Those of us who survive Russian imperialism shouldn’t have to be writing this anymore, but here we are.
Real ones know Russia is still not a thing that the left needs to protect and while we’re here, neither was the Soviet Union. The imperialist expansionism nurtured by both are connected, whether you’re for it or against it. We said it when Putin allied with Assad and started bombing hospitals in Syria. We said it when he invaded the Caucasus. He came for Georgia, Crimea, Dagestan, anarchists, journalists, feminists, pacifists, all of us, he’s not on our side, (and he wouldn’t like your Labour party either).
“One thing’s for sure – the western “left” was completely and utterly caught with a pie in the face.” – said our friend Philip, who also thinks the DSA’s statements are fucking useless btw.
Suddenly headlines are dominated by a region which it turns out nobody really understands anything about and once again Discourse is a complete fucking nightmare.
If your first reaction to Russian aggression anywhere is to bring up the Cold War or NATO (or anything you think the US or UK governments have done worse), your priorities are in the wrong place. We just need you, even for one single day, to simply and firmly stand with victims of Russian imperialism, or fucking stay quiet.
If your second reaction is to denounce armed resistance? 🚩🚩🚩 again. It’s hard to understand outsiders wielding language like “civilised” and suddenly “European” and then also shouting at everyone to be pacifists like are we being classed as violent or civil today? I can’t keep up.
A lot of us grew up with these stories, you’d know the butcher was the kid who sabotaged the invaders’ ammunition. That old woman who squeezes your face and gives you apples? She once drove a tank over a second lieutenant. Part of the normal fabric of life is knowing our great grandparents made sledges out of the frozen dead bodies of invading soldiers and it’s both heartening and heartbreaking to watch each next generation being raised on new versions of the same stories about resisting imperialism.
Whether or not we happen to be written as “European” or “civilised” today, it’s weird to ignore or not know about how much war Eastern Europeans and Central Asians have known very very recently. A lot of people are telling on themselves that they don’t have enough mates from ex-Soviet countries. And a lot of this civilisation talk, as always, forgets how barbaric the suited royal and constitutional figureheads of this civilised society are.
Violence is contextual though, each act can’t be judged equally. We can’t let #Discourse move towards a blanket discomfort or disapproval with any kind of fighting. We should keep finding some joy in stories of Russian tanks getting stolen by teenagers, videos of people towing them away with tractors, women making molotov cocktails, kids throwing them, or men carrying mines off into the forest, because we are anti-war and so are they.
On the bright side, one side effect of collectively forgetting recent violent pasts is at least Eastern Europeans are suddenly coded as welcome in the West! 🚩🚩🚩 (Allegedly).
It’s predictably racist for western observers to be selectively shocked and sympathetic towards white Ukrainians fleeing violence. It has proven to itself that boycotts, sanctions, and divestment can be effective. In one week, we’ve seen a painful amount of examples for how the “international community” can in fact step up and declare their solidarity with victims of war. What British politicians are currently putting Ukrainians on a pedestal for, they lock Muslims up for. Black people bear police brutality for being suspected of anything illegal, and now we’re clapping when we see white people sharing “how to make molotov cocktails”. Prominent Lords and Ministers are going “We must not turn our backs on Ukraine, they are our neighbours, we’re the same, we’re all white, we all hate Muslims…” (alright this isn’t a direct quote but we all know it could be).
However, in practice, the UK is actually giving Ukrainians the bare minimum. They’re projecting blue and yellow onto their government buildings 🚩🚩 while suspending visa applications from Ukrainians. They’re giving us ceremonial flag-waving, rounds of applause, empty gestures of solidarity while continuing to profit off Russian billionaires’ donations and investments. 🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩 You can’t have your муравейник and eat it too.
It’s going to take a lot more than Putin’s aggression to make Britain fully abandon its deep discrimination against Eastern Europeans. Some MPs are still standing up in parliament saying they’ve “done their bit” with Eastern European migration and they’ve had enough, they’re done now, gates closed 🚩. The rest of them are suddenly acting like they didn’t just spend years building their political campaigns around hating Eastern Europeans.
It’s a double-edged insult to all of us. Palestinians or Syrians or Afghans aren’t civilised enough to be welcomed or supported or even acknowledged. Ukrainians are just white and European enough to have a few buildings lit up in blue and yellow, but not quite enough to allow visas or safe passage. They can pit victims against each other by wielding the language of who’s “civilised” and “European” enough to be worthy of support, while in reality they’re offering nothing but trivial gestures to anyone.
On the other side of our cursed political spectrum, some observers are voicing their concerns about the sort of patriotism we can see in Ukraine, but Ukrainian resistance to Russia is not the same sort of nationalism we get nervous about in the UK. From the outside, seeing crowds waving national flags, joining armed forces, and defending state borders might appear to be the sort of harmful violent devoted patriotism we’ve spent our lives campaigning against. But this isn’t comparable to the UK. Here, we can be justifiably anxious about flag-waving and militaristic language around “defending our land”. The English and the Union flags have both been backdrops to street and state-level fascism. They each conjure up mental images of the EDL, Combat 18, bricks through Muslim families’ windows, “send the Bulgarians back to where they came from”, tories and poppy shaggers, Morrissey, the Brexit campaign, This is England, and that one day last summer when everyone fucking hated Italy. Whether you’re foreign or not, many of us have no time nor tolerance for any sort of pride in this country. And we’re right to oppose it; British nationalism is and has always been a vehicle of absolute fucking cruelty across the world.
We can’t risk assuming the same logic applies when Ukraine and the UK are incomparable. While the latter is literally an imperialist force, nationalism or patriotism (or however we feel most comfortable defining it in English) can be empowering and important for people who are under threat of imperialist invasion. Around the world, the fights for citizenship, autonomy, and self-determination come alongside asserting certain flags, languages, religions, and cultures. This isn’t the same as far-right, neo-nazi groups who do it on behalf of somewhere like England. Fascism punches down, resistance is not the same. From Ukraine to Scotland to Western Sahara to Palestine to Tatarstan, we stand with the people resisting imperialism.
Ukraine, like Russia, and every European nation, is a racist and white supremacist society, we’ve seen enough examples over the last week. But the portrayal of all Ukrainians as inherently and naturally jingoistic, xenophobic nazis is a different story, it’s one of the ways Putin is justifying his aggression. This rhetoric has a long history. Stalin called Ukraine a land of nazi sympathisers in order to justify committing genocide. Throughout Putin’s reign, he’s been redrafting historic lies to build support for his own military interests. Now, he wants people to think he is liberating Ukraine from nazi rule. While he is leading a war, he appeals to Russian public opinion with claims that xenophobic Ukrainians simply hate Russia. And still some Russophiles blame Ukrainians for being angry about being invaded, before blaming the invader 🚩🚩🚩. These are the defensive tactics used by people who have always chosen the wrong side.
Speaking of, taking this particular moment in history to sing love songs for Milosevic? 🚩🚩🚩🚩 Racism watchdog says woof woof woof woof woof. This is another tactic, they’re justifying Putin’s actions by declaring retroactive support for Milosevic. Chomsky fans (🚩!!) are out there rewriting narratives for their own political gain at the expense of people who witnessed and survived genocide. Ignoring people who still live with these experiences who try to point out, for example, that Milosevic was a racist genocidal criminal, or how Russia committed genocide against half a million Muslims in Ukraine in 1944, or that Putin is an absolute antisemite. Behind every person speaking out with remarkable clarity to explain why Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not aptly comparable to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, there’s a load of 🚩 QTs calling them liars.
Bad-faith accusations of Russophobia are corrupting our ability to properly criticise how pointless it is to arbitrarily ban everything Russian. I get that Russian people often get tied closely to the actions of the state and it makes sense, Russians have famously played a big part in the formation and destruction of governments. Russians and Russian things are often seen as political even if they’re not. Everything is pushed through some ideological prism and used for endless manipulations of the political spectrum. And while it is truly understandable that many people hate Russia and Russians and anything to do with Russia, part of the narrative Putin is giving to Russians is that he is the only person on their side. “It’s us against them”. He says the rest of the world hates us, watch how they treat us. He says Ukrainians are Russophobes (imagine). The insular, exceptional nationalism which Putin has been carefully nurturing and weaponising will only become more effective if the rest of the world turns its back on Russian people.
It also isn’t anti-left to be anti-Russia, but taking Russian bands off festival line-ups also isn’t going to help anyone. Do you think Putin watches Eurovision? Do you think cancelling football will finally stop him? Is de-platforming meerkats going to help? Do you find yourself suddenly crying when you hear Tchaikovsky for some reason? If so, have you considered simply not telling everyone about it? 🚩🚩🚩 The red flag machine is going brrrrrr and Eastern Europeans are losing their minds. I just want to fill my eyes with anything that isn’t an aggressively friendly #content list of “How to cope with the Ukraine situation” 🚩🚩 written by someone who’s never been anywhere near it. Or old men screeching “Woke Police!!” “cancel culture did this!” “this is all Greta Thunberg’s fault!!” because they only actually have one joke 🚩🚩. If things weren’t bad enough already (!) our social media feeds have become a personally curated selection of the absolute worst opinions on earth.
But as cathartic as it is to laugh at them, these takes aren’t as sinister as those which talk over people who have been on the frontlines of resistance against imperialism.
The extent to which some factions have collectively talked over, justified, or ignored Russia’s violence in the past has played its own part in what’s happening today. If you were platforming Holodomor deniers, Assadists, or calling Ukrainians nazis or CIA shills, or refusing to accept anyone critical of the Soviet Union into your movements, you’ve laid the foundations for this invasion to be turned into another opportunity to double down on pro-Russia, anti-Ukrainian, or a pointless “both sides” takes.
A thousand red flags led us into genocide, forced deportations, wars, famines, and still people in the West will hold them up high. What once had a hammer and sickle now has the three stripes and those who once fought against them now get to watch their grandchildren do the same. It’s shameful, it’s heartening, and it’s enraging all at once. Each generation will keep being raised on stories of resistance until there is nothing left to resist.
A small clarification for those confused about this: hating Russians or banning Russian things because of Putin’s actions is unhelpful, misguided, and it is aiding Putin’s pro-war campaign. But the point is this isn’t the right battleground for this conversation.