First published at International Socialists.
1. The war in Ukraine is a year old. We responded to the initial invasion with this assessment: ‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February was an act of imperialist aggression and a violation of the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination. For Ukrainians it is a war of national self-defence. At the same time from the side of Western imperialist powers led by the United States and organised through NATO it is a proxy war against Russia. The war is both an imperialist invasion of a former colony and part of an inter-imperialist conflict between the US and Russia with their allies. We are against both imperial powers. We express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people, supporting their right to resist the invasion. While doing so, we also oppose NATO and its expansion to the East.’
2. Developments over the past year have vindicated this analysis. By choosing to invade Ukraine Vladimir Putin has inflicted great and unnecessary suffering on its people, but he has also embroiled Russia in a military and economic disaster. Thanks in large part to the weapons and training supplied by the US and its allies, the Ukrainian armed forces have been able to halt the Russian advance and push it back at points. The fighting has become a bloody war of attrition extracting a terrible human cost from both sides. The overdetermining factor in the Ukraine war is the expansion of the imperial sphere of power of the West (NATO and the European Union) under the leadership of the US on the one hand and the reclamation of Ukraine into the imperial sphere of power of Russia on the other.
3. Western governments’ denials that they are waging a war by proxy with Russia have long ceased to have any credibility. By imposing sanctions immediately after the invasion the West waged an economic war against Russia from the start. The advanced weapons systems NATO has rushed to Ukraine – perhaps most importantly the HIMARS multiple rocket systems – have hugely increased Kyiv’s striking power. Now they are beginning to supply armoured personnel carriers and tanks. In late January the US started combined arms combat training in Germany to enable Ukrainian battle formations to use these weapons effectively. This military support has gone well beyond allowing Ukraine to defend itself against the invasion and is increasingly designed to enhance its armed forces’ offensive capabilities. The NATO powers are now deeply involved in the Ukrainian war effort. For example, there are reports of British special forces’ involvement in raids on Crimea.
4. As a result, the defence of Ukraine’s national rights has been more and more subordinated to the geostrategic aims of the Western imperialist powers, reducing Ukraine increasingly to a NATO vassal state. The Zelenskyy government agitates for the combat aircraft and main battle tanks that it hopes would allow it to retake the whole of Ukraine, including Crimea. These demands are echoed enthusiastically by virtually the same Central and Eastern European states that were part of George W Bush’s ‘coalition of the willing’ backing the invasion of Iraq almost twenty years ago in March 2003.
5. But the two most powerful Western states, Washington and Berlin, don’t seek a total Ukrainian victory. Their interest lies in keeping the war of attrition going. This reduces the risk of escalation into a war between Russia and the West and leaves Moscow bogged down in a war it cannot win. The fighters on both sides and the Ukrainian civilians suffering Russian atrocities and bombardment and driven from their homes are cannon fodder for the two rival imperialist blocs – the much more powerful Western alliance and Russia, increasingly propped up by China.
6. For US imperialism, the main axis of geostrategic conflict today is with China. The Biden administration has repeatedly stated that Beijing is the only power with both the economic and military capabilities and the political will to challenge the so-called ‘rules-based international order’ through which the US has sought to exercise its hegemony since 1945. From Washington’s perspective, Ukraine is simply one front in this global struggle. The war serves to weaken Russia and to bind Europe to the US. Hence the efforts to brigade Europe against China, reflected, for example, in the NATO summit in Madrid in June last year and its more recent meeting about Taiwan. The result is the growing militarization of Europe, as individual states – including nominally neutral Ireland – ramp up their military spending.
7. The logic of contained proxy war underlies the tortuously negotiated process behind the decisions by the US, Germany, and Britain to supply Ukraine with main battle tanks. But flooding more and more weapons into Ukraine can’t be as carefully calibrated as the Western imperialist powers hope. War is full of surprises, as the failure of Moscow’s initial offensive shows. A sudden Russian collapse might encourage a drive by Kyiv to reconquer Crimea. Faced with the prospect of a humiliating loss of the base of its Black Sea fleet Moscow might respond with nuclear escalation. The proxy war could then become a world war.
8. The Ukraine War is thus a threat to the whole of humankind. This is despite the fact that most states in the global South are either neutral or even sympathetic to Russia. Even if nuclear catastrophe is avoided, the economic disruption caused by the war, in particular its impact on energy and food inflation, is spreading impoverishment and hunger world-wide. Other wars – for example, the appalling conflict in Tigray in Ethiopia, which has taken 600,000 lives – receive a tiny fraction of the attention that Ukraine does. This underscores the hypocrisy of Western imperialism’s concerns about the lives lost and the humanitarian crises resulting from the Ukrainian war. The same double standards were reflected in the welcoming arms for Ukrainian refugees at the start of the war, whilst refugees from wars in Africa and the Middle East are shut out by Fortress Europe.
9. The bloodshed needs to end now:
- Russian troops out of Ukraine now!
- An immediate and unconditional end to NATO`s intervention on the side of the Ukrainian government! The fatal logic of escalation must be broken.
- Instead of expanding, NATO should be dissolved.
- We demand the withdrawal of NATO troops from its eastern flank – No expansion to the east – No to Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO – Scrap the target for NATO member states to spend at least two percent of national income on the military.
- Rather than encouraging Zelenskyy to impose further neoliberal ‘reforms’, the Western powers and their international institutions should cancel Ukraine’s debt and supply the resources it needs to rebuild.
- End the repression of dissent in Russia, Ukraine, and increasingly the West.
- All refugees are welcome, open the border for Russian and Ukrainian deserters and war resisters.
10. The anniversary of the outbreak of the Ukrainian War falls a few days after another anniversary – that of 15 February 2003, the gigantic day of global protest against the invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain. The anti-war movement is much weaker today. This is partly because those protests didn’t stop the invasion – it was armed resistance on the ground that broke the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. More important, however, is the political disorientation caused by the development of the inter-imperialist conflict between the West, on the one hand, and China and Russia, on the other. Many peace activists are pulled towards one of the two sides. This is a mistake. Both the imperialist blocs are contending with each other to maintain and extend their economic and military domination. The exploited and oppressed of the world have no interest in either’s success. The movement for nuclear disarmament – which defied West and East alike at the height of the Cold War – must be revived.
11. The class issues at stake in the cost-of-living crisis have yet to affect popular attitudes to the war. But this will change. The ruling classes’ response to the inflationary upsurge exacerbated by the Ukraine crisis is to reimpose hard-money policies with the aim of forcing unemployment up and wages down. At the same time as they are thus making workers and the poor pay for the failure of their system, they are pouring resources into the military. The intensification of workers’ struggles that we see in countries such as France and Britain creates a space in which to build mass opposition to the war.
12. This inter-imperialist struggle, which threatens the very existence of humankind, is yet another sign that time is up for the capitalist system. It distracts from the developing climate catastrophe that urgently demands socialist revolution to rid the world of capitalism. We pledge ourselves again to devote all our efforts to help working people achieve this objective.