IN THIS DOSSIER:
• “We Say No to War!” – published in issue no. 328 of Tribune des Travailleurs [Workers Tribune], France, on February 23, 2022)
• NO to War, NO to Exploitation! – Editorial published in issue no. 328 of Tribune des Travailleurs [Workers Tribune], France)
• Ukraine: Some Historical Facts
• Russian Trade Union Activist Speaks Out: “The Workers Do Not Want War!”
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“WE SAY NO TO WAR!”
(Lead article published in issue no. 328 of Tribune des Travailleurs [Workers Tribune], France, on February 23, 2022)
On the evening of February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognized the separatist “republics” in eastern Ukraine. A few hours later, Russian tanks rolled in. This is the latest episode in military escalation between the U.S. and Russia that has been going on for months. Who is responsible for the march to war? For what reasons? Deafened by the propaganda machine, it can sometimes seem difficult to make sense of it all. Our editorial [see below] and these two articles shed light on the events, exclusively from the point of view of workers’ interests.
What are the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk that Putin has officially “recognized”?
The populations of the eastern regions of Ukraine are closely intertwined [see article on historical background below]. Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Russians are in the majority among the 4 million inhabitants of the eastern industrial regions (Donbass). In February 2014, Ukraine’s pro-Russian regime was replaced by a new regime calling for membership in the European Union and NATO, and threatening to challenge the status of Russian as an official language. In response, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. In eastern Ukraine, forces linked to Russia declared the “secession” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which Russia had just officially recognized. Despite the ceasefire of the Minsk “agreement” (2014-2015) signed by all protagonists, the war never stopped between the U.S.-equipped Ukrainian army and the Russian-armed separatist militias: more than 13,000 died, 30,000 were wounded and 500,000 became refugees.
Why did the problem of Ukraine’s potential membership of NATO cause the conflict?
In 1997, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former adviser to U.S. President Carter, described Ukraine as a “geopolitical pivot” that was necessary to open the way to Russia. In Ukraine, in 2005 and again in 2014, pro-U.S. regimes demanded that Ukraine join NATO. On June 4, 2019, Zelensky, Ukraine’s new president, declared that membership “remains an unwavering goal.” In early November 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken took it a step further by signing a strategic partnership charter with Ukraine, which recognizes the objective of “full integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.” The U.S. administration is well aware that NATO membership is, for Russia, a line that cannot be crossed.
What are the economic and financial stakes of the conflict?
The first is a new boom for the arms industry. In December 2021, Biden pushed through the largest military budget in U.S. history: $778 billion. The U.S. had previously demanded, and obtained, that all NATO member countries increase their military spending beyond 2% of their gross domestic product. Who benefits from all this? In 2020, according to the U.S. magazine Defense News, 51 of the top 100 companies in the global arms market were North American, including the top five.
The second issue is gas. U.S. administrations have been contesting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is to deliver cheap Russian gas to Germany, a project in which the capitalists have invested heavily. But Biden has stated unambiguously: A Russian invasion of Ukraine would sound Nord Stream 2’s death knell. Radio France Internationale (February 22) comments: “One country also intends to profit from this. It is the United States, the world’s largest gas producer. With the threats to the Russian tap, there is much less talk in Europe about the environmental damage caused by the American method of production, hydraulic fracturing [“shale gas” – editor’s note]. The share of American liquefied natural gas in European imports has been rising steadily for several months and the trend is unlikely to be reversed if the weapon of gas is wielded in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.”
Behind the war are, as always, capitalist interests … especially those of U.S. capitalists.
Against war and exploitation
The struggle against war is therefore inseparable from the struggle against capitalist exploitation. This is what is stated in the appeal launched by the 601 worker activists from 57 countries preparing the World Conference against War and Exploitation, for a Workers’ International (Paris, October 29-30, 2022): “After devastating Afghanistan, and after the debacle of the evacuation, U.S. imperialism is re-ordering its forces to prepare new wars. Deadly conflicts are multiplying in Africa. Iran is under threat. The military encirclement of China and the formation of the new US-Australia-British military alliance (AUKUS) are threatening peace. … All the military interventions of imperialism, carried out in the name of ‘democracy’, have resulted in bloody chaos, the dislocation of whole nations. The peoples of the world want peace. The international struggle for peace and the fight to prevent war will be on the agenda of our world conference.”
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NO to War, NO to Exploitation!
(Editorial published in issue no. 328 of Tribune des Travailleurs [Workers Tribune], France)
At the time of this writing, no one knows what the outcome of the march to war in Eastern Europe will be. Anything is possible. But there are a number of things that we do know.
We know that the workers and oppressed peoples have no interest in a confrontation. The Russian worker is not the enemy of the Ukrainian worker, who is not the enemy of the Russian worker. The French worker is not the enemy of the Russian worker, nor of the Ukrainian worker, nor of the U.S. worker.
It is a fact that all governments are pushing the march to war. At the origin of the conflict, there has been the determination of the U.S. administration to strengthen the military encirclement of Russia by pushing Ukraine to join NATO. This membership is considered by the Russian government as a threat, since Ukraine is the largest and most populous country in Europe bordering Russia. On this basis, the escalation began – an escalation in which Putin took a new step with the entry of Russian troops into the Donbass.
It is also a fact that this is not about the rights of the peoples to self-determination. U.S. imperialism has shown what such “rights” mean in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya and everywhere else — where its interventions have dislocated entire countries, allowed the massacre of civilian populations, and forced millions upon millions of people into exil
The Russian government has nothing to envy U.S. imperialism, and has proved it on many occasions – in particular, a month ago, when Russian troops intervened in Kazakhstan to crush the workers’ revolt. It is noteworthy that neither Biden, nor Macron, nor any of the capitalist powers protested this bloody crushing of workers who rose up against the consequences of privatization. It’s a fact that in order to implement privatizations in Kazakhstan – as in Russia, France or the United States – Biden, Putin, and Macron are ready to make common cause.
To justify the intervention of his troops, Putin has denounced the existence of Ukraine as a consequence of the 1917 revolution. It should be renamed “Ukraine Vladimir Ilyich Lenin,” he stated ironically. This is an involuntary tribute paid to the workers’ revolution in Russia by this former member of the nomenklatura – an agent of the political police of Stalinism who today frolics in the spoils of mafia privatization. It was, indeed, the Russian Revolution that liberated the oppressed nationalities of the former tsarist empire and opened the way to an independent Ukraine. With this reminder, Putin is telling the Western capitalist powers: “We are in the same camp, that of the oppression of the peoples and the anti-communists. Do not mistake your adversaries.”
We know that it is not a matter of defending democracy and freedom either, because, from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, through many dictatorships, we are familiar with these allies of the “Western democracies.” As for Macron, who was recently driven out of Mali after years of bloody and costly intervention, we know that he is capable – in the small place that U.S. imperialism still reserves for him – to play his part in the great orchestra of military interventions against the peoples, in Africa, but not only in Africa
Finally, we know that the escalation of war in Eastern Europe is a godsend for the arms industry, which is experiencing a considerable boom the world over, thanks to constantly expanding military budgets, especially in the United States. It’s a boom, as well, for the U.S. gas and oil multinationals, and their shale gas production.
For all these reasons, anyone who claims to be in the camp of peace and democracy – in the camp of the workers and oppressed peoples – must fight resolutely against the escalation in progress and against the warmongers who are organizing it.
In France, once again, a kind of “sacred union” is being formed in support of Macron. In this common denunciation of Putin, we find all the institutional parties, of the right as well as the left, the Socialist Party (PS) and the Greens, but also Fabien Roussel, candidate of the French Communist Party (PCF), who supports Macron’s position to the point of declaring, “I consider that he [Macron] is taking all the necessary initiatives to encourage dialogue, to have a frank, loyal and direct dialogue with all the stakeholders.” Less enthusiastic about Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon [France Unbowed] joined the general consensus in accusing “Russia [which] bears responsibility. It must be condemned in our own interest.”
We must only condemn Russia, which bears responsibility for the situation, says Mélenchon… We must outright support Macron, says Roussel. … Macron, in fact, has just demanded that sanctions be taken against Russia, taking his orders, as usual, from his masters in Washington. What about sanctions? We know what they are and how devastating their consequences have been for working people in Cuba, Iran, Venezuela…
Can we support Macron, who demands sanctions while claiming to defend the interests of workers and peoples?
In all circumstances, Macron acts in the service of the multinationals, especially today of the merchants of war — and of the oil and gas industries. Just as he has served the capitalists for the past two years by offering them 600 billion euros that they use to lay off workers and speculate. In this month of February 2022, we find the same combination of “sacred union,” which, on March 19, 2020, saw all the parties in the National Assembly vote to earmark 343 billion euros for the capitalists.
The enemy for the French working class is first of all its own government, the Macron government – a government that is at war abroad with the workers and peoples and at war at home, a social war, against the workers and youth.
The only position in the interests of the working class and internationalism is this: Not a penny for the warmakers, not a cent for the military operations in Eastern Europe, Mali or elsewhere! French troops out of Mali, out of Romania and out of all theaters of foreign operations! Out with Macron and his government of war and exploitation! No to the sacred union! For free and fraternal cooperation among the workers of the whole world, for the withdrawal of France from all military and diplomatic alliances against the interests of the peoples, for a government that is at the service exclusively of the working-class majority!
To fight for these demands, join the Independent Democratic Workers Party (POID), member of the International Workers’ Committee Against War and Exploitation, for a Workers’ International (IWC).
— Montreuil, February 22, 5 pm
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Ukraine: Some Historical Facts
On the eve of the year 1000, the first Slavic state was established in Kiev: this was the origin of Ukraine, but also of Russia. In the following centuries, the present Ukraine was subjected to other powers: Russian principalities, Mongol and Polish invaders, etc.
In the 18th century, Ukraine was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the east and into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the west. Ukraine is a nation with its own language and culture, oppressed by two empires. It was the October Revolution of 1917 and Lenin’s policy on the national question that allowed Ukraine to constitute itself as a nation for the first time in the form of a Soviet Republic freely and equally associated with Russia, something that Putin acknowledged – with regret – in his speech on February 21, stating: “It was Bolshevik policy that gave birth to Soviet Ukraine. … Lenin was its author and the architect.”
In the late 1920s, Stalinism and the bureaucracy were to resurrect national oppression. After the collapse of the USSR (1991), Ukraine became a legally independent State, whose power was contested among mafia-type groups, some linked to Russia, others to the United States. The legitimate aspirations of the Ukrainian people to self-determination will not be fulfilled under NATO’s boot any more than under Russia’s.
What is NATO?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a military alliance created by the United States in 1949 during the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union. It includes the United States, Canada, most Western European countries (including France) and Turkey.
When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the U.S. government maintained the alliance, but promised the Russian leadership that it would not extend eastwards. The opposite happened: NATO absorbed one by one all the Eastern European countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria) encircling Russia.
Moreover, NATO is multiplying military interventions in an ever-widening area: in Serbia in 1999, in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021, in Iraq from 2004 to 2011, in Libya in 2011, etc.
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Alexei , Trade Union Activist of the Solidarity Platform (Russia), Speaks Out: “The Workers Do Not Want War!”
Question: What is your view on the march to war in Eastern Europe?
Alexei: It is a confrontation between two economic and military blocs. On one side, NATO, on the other, China and Russia. Ukraine is only one of the fields in this confrontation. The Ukrainian working class is suffering from its own government and is under pressure from both East and West.
In my opinion, both sides do not intend to go to a world war, but any slippage or provocation could lead to it. In the areas of the so-called “people’s republics,” the war has never really stopped since 2014. But a world war is not part of the imperialist plans at the moment.
In Russia, the threat of war is a convenient pretext for attacking political rights: It is almost impossible to organize legal demonstrations, the opposition and the media have been crushed. Even the simplest forms of self-organization (trade unions or environmental initiatives) are under heavy pressure from the security services. Every disgruntled worker is suspected of being a “Western agent.”
Question: How can the World Conference Against War and Exploitation be useful?
Alexei: The only possible position is for the labor movement to take a stand against the war. In Russia, workers do not want war and are much more critical of the government than they were in 2014 when Crimea was annexed. The standard of living of the population has fallen, prices are rising, Putin’s promises of a “happy life soon” have been replaced by rhetoric about “the whole world is against us, we have to endure and survive.”
The labor movement has the duty to say, “Yes to the workers’ demands, No to the imperialist wars!” It is our task as communists to conduct agitation and propaganda to explain to the workers that their interests are different from those who use the threat of military conflict. Unfortunately, in Russia, the possibilities for public political activity are shrinking. Workers’ organizations and communists must learn to work under these new conditions.
– Interviewed on February 19, 2022; reprinted from Issue 328 of Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune), France
 The name of the interviewed Russian unionist has been changed.