Q&A on the War in Ukraine: Cutting Through the Lies of the US Ruling Class

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has shocked and horrified millions of workers around the world. This is an utterly reactionary war, and solidarity with the ordinary people of Ukraine is a healthy and natural instinct. However, workers are under no obligation to choose between NATO and US imperialism on the one side, and Russian imperialism on the other. On the contrary, it is our duty to maintain a class-independent position at all times.

Nonetheless, the pressure to side with one’s “own” imperialism is tremendous. But let’s not forget where that pressure is coming from. Fifteen billionaires own America’s news media companies. Needless to say, these outlets present the news from the point of view of the ruling class. This is true at all times for both domestic and foreign policy, and it is true whether you live in the US, Russia, Ukraine, or anywhere else.

Whenever there is a war, the ruling class mobilizes its politicians and media to an even more hypocritical and extreme level of noise making. They aim to provoke emotional reactions as a way of stampeding people into following “their” flag and supporting “their” capitalists’ policies. “Reputable” and “authoritative” news sources churn out a steady stream of half-truths, unverified claims, ridiculous nonsense, and outright fabrications to confuse working-class people and get them to support the class enemy. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that there is a hurricane of misinformation and misdirection being put forth on the war in Ukraine.

Socialist Revolution stands in solidarity with the workers of Ukraine, Russia, and the rest of the world on a class basis. As we are based in the US, however, our main duty is to expose the lies and hypocrisy of the US ruling class. In the following series of questions and answers, we hope to cut through the fog of war and proWestern imperialist propaganda, explaining these complicated issues from an internationalist, working-class perspective.

Table of contents:

 

What is the real nature of the war in Ukraine and what led to it?

If we believe the account of the Western media, Putin is a modern-day Hitler and his attack on Ukraine is merely the first step towards gradually swallowing up the whole of Europe. Socialist Revolution and the International Marxist Tendency are unequivocally opposed to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But we also reject the idea that this war was caused by Russia’s diabolical plan for “expansionism.” The current situation cannot be properly understood without examining the class interests that came into conflict and laid the conditions for open war.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the economy collapsed, capitalism was ruthlessly restored, and the vast majority of the population was worse off than under Stalinism. Russia today is a capitalist country, a regional imperialist power, and the Putin government represents the Russian capitalist class. Like all capitalist ruling classes, they are interested in exploiting workers at home or abroad. To this end, they also seek to control natural resources and to ensure their “national security”—i.e., their right to exploit the people and resources of the areas they directly or indirectly control. So while the Russian ruling class has an interest in subordinating Ukraine, the workers of Russia have absolutely no such interest.

As for the main power behind NATO, the United States, it is the most powerful capitalist country in the world and the biggest world imperialist power. The government here, whether led by Biden or Trump, Obama or Bush, represents the American capitalist class. At this stage, workers in the US do not even have a party of our own. The US government and its policies serve the interests of the rich, not only in domestic policy, but in foreign and military policy as well. What interest do American workers have in controlling Ukraine? None.

Ukraine is a small capitalist country, located next to Russia and under the influence of US imperialism and its allies. The Ukrainian capitalists are generally linked either to the Russians or to the US and the Western imperialist countries. In 2014, the Ukrainian government, which had been aligned more with Russia, was overthrown in favor of those capitalists with ties to US imperialism. The conflict between Ukraine and Russia became a proxy for the conflict between the US and Russia. These conflicting interests led to the present war. The workers of Ukraine, Russia, and beyond must now bear the consequences.

The US government represents the American capitalist class. What interest do American workers have in controlling Ukraine? None. / Image: Socialist Revolution

Is Putin trying to rebuild the “Soviet Empire”?

Politicians and the media have accused Putin of seeking to rebuild the so-called “Soviet Empire.” In order to answer this question, we must understand what the Soviet Union was, whether it was ever an empire, and how it collapsed.

The Soviet Union was founded in 1922, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917. In that momentous year, the workers, peasants, and oppressed nationalities of the centuries-old tsarist empire overthrew the government of the Russian capitalists and landlords. In the years that followed, over a dozen countries, including the US, intervened militarily to snuff out the new workers’ state.

After years of bitter struggle and internationalist appeals, the workers and peasants of the region—aided by workers around the world, including Seattle’s longshoremen—defeated the counterrevolution. In the turmoil that followed World War I and the Russian Revolution, revolutionary uprisings spread to a number of countries. Unfortunately, without a Marxist leadership like Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, all the other revolutions were defeated.

After suffering through the World War and a brutal civil war, the Soviet economy was in ruins. The country was not very industrialized, and the material basis for socialism did not exist within its boundaries. The failure of the revolution to successfully spread to the advanced capitalist countries—where the resources to begin building socialism did exist—left it isolated and backwards. This was the objective basis for the rise of a counterrevolutionary bureaucracy headed by Stalin.

Stalin and his cronies gradually usurped power from the exhausted working class, took firm control over the state, and murdered nearly every one of the original Bolsheviks, including Leon Trotsky, who stood alone in defense of the real traditions of Bolshevism. Stalinism based itself on a nationalized planned economy, and did not restore capitalism at that time. As a result, the bureaucracy did succeed in industrializing the country, but it did so bureaucratically, at an enormous, wasteful cost. There was no workers’ democracy, control, or freedom, as had existed in the earlier days of the revolution.

Despite the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Soviet Union grew stronger due to the productive power of the planned economy. During World War II, the Nazis had to devote two-thirds of their military resources to combat the the USSR. The Soviets eventually broke the backbone of German imperialism—at a cost of 24 million lives. For the sake of comparison, the US lost around 105,000 killed in the European theater of the war.

After the war, new deformed workers states arose in Eastern Europe as the Nazi-collaborating capitalists of one country after another fled the Red Army. The countries that were once called the “Eastern Bloc” originated from this. It was not “empire-building” by the Soviets that created this, but the rolling back of the Nazis by the Red Army and local uprisings of workers and peasants.

The Eastern Bloc (and after 1955, the Warsaw Pact) was most definitely part of the USSR’s sphere of influence. These countries were used cynically by the counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucrats to defend their interests. On multiple occasions, they even sent troops to repress, occupy, and crush anti-Stalinist uprisings in places like Hungary and Czechoslovakia. This was certainly militaristic and not in the interest of the working class and the world revolution. But the word “empire,” in the modern sense, is synonymous with the word “imperialism,” which is a function of capitalist property relations involving the export of capital backed by military might. As capitalist property relations had been abolished throughout these lands, one cannot speak of this as “imperialism” or a “Soviet Empire.”

Genuine socialism needs workers’ democracy like a body needs oxygen. A nationalized planned economy under a bureaucracy is corrupt and inefficient, and inevitably leads to stagnation. Many in the Soviet bureaucracy wanted to be able to pass their privileges on to their children, which would require a return to private property and capitalism. When the contradictions of Stalinism led to its collapse in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the US and other Western imperialist countries dove in to expand their commercial, political, and military interests in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. First they sought to achieve their aims by working with Mikhail Gorbachov, then Boris Yeltsin, and then Vladimir Putin.

Reestablishing capitalism and uprooting the last vestiges of the planned economy is one thing. But western encroachment at the expense of the local oligarchs while humiliating what was once a world superpower is quite another. Eventually, Putin said “enough is enough” to Western commercial and military expansion. But this does not make him an anti-imperialist—far from it. Putin is pro-capitalist, anti-socialist, and anti-communist. His model for modern Russia is not the Soviet Union, which expropriated capitalist private property, but the expansionist militarism of the Russian Empire of the tsars—the same Empire overthrown by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

Empires usually have massive military structures. The US currently has troops deployed in over 150 countries, and some 750 bases in 80 different countries around the world, including countries on Russia’s border. This is far more than any other imperialist power on Earth. As it is a regional imperialist power, modern Russia “only” has 21 bases in about 10 countries, mainly along its borders.

So yes, Russia is an imperialist country. But the hypocrisy of US imperialism—the world’s only superpower—must be consistently exposed.

Putin’s model for modern Russia is not the Soviet Union, but the expansionist militarism of the Russian Empire of the tsars—the same Empire overthrown by the Bolsheviks in 1917. / Image: Kremlin.ru, Wikimedia Commons

What is NATO and why does it still exist?

After World War II, the world capitalist system tried to reestablish some degree of stability. They were dealing with the aftermath of a cataclysmic war caused by their own system and threatened by revolutions in many colonial countries, including India, Korea, and China, as well as the expansion of Stalinism in Europe. On top of this, countries like France and Italy had mass Communist parties that had led the anti-Nazi resistance after Hitler invaded the USSR.

US imperialism was the world’s most powerful capitalist country, and Germany, Japan, France, and Britain had come out of the war weakened. Meanwhile, the USSR had grown in strength. US imperialism organized the Western European capitalist countries in a bloc against the Soviet Union and the deformed workers’ states of Eastern Europe. The result was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

NATO was allegedly formed to defend Europe against the Soviet Union. But let’s not forget that the Soviet Union never invaded Europe, but was itself invaded in the period of 1918–21 and again in 1941–45. The US had troops in Soviet Russia from 1918 to 1920. The Soviet Union never had troops in the US. So, who needed to be defended against whom?

If NATO was set up to defend the US and Western Europe from the Soviet Union, it should have been disbanded in 1991 when the USSR collapsed. However, it not only continued to exist, but relentlessly expanded in size. It was even used as cover for the post–September 11, 2001 invasion of Afghanistan—which is nowhere near the North Atlantic. NATO aggressively took on new members, moving eastward into Poland, Hungary, the Baltic states, and beyond. It was not Russia that expanded west, but the US and NATO that expanded east. This was a major factor in the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

The US government claims to be concerned for the well-being of the Ukrainians. Is this really the case? What is the US doing to help refugees?

All thinking and feeling humans are shocked at the horrors of the war in Ukraine. But let’s not forget that aside from Ukraine, 21 other countries are also in the throes of violent turmoil and civil war. Capitalism is horror without end. We object to violent attacks against ordinary people, whether it is in Ukraine, the Gaza Strip, Yemen, or any other country where war is a fact of life today. Why does the media only show the events in Ukraine, and not these other countries? If the Yemeni people are attacked by the Saudi state, or the Palestinians are attacked by the Israeli state, is this acceptable?

If the US government cares so much about “the Ukrainian people,” what about the 14,000 mainly Russian-speaking Ukrainians killed by the Ukrainian government and its neo-Nazi militias in Donetsk and Luhansk in the years leading up to the current war? These regions didn’t want to be under the rule of the “Euromaidan” government. Why did US imperialism turn a blind eye to the shelling of these people by Zelensky, and by Poroshenko before him?

Biden claims to be a great friend of Ukrainian refugees—but his refugee policy says otherwise. As of this writing, over 4 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee the country, most of them women and children. After sparking this conflict through its aggressive expansionism, the US has “generously” agreed to accept a mere 100,000 refugees—less than 3% of the total.

And even these small numbers are not being received with open arms, as many of them will be allowed in only if they are approved for a tourist visa—which means they must promise to leave the US after a few weeks. How can you promise this when your home country is in the midst of a war that forced you to flee in the first place?

This hypocrisy is reminiscent of the 1930s, when hundreds of thousands Jewish refugees trying to escape the Nazis were refused entry to the US—all but condemning them to death.

Ukraine Refugees Fleeing
After sparking this conflict through its aggressive expansionism, the US has “generously” agreed to accept a mere 100,000 refugees—less than 3% of the total. / Image: внутрішніх справ України, Wikimedia Commons

Biden has called Putin a “war criminal” and a “bloody dictator” for invading a country that was not poised to invade Russia. Has the US government ever done such a thing?

To give just one recent example, President George W. Bush launched an unprovoked war against Iraq, in which an estimated one million people died, directly or indirectly, as a result of the war. Iraq is a country of 40 million people, similar in size to Ukraine. If Putin is a bloody dictator, what does that make Bush? Biden was a senator at the time and he was one of the 77 senators who voted to give Bush authority to invade Iraq based on the false idea that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction.” What does that make Biden? Has Biden magically washed the blood from his hands?

And although US imperialism has bombed two dozen countries since World War II, it has never formally declared war on a single one of them, including its wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Putin is bombing civilians in the Ukraine. Is this something that the US and its allies really object to?

The US government objects to bombing civilians if it is done by its rivals. The US military has a long history of bombing civilians. Just a few examples include Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, Baghdad, Fallujah, and many cities and towns in Afghanistan, Korea, and Vietnam. In Vietnam, the US dropped more tonnage in bombs than were dropped by all sides during the entirety of World War II—not to mention the 20 million gallons of horrific chemical weapons like Agent Orange and other “Rainbow Herbicides.” Some two million civilians died in the Vietnam War—and the Vietnamese never bombed the US.

According to the Council of Foreign Relations, in 2016, the US dropped an average of 72 bombs per day—three every hour—for a total of 26,171 munitions dropped on Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan during the year.

In 2021, when the US ignominiously pulled its forces out of Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed dozens in a crowd. The US, under current president Joe Biden, retaliated against people who turned out to be completely innocent civilians. Whose hands is their blood on?

The US government objects to bombing civilians if it is done by its rivals. The US military has a long history of bombing civilians. / Image: Darko Dozet, Wikimedia Commons

Does the US have oligarchs? Is Russia the only country with this class of people?

We are always hearing about the Russian oligarchs. An oligarchy is defined as “a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.” In other words, these are wealthy people with a lot of political influence—i.e., big capitalists. Do such persons not exist in the US?

In this country, three individuals—Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos—hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population. That’s more than 160 million people, or 63 million households! Meanwhile, around one-fifth of Americans have zero or negative net worth.

So what makes a Russian billionaire an “oligarch” while an American one is merely a “successful businessman”? That fact is that in all capitalist countries, it is the wealthy and powerful who control things. This is as true in Biden’s America as it was under Trump or any other previous American president.

What is the truth about fascist political organizations in Ukraine and their influence?

Putin has sought to justify his invasion of Ukraine by saying he aims to get rid of the Nazis in the Ukrainian government. This is ridiculous and ignores Putin’s own ties with the Russian extreme right. However, the US media completely rejects the idea that fascists are part of the Ukrainian government and simply points to the fact that President Zelensky is Jewish as evidence to the contrary. The truth is not so simple.

In 2014, Ukrainian capitalists who wanted closer ties to the US and the EU took leadership of the “Euromaidan” movement. Extreme-right and neo-Nazi elements played an active role as the shock troops of this movement. Included in the new government was the far-right Svoboda party. Some other neo-Nazi elements were invited into the government, but they chose not to join it. As for the infamous Azov Battalion, made up of extreme-right Ukrainian nationalists embracing neo-Nazi insignia, it is now formally part of the Ukrainian National Guard.

Furthermore, Zelensky has banned a number of left-wing organizations, including the Communist Party of Ukraine. But he has not banned any fascist organizations. While being interviewed on American television, a Ukrainian government official said that the people do not use “Molotov cocktails” against Russian tanks, but “Bandera cocktails.” This, in reference to Stepan Bandera, an anti-Semitic Ukrainian fascist who collaborated with the Nazis during their brutal occupation of the country during World War II.

All of this makes it clear that the attitude of the Ukrainian government to fascists has been one of friendship and cooperation. This is a very different picture from the one painted by Biden and the US media.

Miners strike
Zelensky has banned a number of left-wing organizations, including the Communist Party of Ukraine. But he has not banned any fascist organizations. / Image: Fair Use

In mainstream US politics, the “left” is represented by Bernie Sanders and “the Squad.” Are they providing an opposition to US government policies?

The working class makes up the vast majority of the United States, but we have no party of our own. Those elected politicians who claim to be on the “left” have never taken a clear working-class position on any question, and the war in Ukraine is no different.

Senator Sanders and the elected Democrats in Congress, who are endorsed by DSA, do not distinguish the US government from the US working class. They do not advocate a break from Biden and the Democrats, which is one of two major political parties serving the American capitalist class. While they sometimes offer mild critiques from the “progressive left,” these liberal reformists basically support Biden’s policies and do nothing to expose his hypocrisy.

Putin uses the monster of US imperialism to scare Russian workers into supporting his war. The best way to help break the Russian workers from Putin is for them to see American workers standing against the US government. The sight of Bernie Sanders, AOC, Ilhan Omar, and others standing with Biden does the very opposite. We should not be surprised that the same politicians who think the Democrats can somehow serve the interests of the working class on domestic issues have the same illusions in a capitalist government when it comes to the question of war.

What role have the trade union leaders in the US played? What should their role be?

Due to their class collaboration, the trade union leaders fail the American working class time and again. They refuse to break from the parties of big business and build an independent working-class party. They hand over millions of dollars of their members’ dues to the parties of the class enemy.

On the question of Ukraine, they have either been totally silent or fallen into line behind the US ruling class. A correct approach would be for the trade union leaders to explain the war using a class analysis and offer direct aid to class-independent movements of Russian and Ukrainian workers against their own governments. This would need to be backed up with real action by American workers against our ruling class here.

What is the position of the Democratic Socialists of America on the Ukraine War? What position should genuine socialists take on this war?

DSA has adopted an official position “to the left” of the DSA-endorsed elected officials. Some of these officials have actually distanced themselves and even criticized DSA’s position on the war in Ukraine from the right.

On the positive side, DSA has called for the US to withdraw from NATO and explained that NATO expansionism was a cause of this war. They even end their official statement on the question with the words “No war, but class war.”

However, DSA makes some serious mistakes in this statement. They demand immediate diplomacy and negotiations to resolve the conflict, which means that they expect the capitalist governments of Russia, Ukraine, the US, etc. to solve the problem they themselves created.

They also emphasize that the war is “illegal” as per the statutes of the United Nations. However, the tragically misnamed UN is a capitalist institution through and through, and a toothless one, at that. For one thing, Russia has permanent veto power on the UN Security Council!

Why should workers have any trust or illusions in this institution? Even the call for the US to withdraw from NATO is posed in a utopian fashion. We must explain that the only way to guarantee US “hands off” the world is for American workers to establish a mass workers’ party and form a workers’ government. Only a workers’ government could put an end to NATO, withdraw US troops from around the world, and slash the military budget. Such a government would issue an internationalist appeal to the workers of Russia, Ukraine, and the world to unite and rise up in struggle against their common exploiters, and would send military aid and even intervene directly, if necessary, on behalf of the workers and the world revolution.

At all times, the role of socialists is to give a clear class analysis, perspectives, and program—not to reinforce illusions in the capitalists and their institutions. We must highlight the colossal potential power of the working class, and explain that if it is organized and mobilized around a class-independent program, nothing can stop it. This is the method that can allow relatively small groups of socialists to become larger and gain influence, eventually becoming a decisive factor in the historical process. But socialists will never grow into a mass force on the basis of class collaboration and political eclecticism.

Socialists will never grow into a mass force on the basis of class collaboration and political eclecticism. We are determined to build a strong organization of Marxist cadres. / Image: Socialist Revolution

What is to be done?

Proxy wars like the one in Ukraine have been on the increase and will continue. Whether we like it or not, we live in an epoch of terminal decay for the capitalist system. This means a living nightmare of violence, oppression, and misery for billions of humans. However, instead of falling into despair, we should understand that there is no better time to be alive for those who want to change the present system and build socialism! The objective, material basis for a world of superabundance for all exists today.

In order to replace capitalism with socialism, the working class will need to engage in many struggles. But no matter how hard it fights, history shows it can only win with a far-sighted Marxist leadership. This leadership must be built everywhere on the globe, but a key country is the US, the most powerful imperialist country.

We are determined to build a strong organization of Marxist cadres and establish influence in the working class. As a product of our work and the struggles of the working class, a working-class party will eventually be built and the unions will be refashioned into fighting organizations that can take on and defeat capital. There is no time to lose!


Want to get involved? Drop us a line to join the fight for socialism in our lifetime:


Click to Donate