By Florence Oppen
As we begin the fifth week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration is increasing its military “aid” to Ukraine and the economic warfare against Russia, doing everything to create an imperialist bloc against Russia short of direct military intervention.
In his speech on the “State of the Nation” on March 1, 2022, Biden claimed that his government is intervening to aid Ukraine and to help the Zelensky government defeat Russia, so that “light will win over darkness.” Biden pretended to speak again as the leader of the “Free World,” forgetting to mention the millions of un-free Puerto Ricans, Pacific Islanders, undocumented immigrants, or Black people his government oppresses on a daily basis within the U.S. empire. And he repeated the old and washed-out adagio of this war being “a battle between democracies and autocracies”—forgetting the many autocracies and undemocratic governments the U.S. supports today, starting with Saudi Arabia or Israel.
Yet it became clear pretty quickly that the U.S. involvement in this war had more to do with protecting “American” interests than with anything else: “When dictators do not pay a price for their aggression they cause more chaos, they keep moving, and the cost and threats to America and the world keeps increasing, that’s why the NATO alliance was created, to increase peace and stability in Europe after World War II.” One was left wondering whether the real motivation behind the increasing U.S. military build-up and rapid economic warfare against Russia was to help the Ukrainian people, or whether U.S. imperialism was once again using the invasion and cruelty of the Russian army and the Putin regime as a rallying point for its own interests.
We know that there is in the U.S. working class a broad sympathy and support for the people in Ukraine whose lives are being devastated by a cruel and unjust war. As revolutionary socialists, we stand in complete solidarity with Ukrainians against the Russian invasion and are actively involved in direct solidarity efforts of our class with the popular resistance in Ukraine. Our working-class solidarity comes from a different place than the posturing by the Biden administration, which represents specific interests in this war—U.S. energy, mining, and war corporations and that of the U.S. capitalist class as a whole. We cannot rely on the U.S. government to have Ukrainians’ best interest at heart; this is why working-class solidarity with Ukraine must find an independent expression.
It is clear that Biden’s familiar war-like speeches, big gestures, and oversized military budgets are geared first of all at hiding the embarrassingly poor performance of his administration after a disappointing first year in office. Biden has failed to pass any major social reforms to guarantee basic union rights for workers, voting rights, or to provide for better jobs, real health care, housing, education, or social services—not to mention climate action. The social provisions in the multi-trillion-dollar “Build Back Better” package, which Biden boasted about over and over during his campaign, are now gone.
In contrast, Biden was very successful in approving with wide bipartisan support a $768 billion war-spending “defense” bill in December 2021, one of the largest military budgets for the Pentagon in recent U.S. history for times of peace. This fact points to the true nature of the pretend bipartisan “solidarity” efforts with Ukraine: This “aid” is not about the Ukrainian people, it is about defending and extending the areas of U.S. and European imperialist economic influence and domination in Eastern Europe and all over the world, which are today increasingly threatened by the emergence of a new emerging Eurasian imperialist bloc led by China, and more recently rallied to by Russia. Biden said this plainly many times in his speech on March 1, when he concluded that his goal in the war was to “leave Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.”
Imperialist immigration policy in times of war and crisis
For the first month of the invasion, Biden failed to enact the most basic form of solidarity in terms of immigration policy—to open the border to all Ukrainian refugees and all other refugees. Actually, the only provision he enacted quickly was a TPD (Temporary Protective Directive) plan for Ukrainians … already in the United States! The European Union countries, however, granted TPD status to all Ukrainians wanting to come into the EU on March 3. (It must be pointed out, of course, that these same European states failed to extend equal rights and protections to the Syrian and Afghan refugees and to all of those who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing wars, hunger, and destruction.)
Yet the TPD status proposed by EU governments and the U.S. is not enough. It offers very weak temporary protections of one year only (renewable to two) with no guarantee to a permanent or mid-term immigrant status. Furthermore, it is also “group-based” protections, and only Ukrainian nationals can benefit form it, which excludes all the immigrants living in Ukraine, and of course those outside Ukraine who struggle with similar effects of war and occupation.
Very recently, one month after the war began, Biden decided to accept 100,000 Ukrainians as refugees—out of 3.7 million! An imperialist country of continental dimension such as the United States, leading in GDP and with 330 million inhabitants, will only host 100,000 refugees while the European Union, which has a population of 450 million, is left hosting the remaining 3.6 million—while most of them are in one country, Poland. That is the cynical imperialist kind of “solidarity” to refugees that the U.S. already showed with the civil war in Syria and in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The failure to enact real solidarity by the U.S. government is not a question of whether Democrats or Republicans are in office, for during the civil war in Syria, which created more than 4 million Syrian refugees, the Obama administration granted refugee status to only 18,000 Syrians between 2011 and 2016 .
It is true that Trump’s slashing the number of accepted refugees from all nations to 18,000 in 2018 was even more egregious, but U.S. immigration policy, in times of crisis, keeps revealing its true class nature irrespective of which bourgeois party rules. This policy assists in the production of profits for the U.S. capitalist corporations by enforcing border controls at the expense of working peoples’ needs in times of emergencies, wars, and major economic crises . We must demand instead that all Ukrainian refugees, and also the rest of refugees amassed at the U.S. borders, be immediately recognized the right of asylum and the refugee status, instead of this bogus temporary TPD permit.
Sanctions: Biden’s economic warfare that serves imperialist purposes
A few days after the Russian invasion began, Biden announced his intention to unite all the allied countries of NATO to take strong action with the goal of “inflicting pain on Russia and supporting the people of Ukraine.” He bragged about the “powerful economic sanctions” these imperialist governments were laying on the Russian people, and used war-like language, speaking of “choking,” “cutting off the economic system,” “sapping” Russia’s “economic strength,” and “weakening” its military. As historian Nicholas Mulder has pointed out, the effect and strength of these actions has been unprecedented: “In the space of less than three weeks, the United States and its allies have cut major Russian banks from the global financial system; blocked the export of high-tech components in unison with Asian allies; seized the overseas assets of hundreds of wealthy oligarchs; revoked trade treaties with Moscow; banned Russian airlines from North Atlantic airspace: restricted Russian oil sales to the United States and United Kingdom; blocked all foreign investment in the Russian economy from their jurisdiction; and frozen $403 billion out of the $630 billion in foreign assets of the Central Bank of Russia” . As a result, Russia’s GDP is expected to contract at least between 9% and 15%, and the rubble has already fallen by more than 30% since January.
Sanctions, as Mulder and other historians and economists have explained, are neither an alternative to war nor part of a “diplomatic” solution to war or to maintain peace. They are, since their creation in 1919 by the League of Nations, war by other means—that is to say, economic warfare enacted during peace times to choke and isolate an economic rival. Far from preventing future wars, they create greater economic instability and fuel national resentment, and thus contribute to war escalation.
This rapid increase of economic warfare between Russia and the U.S./EU bloc does not benefit the project of an independent Ukraine either in the short term or in the long term. By not only enacting strong sanctions but pressuring its European partners to do the same, the U.S. government is attempting to transform a war of national liberation (Ukraine vs. Russia) into an inter-imperialist proxy war (U.S.-led imperialist bloc vs. Russia). This would virtually eliminate any space for Ukraine to assert an independent economic and military sovereignty, for the only remaining choice for this country will be to choose one form of economic and military domination, to become either a semi-colony of Russia or a semi-colony of NATO.
In short, Biden is seeking to channel the widespread and legitimate outrage of public opinion worldwide against Putin’s criminal actions into popular support for U.S. imperialist expansion. He is fighting for U.S. control of key markets and energy and mineral resources as well as to cut Europe’s energy ties with Russia and to have them instead buy U.S. “liquefied natural gas” (LNG), as well as crude oil—in that way, fostering more fossil-fuel extraction to enrich U.S. multinationals. The recent deal to replace Russian gas exports to Europe by U.S.-produced LNG, resulting in a 68% increase of these exports from 2021, is just one example of what is to come .
In addition, imperialist economic sanctions have proven over and over—be it in Iran, Iraq, or North Korea—that they actually contribute to reinforcing nationalism and the chauvinistic narratives of oppressive or dictatorial regimes in power. This is because sanctions hurt first and foremost the working people of the targeted countries, not the rich and “oligarchs,” who have their money well hidden and know how to protect their assets. Sanctions are used by the governments that impose them to help rally working-class support for imperialist expansion under the cover of a fight for “democracy.” They are also used by targeted governments to convince the population of the legitimacy of their own military aggression, reinforcing the unfounded narrative that Russia’s intervention is a “defensive” war against the West.
Finally, imperialist sanctions become a huge obstacle to organize a working-class way out of the war, which requires developing and organizing independent working-class mass action and solidarity across borders, uniting in action the Ukrainian resistance, the antiwar movement in Russia, and the anti-imperialist opposition to the invasion of all the working peoples in Europe and the U.S. To imperialist sanctions, the working-class movement has usually counter-opposed “worker sanctions” against the governments backing military aggression—that is, strikes and boycotts targeting military production and arms shipments of the aggressor, as well as its provisioning on oil and gas and resources necessary to carry out war.
Unpacking the “aid to Ukraine” poisoned package
On March 15, Biden signed a $13.6 billion omnibus bill to “aid” Ukraine. This package mixes together very different, or rather, contradictory things . There is a first uncontroversial chunk, which represents a third of the package, of $2.6 billion in food and medical assistance $1.4 billion in refugee and migration assistance. There is also close to $2 billion of unspecified “economic” assistance.
The second chunk is $3.5 billion in “arms to Ukraine.” Let’s be clear that this is just the budget appropriation for arms; some have already been sent, like the $800 million shipment of anti-aircraft systems and anti-armor weapons sent on March 16, and other arms will be sent later .
Because we support the right of Ukrainians to self-defense, we support their right to get and acquire the weapons and military equipment they need to fight the Russian invasion. You don’t defeat an army merely with words, be it pamphlets or prayers; you also need material means to change the course of action in a war.
Military actions and political consciousness work hand in hand in a dialectical manner: What working people judge as being worth defending politically, they do so also by military means. Military victories and defeats affect the capacity of the working class to organize and its will to action. And yet the working class does not win wars by military means alone, but by a combination of concrete military advances and the political organization and independent mass action of the proletariat to defeat their respective bourgeois governments at war. The latter has proven to be the decisive factor in winning most national liberation wars and revolutions.
While we support the right of the Ukrainian government to arm itself, we must state that the Zelensky government is a capitalist and pro-NATO government. We want arms to go to working people, to the existing independent workers’ militias, so they can develop their influence in the resistance movement. This is why we also strongly support the labor movement in Ukraine in building independent armed detachments and militias, to train workers themselves to use those weapons.
The current U.S. budget appropriation is not, however, to buy arms for Ukraine; it is to “replenish U.S. stocks of equipment sent to Ukraine through drawdown” . So basically, it is an appropriation for the U.S. to mostly rearm itself with new weaponry (and for the U.S. military production corporations to make more profits), since the U.S. has sent some of its already existing huge military stocks to Ukraine, and it will send more of it. In fact, this budget appropriation was not really necessary for the U.S. to arm Ukraine. The U.S. has one of the largest war reserve stocks in the world. It already has enough arms and military equipment to give to the Ukrainian people to defend themselves. The bipartisan budget appropriation was not “necessary” to arm the Ukrainian resistance; it was necessary for the U.S. to be able to arm Ukraine and heavily rearm itself and NATO at the same time.
We would rather see the U.S. disarm itself in order to arm Ukraine, and see the Ukrainian working-class resistance and its allies seize weapons they need that are currently held by NATO, than give any support to the current use of the war in Ukraine to push forward the ongoing imperialist arms race.
There is, finally, the truly poisonous part of the package: The remaining third of it has absolutely nothing to do with “aiding” Ukraine and has everything to do with expanding U.S. military presence in Europe and pushing forward the economic warfare against Russia. In the so-called “aid” package, there is $3 billion for the European Command center of NATO to deploy more troops, or as The New York Times plainly states, for the U.S. “to help pay for the deployment of its own military units to allied countries in Europe” . There is also $650 million in “Foreign Military Assistance” to provide more support to surrounding armies, “including NATO Eastern flank countries and other partners in the region” , and finally, there is “more than $175.5 million to enforce the sanctions and export control measures imposed by the U.S. to isolate Russia’s economy from the international financial system” .
What the package bill does—voted as a package for obvious reasons, and with almost unanimous bipartisan support (only 15 dissenting votes out of 435 representatives)—is to subordinate all humanitarian and direct shipment of military aid to the U.S. imperialist project in Europe, that is, to the rapid buildup of U.S. NATO troops, the reinforcement of counterespionage and CIA activities in Ukraine and Russia, and economic warfare against Russia. It sends arms and food, yes, but with “strings attached,” the strings that strengthen a pole of U.S. domination, which is also a threat to a Ukrainian independent future, and ties Ukraine to a future master. The U.S. government has thus orchestrated a terrible and despicable blackmail with this package: If U.S. workers want to send meaningful aid to Ukraine, they must inextricably get behind sanctions, economic warfare, and NATO expansion. On this sole basis, U.S. workers must denounce politically this sham of “aid.”
We believe, however, that any meaningful aid to Ukraine that advances the effort to secure its own independence—that is, sending arms, food, and relief with no strings attached—will be off the table as long it is decided by imperialist governments who serve the interests of U.S. corporations. This is why working-class people in the U.S. must put forward their own alternative aid program with a clear anti-imperialist content through mass mobilizations and concrete solidarity initiatives.
We support, of course, Ukrainians receiving all the food, medical supplies, and weapons they need to fight Russia, including that material coming from the U.S., for we trust they will make a good use of them. However, we must warn our Ukrainian brothers and sisters of the nature of the poisonous package that got them this “aid,” and that now, unfortunately, another large army is amassing on the other side of the border—the NATO army, led by the U.S., which has a terrible record of respecting other countries’ sovereign rights. We must also tell them that here in the U.S. we will keep fighting to weaken NATO, that we demand its complete disbandment, and that we will continue to criticize the hypocrisy of our imperialist governments, while we actively support their resistance efforts.
Trump-Biden recent successes in NATO expansion and EU rearmament
In the last decades, NATO has been increasing its military presence and budget in Europe. Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, NATO expanded to 14 new countries in Eastern Europe, and as we recently explained, “as of July 2021, the U.S. operates about 750 bases in at least 80 countries and spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined,” and “a significant number of these bases are located in NATO member countries: Germany (119 bases), Italy (44), the UK (25), Portugal (21), Turkey (13), and Belgium (11),” which host close to 100,000 permanent U.S. troops stationed in Europe .
In line with the quick rearmament of the U.S and China, most NATO countries have also been increasing their war budgets consecutively for the past years, pressured by the U.S., which currently finances 71% of the alliance . In the midst of the pandemic, in December 2021, NATO’s overall budget was increased 8.9% for 2022 . But this recent military boost to NATO started in 2014 at the Wales Summit, where Trump pushed all the European members of the alliance to agree to contribute at least 2% of their GDP to NATO, and 20% of their defense budgets to purchase major military equipment by 2024.
In 2014, only three “allied” members met the 2% GDP bar, and seven met the 20% commitment to a new arms race . By 2021, there were 10 countries aligned with the U.S. GDP request: Greece (3.82%), United States (3.52%), Croatia (2.79%), United Kingdom (2.29%), Estonia (2.28%), Latvia (2.27%), Poland (2.10%), Lithuania (2.03%), Romania (2.02%), and France (2.01%); and 24 countries had committed to the goal of new major military expenses . The push by U.S. imperialism to force a quick rearming in Europe was thus very successful, for the total of non-U.S. NATO members’ expenditures on defense went from $262 billion in 2016 to $313 billion in 2020. As the Heritage Foundation, a neo-conservative think tank, celebrated: “The $50 billion increase is equivalent to the entire defense budget of France .” This resulted, among other things, in more NATO troops deployed in Europe, as the UK government notes: “Since 2014 NATO has significantly enhanced its existing Response Force, increasing total troop numbers from 13,000 to 40,000 .”
Since the invasion of Ukraine began, NATO has seen a new boost. Biden has proven to be a continuator of the policy of military rearmament and expansion of NATO initiated by Trump, for they stand for the defense of the same imperialist project. On Feb. 24, the Pentagon sent 7000 new U.S. troops to NATO bases . Pentagon officials told reporters under condition of anonymity: “We haven’t seen a conventional move like this, nation-state to nation-state, since World War II, certainly nothing on this size and scope and scale” . And yet, on March 24, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg announced even more battle groups deployed in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, and Hungary.
Biden has also managed to further consolidate the military and imperialist bloc under its command: Germany changed its military policy since the post Word War II period, voting to increase its military spending by 100 billion euros, reversing its decades-long policy of no arms exports, and committing to increase its military budget above 2%; and Italy and Spain have now committed to raise their GDP expenditures to reach the 2% NATO goal .
The contradictory character of the war and the tasks of the proletariat in the U.S.
The current conflict in Ukraine is primarily a war to defend Ukraine’s national sovereignty against the Russian invasion. Yet this war is taking place, as we have shown, against a background of rapid rearmament and growing economic warfare between two blocs of great economic powers: U.S and Europe on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other.
What is at stake in Ukraine also is the growing rivalry between these two imperialist blocs and the bid led by China for a change of the established post-World War II world order that consolidated U.S. supremacy—a supremacy that cannot be maintained anymore, or not on the same terms. This means that the real motive behind the rapid EU and U.S. intervention in the conflict is not about protecting “democracy” or “aiding” the Ukrainian people to ensure their right of national sovereignty, but to set the future basis for the subordination of Ukraine (and by extension of the Eastern Europe region) to EU and U.S. interests through NATO.
This war is another example of the decaying and utterly destructive nature of the imperialist system, which requires once again the conquests of territories that provide both energy resources (especially fossil fuels and new minerals), but also arable land (let’s remember that the earth has lost 1/3 of its total arable land in the last 40 years due to climate change), and potable water resources, which are also growing increasingly scarce due to environmental pollution . Capitalism requires the constant extraction of resources as well as an increasingly cheaper labor force and of course markets to sell its commodities and realize surplus value. In addition, war itself has become a profitable business, of destruction and reconstruction.
If the ongoing war in Ukraine has a combined character, its main axis and contradiction remains today the polarization between Russia’s aggression and the struggle of Ukraine for self-defense and national sovereignty. We cannot wave on this matter, for there are two clear military camps, and ours is with the Ukrainian resistance. This is why we must raise the demands of (1) immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine, (2) support to the Ukrainian resistance and the right of self-defense, including their right to acquire the necessary weapons and material aid they need, an effort to which we must actively continue with our independent working-class strategy, (3) war reparations for Ukraine and the cancellation of all its foreign debt.
The contradictory and combined nature of this war means, however, that in their struggle to build solidarity efforts with the Ukrainian resistance, working people and revolutionary socialists in imperialist countries bear an additional task: to actively counter, discredit and disarm their own imperialisms. Thus the importance of holding strong on the opposition to any direct NATO intervention and no-fly zone—precisely to avoid the transformation of this war into an imperialist one, where a progressive military camp would no longer exist, and where the fate of the Ukrainian people and the rest of the world proletariat, would be even bleaker. It also means that we must oppose all the sanctions carried out by imperialist governments, counter-posing instead “workers’ sanctions” or “worker-led boycotts,” organized from below, against the Russian government and military machine.
Only one conclusion: We need to build an international organization for world socialism
While we cannot predict the outcome of this war, we do know that our task today, to defeat Russia without reinforcing any other imperialist power, cannot be achieved on a national basis. It cannot be the task of the Ukrainian proletariat alone, for the imbalance of forces is objectively huge. While the reinforcement of the popular resistance in Ukraine is key, the victory of the Ukrainian proletariat is also linked to a broader need to organize and mobilize other sectors of the world proletariat with a common strategy.
The fate of the war in Ukraine is also tied to the success of the working-class resistance to the war in Russia—that is, to the growth of the antiwar actions and of the defections in the ranks of the Russian army. There is indeed a developing crisis of morale in the ranks of the Russian army, which is the direct product of the Ukrainian military resistance, the lack of preparation of the Russian government for this war, and the efforts of fraternization pushed forward by the civilian populations. Between 7000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers have already died in the war, and the Ukrainian resistance has destroyed $5 billion in military equipment from Russia . There are several reports of entire units of Russian troops surrendering, abandoning their vehicles without a fight, or sabotaging their own vehicles to avoid the fight .
Russian generals have been forced to take the lead on the ground to direct tactical operations, resulting in seven generals dead after only one month of combat . There are even reports of soldiers attacking a general on their own in retaliation for the losses they had suffered . In addition, the Russian army was not prepared for a prolonged war of occupation and the persistent popular resistance. Objective logistical problems have emerged for the Russian army, with a shortage of trucks, oil, and supplies as the army has entered up to 120 miles into Ukrainian territory. These logistical problems are further demoralizing the ranks of the Russian army .
We must support and publicize everywhere the antiwar initiatives in Russia, and support the Russian soldiers laying down their weapons and rejecting participation in this imperialist war fomented by Putin’s lies, which does not represent their interests.
The victory of the Ukrainian people is further linked to the mobilization of the European and U.S. proletariat and their ability to provide direct material aid and at the same time build a political movement of mass action in the streets that strongly condemns Russia’s invasion and the use of this war by their own imperialist government to advance imperialist interests in the region through the arms race, imperialist sanctions, and NATO expansion. As they engage in solidarity efforts, they must expose the real content of the “peace and democracy” foreign-policy agenda of their governments, which means more war for workers.
It also requires the political organization of the proletariat not only in Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, who are receiving the vast majority of refugees, but also from the rest of the EU countries and the U.S. to allow in and welcome all Ukrainian refugees with asylum status, housing, and jobs, and expanding this international working-class solidarity to the rest of the world’s migrants and refugees fleeing from wars and immiseration.
In short, the strategy of the world proletariat today—to force the retreat of the Russian troops and prevent the semi-colonization of Ukraine under NATO, and to extend meaningful solidarity to the Ukrainian people—requires an international program and collaboration of different national class forces under a common strategy. It requires building an international organization of the working class to fight against capitalism and its endemic wars and destruction, an international organization to fight together for socialism.
 https://appropriations.house.gov/sites/democrats.appropriations.house.gov/files/Ukraine%20Supplemental%20Summary.pdf See also: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/03/18/upshot/ukraine-aid-details.html