From the January-February 2022 issue of News & Letters
Saber-rattling rhetoric, troop movements, and threats of open warfare have accompanied rounds of diplomatic meetings between Russia, the U.S., NATO, and other European powers over the future of 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. When local oligarchs and Russian imperialism undermined those and tore the country apart, Ukrainians tried electing current President Volodymyr Zelensky, a Trump-style “populist” with ties to both Russian and Ukrainian popular culture. He has only become more authoritarian, jailing opponents and closing opposition media, as he has become more subservient to U.S. imperialism.
THE WORKING CLASS IS THE TARGET
The struggle of the coal miners in Eastern Ukraine was one factor leading to the fall of the state-capitalist Soviet Union in 1991. This was a self-determined workers’ movement that allied with no state power. It continued following Ukrainian independence, until its power was crushed by Russia’s imperialist intervention in Eastern Ukraine in 2014.
This Russian imperialist intervention cultivated ethnic separatism between Ukrainians, and also served the interests of Ukraine’s oligarchs. It is a familiar post-Cold War pattern. As we saw in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnian miners in Breza and other cities were central to the support of besieged Sarajevo and a multi-ethnic state. They remain a force today.
Likewise, Romanian miners were participants in that country’s revolution. Activists recorded the way the post-Ceausescu government then promoted ethnic hatred of Roma to defuse their militance.
THE EXAMPLE OF KAZAKHSTAN
The January uprising in Kazakhstan sheds light here. This is a legitimate mass struggle against both political repression and economic exploitation, sparked by the government’s massive increase in gas prices. Again, there is a history of revolt among the country’s oil workers—ten years ago, at least 14 striking workers were massacred in Zhanaozen. Beneficiaries of this kind of repression include corporations like Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell, which partner with the Kazakh government.
It should come as no surprise to find, near the center of this knot of exploitation and repression, the wastrel son of the current U.S. president. Hunter Biden described the former Kazakhstan security chief Karim Masimov as a “close friend.” Like Biden’s payoffs from Ukrainian energy company Burisma, it illustrates how the “democratic” Western ruling class, alongside former Communist oligarchs, took advantage of the brutal primitive accumulation of capital following the end of the Cold War.
The Russian (with Armenia and Belarus) imperialist intervention in Kazakhstan, followed by treason charges against Masimov, is another aspect of the current realignment of world imperialism. In truth, we are already seeing a low-level world war.
THE STARK CHOICE FOR HUMANITY
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.
The distinction of humanity in nature resides in our power of choice—in our freedom. That choice now amounts to either transcending the inhuman logic of capitalism, or following it yet again into war. In the words of Afro-Ukrainian songwriter Gaitana, “You’ve got so much from angels, but from demons as well.”
We say no to war in Ukraine, and yes to freedom and self-determination for all people, and to revolution in permanence!