Like the USSR's invasion of Czechoslovakia, Putin's war against Ukraine will be a watershed for anti-imperialism.
Nothing is more valuable than freedom and independence. - Ho Chi Minh
That the war in Ukraine is a war of aggression, no one can doubt, and that it is a war of imperialist aggression, only the dullest fanatic would deny. Equidistant, neutral and pacifist postures are worthless: the war against Ukraine is the war of a tyrant with atomic weapons and with the pretensions of an emperor. You cannot have been against the Vietnam War and the invasions of Panama and Iraq -among others- and then stand up for a textbook imperialist war. If you sail under the banner of anti-imperialism, you stand with Ukraine and its struggle for sovereignty and self-determination.
Putin’s war against Ukraine is a war that captures the essence of imperialist wars in their most political dimension: the conquest of territories beyond borders in order to strengthen the geopolitical power of the aggressor against other powers it considers a threat to its survival. From this point of view, some might justify Russian aggression as a pre-emptive war, but that does not make it any less imperialist, since it is implemented to re-establish what the Prussians called lebensraum, the doctrine of living space that the Nazis adopted to justify invading neighbouring states that they considered their zones of influence.
The same arguments Hitler used to annex Austria (language, culture and common history) are what Putin has used to try to crush Ukraine. If for one the construction of Greater Germany was the justifying meta-narrative, for the other the reconstruction of Greater Russia is his historical mission to which the other peoples of Central Europe must bow.
To the geopolitical voracity must also be added Putin’s vocation of extermination against the Ukrainian population that has refused to meekly obey the invader’s orders. In the manner of the tyrants of antiquity, he has unleashed a campaign of calculated destruction of the country and society. The blatant bombardment of the civilian population is neither justified by the invader nor deserving of the complicit silences of the supposedly equidistant; nor is the calculated destruction of the productive capacity of one of the world’s breadbaskets. The policy of scorched earth in cities and countryside practised by the satrap in Moscow is the same as that applied by other imperial powers to punish the resistance of the peoples and to send a message to those who dared to oppose his expansionist plans.
Regardless of whether one is for or against Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO, it is the result of the will of the Ukrainian people, which has been endorsed in successive elections of national authorities and - most clearly - in the rejection of the invaders. In accordance with international law, no foreign ruler, no matter how many atomic weapons it has, can set itself up as the supra-sovereign of Ukraine to impose on it a national security policy that would violate its independence.
Anti-imperialism from its origins has been essentially anti-colonialist and left-wing, in frank rejection of the expansionist policies of the old European empires in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Later it extended to the rejection of American imperialism which, as the hegemonic power in the world, became its counterpart in international politics. Anti-imperialism was, par excellence, a position of the left against US imperialism in its threefold expression: military, geopolitical and financial. If you were left, you were anti-imperialist and vice versa. Until the Soviet Union invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The latter divided the world’s left, one current of which coined the term social-imperialism to differentiate it from the capitalist version.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the gradual conversion of China into state capitalism left the dogmatic left without a point of reference, which, far from resetting itself and recognising the entry of the Russian and Chinese regimes into the family of imperialism, was left without doctrine or praxis. This Arabian left (red on the outside, white in the brain) was once again caught off-guard by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Why is there blindness in a certain supposedly anti-imperialist left to recognise the atrocities committed by a regime like the Russian regime, which can neither claim the ideological foundations of yesteryear nor pretend to be an alternative to world capitalism? Why do they refuse to accept that the Russia of today is yet another cathedral of the most predatory capitalism, sustained by oligarchs of the highest phase of the most savage capitalism, in finance and in strategic resources like oil, gas and grain? Why does the fossilised left not want to learn of the ample evidence that the Moscow regime is not only not left-wing but is the main promoter of far-right parties and governments such as the Hungarian one, and protector of bloodthirsty theocracies such as Iran’s?
The hypocrisy with which they view the genocide against the Ukrainian people is unacceptable, the fact that they turn a blind eye to the daily massacres against the population and hide in the face of the destruction of a country which only wanted to exercise its right to self-determination. However, they have more than enough guts to call for sanctions against the aggressor to be lifted and to condemn the provision of arms to those attacked.
As with the invasion of Czechoslovakia, Putin’s war against Ukraine will be a watershed of anti-imperialism. Never mind equidistant positions, complicit neutrality or “brainy” geopolitical arguments, the champions of anti-imperialism are missing an opportunity every day to stand by Ukraine. It is there and now. Posterior positions will be the best proof of the double standards they have been dragging along for many years. No double standards, no nuances: if you are anti-imperialist, you are with Ukraine.
Certainly, Uncle Ho’s phrase is still valid in the face of old and new tyrannies and old and new imperialisms.