A version of this article first appeared Left Voice by Scott Cooper
Cities around the world have seen protests against the war in Ukraine since the Russian invasion early Thursday morning. More are scheduled for today. But some demonstrations focus on demanding more “help” from the West for Ukraine — a path that will not solve the crisis.
Anti-war protests broke out around the world not long after Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered troops across the border into Ukraine in the early-morning hours of Thursday, February 24. In addition to protests in Russia itself, demonstrations were held in cities on nearly every continent. In many cases, the rallies were held outside Russian embassies and consulates.
In Vienna, demonstrators gathered in front of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Demonstrators in Oslo targeted the Russian Embassy, as did protesters in Paris, Stockholm, London, and Dublin. A rally in Japan was held outside a major Tokyo railway station. In Dam Square in Amsterdam, about 100 people gathered, about the same number as in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. There were rallies and vigils across Italy on Thursday night. Turkey, Lithuania, Lebanon, Cyprus, Montenegro, Switzerland, Poland, the United States, and other countries all saw people in the streets.
These demonstrations had something in common besides the simple opposition to war. That commonality may be summarized best by the demonstration in The Hague, Netherlands, which took place outside the offices of the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA). They demanded more intervention by NATO to “save” the Ukrainian people.
In fact, almost all the protests around the world — most of which were attended by members of the Ukrainian communities in those locales — shared this demand in the form of a plea for help from the United States and NATO.
It’s a demand that flows from legitimate fear and desperation, but it is based on an illusion that intervention, of any sort, by the United States and NATO would serve the genuine interests of the Ukrainian people.
In Madrid, Barcelona, and Berlin, demonstrations also took place that had a different character, absent that illusion. Several thousand people protested against the war in Ukraine in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, in the heart of the city, on Friday night, February 25. The crowd chanted, “Neither Putin nor NATO! No to war!” A main slogan was: “Your wars, our dead.”
“Neither with Putin nor with NATO” was the message of thousands of anti-war Italians who filled Bologna’s streets. The protests were so big that traffic was blocked in several parts of the city.
The previous night, in Barcelona, 300 people rallied in Plaça Sant Jaume — including members of Catalunya’s Ukrainian community. The protesters denounced the escalation of the conflict between Russia and NATO. Santiago Lupe, speaking for the Revolutionary Workers Current (CRT), Left Voice’s sister organization in the Spanish State, told the rally goers that ensuring Ukraine’s independence and resisting war was impossible without confronting the imperialist policies of NATO and Russia’s policies of reactionary nationalism. He denounced the role of the Spanish State’s Socialist Party and Unidas Podemos government for providing troops, demanding their withdrawal and the closure of all NATO military bases in Spain.
In Madrid, Lucia Nistal — also from the CRT — told the rally, “We have come here today to declare: Russian troops out of Ukraine.” But she also denounced “the imperialist role and aggression of NATO, without which the current situation cannot be understood.” And Carlos Rubio, spokesman for the youth group Contracorriente (Countercurrent) stated, “We must say it clearly: we denounce the imperialist interference of the United States, NATO, and the lapdogs of Europe. For years, NATO and the EU have been trying to advance to protect their imperialist interests. Let’s not forget that there are NATO bases in this country, something we cannot continue to allow. Bases out!” He also called for an end to the Russian invasion, and denounced the reactionary policies, which serve the Russian oligarchy through oppression and repression of the Russian people.
In Leopoldplatz in Berlin, 500 people came out on Thursday night. Our comrades who publish Klasse Gegen Klasse denounced not only the Russian invasion, but made clear that as internationalists they oppose any imperialist aggression — which means opposing the goals of the United States, Germany, and NATO as a whole, which are “equally reactionary” to those of Putin and concern only geostrategic and economic interests, not helping the people of Ukraine face down an invader and secure their independence.
Internationalism is key, as Lucia Nistal put it in Madrid. “The various capitalist powers in conflict want to lead us, once again, to barbarism, to massacre, to war. The only way out is internationalism. The path passes through a Ukrainian working class that fights, with the support of all the world’s workers, for an independent way out, for a working-class and socialist Ukraine.”
More demonstrations are called for today and will likely continue as the war continues, the looming refugee crisis explodes, and the geopolitical game of chess plays out at the expense of the working class and poor — some of whom will be forced to pay with their lives on the battlefield or in towns and cities that come under attack, while the rest of us will be forced to pay when our imperialist governments stick us with the bill for their escapades.
Denunciations of both Russia and NATO, and the call for a truly independent working-class and socialist Ukraine must become the content of the anti-war movement going forward. This is not just some abstract Leftist slogan. It is the only path forward to end wars and crises in Ukraine. Neither the West nor Russia represents or cares about the interests of the great majority of Ukrainians, the working class. Their fight is a function of capitalist competition. Ours must be to free Ukraine and the world of the system that breeds these crises and wars.
Scott Cooper is a writer, editor, and longtime socialist activist who lives in the Boston area.