On Anti-imperialism and International Solidarity: From Ukraine to Palestine and Beyond

Adopted by the Solidarity National Convention
August 20, 2023

Posted August 30, 2023

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin confer in 2021. Consistent anti-imperialists oppose all the imperialist powers, all the time. (Photo: White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Socialists, and revolutionary Marxists especially, support oppressed peoples’ and nations’ struggles for liberation and self-determination. It’s important from the outset to clarify that our support is based on the fundamental democratic legitimacy of these struggles in their own right, and on the broader liberating possibilities that they may open up. Our support is not dependent on which imperialist power or “camp” is the specific oppressor.

It’s a basic principle of anti-imperialist politics that “our main enemy is at home,” meaning in our case of course United States imperialism and its allies, with all the monstrous crimes against humanity perpetrated by U.S. policies, in our name. That has never meant seeing “the other side,” e.g. today’s powers of China or Russia as the United States’ main imperial rivals, as “progressive” in any sense or viewing their crimes as a lesser evil or simply a response to U.S. “provocation.”

It should be unnecessary to repeat this basic principle. The need to do so is symptomatic of the regrettable condition of much of the left. Since Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush, the biggest problem in the broad left has been the tacit or overt support of many liberals and social-democrats for the imperialist policies championed by the Democratic Party. This continues even as parts of the Democrats’ voter base, particularly among young people, are increasingly angered by U.S. support for Israel’s brutal war against the Palestinian people.

Further left an inverted problem has arisen — tacit or overt support for the actions of Russian imperialism, in the name of opposition to U.S. imperialism. We began to observe this problem acutely in the tragic course of the Syrian people’s uprising, when parts of the U.S. left covered up for the Assad regime’s poison gas and terror bombing of the population and the pivotal role of Russia and Iran in keeping that regime in power.

The crisis for the anti-imperialist left has exploded in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, unleashing a war that continues with no short-term end in sight. This is an openly annexationist invasion with a genocidal trajectory, which the Ukrainian people are resisting for the survival of their nation. Some elements on the left — although small — openly side with Russia on the absurd pretext that Ukraine is “fascist” or “provoked” the war (the element of truth here is that Ukraine “provoked” the conflict by refusing to join Vladimir Putin’s “Novorossiya” project). Such “campist” leftists increasingly converge with (much larger) far-right forces in opposing support for Ukraine’s war of national defense.

A larger portion of the peace movement, horrified by the destruction, loss of life, ecocidal damage and the dire consequences for Global South food supplies — even a supposed imminent danger of escalation to nuclear war — oppose military aid to Ukraine in the name of calling for “immediate cease-fire and negotiations” to end the war. In this “peace” appeal, the desires of the Ukrainian people count for little or nothing. Their struggle is dismissed as a “proxy war” waged by the United States and NATO.

Still others on the left do understand the imperialist character of Russia’s invasion, and support Ukraine’s right to defend itself, but oppose actual western military aid — on the grounds that it makes the war an “inter-imperialist conflict,” even though U.S./NATO powers and Russia are carefully avoiding direct confrontation. This reduces Ukraine’s right of self-defense to an other-worldly abstraction. (Within the U.S. left we’re referring here, for example, to the Reform and Revolution DSA caucus.)

As consistent rather than selective anti-imperialists, we fully understand that U.S./NATO military aid to Ukraine is based on the interests of the western powers, not on supporting “democracy against authoritarianism” or other pretenses. The crimes of U.S. imperialism, the dominant global power — in Latin America, in full support of Israel’s war on the Palestinian people and complicity with the most brutal Middle Eastern dictatorships like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and so much more — continue unabated. None of this negates Ukraine’s right to receive military aid from anywhere it can.

As the war’s horrific costs and catastrophic global effects become worse by the week, and its length and outcome more uncertain, the debates within the left and peace movements will become more intense.

Solidarity supports the Ukraine Solidarity Network (U.S.) in building support for Ukraine’s legitimate war against Russia’s invasion; in demanding both the immediate withdrawal of Russian occupation forces and the cancellation of Ukraine’s crippling and unpayable foreign debt; and most important, supporting and magnifying the voices of progressive and left Ukrainian forces in resisting their own government’s anti-labor and neoliberal policies while actively participating in the war effort. These solidarity efforts will remain necessary after the war ends. Building solidarity with the Ukrainian Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement) is particularly vital.

Nothing can better illustrate the hypocritical double standards of U.S. imperialism than its continued funding and diplomatic support of the Israeli state’s ethnic-cleansing and annexationist assaults on the population of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and, increasingly, within Israel’s borders as well. The State Department’s feeble bleats of “disapproval” of the most visible Israeli settler violence, as well as the deliberate sniper murder of Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, only serve to cover up daily abuses and atrocities that aren’t caught on camera.

That’s why it’s all the more important for us now, as part of the pro-Palestine solidarity movement, to support the BDS campaign; to oppose all U.S. military aid to Israel; to condemn and resist the attempts to criminalize as “antisemitic” Palestinian voices speaking out on Israeli settler colonialism; and to support all progressive initiatives in Congress around Israel’s incarceration of Palestinian children and its use of U.S.-supplied weapons in committing violations of humanitarian and international law.

The hypocrisy of imperialism and colonialism may have been an important new discovery when it was first said, a couple centuries ago, that the British empire had “no permanent friends, only permanent interests.” That is as true now as it ever was, and it’s no more an excuse for opposing Ukrainian self-determination today than it was for dismissing any other oppressed nation’s resistance to colonial subjugation — whether by Britain, France, Spain or other European powers historically, the present U.S. “superpower,” or any aspiring imperial rival now.

We need to develop a much deeper understanding of very real and growing new imperialist rivalries, especially between the United States and China, both in the military buildup in the Asia-Pacific region and the neo-imperial scrambles for Africa and Latin America. We also need to recognize, among other factors, the critical importance of Indigenous peoples’ resistance to colonialism and extractivist governments, and the deepening menace of climate change and environmental collapse to the survival of vulnerable populations and of human civilization itself.

Our analysis must seek to be both global and, at the same time, specific and concrete in regard to specific struggles whether in Ukraine, or Palestine, or anywhere else including in our own society

A few selected references:

On the denials of Palestinian and Ukrainian nationhood, see David Finkel, From Ukraine to Palestine: The Poisons of Denialism.

On China’s imperial dynamic in action, see Rob Connell, Peripheries of Chinese Imperialism: Belt & Road Initiative in Jamaica.

On the Green Party’s debate on Ukraine, see Howie Hawkins, The Green Party Debates Ukraine.

See the Ukraine Solidarity Network Mission Statement and links at its website.


One response to “On Anti-imperialism and International Solidarity: From Ukraine to Palestine and Beyond”

  1. Bob Avatar

    You describe opposition to the events in the American-provoked conflict between Russia and Ukraine as “tacit or overt support for the actions of Russian imperialism, in the name of opposition to U.S. imperialism” and urge “support oppressed peoples’ and nations’ struggles for liberation and self-determination”. Wrong.

    Solidarity’s position represents the total embrace of an American proxy war in which the people of Ukraine are used as cannon fodder. As Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal (Republicans and Democrats) have clearly said, “We must fight Russia to the last Ukrainian.” Who gives a damn about nation-states? Whether that be the USA, Russia, or Ukraine. As a socialist my exclusive concern is the fate of the international working class. For me, those concerns of interrelations between nation-states only come into play when the calculation of strengthening or weakening the most diabolical of all nation states – the USA, in particular – is an active consideration. Am I opposed to the murderous Saudi interventions in Yemen? Yes. Am I opposed to the Zionist oppression of the Palestinians? Yes. However, both should be seen within, and subordinate to, the foreign policy machinations of American imperialism. With Ukraine it’s the same thing. The provocateur is definitely less Russia (a reactionary nation-state) and more the United States (the most provocative and reactionary nation-state). You fail to make the distinction and bow to the lies and propaganda.

    I do not accept the legitimacy of the people who pretend to speak as “freedom fighters” on behalf of the Ukrainian people. They speak on behalf of themselves and in service to an insanely corrupt and reactionary Ukrainian kleptocracy. To color it in any other terms is to accept all of the really stupid, lying nonsense. You want to know what conditions were like inside of the pre-conflict Ukraine and continue to the present? It’s one of the global centers of female sex trafficking. There are theme parks in China that replicate a la Disney World the different countries of Europe. All of the people pretending to be English, German, French, Spanish, Norwegian, etc. – come from Ukraine. The standard of living in Ukraine is so low and the oppression so great that Ukrainian emigrants in a Chinese theme park can do better for themselves than if they had remained at home. Millions had already left before February 2022. Millions more have left since.

    The popular opinion in Europe is that sustaining the war in Ukraine is bad for the economy and potentially catastrophic given the non-trivial prospects for a nuclear conflict. And, duh, they’re right. Russia is not threatening nor will it ever threaten to invade Romania, Hungary, or even the Baltic States, Finland, and Poland – not unless the Poles invade Belarus first. Bottom line – it can’t. However the US proxy war is designed to undertake the opposite and failing miserably in the process.

    What do the Europeans stand to gain from NATO? Nothing outside of reducing the costs of their military expenditures. And the presence of something like 800+ US military bases around the world is founded on a rapidly declining status of the dollar as the world reserve currency.

    The government of Ukraine is a miserable capitalist toady of American imperialism. It is ruled like the United States is ruled… by a thoroughly corrupt capitalist class. I advise you to read Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine. The SAC war plans in the 1960’s included the regrettable but “necessary” nuclear annihilation of a hundred million European “allies” through attendant radioactive fallout and about 200 million Chinese even though they would have not been a military adversary at the time. Altogether it was a plan for 600 million dead – one hundred Holocausts – and that’s before they figured out that the related firestorms would send so much ash into the atmosphere that crops would fail for ten years straight and the entire Earth’s human population would be extinguished. Given the non-trivial potential for this conflict escalating into a total nuclear exchange that’s a pretty heavy price for the international working class to pay for the right of Ukraine to join the imperialist alliance known as NATO.

    Yanukovych and Zelensky were both elected. Did “democracy” only come to Ukraine after Maidan? What are your criteria for picking and choosing your democracies? What happened to the Minsk Accords that Zelensky ran for office on a program of supporting. Those were a pledge of Ukrainian neutrality (no NATO membership) and some degree of autonomy for the Russian speaking population of Eastern Ukraine. Merkel and Macron have since admitted that the agreements were a NATO engineered charade designed to give NATO time to reinforce the Ukrainian military apparatus. How come you fail to mention that?

    Our interests and confidence must lie exclusively in the international working class and sections of the middle class that choose to align themselves accordingly. That’s not sectarian. That’s reality.

    When it comes to nationalism I’m choosing the defeat of the dominant imperialist aggressor as preferable and in the instance of the Ukraine proxy war that is most definitely the United States and NATO. End the arms shipments. It’s already been determined that the Ukrainian “freedom fighters” allied with Zelensky have enriched themselves by selling some of these shipments into the operations of international arms trafficking as well as pocketing monies coming from the US into personal offshore bank accounts.

    As every day passes the tragedy increases. This conflict must end now and that will require Ukraine to repudiate any further intended membership in NATO. Given the current disaster, multiple NATO member leaders recently indicated their lack of interest in pursuing that objective. The plebiscites in Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine have already taken place (at the insistence of the locals that had already tasted the genocidal wrath of the Azov Brigade) so there’s no going back there and If you happen to think that that’s an unacceptable insult to so-called Ukrainian pseudo-independence in a global capitalist economy (well advanced in its long and painful death agony) you’ve aligned yourself with extremely reactionary, criminal delusions.

    The astounding thing about this proxy war is that it is not even in the bona fide interests of American imperialism. The most prescient of American academics (devoted American nationalists all) acknowledge that. The current disaster is the brainchild of American we-can-do-no-wrong Exceptionalism. The thing that has always impressed me about the CIA is that for a “Central Intelligence Agency” they have never had a developed historical perspective or functioned with much intelligence. Their support for the Shah in the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh blew up in 1979. They supported the both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein before they didn’t. The related rise in Islamic fundamentalism led directly to 9/11. Two million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans died for nothing. Kissinger’s bombing in Cambodia produced the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime and millions dying in the killing fields. All in the name of “fighting for democracy and national independence”, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da.

    And, please, don’t recapitulate Chris Christie’s garbage monologue from the GOP debates about Russian “hordes” murdering Ukrainian men and invading their homes and raping their wives and children. I hope that’s at least one step below the Solidarity narrative if you choose to respond to my comment.

    Where does that leave you and your cothinkers? Your thinking now even lags behind the actual events and the related evolving narrative. Ukraine’s losses are unsupportable – in their economy and on the battlefield. The death toll is approaching half a million and the “kill ratio” given Russian military superiority is eight to one. How long will the American public continue to either believe in or support the nonsense they’ve been told? Contrary to previous months there is now a vacuum of information in the face of Ukraine’s much touted and failed “counter-offensive”. What’s going on? Your version of events even lags behind that of a completely servile media that distinguished itself by first supporting the war in Vietnam (and latter Iraq) before mildly opposing it after the catastrophe became all too obvious and public opinion shifted. It’s time for you to at least catch up to the current situation or even, better yet, completely reassess the catastrophic errors in your thinking.

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