Not Bourgeois Nationalism But International Proletarian Revolution
HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) supplied to Ukraine by the Pentagon, firing at Russian forces on the southern front. U.S. officials precheck every missile strike, and can veto any target. Delivery of massive amounts of weaponry by the United States and NATO to their client regime in Kiev, while maintaining operational control of advanced systems, were key elements in changing the conflict into an imperialist “proxy war” against Russia.
On October 15, the Executive Committee of the League for the Fourth International voted that “as quantity has turned into quality, it is now necessary to take a position of revolutionary defensism toward Russia and defeatism toward the U.S./NATO proxy Ukraine regime.”
OCTOBER 22 – The war between Russia and Ukraine has been waged with white-hot intensity for eight months, dominating world politics and economics, with no end in sight. In fact, there may be no end in the near future. There are no “peace negotiations,” as there is no outcome that both sides could live with. Washington and its allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization vow to “make Russia’s war on Ukraine a strategic failure,”1 insisting that Russia must be defeated and forced to withdraw from all of what used to be eastern Ukraine, including Crimea and the Donetsk and Lugansk “people’s republics” that broke from the fascist-infested Kiev coup regime in 2014. Many imperialist strategists want to go further and break up Russia, in order to destroy what they see as a geopolitical rival and to seize its resources.
For Moscow, this poses an existential threat, particularly now that the breakaway republics in the east and the southern regions of Zaporozhye and Kherson voted on September 23-27 by large majorities to join the Russian Federation. Contrary to Western propaganda about the population being forced to vote “at gunpoint,” support was massive and often celebratory, with many voters saying “we have waited for eight years for this.” The only reason they didn’t join Russia in 2014 was that President Vladimir Putin sought an impossible regional “autonomy” within Ukraine in the Minsk I and II agreements. The referendums exercised the right to self-determination, which the imperialists deny and now seek to undo, and their joining the Russian Federation must be upheld by class-conscious workers and defenders of democratic rights everywhere.
Voting in Lugansk on referendum on incorporation into the Russian Federation, September 24. A “sham referendum”? Hardly. Over 4.75 million voted to join Russia in the two eastern breakaway republics and the two southern regions, with turnout rates of over 90%, far higher than in any Western election. This was a legitimate exercise of the right to self-determination, which must be upheld by all defenders of democratic rights.
From the beginning of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, the League for the Fourth International declared that the war was provoked by the imperialists, and called for revolutionary defeatism on both sides in the reactionary nationalist conflict, as part of the overall struggle to defeat the U.S./NATO war drive against Russia and China. We continued to defend self-rule in the breakaway republics, calling for the right of self-determination in Russian-speaking eastern and southern Ukraine, and to permanently stop the Ukrainian fascists and smash their program of ethnic cleansing. At the same time, our February 23 LFI statement prior to the start of the war noted that “if it turned into a war by Ukraine’s imperialist backers against Russia that would be a very different matter.”2 If the Ukrainian army became in reality an extension of NATO, it would be no longer be just a Russia-Ukraine war but a war with NATO via its client regime in Kiev.
That has now happened. While this process has been under way for months, it has reached the point where quantity turns into quality. The transition was marked by Ukraine’s lightning offensive in the northeastern Kharkov region in early September, which from planning to weaponry and command, was a U.S./NATO operation throughout. The conflict has been turned into an imperialist “proxy war” in which the Ukrainian government and army are essentially acting on behalf of and under the control of the NATO imperialists. U.S. imperialism has long fostered such wars, notably in Afghanistan in the 1980s where it sponsored, armed and directed the Islamist mujahedin (holy warriors) against Soviet forces that the U.S. provoked into intervening in support of the embattled Afghan reform government allied with the USSR.3
In response to the Kharkov blitz, Russian president Putin ordered a partial mobilization of military reserves, noting (accurately) that Russia is now “fighting not only against neo-Nazi units but actually the entire military machine of the collective West.” In recognition of the cumulative and now qualitative change in the character of the war, the League for the Fourth International states that in the present situation, proletarian revolutionaries’ call to defeat the imperialists’ war drive against Russia and China (a bureaucratically deformed workers state) means standing for the defeat of the U.S./NATO proxy regime in Ukraine, and for military defense of Russia (a regional capitalist power) while giving no political support to, and calling for workers struggle against, the reactionary bourgeois nationalist Putin government.
Excerpt from 23 February 2022 LFI Statement
On the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on February 23, the League for the Fourth International’s statement, headlined “Defeat U.S./NATO War Drive and Sanctions Against Russia!” declared:
“On February 21, after weeks of increasingly hysterical imperialist war propaganda and daily escalating attacks by Ukrainian government and fascist/nationalist forces against the breakaway Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin formally recognized the independence of these embattled self-styled people’s republics and sent in troops. The United States, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the European Union immediately condemned Russia for its defensive action and announced they would impose severe economic sanctions. Class-conscious workers and all opponents of imperialism should denounce the U.S./NATO imperialist war drive, which raises the spectre of world war. The imperialists seek to isolate, provoke and demonize Russia, which despite Putin’s imperial ambitions is an intermediate, regional capitalist power. Yet the imperialists’ ultimate aim is to spark counterrevolution in China, Cuba and North Korea.”
We further spelled out:
“The League for the Fourth International calls to defend self-rule in the breakaway regions of southern and eastern Ukraine and to defeat the war drive against Russia and China. We militantly oppose imperialist sanctions and denounce the U.S./NATO hue and cry over Russian troops shoring up the besieged Donbass republics as the bleating of frustrated warmongers and their social-democratic acolytes. The conductor of this orchestrated uproar is U.S. imperialism, with its record of countless bloody invasions. If clashes lead to a full-blown war between Russia and Ukraine, Trotskyists would be for a policy of revolutionary defeatism in both of these regional powers, calling for workers to actively oppose the war effort of ‘their’ bourgeoisies and to wage intransigent class struggle against the capitalist rulers in Moscow and Kiev. But if it turned into a war by Ukraine’s imperialist backers against Russia that would be a very different matter.”
Bloodbath in Donetsk, March 14: 23 civilians were killed in the center of the capital of the pro-Russia Donetsk People's Republic by a Ukrainian Tochka-U missile. There was virtually no coverage in the Western media, and the few mentions repeated the Kiev government’s absurd claim that it was a Russian rocket. In the eight years of Ukraine’s war, spearheaded by fascists, against the Donbass republics, over 14,000 were killed.
The changed nature of the conflict is expressed in many areas. The vast amounts of more-or-less sophisticated weapons and munitions being poured into Ukraine from the United States and other Western countries (and East European client states) have reached unprecedented levels: at least $65 billion authorized by the U.S. alone, just in 2022. (In comparison the total amount of U.S. military aid to Taiwan over the last 45 years is $90 billion.) With that has come control. Not only are the U.S. and its allies deeply involved in training, planning and executing Ukrainian military strikes, not only is Ukraine crawling with CIA operatives and commandos of “retired” and currently serving special forces, plus several thousand foreign “volunteers” (mercenaries) in fascist-led Ukrainian units, U.S. officials precheck every strike by HIMARS rockets.
Questioned by the London Telegraph (1 August) as to how these systems “have so precisely targeted Russian fuel and ammunition depots, as well as battlefield headquarters in eastern Ukraine,” the acting head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Major General Vadym Skibitsky, replied that “we use real-time information.” He added, “I can’t tell you whether [we are directly tasking] British and American satellites, but we have very good satellite imagery.” The account continued: “he suggested there was a level of consultation between intelligence officials of both countries prior to launching missiles that would allow Washington to stop any potential attacks if they were unhappy with the intended target.” That means that the U.S. has effectively signed off on their use against civilians in Donetsk and against the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant.
This degree of control was institutionalized at October 12-13 NATO meetings in Brussels. Ukraine’s air defense system is being integrated into a German-led “Joint Air Defense Initiative” coordinating the air defense systems of 14 NATO countries. On October 1, Ukraine asked for NATO membership on an expedited “fast track,” and on October 12 Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted from Brussels thanking NATO general secretary Jens Stoltenberg, saying “we” (Ukraine) “have de facto joined the Alliance.” Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has declared (September 19) that the U.S. will keep pumping in military supplies to Ukraine “as long as it takes.” Stoltenberg chimed in (October 13), “as long as it takes,” adding that “Russia's victory in the war against Ukraine will be a defeat of NATO.” As we say in Berlin, alles klar (got it).
Today, Ukraine’s weaponry is being supplied by the U.S. and NATO, including munitions for its Soviet- and Russian-style arms. Major Ukrainian offensives are conceived, discussed and war gamed by the Pentagon with Ukrainian officials. U.S. officials precheck every use of the sophisticated rocket systems that have turned the tide in the fighting. Ukrainian officers receive “real-time” geolocation information on Russian forces from U.S. satellites, on tablets supplied by the Pentagon via Elon Musk’s Starlink system, of which 20,000 devices have been sent to Ukraine. The Ukrainian military is increasingly integrated into NATO machinery, more so than many NATO member countries, with a degree of U.S./NATO operational control that exceeds that in most other countries of this imperialist military alliance. In short, the Kiev regime and its army have become the operatives of “a war by Ukraine’s imperialist backers against Russia.”
Meanwhile, the imperialists’ determination to “punish Putin” for refusing to abide by the “rules-based” U.S.-dominated “New World Order” (proclaimed upon the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union) led them to impose brutal sanctions that amount to all-out economic war on Russia. This backfired, as cutting off Russian oil and natural gas exports sent world prices skyrocketing, bringing in more money to Moscow than ever before. European capitalist governments have ordered drastic cuts in energy use that mean that people will be freezing this winter, while around the globe the rising cost of food means that millions are already starving. And European imperialist rulers have gone along with this program which would lead to the destruction of key sections of their economy, beginning with the steel industry.
Adding it up, the rapidly escalating war drive against Russia and China is hurtling toward a thermonuclear World War III – unless the imperialists are stopped by workers revolution.
The Evolution of the War in Ukraine
The Ukraine war actually began in 2014, when a coup d’état by Ukrainian fascists and ultra-nationalists – instigated, financed and advised by European and particularly U.S. imperialists – overthrew the elected government in Kiev and instituted a virulently Russophobic regime.4 In the years since, fascist-led forces incorporated into Ukraine’s military and police waged a relentless war against the Russian-speaking east that killed over 14,000.5 Meanwhile, NATO expanded to Russia’s borders, incorporating 13 former Soviet-bloc countries, despite the U.S.’ 1990 promise not to spread NATO “one inch” eastwards. NATO has held ever-larger annual war games with dozens of countries, hundreds of aircraft and ships and thousands of military personnel, all practicing war with Russia. Then, with the election of Democratic U.S. president Joe Biden, starting in early 2021, Ukraine began a new anti-Russian offensive, on the Donbass border and internally.6
In the face of this escalating threat, Putin ordered large-scale maneuvers by the Russian military and demanded security guarantees from the U.S. and NATO. When Western leaders flatly and repeatedly refused to rule out Ukrainian membership in NATO, the Russian president launched his “special military operation” (SMO), which he is now calling a “preemptive” strike. In the weeks before Moscow’s move, Ukrainian attacks on the Donbass multiplied manyfold, and in the early days of the war, Russian forces found and published documents from the command of Ukraine’s National Guard detailing plans for a full-scale attack on breakaway republics beginning March 8. Biden & Co. constantly refer to “Russia’s unprovoked war,” but it was clearly instigated and provoked by the U.S./NATO imperialists and their Ukrainian client.
In a February 21 speech Putin recognized the independence of the two breakaway republics and focused on their defense. But on February 24 he launched the “special military operation” which, contrary to our expectations and those of many others, quickly became a full-blown war with Ukraine. In a February 28 article7 we called “for revolutionary defeatism on both sides in this reactionary nationalist war, for internationalist proletarian struggle against both capitalist regimes and, above all, against the U.S. and European rulers who set off this conflagration.” Unlike the fake-leftists who sided with the imperialist-backed Ukrainian coup regime and condemned the Russian invasion, we called to “Oppose Imperialist-Provoked Russia-Ukraine War” and headlined: “Behind the War: U.S./NATO War Drive Against Russia, China.”
In April, we detailed how fascists such as the Azov Brigade permeate Ukraine’s repressive apparatus, its command and shock troops, and the ties of these neo-Nazis to U.S. imperialism.8 In May we noted that, “Together with its allies in the imperialist North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Washington is sending increasingly heavy offensive weaponry to the fascist-infested Ukrainian military. But the U.S. has set its broader sights on Russian downfall as a dramatic example of U.S./NATO military prowess and an implied threat to China. The U.S. vows to defeat Russia and degrade its military so it will be ‘weakened’ for years to come.”9 The threat to China has been made increasingly explicit over the past period.
U.S. ex-Marine training Ukrainian soldiers near front line in Soledar in the Donbass. As the battlefield has been transformed into a U.S./NATO “proxy war” against Russia, Ukraine is awash in imperialist military trainers, advisers, CIA operatives, NATO commandos, mercenaries, foreign “volunteers" for fascist-led forces, and others.
Since then, Pentagon and NATO “aid” to Ukraine has increased exponentially, particularly with the provision of highly accurate satellite-guided missiles and other more advanced equipment. It was known long before the war broke out, as we have documented, that ever since 2014 the U.S. and NATO imperialists were working with Ukraine’s military forces, and particularly its fascist and ultra-nationalist components. Despite the talk of Western military trainers pulling out of the country on the outbreak of the war, the presence of U.S. and NATO military and intelligence personnel in the Ukrainian forces became so notorious that the media felt compelled to mention it, albeit briefly and buried under their mountains of obscenely pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia war propaganda and outright lies.
The New York Times (26 June) published an article, “Allied Commandos in Ukraine Secretly Funnel Aid to Troops,” confirming that “C.I.A. personnel have continued to operate in the country secretly,” particularly “directing much of the vast amounts of intelligence the United States is sharing with Ukrainian forces.” It noted that “commandos from other NATO countries, including Britain, France, Canada and Lithuania, also have been working inside Ukraine,” and that the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group had set up a cell, “modeled after a structure used in Afghanistan” against Soviet forces, that is part of a “broader set of operational and intelligence coordination cells run by the Pentagon’s European Command,” while “a U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard team called Grey Wolf” provides “support” to the Ukrainian air force.
A month later, articles appeared about the elaborate military supply chain funneling vast quantities of weapons and munitions to Ukraine via a “little known group,” the International Donor Coordination Center, located in U.S. European Command headquarters in Ramstein, Germany (“Special Military Cell Flows Weapons and Equipment into Ukraine,” New York Times, 28 July). This outfit works closely with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, “a Pentagon-led coalition of about 50 nations” providing aid to the Kiev military. In addition, tens of billions of dollars in economic support have been supplied to prop up the Kiev regime, from the U.S., NATO, World Bank, European Union and other sources. This goes beyond simple military aid: by this point almost the entirety of Ukrainian weapons and munition come from the West. Without that, Ukraine would have been defeated months ago.
U.S./NATO Imperialists Take Control
U.S. defense secretary Lloyd Austin and secretary of state Antony Blinken meet with the head of the NATO proxy regime, Vlodymyr Zelensky, in Kiev on April 24. The former actor now in the role of Ukraine president grabs the media spotlight, but his imperialist sponsors ultimately call the shots.
Now, escalating in recent weeks, the conflict has become a war by the Western imperialist powers themselves, acting through their proxy regime in Kiev, against Russia. The U.S. has increasingly taken control of military operations in Ukraine, particularly in the offensive beginning September 6 that forced Russian to withdraw from the entire Kharkov region.
According to a New York Times (14 September) account, “The strategy behind Ukraine’s rapid military gains in recent days began to take shape months ago during a series of intense conversations between Ukrainian and U.S. officials about the way forward in the war against Russia.” The account, “based on interviews with multiple senior American officials” and others in the know, said Ukrainian military leaders, under orders from the puppet president Zelensky, had planned a broad offensive in the south. But a U.S. war game indicated that it would fail, while intelligence feeds indicated that Moscow was overstretched in the north. As the U.S. military attaché “began having daily sessions with Ukraine’s top officers,” “Britain, the United States and Ukraine conducted an assessment of the new plan,” for an offensive near Kharkov, “trying to war game it once more.” The plan, said a top officer in Kiev, “depended entirely on the size and pace of additional military aid from the United States.” So the U.S. sent HIMARS, satellite-guided rockets and the rest. From planning to weaponry and command, the Kharkov offensive was a U.S./NATO operation.
On September 26, big explosions ripped holes in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea, with multiple indications of involvement of the U.S. and NATO. Whoever did it wanted the pipelines carrying natural gas from Russia to Germany stopped for good. Imperialist media and politicians have tried to float the absurd claim that Russia might have blown up the pipelines, which makes no sense as (a) they are the property of the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, (b) the flow of natural gas in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline had already been stopped for repairs, (c) the German government (under pressure from the U.S.) had indefinitely shelved Nord Stream 2, and (d) the pipelines would be key to eventually resuming economic relations with European Union (EU) countries.
When, however, one asks cui bono, who benefits, the immediate answers are: (1) the Polish government, which opposed both pipelines from the beginning and was about to open a pipeline bringing Norwegian natural gas to Poland; and (2) Washington, which likewise opposed the Nord Stream pipelines, and stands to gain from the cutoff of Russian gas, forcing Europeans to buy more expensive U.S. liquid natural gas. In February, U.S. president Biden vowed that if Russia invaded, “there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2,” adding, “We will bring an end to it.” After the leaks, U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken declared that “this is also a tremendous opportunity.” And (3) the Ukrainian regime would, of course, benefit.
As for evidence, flight radar data show U.S. helicopters from September 22 to 25 spending hours over the area off the Danish island of Bornholm where the September 26 explosions occurred. The day after the explosions, the former Polish defense minister tweeted “Thank you, USA” next to a photo of the bubbling water from the leak. When Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs opined in a TV interview with the Bloomberg business site that he “would bet that this [the explosion] was a U.S. action, perhaps U.S. and Poland,” he was yanked off the air. To be clear, Sachs is no friend of Russia, having designed the economic “shock therapy” program that impoverished millions of Russians after the counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union.
On October 8, a truck bomb exploded on the bridge over the Kerch Strait connecting Crimea with mainland Russia, collapsing one lane of the roadway and setting some oil tank cars aflame. While the terrorist action was clearly carried out by the Ukrainians, British intelligence operatives had been working for months on a detailed plan to blow up the bridge, a vital link for resupply of Russian forces in the south. Russian engineers and emergency reprair crews were able to resume passenger car and rail traffic by the afternoon.
Meanwhile, the October 8 bomb attack on the bridge connecting Crimea with the rest of Russia came after months of planning by NATO operatives to destroy that vital corridor. An exposé by the Grayzone (10 October) investigative journalism internet site reported that, while the operation was overseen by the Ukrainian political police, the SBU, “Before Ukraine blew up Kerch Bridge, British spies plotted it.” An April 2022 presentation drafted at the request of a senior British intelligence operative (and high-level NATO advisor) laid out an elaborate plan with detailed diagrams on how to blow the bridge. The actual operation differed from that plan (instead involving a truck bomb) and the Russians were able to resume rail and car traffic the same afternoon. But the extensive planning for this operation that threatened to disrupt Russia’s resupply of its forces in the south highlights the intimate involvement of the Western imperialists in Ukrainian military operations.
In short, in weaponry, munitions, planning and control, the war in Ukraine has become a war between Russia and a regime that is not only a client of and proxy for the Western powers but in many operational aspects is directly subordinated to the U.S. and NATO imperialists.
Inter-Imperialist Conflicts Brewing
European imperialists are not necessarily all on the same page as Joe Biden. Travelling on the night train to Kiev in mid-June: from left, Italy's then-premier Mario Draghi, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz. Draghi is now out, Macron and Scholz face brewing social unrest as NATO/EU imperialist sanctions against Russia begin to bite on the home front.
Although they are currently marching more or less in lockstep, serious tensions are brewing among the Western imperialist rulers. From the outset, Germany and France have been less than enthusiastic in calling for Ukrainian “victory” in the war, preferring to talk of “peace” and an end to the fighting. There are objective reasons behind this. While in the U.S., the sanctions against Russia have produced windfall profits for American energy giants (through higher oil and gas prices) and no serious shortages, in Europe the sanctions are causing sharp price hikes for fuel and utility rates, will mean severe cutbacks in electricity usage and heating in the approaching winter, and could bankrupt key sectors of industry. Germany’s economic success has depended on cheap Russian energy supplies. While the U.S. is booming, the European economy is teetering.
Remarkably, the European imperialist bourgeoisies have gone along with this program that could cripple their economies.10 How long they can keep this up is an open question, as popular discontent is growing, and the political consequences will not be long in coming. In early September and again at the end of the month, tens of thousands swelled protests called by right-wingers in the Czech capital of Prague against high energy costs, NATO and the European Union. In Germany, fascistic ultra-rightists and outright fascists held pro-Russian demonstrations calling to open Nord Stream 2 immediately to lower fuel and electricity prices. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has used executive powers to order oil refinery workers striking for higher wages back to work, sparking a general strike on October 18.
In Prague, 70,000 came out on September 4 to rightist-led demonstration protesting high energy costs, NATO and the European Union.
Across Europe, as people are being told to sacrifice for Ukraine, protests over economic hardship have largely benefitted right-wing parties. The mainstream social-democratic and bourgeois “left” parties are so bound up with the capitalist state and NATO that they cannot lead any kind of popular revolt (even if they desired to, which of course they do not). The far-right immigrant-bashing Sweden Democrats saw their vote in the September elections increase to 20% of the total, making them the second-largest party in parliament. Two weeks later, the fascist Fratelli d’Italia (Fd’I, Brothers of Italy) party took first place with 26% of the vote, and is now on the verge of leading the Italian government, 100 years after fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s October 1922 March on Rome. (The Fd’I is pro-Ukraine, voting for arms to Ukraine, while its main ideologue has repeatedly praised the fascist Azov Battalion.)
Proletarian revolutionaries calling to defend Russia against the imperialist war and to defeat the U.S./NATO proxy regime in Ukraine will directly confront capitalist governments, bourgeois liberals, social democrats in and out of office, and “NATO socialists” on the supposed “far left.” They must sharply politically oppose “peace” movements that are in fact appendages of the imperialist war drive, whether explicitly or implicitly pro-Ukraine. And they cannot, of course, make common cause with pro-Russia rightists, who are some of the most virulent – and deadly – anti-communists around. At the present time, class-struggle opposition seeking to defeat the imperialists “at home” will be largely through workers actions linking protests against the high cost of living and anti-labor attacks to the imperialist war and sanctions.
The current imperialist proxy war to defeat, destroy and dismember Russia is a direct consequence of the counterrevolution that brought down the Soviet Union and the Soviet-bloc deformed workers states in 1989-92. Ever since, the would-be masters of the world in Washington and Wall Street have sought to nail down their global hegemony, even as their economic power has declined, particularly during the decade-long economic depression after the financial crash of 2007-08, and more recently in the COVID pandemic which killed more people in the United States than any other country. Today, the overriding aim of the U.S./NATO war drive is to bring about capitalist counterrevolution in the People’s Republic of China, against which the U.S. imperialists are already waging economic war. This was underscored in the U.S. National Defense Strategy issued by the Biden White House in October 2022, which declared:
“Russia poses an immediate threat to the free and open international system, recklessly flouting the basic laws of the international order today…. The PRC, by contrast, is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective.”11
The same perspective was put forward in the “Strategic Concept” adopted by the NATO summit at the end of June, where, as we have written, “the U.S. was able to strong-arm its European allies into denouncing Chinese actions as ‘malicious’ and declaring that the PRC’s ‘stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values’.”12 But, we added, “any practical application of NATO’s ‘strategic concept’ will be hard for European imperialists to swallow,” as leading EU companies derive a large part of their profits from the Chinese market. The Biden “Strategy” document more or less admits this, stating that “allies and partners may have distinct perspectives on the PRC” and that a key to “competing” with China is to “align our efforts with our network of allies and partners.”
The League for the Fourth International has uniquely insisted on the centrality of defending China – as well as the other deformed workers states, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam – against the imperialist war drive, in Ukraine and elsewhere. Most of the left has bought the bourgeois lie that China is capitalist – even “imperialist” – and refuses to defend it against counterrevolution pushed by the real imperialists. Yet even as the Stalinist bureaucracy undermines the gains of the Chinese Revolution with huge capitalist inroads, it was able to contain the COVID pandemic because of the socialized planned economy, with a little over 5,000 deaths compared to 6.5 million in the capitalist world. This enrages U.S. rulers, who are constantly denouncing China’s “zero COVID” policy, a complaint echoed by many leftist camp followers of imperialism.
Likewise, the bulk of the left has chimed in on the imperialist refrain denouncing “Russian imperialism,” a convenient justification for backing Ukraine in the present war. For some, heirs of the anti-Trotskyist renegades Tony Cliff and Max Shachtman, this continues their smears of “Soviet imperialism” during the anti-Soviet Cold War. Even among those uncomfortable with defending the fascist-ridden coup regime in Kiev, several tendencies have been squirming to explain that Russian “imperialism” is not like U.S. and NATO imperialism, etc. Already in 2014, the LFI explained in a detailed analysis13 that, based on the criteria in V.I. Lenin’s fundamental work, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), despite Putin’s imperial ambitions, post-Soviet Russia is not imperialist but an intermediate capitalist power (as is Ukraine).
Putin’s Russian Nationalism Undermines Struggle Against U.S./NATO Imperialists
Russian president Vladimir Putin at exhibition celebrating the 350th anniversary of the birth of Peter the Great. In a speech there Putin compared the former eastern and southern Ukraine regions joining the Russian Federation to the tsar's retaking of lands occupied by Sweden.
The bottom line is that a genuinely communist opposition to the imperialist “proxy war” on Russia is only possible on the basis of Trotskyism, notably Trotsky’s analysis of the Stalinist betrayal of the revolution. That betrayal paved the way to the counterrevolution, led by the imperialists, that destroyed the Soviet Union, and thus to today’s imperialist proxy war against capitalist Russia. Trotsky stood for defense of the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state against imperialism and counterrevolution. Yet among the various social democrats who today talk of “Russian imperialism,” to justify capitulation to their “own” imperialist rulers, there are a number who falsely lay claim to the heritage of Trotskyism and refused to defend the Soviet Union against imperialism in the CIA “proxy war” in Afghanistan, against CIA-financed counterrevolution led by the nationalist Solidarność in Poland, against capitalist reunification in Germany in 1989-90, or at the time of the Yeltsin-Bush countercoup in Moscow in August 1991.
Without the understanding that, contrary to Stalin’s anti-Marxist dogma, building “socialism in one country” is not possible, as all Bolsheviks – Lenin, Trotsky, even Stalin – held at the time of the 1917 October Revolution, many people on both sides of the class divide put the blame or credit for the destruction of the Soviet Union simply on the pro-capitalist perestroika economic reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, as many have done in recent retrospective analyses of the counterrevolution. Putin repudiates the entire basis of the former Soviet Union, but it is not possible on the basis of Russian nationalism to defeat U.S./NATO imperialism and its merciless drive to dominate every part of the planet. That requires an international struggle for socialist revolution through the joint efforts of the proletariat of Russia, Ukraine and the entire world.
As we noted on the eve of the war, Putin wants to undo the legacy of the Bolsheviks, who he blames for “inventing” Ukraine.14 As a Great Russian chauvinist, he launched a nationalist war against Ukraine, whose ultranationalist rulers – admirers of the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera – have, since seizing power in 2014, have been waging a racist war against the Russian-speaking population of what was eastern and southern Ukraine. Even as the reactionary nationalist Russia-Ukraine war has been transformed into a war by the U.S./NATO imperialists threatening Russia’s survival, Putin wages it on a nationalist basis, corresponding to the class nature of his regime, making “traditional values” his battle flag and quoting the tsarist ideologue Ivan Ilyin hailing the “spiritual strength” of the Russians.
Armored column of the militia of the People's Republic of Donetsk (DNR, from its initials in Russian) in Mariupol, April 2022. The brunt of the fighting in Mariupol was borne by DNR forces. The League for the Fourth International has called for defense of self-rule in Donetsk and Lugansk against the genocidal Ukrainian fascists and ultra-nationalists since 2014, and has continued to do so throughout the present war.
As a bourgeois nationalist, Putin is incapable of a real struggle against imperialism. Rather, he has long sought cooperation with the imperialists, in vain. This was summed up in his suggestion to U.S. president Bill Clinton in 2000 that Russia might like to join NATO. It was behind Putin’s support for the Minsk Accords, brokered by France and Germany, for illusory regional autonomy of the Donbass region within Ukraine. It was expressed in illusions that the imperialists might actually agree to and abide by security guarantees against Ukraine joining NATO which the Russian president demanded in December 2021. And contrary to Western claims that he was out to seize Kiev, his clear aim at the outset of the war was to pressure Ukraine into agreeing to such guarantees. None of this saw fruition, because the unregenerate Cold Warriors in Washington and Brussels vetoed it.
Putin has evidently inherited from Stalin the illusion of achieving “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism.15 This was behind major miscalculations in the “special military operation” (SMO). The plan to carry out a military operation with limited forces misjudged the response of the Ukrainian nationalists – and above all of their imperialist overlords, bent on destroying Russia. Underlying Russia’s forced withdrawal in the face of the Ukrainian blitz in the Kharkov region in September is the fact that its forces were greatly overextended. While some Russian hard-liners ascribe this to particular commanders, it was inherent in the nature of the SMO. Only around 200,000 Russian troops were deployed (plus 35,000 from the Donbass republics) to cover a front line extending for 1,500 kilometers. Those force levels were not increased until now.
Imperialist war propaganda today is surpassing even the invented stories of Saddam Hussein ordering Kuwaiti babies to be thrown out of incubators in the first Iraq war, and of amassing weapons of mass destruction in the second. Along with the relentless barrage of atrocity stories (one after another of which have been shown to be invented) the media portray Russian forces as losing every day in every way, right up until they take another key city (Mariupol, Severodonetsk, Lisichansk). In fact, militarily Russia succeeded in occupying (and now incorporating) most of the Russian-speaking areas in the east and south of pre-2014 Ukraine and establishing a land bridge to Crimea. Politically and geopolitically, however, the balance sheet is quite different. The goals of the SMO were declared to be the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine. Yet Ukraine is far more militarized today than in February 2022, and functionally integrated into NATO, while the fascists are portrayed as national heroes. And then Putin exchanged fascist Azov Battalion leaders for a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch!
Leaders of the Azov Battalion, taken prisoner at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, were released by Putin in a prisoner exchange on September 22. They are genocidal terrorists who should have been tried by a court of their victims, the people of Donetsk, who for eight years were subjected to a murderous siege by Azov and other fascist military units. Their freeing was a betrayal of those Putin claimed to defend.
Calling for military defense of Russia against the U.S./NATO imperialist onslaught in no way implies one iota of political support to the country’s bourgeois government. In the lead-up to the imperialist World War II, the Trotskyists defended Ethiopia, ruled over by the slave-owning emperor Haile Selassie, against Italian imperialism which sought to turn the only independent African country into a colony. In 1939, Trotsky called on Chinese communists to defend China, ruled over by Chiang Kai-shek, the butcher of Shanghai, against Japanese imperialism. And of course, Trotsky’s Fourth International defended the Soviet Union, as the first workers state in history, despite the betrayals and crimes of Stalin, including murdering the Trotskyists (and eventually Trotsky himself). In short, the Fourth Internationalists, upholding the program of the Bolshevik Revolution, have always been the most resolute fighters against imperialism.
Throughout the present war, the LFI has, uniquely, called to defeat the imperialist war drive against Russia and China with internationalist class struggle leading to proletarian revolution. Even as the nationalist Russia-Ukraine war has been transformed into an imperialist proxy war against Russia, and our policy has shifted accordingly from revolutionary defeatism on both sides to revolutionary defensism of Russia, we have called and continue to call for revolutionary struggle against the capitalist rulers in Moscow and Kiev.
The Fight for International Proletarian Revolution
Workers of the ArcelorMittal steel plant in Kryvyi Rih on strike in May 2018. The possibility of united class struggle of Ukrainian and Donbass workers was undercut by nationalist war. Yet attacks on labor rights by capitalist bosses continue, and class-struggle union militants would respond by fighting for international workers solidarity.
Accompanying the escalation of the war in Ukraine, the imperialist rulers and their proxies in Kiev are making use of this “tremendous opportunity” to intensify the attacks on working people, from Ukraine to Europe and beyond. Ukrainian workers are used as cannon fodder, the European masses are impoverished with runaway inflation, deprived of heat and fuel as the energy monopolies rake in record profits – once again, it’s “dividends rising, proletarians falling,” as the German-Polish communist Rosa Luxemburg wrote of World War I. The anti-worker attacks also lay the basis for powerful class struggle against the exploiters who would make the exploited bear the brunt of the war. But to wage that struggle requires a leadership forged on a revolutionary internationalist program, like the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky.
Provoked by the U.S. and NATO into taking military action against Ukraine, the Russian nationalist Putin naturally waged a nationalist war – cutting off the possibility of common struggle between Russian and Ukrainian workers against the nationalist and fascist rulers of Ukraine. Yet there was and is a real basis for united class struggle: in 2018 the (Russian-speaking) steel workers in Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine struck the giant mill owned by the German subsidiary of ArcelorMittal, demanding EU-level pay. Now the free-marketeer government in Kiev has used the war as an excuse to ram through laws letting employers rip up labor contracts, increase the workweek to 60 hours, fire union workers at will and ignore workplace safety laws. Russian-speaking workers in the Donbass could have joined in protesting these attacks.
There is also a basis for international workers action against the capitalist union-busters and imperialist warmongers. On September 2, ArcelorMittal announced it was closing plants and departments in Spain and Germany, and may shut down the Kryvyi Rih plant entirely, as all are now deemed “uncompetitive” producers due to the high price of natural gas. The huge increases in the cost of fuel are, of course, a direct result of the sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S., NATO and EU imperialists. Class-conscious militants could call for worker occupation of the plants (and not just those slated for closure) and for expropriation of the profit-gouging energy monopolies while unions and plant committees impose workers control of production. But that will not be successful unless the struggle directly opposes the imperialist war.
Demonstrators in Paris during October 18 “general strike.” Union leaders have kept demands strictly limited to economic issues rather than opposing the imperialist war and sanctions against Russia which triggered the economic crisis.
Currently, protests and strikes are spreading around Europe, so far confined by the pro-capitalist labor and left leaders to economic demands. In France, a strike by refinery workers demanding wage increases to keep pace with the rising cost of living and for a share of the windfall profits of the energy giants led to closure of many gas stations for lack of fuel. On October 16, tens of thousands marched in Paris to protest the high cost of living, and on October 18, there was a “general strike” demanding wage increases on a par with inflation and defending the right to strike. This is “the kind of unrest [NATO government] leaders fear as they struggle to keep a united front against Russia,” says the New York Times (15 October). Yet the protests have avoided opposing the sanctions and war on Russia that are behind the economic crisis, and are being diverted into a “popular front” around the bourgeois populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
In the early months of the war there were some isolated workers actions, in Italy and northern Greece, seeking to block the transport of weapons, tanks, munitions and other war materiel to Ukraine. Such actions should be generalized and explicitly directed against the imperialist war on Russia. In the U.S. on October 3 an open letter by members and retirees of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) criticizing the union’s pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia stand was published under the title, “ILWU Must Stand in Opposition to the U.S./NATO Provoked War!” The letter appealed for port actions, calling on the International Dockworkers Council and International Transport Workers Federation to lead dockworkers around the world to “refuse to handle military cargo.”
Dock workers in the harbor city of Le Havre, France, march in October 18 “general strike.” For port workers action to stop military cargo for NATO's imperialist war on Russia!
Any such actions would likely be against military materiel to Ukraine, but in not explicitly opposing transport of NATO war cargo, this dodges the key issue of which side are you on. Many mainstream union federations in Italy, Germany, Britain, U.S. and elsewhere openly and emphatically support the imperialist war drive. To effectively combat them requires taking on the all-encompassing hysterical pro-Ukraine war propaganda. Pacifist appeals of “No to war” and “stop the war” would in practice likely be used by those waving the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag to call for a stop to the Russian war. And while some leftists try to disguise their support to Ukraine by tacking on a call to “stop NATO expansion to the east” (it’s a little late for that), to “break with/leave NATO” or even to “vote on NATO” (!), what’s needed is a struggle to defeat NATO and smash imperialism through socialist revolution.
There is much talk of a “hot autumn” of workers struggle and a “winter of discontent” across the continent. Inflation in Europe is already at the highest levels in decades – 10.9% annual price rise in September, even higher for food (16%) and energy (40%) – and increasing. Capitalist governments are “shuddering” at the prospect of “a period of social and labor unrest not seen since at least the 1970s” (New York Times, 21 October). The middle class is worried about their savings evaporating, while poor and working people struggle to feed their families. In France, bourgeois politicians recall that the high cost of bread sparked the French Revolution of 1789 … and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Once the reality of electricity and fuel shortages hits and the population is ordered to shiver and freeze for Ukraine, there could be hell to pay.
For bread and revolution! Women workers and soldiers’ wives marched on International Women's Day during World War I, igniting the 1917 Russian Revolution. Demonstrators chanted, “Down with high prices! Down with hunger! Bread for the workers!” Wars can be the mother of revolutions, but that requires a genuinely revolutionary communist leadership.
But, again, that requires a revolutionary leadership fighting on the program of class war against the imperialists and their war. Limiting demands to economic issues or calling for a generic “antiwar” movement while papering over fundamental differences over the nature of the war only covers for the parliamentary and “moderate” left, which has overwhelmingly joined the “stand with Ukraine” war party, openly or tacitly. It would be misleading the masses, since in reality there is no solution to the privations besetting working people unless the imperialist war and anti-Russia sanctions – which these “social-imperialists” support and which have caused and exacerbated the economic crisis – are defeated as part of the struggle for workers revolution.
A transitional program addressing the desperate situation of working people would include: Against escalating inflation, union militants should fight for indexation of wages (automatic cost of living adjustment) – a sliding scale wages, including huge increases in the minimum wage – and form labor-led committees to control prices and supplies. Against unemployment, demand a sharp reduction in the workweek with no loss in pay, to provide jobs for all. Against xenophobic attacks and the fascist threat, build workers defense groups and demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants. These issues will not be resolved in the bourgeois parliaments, but by workers action on the streets and in the plants. Above all, this requires a fight to overthrow the capitalist order itself, for a workers government and Socialist United States of Europe, based on workers councils.
As Lenin wrote during the first imperialist world war:
“This revolutionary mass struggle of the proletariat for socialism will arise out of the struggle of the masses against the misfortunes and burdens brought about by the epoch of imperialism and against increased prices, unemployment, increased burdens of taxation, colonial adventures, and national oppression…. All these types of struggle will unite into one strong current of struggle for political power, a struggle for socialism and for the unification of socialist peoples.”
–V. I. Lenin, “Social Democracy and the Question of Peace” (June 1916)
Wars can be the mother of revolution, and with imperialist war the “choice” is between socialist revolution or descent into barbarism. As Lenin insisted, all talk of “peace” without mass revolutionary struggle is hoodwinking the masses, as the decaying capitalist system – imperialism – generates endless war. That has been demonstrated anew over the three decades since the destruction of the Soviet Union, as the so-called “New World Order” has produced one war after another. As soon as the U.S. and NATO flee Kabul, defeated in their 20-year war in Afghanistan, they provoke a new war with Russia. To halt the imperialists’ mad rush toward WWIII aiming at counterrevolution in China, revolutionaries, class-conscious workers and all defenders of the oppressed must fight to defeat the present U.S./NATO proxy war on Russia.
In their all-sided propaganda war against the Russian bogeyman, the imperialist rulers and media spinmeisters claim that “Putin is isolated from the world,” that the Kremlin leader is universally despised, that Russia has become a pariah state. Really? Let’s look. A grand total of 45 countries have imposed sanctions on Russia – including Liechtenstein, Monaco and Montenegro. Yet not one country in Latin America has joined the boycott. Not one country in Africa has signed onto sanctions. In Asia, only Japan, Singapore and South Korea have joined the anti-Russia campaign. In Brazil, both contenders in the upcoming second-round election, Lula and Bolsonaro, court Russia and China, the former for supplying fertilizer imports, the latter as a major buyer of Brazilian exports, while both countries have supplied anti-COVID vaccines to Brazil. So who, exactly, is isolated?
The latest scaremongering ploy is to accuse Putin of threatening nuclear war. How? By declaring that if the territorial integrity of Russia is threatened “we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us.”16 Biden said that this raises “the prospect of Armageddon,” the final battle between good and evil, while the media debate will he (Putin) or won’t he use tactical nuclear weapons. U.S. spy sources say Russia’s nuclear posture is unchanged, and using tactical nukes makes no sense in the Ukraine war.17 Meanwhile, NATO is right now (October 17-30) holding a huge nuclear exercise in Europe, Operation Steadfast Noon, including flying strategic bombers from North Dakota to the North Sea, simulating a nuclear bomb run. Have you read anything about it in the media? No you haven’t. So who is actually threatening whom? Kto kogo – who, whom – as Lenin put it.
In its demonology, the West portrays the Russian president as a satanic mad man, the latest in a long line of Russian villains – “Vlad the bad” as the reincarnation of Rasputin and Ivan the Terrible. Feeding a public that they are determined to keep “informed” only of “what [they decide] you need to know,” the media portray the war as a Manichaean battle of good vs. evil. Figuring that, by now, their brainwashed audience will swallow anything cooked up by the Ukrainian fascists’ Big Lie machine, no matter how illogical, they say maybe the Russians have been shelling the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant that they already control. The U.S. says it wants to find out where the Kremlin leader’s “red lines” are, and then keeps escalating. Many war hawks would even greet Putin using tactical nuclear weapons, as the Pentagon has certainly war-gamed using its own submarine-launched W76-2 “low-yield” nuclear warheads against Chinese atolls in the South China Sea.
The imperialists have their think tanks, tasked with “thinking the unthinkable” as they spin out their scenarios for counterrevolution.18 The job of genuine communists is to build a revolutionary workers party, based on the Bolshevik program of Lenin and Trotsky, to provide leadership for the working masses, the poor and oppressed in their struggles for survival, and to chart the way forward to sweep away the exploiters and oppressors who would turn the planet into a radioactive wasteland. On the eve of the military operations, the LFI laid out the possible course of the war, and the corresponding program for workers action. Today the nationalist Russia-Ukraine war has become a U.S./NATO proxy war against Russia, part of the war drive for imperialist world domination and a lead-up to a counterrevolutionary war on China. That drive, careening toward a thermonuclear World War III, can only be defeated by international proletarian revolution, led by a reforged, authentically Trotskyist Fourth International. ■
White House, National Security Strategy (October
- 2. “Defeat U.S./NATO War Drive and Sanctions Against Russia!” The Internationalist No. 66, January-April 2022.
- 3. At the time, the authentic Trotskyists of the then-revolutionary international Spartacist tendency called to “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” while much of the left echoed the imperialist hue and cry about “Soviet imperialism” and, directly or indirectly, supported the Islamist cutthroat gangs who murdered communist teachers for educating girls. Other examples of imperialist-sponsored “proxy wars” include the war of the U.S.-created “contra” terrorists against Sandinista Nicaragua and the war of the U.S.-financed and trained Salvadoran military against leftist guerrillas, in both cases with weakening the Soviet Union being a central purpose.
with the Imperialist-Backed Fascist/Nationalist Coup in
Ukraine!” and “Fascist
Pogrom in Odessa,
And the Aftermath,” in The Internationalist No. 37, April-May 2014. .
- 5. See the report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Conflict-related casualties in Ukraine” (22 January), which cites 14,200-14,400 killed and 37,000-39,000 injured, more than 80% of them in the areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics. Other estimates put the number of killed at 18,000 and wounded/injured at over 50,000.
- 6.From late January to March 2021, in addition to stepped-up shelling of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics and adoption of a new “Military Security Strategy of Ukraine” aimed at reconquering those regions “with the assistance of the international community on favorable terms for Ukraine,” the Zelensky government charged two pro-Russian members of parliament with treason, shut down all three Russian-language TV channels and implemented a law requiring the exclusive use of Ukrainian (i.e., banning Russian) in schools, government offices and commercial businesses.
- 7. “Behind the War: U.S./NATO War Drive Against Russia, China” (28 February), The Internationalist No. 66, (January-April 2022).
- 8. “The Truth About Ukraine’s Fascist Infestation” (4 April), The Internationalist No. 66.
- 9. “We Meet Dr. Strangelove Again in Washington,” The Internationalist, May 2022.
- 10. The imperialist European Union rulers have plenty of reasons to participate in the drive to pull Ukraine away from Russia. After all, what triggered the 2014 Kiev coup was when the elected government of Viktor Yanukovich backed off from signing an association treaty with the European Union. That treaty contains a series of clauses for privatizing state-owned industry, prohibiting government subsidies of companies and guaranteeing protection of foreign investors, allowing EU multinational giants to snap up Ukrainian industries (and farmland), which they have been eagerly doing since the treaty went into effect in 2017. See “Ukraine and Its Phony Friends” (in French), Le Monde Diplomatique, October 2022. However, the anti-Russian sanctions are another matter altogether.
- 11. “In Long View, Biden Strategy Aims at China,” New York Times, 13 October.
- 12. See “U.S. Anti-China War Provocations Over Taiwan,” The Internationalist, September 2022.
- 13. See “The Bugbear of ‘Russian Imperialism’” (May 2014), reprinted in The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015.
- 14. See “Russian Nationalist Putin vs. Bolshevik Internationalist Lenin,” The Internationalist, 23 February 2022.
- 15. In the case of Stalin’s talk of peacefully coexisting with imperialism, this was impossible due to the fundamental incompatibility between capitalism and the very existence of the Soviet workers state. In the case of Putin’s Russia, it is due to the relative weakness of Russian capitalism and the frenzy of the U.S./NATO imperialists, who cannot tolerate a challenge to their global hegemony as the economic base of their world domination erodes.
- 16. “Address by the President of the Russian Federation,” 21 September, at kremlin.ru.
- 17. It is important to note that the United States was planning to use tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, in the late 1960s. See “NATO Approves Rules for Defensive Use of Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” New York Times (4 December 1969).
- 18. See “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” particularly the section on “Nuclear Armageddon Made in USA,” and a box on “Mad Bombers on the Loose (in the White House): A Glimpse at the Record” in Revolution No. 19, September 2022.