War update: A war that is changing the world

War in Ukraine a “before / after” moment in world history

Danny Byrne, International Socialist Alternative (ISA)

Ten days into Russian imperialism’s bloody war on Ukraine, thousands already lie dead. Amid conflicting reports and figures which inevitably vary in wartime scenarios, on 4 March, Reuters estimated a death toll of 10,000 people.

This figure includes large numbers of Russian troops, who have encountered effective armed resistance throughout Ukraine. Even the Russian authorities currently acknowledge over 600 soldiers killed, including a general.

According to the UN, the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine surpassed 1.2 million on 5 March, and the number is growing rapidly.

Despite his claims to the contrary, so far, this war has certainly not gone according to Putin’s plan. It took more than one week for Russia’s overwhelming military numbers to take control of a single major Ukrainian city (Kherson), and at the time of writing, Ukrainian forces remain in control of the capital, Kyiv.

In response, Putin is resorting to even greater brutality. The Russian onslaught has entered a phase of indiscriminate shelling and sieging of towns and cities. In some towns, reports indicate that 80% of all residential buildings have been destroyed.

Putin has even implied the threat of nuclear conflict, raising the Russian army’s nuclear alert level. While this is hopefully another case of frantic saber rattling, this doesn’t make the situation less dangerous.

Then, on Friday morning (4 March), people around the world woke to widespread alarm following the Russian shelling of Europe’s biggest nuclear power station in Zaporizhzhia. Before the plant was captured, Russian troops had been held back for days by crowds of mobilised workers and local residents blocking their path.

The reaction of working class and young people across the globe, marked by colossal anger, solidarity and anxiety, has only deepened in response to this hardening of warfare. This is already beginning to be translated into yet another mass international antiwar movement, at this stage particularly in Europe. This is the process which socialists — who are part of the movement to stop this war and demand the withdrawal of Russian troops — point to as a source of hope and pathway to a real solution based on working class internationalism.

Alongside horrific human suffering in Ukraine, this conflict has plunged the world further into a spiral of inter-imperialist conflict and rivalry. As the war intensifies, so too does the imperialist saber-rattling, and the real threat of wider and even more devastating armed conflicts taking place in the future.

The horror of war is added to the pandemic, the existential climate crisis and the other manifold forms of human misery which 2020s capitalism is foisting on humanity. Those who already understand this must redouble our efforts to build a socialist alternative to capitalism and imperialism.

A “before / after” moment in world history

This war has accelerated all the major geopolitical and economic trends which were already in motion. As the Russian economy is increasingly cut off from Western networks and supply chains, the idea of “decoupling” has become a much more concrete reality.

Inflationary pressures in the world economy are being exacerbated with already-grim economic forecasts being revised downwards. Surging oil prices are following patterns which typically precede world recessions as Central banks around the world prepare to hike rates.

Regardless of how the war now develops, a historic surge in the further militarisation of the world is already underway. Germany, Europe’s most important power, has abruptly transformed its military doctrine, trebling its planned spending. Stock market values for “defense” (aka war) companies have surged as markets poise for a very profitable acceleration of the arms race, for which the working class will be made to pay.

War and the war industry are also climate killers. While cynical EU politicians unceremoniously try to pivot away from their dependence on Russian gas for energy, some with a “green” rhetoric, all signs point to their solution in the short term being the ramping up of coal, liquid gas and nuclear.

This war is also a significant turning point in the New Cold War, fundamentally between US and Chinese imperialism, the central axis for global geopolitics today. At least for now, Western imperialism has seen its position strengthened. Contrary to Putin’s hopes for greater division between the EU and US over how to respond, Russia’s invasion has led to an important “closing of ranks” among Western capitalist powers, whose sanctions — many of which will hurt innocent workers far more than oligarchs — have gone qualitatively further than before. Great shifts in public opinion provoked by the war in countries like Finland and Sweden are leading to greater potential for NATO’s further expansion in Europe.

While Chinese imperialism initially sought to take advantage of the situation to solidify Russia’s place in its Cold War orbit, even it now seeks to partially distance itself from Putin’s war, which it sees as an excessive threat to stability. The Xi regime also fears economic consequences from the secondary impact of sanctions against Russia on its own economy.

No trust in NATO! Socialists oppose Western military intervention

In the true style of the “shock doctrine”, Western imperialism is using this major historic event to achieve major policy “wins”, such as those outlined above, for NATO’s agenda for broader and more beefed-up military alignment behind US imperialism.

As well as policy wins, this war has allowed Western imperialism to attempt, with some success, to win more credibility for its Cold War narrative among the mass of the population in Western countries.

They seek to disguise their naked interests in pursuit of profit, power and prestige, in competition with rival gangs of crooks, as a noble crusade for democracy and humanitarianism against the authoritarianism and brutality of “the other side”. This follows decades in which there has been widespread distrust of Western imperialism among millions of working class people, particularly following the discredited interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the wider “war on terror”.

While the world’s eyes are now justifiably fixed on the criminal aggression of Putin, working class people around the world have witnessed how Western imperialism has been prepared to be equally bloody and brutal in defense of its ambitions.

It is in this context that socialists must view the discussion underway about the possibility of further Western military assistance to Ukraine. Encouraged by a capitalist media chorus, many people around the world, not least in the region itself, who are horrified at the war and understandably desperate for a “pragmatic” answer, are currently in support of such assistance.

This has been put forward either in the form of Ukraine’s fast tracked admission to NATO, more arms shipments, or a “no fly zone”, among other possibilities. In recent days the Ukrainian government of Zelenskey has conducted a major pressure campaign for the imposition of a no fly zone. On Saturday 5 March, in response to NATO’s rejection of the proposal, he stated: “All the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you [NATO], because of your weakness, because of your lack of unity”.

While US imperialism currently appears to have no appetite for direct intervention in this form — content to wage economic war against Russia for now — there is the emergence of a noteworthy cohort of Western political and military establishment figures who have begun to beat the war drums. Tobias Ellwood, the Tory MP who chairs Britain’s parliamentary “defence select committee” is one of several UK establishment politicians to support a no fly zone, dismissing as “defeatist” concerns that this would lead to world war 3, advising “more confidence in managing these cold war high-stakes scenarios”.

NATO’s former supreme allied commander in Europe, retired US General, Philip Breedlove, is also on record in support of such an intervention, while openly accepting that this would be an “act of war” against Russia.

Socialists oppose all forms of Western military intervention, not out of a lack of conviction of the need to fight Putin and defeat the invasion, but out of a firm conviction that NATO and US imperialism are false friends of the Ukrainian people.

NATO is not a “defense alliance”, but a war alliance formed in 1949 by US imperialism with the aim of “keeping the Americans inside (in Europe), the Russians (outside) and the Germans down”, as NATO’s first Secretary General, the British General Lord Lionel Hastings Ismay, cynically explained.

Its intervention would not have any democratic or humanitarian objective. Moreover, we point to the recent experience of Kurdish people in Syria, whose “leaders” welcomed US bombs in their conflict with ISIS only to be unceremoniously abandoned, and left to their own fates as Erdogan’s Turkish army invaded and their “defence” no longer aligned with US imperialism’s short term objectives.

Socialists must remind the working class of the bigger picture and of its own history. Placing faith in “our own” national ruling elite, or any other faction of capitalism and imperialism, has never benefited working class or oppressed people.

Build independent workers’ defense and resistance to the invasion

In Ukraine, there is clearly an important basis for determined mass resistance to the invasion which has already seriously complicated Putin’s advance. Socialists support mass resistance to occupation and the right of armed self defense.

However, in order to unleash the full potential of popular working class resistance present in the country, self defense should be organized on a genuinely mass, democratic basis, independently of the political control and centralized command of the Kyiv government. Self defense committees should be linked to the organisations of the working class — structures like trade unions which were attacked by the Zelenskey government just some months ago.

Popular self defense and resistance should also be organized along multi-ethnic lines, reflecting the national and cultural diversity of the population and under the banner of the right of self determination for all national peoples, including minorities within Ukraine itself.

Working class and popular defense committees should also link up with peaceful working class resistance to the war internationally, especially in Russia and Belarus, who have an especially crucial strategic task in building a mass movement that can bring an end to the war as soon as possible.

Russian regime in the dock — Support protests, fight for a new Russian Revolution

Putin’s regime has never been acting out of strength in this crisis, only weakness. Lashing out in a desperate attempt to cut across 3 decades of accelerated Russian imperialist decline since the restoration of capitalism, his regime is also motivated by fear of overthrow. This follows recent years which have seen uprisings challenge authoritarian regimes in the region, as well as repeated waves of crisis and anti-regime protests at home.

From the very start of the invasion, mass opposition within Russia has been palpable, with thousands of heroic workers and youth prepared to risk immediate arrest by turning out in spontaneous protests. As the war drags on, and Russian soldiers’ body bags pile up, while the Russian economy is plunged into crisis by the impact of sanctions and Russian workers are told to swallow more misery in the name of Putin’s criminal “special operation”, the ingredients for a broad popular uprising against the regime could mature, and Putin and his cronies know it.

Hence, we see his regime implement even harsher domestic measures of censorship and repression. New legislation has been rushed through to impose draconian jail sentences on those opposing the war or who commit the “crime” of telling the truth about it. There have even been rumours that the regime is planning to implement martial law — in a sense declaring war on its own people. Access has been blocked to much of the Internet, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Whether this repression manages to keep a lid on the massive contradictions building up in the depths of Russian society and for how long remains to be seen.

For all socialists and anti-war fighters around the world, providing all possible means of support and solidarity to the struggles of Russian workers and youth is a crucial task. A new Russian revolution, to throw out the Putin regime, and replace it not with a pro-NATO puppet regime but a workers’ government with socialist policies, would transform the world situation, allow for the rapid ending of the war and for a new global wave of revolutionary movements, East and West, against war-mongering governments and ruling classes.

There is hope — Build an international working class movement against war and imperialism

The most important task of working class and young people opposing the war internationally is to build mass movements against the war in our countries. In doing so, working class organizations and social movements must consciously avoid pressures to adopt a stance of “national unity” with Western governments and their hollow and hypocritical anti-war rhetoric.

Our movement must base itself on the organization and mass mobilization of working class people internationally. Mass street protests — which are already beginning to develop, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets of German cities and tens of thousands more throughout Europe in recent days — are a crucial first step. However, it is by putting forward a working class programme and exercising our power as workers that we will be most effective in applying real pressure to stop war and militarism.

Already, we have seen glimpses of workers’ action against the war, which could be built upon in the coming period. On 3 March, dock workers in Kent, UK, forced the diversion of an oligarch’s Russian gas tanker which was scheduled to land as a result of a loophole in UK sanctions impositions, by refusing to allow it to dock. Subsequently, union dockers in the Scottish island of Orkney pledged to do the same with Russian oil tankers scheduled to dock there next week.

Such examples of targeted working class action against the war, which must be independent of governments and their imperialist agendas, should be spread internationally and generalized, building towards coordinated workers’ action, in tandem with an escalating movement of street protests around the world, from Moscow to Mexico.

The growing anti war movement, which comes on the back of repeated waves of global working class and popular revolts over the last few years, can provide the necessary antidote to the despair and anxiety provoked among millions by this imperialist slaughter. As the decaying capitalist system signals its intention to drag humanity through more bloody wars, together with countless other manifestations of misery, in the coming period, the international working class can emerge as a powerful social force.

With no interest in national and ethnic division, and every interest in putting people and the planet first, the working class can lead a struggle to end war and imperialism, and open a new era of workers’ unity and socialism. ISA fights around the world to build support for such a struggle, as an integral part of the working class and social movements. Join us!

We say:
  • No to war in Ukraine! For the right of Ukrainians to decide their own future, including the right of self-determination for minorities!
  • Withdraw Russian troops now!
  • No to US/NATO imperialism and militarism
  • No to the EU’s racist refugee policies! Open safe and legal routes for all refugees. Demand access to decent housing, health services and work or benefits for all!
  • No illusions in diplomacy by the war-mongers. Build a massive anti-war and anti-imperialist movement linking up workers and youth over borders.
  • For an internationalist working class socialist alternative to capitalist conflict that leads to war and destruction.