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The Russo-Ukrainian war drags on, as a bloody and destructive war of attrition. It has deepened the geopolitical and ideological fracture in the international state system between the West and China and Russia. But the efforts by Washington and Brussels to brigade the ‘international community’ against Moscow have been undermined by the opposition of many states in the Global South and the expansion of the BRICS group as a counter to an overweening West. In this seminar we explore the meaning of imperialism and anti-imperialism today for a left that this war has deeply divided.

Olena Lyubchenko starts by tracing the competing interests that lie behind justifications of the war. If Western and Ukrainian state discourses describe Ukrainian resistance and Europeanization as a path from being 'colonized by communism' to being 'de-colonized', 'de-communized’ and ‘de-Russified’, also Vladimir Putin used a ‘de-communization’ and decolonization rhetoric to justify Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In both cases, she argues, the language of anti-colonialism has been divorced from the anti-capitalist project of self-determination.

Chelsea Ngoc Minh Nguyen then explores Ukraine’s civilizational political visions for its national survival from the lenses of its wartime diplomacy in the South, with attention to Asia (Vietnam and Indonesia in particular). Despite the Ukrainian government's diplomatic efforts, Russia continues to galvanize widespread sympathy or ‘neutrality’ across the South by reclaiming itself as the continuing heir of the Soviet Union and its contributions to anti-colonialism. In this context, Chelsea asks whether Ukraine’s survival must merely rest on becoming ‘part of Europe’, which reproduces an exclusionary worldview that obscures Ukraine’s inherent commonalities with victims of the other imperialist wars, conflicts, and economic and social crises.

Trevor Ngwane finally offers a perspective from South Africa, recently host to the latest BRICS summit, where both the government and the main left forces have taken Russia’s side. Not only does this lose sight of the rival imperial and sub-imperial interests involved; the faith attached to the BRICS under Chinese leadership as an alternative to Western domination, Trevor argues, loses sight of a genuinely anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist politics.


Olena Lyubchenko is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at York University, Toronto, and an associate faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. Her research focuses on social reproduction, primitive accumulation, the making and transformation of the Soviet Union in global context, racialization and citizenship in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine, as well as labour relations regulation in settler-colonial Canada. Olena is an editor at LeftEast and Midnight Sun Magazine and a co-editor of Change and Continuity: Canadian Political Economy in the New Millennium (McGill-Queens, 2019).
Chelsea Ngoc Minh Nguyen worked at the UN in Indonesia (2019-2022) and Thailand (2016-2017) on rural and local economic development, trade policy, and peacebuilding. She has intimate experience with the UN-led post-war reconciliation efforts between Indonesia and East Timor following the latter's UN-backed independence referendum in 1999 and has published on the topic. Her other interests include the role of memories and legacies of Vietnam's 20th-century communist revolution and wars on the country's contemporary economic, social, and foreign policy trajectories.
Trevor Ngwane is Director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice, University of Johannesburg. He is a scholar-activist who works in the academic and political spheres. He obtained his PhD at the University of Johannesburg in 2017 after two decades of political activism in various social movements and political organisations. His latest book is Amakomiti: Grassroots Democracy in South African Shack Settlements. London: Pluto Press and Johannesburg: Jacana Media.