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The Prisoner of (class) Wars: Critical Reflections on the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

We belong to a generation that has not only read about wars in history textbooks but also seen one in front of our eyes. Without a doubt, one thinks about how much impact wars cause on the whole world. Looking at war from different perspectives one can understand how complex and challenging wars are for human civilization. In the context of the economy, wars are fought to sustain capitalist economic clout; politically wars are a way of sustaining the existing status quo in the world’s power order or establishing a new dimension to regional or global power; historically wars were a repetitive behavior of establishing authority over other ethnic or racial social groups by force. However, apart from all macro perspectives, there is another point of view that seems to visualize wars in the context of social class struggle. This sociological interpretation of class struggle not only answers the obvious (the effect) but also answers the unseen (causes). Many theories can be relied upon in this regard but Karl Marx’s theory of class conflict certainly provides a different interpretation on the matter.

According to Marx, a minority group that is economically self-sustaining gains control over forces of production and the others who merely work under its subordination as workers. Such a social structure based on the variance in power- share divides the society into two broad strata – the haves otherwise known as the ruling class and have-nots also termed as the subject class. The power that the ruling class enjoys comes with resource ownership which they sustain by exploiting the means of production i.e. the labor (subject class). For haves to sustain their control over the mode of production the haves nots are subject to sustain their class position i.e. selling their labor and cost of their time value at a cheaper rate to the elite class. Therefore, the relationship between the haves and have-nots can be understood as dependent on one another but should not be mistaken as symmetrical at the same time because the elite class consumes the working-class value surplus. Extending the idea of Marx to a pan-global level Wallerstein has established the strata among countries into haves (core nations) and have nots (semi-peripheral nations and peripheral nations) which helps understand the situation between the Russia and Ukraine conflict where Russia can be considered the ruling class (core nation) in its region of influence hence the haves and Ukraine can be considered the subject class (peripheral nations) hence have nots which is being influenced by the dominant western capitalist existing social order (NATO).

To understand the situation, one has to look at the past when Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other nations were all part of the Soviet Union which later splattered into many independent countries. Russia, having the largest area and being a primary de facto country of all, had a very close bond with Ukraine than the other countries that were part of the erstwhile Soviet Union. When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which is majorly dominated (politically and economically) by western European countries with the U.S. as a leader, came into the picture by adding Russia’s neighboring countries to the treaty (after the cold war and separation from the Soviet Union) called for Russia’s displeasure. Influenced by west Russia believed that NATO is adding its neighboring countries members, who were earlier part of the Soviet Union, just to target Russia. Later the international mediations led to NATO promising not to have more members from Russia’s neighboring region hence the news of Ukraine’s probability of joining NATO was considered to be a betrayal of the earlier treaty with Russia. Russia decided to declare a red line, which means no joining of NATO by Ukraine else war to show its power like in 2014 when it annexed the Crimea part of Ukraine.

Keeping history as evidence war had occurred mostly for two reasons, control over resources and control over regional/global political-economic order. Russia’s frustration towards NATO is for the same two reasons, first, Ukraine joining NATO will affect its trade as Ukraine provides Russia with direct access to the black sea, thus restricting the country’s economic interests. Russia is one of the major exporters of the world because of which it needs a smooth pathway to trade which will be hindered by European influence through increasing NATO authority. Second, Ukraine will be under influence of Europe and the United States of America with whom Russia is in the struggle for an equal share in the global order of dominant politics and economy. Russia being the regional haves (in comparison with Ukraine) always kept its interest on the front and to safeguard them it concludes with the idea of war as the last resort to maintain the status quo.

Ukraine being a have-not (in the regional power structure) has also reiterated the same position by admitting the political and economic position of Ukraine in the world order as many states (those directly benefitting from Russia’s energy reserves) refuse to vote against Russia (over the issue of Ukraine conflict) in UN assembly. Millions of Ukrainians have taken refuge in the neighboring countries, many have died due to the ongoing war and those who are left behind in the war zone are struggling to survive- the characteristics of have-nots. Because the elite group does not seem to run and struggle for their lives as the major personalities, politicians, celebrities, and wealthy people seem safe since their lives are considered of extreme importance to the rest of the population. It’s the commoners (working class) people of the country who are suffering and struggling by each day So it’s rather obvious to say that elites of Ukraine do not come in have nots as either they left the country or managed a safe a place to be in. But when the common people or the subject class (have nots) try to migrate they will be referred to as refugees which will never lead to something good as the condition of refugees is well known in the world. Refugees are kept in poor conditions, struggle for necessities, have no access to resources, have no basic rights, are never accepted by society, are always considered illegal residents, and have to start their lives from the very start by running to a foreign land. Children who saw guns, bombs, buildings getting destroyed, etc. are traumatized for life as they have no future to look forward to, no schools, no playgrounds, no home, and maybe no parents. Not only has this but children also suffer from malnutrition and other health problems because of the unavailability of resources in a war zone.

International Students studying in Ukraine have returned to their native countries and now they have no college left to join, worrying about what to do next and how will they complete their higher education degree is a big question to be answered. Women suffer the most as they are the sole provider for all the other members of the house so they put themselves at last in any situation which directly impacts their health. Sanitation is one major issue during a time like this from sanitary napkins to clean toilets it is all a struggle in a war zone and a major problem, especially for those women who are pregnant as they don’t even have access to basic health infrastructure because of which maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate will certainly going rise in near future. Old age and disabled people have their struggle to survive as they are dependent directly or indirectly on people to help them with their daily work or daily needs, in this time it becomes very hard for them to survive.

Therefore, looking at the societies which consist of mostly working class, war starts making no sense because that is not what they want for themselves but war is still happening just to safeguard the interest of the minority elite ironically price of which is paid by common people. Coming to Russia (the regional haves) and asking the very same question: is everyone a gainer or is everyone a have in the country? Because it certainly doesn’t seem like it with rising inflation resulting in more people pushed into poverty, falling currency value further takes away buying power of people, stalled development projects, canceled future social and infrastructure investment projects, the decline in spending on welfare schemes for people, and rise in deaths of soldiers, who were sole earner of their families which are now without financial support and further force into poverty, all this is not what the haves would suffer. When a war takes place the amount of money the government spends on it becomes enormous, money is extracted from development projects, welfare schemes, and more, this all is used to support war and of course to win it. Concluding it one can say that war is more important than people “for whom it is fought”.

The difference between countries who are haves and who are have nots is not simple as it seems because even the haves are divided into have and have nots and the have-not country is divided into have and have nots although there is one major similarity to be seen in both types of countries that it is the haves, who don’t even suffer, are in favor of war as it’s under their interest but have nots, who suffer the most, are not even considered to ask what they want?. The handful of haves diced for the have-nots without considering what they want and also that handful of haves enjoy their power at the cost of have-nots.


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Vanshika Gupta

Pursuing M.A. in Sociology


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