U&S members gathered alongside friends and comrades in various cities on Turtle Island on March 13, 2022. Those present have connections to various international solidarity efforts and diasporas. We came together to discuss the situation in Ukraine, and reflect on international solidarity efforts. U&S members have expressed a range of background knowledge on the region, and have varied levels of attention to news and analysis on Ukraine in general. In the invite to this meeting, we sent around a Crimethinc article and a Final Straw Interview for background information and to set a general anti-authoritarian tone for discussion.
First, we gave a short summary of the articles:
- Both sources state that the 2013-2014 Maidan uprising was eclectic mix of right, left; nationalists, pro-Russia tendencies, pro-Western tendencies, and lots and lots of everyday people in between. Some tensions for leftists who were faced with forming explicit or inexplicit united fronts with fascists. Sparked some self organization into civilian militias or volunteer battalions with a variety of politics, though broadly organized around Ukrainian sovereignty; many outlasted the conflict.
- Results of Maidan rebellion also occurred among right, left and everyday people.
- Far right regroupment, strengthening and legitimacy in Ukrainian government / military (though the Crimethinc piece argues the right has been disorganized and marginalized some since 2017ish).
- Anti-authoritarian left experienced heavy repression but was also able to recompose and draw in some nationalist elements that were moving to the left, while others organized factions supporting Russia,
- Groups of everyday people fractured; physically and politically divided families and kinships near Ukraine / Russian border.
- Both pieces emphasizes role of Russian government: (spreading misinformation about interventions into Ukraine being to stop Nazism; repression of and coopting leftists, in some cases torture; an attempt to wipe out Ukrainian identity, etc.)
- The left is divided between accepting support from NATO (reasoning it is either that or be wiped out) vs. maintain Ukrainian autonomy fully
- We added one small critique / methodological addition, which was to elaborate on Russia’s interests outside of gaining political power or strengthening Russian ideology. The Crimethinc piece alludes to role of USSR nostalgia in managing global crisis from a point of strength – it maybe a stretch – but sort of Eastern Bloc version of “Make America Great Again”. The Final Straw interview talks about Ukraine being the breadbasket of the region – Russia relies on the land for extractive purposes. We’d add an emerging low wage highly educated tech sector.
As a group, we discussed the following questions (note that some of the discussion has been rearranged to fit under the respective question it addresses):
What are the roles of the two sides (NATO & Russia) in the region?
Additional question: What is the role of Russia’s competing Oligarchs?
- Some scholars describe post-Soviet states as a neo-feudal system; after the fall of the USSR, broken-up state sectors shifted toward localist economies with patronage networks. In this way, it is has some inherent right wing qualities embedded into the class structure, includes right wing ideas (patriarchal / restrictive gender norms, anti-LGBT, etc.).
- Russia has direct imperial interests in Ukraine – site of major extraction, coal, oil, etc. NATO is more indirect – attempting to maintain global hegemony. Attempting to stifle Russia’s attempt to assert itself as global power.
- Russia as global power: Italy sized GDP but military still has superpower capacities. Reasserting itself as global power, refusing to be demoted. Shows how the different aspects we identify with imperialism (economic power, military power) can be discontinuous.
- How do we categorize? If it’s a contest between imperialist powers, the left usually insists “no war but class war”; if Russia is “semi-peripheral” some leftists have rationales to support it.
Additional question: What is the role of liberal media in supporting African students & the role of anti-Blackness?
- The focus on African students in Western media absolved other forms of anti-Blackness. (Where are the visas for Africans trying to enter Europe?) An internationalist politics has to include diasporic critiques of nation-state.
- Investment in Western façade of racial equality. US is really good at cooptation to muddy the waters in many different contexts.
- US has long history of coopting movements, opportunistically spinning conflicts in its favor. We can’t reject something just because its mediated by US but need to identify how the US and the West is manipulating certain circumstances.
What is the role of fascism in both sides?
- US left has a flattened understanding. People either say, there are fascists in Ukraine so don’t support Ukraine, or there are fascists everywhere so it doesn’t matter. Which then justifies an invasion (or not). Need a more nuanced understanding of the conditions being created. Conditions where even if you have a couple thousand fascists, they can do a lot more damage, and start to seize territory; subjective-objective metabolic relationships between fascists internationally; fascists are also mobilizing internally to the Ukraine (much like Russia has sponsored fascists to the Donbass). Austerity has also played a role in stoking fascism.
- Role of austerity in this conflict – but also, more broadly, the crisis of our moment, which is a longterm secular crisis, will not allow Keynesianist programs or neoliberal elites to resolve. We are truly living in a socialism vs. barbarism moment and that barbarism is fascism taking shape.
- Some have overstated successionist desires in Donbas region; need to emphasize the role of self determination.
- There are some potential parallels between fascism in the post-Soviet sphere and in the Mediterranean region, at least in the tendency to have strong patronage networks intertwining between state, state-aligned capitalist sectors, and mafias. Some of the objective basis for fascist internationalism between southern / eastern Europe and Russia.
- Crimethinc reproduced statement from collective in Russia – one of possible benefits from antifa side is decentralized mass mobilization; people are getting a taste of what grassroots democracy and mutual aid actually looks like and feels like, will be useful on the other side of this.
What is the balance of forces inside Ukraine right now and what does that mean for who we might make solidarity with?
- [Some debates emerging here….]
- “No war but the class war” on the one hand.
- On the other – fighting against NATO is something that can be done within a NATO block country, we’re positioned to do it.
- BUT! The US is not currently at war, so efforts against NATO are symbolic at best. How well positioned are we to even fight NATO? They’ve gotten good at fighting capital-intensive wars with little domestic blowback, but we should always try. Refugee solidarity is something concrete we can do, which is also a way to challenge NATO bloc countries from the inside.
- AND! What people want is to not be in war, and to not die. That is the point where we should be analyzing what we can do, what are the positions we take. But also don’t want their homes taken over. As people in the West to not solely call out NATO – need to center the humanity of the people suffering through this.
- Zapatistas went on a European tour, trying to network, couldn’t get into Eastern Europe, presented a position in a recent communique. “Our struggle is solidarity with life” – an ethical position that resinates but presents some ethical questions. Rojava ended up receiving aid from imperialist power that conveniently plays into simplistic narrative among Western Left (to support Assad and not Rojava).
- A lot of Russians are supporting antiwar struggles – this is important, and we can also support Russian anti-war comrades. But state Russian polls show support for war; not sure how reliable that is and what it means.
- Syria as a touchstone
- Part of what it looks like to support Ukraine is to also continue to support Syrians and people from other regions that have been devastated by these types of proxy wars.
- Relates to fascism questions – it was really difficult to support once ISIS was involved; the US Left materially has no power here
- There seems to be some Ukraine/Syrian networks established since 2014
- A reckoning about Syrian War is necessary…a lot of bitterness coming from Syrians, having been gaslit by the Western left while Syrian cities were being bombed.
- In Europe, you can feel the war in Syria much more immediately than the U.S, where Syrian diaspora is smaller and more dispersed. But the left there missed opportunity to organize w refugees bc it’s so segregated – it’s not just an ethical project to help stop suffering, but a political project to organize with refugees. Opportunity to build new internationalism working with diasporas from the imperialists’ wars.
- Protests welcoming refugees into US didn’t go very far, were impeded by tendencies among the Left that wanted to erase Syrian revolution in support of Russia. During that moment in Europe there was initial welcoming (xenophobia aside, structured by how State is receiving people); but then many refugees stuck in camps and warehoused; left has not made connections, labor movement has not gotten involved. This poses questions for anti-NATO or anti-EU politics: how to shift from the geopolitics and bring back the focus to what’s going on with the class (including refugees), how it has been effected by all this, violently integrated within EU. There are instances of this among queer activists in Greece: anti-femicide, sex worker struggles, etc. US is de-linked from feminist struggles internationally.
- In US when you protest, you don’t get exiled like in Russia, Turkey, etc. Costs are very high there for people fighting. We should be supporting people to struggle in their contexts but also to live. Once a generation of resisters is destroyed, it is difficult to rebuild.
- Diasporic leftists outside their home countries need to do something aside from internationalism; domestic left needs to do something beyond organize domestically. Political potential is there to connect these things. What are the practical material conditions to convene these kinds of exchanges?
Additional questions: How do we assess the ability of small, “class struggle from below” groups to become more relevant? Concretely who are we sending money and med kits to on the ground in Ukraine?
What is the endgame of this war, and what are the implications in the medium term, long term, etc.?
- Ukraine could be just destroyed here
- Afghanistan showed people that the world order is shifting; US is no longer able to secure its commitments across the world. Rise of China backing Russia is important. Coming possibilities of China invading Taiwan. Possibilities of US war with China triggered by invasion of Taiwan.
- Convergence of anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics in the US: ongoing “Cold War,” role of China, etc., strategy of elites is to de-link supply chains that will stoke tensions even more. Semi-conductor production. Elites arguing to import skilled tech workers from China and India.
- Sanctions against Russia, cutting oil reserves, etc. will force Russia into a closer relationship with China. Massive currency reserves, investing abroad, etc. New Cold War divided into West and East. Already been happening thru proxy dynamics.
- Make sure people survive and ideas survive, translations, etc.
- Return to great power reduces our ability to have an autonomous independent space
Additional Resources that Influenced Our Thinking