Paul Street and other respectable North American leftists are fixated on the role of “fascism” in Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine. Yes, Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian, right-wing, nationalist but liberal North American leaders have in fact invaded far more sovereign nations.
In 1999 one of Canada’s least fascistic prime ministers, Jean Chretien, and his uber liberal foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days. Another Liberal prime minister, Paul Martin, dispatched troops to occupy Afghanistan and overthrow Haiti’s elected government. Stephen Harper bombed Libya with unanimous support in the House of Commons (Green leader Elizabeth May dissented in a second vote). He also bombed Syria/Iraq.
Was Martin or Harper a fascist? How about the supposedly leftist NDP MPs who backed a number of these wars?
The most fascistic recent US president was comparatively restrained in his international violence. Whatever one thinks of Donald Trump’s climate, nuclear, Palestine, Venezuela, China, etc. policies he didn’t start any major wars. Other fascistic leaders such as Augusto Pinochet were not particularly violent outside of their country. At the same time many liberal leaders (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, etc.) have been warmongers.
Blaming Russia’s invasion on fascism shuts down rational discussion. It’s a way of saying Vladimir Putin is pure evil. Rather than interrogate Russian fascism, a US writer would do better to look at the Joint Statement on the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership signed September 1. As Noam Chomsky recently pointed out, “the statement was another purposeful exercise in poking the bear in the eye” and “a constructive program would be about the opposite of” it.
NATO expansion and deployments across Eastern Europe, as well as Washington ripping up arms control measures and stationing belligerent weapons systems in former Warsaw Pact nations, and the 2014 North America backed regime change that led to an eight-year war help make sense of Russia’s invasion. In response to these provocative measures, a highly militaristic country with a long imperial history, invaded its neighbour. Putin’s actions are brutal and a flagrant violation of international law but not wildly irrational.
Street is correct in criticizing a small number of left voices, who religiously treat their interpretation of Vladimir Lenin’s 1916 Imperialism — The Highest Stage of Capitalism, as a sort of word of god on the subject, and refuse to call Russia’s war imperialistic. If sending 100,000 troops to attack your neighbour, which has not sent any troops or missiles your way, is not a form of imperialism then the word has little meaning.
Still, North American activists should focus on their governments’ escalation and the world’s leading purveyor of violence. Additionally, a multi polar world is desirable. But not through wars that drive 10 million from their homes. On both moral and strategic grounds, we have to condemn policies so clearly antithetical to peace, sovereignty and international law.
There is an element of the Russia-is-not-imperialist logic that takes a highly theoretical, even semantic, form. The idea is that only leading capitalist nations can be “imperialist”. Yet with one of the lower GDP’s in the world, Rwanda has been an imperialist bully towards its neighbour for a quarter century. In 1996 Rwandan forces marched 1,500 km to topple the regime in Kinshasa and then re-invaded after the Congolese government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. This led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003, which left millions dead. Since then, Rwanda and its proxies have repeatedly invaded eastern Congo. Rwanda has become a major exporter of Coltan and some other minerals that are barely extracted in its territory. The US, Canada and others have, of course, assisted the Rwandan elite’s pillaging of Congolese resources but that doesn’t change the fact that large numbers of Congolese consider their neighbour an imperial bully.
As in the Congo, the views of Ukrainians matter. With the exception of the Donbas and maybe other small pockets of the country the vast majority of Ukrainians seem to oppose Russia’s invasion.
North American policy towards Russia is exceptionally belligerent, but Russian violence in Ukraine is appalling.
To be successful, leftists must exist in the real world, not in the “how many angels can fit on the tip of a needle” clerical debates of some self-described Marxist-Leninists.