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The Internationalist
August 2023

Revolutionary Trotskyism on
the Imperialist War Drive
Against Russia and China

“Bradley Square,” on the Zaporozhye front, on Day 1 of the much-heralded Ukrainian counteroffensive, June 8: fields littered with destroyed Leopard tanks and U.S. Bradley armored personnel carriers. In first two weeks, Kiev regime lost up to one-third of all the armor the U.S. sent it. So Ukrainian commanders instead sent soldiers without armor, with over 1,000 dead per day. (Photo: Russian Ministry of Defense)

By Jan Norden

We print below a translation of the presentation and summary by Jan Norden, speaking on behalf of the League for the Fourth International, at the thematic symposium on “Positions on the War in Ukraine” at the Second Leon Trotsky Conference. Transmitted online on August 21-25, the conference was organized as a follow-up to the Trotsky conference held in Havana, Cuba, in May 2019.1. The text of the presentation has been edited for publication and slightly expanded to include some excerpts that were omitted for the sake of brevity. Recordings of the round table discussions and thematic symposiums of the Conference are available on the site: https://www.youtube.com/@EncontroTrotsky.  

The war over Ukraine is a historical event of the first order, which has shaped the course of political, economic and world events during the last year and a half. The constant escalation of military intervention by the United States and NATO imperialists has not only prolonged and intensified the war, but points directly toward a thermonuclear World War III. In the current long-awaited “Ukrainian counteroffensive,” the Kiev leadership insists on launching suicide attacks against well-entrenched Russian forces, with a toll of about a thousand Ukrainian soldiers killed daily during the last few weeks. But what else can one expect from military leaders who fired on their own supporters in the Maidan Square massacre [that touched off the Kiev coup] in 2014,2 which in fact started this war.

The war in Eastern Europe is also a major factor in the class struggle in many imperialist countries in the West. The capitalist rulers are lashing out against historic gains of the workers, calling for “sacrifice” while stoking their war machines with billions of euros. This is the case in France, where we have written that the struggle of workers to defend their pension rights against the attack by the self-styled “Jupiterian” president Emmanuel Macron cannot be separated from the struggle for workers action against the imperialist war.

The war in Ukraine is also being used to attack the freedoms of speech and assembly with police-state measures. In Germany, any explicit siding with Russia (or even denying the myth of a “holocaust” in Ukraine in 1932-1933!)3 has been outlawed, while the police search protestors for Russian and Soviet flags, in addition to the Palestinian and Kurdish ones they had already banned some time ago. In the European Union, the Russian media outlets Sputnik and RT are banned. And everywhere in the imperialist countries, the docile bourgeois press inundates the population with war propaganda and lies fabricated by the fascist media team in Kiev.4

However, tight control of the mass media by the imperialist warmongers does not ensure their success in keeping everything quiet on the “home front.” In Italy, the government led by fascist prime minister Giorgia Meloni feels a close affinity with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, a puppet of the fascists and imperialists, and deluges him with war materiel, while keeping ships packed with immigrants at sea in the Mediterranean, refusing to let them dock. But in Genova, Italy, on February 25, the first anniversary of the outbreak of war, dockworkers and 10,000 demonstrators shut down the waterfront under the slogan, “Port Open to Refugees, Port Closed to Arms,” and expressly denouncing “NATO’s war.”5

U.S.-supplied D-777 howitzer being fired near Bakhmut (Artemovsk). Revolutionaries must fight to defeat the U.S./NATO imperialist war against Russia.  (Photo: Libkos / Associated Press)

As always, imperialist war puts into question the program and actions of those who profess to be revolutionaries. In the current case, the war over Ukraine has caused enormous confusion and turmoil among the left, particularly among ostensible Trotskyists, but also among the castaways of Stalinism’s shipwreck. It is scandalous and disgusting that some of the major currents claiming to be Trotskyist have aligned themselves directly with the U.S. imperialists and the imperialist military alliance (NATO) they lead. The most shameful are followers of the late pseudo-Trotskyists Ernest Mandel and Nahuel Moreno.

The former Mandelite Unified Secretariat (now Executive Bureau), which claims to be the Fourth International, even came out for a supposed “democratic” right of Ukraine to join NATO, and demands “delivery of arms upon the request of the Ukrainian people.”6 Since these arms would necessarily come from the imperialist governments, the cynical claim of the USec/EB to be for the “dissolution of NATO” is nothing but a fig leaf to hide their blatant betrayal of Leninist and Trotskyist principles. Likewise, they call for the “withdrawal of Russian armed forces from all Ukrainian territory,” including Crimea and the Donbass. This is the same as what the imperialists demand.

For its part, the Morenoite International Workers League - Fourth International (LIT), whose biggest member is the Brazilian PSTU (Unified Socialist Workers Party), plays the same game as the Mandelites, saying it opposes “any direct intervention by NATO” while in the same sentence it demands the “supply of heavy weapons and military technology to Ukraine so that it can defeat the invasion,” weapons and technology that would necessarily come from NATO governments.7 These tendencies (and the other satellites in the Morenoite orbit have almost identical positions) are nothing more than sputniki, that is, fellow travelers, of imperialism. With these anti-Trotskyists, there is really nothing or very little to discuss. They have chosen their side, they position themselves on the other side of the class line, betraying the proletarian cause to join the imperialist offensive.

And it’s not the first time. On the anti-China riots in Hong Kong in 2019; on the protests in Cuba on 11 July 2021, stoked by the gusanos (counterrevolutionary exiles) and agents on the payroll of U.S. imperialism; on the endless war in Syria, where they support Islamist gangs financed, equipped and advised by Washington; in Libya in 2011, in Venezuela and elsewhere, the Morenoites have almost instinctively lined up with imperialism. Their stance on the Ukrainian war reflects their decades-old Stalinophobia, now converted into Russophobia.

As opposed to the proletarian and revolutionary policy of Trotsky, who defended the Soviet Union against imperialism and condemned Stalinism (the betrayer of the Bolshevik Revolution) precisely for undermining this defense, Moreno’s heirs hailed the counter-coup of Yeltsin and U.S. president Bush in August 1991 which unleashed the capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the USSR and the Soviet-bloc bureaucratically deformed workers states of Eastern Europe. The Mandelites and almost all the pseudo-Trotskyist currents also sided with Yeltsin, with this or that nuance, all in the name of (bourgeois) “democracy.”

Internationalist contingent at New York City May Day 2023 march called to defeat the U.S./NATO war drive, defend Russia and China against war-crazed U.S. rulers. (Internationalist photo)

The genuine Trotskyists, on the other hand, represented at the time by the Spartacist tendency, the International Communist League, on the other hand, fought to the end to defeat the counterrevolution. We intervened with all we had in East Germany, the DDR (German Democratic Republic), in 1989-90 against the capitalist reunification of Germany, and then in the USSR itself. We raised there the banner of a proletarian political revolution, for establishing soviet democracy with the leadership of a genuine communist party fighting for international socialist revolution to block the way to the looming counterrevolution. The League for the Fourth International, the LFI, represents today the political continuity of that struggle for revolutionary Trotskyism.

In the current war over Ukraine, we of the LFI fight to defeat the proxy war of the U.S. and NATO and their fascist-infested puppet government of Ukraine. We call for the military defense of Russia, a regional capitalist power, and China, the largest deformed workers state in the world, through international workers mobilization against this united onslaught by all the imperialists. In making this call we do not give one iota of political support to the Great-Russian nationalist government infused with Vladimir Putin’s imperial dreams. On the contrary, we call for the overthrow of the governments in Kiev and Moscow by workers revolution, uniting Ukrainian and Russian workers against their respective capitalist rulers.8

Along similar lines, we defended Iraq against the 2003 U.S. invasion, and we also defend Iran against imperialist threats, without giving any political support to the murderous, anti-communist government of Saddam Hussein or to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This brings us to another strand of those who identify with Trotskyism, a whole range of tendencies that seek to take an in-between position in the war, equidistant from Russia and Ukraine, shall we say, pretending to oppose NATO as well as Russia. Among these centrist currents are the Partido Obrero of Argentina and the misnamed Trotskyist Fraction, whose major component is the Argentine PTS [Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas]. Their reasoning is reminiscent of those who pretended to represent a “third camp” during the anti-Soviet Cold War, with the slogan “Neither Washington, nor Moscow.” But as was the case with the third-campists of yesteryear, there is no “in between” position, and most of these currents in fact go along, critically of course, with the pro-Ukrainian “peace” movements. 

Thus, for example, the German section of the FT organized a so-called “class struggle bloc” under the slogan “Neither Putin nor NATO” which marched in a demonstration in Berlin that was organized by the social-democratic trade union bureaucracy which called for increasing the supply of arms by NATO to Ukraine.9 So, they too are “NATO socialists,” albeit shamefaced ones. While the Morenoites and Mandelites boast of their support for the “Ukrainian resistance” – that is, for the Ukrainian government – these centrists want to hide it behind misleading slogans.

But in order to take a position supposedly opposing both sides in this war, those who claim to be proletarian revolutionaries are faced with a little problem: how to characterize Russia? Many social democrats, including those who claim to be Trotskyists, denounce Russia’s “imperialist policies,” its “imperialist war” or accuse it of being an “imperialist power.” Yet contemporary Russia does not correspond to any to any of the Leninist criteria of what imperialism is. It imports far more capital than it exports, at least until recently. Three-quarters of its exports consist of natural gas, oil and other natural resources. The structure of its production is more akin to than to semi-colonial countries than to countries that derive super-profits from the super-exploitation of workers in semi-colonial countries, as is the case even in small imperialist countries like Holland. It is an intermediate capitalist country with a standard of living, for the working people, similar to that of Argentina.10

So, if it is admitted that, on the one side, this war is now armed, advised and directed by the imperialists, with the Ukrainian government serving as their pawn, as many of the “third camp” Trotskyists do, how can one justify not taking sides for Russia against this war which absolutely all the imperialists, without exception, are waging against it? For we all know that Lenin insisted in the midst of World War I, a war between two imperialist bands, that revolutionaries are obliged to defend the non-imperialist countries and peoples under attack by imperialism. If tomorrow Morocco declared war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China against tsarist Russia, he wrote, these would be just wars, no matter who initiated the military action.11 Lenin also defended Turkey under Atatürk, i.e., the remnants of the Ottoman Empire reduced to an intermediate capitalist country, against Western imperialist attack in the 1920-1922 war.12

In order to justify not defending the countries that are targets of imperialist war, various currents claim that Russia is an imperialist country of a new type, or that it acts as an imperialist country since it is a more powerful country than poor little Ukraine (which nevertheless is the second or third largest country in Europe, now with the strongest army on the entire continent, having far more firepower than many of the NATO armies, thanks to the enormous weapons deliveries from the imperialists). Or they claim that Russia is a regional imperialist country. The Argentine Partido Obrero’s version of this subterfuge is to say that, “although [Russia] does not reach the status of a global imperialist power, it is a power in the periphery.”13 Such characterizations are completely devoid of any grounding in Leninism. They serve only as excuses for pandering to imperialist war propaganda. 

In all the left that defines itself as Trotskyist, our League for the Fourth International is virtually alone in defending the countries targeted by the imperialist war, Russia and China. On China, it is striking that almost all the groups that claim to be Trotskyist refuse to defend the biggest bureaucratically deformed workers state of our days. Just as they call Russia imperialist, they claim that China is a capitalist country, and some even call it imperialist. There is much to say on this subject, but I will limit myself to two empirical indicators that contradict this anti-Marxist definition/excuse. First, after the Wall Street financial crash of 2007-08 that triggered a decade-long depression throughout the capitalist world, China was the only country whose economy grew substantially, quintupling the incomes of the workers, thanks to its collectivized economic foundations. And second, during the COVID-19 pandemic, China was uniquely able to control the spread of the lethal virus, saving millions of lives while in the capitalist world at least 7 million died, according to official statistics, and up to 18 million according to other researchers.

The imperialists seek to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Moscow, and eventually to dismember Russia just as they broke up the USSR, on the way to their fundamental objective, to instigate counterrevolution in China. To that end, they are consciously aiming at a World War III. They want to provoke Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons, which makes no sense in Ukraine, but which the U.S. imperialists are eager to use against China on some atoll in the South China Sea. At recent NATO meetings they have announced the extension of the operational field of the imperialist military alliance to the “Indo-Pacific theater,” they are formalizing anti-China alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea, and at the recent Vilnius, Lithuania summit they presented a detailed plan of some 4,500 pages to prepare for such a war, including the upgrading of their nuclear weaponry.

Against this all-out imperialist war drive, only the struggle to defeat it and its consequences in one’s own country through workers action, leading to world socialist revolution, can prevent the nuclear catastrophe that is looming before our eyes. This is the program of the League for the Fourth International.

Summary (excerpted):

A question was raised about the difference between the situation today in the U.S. and that at the time of the Vietnam War. It is a fact that currently most of the left is siding with Ukraine, i.e., with NATO, against Russia. This is seemingly quite different from the situation at the time of the Vietnam War, when they opposed the war of their own imperialism. But the reality is that in both cases they were and are following sections of the ruling class. At that time, on Vietnam, a large part of the left reflected the policy of the so-called “doves” of the Democratic Party. An “antiwar” movement was formed of a popular-front type, that is to say, uniting sectors of the left, and of the working class, with bourgeois sectors, in that case, of the Democratic Party. But at present the Democratic Party is the spearhead of this war against Russia, as the Biden administration is lurching toward a world war. They seek, more or less at every moment, to push China into Russia’s arms. So naturally, as these sectors of the left usually line up with and reflect the interests of the Democratic Party, they take the Ukrainian side.

On the other hand, comrade Pablo Heller [of the Partido Obrero] spoke here of wanting to form an international movement for peace against both sides in the war. The problem is that in this war – in which the imperialists are entirely united on one side, against Russia – to form a “peace movement” against both sides is actually to betray the struggle against imperialism. Also, at the time of the war against Vietnam, we did not say that we were seeking peace, that we were against the war in general, but rather we fought for the victory of the Viet Cong, of the communists. What we said at the time was “All Indochina Must Go Communist.” And this caused considerable conflict within the so-called antiwar movement.

Spartacist League at 15 November 1969 antiwar march in Washington, D.C. SL call for socialist revolution from Vietnam to U.S. stood in stark contrast to the popular-front (bourgeois) “peace movement” led by reformist left. (Photo: Workers Vanguard)

One reason why there is no massive left response to imperialist war today is because of the left’s capitulation to imperialism’s propaganda for “human rights.” But “human rights” has been the battle cry of imperialism in all its recent wars: supposedly defending the Shiite population in Iraq, supposedly defending women in Afghanistan, etc., etc. All this verbiage of human rights in the mouths of the imperialists is a fraud. One should not be guided by who is more “progressive” or less aggressive. This is not a Marxist criterion. We must look to class fundamentals. And I appreciate the compañero who quoted Trotsky’s writings on [Getúlio] Vargas in Brazil in a [hypothetical] war against England. At the time, Trotsky said that he would take the side of Vargas’ Brazil against England, because the victory of the imperialists would impose a new dictatorship, although not exactly fascist, because Vargas was not a fascist but a populist. Our guiding line must be the struggle against imperialism.

Concerning the PSTU spokesman’s comments: these are the same words as the imperialists. On Ukraine [the PSTU] bandies about the same lies as Washington, as elsewhere. What he says about Mariupol is a total lie. He cites the supposed massacre of the theater in Mariupol, yet there is not a single photo of any victim. There was no such massacre. The attack on the maternity hospital [in Mariupol] was organized by the fascists in Mariupol. The preponderance of fascists in the Ukrainian military today goes back to the fact that the Azov battalion was born precisely in Mariupol, and they were the ones who led the fight against the Russian-speaking population in the war operation [against the “people’s republics” that revolted against the putsch in Kiev in March-April 2014]. They are hangmen, they are mass murderers, and they are perfectly capable of massacring the entire population of the Donetsk and Lugansk areas, which were subjected to a siege, harassment and deadly aggression for eight years that was actually the origin of the current war.

We did not support Putin’s invasion, but we said at the same time that we defended the peoples of the Donbass, and that it was necessary to fight to put a definitive end to the action of the fascists. However, with time, the imperialists’ takeover of the war [on the Ukrainian side] is undeniable, it is evident in every facet. So, given the evolution of the war, it became necessary to take the side of those who are the target of the imperialist war. At the same time, we continue to struggle politically against Putin’s reactionary government. ■

  1. 1. See “The Havana Trotsky Conference: Notes of a Participant,” The Internationalist No. 57, September-October 2019, and “Presentations and Comments at the Trosky Conference in Havana,” internationalist.org, October 2019.
  2. 2. See ”Question Answered: Who Was Behind the 2014 Maidan Massacre?” The Internationalist No. 66, January-April 2022.
  3. 3. In 1932-33, there was a famine in which millions of people died in Ukraine and elsewhere in the Soviet Union, touched off by Stalin’s brutal campaign of forced collectivization of agriculture and intensified by a drought across the grain-producing regions of the southern steppes of the USSR. Ukrainian nationalists and anti-communists have falsely claimed that this was a holodomor or campaign for death by starvation, and a “holocaust.” There is no doubt that Stalin’s disastrous policies were a major factor in causing this calamity, due to his abrupt about-turn after years of denouncing the call by Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition for gradual, voluntary collectivization. The charge of deliberate genocide against the Ukrainian people, however, was promoted by rightist nationalists (many harking back to those who collaborated with Hitler in WWII) who sought cover behind claims (accompanied by inflated death tolls) that “the Soviets were worse than the Nazis,” and is belied by the fact that millions more (4 million by some counts) died elsewhere in the Russian heartland and Kazakhstan as well.
  4. 4. Ukraine has been widely praised in the Western media for “winning the information/propaganda war.” This has involved tightly controlling the flow of information about the battlefront, as well as creating heroic images and atrocity stories which have been fed to, and picked up by, the imperialist mainstream media. Thus, while the Russian front is awash with often-critical military bloggers, each with their own Telegram channel, Western journalists are seldom allowed close to the front, and are dependent on handouts from military spokespeople in Kiev for their “news.” Much of this “narrative control” has been coordinated through the Office of the Presidency led by longtime Zelensky aide and movie producer Andriy Yermak, as well as the Ukraine National Security and Defense Council’s Center for Countering Disinformation. And it is tightly coordinated with the fascists of the Azov Brigade, which has assiduously cultivated Western media, from the New York Times to internet outlets like Vice, going back to 2014.
  5. 5. See “Italy: Workers Action Key to Defeating Imperialist War Drive Against Russia, China,” The Internationalist No. 69-70, 27 June 2023.
  6. 6.“Statement of the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International,” 1 March 2022.
  7. 7. “Lessons from a year of war in Ukraine,” LIT-CI, 20 February 2023.
  8. 8. See “Defeat the Imperialist War Drive and U.S./NATO Proxy Regime in Ukraine, Defend Russia, China Against War-Crazed U.S. Rulers,” The Internationalist No. 67-68, May-October 2022.
  9. 9. See “German Left in Lockstep in “Changed Times,” The Internationalist No. 79-80, January-May 2023.
  10. 10. See “The Bugbear of ‘Russian Imperialism’” (May 2014), reprinted in The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015.
  11. 11. V.I. Lenin, Socialism and War (1915).
  12. 12. Following World War I, in 1920 the victorious “democratic” imperialist Allies signed the Treaty of Sèvres carving up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Soon after, Britain launched a proxy war against Turkey through its client state Greece, seeking in particular to gain Allied imperialist control of the Straits of Constantinople (Istanbul). Its principal aim was to attack Soviet Russia by sending warships through the Straits, and strangling it economically by cutting off its shipping from the Black Sea. The Soviet republic under Lenin and Trotsky provided arms to Turkey under Kemal Pasha (Atatürk), even as it recognized that his was a “government of the officer class” against which “the Turkish working class will have to fight,” as the September 1922 Comintern manifesto, “Peace to the Turkish People, War on European Imperialism” stated (Jane Degras, ed., The Communist International, 1919-1943. Documents, Vol. I). Soviet arms enabled Turkey to defeat the attack by British imperialism via its Greek vassal, secure recognition of the Turkish republic, undo the Sèvres Treaty and establish the neutrality of the Straits.
  13. 13.El FIT Unidad debatió sobre la guerra en Ucrania,” Prensa Obrera, 1 June 2022.