10,000 Protest in the Port of Genova Against Arms to
Summer 2023: Mobilize Workers’ Power to Shut Down NATO
Bases in Italy!
Italy: Workers Action Key to
Imperialist War Drive Against Russia, China
Fascist Meloni, Populists, Liberal “Democrats”: Warmongers, Strikebreakers All!
Port workers in Genova, Italy, February 25, led march of thousands protesting arms shipments and NATO war. Actions of international proletarian solidarity such as this land a blow against imperialism.
The following article is translated from the upcoming issue of L’internazionalista, published by the Nucleo Internazionalista d’Italia, section of the League for the Fourth International.
JUNE 27 – The imperialist war against Russia, ultimately aimed at restoring capitalist rule in China, continues to escalate. Last September, immediately after the electoral victory of her party, the fascist Fratelli d’Italia (Fd’I – Brothers of Italy), Giorgia Meloni tweeted to Vlodymyr Zelensky, president of the fascist-infested U.S./NATO proxy regime in Ukraine: “You know that you can count on our loyal support…. Stay strong and keep your faith steadfast!” She affirmed her loyalty to NATO and the European Union (EU), while calling for more sanctions against Russia, more arms for Ukraine, and denounced the incorporation (after a popular referendum) of the four Russian-speaking southeastern regions into Russia.
When the fascist puppet Ukrainian president visited the fascist Italian prime minister in the Palazzo Chigi in May, Meloni reiterated that her government would continue its military support to Kiev, declaring: “We are betting on Ukraine’s victory” (Deutsche Welle, 13 May). The previous “national unity” government under Eurobanker-premier Mario Draghi began supplying armaments to Ukraine last year. This has increased under the far-right Meloni government, which has reportedly sent dozens of surplus M109 self-propelled howitzers and most recently a modern SAMP/T anti-aircraft missile system. Unlike other NATO countries, Rome has been secretive about its shipments because of vocal popular opposition to arming Ukraine.
Return of the black shirts as champions of imperialist war. The fascist puppet president of Ukraine and the fascist premier of Italy meet at Palazzo Chigi, May 23. For Meloni, "public opinion does not matter," Rome will continue to supply arms to Kiev. Mobilize all workers power to stop them!
Every opinion poll shows that a majority of Italians are against sending arms to Ukraine, and that the NATO imperialist war and sanctions against Russia are unpopular. No matter, Meloni declares Italy will continuing arming Ukraine “regardless of the impact this may have on public opinion” (“L’opinione pubblica non ci interessa, Kiev va sostenuta” [We’re not interested in public opinion, Kiev will be supported], (Quotidiano di Sicilia, 22 March). Despite occasional barbs from her coalition partners, Putin fans Matteo Salvini (Lega) and the late Silvio Berlusconi (Forza Italia), the Rome government, both under cabinets of “national unity” and the far right, exhorts the masses to accept sacrifices for the cause of “liberty and democracy” in Ukraine.
The Meloni government’s involvement in the imperialist war goes hand in hand with vicious attacks against the working masses in Italy. Runaway inflation, largely caused by the imperialist sanctions and war, is hitting the middle class and working class hard, while homelessness and poverty increase. The “May Day Decree” enables employers to extend short-term work contracts to 24 months, sometimes 36 months, with no obligation to permanently hire at the end of this period, while axing the (utterly inadequate) “citizenship income” and introducing an even lower and harder-to-qualify-for “inclusion grant.” It reintroduces vouchers, which pay hour by hour. And with maximum job insecurity will come even more fatal work accidents (1,361 in 2021).
Today, older people are forced to work until age 67 (or even beyond if the number of years worked do not reach a ceiling) while there is massive youth unemployment. Since most jobs are precarious and low-paying, many young people go to live and work abroad. There are now more emigrants than immigrants and the total population is declining and aging because young people mostly can’t afford to have a family. Many women are fired or lose their job when they are pregnant or because childcare is too expensive or insufficient. Desperate to raise the birth rate, the government is pushing to severely restrict or eliminate the limited (first trimester) right to abortion which women have had under Law 194 since 1978. (Meloni vowed in the campaign to give women “the right to not have an abortion.”)
Meanwhile, COVID continues to kill dozens a day while spending for health care, education and other services are slashed. In short, imperialist war and sanctions have exacerbated the privations facing working people in Italy, which escalate with each new cabinet in the revolving-door governments and can only be overcome through workers revolution.
The Anti-NATO Demonstration in Genova: A Step Forward
The sizable turnout at the February 25 protest in Genoa was largely due to the fact that it was linked to a workers action: a strike against the war, inflation and sending arms to Ukraine.
On February 25, the Autonomous Committee of Port Workers (CALP, Collettivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali) in Genova organized a demonstration of 10,000 people that marched through the large port area calling to stop arms shipments to the imperialists’ Ukraine proxy government, denouncing anti-Russia sanctions and opposing “NATO’s war.” The call for the demonstration attracted many supporters of CALP’s longstanding refusal to handle arms traffic, as in June 2019 when (alerted by French dockers in Le Havre) it successfully blocked the loading of military cargo onto a Saudi Arabian ship that was to be used in the murderous war against the Houthi population in Yemen.1
That action and the February 25 demonstration were blows against imperialism through international proletarian solidarity action. Most CALP port workers are members of the USB (Union Sindacale di Base), a “rank-and-file” union. On March 14 of last year, workers at the airport of Pisa discovered a shipment of arms to Ukraine disguised as humanitarian aid, notified their union – also an affiliate of the USB – and refused to load the cargo. USB dock workers from the nearby port of Livorno and some 2,000 people flocked to the Pisa airport to solidarize with their action. Two weeks later, on 1 April 2022, rail worker unions in northern Greece refused to move trains loaded with NATO tanks for Ukraine as supporters of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) blocked the tracks.
The combative dockworkers of Genoa’s Autonomous Collective of Port Workers (CALP) issued the appeal, "Stop Arms Trafficking in Ports" (see its banner) and carried out work stoppages to put it into action.
The Genova demonstration was called by CALP on a low-level basis (“Put down arms, Raise wages”). However, it was politically distinct from the many “peace” demonstrations organized by the CGIL trade-union bureaucracy, the Democratic Party (PD), bourgeois pacifists and NATO socialist “leftists” – such as the huge 5 November 2022 “antiwar” march in Rome – which don’t oppose the imperialist sanctions or arms to Ukraine. On the contrary, many in those demos hail the Ukrainian fascist-infested “resistance” and raise its blue-and-gold flag. Outright social-imperialists and NATO supporters stayed away from Genova on February 25. Many youth and workers, on the other hand, saw the march as a way to express defense of Russia against NATO’s war, reflected in the warm reception that our newspaper calling to “Defend Russia and China, Defeat NATO Imperialism” received.
The February 25 Genova demonstration was supported and built by the USB, the soft Stalinist Rete dei Comunisti (RdC – Network of Communists) and its Internet daily Contropiano along with its university student supporters of Cambiare Rotta (Changing Course) and its high school supporters of Organizazione Studentesca Alternativa (OSA). Also prominent was the left-populist Potere al Popolo (PaP, Power to the People), of which RdC is a constituent part. Smaller Stalinist formations including several latter-day PCIs2 were also present. Busloads arrived from as far away as Naples and other southern cities.
Clearly, most of the demonstrators were for the defeat of “NATO’s war,” and many would defend Russia and China against imperialism, some even affirming that China is “socialist,” or at least not capitalist, (The League for the Fourth International upholds the historic Trotskyist position that China is a bureaucratically deformed workers state.) Yet these Stalinist and Stalinoid tendencies are deeply nationalist, echoing the PCI’s traditional defense of the 1947 “anti-fascist” Italian Constitution, with all the illusions that implies. Thus, rather than calling to defeat U.S./NATO imperialism with workers action, many call on the Italian government to stop arms shipments and for “Italy out of NATO” and, in some cases, out of the EU. Yet a capitalist Italy “independent” of these imperialist alliances would be no less imperialist.
"Down with arms, up with wages." Peace movements are by their nature class-collaborationist popular fronts with sectors of the bourgeoisie . Potere al Popolo and the Unione Popolare fit this type; both are bourgeois political formations and have been prominent in all the antiwar protests of the recent past.
RdC, Contropiano and the USB along with Potere al Popolo all backed the bourgeois Unione Popolare (U.P.) electoral coalition in the September 2022 elections, and continue to campaign for this “popular front” chaining working people and the left to sections of the capitalist class. This has meant support for the U.P. standard-bearer Luigi De Magistri, a former judge and mayor of Naples. As mayor, De Magistris privatized public services, conducted a war against the public transit workers and administered capitalist austerity. Now he is supporting Article “41 bis” of the prison administration act that is essentially a slow death penalty through solitary confinement. While billed as an anti-Mafia measure, it is currently being used against the courageous anarchist prisoner Alfredo Cospito. The entire labor movement must demand: Free Alfredo Cospito!
RdC has been part of the bourgeois populist Potere al Popolo since 2017. The program of PaP calls for a “more just, more equitable society” – i.e., for an illusory reform of capitalism. Its populist program does not call for workers to take power or even class struggle but for “democratic control of the market.” Impossible! PaP wants “the people” to determine the functioning of capitalism. Like its ally and partner Podemos is doing as part of the Spanish government, administering capitalist austerity, enforcing racist laws, including in major cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, and supporting Ukraine in the NATO imperialist proxy war in Ukraine? At its 2021 Congress, RdC proclaimed: “Potere al Popolo is in fact the most advanced experience on the front of political representation.”
Elsewhere in Europe, SYRIZA (the bourgeois “Coalition of the Radical Left”) imposed capitalist austerity dictated by the Eurobankers on working people in Greece. On the other side of the Alps, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (LFI – France Unbowed), who campaigned for De Magistris and the UP at a Rome rally in September 2022, voted for the repressive “anti-terrorist” laws in 2015. More recently it sought to divert the massive revolt against the anti-worker pension “reform” into a non-binding (i.e., empty) referendum. (See “France: Drive Out Macron, Fight For a Workers Government” [March 2023].) Any government including the likes of Mélenchon’s LFI in France, UP or PaP in Italy, Podemos in Spain or SYRIZA in Greece, would be a bourgeois government, and no matter what its professed program, it would end up enforcing capitalist austerity and imperialist war.
At the February 25 demonstration in Genova, and again more recently at a June 24 “National Demonstration Against Meloni and her Warmonger Government” in Rome, the Nucleo Internazionalista d’Italia underlined the need to break with the politics of class collaboration and fight for a workers government based on factory councils (soviets). As for the USB, it commits the worst kind of class collaboration when it organizes the police and judicial system – mortal class enemies of the working class – into its ranks. We demand: Police out of the trade unions and workers movement!
RdC/USB vs. T.I.R./S.I. Cobas
Also on February 25, at the same time as the workers protest at the port of Genoa against the NATO war, the S.I. Cobas organized their own, smaller demonstrations in Milan (above), Bologna and Rome, supposedly against all belligerent parties in Ukraine. They thereby chose not to take the opportunity to begin effective common action against the bourgeoisie shipping arms to Ukraine.
Also on February 25, the same day as the Genova port workers’ protest to stop arms to Ukraine, S.I. Cobas, the largest of the “rank-and-file unions,”3 organized antiwar demonstrations in Milan, Bologna and Rome, supposedly against all sides in the fighting in Ukraine. These demonstrations had a few hundred people each, mostly from their immigrant working-class base in logistics. S.I. Cobas only sent a small contingent to Genova, primarily to express their political differences with the mobilization called by the CALP/USB. They chose not to use the occasion to initiate effective workers actions with the USB and others against the bourgeoisie sending arms to Ukraine because they didn’t want common action with those who they portray as being soft on, or even supportive of, so-called Russian “imperialism” or Chinese “imperialism.”
The call for the S.I. Cobas demonstration (sicobas.org, 24 February) was headlined with a generic leftist-pacifist slogan, “Pace tra gli oppressi, Guerra agli oppressori” (Peace Among the Oppressed, War on the Oppressors”), and an appeal “Against War, the High Cost of Living and the Government.” This was followed with a laundry list of economic/social demands (fund social programs, health and education, for wage increases to keep up with inflation, etc.), against racist policies and repression. While voicing a ritual “no to imperialist wars, no more military spending” there was no call for concrete working-class action against the war, and no mention of Ukraine, Russia, NATO or Italian imperialism. In short, a typical social-pacifist “butter not guns” appeal for a class-collaborationist “peace movement.”
This was also the case with a broader antiwar march on 3 December 2022 initiated by S.I. Cobas and the closely aligned Tendenza Internazionalista Rivoluzionaria (T.I.R.) which brought together much of the supposed “far left,” including other “rank-and-file” unions (CUB, USB, CALP), various Stalinist/Stalinoid parties (RdC, FC, FGC, PRC), some Trotskyoids (Sinistra Anticapitalista, FIR) and a number of social centers in a “board” popular front with a sector of the bourgeoisie in the form of De Magistris’ Unione Popolare. In this case, the appeal (sicobas.org, 22 November 2022) was for “Giù le arme, su i salari” (Down with Arms, Up with Wages), and again, in the interest of “unity” of the disparate tendencies, no mention of NATO, Russia or Ukraine. A generic lowest-common-denominator “peace movement.”
Subsequently, the T.I.R., a political formation consisting mostly of people in and around the S.I. Cobas, published a polemic against the forces that organized the Genova demonstration, titled “The Three Demonstrations on Saturday, February 25, and the Choices You Can’t Get Around” (Pungolo Rosso, 10 March). The three choices, according to the T.I.R., are, first, pro-Ukrainian pacifism (such as of the CGIL, the other labor federations, and their godfathers in the bourgeois PD); second, calling to oppose the NATO war (CALP/USB, Rete dei Comunisti et al.), thus (dixit T.I.R.) implicitly backing “Russian imperialism”; and a putative third “choice” (T.I.R./S.I. Cobas), against both sides in the war in Ukraine. The T.I.R. calls the latter policy revolutionary defeatism. It is not, as we explain below.
Because Rete dei Comunisti, in calling for “war against imperialist war,” denounces NATO’s war, the T.I.R. accuses it of being “water carriers” for the “bloc in formation of Russia and China,” which it labels “the major anti-Western capitalist states.” Indeed, the RdC talks of a “multipolar world taking shape” and promotes a PaP initiative, “Fermare la guerra, imporre la pace” (Stop war, impose peace), which calls to “support the proposals of China and the Vatican for peace negotiations.” These latter-day Stalinist proponents of “peaceful coexistence” also hold that “a prospect for peace can occur only and if NATO, and the forces that collaborate with it, are ‘rebalanced’ by other actors who are pointing to a diplomatic exit from the current situation” (“Genova, the Antiwar Movement Changes Its Face,” Contropiano, 26 February).
The forces for “peace through diplomacy,” according to Contrapiano, would include “a strong antiwar movement” in NATO countries, which would be “a class movement.” Yet, as the T.I.R. notes, Potere al Popolo supports the bourgeois Unione Popolare of De Magistris, who has complained of the “subservience of Europe to the United States.” Indeed, there are significant sectors of Italian capitalism that are uneasy with the U.S./NATO war against Russia, both among populist politicians and sectors of big business which profited from cheap Russian fuel, going back to the days when ENI (the state oil company) was the biggest European importer of oil from the Soviet Union. But while decrying the anti-NATO tilt, the T.I.R. does not take RdC to task for its class collaboration in allying with De Magisitris’ U.P.
This is no accident, oversight or minor omission. The appeal for the December 3 protest called by S.I. Cobas, USB and others in Rome was so watered down that the Unione Popolare, Potere al Popolo and other minor bourgeois forces endorsed and participated, like they do at pro-NATO/ Ukraine “peace demos”, such as in Rome on November 5. Moreover, while RdC calls for a “strong antiwar movement” that would be a “class movement,” the T.I.R. wants a “mass movement against the war with class connotations” (call for a June 11 “National Assembly Against the Imperialist War in Ukraine” [18 April]). In reality, all three “unavoidable choices” outlined by these would-be ideologues of the S.I. Cobas – implicitly pro-Ukraine, implicitly pro-Russia or “independent” – are calls for a popular-front “antiwar/peace movement” with sectors of the bourgeoisie. Fact: the U.P. was in all of them.
What Is Revolutionary Defeatism?
Revolutionary defeatism in action: (above) 400,000 German metalworkers on strike in January 1918 demanding an end to German participation in World War I. Their walkout touched off subsequent combative workers actions leading to the overthrow of the government and the fall of the monarchy in November 1918. T.I.R. writes that agitating for dock workers to boycot arms to Ukraine for the dockworkers is "banal." Lenin said the slogan "war against war" is banal without the prospect of overthrowing the bourgeoisie through workers action.
The T.I.R.’s pretense of a “class position” in opposition to an “inter-class front” is entirely based on the fiction that Russia and China are imperialists. It simply repeats this bourgeois lie, providing no Marxist explanation, whereas we of the League for the Fourth International have analyzed and explained in detail that Russia is a regional capitalist power (as is Ukraine), while China is a deformed workers state.4 In Ukraine, all of the imperialist countries are lined up in the U.S./NATO war drive against Russia and China. And while all of the various “peace/antiwar” demos are class-collaborationist fronts, in Genova on February 25, many came in order to express their opposition to the NATO imperialist war and because it was connected with workers action – a strike – against sending arms to Ukraine.
Against this, the T.I.R. and the other political groupings that sponsored a 16 October 2022 “National Conference on the War in Ukraine, the Economic Crisis and the Great World Chaos: What Is To Be Done?” called to “revive the historical watchword of the labor and communist movement: war against war, defeatism on both sides!”5 This bloc also includes the FGC (Fronte della Gioventù Comunista, Communist Youth Front) and the Fronte Comunista, along with local collectives. In the first place, the anarchist/pacifist slogan of “guerra alla guerra” – against all wars – is counterposed to the Marxist approach to “examine the historically specific features” of “each war separately” (V.I. Lenin, Socialism and War ). And secondly, Lenin’s policy in the interimperialist World War I was not “defeatism” in general but “revolutionary defeatism.”
It is evident to all that the war in Ukraine has thrown the left in Italy – and internationally – into disarray. The confusion has been intensified by the pounding imperialist war propaganda portraying Russian president Putin, Russia and Russians in general as the embodiment of pure evil. Many would-be leftists have become outright “NATO socialists,” supporting the “Ukrainian resistance” and even backing sending imperialist arms to Ukraine.6 In the infighting for position within the left, the T.I.R. and its bloc partners have staked out the political space of ostensibly opposing all sides – Russia/China and NATO/Ukraine – in the war. But its main fire is directed anyone on the left who, however timidly, denounces the NATO imperialists, as the T.I.R. labels one and all stooges of “pro-Russian capitalist sectors” defending “national interests.”
A case in point is an article, “Against ‘Defensism,’ For Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist Wars” (Pungolo Rosso, 5 January), which denounces “red-brown militants, declared or disguised” (i.e., supposed partisans of a communist-fascist alliance) who say that Russia is “defending its right to exist” against “Euro-Atlantic imperialism.” Likewise, any who defend China and Iran are supposedly turning their backs on workers strikes, struggles for women’s rights, etc. Against this invented “orgy of defensisms” – hardly any of the groups it is shadow boxing against dares to directly defend Russia, China and Iran against the imperialist war – Pungolo Rosso prints a 1951 article by Amadeo Bordiga, “The Shame and Lie of ‘Defensism’.”
An introduction says that, “even though we are not Bordiguists,” the article is being reprinted because it “reiterates with admirable clarity” the criteria by which revolutionary communists classified wars of the past. While generally to the left of the Stalinist reformists, the T.I.R. and Pungolo Rosso are an eclectic mixture of Bordiga and Gramsci, adept at using Marxist and Leninist-sounding phrases to cover opportunist policies. Here the editors cite Bordiga’s “framing of World War II as an imperialist war in every respect” (emphasis in original). I.e., not only was the clash between Allied and Axis regimes an inter-imperialist war, so was, according to the T.I.R., the war of the Soviet workers state, against Nazi-fascist German imperialism, in which the watchword of “revolutionary defeatism” on all sides should supposedly apply.7 Rubbish!
As usual with Bordiga, there is much learned discourse, including such gems as denouncing Garibaldi for defending the French republic in the Franco-Prussian War after the fall of the empire of Napoléon III in 1870 (Marx and Engels took the same position). But all this is window dressing for Bordiga’s opposition to defense of the USSR in World War II and the anti-Soviet Cold War.8 For sure, Stalin’s alignment with the “democratic” imperialists led to the suffocation of potential revolutions by Stalinist-led Communist parties, from Greece and Italy to France and Indochina.9 But while denouncing Stalin’s betrayals, and despite Stalin’s murder of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Trotskyists and Trotsky himself, Trotskyists defended the Soviet Union against imperialism. Bordiga’s “defeatist” policy was class treason.
Lenin’s call for revolutionary defeatism in World War I, a war between two opposed imperialist blocs, was very different. He invariably linked the slogan to revolutionary working-class action against the imperialist rulers. In a polemic (against Trotsky), Lenin wrote:
“The only policy of actual, not verbal disruption of the ‘class truce,’ of acceptance of the class struggle, is for the proletariat to take advantage of the difficulties experienced by its government and its bourgeoisie in order to overthrow them. This, however, cannot be achieved or striven for, without desiring the defeat of one’s own government and without contributing to that defeat.
“When, before the war, the Italian Social-Democrats raised the question of a mass strike, the bourgeoisie replied, no doubt correctly from their own point of view, that this would be high treason, and that Social-Democrats would be dealt with as traitors.”
–V.I. Lenin, “The Defeat of One’s Own Government in the Imperialist War” (July 1915)
Lenin notes that those opposed to the policy of revolutionary defeatism “do not believe in the possibility of international revolutionary action by the working class against their own governments….” The T.I.R. today calls for “war against war,” yet boycotted the Genova port strike and protest, saying dismissively: “Against sending arms to the Zelensky government, against NATO – so far we’re okay, but it’s banal.”10 Lenin said the opposite: “‘a war against war’ is a banal phrase unless it means a revolution against their own government.”
The political line of neither NATO nor Russia of the T.I.R. and others in its propaganda bloc, as well as many other opportunist leftists internationally, is not revolutionary defeatism but a policy of what it calls a third “choice” in a supposed “inter-imperialist war.” Yet since Russia is not in fact imperialist, and rather is the target of a united imperialist front, this amounts to backhanded support of the imperialist first camp. In fact, in a document of 18 March 2022 the T.I.R.’s book, La Guerra in Ucraina e l’internazionalismo proletario (page 56), the TIR calls for “Solidarity with the Ukrainian people against the Russian invasion, for the unconditional withdrawal of the Russian troops.” Unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops would be a victory for the NATO imperialists and embolden them even more.
The T.I.R. denounces the organizers of the February 25 Genova port shutdown as supposed “sovereigntists,” who “never” attack “Italian imperialist capitalism … as a founding partner and integral part of both the EU and NATO.” Yet the T.I.R. itself raises just such a “sovereigntist” call (in the manifesto from the 16 October 2022 meeting) “for Italy’s exit from NATO and every transnational imperialist alliance.” If Italy were to miraculously withdraw from NATO, the EU, etc., it would be just as imperialist and no less an enemy of the working people. Genuine revolutionary internationalists, in contrast, call – as the Nucleo Internazionalista d’Italia and the League for the Fourth International do – for the defeat of the U.S./NATO proxy war against Russia (and ultimately China).
The T.I.R.’s purely propagandistic line recalls the centrist policy of the Italian Socialists in World War I of “absolute neutrality” and later (after Italy’s entry into the war in 1916) “neither support nor sabotage.” Due to the PSI’s social-pacifist policy, when after the ignominious Italian defeat at Caporetto in October-November 1917 the possibility opened of “turning the imperialist war into a civil war” (Lenin’s formula) against Italy’s capitalist rulers, rather than turning their weapons on the military brass who led them into the slaughter, soldiers instead threw their guns down and deserted. Today, by refusing to organize workers’ class struggle against NATO’s war, and simply holding ritual marches and “general strikes” (in reality, work stoppages with a demonstration), the T.I.R. likewise fails to prepare the working class for revolutionary action.
Defeat the Imperialist War Drive Against Russia and China!
At May Day 2023 march in New York, Internationalist contingent calls to “Defeat U.S. / NATO War Drive Against Russia & China.”
As we have analyzed previously, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 set off a full-scale war between these two regional capitalist powers. Proletarian internationalists opposed both sides of this reactionary nationalist war. At the same time, the League for the Fourth International called to defeat the imperialists’ war drive against Russia and China, and to defend self-rule by the besieged Russian-speaking population in the south and east.11 However, by fall 2022, the sharply escalating arming, financing, advising and ultimately control of the Ukrainian military by the U.S. and NATO reached the point that quantity turned into quality, transforming the conflict into an imperialist proxy war on Russia in which the Kiev government and army are acting on behalf of and under the direction of the U.S./NATO imperialists.
Reflecting the changed situation, the LQI shifted its position and now called for the defeat of the U.S./NATO proxy regime in Ukraine and for military defense of Russia, while giving no political support to, and calling for workers struggle against, the reactionary bourgeois nationalist Putin government.12 In contrast, by falsely labeling the war in Ukraine as “imperialist” on both sides, the T.I.R. and its propaganda bloc partners refuse to defend those fighting against the actual war on Russia by all the imperialists, Italy included. And while hypocritically declaring that they are “not at all indifferent to the desire of most of the Donbass populations suffering from Kiev’s ethnic cleansing to join the Russian Federation,” the T.I.R. says this “has no role” in the war (call for June 11 “National Assembly Against the Imperialist War in Ukraine”).
To cover up its refusal to undertake concrete action against its “own” imperialist rulers, the T.I.R. resorts to vague/ambiguous characterizations. It refers to the Meloni government as simply capitalist “with ‘neo-liberal policies’,” a “government of the right,” or at most “the first postwar executive under an explicitly post-MSI leadership” for which “directly invoking fascism leads astray.” But this is not just another right-wing cabinet, it is the first fascist-led Italian government since World War II. This means that unions and left groups must prepare workers defense groups against police repression and also by squads of strikebreakers, as has already happened and will intensify. It means that workers action to stop war materiel from the fascist-led Rome government to the fascist-infested Kiev U.S./NATO proxy government could be met with bloody attacks, which must be resisted and defeated.
The main operative part of the line of the T.I.R. and its propaganda bloc partners is their call to “politically combat” those who call to oppose “NATO’s war,” who are labeled “defensists,” “sovereigntists” and advocates of a “multipolar” world. This is justified with the fiction that those in NATO’s bomb sights are equivalent to the imperialists, talking of a “global clash in an advanced state of gestation between the great powers of decaying Western imperialism and the new rising capitalist powers.”13 Dancing around the key issue of whether Russia and China are imperialist while never quite saying so, the T.I.R. equates the present conflict with the inter-imperialist World War I: “capitalist wars that have as their object the carving up of the world market, or parts of it, as is the current war in Ukraine” (“Against ‘Defensism’…”).
It is absurd to portray the current war as one of two similarly powerful capitalist-imperialist blocs competing for markets. As we noted in “The Bugbear of ‘Russian Imperialism’,”14 Russia is a net importer of capital and its exports are overwhelmingly (three-quarters) of energy and raw materials, a structure closer to that of a semi-colonial country such as Iran or Venezuela. As for China, despite dangerous capitalist inroads, the key economic sectors are still state-owned, the fundamental course of the economy is dictated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) not by market forces, and as one economist’s letter to the Wall Street Journal (4 August 2021) put it, “China’s ‘State Capitalism’ Is Not Capitalism.” The myth of a “capitalist China” was wishful thinking by the bourgeoisie, which has been picked up by the left in order not to defend China.
the Chinese Workers State
Against Imperialism and Counterrevolution
Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan, China. In just ten days, China built two hospitals with 2,500 beds total, into treat coronavirus patients at the epicenter of the epidemic. No capitalist country has been capable of such a feat, which was the product of a planned economy.
That China is not capitalist was dramatically demonstrated by the fact (a) that China’s economy uniquely grew substantially in the wake of the 2007-08 market collapse when all capitalist economies were thrown into deep crisis; and (b) that China alone was able to contain the 2020+ coronavirus pandemic for three years, keeping deaths to a little over 5,000 and saving millions of lives. How? By mobilizing the resources of its collectivized economy (and private firms) on the orders of the CCP. While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is not capitalist, nor is it socialist, lacking any semblance of workers democracy and a revolutionary leadership. A good introduction to the workings of the PRC bureaucratically deformed workers state, is the 2017 article by the Marxist economist Michael Roberts, “Xi Takes Full Control of China’s Future.”15
On COVID-19: the imperialist media have portrayed China’s abandonment of stringent quarantines in December 2022 as proof of the “failure” of its policies of containing the deadly virus. Dead wrong. Even after deaths in China increased in recent months, after it had to abandon the policy of stringent quarantines, if the death rate in Italy from COVID-19 and related “excess mortality” had been kept as low as in China, the total number number who died here in the pandemic would have been less than 5,000 instead of 191,000 (Our World in Data, as of 21 June 2023). But, of course, Rome could not replicate Beijing’s policies because a capitalist country cannot provide the comprehensive health care and food supply in emergency conditions that China’s socialized economy could and did in 2020-22.
Another favorite theme of pseudo-socialist, anarchist and syndicalist tendencies is to label China “the sweatshop of the world.” It is particularly grotesque to equate China with the capitalist-imperialist countries, or to talk of “super-exploitation” of workers in China, in Italy, the only country in Europe where real wages (adjusted for inflation) have fallen from 1990 to 2020.16 In contrast, real wages in China rose by 260% from 2008 to 2022, while real wages in Italy fell by about 13% over the same period, as can be seen in a dramatic graph in the report by the International Labour Organisation, Global Wage Report 2022-23:
This was after real wages in China rose by 500% – quintupling – between 1995 and 2010, Nowhere in the capitalist world has there been such a dramatic increase in workers’ standard of living in such a short period.
The commander-in-chief of U.S. imperialism, Joe Biden, and other imperialist powers have made clear their ultimate objective is to restore capitalism in China, as they escalate their military provocations and economic warfare against it. They see their imperialist war against Russia in Ukraine as a step in this direction. We of the LFI stand for the unconditional defense of China against imperialism and internal counterrevolution. At the same time we fight for a proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy and institute workers democracy based on workers councils on the road to international socialist revolution. It is a basic duty of communists to defend the socialized planned economy and the enormous gains that still exist from the 1949 Chinese Revolution, despite bureaucratic mismanagement and large inroads of private capital (see our article “Imperialist Hands Off China,” September 2022).
In contrast, the political groupings in the T.I.R.’s propaganda bloc, notably the FGC that claims the political heritage of Stalin, all label China “capitalist,” and even “imperialist,” and do not defend it. Instead, they parrot anti-communist anti-Chinese propaganda. The websites of Pungolo Rosso and the S.I. Cobas are full of articles written by China Labour Bulletin and often cite it as the source of information. Thus in the introduction to an article by the CLB on the Pungolo Rosso and S.I. Cobas websites, we read:
“The following is some information taken from the website of the China Labor Bulletin, which has commendably been dealing with the condition of Chinese workers for several years with a series of accurate documentation, and promoting campaigns in their defense.”
–“Anti-Worker Reforms, Employer Tyranny and Workers Resistance in Today’s China,” Pungolo Rosso, 24 July 2021
China Labour Bulletin is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED – a front for the CIA) that sponsors counterrevolutionary forces all over the world and is a mouthpiece for U:S. imperialism and vile anti-communist propaganda.
Cick on the image to enlarge.
The author of this article, Giulia Luzzi, a regular contributor to Pungolo Rosso, repeats and praises the propaganda of this agency of U.S. imperialism, vouching for its “accuracy” and claiming that this outfit champions the cause of Chinese workers. Since when has U.S. imperialism been an ally of the working class?! Her introduction to this CLB article begins: “When China is mentioned in the Western media, it is spoken of as an aggressive economic power, while at the same time the violation of human rights of minorities, repression against dissent in Hong Kong etc. is denounced. These denunciations are of real facts.” So the T.I.R. et al. support the anti-communist, racist, pro-Trump riots in Hong Kong in 2019.17
Another example. On the same websites a recent article was posted: “China: Youth Unemployment, Worked to Death.” One of the sources cited for the information for the anti-communist anti-Chinese diatribe in this article is Craig Simpleton of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). The FDD website it says that this outfit was founded “to provide education to enhance Israel’s image in North America” and that its “mission” is “counterterrorism education” and to “defend democratic values”. Craig Simpleton was a consultant for the U.S. government for “national security.” Q.E.D. Pungolo Rosso is fronting for anti-communist propaganda in the service of imperialist war on China, and its articles are republished verbatim by S.I. Cobas. This can only serve to disorient Italian workers.
To be sure, not everyone in this propaganda bloc has identical policies. While the T.I.R. (which has Marxist pretensions) tip-toes around the issue, the liberal/anarchoid Centro di documentazione contro la guerra refers straight out to “Russian imperialism.” The Stalinist FGC, for its part, claims that “Russia plays a leading role in the international imperialist pyramid”; that “in China the return to capitalism is almost complete,” hence it, too, is imperialist; and that it is necessary to understand “the imperialistic nature of the BRICS countries” – which would make Brazil and South Africa imperialist as well! (“China and Imperialism: A Historical-Economic Analysis,” Senza Tregua, 15 April 2017). Such absurd claims make a mockery of any semblance of Leninism, turning “imperialism” into a curse word rather than a scientific analysis. ■
Imperialist Proxy War on Russia in Ukraine: Test for Revolutionaries
Pictured above: the Communist Youth Federation contingent at anti-war demonstration called by S.I. Cobas in Milan, February 25.
Imperialist war is an acid test for all would-be revolutionary tendencies. Since WWI, it has been axiomatic for Leninists that communists and all class-conscious workers are duty-bound to stand with non-imperialist countries in wars with imperialism, especially when “their own” imperialist rulers are among the warmongers. Lenin stressed this in Socialism and War (1915):
“For example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, these would be ‘just’, and ‘defensive’ wars, irrespective of who would be the first to attack; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slaveholding and predatory ‘Great’ Powers.”
In line with this, after the war and the formation of the Communist International, the French Communist Party (PCF) launched a campaign in defense of the Berber insurgency led by Abd el-Krim in the Rif region of Morocco, leading to a general strike in France against the war on 12 October 1925 (and the arrests of up to 1,000 PCF and worker militants). Later, in 1949-50, Marseille dock workers refused to load munitions for French forces waging imperialist war in Vietnam.
Some erudite hair-splitters have argued: yes, but Morocco and India were colonies, and Iran and China were semi-colonies, while Russia today is no semi-colony. True, it is an intermediate country targeted by the united imperialists. Yet already in 1920-22, Soviet Russia under Lenin’s leadership militarily supported Turkey, the remnant of the Ottoman Empire, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, against the Western imperialists. In 1935, Trotsky and the Trotskyists called to defend Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie, a slave-owning feudalist, against the invasion by Italian imperialism. And in 1939, Trotsky called to defend China under Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese imperialist invasion. These were all independent states, ruled by brutal nationalists, but the overriding issue was to defeat the imperialist military attack or threats.
Moreover, the T.I.R.’s call for “war against war” and for building an “antiwar movement … with class connotations” recall the Italian Socialists’ policy of neutrality in World War I. Its call to oppose “all wars of capital” would mean opposing defense of any capitalist country under attack by imperialism. This resembles “Maximalist” Socialist Giacinto Serrati’s opposition to Lenin’s theses on the national question at the Comintern’s Second Congress (1920), which called to defend bourgeois-democratic “national liberation movements” against imperialism. Serrati accused the theses of “class collaboration,” although they called to “unconditionally maintain the independent character of the proletarian movement.”18 The militant syndicalist line has a huge blind spot when it comes to imperialism, particularly regarding imperialist world domination.
In contrast, the League for the Fourth International fought from 2001 on to defend Iraq and Afghanistan and to defeat the U.S.-led imperialist invasions and occupations of those countries, while giving no political support to Saddam Hussein or the Taliban. And not only at the level of propaganda, but agitating on the docks for U.S. port workers to “hot cargo” (refuse to handle) arms shipments to the region as early as 2002.19 The LFI playing a significant role in the May Day 2008 shutdown of all U.S. West Coast ports against the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.20 And it defended Yugoslavia against the 1999 U.S./NATO war while denouncing the Serbian nationalist regime of Slobodan Milosević.21 Italy was directly involved in these wars. Where did, or does, the T.I.R. stand? Did or does it defend those countries attacked by imperialism?
ILWU port workers' march in San Francisco, California, May 1, 2008. On that occasion, dockworkers shut down all ports on the U.S. West Coast against the war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Internationalist Group played an important role in building that action.
These are not abstract or academic questions. At issue here is whether those who profess to be communists have the program to prepare the working class for the revolutionary struggle for power, or not. The propaganda bloc led by the T.I.R., with its passive propagandist neutrality on the war in Ukraine, as indicated above, recycles the policies of the centrist Italian Socialists in World War I that prevented the PSI (and the nascent PCI) from playing a revolutionary role at the end of the war, and thus set the stage for fascism. Those who refuse to defend the targets of imperialism, who try to duck the issue by declaring all sides imperialist, cannot lead the fight for international socialist revolution. Today they act as an obstacle to militant class struggle against the real imperialists and their war drive against Russia and China careening toward World War III.
What is behind these blinders that the propaganda bloc around the T.I.R. and S.I. Cobas have put on to hide the nature of the U.S./NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine? At the June 11 meeting in Milan, the Fronte Comunista declared that the public has been “bombarded by years and years of propaganda from one camp or the other.” Nonsense! The general public, working people and the left have been bombarded for years, in Italy and throughout Europe, by relentless imperialist anti-Russia war propaganda, to which, over the war in Ukraine, most of the left has capitulated. What the T.I.R., FC, FCG et al. are combatting is the sentiment in the working-class and immigrant ranks of S.I. Cobas and other combative unions to oppose the U.S./NATO imperialist war. Just read:
“We must clearly denounce the fascination with the hypothesis of a new multipolar world.... Supporting such positions are the nationalist, sovereigntist and campist forces in Italy that directly or indirectly support the interests of Russia, China and all countries that are competitors or opponents of the U.S.-driven world order….
“The calls for international equality, for rescuing the oppressed from hundreds of years of exploitation and for democratization, are weapons perfectly calibrated to appeal to the sentiments of payback of those who have themselves experienced the U.S., EU and NATO brand of capitalist exploitation.... In the name of proletarian internationalism, we have the task of denouncing and not promoting such war propaganda. Those in Italy today who stand for a multipolar world are hindering, more or less consciously, the birth of a real war-on-war movement.”
–Intervention of the Fronte Comunista at the June 11 Milan meeting
The T.I.R. et al. portray all those who “directly or indirectly” side with Russia and China as supporters of a “multipolar world order.” This may apply to the Rete dei Comunisti, Potere al Popolo and other reformist and bourgeois populist forces who hark back to the Stalinist illusion of impossible “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. It is certainly true of the bourgeois nationalist and Stalinist nationalist rulers of Russia and China, respectively. But it is a gross distortion when referring to the several thousand youth and workers who marched in Genova on February 25 to stop arms to Ukraine and “block NATO’s war.” And it is a slander when referring to those who call for a revolutionary internationalist, proletarian struggle to defend Russia and China against the imperialist war drive and to defeat the U.S./NATO proxy regime in Kiev.
Revolutionary Marxists are not pacifists. We do not build “peace movements,” which as Trotsky wrote in 1917, invariably turn into pro-war movements, as is the case of the pro-Ukraine “peace” demos currently. Genuine Trotskyists intervene in popular-front “antiwar” movements as a revolutionary opposition to the reformist/bourgeois organizers, to bring to the masses the program of defeating imperialist war through international socialist revolution. The pseudo-leftists who refuse to defend Russia and China against imperialism have been seduced by the siren song of “human rights imperialism.” The whole “human rights” business was invented at the dawn of the imperialist Cold War as a weapon against the Soviet Union, and is now being blasted at top volume in defense of the fascist/nationalist coup regime in Ukraine.
The decaying capitalist system generates endless wars. Lenin insisted that any talk of “peace” without mass revolutionary proletarian struggle is pure illusion. The attacks on workers’ living standards and social programs, the repression of workers’ struggles and assault on immigrants are all part of the imperialist war drive. In order to defeat them and stop the imperialists rush toward WW III it is necessary to fight to defeat the U.S./NATO war on Russia and defend the Chinese deformed workers state against imperialism and counterrevolution. This is, in fact, the only basis to fight for socialist revolution in Russia and for a proletarian political revolution in China. To refuse to defend them against the imperialist assault seeking to crush and dismember them is nothing less than a stab in the back of Russian and Chinese workers.
The present fascist-led government in Italy and increasingly dire situation of working people throughout Europe and the entire capitalist world, underlines the unreformability of decaying capitalism and the urgent need to forge a genuinely communist party. This party cannot be built on the basis of capitulation to imperialism or the politics of class collaboration, but must be based on a solid Leninist-Trotskyist program. We of the Nucleo Internazionalista d’Italia/Lega per la Quarta Internazionale are dedicated to forging this party. ■
Italian Navy Heading to the Indo-Pacific
In March, the Italian frigate Carlo Bergamini participated in the first joint U.S.-EU naval exercise in the Indo-Pacific region.
Italy, like Germany and other members of the Western military alliance, is sharply increasing military spending and stepping up its engagement in the mounting imperialist war drive. The Italian navy aircraft carrier Cavour and at least four supporting ships are slated to take part in joint military exercises in late 2023/early 2024 with United States and allied forces in the Persian Gulf and Indian and Pacific Oceans. These maneuvers, extending well beyond the “Enlarged Mediterranean” area, are clearly directed against China, which is seen by the U.S. imperialist overlord as the main enemy. Meanwhile, fascist prime minister Meloni continues to clamor for a more aggressive and active role for Italian imperialism in North Africa.
Already in March, the Italian frigate Bergamini participated in a first-ever U.S.-EU naval exercise somewhere in the Indo-Pacific region. This followed Italian participation in the Neptune Strike 23 exercise in the Mediterranean Sea in February under the STRIKFORNATO command. In a sign of how this growing militarization is extending into civil society, students from 15 Italian universities participated in the large-scale NATO “Mare Aperto” (Open Seas) exercises in April involving 23 countries in the Adriatic, Ionian and Sardinian seas and the strait of Sicily. And in June, some 350 high school students are scheduled to spend part of their unpaid school-work alternation at the NATO naval aviation base of Signorello.
To be sure, the contribution of the Italian navy to battles in the “Indo-Pacific theater” will be precisely zero. So why do U.S. rulers and the Pentagon/NATO brass care? Like the participation of university and secondary school students in naval exercises in the Mediterranean and on bases in Italy, the purpose is to land a peremptory blow against future protests over the terrible human and economic toll of world war. They want to make broad sectors of Italian society complicit in the crime beforehand, so it’s harder to back out later. In defending China and Russia against the U.S./NATO war drive, opponents of capitalist militarism should mobilize to “Shut down all imperialist ‘war games,” and to “Kick the military out of the schools!” ■
- 1. See “Port Workers Boycott Saudi Military Cargo Bound for War in Yemen,” The Internationalist No. 56, May-June 2019.
- 2. The Italian Communist Party (PCI) was for decades after World War II the largest pro-Moscow Stalinist CP in Western Europe, with over 1.3 million members in the 1960s and over 10 million votes as late as 1987. The long-since reformist PCI, which sabotaged the very real possibility of workers revolution in Italy during 1943-48, was already well on the way to total social-democratization when it adopted the watchword of “Eurocommunism” at the beginning of the 1980s, refusing to defend Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and Poland. Following the counterrevolution that destroyed the USSR and the Soviet bloc East European bureaucratically deformed workers states, the PCI collapsed. It first morphed into the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) and ultimately, in 2007, joining together with Christian Democrats to form the bourgeois Democratic Party (PD). A social-democratic Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) was formed in 1991 and has gradually declined in strength, so that today it has no parliamentary representation. Meanwhile, several small PCIs have formed with memberships ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand, all with deeply reformist Stalinist politics.
- 3. There are several unions (S.I. Cobas, SLAI Cobas, Sol Cobas, Cobas, CUB, USB, and others), some with several hundred thousand members, using the generic designation Cobas, for comitate di base, or rank-and-file committees. Collectively they are referred to as sindacati combativi (“militant trade unions”) in contrast to the totally bureaucratized, class-collaborationist sindacati confederali (union federations) of the CGIL (ex-communist), UIL(social-democratic) and CISL (Christian Democratic).
- 4. See “The Bugbear of ‘Russian Imperialism’” (May 2014) in The Internationalist No. 50, Summer 2015.
- 5. “Dichiarazione congiunta – no alla guerra imperialista!” sicobas.org, 2 November 2022.
- 6. See “NATO Socialists in Italy,” The Internationalist No. 66, January-April 2022.
- 7. To give his refusal to defend the Soviet Union “theoretical” heft, at the height of the Cold War, Bordiga (like other renegades before and after) elaborated a construct of Soviet “state capitalism.” In Bordiga’s case this was explicitly against Trotsky’s analysis and program, in The Revolution Betrayed (1936) and elsewhere. See A. Bordiga, Struttura economica e sociale della Russia d’oggi (1955-57). Also, Liliana Grilli, Amadeo Bordiga: capitalismo sovietico e comunismo (1982).
- 8. Several leaders of S.I. Cobas and spokesmen for the T.I.R. claim, like Bordiga, that the Soviet Union was no longer a workers state ever since Stalin seized power in 1923-24. Focusing exclusively on the leadership and ignoring the material base is profoundly anti-Marxist. Stalin led a political counterrevolution at the head of a parasitic nationalist bureaucracy that renounced the Bolsheviks’ fight for international socialist revolution.
- 9. See the bulletin of the Nucleo Internazionalista d’Italia, 1943-1948: Lo stalinismo contro la rivoluzione (November 2021)
- 10. “The Three Demonstrations...” .
- 11. See “Behind the War: U.S./NATO War Drive Against Russia, China” (28 February 2022), in The Internationalist No. 66, January-April 2022.
- 12. “Defend Russia, China Against War-Crazes U.S. Rulers” (22 October 2022), in The Internationalist No. 67-68, May-October 2022.
- 13. “Il convegno di Roma del 16 ottobre: un buon primo passo,” Pungolo Rosso, 21 October 2022.
- 14. “The Bugbear of ‘Russian Imperialism’” (May 2014) in The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2014.
- 15. https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/xi-takes-full-control-of-chinas-future/.
- 16. “Analysis: Why us? Italy seeks way out of low-wage economy trap,” Reuters, 16 June 2022.
- 17. See “Hong Kong: Defeat Pro-Imperialist Riots With Revolutionary Workers Mobilization,” The Internationalist No. 57, September-October 2019.
Serrati’s objections to Lenin’s theses were pretty rich,
considering that the PSI supported the 1911
Italian invasion of Libya.
- 19. See “Strike Against Taft-Hartley! Hot-Cargo War Materiel!” The Internationalist No. 15, January-February 2003.
- 20. See “May Day Strike Against the War Shuts Down All U.S. West Coast Ports,” The Internatioinalist No. 27, May-June 2008. Also see The Internationalist special supplement Why We Fight for Workers Strikes Against the War (and the Opportunists Don’t), October 2007.
- 21. See “Defend Yugoslavia, Defeat the Imperialist Attack!” The Internationalist No. 7, April-May 1999. Our Mexican comrades also put forward and won a motion by striking students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to make a donation through the fund initiated by SLAI Cobas of Alfa-Romeo to aid Yugoslav workers in the Zastava factory, destroyed by the NATO bombs when it was occupied by the workers. See “Mexican Student Strike Sends Aid to Yugoslav Workers,” The Internationalist, April 1999.