A leftist perspective on the war in Ukraine

Against all forms of imperialism

At times of crisis narratives about multifaceted states of affairs devolve into stories of monolith-like formations pitted against each other. What constitutes a complex reality is impressed in the public mind as a generic binary of good versus evil. Nuance is lost, as permutations in between the extremes are either not tolerated or not perceived as tenable.

Such is the case with the war in Ukraine, where we are compelled to pick sides in an ostensible conflict of the forces of justice against the rapacious hordes of tyranny. Any other point of view, any proposition that stresses the fact that the world of politics is messy, with shades of grey defining the proverbial picture, is derided as an ally of the designated enemy and risks being persecuted as such.

We are expected to (i) agree with the inane notion that this is a case of black-and-white and (ii) are pressured to provide unconditional support to the powers that be on the premise of them supposedly being on the side of righteousness. Such simplistic conception of evolving circumstances can only engender invidious results. Every dark age starts with the belief that there may only ever be one answer to life which, in this case, is supposed to be a pro-NATO, pro-EU, and anti-Russia position.

The fact, however, is that reality is complex. This war does not occur in a political, economic, historical, cultural vacuum. There are factors at play which prompt us to consider the intersection between seemingly unrelated magnitudes. The gist is that we are dealing with yet another phase in the conflict between opposing imperialisms. The expansionary policies of NATO and the European Union collide with the tsarism of the Putin regime. Ukraine is caught in the middle and people suffer as a result.

There are multiple aspects to this basic condition that we cannot afford to disregard. The war is a disaster for humans and the environment at-large. That much is clear. What is lost amid the noise is the insight that those who are pulling the strings in Russia and the West are not the respective side’s good guys.

On geopolitical affairs, NATO powers have a track record of regime change and of leaving power vacuums in their wake. What is touted as a defensive organisation has waged wars of aggression under various pretexts on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, the EU has blithely operated as the de facto political arm of the Atlantic alliance due to the overlap between its eastward enlargement and that of NATO, culminating in the political tensions in Ukraine over the past decade which foreshadowed this war. Couched in those terms, the EU has not adequately distanced itself from the USA establishment’s trigger-happy foreign policy and thus cannot pretend to be morally neutral, let alone righteous.

In terms of politico-economic organisation, both Russia and Western states are capitalist, despite secondary points of differentiation, that exhibit the same overall structure of a two-tier order in which a tiny minority of what I call “platformarchs” is in control of the entry points to any given industry. Western media does a decent job at describing Russian plutocrats for what they truly are: “oligarchs”, i.e. part of an oligarchy. Alas, it fails miserably in its description of the equivalent phenomenon when it comes to Western regimes. “Our” plutocrats are instead lauded as ingenious and tireless entrepreneurs. They typically have an aura of mystique surrounding their persona or are the centrepiece of some cult of personality. There is no mainstream critique of the unscrupulous methods employed in pursuit of their extractive business practices, no reform agenda to outright dismantle the nexus of legal arrangements that enable large-scale tax avoidance and tax base erosion, nor are platformarchs described for what they actually are: part of an oligarchy that hides in plain sight, which encompasses political and economic elites. Both in the West and in Russia (and elsewhere) we witness the symbiosis of plutocrats with the state apparatus, resulting in a third category I describe as the “demi-state”: an amalgam of corporatist and étatist interests.

[ Read: Crises, transnationalism, and the demi-state (2020-05-01) ]

[ Read: On platformarchs, the demi-state, and deplatforming (2021-01-26) ]

[ Read: On the nation-state, democracy, and transnationalism (2021-05-29) ]

The prevailing economic order extends to the ownership of traditional mass media and so-called “social” media. What appears as pluralism is but a facade, as the ownership of most, if not all, outlets is consolidated in vast portfolios that are held by a tiny minority. Platformarchs do not simply mind their affairs and allow some romanticised, perfectly objective journalism to do its job without any kind of interference. No! Platformarchs own the very media of communication and dictate what will find currency “on air”. Yet another indication of the prevailing oligarchy which masquerades as “democracy”, of monologue that is peddled as “public dialogue”, of indoctrination that is valorised as “the popular will”.

As for the EU in particular, the overall complexity of the Economic and Monetary Union obscures its illiberal disposition when it comes to matters of fiscal and monetary policy. The euro is part of an architecture that practically limits the right of peoples to self-determination, both individually in their expression as member-states of the EU, and collectively as an ad-hoc, emergent European demos. The EMU practically enforces persistent impoverishment under the guise of quasi-permanent rules on debts, deficits, banking regulation, and so on, that are wrapped in jargon such as “economic governance”, “European Semester”, “monetary dialogue”, “micro- and macro- prudential policy”, et cetera. The European Central Bank is an unaccountable institution that has been actively engaging in policies that redistribute wealth upward. Inequality is on the rise while inflation has been on an irresistible upward trend prior to the obvious supply-side shocks caused by the war in Ukraine. All while a fully fledged pro-megacorporation disposition has been at full force in the form of what is euphemistically known as “quantitative easing”, which is essentially free money for those close to the source of the stimulus.

[ Read: On the appropriation of Europe (2020-09-28) ]

[ Read: On the political telos of the euro (2022-01-22) ]

Against this backdrop, it is irresponsible to ignore the egregious injustices that take place at home and abroad. We cannot afford to offer support to the view that Western elites are “the good guys” in an otherwise terrible tragedy. They are just as abhorrent as the oligarchs who oppress and exploit the Russian peoples and who now have their eyes set on Ukraine.

Time and again the establishment has resorted to fear-mongering, which is reducible to the common tactic of inducing a sense that “there is no alternative” (the infamous “TINA”). In the face of the fabricated narrative that the EU-NATO tandem represents the only viable option, we must counter with a principled and necessarily nuanced set of arguments for reform at home. Imperialism is deplorable in all of its forms. Whether it manifests as jingoism, corporate-driven post-colonialism, or recrudescent feudalism. The principled position is to oppose both Putin and co. and their Western counterparts. We should insist on the thoroughgoing reform of the European Union to make it truly abide by the principle of subsidiarity (distribution of authority close to the citizens) and to tear down the euro edifice which greatly favours the interests of a core business lobby at the detriment of all the rest. Internally, we must campaign for pro-social policies and seize every opportunity at undermining the power of incumbent forces. To that end, we ought to resist the urge to channel scarce resources to the coffers of industrialists and their banker friends in view of engineering some misguided large-scale re-militarisation.

The answer to war is not more war. We must sabotage all such stratagems, each of us with whatever means available. Do not give the oligarchs on either side of this conflict fodder for their cannons.