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A Nation Is Not a Person: Now Let's Talk About Ukraine

by John Spritzler

March 6, 2014

A nation is not a person. A nation is a place where class conflict rages. A nation's government--"democratically elected" or not--is an instrument that the ruling class uses to dominate the rest of the population. When a government wages war or otherwise uses its military forces, it is for the purpose of defending or expanding the domination of the nation's ruling class over people inside its nation and perhaps over people inside another nation. Replace the word "nation" with "ethnic group" or "race" or "religion" and the above statements remain true, with the qualification that "government" may need to be replaced with "authorities" or "leaders."

The current conflict in Ukraine is about whether the American ruling class or the Russian ruling class is going to dominate and exploit ordinary people in Ukraine and posess raw materials and militarily strategic locations there; it's about how they will divvy up domination over Ukrainians if the Russian ruling class gets Crimea and the rest goes to the American ruling class. The conflict is over which Ukrainian billionaires will get the lion's share.

Neither the American, Russian, Ukrainian nor Crimean rich rulers (or would-be rulers) are the "good guys"; none of them are "anti-imperialists"; none of them are defending anything (such as their "backyard") that they have any right to; and none of them--whether "democratically elected" or not--have any legitimacy to rule over, dominate, exploit and oppress ordinary people they way they do (or are trying to do.)

The American government serves a plutocracy that oversees obscene economic inequality. The Russian government does likewise. The American-supported "leaders" in Ukraine are billionaire exploiters of Ukrainians and the Russian-supported Yanukovych was no better. As much as these ruling class oppressors may fight each other, when it comes to making sure that the have-nots remain out of power, the ruling class haves stand united against the have-nots. Thus neither of these ruling classes ever criticizes the other for imposing outrageous class inequality on its people; they have a tacit agreement never to do that. Instead, they limit their condemnations of each other to disagreements over things like homosexuality and keeping out of the other's backyard. They do everything they can to keep the have-nots out of power by divide-and-conquer, the way they have whipped up fear and mistrust and hostility between Russian-speaking and Ukrainian-speaking people.

Almost every article I have read recently about Ukraine completely ignores these elementary facts, or else they would analyze events very differently, the way that is discussed here. These articles are written the way one would write about a brawl that broke out between persons. Which nation (or ethnic group) is the bully ("imperialist")? Which is the victim ("anti-imperialist")? Which one played fair? Which one broke the rules (or, as many articles so naively put it, which one "is being hypocritical," as if anybody paying attention believed that any of these governments ever took international law seriously when it did not serve their interests to do so)? Whose backyard is it? Which nation should we support? Which one should we condemn? The unspoken false premise of these articles is that nations (or ethnic groups) are essentially persons, with--like persons--a backyard and a single "national" interest--one that is in competition with the interests of some nation/persons and not in competition with other nation/persons. Such writing is inevitably dangerously misleading.

These Nations-Are-Like-Persons Articles are Dangerous

Here's what I mean. When these articles, as they so often do, tell their readers that one of the nations is imperialist and the other anti-imperialist, they are telling their readers to support a government (the "anti-imperialist" one) that oppresses its own people. No good can come from this!

What these articles fail to grasp is that when two nations (by which I mean two ruling classes) are in conflict, there is no need to support one in order to oppose the other. Doing so means taking the side of the oppressor against the oppressed in the so-called "good" nation.*

Many articles that don't declare one nation imperialist and the other anti-imperialist, but still treat nations as if they were persons, are just as bad in their own way. Articles that talk about what this or that government should do are either directed at the rulers of those governments (i.e., not us) or they are directed at us. In the former case, the authors are either sophisticated servants of the ruling class offering wise advice on how to strengthen its power, or they are fools who think, or ruling class agents who pretend to think, that the politicians are really trying to make the world better and safer for everybody. In the latter case when the articles are directed at people like us, written as if what we thought our government should do would have any effect on what our government actually does, the authors are, wittingly or unwittingly, doing something very bad. They are hiding the fact that we have no say in what our government actually does, and thereby preventing us from seeing the need to build a revolutionary movement to abolish the dictatorship of the rich that we live under.

What Would Intelligent Articles Do?

Articles cannot be useful for people like you and me unless they address the question of what ordinary people can and should do, given the reality of what we actually can do and the reality of what our governments actually will do. Intelligent, useful articles would talk about the burning question: How can we remove the rich from power, in the nation where we happen to live? Why do authors of the "nations-are-like-persons" articles avoid dealing with this obvious question? Maybe they're paid to. Maybe it's just that they don't think it is possible to remove the rich from power and so they devote their writing to making futile suggestions for government leaders to follow, or to praising one nation as the "good guy" and condemning another nation as the "bully." Who knows?

But if we want to respond at all meaningfully and realistically to events in Ukraine, or to any other big events in the world, then we have to figure out how to remove the rich from power. Good writing about such events would write about them from precisely this point of view. It would report on these events and analyze them with the aim of helping ordinary people learn from them so we can better figure out how to remove the rich from power. Otherwise, we might just as well read what the ruling class wants us to read. An example of people thinking about how to remove the rich from power is at


* If one wishes to ignore that the rulers of both the United States and Russia are agents of an upper class of billionaires who screw their own people, and if one limits one's attention to the rivalry between these two upper classes, then yes, for sure, of the two, the American ruling class is very arguably the most aggressive, the most hypocritical, the most invasive of the other's "backyard," the most grasping, the nastiest and so forth.

But so what? Does that mean we should support the Russian billionaires as they dominate and oppress and exploit ordinary Russians (and Crimeans, I guess soon)? Should we place over the heads of these Russian billionaires and their agents in the Russian government an "anti-imperialist" halo and defend their honor against the aspersions of the American rulers?

I say no! Let us side instead with the people who are not dominating and oppressing and exploiting others, even if they are Russian and even if they are Americans who do not control any government.



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