THE LEAGUE for the Fifth International condemns the attack by Russian air and land forces on Ukraine, as well as Vladimir Putin’s denial of its right to independence as a sovereign state.His claim to be defending the interests of Russian speakers in the Ukraine and of Russia’s security against NATO is a gigantic fraud. No less fraudulent, however, are the claims of the NATO allies to be acting solely in defence of democracy and national sovereignty. Like Putin, they are pursuing their own imperialist interests. In short, the invasion of Ukraine is primarily an inter-imperialist conflict.
Putin’s brutal actions are of a piece with Russian forces’ action in Syria to prop up the murderous Assad regime as well as the assassination of oppositionists and repression of mass protests at home and his fostering of far right parties and authoritarian governments within the EU. In short, they are the actions of an imperialist power in conflict with the USA and EU imperialist powers.
We equally condemn NATO’s role in promoting this crisis, whose roots lie in the preservation and extension of the Cold War Alliance, NATO, after the collapse of the USSR, and its advance to the very borders of the Russian Federation, in violation of repeated verbal assurances to successive Russian leaders.
In addition, it intervened in initially legitimate popular democratic movements against the corrupt oligarch regimes within the remaining “near abroad” states of the Russian Federation. The aim was to replace pro-Russian with anti-Russian regimes by turning them into the so-called colour revolutions. This was bound sooner or later to result in a push back by Russian imperialism as soon as it felt strong enough.
This was the strategy of all major imperialist powers allied to the US. Washington’s policy of rejecting Russia’s demands for a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO, however, was also aimed at France and Germany’s moves to assert greater economic and military autonomy from the transatlantic superpower. They are now the big losers from this, with their diplomatic solution trashed and Germany forced to suspend activation of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline.
The aim was to subordinate them within NATO, itself a glorified American protection racket, forcing them to agree to sanctions dictated and enforced from Washington, however ruinous this would be to their own economies.
The fact that NATO imperialism does this under the flags of democracy, human rights and the self-determination of nations always was and remains a cruel deception. But so, too, is Ukraine’s claim to be simply defending its right to self-determination, because, since 2014, it has been fighting to deny an equal right to the eastern regions of the country (and the Crimea), including the right to use their own language and to freely decide whether or not they wish to live within the borders of a state defined by accepting an ethnically West Ukrainian national identity.
Putin’s chauvinistic adventure has given US president Joe Biden and his NATO allies the perfect pretext for stepping up Cold War hysteria and encouraging the brazenly social imperialist forces within the world’s workers movement, whether from the Social Democratic and Labour parties or trade union movements.
Equally, any forces from the Stalinist tradition who excuse Putin’s actions and justify his demands for a “sphere of influence” or a “security zone” are far from pursuing a policy based on internationalism and opposition to all imperialism. To believe that the enemy of our enemy must be our friend is the height of folly. In fact, our only allies are the workers in all countries fighting their own rulers and holding out the hand of solidarity across the front lines of the conflict.
Chinese imperialism is economically several categories above Russia as a global economic and thus, eventually, a military, rival to the US. Obama, Trump, and Biden’s Pivot to Asia and their “Putin is the New Hitler” narrative in Europe, has inevitably pushed China closer to Russia. But this is not caused by Xi Jinping and Putin’s challenges to “our values” but by their economic rivalry with the US. Beijing’s brutal and racist persecution of the Uighurs in Xinjiang and democracy activists in Hong Kong is a warning that China will not allow itself to be isolated or put on short rations by the USA.
For all these reasons, the working class and progressive movement across the world has to be won away from taking sides in this inter-imperialist conflict. In the old imperialist heartlands, the claim to be defending democracy is simply a cynical ploy for defending those states’ “right” to plunder the world. In Russia and China it is a step towards replacing the old imperialists and subordinating the great majority of humanity to new masters, allowing new billionaires to flourish at the expense of their own workers and the impoverished majority of humanity.
Essential to a correct stance on this is Karl Liebknecht’s slogan in the First Imperialist War: the main enemy is at home, equally applicable in the USA, its NATO allies and in Russia and China.