Is Lula a pro-Russian “tankie”? Should the Canadian left echo or marginalize his outlook on Ukraine?
Last week Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called on the US and other countries to “stop supplyingweapons and encouraging war” in Ukraine. He said, “the United States needs to stop encouraging war and start talking about peace; the European Union needs to start talking about peace so that we can convince Putin and Zelensky that peace is in the interest of everyone and that war is only interesting, for now, to the two of them.”
The Brazilian president wants to establish a group of like-minded leaders, including India, China and Indonesia, “who want peace, a word that has so far been used very little.” As part of this effort, a top adviser recently traveled to Moscow and Lula spoke with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to test the waters for negotiations. Afterwards Brazilia suggested that ending the war required a commitment that Ukraine would not join NATO and that Crimea would remain under Russian control.
It’s rare for leaders of Canada’s left to suggest that arms donations – Ottawa announced $100 million more in guns and other military support over the past 10 days – are fueling the fighting. Even fewer prominent leftists have blamed Canada’s push for NATO expansion as contributing to provoking the conflict while raising the specter of territorial concessions is heresy.
Even if she spoke Portuguese NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson wouldn’t be able to have a productive conversation with probably the world’s best-known leftist on Ukraine. McPherson’s preferred talking point is that Russia is committing genocide. Some members of the NDP caucus openly agree with McPherson’s anti-negotiations, pro-proxy war, stance while those who may not (Matthew Green, Niki Ashton and Leah Gazan) remain silent.
Green party co-leaders Elizabeth May and Jonathan Pedneault are only slightly better positioned to discuss the war with the Brazilian president. Despite the party’s constitutional commitment to nonviolence, they’ve backed sending over $2 billion in arms to fight the Russian military and have expressed opposition to negotiations. Following on the heels of Justin Trudeau, Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Anthony Blinken, Melanie Joly, etc., Pedneault recently traveled to Ukraine in what he labeled a “democracy” support mission.
For their part, Canadian unions have also largely endorsed the NATO proxy war. At the end of last year the British Columbia Federation of Labour passed a resolution that aligned the labour body with NATO and the political right in Ukraine. Unifor, CUPE, United Steelworkers, UFCW and PSAC have all stayed silent on Ottawa’s contribution to the proxy war and push to expand NATO. (A May Canadian Union of Postal Workers statement noted, “we oppose both the invasion and the NATO expansionist agenda that contributes to the long-building tensions in the region” while the president of the Montréal Council of the Quebec Federation of Labour, Marc-Édouard Joubert, spoke at a February rally demanding “NO to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia! NO to the encirclement of Russia by NATO!”)
An ardent proponent of the NATO proxy war, Maude Barlow also wouldn’t be able to have a productive conversation with Lula on Ukraine. Based on their lack of public criticism of Canadian policy, Jim Stanford, Avi Lewis, Naomi Klein, Joel Harden and other left leaders would avoid discussing the war with Brazil’s president.
In the early months of Russia’s illegal invasion, the author of Imperialist Canada Todd Gordon repeatedly called me a “campist” for discussing Canada’s substantial role in the 2014 coup against elected president Viktor Yanukovych. The editor of Midnight Sun Magazine promoted the absurd idea hat Ukrainian resistance is a national liberation struggle akin to Algeria’s independence movement. (With 400,000 French troops in Algeria in 1956 Canada transferred hundreds of thousands of bullets to that country through NATO’s Mutual Aid Program. In fact, Ottawa donated billions of dollars in arms to France, Belgium and Britain as they violently suppressed independence struggles in Algeria, Vietnam, Kenya and elsewhere.)
Despite NATO pumping in $100 billion in arms and other assistance, some leftists continue to claim that supporting the Canadian government’s position on Ukraine is akin to “opposition to Western wars in Algeria, Vietnam, Africa and elsewhere.” In “What divides the Left over Ukraine peace negotiations?” Toronto based PeaceQuest recently sent its list the above quote from “disarmament advocate” Joe Cirincione, as well as his criticism of “a vocal minority of anti-war activists and left experts” who “blame the United States for the war”. I wonder what Lula would think about a group calling itself PeaceQuest promoting enormous arms transfers while opposing negotiations?
Even before Russia’s invasion, The Tyee published a call for Canada to give weapons to Ukrainian forces fighting the civil war precipitated by Yanukovych’s ouster. I wrote a detailed response, which they refused to publish. Since then the Tyee has published 20 articles supportive of Canadian policy and no serious criticism I could find.
The same for the National Observer. A search of their site found over two dozen articles mentioning Ukraine, which judging by the headlines all support NATO policy (in a profile two months ago they mentioned my position that Russia’s war is “illegal and brutal,” but that Canada contributed to “provoking” it by pushing NATO expansion, helping oust Yanukovych and working to undermine the Minsk II peace accord). After maybe the single-biggest ever release of methane, the ecologically minded website published two articles suggesting Russia was responsible for blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines. “Some European officials and energy experts have said Russia is likely to blame since it directly benefits from higher energy prices and economic anxiety across Europe”, claimed a September article. Another Observer story suggested that only climate change deniers didn’t blame Moscow for blowing up its own pipelines: “Online conspiracy theorists are already alleging it was not Russia that sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines but more likely the eco-zealots at the World Economic Forum, or the White House and European capitals, all part of the larger plot to take away freedom and enforce ‘climate lockdowns.’”
But “23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine countries” privately admitted to the Washington Post in December that there was no evidence of Russian involvement in destroying the pipelines while Seymour Hersh’s investigation pointed the finger at Washington. US officials repeatedly expressed opposition to the Nord Stream pipelines and tellingly only Russia, China and Brazil supported a recent United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the international body to launch an investigation into the pipeline explosion.
In a sign of how the left treats Lula’s position on Ukraine, the usually union and community group friendly Centre St-Pierre in Montréal cancelled the room rental for a recent talk on “What is the truth about the war in Ukraine”. It was supposed to include Université de Montréal History Professor Samir Saul, Christine Dandenault and myself. Québec Green party leader Alex Tyrell was set to chair the meeting. The Centre initially said I was pro-Russia and then cited a possible counter protest for canceling the booking.
The Centre probably would have banned Lula as “pro-Russian”. In fact, only a small number of Canadian activist groups and media publications are willing to platform the position of probably the world’s most well-known leftist.
Lula’s position is not some aberration motivated by a narrow personal or Brazilian interest. Left parties and movements in India, South Africa, the Philippines, etc. have articulated similar positions as have other leftist governments in Latin America. “Even if they end up as scrap in Colombia, we will not hand over Russian weapons to be taken to Ukraine to prolong a war,” declared Gustavo Petro in response to a recent US push for Colombia to sell weapons. The leftist president added, “We are not with either side. We are for peace.”
The Canadian left ought to echo Lula’s position. It is time to end the horrors in Ukraine and reduce the potential of nuclear catastrophe.