BY KIERAN F. KNUTSON,
PRESIDENT OF CWA LOCAL 7250
On May 19 Medea Benjamin, the famous peace activist/celebrity, brought her book tour to south Minneapolis – and a modest protest of veterans, peace activists, Native Rights defenders and anarchists met her outside. Why would anyone be protesting a famous peace activist? The answer is that Benjamin has become the most prominent supporter of Putin’s line on Ukraine among the U.S. left (there are bigger names on the right).
Her book repeats many of the Russian regime’s lies and distortions about Ukraine – that Ukraine has always been part of Russia (yeah, under an oppressive empire, so what?), that Crimea is even more a part of Russia (even though Crimeans voted in the majority for an independent Ukraine in 1991), that the Maidan Revolution was a fascist coup (it was in fact a broad-based popular uprising that overthrew the government and was ultimately supported by the Parliament). NATO expansion drove the war (Ukraine was never in NATO, and is still not guaranteed admission to NATO, which has been extremely hesitant to allow Ukraine to join), Ukrainian fascism is predominant (the far-right parties are not in Parliament and get about 2% of the vote, much less than in just about every other European country, and Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for a Jewish president in 2019).
Left unsaid are Putin’s deeply racist, sexist and straight-up imperialist reasons that he himself has given for his “special operation,” including asserting that Ukrainians have never been a real separate people (the same slur as is used against Palestinians and Kurds), railing against Lenin for the supposed Bolshevik “creation” of Ukrainian nationalism, and that a free Ukraine is a threat to traditional family and gender roles. Neither is the prominent role of the far-right Russian mercenary company, the Wagner Group, in the invasion and occupation of Ukraine mentioned.
Ultimately, Medea Benjamin is pushing for an arms embargo on Ukraine and for the U.S. to force Ukraine to capitulate to Russia’s demands, at a minimum for land and veto power over Ukrainian society and politics. This line has put her in bed with a number of longstanding war criminals of the “realist” school of U.S. statecraft, like Henry Kissinger, but also with right-wing figures like Tucker Carlson, Marjorie Taylor Greene and, of course, Trump (who she praises and re-tweets). Her February “Rage Against the War” rally in Washington D.C. was co-organized with right-wing libertarians and drew out Putin sympathizers with their prominent “Z” Russian military invasion symbols, and neo-Nazis like Matthew Heimbach and his crew. This is an ugly look for a so-called peace movement – fronting for a bloody invasion and allied with some of the worst people on the planet.
What should the position of anti-war activists and progressive people be?
A just position must start with the people left out by Benjamin – the Ukrainian people. Listen to the Ukrainian people – the Ukrainian trade unions, the Ukrainian feminists, the Ukrainian LGBTQ movement, the Ukrainian student movement, the Ukrainian anti-fascist movement, the Ukrainian national minorities: the indigenous Crimean Tatars and other Muslims, Ukrainian Jews, Ukrainian-Roma – all of whom are overwhelmingly, nearly universally, supporting and participating in the resistance to the Russian invasion. Their voices are not hard to find – I’ll list some of my go-to English language sites below.
1. We should speak out against the Russian invasion and defend Ukrainian self-determination without strings attached.
The Ukrainian people are fighting for their lives and their freedom against a right-wing repressive regime. Their victory will be a victory for all oppressed people, especially those most threatened by Putin – the Chechens, Belarusians, Kazakhs, and the Russian people. Ukrainians have every right to get arms from wherever they can. There is a huge difference between wars of occupation and domination and wars of resistance. Aid to Ukraine should be with no strings attached. When Biden finally agreed to give Ukraine the advanced defensive Patriot missiles, the next week in what looked like a quid pro quo down payment, Zelensky signed an agreement for BlackRock, the huge American multinational investment firm, to run Ukraine’s re-construction.
Our union Local passed a resolution in support of the Ukrainian resistance: Solidarity with Ukrainian Resistance! Russian Troops Out Now! https://www.cwa7250.org/index.php/2-uncategorised/185-cwa-7250-e-board-solidarity-with-ukrainian-resistance-russian-troops-out-now
2. Connect the Russian war with similar examples of aggression and occupation.
The hypocrisy of the U.S. establishment which cheers on Ukraine while lying about or hiding the atrocities against the Palestinian people can’t go unchecked. But a “whataboutism” that disses the Ukrainian people and their resistance is not an effective tool of explanation. Instead we should argue that what Putin is doing is a horrible crime and that it was made more possible by the U.S.’s brazen illegal invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the continuing illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. We must demand an end to the hypocrisy and avoid a politics of “campism” (supporting one or another nuclear armed power as a lesser evil).
3. Support the anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist, feminist and working-class forces in the Ukrainian resistance and the Russian underground.
The Ukrainian resistance includes many different trends and forces – we should support those that are most serious about fighting for a new, freer, and more egalitarian world. The anti-authoritarian Solidarity Collectives is a clearinghouse for information and material aid to anti-fascist fighters, trade unions and frontline civilian communities. Sotsyalnyi Rukh (“Social Movement’’) is a Ukrainian democratic socialist group that has exposed and campaigned against Zelensky’s neo-liberal anti-labor reforms while also supporting the resistance to the Russian invasion. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group documents and protests the horrendous violations of human rights under Russian occupation (they’ve done a particularly heroic job of documenting the repression against the indigenous Muslim Tatar people in occupied Crimea), as well as fighting for the rights of Ukrainians, such as the now-established annual Pride Parade in Kyiv. There are many trade unions, grassroots organizations and radical collectives that could use our support – don’t assume Biden is helping them.
Kyiv Independent - Independent media founded by journalists who left the Kyiv Post en masse after interference by the oligarch that owned that outlet: https://kyivindependent.com/
Commons (Ukrainian left-wing journal): https://commons.com.ua/en/
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group: https://khpg.org/en/
Solidarity Collectives: https://twitter.com/SolidarityColl1
Social Movement: https://twitter.com/SocRuch
Ukrainian Trade Unions:
Confederation of Free Trade Unions: https://twitter.com/CFTUU
Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine: https://www.fpsu.org.ua/index.php?lang=ens
Independent trade union Zakhyst Pratsi (Defense of Labor): http://tradeunion.org.ua/category/english/