Germany to revive plans to import U.S. produced gas as world energy prices skyrocket. The U.S. oil and gas giants like Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell stand to benefit from a shift to U.S. supplied Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) supplies.
U.S. gas production through the fracking process fouls groundwater in aquifers and releases greenhouse gasses like methane into the atmosphere. In particular, fracking in the Permian Basin of the U.S. Southwest releases enough methane into the atmosphere to accelerate the process of temperature rise. According to the Earthworks website:
“…oil production in the Permian Basin has grown more than 5x in the past decade, and despite the climate crisis, is still expected to grow aggressively in the coming decade. At a time when the world’s leading scientists agree that ‘rapid, transformative, and sustained action is needed to ensure that global warming does not exceed 1.5°C temperature levels,’ continued oil and gas production growth in the Permian Basin poses a substantial threat to President Biden’s climate agenda.”
Environmentalists refer to the Permina Basin gas production as a “climate bomb.”
Where revolutionary socialists stand regarding the right of self-determination
The Russian invasion reflects Putin’s Great Russian chauvinist dream of restoring the greatness of the Russian empire. In contrast, Lenin and the Bolsheviks supported the right to self-determination of those nationalities oppressed by Tsarism, up to and including separation.
“The proletariat of the oppressing nations cannot confine itself to the general hackneyed phrases against annexations and for the equal rights of nations in general, that may be repeated by any pacifist bourgeois. The proletariat cannot evade the question that is particularly ‘unpleasant’ for the imperialist bourgeoisie, namely, the question of the frontiers of a state that is based on national oppression. The proletariat cannot but fight against the forcible retention of the oppressed nations within the boundaries of a given state, and this is exactly what the struggle for the right of self-determination means.”
But what does this mean for Ukraine? In The Ukraine, Lenin wrote:
“…no democrat can deny the Ukraine’s right to freely secede from Russia. Only unqualified recognition of this right makes it possible to advocate a free union of the Ukrainians and the Great Russians, a voluntary association of the two peoples in one state. Only unqualified recognition of this right can actually break completely and irrevocably with the accursed Tsarist past, when everything was done to bring about a mutual estrangement of the two peoples so close to each other in language, territory, character and history. Accursed Tsarism made the Great Russians executioners of the Ukrainian people, and fomented in them a hatred for those who even forbade Ukrainian children to speak and study in their native tongue.”
Does U.S. imperialist interference in Ukraine negate this and give Russia the right to invade Ukraine? We refer again to Lenin’s The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination:
“The fact that the struggle for national liberation against one imperialist power may, under certain circumstances, be utilized by another ‘Great’ Power in its equally imperialist interests should have no more weight in inducing Social Democracy to renounce its recognition of the right of nations to self-determination than the numerous case of the bourgeoisie utilizing republican slogans for the purpose of political deception and financial robbery…”
For revolutionary socialists, recognition of the right of oppressed nationalities to self-determination is an unconditional right and a prerequisite for the unity of workers from oppressed nationalities and the oppressor nation. In this war we are not neutral, we support the right of armed self-defense of the Ukrainian people and the defeat of the Russian troops.
Effects of the war on U.S. workers
Aside from the threat of injury and death in the battlefield faced by working-class soldiers and sailors, U.S. workers face further restrictions on democratic rights and an exacerbated economic crisis as markets are affected.
In fact, the Biden administration failed to get its own Democratic Party to pass its much promised social benefits agenda, which would have given U.S. workers child-care, maternity, and medical leave rights. It has also failed to pass the Voting Rights Act and the PROAct to expand the right to unionize. It was, however, very able to approve a $768 billion war-spending bill in December 2021, which showed where the interests of both ruling parties align. The amount of money just allocated to the Pentagon is one of the largest in history, surpassing the war budget during the Vietnam and Korean wars and just shy of the bill, adjusted for inflation, in 2011, when the U.S. had peak troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On March 8th, the U.S. Congress passed a bipartisan budget bill that includes $13.6 billion for Ukraine aid. Approximately half of this spending is slated for humanitarian relief and the rest is for military aid to Ukraine as well as Poland, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Romania.This bipartisan effort reflects a high level of ruling class unity in terms of support for Ukraine and opposition to Russia’s invasion.
Inflation, already eroding the meager paychecks of working people may be worsened as energy prices increase substantially. Heating homes and affording gas for vehicles has become more difficult. And who will pay for this conflict? The cost in higher taxes for U.S. militarism will be more and more balanced on the backs of working people as the rich profit and escape taxes.
Legislation criminalizing protest has become more common in the U.S., as well as loosening restrictions of vigilante violence, particularly after the Floyd/Taylor rebellion of 2020. These factors will be enhanced by war and will inevitably result in a curtailment of democratic rights. Revolutionaries in the U.S. must do all they can to push forward the antiwar movement and connect it to the struggle for democratic rights.
Effects of the war on climate
War has a great negative effect on the climate. Military operations from combat to the transport of troops and equipment contribute greatly to the climate crisis. The trucks, tanks, and airplanes all emit large amounts of greenhouse gasses. The U.S. military is one of the largest single polluters in the world. The bloated Pentagon budget exceeds the spending of the two biggest rivals of U.S. imperialism, Russia and China, combined. A large portion of that budget is spent on fuel and machinery. It is estimated that if the U.S. military were a country, it would rank 47th in the world in carbon emissions.
The U.S. military is the largest government or corporate user of energy (93 percent of U.S. government energy use) in the world. In addition to ground vehicles, ships, and airplanes, the U.S. military has more than 800 bases, with more than 560,000 buildings worldwide, which all require heating, cooling, and electrical generation—costing $3.5 billion in 2017 alone. As Neta C. Crawford writes in “Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War”:
“The best estimate of U.S. military greenhouse gas emissions from 2001, when the wars began with the U.S invasion of Afghanistan, through 2017, is that the U.S. military has emitted 1,212 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses (measured in CO2 equivalent, or CO2e). In 2017, for example, the Pentagon’s greenhouse gas emissions (59 million tons) were greater than the greenhouse gas emissions of entire industrialized countries (such) as Sweden or Denmark.”
The current conflict poses a dire threat to the environment. That is not just in carbon emissions, but also in the possible release of toxic substances and the possible spread of radiation from fighting in the vicinity of the Chernobyl exclusion zone and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Working-class people hold the key
Wars ultimately result from conflicts over resources or control of territory. It’s the profit system that drives these conflicts. Capitalist economies rely on massive military expenditures to prop up their economies. Weapons production is a major part of the world economy. The U.S. is the strongest military power although its political power has waned in recent years. U.S. imperialist hegemony has been undermined by 20 years of war in the Middle East and the rise of new imperialist powers. Inter-imperialist competition of the ever more scarce resources needed for industrial production, for water, and for arable farmland makes inter-imperialist wars more likely.
While it’s tempting to see supporting one imperialism against another as a viable strategy, such an orientation does nothing to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine and end war. We have to ask, what is the social force capable of achieving this? Socialists see the working class, the class that makes the products and produces the wealth of society as the only social force capable of permanently ending wars.
Unions in Ukraine, Russian, Poland, and Belarus are beginning to issue statements against the war, and so are hundreds of Russian scientists and many public figures in sports and the cultural scene. We must get U.S. working-class and youth organizations issue resolutions against Russia invasion’s and at the same time oppose interventions and NATO and US intervention and actively join in the antiwar protests. It’s the internationalist solidarity of the workers of the world, in total independence of imperialist powers, that can force the retreat of Russian troops and put an end to these wars by overthrowing our own ruling classes.
- Russian troops out! We support the right of self-defense of the Ukrainian people!
- All our solidarity with Russian antiwar protesters — end the repression, free the detainees!
- Russia, U.S., and NATO — Hands off Ukraine!
- Money for health, housing, and climate action — not for war or NATO!
- Dissolve NATO. American troops and bases out of the countries of Western and Eastern Europe.
- Dissolve the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), the military alliance of the Russian state with the former Soviet republics, used to send troops to crush popular uprisings and prop up submissive oligarchs, as in Kazakhstan.
- No sanctions!
- Open borders to all migrants seeking safety and refuge! Solidarity with ALL refugees! Asylum now regardless of race, genders, sexual orientation, or religion!
- Build an antiwar movement that can mobilize millions in the streets!