Biden, Putin, and the threat of World War III
Anti-war demonstrators organized by CODEPINK gather at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. | via CODEPINK

As the bombs drop and the war rages on into the fifth week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Biden dramatically escalated the danger of a wider conflict by calling for Vladimir Putin’s removal. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” quipped Biden at the end of a much-touted speech in Warsaw.

The allegedly off-the-cuff remark sent advisors scurrying denying, somewhat implausibly, they represented a shift in U.S. policy. France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, distanced himself from a comment Biden made earlier in the day in which he described Putin as a butcher. “I would not use those words,” said Macron, arguing, “Everything must be done to stop the situation from escalating.” Nadhim Zahawi, a UK cabinet minister, said it was “for the Russian people to decide how they are governed.”

A host on Russian state TV, which now with other media banned is the country’s only outlet, called for Biden’s removal and his replacement by Trump. “It’s time for us, our people, to call on the people of the United States to change the regime in the U.S. early, and to again help our partner, Trump, to become president,” Popov said. Dear Mr. Popov, please stay the hell out of our internal affairs, as we’re working to stay the hell out of yours.

The CPUSA rejected calls for regime change from whatever quarter in a recently updated statement.

Biden’s call for regime change was dangerous and laced with ideological bombshells. The Democrat used the occasion to restate his administration’s self-proclaimed Cold War against authoritarianism. “Today’s fighting in Kiev and Melitopol and Kharkov are the latest battle in a long struggle. Hungary, 1956. Poland, 1956, and then again, 1981. Czechoslovakia, 1968,” he argued. But this is a loosely defined and selective anti-authoritarianism indeed: the Biden administration has yet to take on the likes of the Saudi Arabian dictatorship or its role in the civil war in Yemen, a war fought with U.S.-supplied arms. The same could be said for el-Sisi’s Egypt, Orban’s Hungary, and the list goes on. Get the picture?

Cold War rhetoric and Russophobia add fuel to the fire

Biden’s address was replete with Iron Curtain rhetoric, beginning with the invocation of the likes of arch anti-communists Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa, to say nothing of his attempt to identify all things Russian with socialism and Putin. The irrational, obsessive Russophobia of ruling U.S.’s elites, whether in its original anti-Soviet form or in its contemporary guise, is a very dangerous thing. It closes the door on the immediate demand for ceasefire and negotiations. At the very least, it makes the work of diplomats more difficult.

Biden’s ideological barrage within the context of the Ukraine war has added fuel to the fires of bourgeois nationalism of both left and right. It strengthens the hand of right-wing nationalists like President Andrzej Duda of Poland and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary. His rhetoric serves to sharpen imperialist rivalries. It heightens the global fascist danger.

In light of this, how can one interpret left-wing endorsements of Biden’s call for Putin’s removal? These endorsements call into question the very source of the danger, in effect absolving U.S. imperialism. They also call into question the center of gravity of the coalition needed to combat it, even, incredibly, ceding leadership of an international anti-fascist united front to it.

Coming to grips with the nature of the Putin regime

On top of all of this, there’s the perplexing problem of coming to grips with the nature of the Putin regime itself, its class composition, political complexion, and the motives that lay behind its invasion of Ukraine.

Here, an objective analysis is complicated by knee-jerk responses which allege that any attempt to provide context and background to the events that led up to the war justify the war itself. Context is not necessarily cause: a war explained should not be confused with a war excused.

One must admit here that a curious defense of Russia also seems to be at work. While it ought to be clear to all blessed with the gift of sight that the Russia of 2022 is hardly the USSR of 30 years ago, there are those who conjure in the Russian invasion an anti-imperialist impulse in the face of an undeniable NATO encirclement and years-long U.S. provocation. But this at best is an anti-imperialism with limitations: Don’t you know comrades, that capitalism was restored in Russia and that the country is now led by a ruling class whose ill-gotten gains were the result of the wholesale theft of public property after the USSR’s collapse?

Russian capitalists on a mission

In this regard, Putin’s anti-communist credentials themselves were revealed to anyone with doubts in a February speech where he blamed Lenin’s approach to solving the national question for today’s problems. He stated: “We are ready to show you what real decommunization means for Ukraine.” As the saying goes, when a person tells who they are, believe them.

There’s no doubt that Mr. Putin, on behalf of Russia’s capitalists is on a mission. (Notice that we don’t use the term “oligarch,” which is applied almost exclusively to Moscow and is yet another expression of Russophobia.) The issue is, a mission of what type? To pursue a simple inter-capitalist rivalry? Or has capitalist Russia quickly entered the imperialist stage full-blown, as classically defined?

Already in 2016 D. Novikov, representing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation at the 16th meeting of the Communist and Workers Parties in Hanoi, described his country’s economic system as imperialistic, monopolistic, parasitic, and decaying capitalism. This description is significant, given the debate around the motivations for the war. Novikov wrote:

In Russia, the world socio-economic crisis is combined with the internal crisis caused by the restoration of capitalism and the bankruptcy of liberal bourgeois policy. The country has all the features of imperialism named by Lenin. It is monopolistic, parasitic, and decaying capitalism. Russia is under growing outside pressure from stronger countries of the world capitalist system. They resort to economic sanctions, political blackmail, and military threats.

In response to these threats – and here Mr. Biden’s strident claim in Warsaw that NATO is “defensive only” is downright laughable – Putin’s government has become extremely nationalistic. The Kremlin now pursues its perceived national interest with a vengeance in response to the NATO encirclement and the West’s refusal to treat Russia as an equal within their much vaunted “rules based international order.”

Moscow’s policy has been to vigorously play both ends against the middle in an effort to disrupt, disturb, and destabilize their Western European and American capitalist rivals. In this regard, the anti-NATO and anti-EU postures of the European right have for some time been courted by Putin. Witness the support offered by Le Pen in France and the British right, including the UK’s Brexit.

But the international policy of United Russia, Russia’s ruling party, is not one-sided. One moment, they’re courting Le Pen in France, the next they’re entering into economic and military cooperation with Xi Jinping’s China. In still another, they’re playing footsie with the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Michael Flynn at a Putin-sponsored dinner.

The ideology and outlook of Russia’s ruling party is another matter. There’s a belief in some quarters, without much hard evidence, frankly, that the Putin regime is right-wing, even fascist. There are allegations of influences of Alexander Dugin, an ex-communist turned “national Bolshevik” (a euphemism for “national socialist” as Nazis called themselves).

Others, with wide experience in East-and-West European socialist politics and diplomatic circles, describe the Russian government as center-left in domestic politics. They cite the renationalization of formerly privatized sectors of the economy along with the maintenance of public along with private pension and healthcare systems. In this view, the foreign policy moves in the exact opposite direction, mirroring, ironically, the Democratic Party of the U.S., which, while “liberal” domestically, veers hawkish and right in foreign affairs, outdoing the GOP at times. Then there are those who simply scratch their heads in utter bewilderment as to the Kremlin’s political complexion, though most see Mr. Putin himself as an autocrat.

Class factor is a basic criterion in politics

But since the days of the French Revolution, when Reaction sat on the right side of the aisle and the Revolution on the left, hasn’t politics been framed largely, though not entirely, around the respective class platforms of contending forces? Of course, 20th- and 21st-century culture wars on race, gender, and sexual orientation have colored easy assessments, but the class factor remains a basic criterion.

For us, what’s going on in Putin’s head is not as important as the economic and political practice of Russia’s ruling circles, a practice most dramatically revealed by the military incursion into Ukraine, an invasion that benefits no one but the ruling classes of Russia and elsewhere. Here, gaining the opinion of our Russian comrades would be decisive.

On this score, the fraternal parties gathered in the world communist movement including our own, are largely united in condemnation and opposition to Putin’s military action, but with notable exceptions, including the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, who support the war, though some are speaking out against it. Communists oppose war and champion peaceful settlement of international disputes. In this connection, Jerónimo de Sousa, leader of the Portuguese Communist Party recently spoke about the need to deescalate and end the conflict:

It is urgent to stop the policy of inciting confrontation, which will only lead to the worsening of the conflict, to the loss of more human lives, to greater suffering.

“Initiatives are needed that contribute to the de-escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, to a ceasefire and to a process of dialogue with a view to a negotiated solution to the conflict, to the response to the problems of collective security and disarmament in Europe, to the fulfillment of the principles of the UN Charter and the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference, in the interests of peace and cooperation among peoples.”

It’s true that today, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, new problems have emerged with respect to the struggle for peace and the danger of fascism. In conditions of global capitalist crisis, war always carries within it a growing fascist danger.

In both cases, broad coalitions are needed to successfully carry out and win the fight.

Leadership in this fight in the U.S. must fall to our working-class and people’s movement. It cannot be ceded to any other party or force, particularly the Biden administration, given its aggressive foreign policy aimed at China, Cuba, Venezuela, and, yes, Russia. Has this policy not contributed mightily to the current international crisis? Taken as a whole, is this policy not the main contributor to the war danger today? Therefore, calls for World War II–type alliances are misguided and unfortunate; they imply a military solution that one cannot possibly endorse.

In fact, the opposite is needed — de-escalation, detente, demilitarization. To the extent that such efforts are broadly based and built from the ground up, they will be successful. We pledge ourselves to the broad working-class people’s action and diplomacy so necessary to that fight.

World anti-fascist and pro-peace unity is needed against Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban, and others, but it is up to the people in each country to settle their own affairs, not to allow the slightest hint of interference from others. This should include, by the way, bringing an end to the U.S. arms buildup and export, a destabilizing factor worldwide.

Peace is possible if the workers and people of our planet rise up and make it so.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Joe Sims
Joe Sims

Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.