The world continues to be horrified by the genocidal violence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Likening his role to that of Tsar Peter the Great, Vladimir Putin exposed the nature of his war by boasting that it is part of his effort to restore Russia to the status it enjoyed when it ruled a vast empire under the Tsars and Stalin. And yet the most prominent figures and largest groupings of the western left, habituated to believe that the U.S. is the world’s only imperialist oppressor, oppose solidarity with Ukraine’s struggle to defend its national independence against its old colonial ruler.
For as long as there have been imperial powers and rivalries between them, imperialists have sought to advance their own interests by supporting this or that oppressed people fighting their rival. The socialist movement has always understood that the oppressed have every right to take advantage of such rivalries to obtain the weapons they need to defend themselves. And yet in the case of Russia’s invasion, most of the Western left says that the West’s support to Ukraine proves that its resistance is illegitimate.
Now that Ukraine’s military has succeeded in turning the tide in the war and has driven Russia’s forces into a series of humiliating retreats, this dominant leftist chorus is poised to play a potentially deadly role. Putin knows that his only chance to win his war is for the West to end its support for Kyiv. He hopes that cutting Russia’s gas exports to Europe will cause enough misery to swing mass sentiment to his side. Likewise, one aim of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s electrical and heating infrastructure is to unleash a new wave of refugees, increasing the West’s costs. Such measures allow populists on both the far-right and left to blame the suffering on their governments’ aid to Kyiv. And if all else fails, Putin can return to threatening to use nuclear weapons – in order to give his right- and left-wing allies additional arguments for ending support to Ukraine.
So we in the LRP welcomed the chance to join other socialists to protest outside the “Real Path to Peace in Ukraine” rally at the People’s Forum in New York City on November 19. The event featured several of the most prominent figures on the left who call for Western governments to stop providing Ukraine with arms. Cutting off the supply of weapons to Ukraine, however, would not bring peace. All it would achieve would be to allow Russia to win its war. The leftists promoting this demand in the name of peace are engaged in a profoundly dishonest and manipulative bait-and-switch. The Forum’s Orwellian call for “Peace, Not War” would in reality allow Russia to crush Ukraine and force Kyiv to surrender land and people to Putin as war booty.
The biggest name advertised as a People’s Forum speaker was former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. But at the event it was announced that he would not be participating due to “technical questions.” It later emerged that this was a lie: Corbyn had made clear in advance that he would not be participating and the organizers continued to promote the event by featuring his name anyway.
Other advertised celebrity leftists did participate, including Noam Chomsky and, in an insolent act of shamelessness by the organizers, the Green Party’s Jill Stein. Stein notoriously was once Putin’s dinner guest in Moscow; she boasted afterwards that he listened to ideas “made by myself and three other political figures” on foreign policy and agreed with them on many issues. (Among those unnamed other figures accompanying Stein was Donald Trump’s arch-reactionary, QAnon-adhering former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.)
There were also Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, Vijay Prashad of the Tricontinental Institute, and speakers from the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), a Stalinist group that hides the fact that it operates the People’s Forum as a recruitment front. Benjamin, Prashad, the PSL and the People’s Forum are funded to the tune of millions of dollars a year by the mega-rich Roy Singham, who made his money through dealings with China and is the partner of Code Pink founder Jodie Evans. Most important about this is not the funding itself but that it is a reward for Code Pink, Prashad and the PSL taking positions on international issues that are favorable to China’s rulers, such as denying their genocidal oppression against the Uyghur people  and, of course, opposing the defense of Ukraine.
Another important reason to protest the event was the threat it particularly posed to leftists in Ukraine. The speakers cited the presence of fascists in the Ukrainian resistance as reason not to defend Ukraine. But while the far-right is indeed active and dangerous in Ukraine, its candidates suffered a wipe-out in the last election. None of this is reason to not support Ukraine’s fight to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. Events like the People’s Forum session can help revive the Ukrainian far-right’s fortunes there by giving them a chance to lyingly claim that socialists are all on Russia’s side. (In fact, the world’s non-Ukrainian fascists look to Putin, not Kyiv, as their model and benefactor.)
For such reasons we hold that the only “real path to peace in Ukraine” is the withdrawal or defeat of Putin’s forces. So we gathered with others outside the People’s Forum event with placards in Ukrainian and English reading “Ukraine Needs Weapons to Defend Against Imperialism. Real Socialists Say – Arm Ukraine!”, “Real Socialists Say – Victory to Ukraine!” and “Real Socialists Say – Solidarity with Ukraine!” We also distributed a leaflet challenging the speakers to address a few basic contradictions between their refusal to solidarize with Ukraine’s defense and the socialist tradition of opposing colonialist imperialism. (See below.)
3. Singham was a socialist in his youth and still claims to be, but Fortune magazine was closer to the truth when it ran a profile of him that pointed out that his “biggest fans” are “Corporate America.” (https://money.cnn.com/2008/03/14/technology/kirkpatrick_thoughtworks.fortune/index.htm.) Singham spent his adult life amassing phenomenal wealth providing computer programming services to companies connected with the Chinese Communist Party and military and now funds select “left-wing” operations around the world with donations laundered through an anonymous Goldman Sachs Fund. (https://fashbusters.wordpress.com/2021/11/02/does-goldman-sachs-fund-the-peoples-forum-psl-codepink-aipac-and-vijay-prashads-tricontinental/)
The liberation of colonized nations from the violent rule of great powers has always been central to the cause of socialism. Colonialism’s horrors have so overwhelmingly targeted people of color that it’s easy for some to forget that early colonies of rising capitalist powers were Ireland and Ukraine.
In modern Ukraine’s case, it has been invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany and most of all by Russia under both the Tsars and Stalin. So when Putin likened himself to the Tsar “Peter the Great,” explaining that his invasion was a step in “making Russia great again” as it was when it ruled a vast empire, one could have expected the socialist movement to rush to Ukraine’s defense.
Instead, Russia’s invasion has been confusing for those in the west are accustomed to U.S. imperialism being a singular force of racist imperialist wars. The speakers at today’s meeting exemplify this confusion. They all say that in the case of Ukraine’s plight, the usual ethical and political duties of solidarity with the colonized don’t apply.
We socialists who support Ukraine’s cause of national liberation from Russian imperialism think this is a terrible betrayal, and we are asking the speakers to clarify their positions on the fate of Ukrainian people.
For example, most of the speakers say that the supply of arms to Ukraine from the U.S. and other western powers shows that Ukraine isn’t really a victim here, but a proxy of western imperialism. But when Toussaint L’Ouverture led the Haitian Republic, whose people had liberated themselves from slavery, he did deals with a number of colonial and slave-trading powers in order to obtain weapons and other support to defend Haiti. Was he a proxy of great powers? Ho Chi Minh and his forces in Vietnam received weapons and on-the-ground guidance from the U.S.’s forerunner of the CIA when his immediate enemy was Japanese colonialism. Was he a proxy of the U.S. then? Or did Ho take advantage of great power rivalries to defeat his immediate enemy before continuing the struggle against U.S. imperialism?
Right now, Russia is targeting Ukraine’s electrical and heating infrastructure with missile and drone attacks. A member of the Russian Duma (parliament) recently explained on Russian state television that this is being done to use freezing temperatures, starvation, and disease to kill Ukrainian people. It is also being done to force a new wave of refugees into western Europe, which Russia hopes will discourage support for Ukraine. Should Ukraine at least be sent air defense systems to stop this genocidal violence?
And one final question (among many that could be asked): many of the speakers today argue that Ukraine should surrender territory to Russia in order to avoid Putin following through on his nuclear threats. In that case, if neo-fascist Marine Le Pen comes to powers in France and one day threatens to use nuclear weapons unless France re-enslaves Haiti, should she be rewarded with Haitian territory? And if so, how much? How many people are worth sacrificing? Because with millions of Ukrainians currently enduring the horrors of Russian occupation, genocidal re-colonization is what these speakers seem to be proposing as a fate for Ukraine.
Socialist Friends of Ukraine,