Abby Martin and Brian Becker discuss the Ukraine war and what it means for the anti-war movement.
00:00 – Introducing Brian Becker
02:15 – US unipolar authority & capitalist takeover of Russia
12:30 – NATO expansion and wars since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s red line & failed negotiations
21:52 – Russia intervention in Syria to defend Assad from US war
28:00 – Explanation of 2014 coup
33:26 – US role in regime change, origin of struggle in East Ukraine, Crimea
40:57 – Civil war in Donetsk & Luhansk, US trains and arms insurgency against Russians
40:50 – “Denazifying Ukraine” Truth about Nazi influence in Ukraine
45:30 – Why US fueled conflict in East Ukraine
47:00 – Canceling the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty & Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
51:08 – Abby’s views as an anti-war activist
54:17 – Putin’s anti-communist speech
1:05:07 – Putin justification for the invasion
1:07:03 – Western media hypocrisy & Eurocentrism
1:10:29 – Russia invasion for regime change in Ukraine
1:15:23 – Costs/benefits of war for Russia
1:18:00 – Why US is waging war with Russia
1:23:48 – Tectonic shift in global politics & risks of war in a multipolar world
1:29:53 – Why disbanding NATO is important anti-war demand
1:35:42 – Minsk agreement explanation
1:37:26 – Obama vs Trump policy, Biden cabinet instrumental in coup
1:46:01 – Impact of sanctions on Russia & countries dependent on Russia
1:49:13 – How anti-war activists can prepare for what’s next
Get EXCLUSIVE Empire Files content, and keep us independent and ad-free, at https://www.patreon.com/empirefiles
MERCH // https://empirefiles.store
Abby Martin (AM): And we are live, right? We’re live on both Breakthrough News and Empire Files. Mike, to confirm? I think we are. All right. Good to go. Thank you so much for coming on the program, Brian Becker.
Brian Becker (BB): Glad to be here. Glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
AM: So, as we know, earlier this week, President Putin of Russia announced an invasion, military operations, in the eastern part of Ukraine. We’re gonna get into all of these details, all of the context, but I wanted to just establish that we are doing a very important livestream today with Brian Becker, who is a longtime anti-war organizer, leader. He was a youth organizer against the Vietnam War. He’s participated in organizing anti-war movements his entire life, from Vietnam, leading mass protests against the Gulf War, and, of course, the immediate days following 9/11, against the war in Afghanistan, a principal organizer of rallies against the war in Iraq. Brian is also the author of a book called “Imperialism in the 21st Century,” which will, of course, come into our discussion later on. But first, we’re going to get into what exactly is going on. What precipitated all of this? What led to this tinderbox situation that Putin just threw a match into? And we’re gonna lay all this out. And then we’re gonna get to the bigger picture questions: How did we get here? Where do we go from here? And what do we need to know as people in this movement who oppose war and want to call for peace? Before we begin, I want to give people the opportunity to write questions into the chat. We’re going to be fielding those questions throughout the discussion that Mike Prysner, also from The Empire Files, is going to be giving me real time. So, please feel free to chime in. This is going to be an interactive discussion, and we’re going to be addressing those throughout this conversation. Thank you so much for joining us with this very, very important conversation that we’re about to have. Brian, let’s get started.
BB: Sure. So, of course, Abby, the world is in a state of shock in many ways because—even those who have been watching the events very, very closely for the past three or four months as this crisis has evolved—I don’t think anyone anticipated that the Russian government would launch a full-scale military intervention—not simply in the eastern part of Ukraine, in the Donbass, or in the two independent people’s republics that Russia earlier recognized this week after eight years of not recognizing them, but an intervention that’s from the north, the south, and the east. In other words, almost all but one side, not the western side of Ukraine, but the rest has been the subject of a very large-scale and obviously long-planned Russian military intervention. I think that it’s important for our audience, especially those in the United States—who are getting almost all of their news from CNN, or The New York Times, or The Washington Post, meaning the capitalist-owned media, which is so tied into the military-industrial complex and so functions as an echo chamber for US government policy—but also in Western Europe, who are largely subjected to the same sort of media infrastructure, to have an independent political understanding of what this crisis is about, what caused it, what’s happening right now, and what the likely or possible outcomes are in the coming days and weeks and months. I do believe that we are witnessing, and have witnessed this week, an event that will change global politics. This is an era-shifting event—what’s happening. The Soviet Union collapsed, or was dissolved, in 1991. At the end of 1991, that was 30-plus years ago, the Soviet Union was obviously the second major power in the world. It was the leader of the socialist camp: the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, not to mention the socialist governments in Asia and in Cuba. All of them understood that there was a global socialist camp that was in conflict with the Western, US-led imperialist camp. And, while there were defects in that camp—China ultimately left the socialist camp around the time its normalization of relations began with the United States following Richard Nixon’s trip to Shanghai, that was 50 years ago, the Shanghai Communique, literally signed two or three days from now—there was a certain equilibrium between the two camps as a consequence of the Soviets achieving military parity, or near parity—and certainly parity on the nuclear front. There was, at a certain point, an understanding that, should there be a war between the two camps in this bipolar world, there would be mutually assured destruction, that no one could really win a nuclear war. If each side has thousands of nuclear weapons and they’re on airplanes and they’re in submarines and they’re in land-based missile silos, in that nuclear exchange there would be the end of humanity and life on the planet as we know it. This equilibrium of terror between the two sides, mutually assured destruction, in a way functioned as a deterrent to major power conflict. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t wars. There were wars all over the place. There was the Vietnam War, the Korean War. You could go on and on, but there wasn’t sort of a repeat of World War II or World War I—where, in the case of World War II, a hundred million human beings were killed in a matter of five or six years, and the whole existing world order was basically shattered and left in ruins by 1945. There wasn’t that kind of a conflict, but in the 30 years that have elapsed since the collapse or the dissolution or the overthrow of the Soviet Union, and thus the socialist camp, US policy has dramatically shifted. Instead of recognizing the limitations of American power vis-a-vis the two powers facing each other in this equilibrium, the United States policymakers, starting in 1991, established what eventually became the neocon consensus position: that the United States would be able to exercise unipolar authority over the rest of the world, that it would destroy all of the governments whose origin was rooted in the anti-colonial projects of the post-World War II era. The countries that had looked at the socialist camp—even if they weren’t part of it, they looked to it for military, economic, and diplomatic support, and I’m thinking there of Iraq and Libya and Syria and several others—those countries would be targeted for attack. In fact, we witnessed that. We witnessed this giant acceleration, after the end of the Soviet era, of American imperial aggressiveness. But there was sort of an understanding in the 1990s that Russia was now on America’s side, that Boris Yeltsin—who had helped overthrow the Soviet Union, who actually dissolved the Soviet Union illegally in December 1991 in an accord signed with two or three other republic leaders of the Soviet Union, there were fifteen republics in the Soviet Union—was the anti-communist friend of the West. And Russia itself had become completely weakened as a consequence of the overthrow of the Soviet Union. Soviet life expectancy, or Russian life expectancy, decreased six years in six years, between 1991 and 1997. That sort of diminution in life expectancy is unheard of—except during wartime, but this was peacetime. The looting of Soviet public property, the impoverishment of its people, the destruction of what had been the Soviet social and economic infrastructure, as a consequence of the capitalist takeover of Russia and the other former Soviet republics, plunged Russia and its people into dire poverty and into suffering. And it also weakened Russia as a geostrategic player. The United States was, in a way, content with that situation. There was an accord signed between Russia and the United States in 1997 about NATO, about NATO-Russian relations. There had been, before then, the promise by James Baker—who was Secretary of State under the administration of George H.W. Bush—that NATO wouldn’t move one inch eastward. We’ve heard all of that. Those were the promises given. But there are a couple of things, Abby, that I think we have to really pay attention to in terms of why we are where we are right now.
AM: Let me jump in there to frame this because you’re completely right. I want to get more into where we went with Russia from the collapse of the Soviet Union till today and how that’s manifested, because you mentioned something really important. This Cold War-era architecture that was put into place after the dissolution of the Soviet Union that was trying to prevent this mutually assured destruction attitude that dominated generations prior, all of these things were disbanded. All these things were rejected. The entire framework basically fell apart—all of these diplomatic options to prevent the escalation to where we are right now—was rejected. Let’s get into NATO because, of course, this is the main facet, right? This is the underpinning of the failed negotiations that were attempted before this invasion took place. January: Russia met with 30 NATO states in a series of talks to try to deliberate. And Russia’s base concern, among several other concerns, was Ukraine should never join NATO—that no progress on all these other concerns could be made as long as this was not guaranteed. This was rejected. There was no resolution. Russia had a negotiator at the table that basically said, “We are going to militarily react if this is not diplomatically negotiated.” It became untenable. Everyone just thought that they were bluffing, right? I think many officials in the West, who have been predicting this for months and months across corporate media, still thought it was an empty threat. Perhaps they thought they could troll Russia into backing down, maybe, if they did think that Russia was putting this out there. But I think that a lot of them didn’t think Russia would invade—and this includes a lot of Russian experts, Ukrainian officials, even the Defense Minister of Ukraine was saying this was not going to happen. Now you see them following up, a lot of these war hawks from the think tank establishment, saying Putin’s insane, he’s crazy for doing this, even though these same people were saying he’s about to do this for the last six months. This long distrust of Western intelligence, for lying about literally everything to get us into war, I think, made people have this knee-jerk reaction that no, of course this isn’t going to happen. But here we are, Brian. Let’s take a look at the security concerns—namely NATO, the existence of NATO going up to Russia’s doorstep—that led us to this failure of diplomacy. Give us a sense of what NATO is as a force. Why does it exist in the first place? What has it done since the fall of the Soviet Union? And are Russia’s fears of NATO legitimate?
BB: Yeah, that’s the most important thing, because I believe, Abby, that if the US and the other NATO countries, who are basically under the US influence, had taken a different step, had actually said yes to Russia in the last four months on what we have to agree are legitimate Russian security concerns, this would not be happening right now in Ukraine. You are right. This is the crux of the matter—because it’s why we are here. If you look at life from the history of heroes and villains, right now we know Putin is the villain, and all the Western powers, of course, are the good guys. But that deprives those who have that view of actually understanding the historical context, which is everything. So let’s—and, as a Marxist, I discard the history of great men, or the great heroes and villains, as the way to understand history—look at social and political forces that are in conflict with each other that also have a class basis. What is NATO? NATO was formed in 1949, at the Pentagon. It was a consummation of a military alliance of the United States and Britain and France and a few other European countries—did not include Germany at that time. It was too soon after World War II to include a re-militarized, formerly Nazi Germany that had started World War II into a NATO alliance. But eventually that did happen—and that happened in 1955. It was at that time that the Soviet Union—alarmed by the bringing Germany into NATO just 10 years after the German invasion of the Soviet Union had been finally brought to a halt. That invasion, as we know, took 27 million lives of Soviet citizens, not to mention the genocide against Jews and Roma people, gay people. The genocide perpetrated by fascism was brought to an end by the Soviet Union, and its amazing heroism and counter-offensive, but at great cost: 27 million dead. The Americans only lost 400,000—not only, that’s a lot of people dead in World War II. But compare it to 27 million dead. So NATO was formed in 1949. Then, Germany is brought into NATO—and, by West Germany, we mean a lot of nazified Germany, by the way, in terms of the establishment. When the Soviet Union collapses, their version of NATO, the Warsaw Pact—the mirror, the symmetry of a second military alliance representing the socialist camp—is also extinguished. Instead of NATO disappearing, it takes on a different role. It has to find a reason to continue to exist. Why spend all of this money? Why, as Obama demanded and Trump insisted, should the European countries who are members of NATO guarantee that they’ll spend at least two percent of their national budget for death and destruction—otherwise they won’t be NATO members in good standing? It’s a permanent military alliance, and where does NATO go? It invades Afghanistan. Well that’s not part of the North Atlantic. It bombs Libya, also not part of the North Atlantic. Before that, in 1999, it carried out a savage war, which apparently all the Western media has forgotten about. They keep describing what’s going on in Ukraine as the biggest war since the end of World War II in Europe. Well, NATO dropped 28,000 bombs and missiles on Yugoslavia. Again, similarly to what Russia is demanding about Eastern Ukraine, where the Russians are saying, “There’s an abused minority people in the eastern part of Ukraine who are Russian-speaking and we’re going to defend them,” the United States was using the Albanian Muslim population in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, as the pretext to go to war against Yugoslavia. So, here you have war in Yugoslavia, war in Afghanistan, war against Libya. That’s NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The thing that most alarmed Russia after the year 2000, I would say: in 1999, there was a wave of NATO expansion, and some of the former Russian allies and Soviet republics were incorporated into NATO. That included Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania. And then, in 2004, another wave of NATO expansion. But in 2008, NATO had a summit in Bucharest. And at that summit, the United States insisted—and, this is extremely important, France and Germany dissented from the American position—that the US was going to bring Ukraine and Georgia, two important former Soviet republics and principal allies of Russia, into NATO. The Russians, at that point, who had tolerated the first and second wave of NATO expansion in 1999 and 2004, said, “No, we’re not going to allow either Georgia or Ukraine to come into NATO because that presents an existential threat. And remember that Bucharest summit was April 2008. The Russians moved into Georgia in August 2008. Remember there was a battle in South Ossetia. That’s when the Russians moved in. It was quite clear that, for Russia, this was a red line. They were not going to let Georgia come into NATO. Now, everything between 2008 and 2014 was kind of quiet. Nothing really happened. But in 2014, of course, Abby, as you know, and we can talk about, the Maidan coup d’etat that destroyed a government, the Yanukovych government, corrupt but democratically elected government, that was basically saying: “We’re between East and West. Let’s be neutral. We are neutral. We want to have good relations with the EU but we want to have good relations with Russia. We don’t want to take sides and we don’t want NATO membership.” That government was overthrown by a Nazi-led—and I mean it, literally Nazi and neo-Nazi-led—coup d’etat, which John McCain and Victoria Nuland, Republicans and Democrats, saluted as a great day for Ukrainian democracy. That’s when everything shifts, because, from then on, Russia knows that Ukraine will be, eventually, admitted into NATO.
AM: Yeah. It became a fertile ground, then, for the beginning of the end, which was exactly the intent for the US-backed operation there that led to the Nazi-led coup. I wanted to point out a couple things to corroborate your point. Just the fact that the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations—back during the Clinton administration, signed in 1997—basically promised that NATO would not expand into Eastern Europe, not an inch. There was a classified memo—released months prior to the invasion of Georgia, sent directly to high-profile US officials, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State—a Wikileak cable that was released saying that this is going to cause an unpredictable and uncontrollable consequence that will seriously affect Russia’s national security interests. This was years before what happened in 2014. And, as you mentioned, the US was not always hostile with Russia. Let’s go back to this decade of time and how it transpired over the course of the War on Terror. You mentioned the US meddling in the Yeltsin elections, propping up Yeltsin, the looting of the post-Soviet economy, just the dire state of affairs for Russian people, the hardships that they faced throughout the ‘90s. Meanwhile, Russia is dealing with their own version of the War on Terror, using the Chechnyans to basically reach out to George W. Bush after 9/11, saying, “We will help you invade Afghanistan,” ironically—given their history with Afghanistan. But then you fast forward to the Iraq War, where Putin said, “Look, we’re not going to support this, this makes no sense,” which, of course, increased the tenuous nature of the relationship. As you mentioned, 2014 was really a breaking point. Talk about the circumstances that led Russia to step in to counter this extremely dire situation. I mean, Obama really was being pushed from all sides, the red line, to put that no-fly zone in Syria, and Putin basically said, “You know, we’re going to step in here.” Can you just explain that context really briefly before we get to the coup?
BB: Yeah, that’s really important, and, again, I’m glad you mentioned and came back to the point that the United States didn’t always look unfavorably at the Russian government after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Remember George W. Bush. He said that he looked into Putin’s eyes and he could see his soul. I’m paraphrasing, but remember that? It sounded like he was kind of interested in Putin. Like, really. He liked Putin. He was his bud. They’re best friends forever. He had this connection to him. And then relations deteriorated in 2008 after Russia moved into Georgia following that Bucharest summit, where NATO said, “We’re going to move Georgia into NATO,” which, of course, means moving nuclear weapons on Russia’s border. Or potentially doing that. So then relations deteriorated. And then Obama wins the election. And the first thing Obama does is he has his Secretary of State, none other than Hillary Clinton, go and meet with Sergey Lavrov. Remember? They brought that great big red button.
AM: Oh, yeah. The Acme-like prop, like Wile E. Coyote.
BB: They said, “Let’s press the big red reset button.” By the way, Lavrov was confused because the State Department is so incompetent that they didn’t get the Russian translation for reset properly. He was looking at the thing, what does this mean? I can’t remember what the term was. But anyway, it wasn’t reset. The point was Obama was trying to improve relations. Remember when Obama was caught on that hot mic when he was talking? I think it was to Medvedev. At one point, he says, “Well look, just wait till we get through the next American election—and then we can improve relations again with Russia.” That was obviously before the 2012 election. So, Obama and Hillary Clinton, at the beginning of the first term of the Obama administration, again looking to Russia. Russia is also included in the G7. The G7 becomes the G8. It’s like the imperialist countries have decided to open their door and have this little junior partner come in: Russia. China’s not included, even though the Chinese economy was taking off at that point. Russia, as a, quote, “European power,” was brought in as well to the G7. The G7 becomes the G8. It looks like maybe things are getting sort of normal between the US and Russia. Russia’s attitude, as you mentioned, they didn’t like the war in Iraq. Putin didn’t, wasn’t for it, but they didn’t do that much to oppose it. When it came to Libya, in 2011, both Russia and China abstained, instead of using their veto, when the US pushed through Resolution 1973—meaning that the UN was authorizing the use of force to protect Libyan civilians in the eastern part of Libya in Benghazi. Of course, that became the fig leaf and the pretext for Britain, France and the United States using NATO to destroy Libya. So, we had all of these appeasement policies on the part of Russia, and also by China. And the US was considering Russia to be sort of a partner of sorts. Everything changes, as you mentioned, then, Abby, in 2013 and 2014. So, what happens? And this is so important. Instead of just thinking of Putin as the evil one and America, or the West, as the good guys, let’s think about what actually happened. The US destroys Libya in the war in 2011. The head of state, Gaddafi, is lynched in the streets, 70-year-old man is lynched in the streets. Hillary Clinton is caught on tape, or wants to be on tape, laughing, saying: “Hahaha. We came. We saw. He died.” Then—she and the hawks in the State Department, including Blinken and Jake Sullivan, the whole current crew—they’re like, “On to Syria!” Now Syria is next. Obama and Clinton and John Kerry, who later becomes Secretary of State after Clinton, are all saying that Assad must go: “We’re gonna do to Syria what we just did to Libya.” Syria is a longtime ally, first of the Soviet Union, and, after the Soviet Union, of Russia. It’s a principal alliance. And after looking at what the United States did with its UN authorization in Libya, which was to destroy the government, the Putin government decided to put its foot down and decided they weren’t going to let the neocons in the US government destroy Syria as they had Libya and as they had Iraq. By the way, in the last week, Putin is referring back to these as very important decisive moments in this evolution of the relationship—and the evolution of his own thinking. That’s the real turning point. Russia enters the Syrian War and says: “We will not allow Assad’s government to be destroyed. Yes, we want to defeat ISIS, but you’re not going to take over Syria as you did Libya and Iraq.” And they win. The Russian intervention—along with the support of Hezbollah and Iranian-supported militia forces—turned the tide, along, of course, with the Syrian Arab Army, which, even though it was majority Sunni, stuck with the Assad government. They turned the tide. They defeat the right-wing terrorists, who are the allies of the United States and Saudi Arabia and Turkey. That’s a decisive moment, and that’s the year before what happens in Maidan.
AM: Exactly. And the next year was the coup, of course, that ousted democratically elected Yanukovych, led by far-right forces. As you mentioned, literal neo-Nazi brigades, regiments, that led a violent uprising. They were completely glorified by the Western media. Apparently, these Western media outlets did not learn, even VICE News—that was infamous for standing in front of these SS symbols on these tanks behind them. Fast-forward to the coverage today and they are still glorifying the Azov Battalion and far-right, ultra-nationalist groups. It is just startling that these outlets just don’t care or haven’t learned or are feigning ignorance. I really can’t explain that away. But the coup was, of course, a really formative moment in the dissolving of the relations between Russia and the US—because you had officials like Victoria Nuland out there talking openly about how we have invested $5 billion dollars in “Ukrainian democracy,” quote-unquote, over the last decade or so. We all know what that’s code for. That’s code for fomenting regime change through organizations—like the NED, USAID—in countries that we want people to rise up and overthrow their governments. You had her, John McCain on the ground meeting with these far-right insurgencies, doing photo ops. It was quite over-the-top. So, it is not hyperbolic to say that this was a US-backed operation—this coup happened. It was very intent to try to throw a wrench in the relations between Ukraine and Russia. You mentioned abandoning that IMF loan in favor of the Russia loan. There was a lot that was going into that. At the time, of course, as the coup unfolded, we had the annexation of Crimea, all of the heat on Russia Today—basically blaming Russia Today as being part and parcel of this operation of Russia meddling in US democracy. It was really the beginning of a whole new wave of Russia-phobia, of this narrative that became front and center: that Putin was this archvillain controlling aspects of US society, really projecting and deflecting away from what the US had been doing for so long. Brian, of course, I was in the middle of it being at Russia Today. It was a very bizarre, surreal experience. One of the questions in the chat that I wanted to throw at you to guide us into this current situation. Several high-ranking ultra-nationalists rose to prominence after the coup, especially in the armed forces. I don’t know where that went after that. A person in the chat is asking: How influential are the Nazi forces? Because this is a big talking point that we’re seeing used by Putin. We can get into his speech and all that in a second, but the main point that’s being peddled out there and repeated is that this is about the denazification of Ukraine. And it is a valid point that Nazis were prominent in the coup and after the coup, but, since then, we have seen another election. Zelensky took power in a democratic election since then—and he’s a Jewish man, and there are a lot of Jewish citizens living in Ukraine. It does seem like there is no nuance given. There’s kind of a cartoonish depiction of “This is a Nazi regime” and “Well, we just got to go take out this Nazi regime.” Comment on that before we get into the fighting in these other regions and, of course, the invasion itself.
BB: I think it might be useful, Abby, you can decide to spend a little bit more time on how Maidan actually unfolded and why it unfolded.
BB: And then we could talk about the role of the fascist wing—because it wasn’t the only wing, certainly it wasn’t the only wing in the protest going on in the center of Kiev. We can talk about them because—as you rightly mentioned, as people are putting in the chat—Putin is now explaining the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or the Russian military intervention there, on the basis that it’s going to demilitarize Ukraine and it’s going to denazify Ukraine. These are two of the main points that are used by Putin to explain or to justify the Russian military action. But I want to go back to what actually happened in Maidan because I think it is important for people to understand and not have a cartoonish understanding of Ukraine or Ukrainian politics. Of course, Nazism and fascism played an important role in Ukraine during World War II, where a section of Ukrainian society fought with the Nazis. Those people, who are part of the far right today, are putting up the banners of the fascist leaders of that time—as if they are the national heroes, they are the George Washingtons of their country. That’s important, but to go back to how the protests start in Maidan. Maidan is the center square in Kiev. The European Union, not the United States, said to Yanukovych—who was this neutral government in Kiev, again, as I said, balancing between East and West, said that he wouldn’t join NATO. They said to Yanukovych: “If you’re going to enter the EU, then you’ve got to do it right now. And we’re not going to bring you in as an EU member. You can come in on what’s called an EU association agreement.” Which meant basically that Ukraine would enter the EU, but under conditions of extreme economic austerity, like what was imposed on the people of Greece—but even worse. Yanukovych said no to that agreement. He didn’t say, “No, I don’t want to be in the EU.” He said: “This agreement is a bad agreement for Ukrainians. We’re already poor. This will make us poorer.” At that moment, protests started—in October and November and December of 2013. Now, at that time, Putin and the Russians were preoccupied with the Sochi Olympics because they were worried there were going to be protests at the Sochi Olympics. They were worried whether there’s going to be disruption. There was a lot of struggle. They were distracted by the Olympics while the West started to pour in huge amounts of support for these protests against Yanukovych, seeing it as a geostrategic opportunity. The people who were coming to Maidan were mainly not fascists. They were mainly people who wanted to be part of Europe. And Europe was giving this ultimatum to Yanukovych: “It’s either now or never. You accept this agreement, this austerity plan, or you’re never coming in. Then you’re going to be with Russia.” A lot of West Ukrainian people—who look to Europe, who consider themselves Eurocentric compared to being Russocentric—didn’t want the Yanukovych government to blow the opportunity. Then there were hard-right elements who were also in those protests—like the Right Sector, like the Azov Brigade, like the other fascist parties. During the whole time, you can see the EU, and then eventually the United States. You mentioned Victoria Nuland, who had been Hillary Clinton’s personal press secretary when she became Secretary of State, and she’s married to a leading neocon, the leader of the neocon movement.
AM: Robert Kagan, yeah.
BB: Robert Kagan. And she then kind of takes over. At that point, she’s Assistant Secretary of State under Clinton. She actually goes to Ukraine. She’s in the square with the protesters. Now, this is a big deal for the protesters because now they feel the full backing of the US government. She’s actually handing out cookies to them. On our podcast, the Socialist Program, which is also available on Breakthrough News, we played the tape of Victoria Nuland talking to other members of the US diplomatic entourage in Kiev right before the coup. And they’re talking about who the next leaders of Ukraine should be. One of them says: “Well, what about this guy who’s in the far right? And what about this guy?” She said, “No, no.” Then, the US ambassador says, “Well, the EU thinks it should be this.” And she says, and pardon my language: “Fuck the EU! It’s going to be Yats. It’s going to be Yats. Yats is going to be the guy.” Now, Yats is Yatsenyuk, who is a pro-US sort of technocrat financier guy. They wanted him to be the new leader of Ukraine because he could connect more with the United States—and he wasn’t tarnished by Nazism. So, the coup happens. By the way, on February 21st, an agreement is signed. Germany’s there. I think Poland’s there. Russia’s there. The United States is there. The opposition, including the mainstream opposition and the fascists and Yanukovych, they’re all there. They sign an agreement on February 21st, and the agreement is basically, “We agree to all the protesters’ demands, we’re going to have early elections,” meaning Yanukovych will probably lose and somebody who’s even more pro-EU will win. There’s going to be a devolution of political authority away from the center into the regions—that’s helpful because Ukraine is a demographically divided country. Yanukovych says yes and agrees to pull the cops out of Maidan. That’s the agreement. The next day, absent a police presence, the fascists storm the parliament, disperse it. The president flees for his life. Victoria Nuland, John McCain say: “This is a great day for Ukraine! This is the greatest day for Ukraine!” This Nazi-led coup d’etat. Think about January 6th. This was January 6th on steroids, because it actually dispersed the parliament and seized the power. And then, a government that was a transitional government under these far-right fascist forces says, “Look, Russia is now banned as an official second language.” They make it clear that they’re a Russophobe, hostile regime. They say, “We’re going to come into NATO.” That’s when the battle in the eastern part of Ukraine—what is Donetsk and Luhansk, and also Crimea—heats up. Because it’s at that moment that the people in the East realize that this government is going to be with NATO and it’s going to be anti-Russia and anti-Russian. An armed struggle starts in the East. And that’s when Putin decides the Black Sea naval base that Russia has in Crimea, which is their biggest base, is not going to be a NATO base with nuclear weapons against Russia. That’s when Putin says, “I’m permitting the referendum,” which, of course, is stage managed by the Russian military to have a referendum in Crimea—but most of the people in Crimea want to be with Russia. They’re mostly Russian-oriented or Russian people or Russian-speaking. And so they vote overwhelmingly in the referendum, and that’s considered to be the invasion by Russia. So, would that have happened, would Crimea have happened, if it hadn’t been for the coup? Would the coup have happened if it wasn’t for the fascists using their muscle? Would the coup have happened if the different international signatories had agreed to the February 21st compromise? None of this would have happened. I say, to the American peace movement and to the American people, if you’re upset and angry about a war in Ukraine, which you should be, you should say that this is the fault of Victoria Nuland and John McCain and the Republican Party and the Democratic Party and the State Department. The only thing that was different between then and now is President Barack Obama was a restraining force on the neocon forces within the US government. Unlike what came later under Trump and Biden, Obama absolutely refused to send weapons to Ukraine after the coup because he knew that Russia would perceive that to be the beginning of the end for Russia, because it would mean that NATO was creating a de facto membership for Ukraine even if it wasn’t formally a member. That’s kind of an important part of this context.
AM: Right, and let’s explain more thoroughly this fighting that’s been ongoing since the coup. The toppling of the government didn’t mark the end of the violence. The fighting continued until the invasion. So, for people who are living in these disputed regions—which was Donetsk and Luhansk, that Donbass is central to—that fighting never stopped. I was shocked to learn that 14,000 people had died since the coup in these regions, that the Ukrainian military has been taking pretty severe action fighting the Russian-backed separatists. Far-right nationalists fighting Russian-backed separatists in these regions. Getting arms funneled to them by Russia and, of course, by the US. The US government has been—openly, as well as covertly. I just saw a clip from Adam Schiff basically bragging about how we’ve used Ukraine to “fight Russia over there, so we don’t have to fight them here,” bragging about the fact that we are using Ukraine for a proxy war to literally fight Russia and funneling millions of dollars in lethal weaponry that, of course, was crossing another red line. Then you see Biden, because of the amassing of Russian troops in this region, taking that other dramatic stance—where he sent more weapons, the, quote-unquote, “lethal aid” that was parroted uncritically from the media, anti-tank weapons, all of these things protested vehemently by Moscow. Let’s talk about how this escalated the already fraught tensions, how it broke down the negotiations. But first, can you speak to the Nazi presence today in terms of their control in the government and armed forces?
BB: Well, the Ukrainian state is fundamentally a very weak entity and, in many ways, the right-wing paramilitaries have either been incorporated into the Ukrainian state—by right-wing I mean the fascists or neo-fascists. Some of them have said, “We no longer need to be revolutionaries,” as they put it. “We can now work with the state,” and, in fact, have been incorporated into the Ukrainian military and into Ukrainian police forces. So that’s real. That’s absolutely real. The political position of the fascist forces has weakened in the last couple years, however. Ukraine, in the main, is not Nazi. It’s not a pro-Nazi country. It’s not a pro-fascist country. In the 2019 parliamentary elections, the political forces who formed the united right bloc, which are the fascist forces, they got about 2.1 percent of the vote, 2.1 percent of the parliamentary vote—which doesn’t mean that they can’t be impactful, and, certainly for the people in the eastern part of Ukraine, where they have launched this Russophobe war. There’s been a lot of casualties. And some of the fascist units have functioned as rogue units. Even if the Ukrainian military isn’t shelling, they don’t have complete discipline over all of these militia units. And so they’re conducting their own fight. Of course, for them, they want the war with Russia. They wanted the war with Russia. They wanted it—because if there was a war with Russia, the West will take their side, and if they take their side, that means they accelerate into positions of power. Now, they also know that, even though it fought Nazi Germany and against Mussolini’s Italy in World War II, the United States government policy isn’t historically an anti-fascist policy when it comes to foreign policy. The US will work with any force, including the most right-wing fascist forces. We see this throughout Latin America. The School of the Americas at Fort Benning—named after the Confederate general, for General Benning—trained the fascists in Latin America. They killed the left. They killed the workers and the peasants and the communists and the socialists and the people who just wanted Latin America to be independent. The fascists know the US is willing to play ball with fascism as long as they do America’s bidding. In this case, it’s been very useful to keep the conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine going because it provides a position of endless militarization—and then Ukraine is importing more and more weapons into Ukraine, which are being directed largely against Russian-speaking people, or Russian people, who live in the eastern part of Ukraine. But, from the point of view of the Russian government, all of those weapons coming into Ukraine, as it becomes a de facto member—not a formal member, but a de facto member—of NATO, means that these weapons will never be taken out. And, we’ll talk about this more, too, but, in the recent months, Turkey has sent advanced drones. Turkey—of course, is the eastern flank of NATO—has sent advanced drones to the Ukrainian government. That wouldn’t have happened without the US giving the green light to it. And those drones—drone weapons are very sophisticated technologies now—they’re hitting their Russian targets, either people in the East or even Russian targets inside of Russia. I think it’s been very shocking to the Putin administration how all of these advanced weapons are coming in. Well, you know, it also happens that it comes two years, three years after the US army, under Trump, arbitrarily canceled the INF Treaty. There are two big treaties—this is a bit of a digression, but I think might as well mention them for people since we’re going down all of these historical routes. The US canceled the ABM Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, in 2002. Putin, at that time, said, “This will be a game changer.” But then, in 2019, the US canceled the treaty signed by Gorbachev and Reagan in 1986, called the INF Treaty, the Intermediate Nuclear Range Treaty. That treaty barred the United States or Russia of putting intermediate-range nuclear missiles—that had a flight of three to six hundred miles and could reach their target in under ten minutes—in any of the areas close to each other’s territory. That’s what was happening in the 1980s. That’s what started the anti-nuclear movement in Europe, the freeze movement. The US had put all these short-range missiles that could hit Soviet targets in six minutes all over Europe. And the Europeans went into the streets and said, “Look, you’re going to use our country as a staging ground for a nuclear war against the Soviets but you’re not going to die in Chicago, you’re not going to die in Washington. We’re going to die.” And that’s why the Europeans, luckily, went into the streets and built this independent anti-war movement that said “No!” And Gorbachev and Reagan signed that treaty in 1986, and that was a principal part of that architecture that we talked about in the beginning, that Cold War architecture, that created equilibrium. The US, under Trump, canceled it, and that meant that Russians are looking at that and they’re saying: “Okay, they’re going to place those weapons at the Ukrainian border with Russia, which is a 1200-mile-long border, those missiles will reach their targets in less than 10 minutes. We can’t defend against them. And that means we’ll never have a day of peace. We’ll always be under a threat that we can’t really refute or rebut or push back against.” These are the red lines that Putin has been talking about. But, again, if you look at Maidan as the turning point—because it means that Ukraine, which had been neutral up until 2014, is now coming into NATO, becoming a de facto part of NATO—and then the Ukrainian government launches this endless war against the people in the East. And, by the way, Russia also contributed to that war. I think this is important. I think that as long as that war continued, in a formal sense, as long as there was a territorial dispute in the eastern part of the country, NATO formal membership would be prohibited. NATO rules insist that any country that has a border dispute on its territory can’t enter NATO. So, as long as there was a conflict in the East, that meant, in a formal way, Ukraine could not enter NATO. Also, it meant that the Russian government had its own ability to have some influence inside of the struggle inside of Ukraine—and also there was pressure from Russian people in Russia. They were like: “These are the people in the Donbass. Until 1922 or 1924, when the Soviet Union was created, the Donbass was Russian. I mean, other parts of Ukraine were Russia too, but the Donbass are Russian people and why are you letting Ukrainian Nazis—who killed so many of us and who we spent so many millions of lives to defeat these Nazis—shell our brethren in Donbass?” I think Putin was under extreme pressure to not abandon the Russian-speaking population in the eastern part of Ukraine. There’s this element of Nazism and the struggle against Russian-speaking people. It’s complex. It’s got a number of different factors, but certainly the public pressure on Putin to do something to defend Russian people in the eastern part of Ukraine can’t be discounted.
AM: And, of course, all of this led to the negotiations completely failing. It all brought us to what happened just days ago, Brian, where Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, sending hundreds, if not thousands, of troops in, launching hundreds of missile attacks on cities across the country. I have to say, just personally as an anti-war activist, I care about war everywhere—my government has been bombing countless countries, brutalizing populations, subjugating tens of millions of people across the planet for decades. I think that this is a criminal act, what Putin has done, and I do have moral problems with it. I think war is horrific, and civilians needlessly die and suffer every time war is carried out. It kills soldiers on both sides that don’t have to die. It just breeds hostility and resentment between two countries that have these historic roots and ties. I think war can only be accepted as an absolute last resort. I’m not afraid to say that, while I understand the central role of the US in creating this tinderbox, I still condemn any illegal invasion of another country. I think, as leftists, we shouldn’t be afraid to say: “This is wrong. This is a violation of international law,” that a standard of law needs to be applied equally to every country in the world. I think that’s consistent with progressive values: to be repelled by bombs and troops entering a country when it absolutely did not have to happen. And, while I fully recognize and understand Russia’s security concerns, I am afraid that this is going to escalate tensions, that this action could lead to a potentially catastrophic conflict. There’s this weird tendency—and I think maybe it has to do with this glorification of war, the culture that militarism has baked into American society—especially as anti-imperialists, I think that, justifiably so, I reflexively tend to defend countries that are under attack from the US empire, but I think it’s important to not reflexively take the PR of a huge capitalist country, basically using this line of denazification. I think it is very clear, to me at least, that this is not necessarily about denazifying Ukraine. It’s about Russia stepping in and saying, “We’re not gonna fucking take this anymore. We are going to assert ourselves on the world stage.” It’s okay to have criticisms of that attitude and policy—and to just not kind of blindly have this celebratory stance that this is all good and we need to just reflexively defend what Russia is doing. I feel like there has to be a nuanced discussion where we give oxygen to many facets on the left. This includes people in the communist parties in Russia. It includes leftists, who I’m sure are protesting the invasion in the streets right now. I want to get into that too, Brian, but I also want to get into what Putin’s speech actually detailed. His speech announced this military operation—and it was very surreal. Because it’s very hard to find the transcript in Western media, of course, they just pick out the facets that are the most bellicose and belligerent—talking about how “we’re a nuclear-armed power” and “we’re going to retaliate with our full nuclear arsenal if anyone tries to impede what we’re doing.” Of course, those are picked up and put on the front pages. But what you don’t see are all of the excerpts about NATO that legitimize everything that you’re saying, what Putin has used to justify this. And it also really omits this entire bizarre, anti-communist underpinning of what he’s doing. Can you speak to this virulent focus on anti-communism? He talks about the Soviet policy of self-determination, Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and the Russian empire under the Czar. I guess just walk us through this speech—and also the division, the space that we need to understand the difference of opinions on the left in this instance.
BB: Yeah. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to address all of these issues, in fact, including what the orientation should be of the US anti-war movement or, for myself, Marxist and socialist movement. I want to be able to have enough time to be able to address that because I feel that this is a terrible war, because, as you said, there’s so much death and destruction that happens in any war. And also the fact that—Russians are invading Ukraine, and Russians are killing Ukrainians, and Ukrainians killing Russians—they were one people. They were the Soviet people, working together against fascism up until the collapse of the Soviet Union. It can’t be more tragic and more distressing. I think to light-heartedly become a cheerleader, or think that this is just a wonderful event, is a disgrace, actually, in terms of a correct understanding of the history. I do believe that the United States is responsible for the crisis. I do believe the United States presented to Putin, and to the Russian establishment, a set of options that the Russians had made clear were unacceptable—and that under no circumstances were they going to allow Ukraine to be a staging ground for advanced nuclear missiles against Russia. So Russia, I think, for the past few months has been saying: “Let’s negotiate. These are our red lines. We’re really serious. We’re amassing 150,000 troops to show you how serious we are. And, in each and every instance, the US said no to that—where it would have been so easy to say yes. What would have been wrong with Ukraine having been a neutral country? I want to just say I really, fully—while I don’t support Russia’s invasion into Ukraine—want to emphasize, especially for Americans, how the United States government, the government that speaks in our name, is fully responsible for this getting to this point. It didn’t need to be this place, which doesn’t mean Putin and the Russian government don’t have responsibility as well. I want to come back and talk about that, but to your question about Putin’s speech. It was an extremely revealing speech. He made it February 21st—he’s made three speeches, I believe, this week now—which is the day before the coup, eight years to the day before the coup that changes everything in Ukraine. He gives a historic explanation for why—it’s a long grievance about Russia’s relationship with Ukraine. He blames Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks for the current crisis and for the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which is phenomenal given the fact that the man who appointed Putin to be his successor—Boris Yeltsin, who was a capitalist counter-revolutionary—was, in fact, the person who literally dissolved the Soviet Union on December 16, 1991, when he signed a decree, illegally and arbitrarily, ending the Union. He was the president of Russia at that time. So, Putin doesn’t condemn Boris Yeltsin, the capitalist counter-revolutionary. Instead, he condemns Lenin. And Lenin’s sin, according to Putin, is twofold. One, that Ukraine was created as a separate republic, by the Treaty of 1922 that forms the Soviet Union in 1924, in the constitution. There’s a treaty signed between a few republics: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. They formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and, in that constitution that ratifies that in 1924, it’s also stipulated that each of the republics has the right to secede—meaning the right to be self-determining, the right of self-determination, the right to leave the Union if they feel the Union is not doing what it needs to do for the people of that republic. Lenin insisted on this right of self-determination because he said, “Our problem in building socialism in the territories of the former Russian empire is great Russian chauvinism,” meaning that Russia, which was the prison house of oppressed minorities and minority peoples and ethnicities and nationalities, cultivated the equivalent of kind of a white supremacy against the other non-Russian peoples. Lenin said: “To build solidarity between Ukrainian and Georgian workers, or the workers of the Baltics, or the workers of the former Russian empire, we have to show we’re past that. We’re past that. And, as a matter of fact, not only are we past it but your connection or federation or union with us, with us Russians, will be based on your right to divorce, your right to say, ‘The marriage isn’t working.’” The right of self-determination, the right of secession, is for republics what the right of divorce is for couples. It means that, at a certain point, if you feel the relationship isn’t working, you can leave. If all the power is one side of the relationship and there’s no power, no ability, for the other side to leave, then it’s not a real marriage. It’s a subjugation. Lenin said the only way to build international solidarity between the various working classes of different ethnicities and nationalities is to guarantee the right of self-determination. And Putin demagogically says, “If you want to call Ukraine anything, you could call it Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine,” because, by creating Ukraine and allowing it to be independent from Russia, that meant that they sowed the seeds for the later dissolution of the Soviet Union. And he said, “This is a theft by the Bolsheviks of Russian land from Russia.” When we heard that speech on February 21st, we, in the PSL and in the left, were like: “What the hell?” We’ve never heard Putin develop his anti-Leninist positions so fully, but obviously Putin says Lenin made a mistake at Brest-Litovsk, meaning when they signed the treaty—this is part of his speech—he said he gave Ukraine away to Germany. The treaty that was signed in March 1918 between the Russian revolutionary government and the German empire at Brest-Litovsk allowed Germany to basically annex Ukraine. But Lenin’s position at that time was: “We had a revolution. We no longer have an army. We’re being invaded by 14 imperialist armies. We can’t fight a war against Germany. So we’ll sign a treaty. It’s a humiliating treaty, but we don’t have any option. We can’t do it.” And so Putin demagogically denounces Lenin for having signed the treaty, which was absolutely necessary for the Russians to do. He also denounces Lenin for having the position of revolutionary defeatism. It’s clear that revolutionary defeatism meant that the Bolsheviks took the position: “We preferred the defeat of our own czarist government, or bourgeois government, in an international imperialist war than its victory because our real enemy is at home. Our
real enemy are the capitalists here. They’re not in Germany or France or Britain or the United States. We’re fighting the class struggle here.” He also recommended that the German comrades and the French comrades and the British comrades and the American comrades take the same position of not defending their own imperialist bourgeoisie in the war. So, Putin denounces Lenin for revolutionary defeatism. He says that’s unpatriotic, it gave away Russian land. He denounces him for Brest-Litovsk, he denounces him for creating Ukraine, and he denounces him for the right of self-determination. That can only be understood, by anybody who’s paying attention to history and politics, that Putin’s appeal the day before he’s about to invade Ukraine is not to the left. It’s not to the workers and to the peasants of Ukraine. This is an appeal to the Russian right, and I think it’s really important for the left, including the left that sees NATO as the aggressor, to not follow Putin—not to put Putin on a pedestal, not to follow this anti-communist core, sort of Russian chauvinist orientation towards non-Russian peoples. I mean, he says other things that are not chauvinistic, but nonetheless he was making this really unique historical argument for why Ukraine could be reincorporated into Russia as it had been under the Czar. Then, the invasion happens. And it’s clear. What’s the purpose of the invasion? What is Putin actually trying to do? He’s trying to make it one. We have to be very clear about this. Putin is trying to make it clear to NATO: Ukraine will never be part of NATO. That’s obviously what he’s saying. Two, he says he’s going to denazify the country, meaning the fascists who are attacking the people in the East are going to be captured, and they’re going to be put on trial, or they’re going to be killed. That will be popular in Russia. That will be a very popular talking point in Russia. Unfortunately, some people in the West think that all of Ukraine is nazified, which is not true. That’s not what Ukraine is. That’s not a correct, objective, accurate assessment. The other thing is that he’s signaling to the West, and this is very important, that the period of appeasement between Russia and the West that’s existed since 1991—when they appeased them on Iraq, they appeased them on Libya, they stopped appeasing on Syria—now has ended. He said: “We wanted to have a negotiated settlement, but you said no. We’re done with negotiating. We’re now going to show you that Russia is a great power.” And so that’s why this has changed global politics: because it’s the re-emergence of Russia under a bourgeois leadership, demonstrating that it is a major world power and willing to use military force against NATO or NATO-inspired machinations. Nothing like this has happened in world politics since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
AM: Exactly. And I want to get to some of the audience questions in a second, but I wanted to just dovetail off of what you’re saying to just talk about the disgusting Eurocentrism at play across the Western media. It is quite disgusting that everyone lines up in outrage when Europeans are being attacked, yet, in the same week, Yemenis, Somalis have also been bombed. This is by these same Western forces who are out—
AM: Yep, Syria. Pretending to be the moral arbiter of everything that’s good and holy. It’s just disgusting because it really reveals this is a conscious decision to keep these wars going, being fueled by the worst partnerships on Earth—Saudi, Israel, the list goes on and on. Then you get to the fog of war—and, apologies if I sound differently, my computer was dying, so I had to take out the mic—Brian, where it’s actually really hard to discern what is going on on the ground in Ukraine. Everywhere you look, there’s a discrepancy in casualty count, in troop deployment, in targets. Even the videos and pictures that we’re seeing I can’t trust yet because they’ve already had to issue retractions, saying: “Oh no, that’s from Israel bombing Gaza. Oh no, this is from a video game, actually.” It’s quite ludicrous. So it really is hard to even figure out what to think as of yet because it is so convoluted. You have talking points coming out there, saying the Ukrainian army is basically falling apart, they look super weak, they’re forcing people to conscript. Sky News is hosting a live workshop on how to build a Molotov cocktail. You cannot make this up. Meanwhile, Palestinians are terrorists for throwing rocks at tanks. I almost wonder, is this some sort of head fake? Like, the Ukrainian army is so weak that now we need to pour more money and weapons—and, in fact, that’s what Biden just did today. He just announced that he’s sending another $350 million, I think, in weapons, instead of ceasing everything and saying: “We need to negotiate right now. We need to take this seriously. We need to sit down at the table.” Instead, they’re just funneling more money and weapons into a very, very volatile situation. I just can’t really go without saying this: I think that there were several other diplomatic options for Russia. Like, I could see if the paperwork was about to be signed on the NATO alliance and Ukraine was about to step into NATO. This was not imminent—in terms of if Russia didn’t invade today, they would have joined NATO tomorrow. Diplomacy could have been pursued on the grounds of maybe lobbying other NATO states, like Germany, to potentially take Russia’s side. Let’s just give Russia the benefit of the doubt. Okay, they wanted to go in and protect these Russian areas from the insurgencies that were being fueled by the US. Well, they didn’t stop there, right? As we know, they went beyond the independent regions, and, they now are attempting, it looks like, to go full steam ahead, taking the capital and potentially pursuing regime change across the whole country, depending on how this all plays out. So, for me, if Russia’s big concern was stopping Ukraine from joining NATO, I feel like this was not an imminent enough threat to justify this, and certainly not all options were exhausted here. What do you think?
BB: Yeah, I think that the political goal, or the military-political goal, of the Russian military intervention is to create a new government in Ukraine. And, I think, up until now, they’ve been demanding that Ukraine be neutral. But if, in fact, Russia selects the new government in Ukraine, it won’t be neutral. It will be part of a Russian sphere of influence in that part of the world. The problem for Russia—and I don’t know what the calculation is—Putin said, “We’re not going to occupy the land.” But, when you carry out this large-scale military intervention and want to create a new, pro-Russian government, or a government that swears it won’t join NATO, how do you enforce that without occupation? This is an unknown right now, in terms of the military factor. And, I agree with you, the fog of war, either just because it is the fog of war or because it’s deliberately created, we don’t really know what’s going on. It’s really important for people in the left, in the anti-war movement—who are independent voices against their own government’s imperialist orientation and policy and structures—not to think we know things that we don’t know, not to become experts and profound speakers about that which we have very scant information. So, we don’t really know, but if Ukraine’s resistance were to continue, and this isn’t a quick rollover by the Russian military, this thing could escalate very rapidly into a regional or global conflict. When we talk about this as a new day in global politics, this is a new day that could lead to a kind of crisis that the world, and certainly Europe, hasn’t seen since the late 1930s. People should not minimize the absolute danger. For Americans especially, we have to say to our government, or the government that speaks in our name, “Your reckless, provocative, aggressive actions have brought the world possibly to the brink of World War III,” which doesn’t mean you have to then endorse every military move or political statement of the country that the United States or NATO are in conflict with. You don’t have to do that. We can retain an objective faculty. If the goal of the Russian military is to carry out regime change—which it seems like that’s what the goal is, the goal is to have in power in Kiev a government that’s committed to Russia or to not entering NATO—that means this is a long-term operation that we’re just at the beginning of. The only way that could conceivably end would be if there’s an emergency summit whereby the United States—and NATO powers, but it’s really the United States, it’s the Americans—sat down with the Russians and said: “Look, here’s what we’re going to do. You leave right now. We’re gonna devolve authority to different regions in Ukraine. We’re gonna absolutely go along with your idea that Ukraine will not be moved into a NATO sphere of influence.” It doesn’t need formal membership. Ukraine was becoming a de facto member of NATO without formal membership. But the US could stop right now and say, “Let’s do that.” Is there a will, a desire, or the courage within the US government to say, under the circumstances of a Russian military offensive in Ukraine, that they want to sit down and make concessions to Russia? I don’t think so. I don’t see Biden—or any of these hardliners from either party, the whole American political scene is hardliner—doing it. That’s why this is such a dangerous moment. We don’t know how it ends. We don’t know how this ends. But we do know that the Russians have decided that they’re done negotiating. Again, I just want to emphasize for people: don’t be glib about this. Take a serious look at what’s happened. The Putin government in Russia has decided that the era of appeasement with the West has ended and they’re going to use military force to recreate a buffer zone for what they think is necessary for Russian security. When you look at the cost-benefit outside of the war—you mentioned the horror of war, the loss of life, the loss of human solidarity, the awfulness of war. Just think about some of the other costs to the Russians. Germany and France were not supporting the United States including Ukraine into NATO. Germany was not for it at all. The German people in the main don’t want this. Europeans, who know what war is like because they had World War I and World War II, they don’t want war. So, the idea that this invasion will give Russia more security remains to be seen. I mean, it might, if there’s some new negotiations—or it could mean that Russia has lost the possible support of Germany and France, even though it was a very weak support. But I felt that the Russians were kind of winning the information war in the last couple months, because the world didn’t want this to happen. And the world was sort of confronted with the choice: do you really want to militarize Ukraine and risk World War III, or not? I think the cards that the Russians had, that they were playing with, they’ve played them now. Right now, they’re being just condemned. In Europe today, most of the left is protesting against NATO and against Russia. There are different parts of the left. There’s the old CP left, led by the KKE in Greece, and some of the other main parties, the historic parties of the world communist movement, they now say, “Look, Russia is an imperialist country and these are two imperialisms fighting each other.” Ironically, the Trotskyists—or semi-Trotskyists like the Cliffites, who were around the ISO—they’ve always had the position that the Soviet Union was an imperialist country, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union. They now say: “This is two imperialisms fighting each other.” Other people have taken more nuanced positions. From my point of view—and from the point of view of PSL, and certainly my point of view, as a long-time Marxist and socialist—I don’t view Russia as a part of the imperialist world. I think that if Russia had been admitted into the imperialist club, they would have been glad to join at a certain point. But that’s not how the US views Russia. The US has viewed, since 2000, and really since 1997, that if Russia gets back on its feet at all, the US obviously wouldn’t incorporate. Russia asked, “Why don’t you incorporate us into NATO?” By the way, the Soviets asked that, too, in 1954, before they formed the Warsaw Pact. Stalin had just died. The Soviets said, “Look, we’ll join NATO, and we support the reunification of Germany,” in 1954. To which the US, at that time, said: “No, you’re not coming into NATO, and, by the way, we’re going to incorporate West Germany into NATO.” So that was when the Soviets formed the Warsaw Pact. Now, the reason the United States can’t treat Russia as an equal major power—even though it’s a big country—isn’t because Russia has this competition with American imperialism for markets and raw materials, and vying with US imperialism all over the world for influence. That’s not it. If the United States treats Russia as an equal, because it’s now a capitalist-led country, then Germany and other countries in Europe will gravitate in the direction of Russia. They are the natural trading partners and political partners, especially Germany. The US fears the loss of its hegemony that it established after World War II with the creation of the UN, the creation of the IMF, the World Bank, the Bretton Woods Agreement that made the dollar the world currency. The US tried to create a unipolar world then—in 1945. Russia was the Soviet Union. It was a socialist government. It didn’t have colonies. It wasn’t part of the world imperialist system. It got basically destroyed as an entity. And it’s getting back on its feet—on a capitalist, rather than socialist, basis. That doesn’t mean that there should be equivalency between Russia and the US, France, Britain, and the other imperialist countries. In fact, it’s precisely because Russia is not in the imperialist camp that it can gravitate, under pressure from US imperialism, in the direction of the People’s Republic of China, which is led by a communist party, gravitate in the direction of supporting Iran, supporting Cuba, supporting Venezuela, supporting Nicaragua. In other words, even though it’s a bourgeois country, because it’s not in the imperialist club, it is being pushed in the direction of the more progressive, independent governments—not for ideological or political reasons, but for reasons of national self-interest.
AM: Right, and I think that addresses one of the questions in the chat: why didn’t Russia join NATO? I think, as you just elucidated, that they would have—if they were invited. This is a strategic encroachment, purposefully for that goal, Brian. I wanted to add to your point by just stating, the National Defense Strategy clearly states that, quote, their “principal priority is to counter Russia and China as competitors, and the way to do that is sustained investment in lethal force.” Pretty dystopian, the way that this is laid out in national security documents. I think that people give Putin a little too much credit sometimes, as this brilliant 5D chess operator. You certainly hear stuff like that coming from Trump and others, that this is just some brilliant strategy that he’s gamed out for years and years. I think that, to your point, this is a very volatile situation, and we just simply don’t know how this is going to pan out. We shouldn’t act very glib about this, acting like this is a one-and-done type thing, that Russia’s just punking NATO and the US, and that Ukraine’s going to immediately fold. I just don’t think that we should look at anything that way. And I don’t think it’s as simple as that, because we simply have no idea how this is going to evolve. Russia could very certainly be bogged down in fighting the insurgency that’s been very well-trained and backed by the CIA. And, of course, NATO and the US can certainly respond in a very reckless way that essentially brings the official start of World War III. What we do know, also, is that this legitimates the very worst policies and people in the US—that’s aside from the point, though—that have been lying to us for decades. Now they have this whole new credibility that we’re gonna have to fight, but that’s aside from the point. The main point that I want to get to now is the issue of unipolarity, as you’ve been talking about, and how it has been wavering in recent years—and how now we’re facing a precipice where the world is going to be changed moving forward. Finally, a big power has stood up and said, “We’re not going to take this anymore.” They’ve basically moved militarily to assert that new fork in the road. A lot of people are saying that this is good, Brian. This is good because you have this counterweight officially standing against the US. This profound shift is taking place that is going to benefit the world in a positive way—that, no matter what the outcome here is, Russia asserting itself on the global stage will inevitably actually prevent the cataclysmic war that would have happened come Ukraine join NATO. Let’s talk about that. Is it good that unipolarity has been challenged? And do you agree that this act will prevent a potentially bigger war in the future?
BB: Super important question because I hear, all the time, people who hate US imperialism and the unipolar world—where the US could try to destroy government after government after government, sanction them, impose draconian economic sanctions so that even if it wasn’t occupying or bombing, they were still killing the people and ruining whole countries, making their economy scream—people want an option. They’re thinking: “That’s the unipolar world. What we need is the multipolar world.” And I have to say, as a Marxist and as a Leninist, I think this is a very superficial understanding of world politics—and a superficial understanding of the historical dynamics for the larger movements for peace and for justice. We had a multipolar world all the way up until World War II. What did it bring us? The multipolar world brought us World War I. The multipolar world brought us World War II. If you go back to the Berlin Conference of 1884, all the imperialists sat together and they took a map of Africa and they divided it up amongst themselves. And, with the exception of Ethiopia, in 18 years, every form of African self-governance was extinguished. That was where the imperialists were working together. A multipolar world where they decided to work together. They had their own contradictions within the imperialist capitalist system because each economy kept producing more and more and more, had more capital to export, needed more markets. Eventually, because the entire world was already colonized, the only way for a capitalist country to thrive in a multipolar world was to take from some of the other imperialists—and that’s what made World War I inevitable. Please read the book “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” by Vladimir Lenin. We reproduced it—and we also made up a century-long sort of commentary that is the first part of our book, called “Imperialism in the 21st Century.” We took what Lenin wrote because it’s still valid, the essence of it is completely valid, but things have changed. So we wanted to talk about the things that have changed and how, if anything, the world situation requires an amendment to Lenin’s thesis. But again, we agree that, under capitalism and in the imperialist era, the inevitability of war demonstrates itself over and over and over again—and the only solution is not multipolarity. The only solution is socialism. The only solution is to reorganize the economy so that—instead of endless expansion on the basis of capitalist competition that pits different nation states against each other for markets or colonies or semi-colonies or spheres of influence—we go back to the Marxist thesis that workers of the world should actually unite against their own capitalists. We don’t want them to be separate from, and independent from, the other capitalists in pursuing their own independent capitalist interests and then we can say, “Oh look, there’s alternatives in the world.” Those alternatives will lead to ruination. They lead to the inevitability of war. Now, of course, the Soviet Union and the socialist camp sort of did away with America’s plans for a unipolar world after World War II. But it wasn’t a multipolar world then. It was a bipolar world—bipolar meaning there were two centers and one of the centers was based on socialism. The socialist countries didn’t have colonies. They didn’t have neo-colonies. They weren’t driven by the capitalist mode of production to go to war endlessly and, in fact, they were a deterrent to war. So the non-unipolar nature of the post-World War II era shouldn’t be characterized as multipolarity, but a bipolarity. Even more important than the fact that there were two anchors was that one of the anchors was based on the socialist system. So, multipolarity is not the answer. The only answer to the inevitability of war—which includes World War III, which will be a nuclear war—is for us to change our own governments, to have radical transformations at home, and to recognize that, in order for that to happen, we have to have independent socialist movements. How can we make radical change in America by saying Vladimir Putin is our leader, that what he does in the Ukraine is our source of inspiration? I mean, that’s ridiculous. We have to fashion a movement in the United States that exposes the role of the Pentagon and imperialism and US machinations and the hardliners in both parties, and say: “They speak in our name but they’re not us. We are the working class. We are the poor. We are the unrepresented, the unspoken for, in society.” We have to fight the battle of ideas against bourgeois nationalism and imperialist patriotism—and build internationalism and human solidarity between workers and oppressed people here and in other parts of the world—but not to look for multipolarity as the solution because indeed unipolarity will end. It is ending. We see it’s ending right now. It’ll end in various different forms. The American empire is too overstretched to maintain this fantasy of unipolarism. But simply having other centers of power is not the solution. The solution is indeed socialism because it’s a system that doesn’t require war, because it’s not based on competition. It’s based on human cooperation between people at home and people all over the world.
AM: Well said, especially since these forces that are in the multipolar world are also anti-communist. I encourage people to read the PSL statements. I liked a lot of what they had to say. I think it’s important to quote one of them, which says, “The role of the US anti-war movement is not to follow the lines of countries in conflict with US imperialism, but to present an independent program of peace and solidarity and anti-imperialism,” which is exactly what you’re pointing out, Brian. We know that, as people in the anti-war movement, our job is to highlight the focus on what our government is doing, what its role is in facilitating and stage managing this crisis. At the same time, a lot of average people are watching the corporate media. That’s all they really know. They’re watching this unfold. They’re outraged at the invasion of Ukraine. They’re repelled by war. We need to be reaching out to those people and saying: “Yes, this is wrong, but we’re Americans. Do you live in a NATO country? Do you live in America?” Our central role is to fuel that outrage into pressuring our own government to de-escalate tensions and to pull back NATO forces in these areas. Talk about why disbanding NATO is such a crucial demand that anti-war activists need to generate and also any more elaboration on this independent program to use to galvanize the left in an international sense.
BB: Right. NATO is foundationally an offensive military alliance. It was designed to stop the spread of socialism. It was designed to make Western Europe basically under the complete subjugation of American imperialism. American imperialism, in fact, revived Nazism, or Nazis, in many, many different sectors of West Germany—and, of course, used Nazis to build the US space program. Operation Paperclip, people should check that out. Sixteen hundred Nazis were brought to the United States. It’s not an anti-fascist alliance. It’s an anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-worker alliance. We can see that—its wars in Afghanistan, its wars in Libya, its wars against Yugoslavia—these are offensive operations. The people of the United States need to stand together and say no to NATO. The only reason NATO expanded after the collapse of the Soviet Union was not to keep West Europeans safe from the Soviet Union—because the Soviet Union was gone. The only reason it expanded to the east was to completely dominate Eastern and Central Europe and make it an American-dominated neo-colony. America is addicted to war. Its capitalist system—US capitalism—is so addicted to war, so hyper-addicted to militarism, and so addicted to a military-industrial complex as a stabilizing force in US capitalism. It actually incentivizes war. And then the idea that any country—be it China, be it Iran, be it Russia—can actually be free, can be independent, can be strong enough as a global or regional player that it can determine its own destiny, the Americans view that as an existential threat because it’s like the mafia. They say: “Well, if this country can show that it’s neutral, that it’s independent, that it’s not following the empire, that might suggest to others that they too could be independent.” The idea of being independent—independent, not communist even, but just independent—is considered a great danger by the US, which is following the logic of gangsterism, which is the logic of contemporary empire. So, we have to say no to NATO, but NATO, in a way, is also just a symptom. The real disease is American capitalism. US capitalism: it’s so rich. And it got rich off the unpaid labor of millions of enslaved Africans or African-descendant people. It got rich off of the genocide and theft of indigenous land. It got rich off of the colonization of Latin America and other parts of the world. It’s a very rich country—and yet, half the people in this country, according to the Poor People’s Campaign, live either in poverty or near poverty. The number of billionaires grew, and their wealth increased by 30 percent during the time of COVID-19, while 60 million workers lost their jobs. We have to fight here against a system of capitalism which breeds injustice, lives off of inequality, and promotes war abroad as a characteristic feature, not as a mistake by this or that politician. So, our struggle really has to be to fight for peace, to fight holistically against all of the manifestations of American capitalism.
AM: And the true victims of any war, Brian, are the working class of these respective countries. That’s who’s going to suffer and needlessly die. Russia, Ukraine, those working-class populations—that’s the tragedy of this all—and, of course, the working class here. Thank you so much for your incredible and profound analysis. I want to address a couple questions in the chat to wrap this up. Thank you everyone for sticking with us. This was a really insightful discussion. Really crucial moving forward to understand this in-depth history and how we got to this point, and what we can do to really pressure our government to stop escalating the tensions. Brian, we forgot. Someone brought up the Minsk agreement. This is an important facet that’s not talked about very much that has to do with those semi-autonomous regions. Do you want to discuss this?
BB: Yeah, absolutely. Very important. There’s two agreements: Minsk I and Minsk II. Now, they were both signed after the coup in February 2014. They’re signed later in the year—and, in 2015, updated. They provide the basis for basically freezing the conflict. Don’t bring in more weapons, freeze the conflict, try to have a mediated solution. The pro-fascist or fascist forces, in Ukraine in particular, violated those agreements over and over again for the reason I stated earlier: they actually want conflict with Russia. They see: if you can hit the Russian population in the eastern part of Ukraine enough, maybe you’ll lure the Russian government into a battle. And they think that would be very good because it will increase Ukrainian nationalism, anti-Russian sentiment, and especially bring in heavy weapons from Western countries. So, Minsk was the agreement that the Russians really were committed to. This is so important because, again, if you think of Putin as just the evil devil—whatever we think of Putin, obviously we’re not supporting Putin, but we need to have an objective faculty when we assess any leadership—Putin was for these agreements. For the last eight years, they have been promoting them at the same time as they’ve been demanding that Ukraine not come into NATO. I would have to say that, as a consequence of the constant and endless violations, mainly by the United States. When you think of Obama—and I know everybody has many criticisms of Obama, same here—Obama, compared to Trump or Biden, was a voice of restraint. He would not allow weapons to be sold to or shipped to Ukraine after those two agreements were signed. Obama said: “Don’t do this because it’s going to accelerate a conflict with Russia. We don’t need it.” Trump comes in in 2017. The Democrats all accuse Trump of being Putin’s agent—and that the only reason he’s president is that Putin put him there. So there’s all this demonization for progressive people who don’t want Donald Trump to be their president, which is understandable. But they’re told: “This is because of the Kremlin. America couldn’t have somebody like Donald Trump, only Russia could make this happen. Only Russia could impose Donald Trump on our country.” All of that said about Donald Trump, Trump sends weapons to Ukraine. And then, when he held them up for a couple weeks, remember? He’s impeached. The Democrats impeached Trump in July based on the fact that he was trying to get Zelensky to do some of his dirty work against Biden and Biden’s son. They’re trying to expose Hunter Biden, and Zelensky was like: “I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to do that.” He was like, “Okay, we’re not going to send you weapons.” By the way, the US always calls them defensive weapons. Well, you can call a missile a defensive weapon, but if it’s landing on you, it doesn’t feel defensive. Let’s just get rid of the word ‘defensive weapons.’ Weapons are weapons. So, Trump comes in and, instead of being Putin’s stooge, he’s sending more and more advanced weapons to Ukraine. So, Biden comes in. And who are Biden’s people? Victoria Nuland’s back. Kurt Campbell, Jake Sullivan, Antony Blinken. That was the Maidan team back in 2014. Now they’re not just little boys and girls and junior partners playing this role of big bad imperialist. Now they really have power. And so they’ve been pouring all of these weapons into Ukraine, including Turkey’s drones that are monumentally sophisticated—and some of the drone technology can deliver nuclear weapons. The Russians were completely surprised about how this has accelerated in the past year—then more fighting that violated Minsk, all the time, back in September and October of this year. That’s when Putin said: “Okay, unless we do something now, we’re gonna—1,200 miles of Ukraine-Russian border—have advanced weapons pointed at us. We have to act.” So that’s when he had plan A and plan B. Plan A was: “We have red lines. We’re serious. You better listen to us. You better negotiate.” Plan B is: “We’re amassing 150,000 troops.” The fact that Biden kept announcing, “They’re going to invade, they’re going to invade, they’re going to invade.” I think it’s because Putin and the Russians weren’t trying to hide that they were going to invade. I think they wanted the Americans to know plan B, so you better go with plan A. When they were rejected, they were like, “Okay, we’re gonna go for plan B.” They played all the cards in their hand. I mean, will it be considered historically a reckless, catastrophic move? Or some brilliant counterweight, blah blah, blah, using great power politics, sort of a Bonapartist, militarist answer to imperialism? We don’t know because, as you said, Abby, none of this is unknown. The danger is so high. It’s already awful for the people in Ukraine. They’re in their subways. They’re sheltering. We can’t look at politics as just geostrategic politics and not care about the people in Ukraine—the workers, the farmers in Ukraine. We care about them just like we care about the workers and farmers in the eastern part of Ukraine, and we care about the workers and farmers in Russia, and the workers and farmers in Alabama and Georgia, and close to where I am in Washington DC and in nearby Maryland. We have to care about people and the working classes that don’t make these decisions, that don’t bring the world to the edge of war, but are told in each and every case: “Line up behind your own government. Salute the flag. Say the pledge of allegiance. Don’t think about it. Just remember what nationality and ethnicity you belong to.” As a socialist, as a Marxist, as an internationalist, we’re promoting the idea that you have to think about the world and world politics in a different way.
AM: I fully agree, Brian. Another Super Chat question is about Zelensky basically announcing, days before this happened, that he would like Ukraine to have nuclear weapons. Days later, Russia invades. I know that you talked extensively about NATO—and I just wanted to reiterate and stress that threat of nuclear attack with NATO-armed countries, the fact that any NATO country being attacked, of course, invites the full response from nuclear-armed states. It’s a lot of heightened tensions with the entry point into NATO—basically pledging by NATO countries that we have the ability to attack you and essentially bring in nuclear war.
BB: Yeah. I didn’t see Zelensky’s actual comment—and a lot of what we’re hearing we’re getting as secondhand news sources. You mentioned in the beginning the fog of war. Did he say it? Maybe. If he did say it, it was ridiculously stupid because obviously they weren’t about to get nuclear weapons, but it’s a perfect talking point for the Russians, who are seeking different justifications for their military intervention. But, in the weeks before, Zelensky was telling Biden: “Would you stop threatening Russia? Would you stop saying that an invasion is imminent? You’re disrupting our economy. You’re hurting our economy. Like, let’s chill out.” So Zelensky was not, at that time, an accelerant to the struggle. If anything, if you look at Zelensky’s position, it’s been a moderating position. When he came in—he’s a Russian speaker, he’s from the southeast part of Ukraine, he got a lot of votes from the eastern part of Ukraine to become the next president—it looked, in the beginning, like he was really wanting to implement the Minsk accords. That was his orientation. Now, he’s been moved further and further and further into the camp of being a stooge for the United States. But even with that, in the last couple weeks, he was telling the United States, “Please stop with all of this rhetoric.” I think, if he said the thing about nuclear weapons, it might be because the invasion was coming, or he knew it was coming. Maybe it was reckless talk. If the comment was made, I don’t think it’s decisive for why Russia has acted. You can’t have this kind of military operation without the contingency, at least, having been planned far, far in advance. They obviously had this plan worked out. And then, they were hoping, I think, to have plan A be implemented by showing muscle, showing Russian muscle in the last four months. I think they were really hoping that the Germans and the French—and I think that’s why Putin was talking to the new leadership in Germany and Macron in France, they were having lots of discussions—they were hoping Germany and France would stand up to the US and say: “Absolutely not. Let’s make a commitment to Russia that Ukraine won’t come into NATO.” And I think that they kind of gave up on that and then decided to go all in with this other strategy.
AM: Yeah, it was a very risky maneuver, and, of course, we’re in the middle of it right now, so we have no idea how this is going to play out. Right now, as far as I know, Biden has made a pretty meek speech in response, thankfully. Really, it’s in the hands of—how belligerent is the response going to be from—Western powers and NATO forces. But, as of yet, they haven’t declared that Russia is going to be removed from the SWIFT European financial agreement. And the sanctions implemented—maybe you can speak more to that. That’s also a question in the chat. What are these sanctions directed at? How are they going to impact the countries that do rely on Russia for help?
BB: Yeah. The sanctions hurt Europe. Ending Nord Stream 2 has been a dream of American imperialism and a nightmare for the German establishment, not just the German people. By the way, I referred to the Bucharest conference back in 2008, where the US said, “Ukraine is going to come into NATO, and so is Georgia.” It was Angela Merkel—who is the Christian Democratic, right-center leader—who said absolutely not at Bucharest. And the French also said no. So it’s both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats—right-center, left-center. They’re both wanting to have a more independent, more open policy towards Russia, and certainly that’s partly because Northern Europe really depends on Russian energy sources. You can build all the liquefied natural gas tanks in the world—but that’s coming then from the UAE, or from the United States, thousands of miles away at much higher cost. Europe is going to be hurt by those sanctions. And then sanctioning the Russian economy, well Russia’s trade is with Europe. The American sanctions are a form of dictatorship, economic dictatorship, imposed against the whole world—mainly on their targets, mainly on the workers and the poor of a targeted society. They hardly have any influence on the elites in that society. But then they have collateral impact on other economies that would prefer to trade with the sanctioned country but can’t, because if they do, then they will be the sanctions. That was the situation with Iran. Obama signs the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear arms deal. Europe is very excited about it. They want to trade with Iran. They want to get Iranian oil. Trump comes in and rips it up. And what did the European capitalists do, even though they wanted and would benefit from the Iran nuclear arms deal? They didn’t stand up to the US. And why? They feared that they would become the victims of American sanctions. So American sanctions are a form of global dictatorship against everyone—principally against the targets but also as collateral damage against the others. And certainly this is true about Europe right now.
AM: Let’s close this up by—I know that you don’t want to offer any predictions, of course, that would be irresponsible.
BB: Not about the future. Not about the future.
AM: What do we need to be prepared for, Brian, here, as anti-war activists, as people who genuinely care about peace and preventing our country from continuing this imperialist aggression around the world?
BB: Well, we’re in a very, very difficult moment. It’s going to be hard to go out and be really anti-war and focused on the Pentagon and NATO when it’s Russia that’s intervening militarily in Ukraine. Everyone will say: “Wait, doesn’t this give justification for why NATO should expand? Doesn’t Russia appear to be the aggressor? Isn’t Russia something to fear and to hate? And isn’t the American rationale justified? Because, on its face, it seems to be a justification.” So, we’re in a period where, at least momentarily, we’re going to be somewhat isolated. It’s like right after September 11th, when we formed the ANSWER Coalition. We formed it three days after September 11th. When we came out and said, “We have to fight against the American war drive,” people were like, “Wait, terrorists just bombed the World Trade Center, or blew it up, and the Pentagon, why are you talking about the United States?” And we said: “Because this is what’s going to happen. The US will cynically take advantage of the attacks to do its own thing. To launch new wars of aggression. And we Americans have to go out and fight.” And, at first, people spat upon us. We were really isolated. George W. Bush’s political rating went to 90 percent—and he had been highly unpopular. But over time, that dissipates, and so the truth tellers—the people who are honest, the people who stick to their principles, the people who are really anti-war and anti-imperialist—by promoting and agitating against the real danger of war, which comes from our government, the US government, over time people will see that what we’re saying is actually true, even though, at the moment, it’s going to be very, very hard. So, we have to stick to our principles. We have to look for opportunities to do public education against war and militarism, explain—what I’ve tried to do in some small measure—about the history of NATO. Even though it’s complicated and hard, we have to do this work. I’m also a member of the International Peoples’ Assembly, which is a new global network of forces fighting for justice and against imperialism, and one of the watchwords of the IPA is to wage the battle of ideas—because, in some ways, we can’t really influence the outcome right now in Eastern or Central Europe, but the war danger which emanates from here in the United States is premised on the justification and rationale provided to the American people by the establishment and echoed by the media. That’s the ideas of the ruling class. As Karl Marx said, “The ideas of any society are the ideas of its ruling class.” Well, we—the anti-war people, the people for justice, the people who are socialists—have to fight the battle of ideas because, ultimately, by winning the battle of ideas, by winning working class and poor people over to our side, by carrying out that kind of political education, we build a mighty force that can actually make change. So, even though at moments it looks bleak, at other moments it looks like the political forces for progress and change are dominating. But unless we have good ideas, solid ideas, ideas anchored in anti-imperialism and socialism and Marxism—in other words, the ideas that are combating the ideas of capitalists of whatever country—we can’t really ultimately win. Activism by itself, while important, isn’t enough. We have to win the battle of ideas because that’s how mass movements are forged and that’s how they endure and that’s ultimately how they win.
AM: Thank you so much, Brian, for taking so much of your time today to explain the situation, to give your crucial insight on where we go from here. Everyone tuning in, subscribe now to Breakthrough News. Subscribe to Brian’s Socialist Program. The Socialist Program on all podcast platforms. Breakthrough News. Any Empire File-heads out there, empire babies, you have to be watching Breakthrough News. It is an amazing partnership in all of the information warfare from an anti-imperialist lens. Please subscribe and support the show. Support Brian’s work. And thank you so much, Brian, again, and thank you Breakthrough News for hosting this crucial conversation. Thanks so much, Brian.
BB: Thanks, Abby. Thanks, Mike. Thanks, Empire Files. Thank you so much.