LFN Statement on War in Ukraine

(March 8, 2022)

On Sunday, March 6, thousands of activists gathered in the streets across the United States — and across the globe – in response to the call for an antiwar March 6 Global Day of Action by an international coalition initiated by Stop the War Coalition (UK), the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the No to NATO network. The call stated, in part:

“We call on everyone who opposes this war to take to the streets in a massive display of global opposition to the war and the warmongers. The war in Ukraine is a disaster for the people of Ukraine and a terrible threat to us all, including increasing the danger of nuclear war.

“We oppose the Russian invasion and call for the immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops. We recognize that the expansion of NATO and the aggressive approach of Western states have helped cause the crisis and we demand an end to NATO expansion. We also oppose sanctions that will harm ordinary Russians, and we call on all countries to welcome refugees fleeing the war.

“There have already been many antiwar demonstrations in Russia and many other countries. What we need now is a massive, unified response by peace-loving people around the world to say No to War in Ukraine.”

March 6 rally in San Francisco. Lita Blanc and Tom Lacey holding antiwar sign.

The Labor Fightback Network concurs. Following in the best traditions of the U.S. antiwar movements, we believe that it is necessary to build a united, independent mass-action-oriented movement in the streets around a few key principled “OUT NOW!” demands.

All antiwar activists, however, are not in agreement with what our demands should be. The movement is divided, as could be seen on March 6, where one national coalition held a webinar that excluded the demand to withdraw Russian troops, while another held a protest in the streets on the basis of the demands of the March 6 Global Day of Action coalition.

In our view, the best and most concise united-front demands to raise in the United States at this moment are the following:

• Russian Troops Out of Ukraine!

• U.S./NATO Troops Out of Europe!

• No Sanctions!

• $Billions for Jobs, Education and Healthcare, Not War!

The demand for Russian troops to withdraw from Ukraine is the most urgent one at this time.

The war is escalating and could soon engulf other countries neighboring Russia. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed. More than 2 million have become refugees in Poland and elsewhere. Also, as we witnessed with the missile strike that hit the Zaporishzhia nuclear power plant, the largest such plant in Europe, an errant bomb or missile could strike any one of Ukraine’s five other nuclear power plants, unleashing a massive radioactive fallout that could dwarf the fallout from Chernobyl.

At the same time, more than 4,000 Russian antiwar protesters have been jailed and face up to 15 years in jail for daring to denounce Putin’s war in Ukraine. The Labor Fightback Network stands in solidarity with their struggle to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine.

We oppose the call to create a “No Fly Zone” over Ukraine. This would only escalate the war; it could even lead to a nuclear confrontation if a NATO force were to shoot down a Russian plane. It would make any peaceful settlement more difficult, even impossible.

We also oppose the call for sanctions against Russia, as the only ones who will suffer are the people of Russia. The billionaire oligarchs won’t be affected in the least. Sanctions can only lead to mass hunger and even starvation.

The demand of “U.S./NATO Troops Out of Europe!” [1] cannot be separated from the demand to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine. Failure to couple these two demands inexorably leads to either adaptation to Putin (by failing to call for the withdrawal of Russian troops) or adaptation to the U.S. government and its allies (by failing to denounce the U.S./NATO role in helping to instigate the war in Ukraine). Both demands must be raised in tandem.

A variation on the second demand (concerning NATO) is one that is principled but fails to address the fundamental problem — that is, the very existence of NATO as a war machine against all the peoples in the region. We are referring to the demand to “Stop NATO Expansion,” which was the second main demand of the March 6 Global Day of Action.

We prefer the demand raised by the International Committee of DSA, which calls for the “U.S. [to] Withdraw from NATO!” This formulation points to the need to dismantle NATO, which has long been a tool of U.S. imperialist expansionism in Eastern Europe and which set the stage for the current war in Ukraine.

Organizing the Fight in the Labor Movement Against the War in Ukraine

We were heartened to read a statement issued in mid-February (that is, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine) by founders and leaders of what had been U.S. Labor Against the War. They wrote:

“We oppose the bellicose behavior of the U.S. government regarding the crisis in Ukraine. We condemn U.S. provocative rhetoric and preparations for yet another war. We condemn the destabilizing policies the U.S. has pursued that have contributed to the crisis, in this case especially the steady expansion of NATO eastward toward Russia.”

“The American people don’t want another war. The Ukrainian people don’t want a war. The Russian people don’t want war. …

“The U.S. military-industrial complex has an insatiable appetite for war and the threat and preparation for war. Despite having just ended its ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan, the U.S. is increasing its military budget for the coming year to an astounding $778 billion. We must not allow Congress to once again squander hundreds of billions of dollars in military spending, money that is urgently needed to meet the needs of the American People.”

Such an internationalist stance is in sharp contrast to the statement issued on February 25 by AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler – a statement that echoed the declarations by Biden and the U.S. State Department. There was not a word about the U.S. role in the war.

Shuler stated: “The AFL-CIO joins with unions from around the world in standing in solidarity with our union partners in Ukraine. We demand an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and a commitment to political and diplomatic solutions to the crisis that will cause needless suffering and hardship for people throughout the country.”

To denounce Russia while remaining silent on the U.S. government’s role in creating and escalating this conflict is simply to join the camp of the warmakers; it’s to fail to recognize the responsibility of U.S. labor to demand peace in defense of the interests of all workers throughout the world.  

Who Benefits from this War?

 The main beneficiary of this war, first and foremost, is the U.S./NATO military-industrial complex. In December 2021, Biden pushed through the largest military budget in U.S. history: $778 billion. The U.S. had previously demanded, and obtained, that all NATO member countries increase their military spending beyond 2% of their gross domestic product. Who benefits from all this? In 2020, according to the U.S. magazine Defense News, 51 of the top 100 companies in the global arms market are U.S. companies, including the top five.

The second issue is natural gas. U.S. administrations have been contesting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is slated to deliver Russian gas to Germany, a project in which the capitalists have invested heavily. But Biden has stated unambiguously: A Russian invasion of Ukraine would sound Nord Stream 2’s death knell.

Radio France Internationale (February 22) commented: “One country also intends to profit from this. It is the United States, the world’s largest gas producer.” The risk of nuclear war, and planetary devastation, is heightened, as is the further threat of climate collapse as the U.S.-based fossil-fuel cartel drives to frack the hell out of the United States. Outlawing fracking would be one way to rein in the war profiteers.

To the warmakers, to the merchants of death, we affirm the following: People across the United States don’t want another war. The Ukrainian people don’t want a war. The Russian people don’t want war.

• Russian Troops Out of Ukraine!

• U.S./NATO Troops Out of Europe!

• No Sanctions!

• $Billions for Jobs, Education and Healthcare, Not War!

– – – – – – – – –

ENDNOTE

[1] The demand for the U.S. to withdraw from NATO (or for the U.S. and NATO to get out of Europe) focuses our demands against our own government, whose role in Ukraine has been criminal.

In early November 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed a strategic partnership charter with Ukraine, which recognizes the objective of “full integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.”

It is no secret that the last wave of “eastward enlargement” of the European Union (the Baltic States, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary in 2004, then Romania and Bulgaria in 2007) was followed immediately by all of those countries joining NATO, surrounding Russia’s western borders with a belt of U.S. military bases.

U.S. President Joe Biden was well aware that Ukraine joining NATO was, for Russia, a line not to be crossed. He was aware that Putin — just like previous Russian leaders — was adamant that the United States and NATO must respect the security-assurance pledge made to Mikhail Gorbachev by then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that “NATO would not expand one inch to the east.”

Renowned foreign correspondent Jonathan Power, drawing on recently declassified documents as well as interviews that he conducted with former Soviet leaders, published an article in InDepthNews (IDN) that confirms this pledge to Gorbachev. On July 15, 1990, then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and then National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski made repeated commitments to Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand “one inch” to the east in exchange for Gorbachev allowing German reunification. No NATO forces were to be stationed in what had been East Germany or any other former Warsaw Pact country.

This pledge was confirmed by then U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock and British Foreign Secretary Joseph Hird. President Bill Clinton reneged on this pledge, as did Bush and Obama. (source: Jonathan Power, “Rolling Back on NATOs Expansion Should Be President Biden’s Immediate Task,” IDN, May 30, 2021)

The U.S. foreign policymakers set a trap for Putin — and Putin stepped right into it. Having said this, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is entirely reactionary; it is but the continuity of the age-old “Great Russian” chauvinism against Ukraine. Russia has every right to be concerned by the existential threat presented by a possible NATO encroachment on its border. However, invading Ukraine is not a legitimate solution.  

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