Down with Putin’s war on Ukraine!

February 27, 2022

No sooner had Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his latest and most massive grisly invasion than he was confronted with fierce resistance in Ukraine and opposition he did not expect on Russian streets. The bravery of Ukrainian civilians, not only soldiers and militia, risking death at the hands of one of the world’s most heavily armed militaries, found its echo in the Russian protesters in over 50 cities daring to denounce the war, knowing full well that they risked arrest, blacklisting, even torture and death, as Putin’s regime has often dealt to dissidents. In the first four days of the invasion alone, over 5,000 Russian protesters were arrested.

Ukraine is bordered by the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to the south, Russia to the east and north, Belarus to the north, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary to the west, and Romania and Moldova to the south.

Despite a swell of martial rhetoric, such bravery was not to be found in the governments of the U.S. and Europe, shrinking from imposing the most effective sanctions, such as a refusal to import Russia’s oil and gas, because of the cost to their own economies and political support.

What is clearest through the fog of war so far is the onset of a very bloody and costly conflict, especially for Ukrainians but also for Russians. We are seeing only the beginning of how Putin will wield the brutality he honed in the war on Chechnya that he used to consolidate power and in his military intervention that saved Bashar al-Assad’s counter-revolutionary genocide in Syria, which deliberately targeted hospitals, markets and other civilian locations, and gave Putin the opportunity to test advanced weapons.

Whatever provocations Putin can point to—mostly fabricated, though some are loosely based in fact—they cannot gild the invasion of Ukraine any more than the bloodbaths in Syria and Chechnya can be justified.

Putin’s Russian imperialism comes out of a desperate capitalist system that can’t provide for its population or address this society’s total threat to its own life-sustaining environment. The ultimate currency now is militarism and the means of total destruction, which is much greater than at the time of the global capitalist collapse of the 1930s Great Depression and its deglobalization. That collapse led to the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. The scale of Putin’s brutality toward a neighboring country in Europe revives this gruesome memory.

The West refuses to pay the price of shutting down Putin’s oil revenue even as he unleashes what that revenue makes possible, a machinery of death, including raising the threat of nuclear annihilation if anyone interferes. Xi Jinping’s China, for its part, is enabling Russia’s war drive by expanding the two countries’ trade in oil, gas, wheat, weapons, technology and other areas.

And yet, after world reaction—including in Ukraine and Russia—shamed the U.S. and Europe into intensifying financial sanctions, which had initially been feeble, and appropriation of some Russian assets, the country’s oligarchs became worried about their economy collapsing. Putin’s response to this and “threatening statements” out of Europe was to televise a meeting with his top military leaders, putting Russia’s “deterrence forces” on “a special mode of combat duty,” implying that strategic nuclear weapons were being put on a high alert. This escalation makes the war not only about Ukraine but a nuclear crisis enveloping all of humanity.

The capitalist system in crisis ever veers toward war. Putin is not so much the exception but the embodiment of the ongoing shift in world politics, signaling the future this system holds in store for the world if left unchecked. The destruction of democracy and the move to the Right in the U.S. and the world, which Putin has aided, helps set the stage for that nightmare.

This shift is counter-revolutionary to the core. Nothing makes this clearer than Putin’s rant against Lenin. In Putin’s imperial mythology, there seems to be no enemy more hated than Lenin, who supposedly invented the nation of Ukraine. In reality, Lenin insisted that Ukraine is an independent country, free to go their own way, as he warned against Great Russian chauvinism, which he later further warned was personified by Stalin. It is Stalin that Putin glorifies, while denouncing Communism.

The forthcoming issue of News & Letters will carry a comprehensive analysis. In the meantime, we reiterate what we declared in our editorial from almost two months ago, “No to Putin’s planned war in Ukraine”:

“These threats must be opposed, and they must be seen for what they are—anti-working-class counter-revolution on a world-historic scale. It is important to be clear that what is being ‘negotiated’ over the heads of Ukrainians is the future of imperialist relations between competing blocs of capitalist powers.

“This is not the desire of Ukrainians, who since independence in 1991 have carried out two revolutions for self-determination….

“Today’s world crisis is total—economic, political, and philosophic. The competing state-capitalist powers can offer us nothing but the prospect of another war that, between nuclear and biological weaponry, puts the survival of humanity in doubt. They are barely hiding it anymore. Despair is their new normal.

“Yet all of post-Cold War history shows that working people’s struggles have pointed to an alternative way of life, of cooperation and coexistence. There is no necessity for tailending any imperialist power….

“We say no to war in Ukraine, and yes to freedom and self-determination for all people, and to revolution in permanence!”

—The National Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees, Feb. 27, 2022

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