The invasion of Ukraine and the workers of the whole world

24 February, 2022

Invasion of Ukraine. Customs office at the Russian border closest to Kiev.
Invasion of Ukraine. Customs office at the Russian border closest to Kiev.

This morning Russian troops launched an invasion of Ukraine. The claims of the Russian military assuring that “nothing threatens the civilian population” have no factual reality. More sincerely, the Ukrainian president has ordered “to inflict maximum casualties on the aggressor”. A new imperialist slaughter is underway on European soil.

Why do those who are going to die and kill in Ukraine are sent to their deaths?

Civilians receive military training in Kiev.
Civilians receive military training in Kiev.

The trade, technological and financial blockade announced in retaliation by the US, Britain and European states is another form of attack whose main victims will be Russian workers and their collateral damage will hit workers in the rest of the world through energy prices and their impact on the cost of the basic basket of goods.

The sanctions clearly reflect the nature of both imperialist war and “national integrity”: the ruling classes attack the “business” of their rivals, their “freedom” to move, place and profit from capital on a personal and collective level, i.e. as a state.

In the course of so much armed slaughter, but also in the calculation of the impact of sanctions, the lives of the exploited are mere instruments of each ruling class to achieve better “strategic” conditions in future wars, markets, infrastructures, raw materials and, ultimately, profitability.

The “sacrifices” which all ruling classes now announce under different excuses are nothing but sacrifices for the profitability of their present investments and for the future expectations of each national capital.

Let us be clear: Russian soldiers go to the front to die and kill their Ukrainian equal counterparts so that the gigantic manor of their exploiters will be better “positioned” to face future conflicts. Ukrainian soldiers in order to prevent the estate of their exploiters from being plundered and divided by neighboring rivals. Workers in the rest of Europe and America are called upon to swallow sacrifices in their most basic living conditions (heating, cooking, lighting their homes) in “solidarity with Ukraine”. But the word Ukraine, in that context does not point to the great mass of the inhabitants of its territory, but to the business of its owners and allies.

This war, like all the other ones, expresses that “getting the business going”, the main goal of “society’s owners”, is increasingly incompatible with the most basic and universal human need: to keep living. We have already had a strong preview with the “pandemic policies”: practically no state hesitated to open the spigot of contagions and human deaths when the viability of their national business was put in question. Now we see the armed version of the same logic: the loss of lives of soldiers and civilians, Russian or Ukrainian, is not going to dent the nerve of either Putin or his rivals, even if they use these lives rhetorically.

How can we stop a war?

Assembly of Gazprom workers on strike in Yakutia, Russia in April 2020.
Assembly of Gazprom workers on strike in Yakutia, Russia in April 2020.

There is not an iota of acceptance in recognizing this: Wars are inevitable in a system, capitalism, based on competition between capitals. Especially when, as in our times, they compete for insufficient market spoils and investment opportunities for all competitors to prosper. But they are entirely “avoidable” insofar as the system and its ruling classes can and must be fought against.

The question is how and, above all, by whom. It is fundamental to realize that, everywhere, “the enemy is within one’s own country”, but this is not enough. Just as pointing out the need to overcome capitalism once and for all is not enough, even if doing so is the only way to put an end to the infernal dynamic of crises and wars.

Intuitively we all know that we have nothing to expect from all those classes and social strata that in every country embrace their own national flag and fill their mouths with patriotism, from the far-right shopkeeper and the agrarian landowner to the progressive university professor. The former engage in a scaled-down version, if anything more brutal because it is more miserable, of the same hunger for profit which drives wars. The latter is a storyteller for the state which organizes them.

Nor can much be expected from the utopianism of the pacifist and the intellectual. They have been selling us for a century that a peaceful, “inclusive”, “green” and even “socialist” and “caring” capitalism is possible. But a “good-for-everyone” capitalism is as impossible as a war without victims. However well-intentioned – and blind – the pacifists may wish to be, their zero achievements speak for them. In more than a century they have succeeded in enrapturing minorities and diverting resistance to war from a few, but never in stopping an ongoing imperialist slaughter.

And of course, from the “concerns” and “pragmatism” of the institutional parties -socialists, conservatives, liberals, greens, etc.-, that is, from the political arm of the ruling classes, we can expect nothing other than what they have been always offering us: sacrifices and a vain confidence that whatever is good for national capital -our own impoverishment, precarization and, if necessary, slaughter- will end up, in some mysterious way, generating a “welfare” capitalism in which we should believe.

Historically, however, there is a movement that has been able, not once but a few relevant times, to stop a massive imperialist war: the mobilization and self-organized struggle of the workers. The reason is simple: the ruling classes cannot take the whole society to war when the machinery of daily exploitation is stopped due to workers stopping production and conditioning its direction.

This war will transform the lives of all workers in Europe and beyond.

Workers and children take refuge in Kiev subway after the first air raid sirens as columns of cars leave the city
Workers and children take refuge in Kiev subway after the first air raid sirens as columns of cars leave the city

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not just another regional war. It consolidates a profound change in the forms of competition between national capitals. The fact that the threat of “crushing sanctions” has not stopped the imperialist impetus of the Russian ruling class has nothing to do with Putin’s “madness”.

It means that the intensity and violence of the contradictions between Russia’s imperialist interests and its rivals is already such that the Russian ruling class considers that unless it sets a war in motion the future of its business and its continuity at the helm of the state will be compromised. Hence the qualitative leap from the “armed pressure” of recent months to today’s war. That is why they do not care about losing their main export market and inevitably entering into a deep economic recession.

That is also why, although the USA, Great Britain and the EU countries will not enter this war directly, the consequences on the population will go beyond energy shortages and the consequent erosion of wages.

For all the powers, large and small, it is clear that the major shares of influence and business will be settled less and less by economic threats, blockades and negotiations and “proxy wars” in third countries. Russia has gone in a few years from arming and organizing mercenaries through which to intervene in relatively small regions of Ukraine, to massively mobilizing its entire army and executing a full-scale invasion.

In other words, we are entering a historical phase in which, more and more, threats and clashes are going to involve large states and national capitals as direct protagonists.

And this, in practice and throughout the world, will mean an acceleration of the arms race already underway and an accelerated and intensified trend towards militarism. Militarism, with all that it means, will weigh like a grinding wheel on the neck of a working class already suffocated by the “anti-crisis policies” and the transfer of rents already underway through the Green Deal.

To the “sacrifices” they exacted from us to revive the profits of a faltering capital, they then added even more sacrifices so that reducing some of the emissions causing climate change would generate extraordinary profits for the big capital funds. Now they will demand an extra ration of “war avoidance” by rearming the state’s military capabilities and multiplying military operations on hot borders.

And of course this will not be limited to Europe and the USA. The next hot spots are already being activated, spread all over the world: Taiwan, Falklands, Algeria…. No national capital will be left out of the consequences of what is in fact a firm step towards a globalization of war in the medium term.

A universal and class response against war

Waiting for a train to get out of Kiev
Waiting for a train to get out of Kiev

What lies ahead of us? Slaughter in Ukraine and the prospect of repeating the mafia model of militarized ultra-exploitation already suffered by the workers of the Donbass. Maximum pauperization and even starvation in Russia for millions of urban and rural workers who have suffered like no one else the recomposition of national capital under Putinism. New “sacrifices” and impoverishment of the workers all over Europe. And globally, an acceleration of militarism and tendencies towards war.

Yes, the enemy is within each country. But not only in the contending countries, today Russia and Ukraine, but in every country. To call for the revolt of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers and workers -with no immediate opportunity- and then to take for granted the citizens’ processions “for peace” and the cosmetic actions of the trade unions in the war industries is not enough.

Obviously, today, as in the beginning of all the great imperialist conflicts so far, there is not going to be an instantaneous and universal response of the workers against the imperialist war, or what is the same, against the ruling classes. This is not a question of waiting for class consciousness to appear by magic. It is a question of contributing to its development starting from the concrete conditions that are developing before our eyes. A struggle that neither begins nor ends with the war in Ukraine.

We need to incorporate into the platforms of all strikes and conflicts the direct and open confrontation against militarism and the warlike development in each country.

We have to start organizing a real workers’ movement against war and militarism in every country from neighborhoods and enterprises; and we need to do it around the only sustainable position from the universal needs of the workers: revolutionary defeatism.

The battles of this bloody and deplorable episode will come to an end. The corpses, the ruins and the miseries will remain as testimony and promise of what the subjugation of human needs to profit -the same thing in which employers and unions agree all over the world- reserves for the present generations. And we will then have to intensify our mobilization and organization against war and militarism. In every strike, in every meeting, in every enterprise and in every neighborhood.

The main victims of bombings and sanctions are the workers on both sides of the front lines.

The war expresses the growing antagonism between capitalism and human life.

In every country the enemy is within the country itself, calling for sacrifices and the subordination of universal human needs to the profit of business and investment.

In every strike, in every meeting, in every enterprise and in every neighborhood we must make visible militarism and war and organize ourselves as workers against both of them.

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