Ukraine: the Far Left is almost right

18 Mar

Here in slightly abridged form is how Caitlin Johnstone begins her post today:

I am in awe at the US propaganda machine. The global north has been perfectly aligned with cold war agendas of securing US unipolar dominance by an unprecedented propaganda and censorship campaign.

There’s nothing intrinsic in the invasion of Ukraine which says Russia must be throttled by unheard-of levels of economic warfare from DC-loyal governments. A huge international consensus had to be manufactured, and the public dragged along. Absolutely incredible.

Controlling the global narratives via Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and plutocratic “news” outlets, 1  the US empire has supplanted international law and got the West moving in a certain way with the consent of the governed. The human species is led like a dog on a leash by a mind control system of unparalleled and unprecedented sophistication that hardly anyone even notices. Imperial propaganda is the single most overlooked and underappreciated aspect of our society.

I agree. I too am in awe of a propaganda machine which can paint black white, up down and arse elbow. More impressive yet, it can – like its twin sister, advertising – leave folk with the firm conviction that the views they hold of Russia, like their ‘choices’ in the market place, were arrived at through their own fiercely independent thought processes.

Maybe I’m just a contrarian – a trait which, like any other, has its dangers – but in respect of the propaganda blitz on Ukraine I find myself at odds with three broadly identifiable groups.


The largest by a landslide is that dog-on-a-leash depicted, accurately if unflatteringly, by Caitlin. For this group, Russia – its president in particular – is the devil incarnate. That has been so for decades but the animosity went into overdrive three weeks ago. Three weeks in which all media have carried searing images of the suffering which war by its very nature brings: in Ukraine as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and, though this too is airbrushed out, Donbass and Luhansk.

Like a good few other counter-voices, I do my tiny bit to broaden the perspective: to say, ‘hey, this didn’t come out of nowhere’. I needn’t repeat my arguments here. They have graced this site since early February. Some things I got wrong. I didn’t foresee – call it military ignorance – the invasion itself, and still say the Kremlin came to the decision with great reluctance. 2 But on all that led to it – decades of insults, broken promises and threats on post Yeltsin Russia … the Maidan Coup of 2014 and subsequent war on Donbass (whose harrowing images did not fill our TV screens) … the grip on Ukraine of its small but powerful Nazi tendency – these things I did get right. For the wider public, on the other hand, they scarcely registered. The media machine kept them out of sight hence out of mind.


There’s a second group though. One I see eye to eye with on most aspects of this. This group does acknowledge the US Empire’s evil role, and the Goebbelsian role of corporate media in getting most Westerners behind it. But they fold into their denunciations, often more forcefully eloquent than my own, a caveat damning of “Russian aggression”.

On this site and elsewhere I’ve asked those in this group, given the broader assessment they and I share, to set out the alternative course(s) of action Moscow could and should have taken.

So far I’ve gotten no reply. Believe me, I’m not of fixed mindset on this. If you know of some other way Moscow could have addressed a threat Washington would not for a second have tolerated, please do let me in on it.


The third group I also see eye to eye with on most aspects of this. This group, the smallest by far, is what I alternatively call the far Left, Marx-Leninist Left or Vanguardist Left. They do have an answer of sorts to the question I put to the second group. It is that workers of the world rise up and overthrow all forms of capitalism, including Russia’s and – overlooking the small fact of its having in a single generation  raised 730 million people from dire poverty – China’s.

I’m all for international socialism – the only kind that makes any real sense – but I’m a tad more forgiving than this third group of men like Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov; men who appear to have concluded that the workers of the world will be sitting this one out.

Men who have concluded that in the face of this situation …

… and this one …

… Russia is on her own.


Nevertheless, I repeat, on most aspects of this terrifying situation I see eye to eye with both the second and third group. Do bear that in mind when you read this piece from WSWS – its hosts decidedly in Group 3 – just yesterday. I agree with all it says, bar one paragraph and a phrase or two elsewhere. No need for me to highlight these. You’ll know them when you get there.

The US arming of Ukraine and the preparations for war

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden gave a speech announcing the deployment of $1 billion in weapons to Ukraine, including combat drones and long-range anti-aircraft systems, for use in Ukraine’s war with Russia.

Making no mention of ongoing efforts to find a diplomatic settlement to the war, Biden warned that the United States should be prepared for “a long and difficult battle.”

Biden announced that Ukraine would receive 9,000 anti-armor systems, 800 anti-aircraft systems, 7,000 small arms and 20 million rounds in ammunition. US officials subsequently clarified that they would provide Ukraine with offensive drones and Soviet-era long-range anti-aircraft missiles.

But the most significant aspect of the speech was Biden’s statement regarding the background of the war, which exposes the extent to which the US had systematically prepared Ukraine for the conflict with Russia.

Biden presented a narrative of a years-long proxy conflict, in which the United States has been pumping billions of dollars in weapons into Ukraine. “In fact, we started our assistance to Ukraine before this war began,” Biden said.

We sent Ukraine more security assistance last year—$650 million in weapons, including anti-air and anti-armor equipment before the invasion—more than we had ever provided before. So when the invasion began, they already had in their hands the kinds of weapons they needed to counter Russian advances.

And once the war started, we immediately rushed $350 million in additional aid to further address their needs: hundreds of anti-air systems, thousands of anti-tank weapons, transport helicopters, armed patrol boats, and other high-mobility vehicles, radar systems that help track incoming artillery and unmanned drones, secure communications equipment and tactical gear, satellite imagery and—and analysis capacity. And it’s clearly helped Ukraine inflict dramatic losses on Russian forces.

These statements refute the media’s presentation of Ukraine as a small and hapless nation suddenly set upon by a ruthless larger power.

The Ukrainian military, assisted by US advisers working within the country, was ready for war, which the Biden administration instigated. Ukrainian civilians caught in the crossfire were written off as the expendable losses of US imperialism’s anti-Russia strategy. The very fact that Ukraine is not a member of NATO has allowed it to be used as a proxy, armed to the teeth and used to bait the Russian government into its disastrous and deadly invasion.

Understanding the background of the war is not the same as condoning the Russian invasion, which is as strategically imbecilic as it is politically reactionary. It was the desperate response of the bankrupt regime that emerged from the dissolution of the USSR.

But it is necessary to refute the lying narrative within which this war—which has cost thousands of lives and can still escalate into a nuclear war—has been framed by the propaganda organs of the US and NATO powers.

In 2013, then-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland reported that the United States had spent $5 billion to help Ukraine “achieve its European aspirations and other goals.”

The outcome of this influx of cash and more direct forms of intervention by the imperialist powers was the 2014 US-backed coup, led by fascist forces like Svoboda and the Right Sector.

Within months, the Ukrainian parliament renounced its country’s non-aligned status and announced plans to deepen its cooperation with NATO “in order to achieve the criteria which are required for membership in the alliance.”

The 2014 coup triggered the secession of Donetsk and Lugansk in Eastern Ukraine, as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a mostly Russian-speaking region, following a referendum.

In an effort to contain the war raging in Eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk and Lugansk republics signed a ceasefire known as the Minsk agreements, which have been systematically under siege in subsequent years.

Despite the ceasefire, the United States continued to pump billions of dollars in weapons into Ukraine and to actively train its military.

A critical inflection point in this process was the first impeachment of Donald Trump, which centered around allegations that Trump predicated the disbursement of US weapons to Ukraine on Zelensky ordering an investigation of Biden’s son, Hunter, who received approximately $1 million per year for sitting on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

During the impeachment, it became clear just how central Ukraine was to US geopolitical strategy. In her testimony, former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich declared that Ukraine, “with an enormous land mass and a large population, has the potential to be a significant… force multiplier on the security side… And now Ukraine is a battleground for great power competition with a hot war for the control of territory and a hybrid war to control Ukraine’s leadership.”

As the impeachment was taking place, the United States was withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and developing medium-range nuclear weapons that could reach Russia’s borders from Eastern Europe or even Ukraine. The withdrawal from the INF treaty was a critical element of the US preparations for “great-power competition,” which the 2018 national security strategy document deemed the “primary concern in US national security.”

Biden’s comments clearly indicate that last year saw a major escalation in military assistance to Ukraine, with the US giving Ukraine, according to Biden, more military aid “than we had ever provided before.”

A key turning point that year was the US-Ukraine Strategic Partnership, announced on September 1, 2021, which declared that the US would “never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea” and “intends to support Ukraine’s effort to counter armed aggression.” The strategic partnership effectively endorsed the doctrine, codified in a Ukrainian state strategy document in March 2021, for Ukraine to “recover” Crimea and the Donbas, by force if necessary.

In announcing the “strategic partnership,” the White House noted that “The United States has committed $2.5 billion in support of Ukraine’s forces since 2014, including more than $400 million this year alone.”

As the US continued pumping billions of dollars in arms sales into Ukraine, Russia published a set of demands for security guarantees last December, including that Ukraine would not become a member of NATO. In subsequent interviews, Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that Ukraine’s admission to NATO would make war inevitable.

The Biden administration refused to accept Russia’s demands for security guarantees, goading Russia to take this action. As Biden declared in December, “I don’t accept anybody’s red lines.”

This antecedent history explains the confidence with which the White House predicted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As Biden put it on January 20, “My guess is he will move in. He has to do something.” If Biden was able to predict this situation so directly, it was because his administration worked to bring about this outcome.

* * *

  1. As I argue repeatedly, plutocratic ownership is only half the story. Dependency on advertising is the other half of news media’s systemic inability to prioritise serving truth over serving power.
  2. On Kremlin reluctance to invade Ukraine there’s a striking parallel with the Soviet invasion of another country on its border, Afghanistan. (In both cases the West was setting a trap, hoping to give first the USSR, and now a Russia refusing to submit to US hegemony, what Zbigniew Brzezinski would brag of as its very own Vietnam. In both cases the leadership in Moscow saw the trap. And in both cases, seeing the trap did not (as per my question to the second and third groups) afford the luxury of a less perilous course of action.) The accelerated supply of arms into Ukraine is not to help that country’s people – on the contrary, besides risking WW3 it will prolong the agony – but to bog down a DC-defiant state which, unlike the other DC-defiant states of this century, is too powerful to be broken by “shock and awe” – in a bloody quagmire.

25 Replies to “Ukraine: the Far Left is almost right

    • Putin as convenient scapegoat for deprivations that were coming anyway!

      Yes, that’s an aspect of the matter I’ve said little about so far.

  1. Understanding the background of the war is not the same as condoning the Russian invasion, which is as strategically imbecilic as it is politically reactionary. It was the desperate response of the bankrupt regime that emerged from the dissolution of the USSR…

    I ‘d like to see their explanation of “strategically imbecilic .” It seems strategically obvious to me. And what does “politically reactionary” mean? That the Kremlin ought to have issued a call for World Revolution?

    But they are right about it being a “desperate response”: there was nothing else for Russia to do except surrender and continue sending select virgins to Wall Street every year.

    The problem with the WSWS is that it misunderstands imperialism and that it is, and always has been, central to capitalism as a system. Imperialism was more than just a quick way of raising a stake to play class war with it is central to and inseparable from Capitalism.

    And what is at stake here- in the humbling of America- is the system itself. If Russia prevails, NATO crumbles and America slips back over the Atlantic with its tail tucked up between its legs all will be changed. Where is Yeats when we need him?

    • That phrase, strategically imbecilic, leaps right out at the reader, no? Maybe the WSWS writer got carried away by his own rhetoric. As a writer I know the temptation.

      Or maybe WSWS is awash with armchair generals.

      • Good point. I think the hallmark of good writing isn’t the dazzling verbal gymnastics but knowing when NOT to use it. I only wish someone had told Theodor Adorno.

  2. The question arises in the context of the position exemplified by the WSWS of not so much how many Divisions the Papacy has at its disposal but more how many Divisions* are available to the ‘International Working Class’?

    Who at the moment look like being unable to successfully prevail against P&O never mind any single entity on its own between the Azov Battalion, Right Sector and C16 (whatever it’s called). Where were they when the Donbass was being shelled, mined and full of sniper fire murdering civilians regarded by these ‘workers’ as Russian untermenscen? Last time I looked the tut tutting of a few words in an article were, and always I’ll be, less effective ammunition in the face of such stark realities than two hands clapping to simulate a light machine gun (and yes, I did see that happen on a exercise I was involved in).

    But then it’s not those pontificating with moralistic words who are doing the dying and under such stresses. Just where TF were these people and their imaginary Divisions when they were needed in the Ukraine?

    The notion that ‘The International Working Class’ is in any shape, after over a century of getting nowhere near the explicit and implicit objectives, of achieving such a position in the face of forces whose position is our way and our narrative or we wipe out life across the entire planet makes Don Quixote look a realist in comparison.

    In this regard there is no difference whatsoever here between self declared ‘left’ and ‘right.’. Both are nothing more than blowhard armchair general’s totally clueless of real life practicalities. No different from the average twelve year old managerialist in terms of mindset. Mouthing off meaningless, impractical, empty platitudes miles behind the lines in safety and comfort.

    They don’t even have the wherewithal, nous, gumption and moral courage to reach the logical conclusion of their own analysis of the opposition they are asking, nay, demanding, other people put their lives on the line on a daily basis. This issue, global in scope rather than limited to Ukraine and Europe, will not be successfully resolved by fine words but practical application of force, economic and, yes, kinetic, because that’s the only language that the Globalist elites understand and the only method which has a chance of prevail.

    When you are of no practical use, to paraphrase Dylan, you need to get out of the way of those serious about doing the business rather than talking about it for another century.

    * Of course, there is a sense in which the term ‘Divisions’ is applicable in this context. However, I’ll leave that to the Monty Python team.

    • The question arises in the context of the position exemplified by the WSWS of not so much how many Divisions the Papacy has at its disposal but more how many Divisions* are available to the ‘International Working Class’?

      Herr Hitler, I believe, responding to news of the Pope declaring (rather late in the day) against Nazism with the rhetorical question: how many Divisions does he have?

      This is why I no longer take the vanguard left in the west seriously. And having failed to lead revolutions in the imperialist nations, it presumes to lecture others – Syria, Russia and above all China – on how to build twenty-four carat socialism.

  3. Just got to my laptop and read your post. I was totally angered by the rather stupid comment made by WSWS referring to Putin’s back to the wall response to FUKUS deliberate goading. The US wanted a war and were doing everything in their extensive playbook to ensure the war occurred.

    I really am glad I read it here on your site I wouldn’t have been able to contain my wrath at whichever idiot at WSWS wrote this and I don’t care if it is Bill Van Auken. What does the WSWS actually stand for these days? How would having people like the moron who wrote such words benefit ordinary people in the real world – the one that Eastern Russian speaking peoples of the Donbass have been living and dying the last eight years?

    Presumably, since no mention has been made of their suffering and the upheaval of 2 million fleeing over Russia’s borders until they were closed, they are not really “human” ?

    I was talking to a neighbour 2 days ago when she started on about this war and I asked her outright if she thought that the 2 million “Russian speaking” Donbass citizens were somehow not human, because if anyone thinks that way then they are no better than Hitler who also hated Russians as well as Jews.

    The greater savagery here in all this is the sheeple dismissing peoples suffering because they are not the right kind of people and I am truly fed up with Russophobic bigots who know nothing and think that just because they have read or seen the propaganda they are entitled to voice their uninformed opinion in anybody’s company.

    That’s better. I feel almost composed now that I have vented. I imagine my neighbour will want to steer clear of me from now on, probably just as well, she is also a racist whenever I let her get a nasty dig in, which isn’t very often.

    Hope all is well with you and Dave and Bevin and most of your respondents.

    Susan 🙂

    • … stupid comment made by WSWS referring to Putin’s back to the wall response to FUKUS deliberate goading. The US wanted a war and were doing everything in their extensive playbook to ensure the war occurred.


      And in response to your final felicitation, yes I’m well Susan. In spite of all. And as you can see from their responses, there’s life yet in Dave, bevin et al!

  4. Is it reasonable to suspect managed opposition at WSWS?

    As Leninis supposed to have said, “the best way to manage the opposition is to run it yourself”.

    As for propaganda the purpose is not to convince you of anything but to tell you what it is acceptable to say. If you believe the media is full of independent voices then anything they all agree on looks like the general consensus of society and so you will be more inclined to go along with it and keep your doubts to yourself.

    • If you believe the media is full of independent voices then anything they all agree on looks like the general consensus of society

      Or as I would put it:

      If you believe the media is full of independent voices then anything they all agree on looks like the truth, and in this way a general consensus is manufactured.

      And as Chomsky put it:

      The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.

      Because of that, as you say, on issues where media are of one mind it’s easy for those with no sense of how media are systemically beholden to power to conclude they speak a self evident truth. Not that the convergence is around an issue non negotiable to the ruling class.

  5. St Bono has written a poem that contains these lines:

    “Ireland’s sorrow and pain
    Is now the Ukraine
    And St Patrick’s name now Zelenskiy”

    Yes well … What I find interesting is that, for me anyway, the above has the opposite from the effect intended i.e. instead of raising Zelenskiy up to the level of St Patrick, it makes you wonder what St Patrick was REALLY about.

    Incidentally, the media have responded by calling the poem awful. But that may just be another trick to promote it.

  6. Does anyone else read Adam Tooze’s Chartbook? It really is an interesting idea and often contains useful information. This, for example, rather sums up the state of the organised Class war in the world’s largest economy and the bastion of what is called Freedom

    ” …Last fall the largest industrial dispute across the workplaces of the United States was the graduate strike on the campus of Columbia University…”

  7. It’s so fucking pathetic. I just overheard on the news: “Zelensky, who is Jewish, compared the behaviour of the Russians to that of the Nazi Party in the 1940s.” Finger pointing moral evaluations for morons.

  8. I was reading Dostoevsky and on finding references to Jewish matters realised that it would be easy to take any of this as indications of anti-Semitism just as it would be easy to present Papageno’s aria in The Magic Flute as the song of a rapist. And the slimy propagandists above would not hesitate to carry out such smears to denigrate entire reputations and cultures in the service of warmongering to further their power games. These creatures are absolute nihilists.

  9. Meanwhile, the self defining Liberal/Progressive mask is not simply slipping it is becoming invisible. And the face it shows reeks of sulpher.

    Here is where Cancel Culture is taking us:

    Compelled speech is becoming routine in academia. On campuses, faculty candidates for hiring and tenure increasingly must attest to their dedication to diversity to be considered for a job or a promotion. At least one university requires professors to post a “land acknowledgement”—a statement declaring that the space being used was originally the habitation of indigenous people—on their syllabus page.

    Now the classical music establishment is adopting that same norm. Russian musicians are being asked to condemn President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to retain jobs and performing engagements in the West. Staying above the fray is not an option, and denouncing the war will not ward off cancellation. Russian musicians must criticize Putin by name or be blacklisted.”

    Even the first man in space is flushed down the IngSoc memory hole incinerator:

    Having already banned Russian cats from participating in feline competitions and Russian winter paralympians this was only a matter of time.

    It cannot be too long before the Russian Language and its alphabet are dropped from the University faculties of the self appointed “International Community” (USA/Canada/Europe/Japan/Australia/New Zealand). Along with Russian recipes from cookery books/competitions; Russian fairy stories; and probably even the word Russia/Russian expunged from the language.

    The Eastern Orthodox Church will most likely be excommunicated and declared a tool of Satan and its not beyond the realms of fantasy in the present climate and its trajectory for the ancient myth of being allowed to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow from Chester or Hereford is revived, polished up for the present age, and applied to anyone found to be a Slav.

    On the subject of mythology, Zone A (The Collective West) seems to be using the ‘Wise Men of Gotham’ as its Template. The blowback from the unprecedented level of sanctions being just one aspect of cutting off everyone else’s nose to spite your face:

    I’ve even had to switch the football off over the weekend such is the orchestrated level of mind manipulation taking place – like turkey’s being encouraged to invent Christmas.

  10. “Politically reactionary”
    Only the peoples martyrs glorious death under imperialist fire is enough “leftwing” for the poseurs here, this happens if one mistakes life for a hollywood movie

  11. Fuckin war and another 100 fucking billion

    You , Philio are one more argument for digital press for the
    internet as the ultimate AGORA, literally, marketplace of ideas

    Just last evening i was thinking about the Superhero Blowhard , Bernard Henry Levy, whom i first encountered in the 1980’s in Ophuls’ The troubles we’ve seen, rappelling ex machina into the Bosnian War, and was trying to remember stsuff he’d said, then i go on Youtube and find an hour of his most unbridled effusions, dripping with that intellectual musk oil of which a few drops are said to be more lethal than napalm

    Yes Pope Bernard I of EUROPA, said to secretly pleasure his ass with Ratziger’s rosary

    I think that is much much better than the “legacy media” which no longer exists

    I just watched a press conference on evening news in which a member of the WH press corps, which appears to be a double row of women in their twenties, all asked Biden the same question, over and over

    “whenya gonna bomb..whenya giving em jets, whenya imposing a no fly zone”

    One blondie asked the following question, which i am not inventing…she did say it, and i heard it, and she is an aBC WHP correspondent!

    “Since Ukraine is a member of NATO and shares a border with Europe……….”

    These are very very dark times for “the west” **. snort giggle
    where is the Raytheon Trannyboy who can succor us in this hour of darkness?

    Maybe podggy fatface Vindemann, the cold war asstoy who “defied trump” can lead an armor division

    Maybe Sean Penn can take his Hurrican Katrina outboard to Odessa and be an admiral in the UKranian Navy…he has beaten up a lot of stuntmen and could turn the tide of any war

    In a very emblematic exchange between Simon Schama and Levy in a Bourgeois synagogue on 92nd street, Shama actually said this:

    “Outside of the 92nd street Y, beyond NY, there is a very bitter reality….”

    He must have been referring to Connecticut, right?

    the killer beavers and other threats

    ** Ithink they should stop calling it “the west” and just refer to to a space encompassing Manhattan, Kiev, Isatnbul and Punjab as “the West Wing”

  12. Sean Penn on the deck of the USS West Wing staring steely eyed into the Black Sea fog
    ” It’s Ivan, admiral,We’re in torpedo range”
    “Fuck the torpedos,” says admiral Penn, “ill chew the wipers off that destroyer”
    “No wipers, sir”
    “Alright sailor, I’ve been here before…get me twenty mountain dew and a pillowcase”

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