Meditations on the Conflict in Europe

Decolonization is a term I do not use. It is too passive and, like other so-called left-wing politics that avoid/ignore class discussions, it opens the space where capitalists can sneak in and suppress real revolutionary change. In other words, one oppressive structure is replaced by several – all presupposing the permanence of capitalism and its current hierarchies. As a result, the decolonized colonies remain colonized, only then they are part of a unipolar system governed directly and indirectly by US imperialism. The illusion of liberation or, to be more precise since liberation is not meant to be, the illusion of independence.

Ukraine does not have the resources to get what it wants militarily without the financial and military support of Washington, which is using this conflict as a means to push Europe back to where it was in the 1950s and 1970s. In other words, one of the goals of this war drive in Europe is to make Europe again dependent on Washington for most of its military and economic support. Washington rejected a peace dividend in the 1990s and built up its military while rejecting Europe’s thoughts on its own armed forces, including cooperating with Moscow for European security. Meanwhile, the European economy grew. The US wants both military and economic dominance. The Russian government’s reaction to being cast in a hostile role again was no coincidence. The intent of US post-Soviet foreign policy was to create a military conflict with Moscow. Moscow acted as almost any state would, especially one with Moscow’s legacy. While this obviously does not excuse the invasion of Ukraine, it does explain it in the terms in which such states operate.

Recently, an ad hoc group of left-wing supporters of NATO that supplies arms to Kiev issued a statement in solidarity with the Kiev government and its demands. Without spending too much time on the statement, there are a couple of assumptions it’s based on that I think need to be addressed. First, there is the presentation of all “imperialisms” as equals. Russia’s military base in less than half a dozen other states and China’s commercial dealings in the world are not equivalent to Washington’s military presence around the world or ultimate control of the global economy through the dollar. Those who argue that Russia’s military involvement in Syria and Ukraine is a response to Washington’s prolonged encroachment are right. Iran’s involvement is also motivated. My pointing this out does not indicate support for either government (or for China). It just reiterates what should be obvious: Washington remains hundreds of times the most important imperialist power in the world, and most of the conflicts that are now taking place are the result of Washington’s imperialist influence.

Most of Kiev’s supporters never talk about the nature of the Ukrainian government or that Kiev has been on military conscription since at least March 2022 with the threat of imprisonment. Likewise, they dismiss peace as an “abstract”. It is also hypocritical to support the right of every oppressed people to self-determination while at the same time rejecting the right of the oppressed people in the eastern provinces of Ukraine to self-determination. If they think that any progressive forces in Ukraine will come to power after the end of the war, most likely through negotiations, then they are really foolish about how Nazis work. I take Zelensky’s popularity with a grain of salt. It’s as shallow as his smile.

The early twentieth-century socialist Franz Mehring wrote this about the question of Polish self-determination in an essay entitled “The Polish Question”: “The time when a bourgeois revolution could create a free Poland is over, today the rebirth of Poland is possible only through a social revolution in which the modern proletariat breaks its shackles” If one replaces the nation of Poland with Ukraine, this statement still rings true. In other words, Ukraine will not be released if it wins. This is true whether Ukraine wins everything it wants in the current conflict or that it will settle for a settlement that does not include all the land it considers its own.

Another common statement made by those who support the war against Russia is that those of us who call for peace talks are acting in meaningless abstractions. It seems to me that if we want to talk about abstractions, the idea that there are some progressive forces in the Ukrainian government (such as leftists supporting Kyiv in the war claim) is certainly one. Moreover, the idea that these progressive forces will have a say in a future government is all the more so. In fact, I wonder what these elements of the left will say if Kiev wins and then continues to deny many workers the right to unite while privatizing health care, housing and energy. If and when Russian forces withdraw, most Ukrainians will be no less oppressed than they were in 2021. That is, unless they belong to the oligarchs and the fascists who have propelled much of this nationalist drive since the beginning. You can be sure that these latter elements will demand a greater role in a post-conflict government and go after its ‘enemies’.

This is one of the reasons why peace talks must begin. As for Kiev, victory on the battlefield is not only an uncertainty, but also unlikely without a larger conflict. Moscow, despite its apparent military shortcomings, has the military advantage even as NATO weapons pour into Ukraine. However, the political advantage lies with Kiev. It is an advantage that should be used to reach an agreement that all parties will honor. That happens now or later at a negotiating table, not on the battlefield.

The pretense that this conflict started in 2022 is no more than that. So is the claim that it started in 2014. It started in 1947, a few months later. Washington decided it would use its post-war advantage to dominate the world economically and militarily. Despite some major setbacks along the way, it largely worked out. The international situation today is unfolding as a period of great challenge to the hegemonic dreams of the United States; perhaps even greater than the period after the defeat in Vietnam and Iran. Yet Washington continues to reject cooperation with or detente with its chosen enemies, opting instead to continue its belligerence, creating an already dangerous dynamic. While it’s understandable to support Kyiv’s fight against Russian occupation divorced from Washington’s role in provoking it for its own empire reasons, that support ultimately supports that empire.

Meditations on the Conflict in Europe

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