Manifesto against the war

by Sergio Bologna, Rüdiger Hachtmann, Erik Merks, Karl Heinz Roth, Bernd Schrader

We are publishing this timely intervention at the request of Karl Heinz Roth, interview with Roth to follow next week.

Activists of the social movements, workers, scientists, cultural workers of all countries!

The monstrous has happened: war has once again returned to everyday life in Europe. Right now the big cities in Ukraine are becoming battlefields. Peaceful people are being torn apart by shells and rockets or buried under the rubble of their homes.

Those who survive the barbaric attacks in cellars or underground tunnels are driven to flee from hunger, cold, lack of water and darkness. Barbarism is back.

For more than 20 years, this hell has been developing and spreading: first in Chechnya and Yugoslavia, then in Afghanistan, Iraq and today in Yemen, Syria and other regions of the Middle East.

Now it has reached Europe once again and has assumed catastrophic proportions with Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Metropolitan agglomerations inhabited by millions of people have become the main combat zones for the two armies.

The brutal reality of military conflict has many causes. It expresses the growing rivalry between the great imperialist powers, which has been building up in recent decades behind the façade of world economic globalisation.

The capitalist world system has once again shown its Janus face. On the one hand, it relies on the profitable world peace of globalised commodity chains and information systems to reconfigure the exploitation of the working classes and reach with it the farthest corners of the planet.

On the other hand, it unleashes ever more violent struggles for geostrategic zones of influence. Typical of this is China, which has combined its 'New Silk Road' project of connecting the continents with territorial claims over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

But the behaviour of the US is also exemplary in this respect. In order to secure its global economic hegemony, Washington has turned its East Asian counterpart into the territorial extension of its productive potential.

At the same time, Washington is sabotaging China's New Silk Road at all levels and has done everything possible to undermine peaceful economic relations between China, Russia and Europe.

At the same time, the US government has positioned its military alliance system, NATO, against the Russian Federation to prevent the integration of the defunct Soviet empire’s successor into an enlarged, stable and peaceful European order with mutual security guarantees.

The sabotage of Nord Stream 2 shows that economic pressure is just as important here as it is in the positioning against China: what the US has achieved against Russia has turned out to be a boomerang in the case of China and has fostered China's rise as a competing world power.

Finally, as a third barbaric factor, Islamic fundamentalism, a deeply regressive variant of anti-imperialism that aspires to a patriarchal theocracy, has come into play.

These developments have become a threat to humanity because all parties involved in the conflict have been able to rely on war material whose advanced technology increases its destructive potential over conventional weapon systems.

Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, unleashed on February 24, can only be understood in this context. And the conflict’s prehistory can also be explained by these connections.

When the Soviet empire collapsed, the US acquired Russia's approval for the inclusion of a unified Germany in NATO in exchange for a promise not to expand NATO further into Eastern Europe. At that time, the chances of Russia democratising and opening up to Europe were quite favourable.

However, this chance was lost after a few years. Beginning in 1997, NATO first covertly then openly had pursued a policy of eastward expansion, with the European Union following in its wake. This development was seen as a humiliation and a danger by the Russian power elite, as well as the majority of the population.

There were also countervailing tendencies towards mutual understanding, especially in France and Germany. However, they were thwarted by the new special alliance of the US with Eastern European states.

This arrogance created the external conditions in Russia for the implementation of a strategy of imperialist revisionism that had been propagated by parts of the power elite since the fall of the Soviet Union and then culminated in the Putin era.

The warning signals of this new course — the Georgian war in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 — were disregarded. Instead, the building of NATO infrastructure went ahead in Ukraine, although the country had been embroiled in a civil war with indirect Russian involvement since 2014.

The joint manoeuvres of the Ukrainian armed forces with NATO in September 2021 then marked the crossing of the red line.

NATO's expansion to 1,200 km from Russia's western border was intolerable to the Russian power and military elite, and they decided to wage a war of aggression against Ukraine before it could formally join NATO

These considerations are not a justification. Nothing could justify Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

It is only a matter of clarifying that this catastrophic war of aggression was also preceded by imperialist acts of aggression on the part of the West, which provoked in Putin’s Russia a geostrategic logic common to all imperialist power elites.

Imagine if the Russian Federation had signed a military pact with Cuba and Mexico and was building a military infrastructure directed against the US in the Caribbean and just outside its southern border!

This comparison makes it clear that we cannot be a party to this catastrophic game of the imperialist powers. We condemn Russian aggression in the strongest possible terms. But we also firmly reject the power elites of the West.

Instead of admitting the failure of their immoderate expansionist goals, they are now doubling-down on a military escalation, promoting a full-scale economic war as well as far-reaching military aid operations and arms supplies.

We are aware that with this position we currently represent only a tiny minority of all the direct and indirect stakeholders in the Ukraine war.

But we must not cede our identity, our orientation towards the social and emancipatory struggles for equality and self-determination, to the logic of imperialist war and the cynicism of the warmongers on all sides.

The military slaughter, the killing of civilians, the bombings, the starvation and the mass displacement of the Ukrainian population, as well as the destruction of social infrastructure must be stopped.

We must not allow NATO and the West to let Ukraine defend itself down to the last Ukrainian fit for military service, nor allow the Russian General Staff to send tens of thousands of soldiers and conscripts to their deaths.

Our children and grandchildren should not have to ask us why we did nothing to prevent the Ukrainian conflict from escalating into a major European war or even a nuclear Armageddon.

This danger has grown steadily because of massive US and NATO military support and severe economic sanctions. We cannot be passive spectators. If the escalation continues, we could face the horrors of war in the coming weeks just as the Ukrainian civilian population currently does.

We demand:

  1. An immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all armed troops from every population centre.
  2. The withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. The disarmament and disbandment of all paramilitary units on the territory of Ukraine.
  3. The immediate cessation of arms deliveries and NATO's covert involvement in the war.
  4. The immediate lifting of sanctions and an end to economic warfare.
  5. The start of peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine under the supervision of the OSCE. Assurance of Ukraine's indefinite neutrality and dismantling of NATO infrastructure in Ukraine in return for comprehensive and internationally backed Russian security guarantees.
  6. The establishment of Ukraine as an independent bridge state between NATO/EU and Russia under the OSCE umbrella. Bilateral reconstruction and economic treaties of Ukraine with the EU and the post-Soviet Customs Union.

We are well aware that these demands will remain empty words until they are taken up by the social movements, the working classes and the critical intelligentsia in an internationally coordinated effort.

It is therefore time to mobilise a broad anti-militarist resistance that is comprehensively and transnationally integrated into social struggles. This approach is by no means hopeless, as the resistance against the Vietnam War showed in the global social uprising of the late 1960s.

We therefore propose as first steps to mobilise resistance:

  1. The halting of all arms shipments to Ukraine and the other war zones of the world through boycott actions.
  2. The launch of a campaign to refuse military service in all armies directly or indirectly involved in the Ukraine war: defiance of conscription, refusal of orders, desertion from combat and supply units, whether Russian, Ukrainian or NATO. Development of a solidarity movement abroad for conscientious objectors.
  3. Participation in relief operations in support of all refugees from Ukraine as well as all other areas of war and civil war, without distinction.
  4. The time has come to take a stand against the disorientation of the peace and protest movement. The mass demonstrations all over the world and the interests of the working classes are directed against all imperialist powers and must not take sides.

Their aim was and is the overcoming of exploitation, patriarchal oppression, racism, nationalism, the destruction of nature and the enforcement of individual and social human rights. Now the struggle against a resurgent barbarism must be added.

The time has come for the opponents of war in all countries to unite before it is too late. The danger of using nuclear weapons is real. We must do everything we can to prevent it. This is our responsibility to our children and grandchildren!

Initial signatories:
Sergio Bologna, historian and logistics consultant, Milan
Rüdiger Hachtmann, historian, Berlin
Erik Merks, retired trade unionist, Hamburg
Karl Heinz Roth, historian and physician, Bremen
Bernd Schrader, sociologist, Hanover

Originally published in German, der Freitag, 03/14/2022

Published in italian, Il Manifesto 03/18/2022