Newsletter #21: A Left Internationalist Response to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, with Sophie Pinkham and Nick Mulder
By Michal Schatz
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended the global economy and thrown the future of the international political order into question. This new conjuncture raises key questions about foreign policy and internationalism that the US left has tended to subordinate to domestic issues. The Dig’s interview with Sophie Pinkham and Nick Mulder highlights what’s at stake in global politics at the moment — and makes clear why today’s Left must develop not only an anti-imperialist foreign policy agenda, but a positive vision for left internationalism.
As shelling continues in cities across Ukraine and crippling sanctions are rapidly tanking the Russian economy, the question everyone across the political spectrum keeps asking iswhyRussia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine without threat or provocation. Mulder points out that the USSR’s dissolution was not a discrete event, but the beginning of a process of imperial collapse. Russia’s recent aggression could be understood as a continuation of this process. This is useful to remember when thinking about global politics beyond the war. Many US Cold War elites and their neoliberal progeny saw in the Soviet Union’s disintegration a permanent victory for American power, but history is constantly unfolding; the unipolar power that the United States claimed in the wake of Soviet dissolution was perhaps an extension of that collapse.
This moment demands a renewal of robust Left internationalism. The resurgence of the US left since Trump’s 2016 election has reframed key aspects of domestic politics, but we have yet to develop an equivalent for foreign policy. Today’s US left is rightly anti-imperialist and anti-militarist, but without a corresponding vision for what we are seeking to build in its place, these positions end up manifesting as circumscribed responses to discrete conflicts with few concrete demands. Anti-imperialism does not mean retreating from international politics but developing both domestic and foreign policy programs in solidarity with working people globally. As Aziz Rana wrote for Jacobin in 2019, internationalist thinking about domestic problems is a critical prerequisite to building any Left foreign policy agenda.
The volume of recently published writing on Ukraine is dizzying. Check out Sophie Pinkham’s interviews with eleven young Ukrainians about their experiences of the war. Nick Mulder’s recently published book The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War is essential to understand the history of sanctions and how they helped to remake the world leading up to the Second World War. In this Jacobin interview, Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Artiukh offers an incisive analysis of the Russian invasion. David Klion provided an early overview of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for Jewish Currents.
On foreign policy, historian and former Bernie Sanders foreign policy advisor Daniel Bessner has spoken about developing an anti-imperialist foreign policy agenda and outlined a path to reducing the US global military presence. Adam Tooze recently wrote about theanalytical limitations of “realism” in analyzing the war. And this Dig interview with Tony Wood helps contextualize the current conflict while Dan’s interview with Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Ischenko prior to the invasion continues to provide important insight.