The Left Should Reject an Alliance with the Far Right Against UkraineRoundup
tags: Russia, Ukraine, Antiimperialism
Michael Kazin is co-editor emeritus of Dissent. His most recent book, What It Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party, just came out in paperback.
At critical times, foreign wars have tested the moral convictions of American leftists and affected the fate of their movement for years to come. The Socialist Party’s opposition to entering the First World War provoked furious state repression but later gained a measure of redemption when Americans learned that U.S. troops had not made the world safe for democracy after all. Leftists proved prescient again in the late 1930s when they rallied to defend the Spanish Republic against a right-wing military and its fascist allies, Italy and Germany. The republic’s defeat emboldened Adolf Hitler to launch what quickly became the Second World War. When, twenty years later, American Communists backed the Soviet Union’s crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, they shoved their party firmly and irrevocably to the margins of political life, which opened up space for the emergence of a New Left that rejected imperial aggressors of all ideological persuasions.
The war in Ukraine has a good chance of turning into another such decisive event. Who to blame for the bloodshed in that country should be obvious: a massive nation led by an authoritarian ruler with one of the world’s largest militaries at his disposal is seeking to conquer and subjugate a smaller and weaker neighbor. In pursuit of that vicious purpose, Vladimir Putin’s soldiers have committed countless rapes and acts of torture. His air force is systematically trying to destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure and economy, hoping to undermine its citizens’ will to resist. Yet Ukrainians, with the aid of arms from the United States and other NATO countries, have so far managed to fight this superior force to a stalemate.
A sizeable number of American leftists have embraced an alternate reality. For them, the culprit is NATO’s post–Cold War expansion, fueled by the drive of the U.S. state and capital to bend the world to their desires. The popular author and journalist Chris Hedges cracks that the war in Ukraine “doesn’t make any geopolitical sense, but it’s good for business.” The Green Party condemns the “perpetual war mentality” of the “US foreign policy establishment” and concludes, “There are no good guys in this crisis.”
These critics ignore or dismiss the fact that every nation that joined NATO did so willingly, knowing that Russia was capable of launching the kind of attack now underway in Ukraine. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s demise, the expansion of NATO may well have been too hasty. But not one of its newer members has done anything to threaten Putin’s regime. And every country that joined the alliance enjoys a democratically elected government. They contrast sharply with the handful of nations, besides Putin’s, that voted against a UN resolution last month demanding the Russians withdraw from Ukraine: Belarus, North Korea, Syria, Nicaragua, Eritrea, and Mali. All but the last are one-party dictatorships, and Mali relies on Russian mercenaries to battle Islamist rebels.
It seems not to bother these leftists that they are making common cause with some of the most atrocious and prominent stalwarts of the Trumpian right. Tucker Carlson routinely bashes the U.S. commitment to Ukraine with lines like “Has Putin ever called me a racist?” while Marjorie Taylor Greene recently declared, “I’m completely against the war in Ukraine. . . . You know who’s driving it? It’s America. America needs to stop pushing the war in Ukraine.”