Back in the USSR re-connects with Jensen Williams, the Public Educator at Guelph-Wellington Women In Crisis, a feminist community-based organization providing support services to women experiencing abuse and sexual violence. We discuss the history of International Women's Day and how women across the world are rising up against patriarchal violence; fighting for a future where their rights, their dignity and equality are non-negotiable. Furthermore, we examine the role that the capitalist media plays in facilitating violence against women and the need to push back against the toxic images/stereotypes being fed to us.
Tuesday, 29 March 2022
This week, Back in the USSR is proud to broadcast The Left Lens's recent interview with African-American historian Dr Gerald Horne on the historic roots of the present war in Ukraine.
Tuesday, 15 March 2022
You’re listening to Back in the USSR on 93.3 FM CFRU. I am Siegfried and this week we’re going to continue discussing the broader context of the war in Ukraine. You may recall that in my last episode I described it as the elephant in the room that no one could avoid and how Western media has gone into overdrive hyping up this “European War” affecting people who “look like you and me”. There’s just no getting around it because the media and politicians have made it all-consuming, in complete contrast with the wars in Yemen, Mali, Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Colombia and the list goes on. These wars, which mainly affect non-white people, are considered “normal” and violence in those countries is taken for granted by media consumers in Canada and other Western countries in the imperial core. Obviously, people actually living in those war-torn lands would beg to differ. The same is true for the violence waged by the Ukrainian government against the people of the Donbass in eastern Ukraine since the US-backed coup in 2014. 14,000 people, mainly civilians, died there prior to the current Russian intervention according to UN figures and yet the Western media and Ukrainian-Canadians didn’t say a word. Just like they prefer not to talk about Ukrainian neo-Nazis getting guns and training from Western governments.
This gets to the heart of the sheer hypocrisy that is everywhere these days and which is driving me absolutely crazy. I checked out both of the “stand with Ukraine” rallies held at Guelph city hall in the last two weeks and, for all their talk of peace, there was nothing anti-war about them. Basically, you have a bunch of angry white people, most of whom have probably never attended a protest or demo in their lives, and would certainly never show up in solidarity with indigenous land defenders, Palestinians or Black Lives Matter activists, showing up and parroting the talking points of the mainstream media, doing a lot of macho “support our troops” nationalist posturing, and calling for the devastating sanctions and collective punishment of Russian civilians to be expanded further. The one this past Saturday was attended by the mayor and our local MP, who gave the usual BS about Ukraine being a “peaceful” and “democratic” country that was suddenly set upon by this monster called Putin because he woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day or something – zero analysis, zero context, pure propaganda. But these people were eating it up.
These demos can hardly be considered protests in any real sense, they’re officially sanctioned outlets for white solidarity and white rage against an officially approved adversary. In short, these demonstrators are doing what they’ve been told by the government and media. They’re certainly not defying any authority in this country and can hardly be considered “brave” or “defiant”. The lack of a police presence at these demos was notable. Canada, as a settler-colonial state based on genocide hasn’t got a leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing Russia and yet Lloyd Longfield and Cam Guthrie were talking like it’s an untarnished shimmering beacon of freedom and democracy. I think the folks at 1492 Landback Lane might have a thing or two to say about that, let alone the Wet’su’weten or the folks from dozens of First Nations across the country who are in the process of digging up the bodies of their children from the sites of former residential schools.
It's a scary situation we’re living through. Everything Russian is being demonized and censored. The University of Milan in Italy even cancelled a course on Dostoevsky, citing the conflict as justification, before an online backlash forced them to renew it. The LCBO is pouring out Russian vodka. Russian media is being banned on every social media platform and practically every means of economic warfare in the book is being piled on the Russian people – from banking and credit card shutdowns to suspensions from international sporting events. All this happened practically overnight. I can understand the frustrations of Palestinian activists who have been pushing for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Apartheid Israel for years only to be censured and even criminalized at every turn, because they were pushing for punitive actions against a government that targets and oppresses non-white people, which is something that the West doesn’t really have a problem with. Once again, major double-standards but it’s easy to understand if you know how imperialism works.
Israel is an extension of the US Empire. When it oppresses Palestinians or bombs people in Syria and Lebanon, that’s not Israeli imperialism, it’s US imperialism. Saudi Arabia is an extension of the US Empire. When it bombs Yemen it’s not Saudi imperialism, it’s US imperialism. Even when they don’t come right out and say it, the actions of these countries fundamentally serve American interests. Every since the coup in 2014, Ukraine has also been an extension of the US Empire and this is the main reason why the Minsk Accords in 2015 and other peace negotiations since then have failed…because the US wanted them to fail. The US wants to use Ukraine and the Ukrainian people as a bludgeon against Russia. They want Ukraine and Russia to fight one another. It serves American interests in unifying NATO against a common enemy, blocking Chinese and Russian economic cooperation with the EU, ensuring a market for US fracked natural gas in Europe at the expense of cheaper Russian natural gas, providing a market for the US arms industry, and potentially destabilizing a major adversary through sanctions and other means – all without a single American soldier dying in combat. This is the real game being played here.
Brothers and sisters, there is no such thing as “Russian Imperialism” in the 21st Century. Imperialism isn’t a byword for one country invading or taking military action against another, it’s a combination of military, political, economic and even cultural factors. Imperialism is a system. An imperial power doesn’t just conquer territory but markets and seizes economic control of entire societies in order to serve its own interests. This is what US and Western corporations do around the world under the auspices of the IMF and World Bank, which have effectively colonized the economy of Ukraine since 2014 – privatizing the land, labor and resources, as they’ve done in countries throughout the Global South. Countries dominated in this manner are not independent: they cannot independently set monetary policy, regulate the economy or control finance, and are subject to the dictates of international capital as upheld by the American Empire. Countries that defy this global order, like Iraq, Venezuela or Syria can expect sanctions, sabotage and military action.
This is not what Russia is doing in Ukraine. Russia does not economically dominate Ukraine and, given that Russia’s economy is on par with some of the smallest countries in the Eurozone, lacks the capacity to control or exploit foreign markets. The Russian economy is overwhelmingly dependent upon the export of raw materials, from oil to titanium, and produces few finished products. The basis of an imperialist economy is the import of cheap resources from the Global South and the export of finished products to countries in the Global South. This is what the West does, keeping the Global South in a position of subservience and exploitation. Russia, on the other hand, might be described as a Third World country with nuclear missiles.
There have been a lot of stupid comparisons between the Russian intervention in Ukraine and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, with attempts being made to equate the two. This despite the fact that Iraq was on the other side of the planet from the United States, presented no credible threat to the United States and was ultimately targeted because it stood outside of the American-dominated global order and refused to follow the free market dictates of the IMF. Because of its economic and political independence from global capitalism, it was targeted for destruction by the US Empire in an imperialist war – just as Libya and Syria would later be targeted in 2011.
Ukraine, on the other hand, is directly on Russia’s border. Its membership in NATO, and the potential deployment of nuclear weapons on Ukrainian soil, does present a credible threat to Russian security. Ukraine was not targeted because it stands outside Russia’s economic orbit, which is very small and globally insignificant, but because the US Empire has been aggressively expanding in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War, finally putting NATO troops directly on Russia’s western frontier. It’s notable that Russian gas exports to Europe via the Soviet-era pipelines through Ukraine have gone completely unmolested in this conflict. This is not a 1914 situation when rival great powers were competing to divide up the world and become the new hegemon. The US is the global hegemon in 2022 and the sole imperialist power in the world, to such an extent that Russia is compelled to continue supplying Europe with natural gas in the midst of a warzone, a supply Ukraine cannot interfere with either.
Russia’s goal in the conflict is to keep Ukraine out of NATO and ensure security on its borders, not carve out new export markets to exploit or destroy an independent economy that the Fortune 500 views as a lost business opportunity – which is what America does and does regularly. America is imperialist, Russia is not. America, with its 800 + military bases worldwide, is the guarantor of the entire global capitalist order and uses imperial violence to keep so-called “rogue states” in line. All Russia can do is intervene militarily in neighboring countries from time to time in order to deal with a real or perceived security threat. America and Russia are very different countries and the wars they fight are very different too.
I want to cut to a clip from Danny Haiphong of The Left Lens (please follow him on Youtube) for his excellent analysis of the Ukraine conflict and the deep racism it has revealed, but first I want to play this short clip from Peoples Dispatch detailing the persecution of left-wing forces by the far-right Ukrainian government. I want to express my solidarity with Mikhail and Aleksandr Kononovich of the Leninist Communist Youth Union of Ukraine, who were detained by Ukrainian authorities on March 6th, have experienced torture and are facing the very real threat of execution. They must be freed.
Tuesday, 8 March 2022
While I would prefer to spend this episode focusing on the heroic women who stood up in Petrograd on March 8 1917, playing a key role in overthrowing a tsar, ending a war and changing world history, the current reality demands that I address the situation in Ukraine.
This is itself noteworthy. The western media never provided non-stop coverage of the now seven-year long war in Yemen. The NCRA never sent out recommendations to campus/community radio stations across Canada telling them to beware of Israeli misinformation during that country’s multiple assaults on Gaza. Neither Iraq nor Libya nor Syria nor Afghanistan were covered in this way with people being forced to choose sides by the powers that be. The last time I remember that happening was after 9/11 in 2001. The Russian incursion into Ukraine is being treated as an attack against us all, in the same way as when those planes hit the twin towers in New York. And it’s worth asking why that is.
Numerous western news outlets, from CBS to the BBC, have openly stated that the reason why the war in Ukraine is so terrible is because it is a “civilized” European country populated by white people who “look like you and me”. And the idea that we must stand in racial solidarity with a white country under attack is a dominant subtext in the media coverage of this war. The same reporters repeat that Ukraine is not Afghanistan or Iraq where violence has effectively been normalized in public discourse and that we should be shocked by a war on European soil, even though we’re talking about a continent marked by the bloodiest conflicts in human history.
We see the same racialized sentiment in how refugees are being treated in Ukraine and Poland. The reality of segregation among refugees is finally being recognized in the mainstream media after widespread outrage on social media at seeing Black and Brown people, mainly international students from India and numerous African countries, being forcibly prevented from boarding trains and buses out of the country. Refugees of color have faced violence from security forces and armed Ukrainian civilians.
I want to stress that the present war is not new. It did not begin with Russia’s intervention on the 26th of February, in fact it’s been raging since 2014 when the democratically elected government of Ukraine was overthrown in a US-backed coup. The coup, often referred to as the Euro Maidan, featured a heavy presence of far-right neo-Nazi elements acting as shock troops against government security forces in the street battles that erupted in Kiev and other cities. These forces then gained prominent positions in the post-coup government that was fully backed by the United States and NATO, which proceeded to destroy or drive underground every progressive political force in the country – from trade unions to the communist party. The 2014 Odessa massacre, in which dozens of people were shot or burned to death by neo-Nazi militia at the trade union headquarters in the city of Odessa was among the ugliest incidents in this campaign of terror, which also involved banning the Russian language in schools and businesses and essentially giving away the entire Ukrainian economy to the IMF and western business interests.
This is what led to the civil war in eastern Ukraine which continues to this day. Ukrainian leftists and Russian-speaking sectors of the population armed themselves in defiance of the coup government and its fascist thugs. They defended themselves, and while they received some aid from Russia, they were mainly on their own in the harrowing battles of 2014 and 2015 when the self-proclaimed Peoples Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk were besieged again and again. The signing of the Minsk Accords in 2015 was meant to end the conflict by granting autonomy to the breakaway republics within Ukraine and guaranteeing new elections, but it was never implemented by the Ukrainian government, which went on shelling and attacking Donetsk and Lugansk right up to the current escalation of the war in 2022. 15,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine since 2014, yet this goes unrecognized in western media portrayals of the conflict.
The same is true with regard to the powerful influence of neo-Nazi and far-right political forces, which were strong enough to openly defy the Ukrainian president in 2019 when he belatedly tried to implement the provisions of the Minsk Accord and force him to back down. The neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and similar military formations are now fully integrated into the Ukrainian Army, National Guard and police. They are not fringe elements as some would have you believe and their bloody reign of terror against leftists and ethnic minorities in Ukraine has continued. I’ve talked on this show before about how Canada, the US and Israel have armed and trained these fascist goon squads.
But the pivotal US role in the conflict must be understood, because it would never have even begun without the US-supported coup in 2014 and NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe after the Cold War. The war in Ukraine the most manufactured conflict I've seen since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The US engineered the violence in 2014 in order to secure its own strategic interests in Eastern Europe and it has never allowed for any peaceful settlement or meaningful de-escalation since then. For the past two months we've seen the United States government deliberately escalating tensions, preparing people for war via the most insane media blitz I've ever seen, while rejecting Russian diplomatic overtures and sabotaging every attempt at dialogue and de-escalation between Russia and Ukraine. Now it is dumping more guns and military hardware in Ukraine instead of facilitating peace talks, just like it did in Syria. This is not an inter-imperialist conflict between rival empires. This is an example of a global superpower manipulating two neighboring countries into fighting one another by rendering peace impossible. The US is effectively using the Ukrainian people as cannon fodder against Russia and it's absolutely sickening.
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