On the War in Ukraine and the Socioeconomic Struggles to Come

After the shock of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, revolutionaries are beginning to consider avenues for action. Initially this has come in attempts to analyze the situation, aid refugees, and limit the war’s expansion. This is imperialist bloodshed, a humanitarian catastrophe, and poses the risk of turning into a horrific nuclear World War III, yes – but these paralyzing truths obscure an impending crisis in which the international order will be vulnerable to the rage of common people worldwide. It is this crisis towards which revolutionaries must focus their energy.

A direct consequence of the war will be a regional disruption in the wheat market – a third of the global supply originating from Russia and the Ukraine. Sanctions attempting to isolate Russia will also disrupt its supply of gas and oil to Europe and the United States. Inflation in the prices of food and fuel were already major problems in the past year, exacerbated by supply chain issues from the pandemic and other crises. Food and fuel prices were central grievances of the insurrection in Kazakhstan earlier this year, as well as the riots in France and Ecuador in 2019, the Sudan revolution of 2018, and the Arab Spring before that. We can now expect the prices of both essential commodities to explode. 

Across the former Soviet Union, these price shocks will combine with the collapse of ruble remittances from migrant workers to their homelands. Populations already hostile to the dominance of Russia will mass in the streets enraged by the desperation caused by Putin’s senseless war. In the case of Kazakhstan, it took Russian paratroopers massacring hundreds of insurgents to restore order. That some paratroopers are now pinned down in a war far longer and more costly than Russia anticipated could mean rebels previously crushed in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia itself have greater chances of success. 

In the United States and Canada, widespread outrage over Putin’s aggression will be of little comfort if gas prices rise and stay over $5 per gallon. The working class, already burdened with rising rents paid for by increasingly precarious jobs with lower pay and longer commutes, may not care to develop a deeper analysis of the battle between capitalist blocs for the future of the Ukrainian people and the exploitation of its resources. What matters most is that they are paying for that war out of pocket. 

They will blame Putin, yes, but they will also blame Biden. The unrest will thus initially look like the rightwing culture wars, with the same aesthetics of the Make America Great Again movement, COVID denialists, and anti-Critical Race Theory activists. But unlike those mobilizations, largely based on either lies or the narrow anti-regulatory concerns of a downwardly mobile petit bourgeoisie, struggles around inflation will be deeply appealing to the working class. It will thus become essential to develop interventions now to steer popular rage away from the right, and towards proletarian ruptures with the political and economic establishment. 

Slogans and demonstrations must be prepared that emphasize that this crisis of war, like the pandemic, like the economic collapse of 2008, is the work of both the Democratic and Republican parties, the Putin regime, and the international capitalist class as a whole. It must connect the unrest around inflation and immiseration to that narrative, offering a vision of a disconnected but uninterrupted international struggle, a decade in the making, pointing towards confrontation with the ruling class. 

In the United States, the George Floyd Uprising’s material basis must be brought to light. Far more than a movement for police reform, it was inspired by the murders of two Black proletarians for presumed crimes of poverty – ripping off a grocery store (George Floyd) and associating with drug dealers (Breonna Taylor). The uprising itself occurred in a context in which workers were expected to continue risking their lives for peanuts while the upper classes sacrificed nothing. This is why we qualify it as a proletarian revolt with revolutionary horizons.

It is perhaps no coincidence that war arrives as pandemic restrictions scale back. A “return to normal” necessarily includes a return to war. Thus, an antiwar movement today cannot simply ask for the cessation of hostilities, just as a protest against pandemic management cannot simply demand a return to pre-pandemic life. As it becomes increasingly clear that these miseries are the work of an ever-richer ruling class, opposition must be rooted in calls for international class war against them – using the waves of popular struggles as its reference and guide.

-The Spirit of May 28