In many left forums on Ukraine and the Russian invasion, we tend to find the same uncritical support of one side or the other. On the one hand, Western (Nato, US, etc.) provision of weapons for Zelensky is glossed over, seen as uncontroversial or, at worst, a necessary compromise given the immorality of the Russian invasion. Or, we get uncritical apologies for Putin’s invasion, some even denying that Russia has killed or maimed any Ukrainians except by accident. When the U.S. does it, we call it collateral damage.
Either one side or the other is seen as evil, lying killers. So if it hadn’t been for Nato moving Eastward, Russia would never have acted. This side sees Ukraine as entirely under the spell and control of the Nazi Azov battalion. Conversely, Putin is the new Hitler and the West is united with Ukraine in a holy endeavor to defend democracy. Rarely do we see one post or article condemning both the invasion and the West’s role; it is always one or the other.
The truth is that much of the criticism of the US and Nato is not wrong; as is criticism of the brutality of Russia’s invasion. We can oppose the Russian invasion without forgetting the evil that the US and Nato have committed in the past and continue to commit as well. For example, even if we accept that Russia has acted brutally, we should not avert our eyes from Zelensky practically encouraging a nuclear war. As well, he has moved to silence opposition and media criticism, also mandating military conscription. You can read about military resisters on both sides and in surrounding countries here:
Even if he himself is not an ultra-rightist, there are many oligarchs and rightists around him, and some say his actions are meant to appease them.
Then we have those who feel that it is their duty to apologize for Russia and say that anyone who even accuses it of invading Ukraine is an agent of the CIA and the Military Industrial Complex. They act as if Russia is still the USSR-even if it were, this is hardly a justification for Putin’s actions.
What is worse, wherever one turns, people on either side of the divide attack anyone who is not on board with their analysis. It was like this during the Kosovo war, where even the US supporting Albanian ultra nationalists over a pacifist activist was deemed ok by some Western leftists, and even Susan Sontag was on the side of the West’s so-called “Humanitarian Intervention”. U.S. cluster bombs were overlooked by some on the left, while others defended Milošević without any moral justification. Then, like now, the left fought among itself. What have we learned since those days?
Reading the Ukrainian left positions, I admit that the majority I have found are critical of Western leftists who oppose arming the Ukrainian military. I will refrain from judging as I am not living in a country under siege as they are. But it is no exaggeration that this has personally been depressing, although there are some on the left who take a more nuanced position. This has been explored to a degree online, such as here:
But I am more concerned with the Western left lining up to attack one another, all the while ignoring the inconvenient truths on both sides of the two extremes. A fairly decent though imperfect argument by a former Guardian Russia Correspondent can be found below. Though I disagree with him about Kosovo (and he acknowledges there was a lot of debate then), he makes the points I am trying to make much more clearly. Gung-ho against Putin should not mean overlooking Nato/US hypocrisy: https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/12/15/the-left-and-ukraine/
Online forums have always been toxic places but when one side of the left attacks the other, it can become absolutely debilitating. Like the Vietnamese who shot down U.S. bombers, those Ukrainians taking up guns and more against Putin’s military may have few other options. Though I can not feel smug condemning them as a pacifist, neither can I feel good about American bombs killing Russian conscripts and civilians.
I have (multiple times) left, rejoined, and again left forums associated with groups like Veterans for Peace because of the endless blind-spot comments that those of us who oppose U.S. aid to Ukraine are Putin apologists or-conversely-that those of us who criticize the Russian invasion are CIA dupes. I choose this group for several reasons. I am proud to know of few of its members who have not only spoken out against recent U.S. wars they themselves were part of, but have also travelled to places like Israel and Palestine to condemn repression and brutality against an occupied people. Some of them have also visited Okinawa in solidarity with the resistance movement against American bases.
It is these bases which may be used in a not-so-distant war against China or Russia (as they have in all previous wars including Vietnam) in order to keep weapons manufacturers and their investors, a group which includes the likes of Anthony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, in the dough. Something that should be considered by those all too willing to endorse the arming of the Ukrainian resistance to Russia. Will jumping on the arms bandwagon spell an end to the anti-war movement itself and mean that Okinawans and Palestinians must henceforth go it alone?
Sadly, one of the most pro-Putin apologists I know on the Veterans for Peace forum is a Japan-raised American translator who actually seems to believe Russian propaganda 100 percent and is completely devoid of any empathy for the Ukrainians suffering under the invasion, much less Russian anti-war activists.
Attempting to address the blind spots of the online sectarian proponents of one side or the other brings derision or name calling. It makes one want to run and hide. But that does nothing for the victims of Putin’s invasion, or for those who are victims of American military violence or those of its client states like Saudi Arabia, or even Japan which is using the invasion, Chinese assertiveness toward Taiwan and its own denial of history including sex slavery to stir up antagonism against those countries and move towards its long-cherished goal of remilitarization and the end of its Peace constitution.
Pro Putin and pro American military positions on the part of some members of peace organizations may just bring that day closer.
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paul arenson says
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