Why should people in Maine care about the Russian invasion of Ukraine? As the great American socialist Eugene V. Debs put it, “Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives.” Debs was talking about the First World War, but his words ring true today.
Civilian deaths. Tanks, attack helicopters and jets do not mix with large cities. Russia’s invasion will lead to thousands of needless deaths in the short term and destroy critical civilian infrastructure during a pandemic. The impacts on public health, education and nutrition for children, and poverty will last for decades and lead to even more deaths and stunted lives. We know this because this is exactly what happened when the United States invaded Iraq in 1991 and 2003.
Ecological catastrophe. There are no environmentally friendly weapons of war. Toxic sludge will blanket the battlefield for centuries. Again, we know this because of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers suffering from Gulf War Syndrome and terrifying spikes in birth defects in Iraq. The Chernobyl nuclear plant sits leaking radiation just 75 miles north of Kyiv. And Putin’s war will fuel a massive oil boom as Biden pushes OPEC to step up drilling to replace Russian oil and natural gas. At a minimum, the world’s elite will focus on “winning at all costs” and putting aside even their insufficient measures to address global warming for the coming years. In short, this war will cost the planet precious years in the struggle to stop global warming.
Sexism and homophobia. The Russian invasion will stoke violence against women and LGTBQI people as the occupying forces do what occupying forces have done throughout history. Specifically, Putin’s systematic homophobia and misogyny will invariably set the tone for this conquest and any subsequent puppet government.
Racism and antisemitism. There are antisemitic, far-right, Nazi forces in Ukraine. And there are anti-Semitic, far-right, ultra-nationalist forces in Russia. And there are even anti-Semitic, far-right, KKK forces in the United States. But Putin’s claim that his campaign will “de-Nazify” Ukraine is laughable. In fact, Putin has sent troops to suppress nationalist or democratic opposition movements in Chechnya, Georgia, and Belarus. He aims to reestablish the Russian Empire and suppress any dissent at home. And, like all empires, this necessitates vilifying oppressed national and religious minorities. Putin’s invasion will intensify ethnic, racial, and religious conflict. Just as the U.S. invasion of Iraq stoked anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S., the Russian invasion of Ukraine will rally racists in Russia to look for scapegoats for the inevitable decline in living standards caused by the war.
Democracy and social justice at home. While Democrats and Republicans agree on little else in Congress—with the notable exception of Trump and his most loyal minions refusing to condemn Putin—the elite in the U.S. are uniting to flood Ukraine and Europe with weapons. The secret to American corporate power is American fire power. Any one who disputes that only has to add up the trillions of dollars we have spend in the last 30 years bombing, droning, and occupying several nations. This makes all of Biden’s rhetoric of “respecting nations’ borders” ring hollow. Putin is to blame for this war but the bipartisan campaign to expand NATO— the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—to encircle Russia from the north and the south (are Romania and Bulgaria in the North Atlantic?) have given Putin the pretext he needs. We spend trillions on the Pentagon rather than greening the global economy, rebuilding our schools and healthcare system, or investing in reforms to un-do structural racism and sexism. We can’t have both. You know when Sen. Susan “Kavanaugh” Collins talks about “freedom and democracy” and “sovereignty,” there must be something else going on. And now politicians from both parties will use Putin’s war as an excuse to pass the costs onto the American working class, in Biden’s word’s “I will not pretend this will be painless.” Of course, it will be painless for the billionaires.
What can Mainers do? We should not join in calls for a new Cold War or prejudice against the Russian people. But we should do what we can to extend solidarity to Ukraine and antiwar protesters in Russia. We should demand the U.S. radically reduce its military budget in order to reinvest those trillions in a Green New Deal, public education and health, global aid to populations ravaged by COVID and poverty, and union jobs here at home. In the meantime, the United States and the EU should open its borders to refugees from Ukraine and all those fleeing militaristic violence. The movement can debate how to respond to calls for military and economic support from Ukraine, but we should oppose any direct U.S. or NATO military intervention. Empires must be defeated by the people they seek to subordinate, otherwise those people risk trading one set of overlords for another and the world risks an even wider war.