United States Green Party 2020 presidential candidate, retired Teamsters union warehouse worker and ecosocialist Howie Hawkins spoke with Federico Fuentes about the recently formed Ukraine Solidarity Network and the challenges of building solidarity with Ukraine while opposing US imperialism.
Could you tell us a bit about the Ukraine Solidarity Network?
The Ukraine Solidarity Network (USN) was initiated at the Socialism 2022 conference in September. We convened following a talk on “Ukraine, Self-Determination and Imperialist War” by Yuliya Yurchenko of Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement), a democratic socialist organisation in Ukraine. We agreed to build a broader network of people to support the Ukrainian people’s national liberation struggle.
Our fundamental aim is to build moral, political and material support for the people of Ukraine in their resistance to Russia’s invasion and their struggle for independence, democracy and social justice. We want to nurture links between progressive labour and social organisations in Ukraine and the US.
Public education is an immediate priority. We want to counter the narratives of those who have decided that if the US is sending arms to Ukraine, they must automatically oppose that support. The knee-jerk conclusion of “no US aid to the Ukrainian national liberation struggle” reveals a US-centric colonial mindset that sees US imperialism as the cause of what they call “the US proxy war on Russia”.
It renders the Ukrainians invisible. Ukrainian perspectives on the causes of the war and why they want arms for self-defence are ignored, including the views of progressive trade union, socialist, anarchist, feminist, LGBT and environmental movements in Ukraine.
USN wants to be a voice on the left that opposes all imperialisms — Russian and US — and supports the right of historically colonised and oppressed nations like Ukraine to self-determination and self-defence against aggression.
How do you view the US’s role in the war? How do you respond to the idea that a Russian defeat will simply strengthen US imperialism? Is it possible to support Ukraine and oppose US imperialism?
The left is for the liberation of working class and oppressed people. We should start with supporting the Ukrainian people’s rights to self-determination and self-defence. We should reject using the imperialist framework of big power geopolitical competition to choose sides between rival camps of capitalist states. The anti-imperialist position is to support the national liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people against Russian imperialism.
Inter-imperialist antagonisms between capitalist states inevitably inject themselves into any national liberation struggle. But that does not mean the left should subordinate Ukrainians’ democratic demand for national liberation to the interests of one or another imperialist camp. It means we should support Ukraine’s national liberation against both Russia’s primarily military imperialism and the West’s primarily economic imperialism.
Imperialism is a global system of rival imperialist states, not a system in which the US is the only imperialist power. Those who support Russia’s victory over Ukraine, as the supposed proxy for US imperialism, say it will weaken US imperialism. They say Ukraine’s self-determination must be subordinated to the goal of a Russian defeat of US imperialism.
They view as anti-imperialist any state in conflict with the US, no matter how authoritarian, capitalist or imperialist it is. They call for a multipolar world in which US imperialism is diminished, which supposedly opens space for socialist development.
This emerging multipolar world is really a return to a multipolar imperialist world with inter-imperialist rivalries that breed wars. Supporting an authoritarian capitalist and imperialist state like Russia, supposedly because it is an anti-imperialist check on US imperialism, will not open the path to socialism.
US imperialism will not be defeated by other imperialist powers. The people of the US will have to reject US imperialism. It will take an international socialist left to replace capitalist states and the global imperialist system with a socialist multipolarity of cooperation and equality among nations.
Anti-US states like Russia, China, Iran and their client states from Belarus to Syria, may have less power than the US/NATO alliance in the hierarchy of nation states. But the anti-US big powers also cooperate with US/NATO in the global imperialist system that exploits and dominates the world’s weaker nations. Global imperialism is a multilateral, multipolar system of competition and cooperation between capitalist states.
Ukraine’s national liberation will not necessarily strengthen US imperialism. It depends on what Ukrainians and those of us in solidarity with them make of it.
We should give our political support to the progressive movements of socialists, anarchists, feminists, LGBT people, environmentalists and trade unionists in Ukraine who are fighting Russian and Western imperialism, as well as the neoliberal and authoritarian policies of the Volodymyr Zelensky government.
The Ukrainians who have organised their people’s war of mass participation in both military and civil resistance to Russia’s invasion are developing the experience and sense of empowerment that can be employed to resist Western economic imperialism as well as domestic reaction.
A defeat for Russian imperialism will be a defeat for the interconnected structure of world imperialism and a deterrent on other would-be aggressors. A victory for Ukraine will open possibilities for progressive class and social struggles against the same global capitalist system that we also fight at home.
Could you expand on your views regarding US arms supplies to Ukraine? How can one be for peace while, at the same time, supporting sending weapons to a warzone? Isn't it the arms industry that most benefits from this war the longer it drags on?
If you say you support Ukraine’s right to self-determination but oppose sending them the arms they need to defend themselves, you do not really support Ukraine’s self-determination. You support disarming Ukraine and Russia’s recolonisation of Ukraine. We should be against wars of aggression, but not against armed self-defence against such aggression. We must distinguish between the violence of the oppressor and the fight back of the oppressed.
The arms industry benefits from any war. But it would be moral bankruptcy to say Ukraine does not deserve self-determination because arms manufacturers are making profits.
In the US, we should support US military aid to Ukraine at the same time as we campaign against US militarism and imperialism. There are plenty of peace policies for which the US left and peace movements should be campaigning, perhaps starting with nationalising the arms companies under democratic control to take the profits out of war.
To shrink the market for arms industry profits, we should demand deep cuts in military spending, a radical reduction in arms sales abroad and a phase out of the more than 800 foreign US military bases.
We should demand an end to US support for authoritarian regimes — like the dictatorship in Haiti — and for the wars and occupations of sub-imperial allies, including the Saudis and Emiratis in Yemen, the Moroccans in Western Sahara and the Israelis in the Palestinian territories.
Russia’s extortionist nuclear sabre-rattling in its war on Ukraine should push nuclear disarmament to the top of the US and world agenda. We should be demanding that the US stop its destabilising modernisation of nuclear weapons, pledge No First Use, and seek direct talks with Russia to re-establish and renew the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM), Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF), Open Skies and Strategic Arms Reduction (START) treaties.
We should call on the US to initiate aggressive diplomacy toward mutual disarmament among all the nuclear states to bring them all into compliance with the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
What role, if any, does USN see for diplomacy and negotiations in this war?
USN supports the Ukrainian resistance and believes it is up to Ukrainians to define what victory ultimately means to them. We are not opposed to diplomacy and negotiations. We are opposed to the US negotiating a settlement with Russia over the heads of the Ukrainians.
The call for negotiations we are hearing in the US is really a call for the US to use the leverage of its military and economic aid to force Ukraine to accept an unjust peace based on Ukrainian land concessions to Russia. The Ukrainians aren’t having it. Polls by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology show consistently overwhelming opposition to a peace settlement that concedes land to Russia: its December poll shows 85% of Ukrainians oppose conceding territory to Russia in exchange for peace.
Speaking for myself, and not USN because we have not discussed it, I think the US and NATO should pursue negotiations with Russia about pan-European security arrangements that could provide a background foundation for a just and enduring peace in Ukraine. The US should be offering publicly and aggressively to resume talks with Russia on a mutual security framework.
If the US, NATO and Russia could agree on mutual security arrangements — which would surely include the renewal of conventional and nuclear arms treaties I mentioned before — it could give Putin a politically acceptable way for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.
[The full version of this interview is available at links.org.au.]