Too Strong to Submit, Too Weak to Prevail

The Challenge of Supporting Ukraine in a Time of Crisis

If, in some ways, the strength of Ukraine is made perfect in its weakness, then how can it prevail against the Russian imperialist leviathan? With support from another imperialist mega-state, the United States, of course. But does such support justify the position of the campist left who might offer a limp, eye-wink condemnation of Russia’s invasion but who hold that the war in Ukraine is the fault of the US and NATO and thus undeserving of support, especially military armaments?

As someone who holds an ecosocialist perspective committed to global solidarity, I do not disagree with many on the left that the world would benefit from a great statesperson emerging like a Sphinx from the frozen hinterlands of today’s geopolitical firmament, striding forth colossus-like to negotiate a settlement between Russia and Ukraine, between a country that broke its promise not to attack Ukraine if it gave up its nuclear weapons to Russia and a diplomatic bully whose capability for violence every nation fears, an imperialist marauder that is capable of unprovoked acts of aggression in order consolidate its empire under the guise of democracy (as long as this statesperson isn’t Henry Kissinger). After all, the world is in a mess, with the war in Ukraine compounded by the threat of global warming that, like the threat of nuclear annihilation, is rooted in the crisis of capital.

If you are raising an eyebrow at this point, just consider the recent developments within current geopolitical bloc formations. Consider that the major factions of the fossil industries (Germany, Austria) and international commodity trade (Switzerland) don’t want to forego doing business with the Putin oligarchs and thus consider Russia a much more important market for Western European capital than Ukraine; hence, their support for Ukraine is tepid, at best. And let’s not forget that much of Europe is dependent upon Russian gas. Capital doesn’t rely on strategic circumspection; it follows its ravenous appetite wherever it leads. The guardians of Capital don’t want a long and protracted war, including some of the different capital factions of Western imperialisms, to be sure. Hunger always gives way to impatience. Capital wants to realise its profits now. But, at the same time, as I wish for a peaceful resolution to the war, I do not cling to the belief that Ukraine must submit to Russian occupation and the systematic destruction of Ukrainian society and its independent development to stop the war.

I also believe that it is crucial for Ukraine to have a chance to win on the battlefield, if for nothing more than to create better conditions for a negotiated peace acceptable to Ukraine and its people. A settlement now, when Russia’s defence-industrial complex is in disarray, when Russia’s strategic war efforts are going stupendously wrong, and when the bravery and battleground acumen of Ukrainian troops is winning back territory seized by Russia, would only reward Putin for his military aggression and ensure Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory. Whatever the case may be, the US needs to take its gun off the negotiating table and let the Ukrainians make the decisions on where and how to proceed from here in negotiating with Putin’s proto-fascist dictatorship, which we must admit is driven by post-Soviet gangster capitalism that is highlighted by capital flight and offshore accounts, even as we acknowledge that Ukraine’s oligarch-ridden bourgeois parliamentary democracy will be seated at the other end of the negotiating table. That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. So, where do we go from here? Should we prepare for Ukraine’s impending announcement of what territorial losses it is willing to accept and what democratic rights the population is willing to give up to halt the Russian missiles careening in increasingly wider arcs? Is appeasement on the part of Ukraine in the name of preventing a world apocalypse an inevitability?

I’m an old ‘socialism-from-below’ scholar and activist, who began his political education in the 1960s and extended it years later through my engagement with scholars and activists in the field of critical pedagogy as it was developing in numerous countries, a pedagogy fashioned after my late mentor, the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, who was not openly Marxist but whose epistemology was grounded in Marxist dialectical materialism. Later in my political education, I was drawn to the politics of international Marxist humanism and the Catholic social justice movement, where I have been modestly engaged in the work of liberation theology, the latter of which has managed to survive attempts to demolish it by both the Catholic mainstream and the US military.

I have attempted to integrate these political trajectories into what I refer to as revolutionary critical pedagogy. For those already familiar with critical pedagogy, that simply means bringing critical pedagogy into conversation with a Marxist analysis of capitalism. In doing so, I wish to make a case for the potential role of the Catholic Church in the larger struggle for liberation following the life and work of Catholics such as Thomas Merton, José Porfirio Miranda de la Parra, Oscar Romero and others. Like many of my old school comrades, I stood against the US wars in Vietnam, Central America, Afghanistan, and Iraq and, in general, was anti-military, anti-war, anti-CIA, anti-State Department and anti-NATO.

For some of my colleagues, a similar history to mine predisposed them to the development of campist views – views that are in support of almost any country that raises its fist against US imperialism. A few of them became active members of the campist left, and a few even took positions among the neo-Stalinist left. Just to remind readers about the term campism – Lynskey (2022) notes that the ‘campist’ position among the left can be summed by the phrase ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and views America as ‘the font of all evil’).

Campist positions have become increasingly more visible in the light of the reactions to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The campist left is described by Dorian Lynskey (2022) as those adopting pro-Putin positions that sometimes conceal themselves under the double negative of ‘anti-anti-Putin.’ Their positions exist in a type of liminal space. They are against being against Putin but don’t want to reveal themselves as pro-Putin, perhaps as a way of hiding their own neo-Stalinist predilections or simply because they feel that Russia is the lesser evil to US imperialism. According to Lynskey, you can identify them

by their obsession with Nato, ‘legitimate security concerns,’ ‘poking the Russian bear,’ the Azov battalion, and hypothetical biological warfare laboratories, all of which are popular Kremlin talking points. Their arguments usually begin with some throat-clearing variation on: ‘The invasion of Ukraine is abhorrent but….’ Some of them were once associated with the left but now occupy a more chaotic space: former Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, former Labour MP George Galloway, former comedian Russell Brand and former Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi. (This is the world of the former.) Some, like Carlson, JD Vance, Nigel Farage and Steve Bannon, are clearly on the right, if not the far-right. Some appear to be nothing more than contrarian narcissists who trade as ‘free-thinkers.’ Others, who can be found in varying proportions in organisations such as the Stop the War Coalition, Democratic Socialists of America and Young Labour, come to anti-anti-Putinism via the far-left. It will not surprise you to learn that many of the above made regular appearances on the now-banned Russian television channel RT.

The ‘campists’ to whom I am referring are those who are anti-war only or mainly when the United States is the aggressor. But does that make their ‘Westsplaining,’ any less potent or relevant? After all, US imperialist aggression remains a major world problem. I am using the term ‘Westplaining’ here to describe, after Alasdair McCallum, ‘a persistent, frustrating feature of Western commentary on Ukraine and other former communist countries in Europe… where the concerns of Russia are recognised but those of Eastern Europe are not. […] Eastern Europe is something that can be explained but isn’t worth engaging with.…’ This position brushes against Freire’s notion of recognising the voices and subjectivities of marginalised groups such as those of Ukraine and other post-communist countries in having a say in their own political affairs.

In the case of Ukraine, it refers to repeatedly blaming NATO enlargement in Eastern Europe for Russian aggression towards Ukraine while at the same time failing to recognise that the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution was supported not by NATO but by a desire on the part of the Ukrainian people to become integrated with the European Union economically and politically – revealed in attempts at forming a self-governing ‘Maidan’ democracy that Putin falsely claimed was organised by foreign agents. The military alliance of NATO is the belligerent villain here, according to the campists, without attributing any culpability to Russia. The agency, voice and protagonistic role of Ukraine’s 43 million people, who are bearing the brunt of Russia’s brutal invasion, is virtually ignored, or given a perfunctory nod, out of a fear that supporting Ukraine’s defensive war with arms shipments from Europe and the USA will bring the world closer to a nuclear Armageddon. Of course, this is an understandable concern since with nuclear war, all human life hangs in the balance.

So how should we weigh such a concern with the rights of Ukraine to defend itself with assistance from NATO nations? Not an easy question. McCallum argues that ‘we should seek to amplify the voices of Ukrainians and recognise the limits and cultural contingencies inherent in our own systems of knowledge when interpreting Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.’ Sound advice that a good Freirean would appreciate. But is the risk worth it? That seems to be the question gnawing at the ankles of the campists. And so it should. Nuclear conflagration is a threat to all life on earth. But should such a fear compel us to follow the campists in their assertion that we are not to raise our hand against Putin? On the one hand, it would be insane not to consider negotiating with Russia over the terms of ending this war. On the other hand, should this rule out Ukraine’s right to win its sovereignty on the battlefield?

There are other questions for consideration. Should this war be fought with American support, as the proxy war that we know Pentagon officials consider it to be? Would a victory by Ukraine embolden Putin to deploy nuclear weapons in Ukraine or against NATO allies? Will capitulating to those who wish to enter negotiations immediately, even if it means allowing all the military gains accrued by Russia to remain untouched, embolden Russia to seek out new territories for expansion once the Ukraine issue is settled? Are those of us who support Ukraine underestimating the United States as the most vicious imperial power the world has yet seen in our hesitancy to see Ukraine immediately take a seat at the peace table and as we continue to watch the US heavy weapons unloaded at the Ukrainian border? These are urgent questions, to be sure.

When support for Russia comes carefully packaged as ‘anti-anti-Putin’ as distinct from pro-Putin, such sentiments are often meant, in the language of realpolitik, to disguise a pro-Russian stance. And, so, I would say to the campists directly: If you wish us not to be anti-Putin, please be clear about what it is about Putin that you do support. Is it his support for fascist regimes such as Hungary or Brazil? Is it his shelling of hospitals, schools and apartment buildings? Is it Putin’s grand imperialist desire to fight a contemporary Great Northern War as did his hero, Russia’s Tsar Peter I, for example, that you hold in some plaintive, high regard? Or is there something that lubricates your chops about the kleptocratic Putin regime trying to erase a young country and its attempts at nation-building out of existence in one broad swipe like the official photographic images of Trotsky after the Bolshevik Revolution when he lost favour with Stalin? What is it exactly about incorporating Ukraine as Putin’s illiberal internal colony, ‘Little Russia,’ purged of those fighting for democratic rights, those building the workers’, women’s and LGBTIQ movements, that you seem to fancy? How much blood, death, rape and rubble are to be sufficient payment to a regime that extols nationalism, militarism, xenophobia, revisionism and expansionism for such an appeasement? How many civilians shipped into camps in eastern Siberia is worth it? Or do you prefer to point the finger at Vladimir Lenin as the one responsible for the very existence of Ukraine? Or is it Putin’s attempts at destabilising plutocracies in the West that appeal to you?

Of course, campists would abhor all these accusations. They are on the left and have stood beside us on the picket lines. Perhaps then, the campists are merely trying to say that Putin’s Russia – a country that has waged a series of wars in Chechnya, Georgia, eastern Ukraine and Syria – is the lesser imperialist power and is presently clamped in the jaws of Uncle Sam, the larger and more vicious imperialist power, that has managed to surround Russia. Are the campists merely saying that the US is the greater evil? Or that it has the greater potential for bringing about World War III? I would agree with the campists that the US is the most dangerous overall threat to world peace today, but does that mean Ukraine must be sacrificed to the country that would likely be considered the second most dangerous threat to world peace – Russia? While it is tempting to believe that Ukraine is the unwilling executor of an imperialist plan set by the US, one must consider that the Ukrainians are fighting for their very existence as Ukrainians. Can we really posit a moral equivalence between Ukraine’s defensive war and the Kremlin’s aggression, between the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination and Russia’s security concerns? I think not.

These are not unimportant concerns that have to be factored in when we consider our support for the liberation of Ukraine. Rather than focusing mainly on NATO’s encroachment towards Russia, it would prove worthwhile to examine the current crisis of 21st-century capitalism and its neoliberal statecraft, including the US Federal Reserve, the IMF and other financial institutions. And their failure to integrate post-Soviet Russia into its system, leading to a Russian over-reliance on the proceeds of raw materials exports and a lack of native industrial development. The authors’ collective of the journal Commons summarises Etienne Balibar’s analysis of the war as follows:

He [Balibar] argues convincingly that this war has four interwoven dimensions: first, a national war of independence similar to Algeria or Vietnam; second, another war as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the state-bureaucratic countries; third, a globalised war, since the warring countries are involved in global alliances and networks, and the war has catastrophic effects on the food supply in many poor countries; and fourth, finally, the threat of nuclear war, since Putin is deliberately using this blackmail potential. However, the determining factor in the dynamics of the war is the socially broadly supported war of independence against Russian occupation. Balibar concludes that the defeat of Ukraine is a completely unacceptable prospect.

It is worth pointing out that there is no moral purity here since there exists a partial alignment of interests between Ukraine and imperialist powers. But that surely does not justify the campists’ position.

Since becoming a US citizen in 2000, I have voted for the Democratic Party in presidential elections, following Noam Chomsky’s advice that elections in the US are more about who you are voting against than who you are voting for. The thought of voting for Joe Biden for President was a difficult choice, but he was definitely the candidate expected to do less harm to the country and the world than Trump would – by far. And, in the words of Nathan Robinson, ‘voting in itself is a trivial act compared with the revolutionary organising we should be undertaking, and we’re not going to get better candidates until we do things other than vote.’

Joe Biden is not a leftist but a conservative Democrat who rejects socialism and who has refused to endorse social democratic policies. Yet he became the only alternative to another four years of Donald Trump. As Adolph Reed noted in 2016,

The overriding electoral objective now should be to maintain or expand political space for organising, and a Trump presidency and Republican Congress would almost certainly undercut that objective in multiple ways, including intensified attacks on the rights of workers and the political power of their unions, on public goods and services, civil rights and liberties.

Nathan J. Robinson writes: ‘Reed compares [voting] to cleaning the toilet – not pleasant, but, if you don’t hold your nose and get on with it, the long-term consequences will be unbearable.’

Dan La Botz (2022) reports that US electoral left parties – the ‘Green Party, Peace and Freedom Party (in California), Socialist Workers Party, and Socialist Party – receive few votes, a tiny percentage of the total. The Communist Party USA has not run any candidates since the 1990s.’ For this and many other reasons, it made sense to me to have voted Democrat. La Botz deftly summarises some of the positions of a number of left organisations with respect to Ukraine. In the United States, the Democratic Socialists of America

expresses no support for Ukrainian self-determination or its right to protect its territorial integrity. The Communist Party, the second largest left organisation in the United States, has taken a similar position, criticising Russia’s invasion but also opposing further military support to Ukraine. Other smaller leftist organisations, such as the Party of Socialism and Liberation, have also taken a similar position, though leaning toward support for Russia. Among the smaller organisations on the Trotskyist left, one finds the argument that the US and NATO are responsible for the war, sometimes without criticism of Russia. As one can see, campist and even neo-Stalinist politics are common in the American left today.

If what we consider left and right positions actually merge together, how did the idea of a left-right spectrum originate? According to Dorian Lynskey, it

originated with a seating arrangement. After the French Revolution, members of the new National Assembly who supported the king gathered to the president’s right and revolutionaries to the left. ‘Left’ and ‘right’ caught on in Britain during the Spanish Civil War, which at the very same time exposed how inadequate those definitions were. Writers such as George Orwell and Franz Borkenau observed with horror that Stalinists in Spain murdered and defamed socialists and anarchists, employing tactics similar to those of the fascists they were fighting. The study of totalitarianism developed from those early efforts to explain the puzzling kinship between mortal enemies on the far-left and the far-right.

So clearly there are members of the left who are non-communists, such as the democratic socialists. And there are others, of course. The new left, for example, vehemently rejected Russian totalitarianism. So, when Marjorie Taylor Greene goes on one of her epic rants about the Democrats being communists, she is not only revealing her own ignorance but taking advantage of the ignorance of her right-wing audience. Even on issues of class, confusion exists about who is right and who is left. As Lynskey (2022) notes,

People regularly vote against their class interests, prioritising cultural values and identity over economics. If you hadn’t noticed before 2016 that parties of the left were becoming, relatively speaking, more middle-class and parties of the right more working-class, then Brexit and Trump made it unignorable.

Lynskey quotes the British-Syrian writer Leila Al-Shami who writes that the

pro-fascist left seems blind to any form of imperialism that is non-western in origin. It combines identity politics with egoism. Everything that happens is viewed through the prism of what it means for westerners – only white men have the power to make history.

While the term fascist applied to left campists seems an exaggeration, I have nevertheless overheard remarks by campists that signal their glee whenever Russian missiles score a direct hit, presumably at Ukraine’s Azov battalion. While Russia’s unprovoked war of imperialist aggression doesn’t sit well with many campists, they hold onto the belief that US imperialism is the gravest danger to world peace and that fighting US imperialism is the greatest priority in these times – so forget the bombs reigning down on hospitals, schools and apartment buildings. Sometimes holding on to this position has proved a slippery slope that involved remaining relatively silent about the brutal and authoritarian politics and practices of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega or Bashir al-Assad, for example. There are leftists I know who still believe Russia to be the universal hope for the future of socialism. I fell into this quagmire until the 1980s, upon my realisation that the USSR was not the beacon of socialism for the world that many on the left held it to be – a moment of lucidity which came about when reading Raya Dunayevskaya’s insights into Soviet state capitalism, especially the analysis that followed her question about how the mode of production differs under bureaucratic state socialist rule from that under capitalist rule.

In my last article, I drew upon Jean-Pierre Faye’s popular Horseshoe Theory, which argues that the extremes of left and right curve towards one another rather than existing at the opposite ends of a straight line. But in no way is this to be taken as synonymous with the idea that the far-left is no different from fascists or neo-Nazis. The lesson here, of course, is the need to move beyond a ‘both sides’ framing of the invasion. And while it is important to identify campists in our midst, in a similar way, we need to be wary of those who would support any position that opposes Russian aggression – which used to be the position of most of the US public until the advent of Donald Trump. The problem cuts both ways. Yes, you can be on either the right or the left and oppose Russia’s actions in Ukraine, often leading to a political impasse, as both Republicans and Democrats in the US have made clear.

With the recent US midterm election results revealing that the Republicans have taken the House, we are likely to see more and more Republicans criticising massive military expenditures for Ukraine, especially at a time of high inflation. With a very weakened left in the US, it will become increasingly more difficult in the months ahead for Ukraine to count on US funding for its defensive war against Russia. At the present moment, however, the American people, by and large, support Ukraine against Russia’s vicious military onslaught. Dan La Botz writes, ‘According to a recent poll, two-thirds of Americans support Ukraine regaining its territory. Eighty per cent of Democrats support Ukraine, but most Republicans want to see the conflict ended soon even if it means ceding territory to Russia.’

During his contentious presidency, Trump’s call for an end to endless wars and for the United States to sever its military ties to its European allies in NATO and the EU, and his vocal admiration for Vladimir Putin, served the interests of Russia more than it did the USA. A weakened European defence against Russia would not in any way lessen the chance of war, and there is not the space here to explore further that geopolitical conundrum. While it would seem dangerous to side with Putin on matters of geopolitics, it should be clear that support for a strong Russia, and a strong, vibrant Ukraine, coexisting peacefully is the way to move forward. The US should stop treating the war in Ukraine as a proxy war to weaken Russia – we need to reassure Russia that we support both nations. And we need reassurance from Russia that Ukraine is allowed to pursue its sovereignty. An act of good faith would be for Russia to withdraw all its troops from Ukraine immediately. We cannot reassure Russia and Ukraine that the US seeks to support both countries by following an ’ America First’ program like the one Trump set up, which included threatening to leave NATO, leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership, quitting the Paris Agreement on climate, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, and leaving the World Health Organisation, UNESCO, and the Human Rights Council (La Botz, 2020). Nor can we reassure Russia by the current policies of the Biden administration, at least those we have seen.

A return to traditional US imperial policies is in nobody’s interest and certainly not in the interest of humanity as a whole, and, for this reason, we are against Biden’s reconstruction of the NATO alliance, which includes Japan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand, India and others – and a pivot to Asia that has targeted China as its major adversary. This must be opposed. At the same time, I believe that Ukraine has the right to secure the weapons necessary for its defence, including those from the United States.

We look to the support of socialist movements within and outside of the United States to help defend Ukraine’s quest for sovereignty – a courageous quest that continues to cost them life and limb. According to La Botz, the largest organised socialist group in the United States is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which claims 90,000 members who actively oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but also oppose military aid to Ukraine. Lacking among the DSA is a spirited concern with Ukrainian self-determination or its right to protect its territorial integrity. Sadly, La Botz writes that

The Communist Party, the second largest left organisation in the United States, has taken a similar position, criticising Russia’s invasion but also opposing further military support to Ukraine. Other smaller leftist organisations, such as the Party of Socialism and Liberation, have also taken a similar position, though leaning toward support for Russia. Among the smaller organisations on the Trotskyist left, one finds the argument that the US and NATO are responsible for the war, sometimes without criticism of Russia. As one can see, campist and even neo-Stalinist politics are common in the American left today. Other groups oppose the Russian invasion and support the Russian anti-war movement but see the war as an inter-imperialist conflict and are critical of Ukraine accepting arms from other nations.

La Botz also informs us that the anarchist left has condemned the Russian invasion and supports Ukraine’s fight against Russia but opposes the idea of any states getting involved. So what are the tendencies that support the socialism-from-below position? La Botz points to the journals Solidarity, Against the CurrentTempestSpectreNew Politics and Internationalism from Below. And, of course, there is the small, vibrant and influential International Marxist Humanist Organisation, whose supporters include several members of the Paulo Freire Democratic Project.

How do we build the anti-war movement under such circumstances? Especially when groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America oppose the war but have not called for Ukraine’s victory, and appear to be lodged somewhere in the pacifist anti-war camp that opposes giving weapons to Ukraine. And what does a principled, internationalist, anti-imperialist left response to the war in Ukraine look like? Does it involve the neutralisation of Ukraine? Are Ukraine, Sweden and Finland bound to take a position of neutrality by treaty but allowed to otherwise be a part of Western Europe if they make that choice? Would Russia’s autocratic regime uphold the agreements of any peace treaty it negotiated with Ukraine? Would factions of the Ukrainian military continue the battle using guerrilla warfare that could lead to a protracted and essentially unwinnable conflict lasting for generations? Let’s not forget what the Budapest Accord said – that Russia would not attack Ukraine in exchange for nuclear weapons – and yet, in 2014, the Russians seized Crimea and promoted a secessionist movement in the East. There are reasons to be sceptical about the Russian Federation abiding by any treaty. La Botz rightly laments that there remains only a small US anti-war movement today. And that many in the movement ‘continue to hold the historic opposition to US imperialism, but do not condemn the imperialist wars of other nations,’ following a campist tendency while ‘opposing the US and sympathetic to countries resisting it, even if they are authoritarian, such as Russia, China, Iran, and Syria.’ This is a problem that requires serious dialogue among the left.

While we would all prefer to see the dissolution of NATO and the Russian-dominated military alliance CSTO in favour of building a democratic and collective security system, and a dismantling of the arms industry in the West and East, there is an urgent need that cannot wait – the creation of a viable alternative to capitalism. This cannot wait. Only an alternative to predatory capitalism’s law of value can guarantee a future linked to democracy and freedom. Sotsialniy Rukh (Social Movement) is a new party created by Ukrainian workers whose development of extra-parliamentary left-wing politics has resulted in anti-capitalist and pro-labour demands countering the conservative nationalist and liberal mainstream in Ukraine. A close ally of the grassroots social movement of healthcare workers launched in 2019, Social Movement is an encouraging part of the labour movement that looms large on the stage of Ukrainian civic organisations. Members of this fledging party believe ‘that the problems behind the numerous Ukrainian protests of last decades (poverty, striking inequality, social injustice, lack of democracy, corruption and vested interests in politics, police violence, and attacks on civil and social rights) could be solved only by a genuine social revolution – namely, replacing the existing system of oligarchic capitalism with democratic socialism.’ We look to Social Movement working with organisations here in the US.

In the meantime, we can do our best to support Ukraine and ensure its victory. I am in agreement with Jurgen Habermas that our ‘hope is reflected in the cautious formulation of the goal that Ukraine “must not lose” this war.’ And that, in order for hope to win the day, for a post-Millennial Ukrainian trek into the trenches of pluralism and democracy to be vindicated, the EU needs to create its own strong and independent military capabilities, because relying on an American-led security umbrella will not suffice. We look for a day in which we no longer rely on wars to solve the problems of governance, preferring instead to create a soul-deep democracy, one that can only be provided by securing a viable alternative to the value form of labour. But looking forward in the abstract is no guarantee that the future will match our hope in concrete terms. In the meantime—which means now—we need to support Ukraine and its victory on the battlefield against the forces of Russian imperial domination. As Oksana Dutchek reminds us, ‘we are not in an abstract war here.’ She warns: ‘It is a very concrete imperial invasion backed by the rhetoric of total submission. Sometimes it also reaches the level of genocidal rhetoric.’ In our support for Ukraine we need to infuse hope with struggle, a struggle that will prevent despair from converging with nihilism, a struggle that will make doubt impractical, a struggle, finally, that pivots on the axis of victory.

Today, sectors of the United States are looking more like Russia than the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s difficult to cry freedom in places like Florida, where legislation was drawn up by Governor Ron DeSantis to regulate the way the history of racism and slavery could be taught in higher education. Fortunately, a judge has intervened, temporarily halting the provisions of the ‘Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act’ – or the ‘Stop WOKE Act’ – that was designed to use the state government to monitor ideas about race and history, and that would circumscribe what professors could teach about racism and slavery and how they could teach it. In the judge’s own words, the Stop Woke Act ‘officially bans professors from expressing disfavoured viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints.’ The judge went so far as to describe such an act as ‘positively dystopian,’ citing the opening sentence of the novel ‘1984’ by George Orwell with the words: ‘“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,’ and the powers in charge of Florida’s public university system have declared the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of “freedom.”’ The phrase ‘the clocks striking thirteen’ is a defamiliarising move on the part of Orwell, suggestive of an aberration – a menacing alien world outside of time – that has infected all of society in which fear has become familiar and the familiar something to fear.

This raises the question: How have the citizens of Florida become so inoculated to – let’s call it what it is – fascism – that they initially and wholeheartedly supported legislation that could have been right out of Putin’s playbook, legislation that, in the words of the good judge, stipulated that ‘professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves.’ How could Republican members of congress celebrate with such unbridled enthusiasm Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orbán, who has gone so far as to alter his country’s constitution to limit the free press and education, to suppress immigration, to change the elections rules to guarantee his re-election even if he doesn’t have the support of the majority of the people, to fill the federal government with his lackeys, and to define only in strict fundamentalist Christian terms the meaning of a family? Trumpists love Orbán, and their penchant for Putin could drive down support for Ukraine. If that happens, the clocks of the world could all be striking thirteen much sooner than we think, and there won’t be any good judges left in the government to put a halt to what follows.

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Full Citation Information:
McLaren, P. (2022). Too Strong to Submit, Too Weak to Prevail: The Challenge of Supporting Ukraine in a Time of Crisis. PESA Agora.

Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.