War in Ukraine: No War but the Class War!

Note - this article was written around a week before Russia announced that they were implementing a (partial) mobilization of 300,000 reservists to be sent to the war in Ukraine, as well as referendums in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine that are all but certain to result in votes for annexation to Russia. These developments were followed by some of the most explicit nuclear threats by members of the Russian ruling class in the war so far: while Putin declared that the annexed territories would receive the full protection of Russia’s military (implying strategic nuclear weapons), both Medvedev and Lavrov openly declared that strategic nuclear weapons would be on the table to defend those territories from an attack by Ukraine. Needless to say, this only further highlights the road to total barbarism that capitalism is taking us, a road towards nuclear war, billions of deaths and the possible extinction of humanity within a short time frame. It also makes the response by the working class to the war and the attacks to our living standards even more necessary, and makes even more urgent our political work of working towards the construction of the international class party.

More than six months have passed since the war in Ukraine was moved from the level of "frozen" civil war (with 14,000 deaths between 2014 and early 2022) to full-blown imperialist proxy conflict between the US and NATO on the one hand and Russia on the other. In that time the US has reasserted itself, after its humiliating defeat in Afghanistan last year, as the leader of the NATO imperialist alliance in Europe. The US is now effectively setting the agenda for NATO's policy with regards to the war in Ukraine. That policy is one of unconditional support for the Ukrainian state in supplying weapons, loans, and providing political cover for the corrupt Zelensky regime in Kiev, at the same time as they militarize Europe and ramp up the economic warfare against Russia in the form of sanctions. The price is paid in the blood of Ukrainian and Russian workers forcibly conscripted by their ruling classes to kill each other and die for the sake of one or another imperialism, while the working class in the US and across the world foots the bill with higher prices for food, rent, and gas.

Billions in Weapons to Ukraine...

Even before the Russian invasion, the US has for years been building up its influence in Ukraine, economic, political, and military, as a way to assert itself against Russian imperialism. The opening of the civil war in 2014 turned Ukraine into a more open battleground between American and Russian imperialism, but increasingly the couple dozen oligarchs who own the country turned towards American imperialism to supply them personally with mansions and yachts in the EU, and nationally with weapons and loans. The US had supplied some $2.5 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine just before the Russian invasion, and it was in fact further American weapons sales to Ukraine totalling $75 million in 2021 (it was originally $125 million but after Biden canceled it ahead of a June summit with Putin, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the package at the smaller price in October) that caused Russia to feel that it had no other option but to invade to halt American and Western military encroachment on its borders.

As one of the poorest countries per capita in Europe also, Ukraine has been forced since its independence in the 1990s to take out IMF loans, and since 2014 has been in debt to the institution. Since the IMF (headquartered in Washington DC) essentially functions as a not-so-discreet way for the US and Western nations to maintain their economic grip on the countries of the capitalist periphery in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Ukraine has at least since 2014 been in the debt of American imperialism.

Shipments of weapons by the US to Ukraine rose dramatically after the Russian invasion. According to The Intercept, so far $12.9 billion in weapons and other military aid has been sent alone in 2022.(1) Over $60 billion has been sent over this year for other expenses, but all in the interests of propping up the Ukrainian state so that the country is owned by Western, and not Russian capital. Ukraine is also seeking a $20 billion IMF loan by the end of the year, according to Reuters.(2) If approved, this would only further put Ukrainian workers at the mercy of US capital, which is exactly what the US is hoping to get out of this war.

... While Workers Are Made to Pay

All of this aid to Ukraine comes with strings attached of course, even if they're not stated publicly. It is no surprise that since the Russian invasion, a flurry of anti-worker legislation has been proposed and ratified in the Ukrainian Rada (legislature). The infamous Law 5371, ratified by Zelensky, darling of the Democratic Party and liberal bourgeoisie in the US, turns workers in Ukraine into the indentured servants of US and Western capital. Under this law, collective contracts for workers at firms with under 250 employees go out the window, replaced with contracts that workers negotiate with their boss with an individual basis. This affects 70% of workers in Ukraine, as reported by OpenDemocracy, and opens up workers in Ukraine to new levels of precarity and exploitation, as collectively negotiated benefits are scrapped and legal trade union powers in the workplace are revoked. Additional anti-worker laws over the year have legalized zero-hour contracts and removed the obligation for the bosses to pay workers conscripted to fight. Other proposed legislation legalizes a 12-hour workday and allow bosses to fire workers without justification.(3)

This legislation serves many purposes, not least of which is a way to repay US and Western capital for the loans the Ukrainian ruling class has received. It primes the pump for when the IMF comes knocking, telling Zelensky or whoever is in charge that time's up and it's time to collect what's owed. Workers in Ukraine will be the ones that are made to pay for imperialism’s wars, for the war which is just as much Biden's and Zelensky's as it is Putin's, and all sections of the ruling class that they each represent. But outside of the immediate circumstance in Ukraine, workers there are bearing the brunt of world capitalism in decay, which is attempting to resolve the system's crisis everywhere through increasing the exploitation of the working class, and drawing more profits from our labor. The war has created the environment in which workers, mobilized under the national flag and (momentarily) fooled by talk of fatherland, democracy or both, can have the rug pulled out from under them and be turned into the property of whichever American or Western capitalist can get their hands on them first.

This is to say nothing of those workers who are made to pay for the war not in longer hours or lower wages, but their blood. Martial law has been in effect across all of Ukraine since the start of the invasion, all men ages 18-60 are legally barred from leaving the country and mandatory conscription for those men has been introduced. Protest against the war or even conscription is heavily repressed by the police. The official death count for Ukrainian soldiers at the frontlines so far stands at 10,000, according to Reuters.(4) However Ukrainian (and US) state officials have been known to lie and have a vested interest in lying about how the war is going, so we can easily assume that the total is substantially higher. Figures for the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine are also hard to pinpoint, with the main estimates coming from Ukrainian or Western state sources and giving estimates of between 40,000-80,000. Either way, the frontline is hell for the workers on both sides forced by their ruling classes to fight there, turned into cannon fodder to murder each other with high tech missiles and artillery so that the coal mines in the Donbass can have Russian or Western bosses.

Biden's, and the US ruling class', strategy when it comes to Ukraine is essentially to fight until the last Ukrainian, and until the last paycheck of workers in the US. No amount of the blood of workers in Ukraine or Russia is too expensive for these ruling class ghouls in either party, nor is there any limit to the ways in which they will make workers in the US pay for their imperialist wars. Lloyd Austin and other top officials in the US government openly talk about their strategy of 'bleeding Russia dry', which will necessarily mean throwing countless Ukrainian workers into the meatgrinder so that they can slaughter however many Russian workers are forced to do the same by their government. The first tens of billions in weapons shipments to Ukraine also took place at the same time as the Biden administration pretended to look under every couch cushion without finding any money to continue federal Covid prevention efforts, to fight a disease which kills workers more than any other class. But for the US bourgeoisie, even those sections which feigned concern for the virus earlier, what matters most is winning US imperialism's proxy wars, not protecting the health of workers.

But the end of Covid protections doesn't even begin to cover the decline in conditions for workers in the US. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on August 26th in a speech said that bringing down inflation will require "economic pain".(5) And pain is what workers are feeling already. With 10% inflation on food and groceries, gas prices still twice as expensive as two years ago, and rent all but unaffordable for workers, we dread to think of what more the capitalist class has in store for us, although we have some idea. Job cuts and layoffs to create a more 'pliable' labor market for the capitalists, so that they can enforce a lowering of wages across the board and extract more profits from our labor. All under the 'friend of the worker' Biden, and the 'progressive' Democratic Party, the same forces now working to undercut strikes, like that of the railworkers this month. There is nothing 'progressive' about maintaining this system of exploitation, making workers pay for capitalism's wars, and the only friends of the workers are the workers themselves and their future class political organization. Only a collective, self-organized struggle on the part of our class can make any difference in the class war against our exploitation.

A New Phase of Capitalist Barbarism

War is nothing new to capitalism and already before the war in Ukraine, this century had seen countless bloody imperialist wars and civil wars from the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, to the various interventions of French imperialism in West Africa to maintain its monetary grip on those countries. In these conflicts, as in all imperialist conflicts, workers were lined up on one side or the other behind their states, being told the lies of patriotism and how the other country was the enemy, and then they were marched off to massacre each other leaving whole societies in ruin while a small class in charge enriched themselves even further. What makes the war in Ukraine different is that it has directly pitted two leading imperialist powers against each other in a proxy conflict, the USA and Russia, sharpening imperialist tensions to the point where the current conflict in Ukraine threatens to be a 'dress rehearsal' for a global, generalized imperialist conflict between the leading powers. In other words, a Third World War.

In other arenas, we appear to be heading in that same direction too. In early August Nancy Pelosi flew to Taiwan in a visit almost explicitly designed to test China's limits and score a propaganda victory for US imperialism. The visit was followed by more congressional delegations going to the island on the US side, and live-fire military exercises and blockades around the island on the Chinese side. China also cut military and climate ties with the US, drastically raising tensions and further confirming that capitalism is totally unable to solve the climate crisis.

More importantly, the visit came on a decade or more of sharpening tensions between the US and China in the Pacific and beyond. So it’s not just Pelosi or a few members of Congress that are ramping up the tensions; it’s the entire US ruling class with Biden and his gang of polite imperialists at the front. He, along with Secretary of State Blinken, have continued spouting the anti-Chinese propaganda that unites the US ruling class throughout this war. They take every opportunity to link China to Russia and its failing war in Ukraine (and therefore, perhaps inadvertently, prolong the war through cutting off the possibility of China brokering some peace between Russia and Ukraine), and at think tank and “academic” conferences Blinken and other running dogs of the state play up China and Russia as enemies numbers 1 and 2. Oiling the machinery of public opinion to get workers to accept whatever sacrifices a war with them will require.

Increasingly, as states struggle to deal with the effects of capitalism's global crisis, there is less and less room for compromise on the 'national interest', and this is what is leading us to a global power struggle between US and Chinese imperialism, each of which try to rope in as many states on their side as possible.

It is now a matter not of if, but when, these tensions boil over into a third imperialist world war, and workers are still being tricked into waving flags, Ukrainian, Russian, American. Caught up in the delusion that ‘their’ leaders are the only ones interested in peace while the others are the reason for the war. That the ideologies of their states, instead of being superficial justifications for plundering the world’s resources by a small class of parasites, actually mean something. That the fatherland or motherland, “democracy” or “anti-fascism” are worth dying for. A cycle that repeats without end until the rulers of states have used up all of the workers that they can use as cannon fodder in their (nuclear, humanity-annihilating) wars, or until those rulers are overthrown internationally by the class that they use as cannon fodder. In reality the only flag that people should be waving is the flag of internationalism, the red flag that unites workers of all countries together around the idea that we shouldn’t kill each other and should build a world without the seeds of war.

No War but the Class War

As always with imperialist conflicts, the working class has nothing to gain and everything to lose by 'taking sides' with (or worse, giving their lives for) one of the competing imperialisms. All talk of democracy, peace, or 'anti-fascism' by the US are lies and language used to camouflage the fact that Biden and the rest of the US ruling class want us to fight their wars for them. There is no democracy in Ukraine and there is no democracy in the US or any other country for the working class. All countries are dictatorships of the bourgeoisie.

Workers in Ukraine have no reason to fight Russian workers, nor do workers in the US have any quarrel with workers in China. In all of these places we share the same position; we are all wage laborers, possessing only our labor-power to sell to the capitalists in order to survive. It is the capitalist classes which rule over and exploit us that try to divide us against each other, so that they can engage in a redivision of the world's resources amongst themselves that threatens annihilating our entire species. Workers in all countries share the same interests; linking up with each other to get rid of these genocidal parasites, so that we can build a new society without exploitation.

We have to fight for internationalism, and the class struggle, which are inseparable. Because workers all share the same interests, regardless of nationality or the borders which divide us, the struggle for better conditions by workers in one country is only one piece in the global class war that we have to fight in order to emancipate ourselves globally. Our struggle is international or it is nothing, weakened by falling prey to the artificial national divisions that capitalism imposes on us.

Only the working class can lead the fight against capitalism's crisis and the war it is leading us towards, and we can only accomplish this through our own self-organization. We have to fight against the new heights of exploitation that we're increasingly subjected to through rejecting the state and unions, and instead going for the formation of strike committees, mass assemblies, and workers' councils, the highest expression of working class self-organization and the organs through which our class can actually seize and exercise power over society. To get to this point, not only does the working class need to create its own political organization to act as its leadership; we also need a mass workers' movement capable of linking up with workers in all countries on an internationalist basis.

To agitate within the working class for the extension and generalization of the class struggle, and for internationalism, the ICT has launched the No War but the Class War initiative, calling for the formation of local NWBCW committees wherever possible. The initiative is open to all genuine internationalists who align with the following points:

  • Against capitalism, imperialism and all nationalisms. No support for any national capitals, “lesser evils”, or states in formation.
  • For a society where states, wage-labor, private property, money and production for profit are replaced by a world of freely associated producers.
  • Against the economic and political attacks that the current war, and the ones to come, will unleash on the working class.
  • For the self-organized struggle of the working class, for the formation of independent strike committees, mass assemblies and workers’ councils.
  • Against oppression and exploitation, for the unity of the working class and the coming together of genuine internationalists.

Building up the international class movement to win the class war will require a great deal of effort and commitment. But confronted with not only crisis bringing deteriorating living standards but nuclear war itself, capitalism gives us no other choice but to struggle as a class for our own liberation.

Internationalist Workers’ Group
September 2022


A condensed version of this article will appear in Internationalist Notes #4, Fall 2022

(1) theintercept.com

(2) reuters.com

(3) opendemocracy.net

(4) reuters.com

(5) nbcnews.com

Tuesday, September 27, 2022