In Charles McKelvey, Russia, Ukraine

Charles McKelvey reviews the comments of the panelists taking part in the Fog of War Over Ukraine webinar, with the goal of elucidating the consensus of the global Left with respect to Ukraine.

By Charles McKelvey

Published on the author’s own Substack column, Mar 8, 2022
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I use the term “global Left” to refer to intellectuals and activists from all regions of the world whose conception of socialism has been shaped by the socialist projects of the Third World plus China.  The global Left is a current of thought in the Western Left, which is divided with respect to the conflict in Ukraine.  Some in the Western Left view the conflict as an inter-imperialist conflict between U.S. and Russian imperialisms. But the global Left sees the conflict as a manifestation of a conflict between Western imperialism and anti-imperialist forces, as is illustrated by the support of the socialist nations of the global South for the Russian military operation in Ukraine.

The March 6 Webinar, “The Fog of War over Ukraine,” organized by the International Manifesto Group, was for the most part an exchange that was moving toward consensus on the position of the global Left with respect to Ukraine, except for a few comments outside the consensus, which were received with courtesy and respect.

In today’s commentary, I will review the comments of the panelists, with the goal of elucidating the consensus of the global Left with respect to Ukraine.

Dialogue Seeking Consensus

Radhika Desai, convener of the International Manifesto Group and Director of the Geopolitical Political Economy Research Group, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, served as moderator of the panel.  She introduced the session with the observation that the Western mainstream media has reached its lowest point, reducing itself to an instrument of Western propaganda.  The goal of the Webinar is to address questions concerning the goals of the actors and the origin of the conflict, empowering us to see beyond the propaganda

Helena Mokrushyna

Helena Mokrushyna is a Ukrainian intellectual now living in Canada.  She commented that since 1990, with the fall of communism, the former Soviet republics were left without an ideological, moral, or political orientation, which left the terrain open for nationalism.  Nationalism takes various forms; and in the case of Ukraine, it has taken a form of racism, in which Ukrainians consider themselves to be white or Western European, superior to Russians and other Eastern Europeans.  In the racial hierarchy, this form of nationalism is subservient to the master race of Western Europeans.

Ukraine has lacked the quality of leadership that would be capable of containing this racist form of Ukrainian nationalism.  The lack of leadership is illustrated by Ukrainian President Zelensky, who declares that Ukraine is democratic, ignoring its laws suppressing the Russian language, and ignoring the violence against the civilian population in Donbass, fundamental aspects of the current reality that are ignored by the Western media.  Zelensky continues to seek entrance into the European union, with the appeal that “we are all Europeans.”

It is understandable, Mokrushyna observes, that people in Ukraine look toward the West.  Many would like to travel to the West, and some would like to obtain better paying jobs in the West.  But they should not silence those who do not agree, who are more oriented toward Russia.

Ukraine has a tradition of strong fighters, but it is much weaker militarily than Russia, and it has been assuming that it would have the support of the West in a military confrontation.  It is now learning, however, that the West will not help.

Mokrushyna emphasizes that the war in Ukraine is not an inter-imperialist war.  Russia had no choice but to launch the military operation.  Putin spoke against the Ukrainian government, but with affection toward the Ukrainian people; and the Russian army is trying to spare civilians.  It was a difficult decision for Putin to take, but it was a decision he had to make.  Seventy percent of the Russian people support Putin’s decision.

The is no point in negotiating with Zelensky.  He is a U.S. puppet, and his government can enter into no negotiated agreement with Russia without U.S. approval.  The peace negotiations in Belarus will go nowhere.

The Western media has much influence, Mokrushyna notes.  We must break the propaganda blockade.

Ranya Khalek

Ranya Khalek is a Lebanese-American writer, journalist, political activist and producer based in the Middle East.  She is a producer for Breakthrough News, in which she has been making commentaries on the situation in Ukraine.

Khalek maintains that NATO expansionism pushed Russia into a corner.  Since the war began, there has been a one-sided media campaign against Russia, presenting the Ukrainian narrative as true, and ignoring the Russia side.  It is a campaign that portrays a good Ukraine versus an evil Russia, with the censorship of Russia Today intending to preserve a one-sided discourse.

Khalek comments that the United States has been arming neo-Nazis in Ukraine since 2014, and it intends to continue to fund an insurgency campaign to make the war endless.  It is a strategy for empowering the global Right; foreign fighters will travel to Ukraine to be incorporated into nationalist groups, constituting a permanent presence.  This represents a continued escalation; the West has no desire to end the war, but to convert it into a permanent insurgency war with global implications.

John Ross

John Ross is a British writer and a China specialist who has lived in Moscow.  He contributes regularly to the CGTN and the China Daily, writing under his Chinese name, Luo Siyi.  He noted that the war in Ukraine was predictable, and he was among those who predicted it, although he thought it would occur sooner.

Ukraine consists of two nations.  The Western part was for a long period of time a part of Poland; whereas the Eastern part was for a long period a part of Russia.  This double nationality is workable, as long as one side does not seek to take control or suppress the other, as has occurred with the recent suppression of the Russian language, giving rise to a civil war in Ukraine.

Ross maintains that the neutrality of Ukraine is necessary to maintain Ukrainian unity.  But the USA has had no intention of maintaining the neutrality of Ukraine.  It has pursued a policy of aggression against Russia, systematically violating its promise to not expand NATO to the east.  Russia made gestures of reconciliation during this NATO expansion.  Russia has not pursued an aggression against the USA, but the USA has been engaged in aggression against Russia.  NATO aggression gave priority in Russia to a determination to defend the country, to defend Russia against aggression.  The NATO aggression is the fourth time that Russia has had to defend itself from aggression from the West, including the military campaigns against Russia by Napoleon and Nazi Germany.

The U.S. foreign policy establishment regards China as the enemy.  Its plan has been to coerce or seduce Russian into the West in order to make it easier to attack China.  An alternative strategy proposed by some is to weaken Germany by reducing its commercial ties with Russia.

Ross sees four forces in the world resisting U.S. imperialism.  First, China.  Ninety percent of the people of China support Russia in the conflict.  Secondly, Russia.  Following the humiliations of the 1990s and in light of the expansionism of NATO, the most important force in Russian politics has been patriotism.  The Russian Left made a strategic error in focusing on abstract concepts of internationalism and not recognizing the importance of patriotic sentiments among the people, sentiments that were driving an orientation to defend Russia against Western aggression.  Thirdly, the global South.  Note that Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and former Bolivian president Evo Morales have supported the Russian military operation in Ukraine.  And fourth, the global Left, which is the weakest of the four forces of resistance.

Ross reiterated in conclusion that Russia is defending itself against a systematic prolonged attack by NATO.  The Russian military operation in Ukraine may or may not have been the best strategy; but it is ridiculous for those outside the context of the real situation to debate that question.  What ought to be clear to all is that the Russian military action was an act of self-defense, responding to thirty years of NATO aggression against Russia.

Sarah Flounders

Sarah Flounders is a U.S. political writer who has been active in progressive and anti-war organizing since the 1960s.  She is a leading member of the United National Anti-War Coalition, and she is the author of a book on NATO expansion.  She maintains that the war could end today if the USA were to stop sending arms to Ukraine and stop bombing the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border.  The government of Ukraine has been shelling Donbass since 2014, causing 14,000 deaths.  The USA started the war by effectively incorporating NATO into Ukraine.  NATO is waging war today in Ukraine, by sending arms and advisors and supporting foreign fascist volunteers.

Flounders maintains that we need clarity in our demands.  Our slogan should not be, “Russian troops out.”  When we say this, we are echoing the voice of imperialism and propaganda.  Our demand should be: “U.S. troops and advisors out of Ukraine.”  We should put forth the slogan: “STOP the US/NATO war on Russia.”

We should challenge the propaganda against the Russian military operation, pointing out its hypocrisy.  The USA has launched wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq; it launched a seven-month bombing campaign against Libya; it supported mercenaries armies against the government of Syria; and it sends troops to Yemen.  It imposes sanctions against many countries, which is a war crime, because it attacks civilians.  Many nations are increasingly opposed to the U.S. strategy of imposing unilateral sanctions to attain its foreign policy objectives.

We should explain want the USA wants in this war.  The biggest investors in Russia are Germany and the European Union, and this commercial relation threatens U.S. imperialism.  Moreover, the relations of Europe and Russia with China, whose economic growth constitutes the biggest threat to U.S. imperialism, compounds the situation.  Thus, the European-Russian commercial connection is a threat to U.S. imperialism.  The intention of the U.S. aggression against Russia is to break the European-Russian commercial connection; this is the reason for the war, and we should explain it to our peoples.

Victor Figueroa

Victor Figueroa is a Chilean-British researcher based in London, who has written about Salvador Allende, and has spent some years in the Soviet Union.  He comments that some Russian scholars are saying that the conflict in Ukraine marks the end of the Yalta system and the beginning of a new system of international relations.,

Figueroa rejected the notion promoted by some in the Left that the conflict in Ukraine is an inter-imperialist conflict.  There is only one imperialism, and to resist this imperialism is not some form of global imperialism.  There is in the single imperialism a central core, consisting of the USA and England; an outer core, Europe; and the periphery, which does not benefit from imperialism.  Since the 2008 financial crisis, there has been an increase in violence against peripheral and semi-peripheral zones, combined with looting of the assets of particular nations.

Ukraine is an example of mature twenty-first century fascism.  Neo-Nazis played a key role in the 2014 coup: they killed and intimated police, and they occupied important buildings.  They provoked the overthrow of the government, which gave them a privileged position in the new government.  They play a central role in the security organizations of the state and in violent nationalist groups.

Since the 2014 coup, neoliberal policies have been introduced in Ukraine, including privatization and opening to foreign countries, which have led to a decline in the socioeconomic level of the population.  At the same time, there has been suppression of the Left.

Figueroa explained that fascism has a counterrevolutionary function.  Many people in Ukraine had wanted to return to a state-directed economy and stronger ties with Russia.  Fascism functions to black these desires.

NATO is participating in the war in Ukraine.  Western mercenaries and technology support the Ukrainian government and nationalist forces.

Many in the Western Left have abandoned criticism of the media.  The Left needs to regain critical resistance to the media.

Benjamin Norton

Benjamin Norton is a journalist, writer, and filmmaker based in Latin America.  He is the founder of the Website Multipolarista, were he does original reporting in English and Spanish.  He began by rejecting the false claim that the conflict in Ukraine is an anti-imperialist conflict, which tends to lead to a “neither Washington nor Moscow” line.  There is no comparison between the Russian military operation in Ukraine and the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen.  The Russian military operation in Ukraine was responding to aggression, in the form of the U.S. overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014, the attacks by the U.S. puppet regime on the civilian populartion of Donbass, and NATO expansionism.

Many observers had been pointing out that NATO expansionism could provoke a Russian military response.  Ukraine joining NATO is an “existential threat” to Russia, in that it makes precarious Russia’s position and her existence as an independent nation.  Indeed, recently publicized classified documents reveal a discussion by then U.S. Vice-President Dick Chaney of the possibility of breaking up the Russian Federation, breaking it up into three zones of West, the Balkan states, and the East.

Norton notes that we of the Western Left should be aware that the socialist nations of the world, namely, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, China, Vietnam, and DPRK have sided with Russia.  We should be looking at what these socialist nations are doing in their foreign policy, noting that they are all defending Russia.

Norton reiterates that the conflict in Ukraine is not an inter-imperialist conflict.  Russia is not an imperialist power.  If we analyze the Russian economy from the world-systems perspective, we can see that Russia primarily exports raw materials, like a peripheral country in the world-system.  It is at most a semi-peripheral nation, hardly a part of the imperial core.

Russia is not socialist, it is capitalist; but not all capitalist countries are the same.  In the case of Russia, a significant number of large companies are state-owned.  It is true that agriculture is largely in private hands, as a result of the shock therapy of the 1990s.  But Russia does not have neoliberal policies and structures.  Capitalist oligarchs do not control the economy; rather, the state controls the oligarchs.  This is why capitalist oligarchs criticize Putin.

Points of consensus

I note here the principal points of the emerging consensus of the global Left with respect to the conflict in Ukraine.

The conflict in Ukraine is not an inter-imperialist war.  Russia cannot reasonably be seen as an imperialist power.  It is an important anti-imperialist actor in the world, along with China and the socialist nations of the Third World.

The war has been launched by the USA and NATO, for the past twelve years or longer.  The aggressive US/NATO war has included the provoking of the coup d’état in Ukraine in 2014, the subsequent sustained bombing of the Russian population, and support for Neo-Fascist, ultra-nationalist groups; compounded by the expansion of NATO to incorporate countries to the east of NATO’s frontier.

Fascism has played a central role in the US/NATO aggression.  Fascist violence was central in the 2014 coup d’état, and fascists are integrated into nationalist groups in the current attacks on the civilian population in Donbass.  Fascism has a counterrevolutionary function, and in this case, it has functioned to block the possible return to state-directed economies in Eastern Europe.

The Russian military operation in Ukraine is a defensive military action, made necessary by the US/NATO aggression.  Russia persistently pursued a negotiated resolution of its security concerns prior to February 24.  The USA and NATO intend a permanent support to fascist elements in Ukraine, hoping to create a situation of conflict in Russia.

The U.S. aggression is driven by U.S. interest in breaking the commercial relation between Germany and Russia, making Europe more economically dependent on the USA; and in weakening Russia, so that it no longer can serve as an important ally of China, which is the true threat to U.S. imperialism.

The mainstream media is functioning as a propaganda arm of the USA.  The Left should have the capacity to critically delegitimate its omissions, distortions, and false claims.

China and the socialist nations of the Global South are supporting the Russian military operation.  China, Russia, and Third World socialist nations constitute the principal anti-imperialist forces in the world.

The sanctions imposed by the Western nations are a war crime.  They will have negative consequences for working people everywhere, thus provoking the opposition of the people to the US/NATO war of aggression.

What is likely to happen? What can be done?

It is possible that Russia will attain soon a negotiated settlement with Ukraine, guaranteeing her security concerns by affirming the neutrality and denazification of Ukraine, recognition of the two Donbass republics, and acceptance of Russia’s claim over Crimea.  This would be the best hope for peace and security in Eastern Europe, and for this reason, the socialist governments of the world have expressed their support for the negotiations and their hope that they will succeed.

But science speaks in probabilities based on empirical observation.  Taking into account the multi-dimensional war against Russia that the USA and NATO have unleashed for eight years and longer, discussed above, it is unlikely that US/NATO will quit their imperialist goals, unless events on the ground demonstrate that the war is a strategic error.  It is more probable than not that there will not be a negotiated settlement in the next days or weeks.

What would cause imperialism to abandon its goals in Ukraine?  Based on the numerous imperialist wars of the last seventy-five years and the immense human suffering that they caused, it seems likely that imperialism will not be deterred by high numbers of civilian casualties.  History has demonstrated two factors that can stop imperialist wars that are relevant here: first, the breakup of the inter-imperialist war alliance; and secondly, popular resistance in the imperial centers.  But it will take time for these factors to appear.

The analysis by the global Left of the situation in Ukraine suggests that, in the probable event that the war will continue for months or years, the European governments should emerge to oppose the war, in accordance with their interests in a multilateral imperialism, as distinct from the U.S.-directed imperialism; and their interest in peace and commerce in Europe  At the same time, the people in Europe and the United States likely will rise to resist, because of the economic consequences of the sanctions.  The Western Left must be prepared for this latter possibility.

As Sarah Flounders noted, it takes courage to protest at the present time, because the first moments of imperialist wars are always the worst, with denunciations of anyone who raises questions about the war.  But economic sanctions are disastrous for working people everywhere, and as the people experience the negative consequences of the sanctions, they rise up in rebellion.  When they do, we of the Left must be ready with concrete and clear demands and slogans, explaining to the people the imperialist interests behind the war, and what is more, explaining why imperialism is no longer a sustainable policy for the nations of the West, because the geographical and ecological limits of the earth have been reached and overextended, and because the colonized peoples have been in sustained rebellion against colonial structures for 100 years.

If the war in Ukraine continues for weeks and months, the conflict in Ukraine would become what I have elsewhere called a “Moncada event,” taking from the 1953 revolutionary attack on the Moncada barracks, led by Fidel Castro.  A Moncada event galvanizes the people, making possible the emergence of a united and powerful revolutionary movement, if there are leaders present who put forth clear, concrete demands and who explain to the people.

The financial crisis of 2008 was such a Moncada moment, and the people and leaders put forth the concept of the 99%, a clear formulation of the state of affairs, and a formulation that constituted a threat to the 1%.  But the leaders were not prepared to nullify the ideological counterrevolution, characterized by an intensification of identify politics and the dissemination of Critical Race Theory and questions of sexual identity, distracting the people and stoking divisions among them, resulting in the casting aside of the concept of the 99%.

We intellectuals of the global Left must work to send forth leaders capable of explaining to the people their interests in this possible new Moncada moment provoked by the desperate aggression of U.S. imperialism in decadence.

If popular rebellion emerges, we should keep in mind the inherent limitations of mass protests.  They are good for attracting attention to causes and slogans, but they are not so good at explaining, especially since the mainstream media has much to say in their dissemination.  We need to develop structures of people’s education, disseminating pamphlets with respect to relevant issues (as did the American revolutionaries in the 1760s and 1770s) and organizing local educational sessions of discussion and dialogue focused on the pamphlets.

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