The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The War in Ukraine:
Prepared for by U.S. Imperialism’s Permanent, Criminal Policy

Mar 1, 2022

No war can be understood simply as the product of one country’s decision to invade another. In the case of the war in Ukraine, just as in World Wars I and II, there were causes that went far beyond the question of which country invaded the other, and on what precise date. In March of 2022, shortly after Russian troops went into Ukraine, we examined this issue at length. It is every bit as valid now—with the war appearing to have turned into a bloody stalemate—as it was when the war officially seemed just to have begun. As of today, 18 months after the war began, nearly half a million people, civilian and military, Ukrainian and Russian, have either died or been maimed. The only difference today is that it is even more vital to understand the causes of this war. They are the same ones that will produce more wars, and wider ones.

Rather than summarize what we wrote in March 2022, we reproduce it here.

The war in Ukraine cannot be understood without looking at the policies of U.S. imperialism, which laid down the framework in which the war is being fought today.

Putin is certainly “criminally” responsible for the war in Ukraine, as Biden says. But the U.S., under every one of its presidents running from Biden all the way back through Woodrow Wilson, has carried out an unending policy that created the situation leading not only to this war, but to many of the military and other catastrophes that struck Ukraine, Russia and other parts of what once was the Soviet Union.

Starting in the very first years after the October 1917 Revolution, the policy of the U.S., along with that of all the other imperialisms, rested on military invasion, economic isolation and “diplomatic” encircling of the fledgling workers power based on the soviets. The imperialist powers did not succeed in destroying the Soviet Union, but their policy, along with the failure of revolution in key countries of Europe, combined to bring the bureaucracy to power-for which the Soviet population paid dearly.

In the 105 years since October, U.S. policy has varied, with the U.S. sometimes forming a tentative alliance with this bureaucracy—as it did, for example, in World War II and its immediate aftermath, or as it did in Syria in 2015. But even when working in alliance with the bureaucracy with whom it was temporarily sharing a common interest, the U.S. never stopped seeking ways to weaken the Soviet Union. It was no longer the beacon for working class revolution. But the Soviet Union still was an itch under the imperialist skin. Its planned and centralized economy was able to do what capitalism could not do in any other country in the years following the collapse of 1929: it industrialized and to some extent developed at least part of this vast territory. This gave the Soviet Union the possibility to continue somewhat of an independent existence, which existence served as an encouragement to the national revolts that spread through the world at the end of World War II.

With the Cold War, the U.S. shifted gears back to an open policy of “containing” the Soviet Union. NATO was established in 1949 through an agreement between 10 European countries, plus the U.S. and Canada. The purpose of this military alliance was certainly to assert U.S. hegemony over the world, but its creation also served to make a definitive break with the U.S. and Britain’s World War II alliance with the Soviet Union.

NATO, led by the U.S., stationed troops near Soviet borders. The U.S. installed missile batteries within firing distance of the Soviet Union. U.S. and British naval flotillas patrolled the oceans to which the Soviet Union had access.

The Soviet Union, deformed by the bureaucracy, nonetheless outlived World War II, made it through the Cold War, and endured for nearly four more decades.

But in 1991, the bureaucracy itself finally tore up the last ties that held together the various republics that for nearly three quarters of a century had composed the Soviet Union. Their economies collapsed.

(The analysis that Trotsky made and refined, in the 1920s and ‘30s, of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union retained its validity through all these decades. The existence of this bureaucracy—which was not a distinct social class, but a parasite feeding off state-owned property—was an inherently unstable situation, and could be resolved only by the working class taking back power in its state or by the Soviet Union being integrated back into the capitalist system. There was no new class waiting in the wings, ready to step out onto the stage of history. The fact that the degeneration continued for decades longer than Trotsky imagined does not change the validity of his analysis. Rather it speaks to the decay of the capitalist system itself, unable up until now to fully reintegrate the totality of the former Soviet Union. It’s this analysis that allows us to orient ourselves in the midst of the never-ending tug of war between the bureaucracy, represented by Putin, and the U.S., leading the imperialist world, a tug of war that pulls others into it, as Ukraine has been right now.)

In the three decades since 1991, the U.S. and its European allies have worked to pull apart the former Soviet Union. Many of the eastern European countries in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence were brought into the European Union, providing the dominant countries in the EU with a reservoir of low-paid labor. The imperialist powers moved to put their hands on the benefits they could grab from Russian oil and natural gas, from the Russian reserves of raw materials like nickel and palladium, and from the wheat and other grains grown in Ukraine and Russia. NATO organized the military threat behind which all this was carried out. And then NATO moved to integrate almost all the Eastern European states that had once made up a buffer between the Soviet Union and Western Europe, where the U.S. had established dozens of military bases. Finally, NATO gobbled up the Baltic Republics, formerly part of the Soviet Union. During the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military established bases on the Asian territory of the former Soviet Union.

Plot these developments on a map, put in the dates when various countries and former republics surrounding Russia were “associated with” or integrated into NATO as “members,” and you will have a visual history of the tightening cordon sanitaire that has been built around Russia, the rump left from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

For a number of years, Russia acceded to these developments, even openly negotiated some of them. Putin, who moved to the head of the bureaucracy, put out olive branches and asked for Russia to be integrated into NATO. His offers were met by the stationing of more NATO troops and a step up in the “war games” carried out on Russia’s borders. NATO, however, did begin to hint that Georgia and Ukraine might “someday” be considered for membership in NATO.

Like an isolated dog, cornered by NATO’s pack of rabid dogs, Russia finally moved, using the only means the bureaucracy knew: military means. In 2008, with a show of military force, it took South Ossetia and Abkhazia away from Georgia; in 2014, it moved into Crimea, which had a majority Russian population, taking it away from Ukraine. And it gave support to Russian-speaking separatists who moved to break off from Ukraine, taking with them the most industrialized part of Ukraine. These moves were purely military adventures, aimed at reinforcing the strength of Russia against an encroaching NATO. And they were carried out against the interests of the working classes of all these nations.

When Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine in 2022, he may have believed this incursion would be a repeat of what had transpired in 2008/2014. But Ukraine’s military had been rebuilt and trained by the U.S. military, which brought with it vast amounts of military gear and armaments from NATO’s weapon stores.

What the U.S. end game is for this war is not clear. Biden’s speech, with his threat of another “unending war,” in which Russia would be caught, may have been only a bargaining tactic, or it may have staked out U.S. intentions. Whatever finally comes of this edition of the war, all the players, the U.S. first of all, have used the population of these two nations, Russia and Ukraine, as pawns in a deadly chess game.

This is not to retell history in a nutshell—histories which are told much more precisely and fully in various publications of the UC. But tracing this outline is a way to say we base our understanding of the current war by looking at the framework laid down for it by U.S. policy. Combined with Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union and its degeneration, this history of U.S. activity gives us the means to orient ourselves in the midst of a situation that so much of the left, the SWP included, has stumbled over. The U.S. left—that part which still exists—has mostly rushed to align itself with the call to “Stand with Ukraine.” This reveals once again that those organizations do not start from the perspective of the working class and its class interests.

We empathize with the Ukrainian people, particularly its working people, but not with the Ukrainian regime, reactionary as it has always been and oppressive of the working class, and not with the U.S. that stands behind Ukraine today. To “stand with Ukraine,” as Biden would have us do, means to call for a wider involvement of the U.S. in this already deadly war. To wave a blue and yellow flag means to be a shill for U.S. imperialism’s policies.

This country we are caught in is the chief imperialist power in the world; the one that has plunged the world into more wars than any other, directly and indirectly; the one which spends more money on the military than the next 12 biggest military spenders put together; the one which sent more missiles and bombs into Baghdad on the first DAY of its 2003 war against Iraq than Russia expended in the first four weeks of its current war against Ukraine; the one that directly organized the complete destruction of Fallujah and its civilian quarters, using the most horrifying armaments, including modernized “intelligent” missiles filled with a more efficient napalm. The U.S. is responsible for the havoc rained on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it is the only country to have used such weapons; the only one to carry out on such a scale attacks whose purpose could only have been to terrify a civilian population, as were the U.S. firebombings of Dresden and of some Italian cities.

Our duty is to expose and oppose the machinations of U.S. imperialism as it continues brutally to impose itself on the peoples of the world, in the current war and in the ones that are sure to come. Our goal has to be to give workers in our milieus, and the workers we touch through our activities, ideological and historical weapons with which they can orient themselves in the midst of what can only be a steady move toward a wider war. This war is made inevitable by the workings of capitalism itself.

Workers in this country are part of the same working class as are workers in Russia and in Ukraine. It is this working class, our class, that has the possibility to overturn the rule of the capitalists, and to get rid of the abomination that remains of the bureaucracy that destroyed the Soviet Union. It is our class on the scale of the world that will be able to create the possibility for human beings to carry out a social development which will finally serve all of humanity.