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The Internationalist
May 2023

Defend Russia & China Against U.S./NATO War Drive –
Defeat the Fascist-Infested Proxy Regime in Ukraine!

U.S. Imperialism Hurtling
Toward World War III

Only Socialist Revolution Can Stop It

              contingent, NYC May Day 2023
Internationalist contingent in New York City May Day 2023 march. (Internationalist photo)

MAY 17 – For the past 15 months, world politics and economics have been overwhelmingly dominated by the war in Ukraine, the focal point of the imperialist onslaught against Russia, and China. This is no limited regional conflict – its consequences are being felt across the planet. Whether it is food shortages in Africa, inflation in Europe, domestic politics in the United States or the response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed millions, these are determined by or heavily conditioned by the desperate efforts of U.S. imperialist rulers to shore up their fraying global hegemony. As the fighting in Ukraine drags on with no end in sight, it has been marked by a continual escalation by the U.S. and NATO, pointing toward a Third World War. And this would be no accidental outcome: the Cold War hawks in Washington and Brussels want, and are systematically preparing for, all-out war and a nuclear showdown with Moscow and Beijing.

To whip up war hysteria, the imperialists are continually inundating the population in the West with a barrage of lying war propaganda. The “mainstream media” these days is filled with endless atrocity stories about evil Russians and heroic Ukrainians, with reports of massacres that never happened (Mariupol theater), or that everything indicates were carried out by Ukrainian forces (Kramatorsk rail station). To believe what you read in the papers, you would think, as we have said, that Russian troops are losing every day in every way, right up until they take another key city. The Pentagon feeds the press stories of “200,000 Russian casualties,” which is more than the total number of Russian troops and Donbass militia fighters deployed in the “special military operation.” Not until a trove of Pentagon and CIA documents surfaced on an internet game site was there any but the rarest mention in the media to have any mention that Ukrainian forces have been decimated.

In this war, class-conscious workers have a side. The League for the Fourth International calls to defeat the blood-drenched imperialists and their fascist-infested proxy regime in Kiev, and to militarily defend Russia, a regional capitalist power, and China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state against the U.S./NATO war drive. A victory for Ukraine – financed, armed and controlled by the Western powers – would be bad news for most of the world, which is strangled by the dictates of Washington and Wall Street. That’s a key reason why none of the semicolonial countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America have signed on to the anti-Russia sanctions. Or look at the trail of death and devastation in the non-stop wars unleashed by the U.S., with its NATO allies in tow, in the three decades of their “New World Order” since the imperialist-led counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and the Soviet-bloc deformed workers states of East Europe in 1989-92.

The Watson Institute on the Costs of War at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, reports that just since 2001 (leaving aside the first Iraq war of 1990-91 and two wars on Yugoslavia, in 1994 and 1999) the death toll includes: 176,000 killed in the U.S. war in Afghanistan; 67,000 killed in neighboring Pakistan; 300,000 killed in Iraq; 266,000 killed in Syria; and 112,000 in the U.S.-backed Saudi war in Yemen, for a total of close to a million dead (“Human Cost of Post-9/11 Wars: Direct War Deaths in Major War Zones,” September 2021). Now the same institute has published a new study calculating that an additional 3.6 to 3.7 million indirect deaths due to war-related causes including hunger, disease, economic sanctions and the destruction of economies, public services and the environment (“How Death Outlives War: The Reverberating Impact of the Post-9/11 Wars on Human Health,” May 2023).

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, far from being an “unprovoked” attack as claimed by the Washington, was provoked by eight years of war against the Russian-speaking population of the Donbass mining region that rose up against the imperialist-engineered fascist/nationalist coup d’état that overthrew Ukraine’s elected government in 2014;1 by over a decade of massive annual war games involving tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of planes and ships practicing for invasion of Russia; and capped by the refusal of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance to rule out Ukraine joining NATO, or to provide any security guarantees to Moscow. The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International has from the start defended the “people’s republics” in the eastern Donbass region that broke from Ukraine at the time of the Kiev coup, and while opposing both sides in the nationalist Russia-Ukraine war that broke out in February 2022, we warned that it was sparked by the war drive targeting Russia and China, in which the marauding imperialists must be defeated.2

As the war continued through the spring and summer of 2022, Russian advances in Mariupol (May) and Severodonetsk/Lisichansk (July) were met with a constant escalation of U.S. and NATO weapons supplies and military command and control so that by autumn it had clearly become an imperialist proxy war against Russia. The point at which quantity turned into quality was the Pentagon-designed offensives forcing withdrawal of overextended Russian forces in the Kharkov region in the north (September) and the Kherson region in the south (November). The changed character of the war led the LFI to shift its position from defeatism on both sides, to military defense of (but no political support to) Russia and calling for defeat of the U.S./NATO imperialists and their Ukrainian client regime.3 The Cold Warriors in Washington, following on the overthrow and dismembering the USSR and the Soviet bloc in 1989-92, want to “finish the job” by devastating post-Soviet Russia and sparking capitalist counterrevolution in China, Cuba and North Korea.

Imperialist War and Dismantling Social Gains

Port workers in Genova, Italy, February 25, led march of thousands protesting arms shipments and NATO war. League for the Fourth International calls for workers action to stop imperialist sending of arms to Ukraine. (Photo: RT)

It must be said that the imperialist disinformation campaign of endless atrocity stories – standard operating procedure for U.S. warmongers going back to “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember the Maine!”4 – has been effective in molding public opinion in the West, with little Russian effort to counter it. Not that an attempt to do so would have much effect, as Russian outlets such as Sputnik and RT are banned in the European Union (EU) and subject to a media blackout in the United States. Moreover, Western media are generally kept well away from the front lines in Ukraine, except when accompanied by minders, so that most reporting on actual events is gleaned from the Kiev military authorities’ handouts or Twitter posts. On the Russian side, on the other hand, there are numerous war correspondents and military bloggers in the battle areas, so that any setbacks, such as in Ugledar on a couple of occasions, and on the outskirts of Bakhmut recently – are instantly reported, often with sharp critiques of the Russian stavka (general staff).

But wall-to-wall media censorship and message control can only go so far, and as the effects of the war on the population begin to bite, the impact of this “manufactured consent” will start to wear off. Last winter in Europe, which was relatively mild, the sharply increased fuel prices for heating due to anti-Russia sanctions were somewhat offset with government subsidies to consumers. As dozens of steel and chemical plants have shut down, the German government is now planning to subsidize 80% of electricity costs for energy-intensive industries (Financial Times, 5 May). This, of course, violates the “free market” rules of the European Union (EU). Meanwhile, in recent weeks farmers in East Europe have been loudly protesting the dumping of cheap Ukrainian grain on their domestic markets, which caused prices to nosedive. This led their governments to “temporarily” ban imports of Ukrainian agricultural products, which EU bureaucrats grudgingly acceded to.

Until now, the imperialist powers have remained united, even though the sanctions insisted on by the U.S. have had a devastating effect on its EU allies’ economies. On the other hand, U.S. energy companies are making record profits exporting liquified natural gas to Europe at sharply higher prices, while Russia’s revenues from gas exports increased by 55% in 2022. At the very least, the U.S. and EU shot themselves in the foot with their anti-Russia economic warfare, if not in the heart. As West European countries count the cost of maintaining millions of Ukrainian refugees, many of whom have no intention of returning to their war-torn country, pressures are mounting on Ukraine to seek some kind of pause in the war. But, as we have said before, there will be no peace negotiations at this point, since there is no mutually acceptable solution. The war will go on, perhaps eventually becoming a “frozen conflict.”

Protest against French president Emmanuel Macron’s pension “reform,” Place de la Bastille, Paris, January 19. While calling repeated mass mobilizations against the anti-worker bill, union leaders. Many left and labor leaders support NATO war on Russia. (Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP)

The excruciating aspect is that a new imperialist war has shaken the European continent, exposing the illusions of a peaceful development of capitalism and barreling down the road to world war – yet there is no significant leftist opposition to this war. In fact, most of the left has enlisted as auxiliary troops in the imperialist war on Russia, and China. These “NATO socialists” who preach “solidarity” with Ukraine – i.e., with its government and armed forces – are indeed “social-imperialists” in the truest sense of the expression Lenin coined to characterize those pseudo-socialists who supported “their own” bourgeoisie in the first imperialist world war. It’s “which side are you on” in Ukraine today – and the opportunist left is on the side of imperialism.

Meanwhile, a new global economic crisis looms, potentially on the order of the 2007-08 capitalist crash which led to a decade of economic depression, as central banks raise interest rates in order to fight inflation exacerbated by anti-Russia sanctions. Inequality has reached record heights. Across the West, fascistic and outright fascist forces are growing, feeding off a widespread sense of economic and social despair as living standards fall. Capitalists seek to stave off falling profit rates by demanding an end to social welfare programs enacted at the end of World War II in order to stave off the spectre of communists coming to power. This has sparked massive protests in France, where the government of the haughty banker Emmanuel Macron raised the minimum age for retirement by decree (see article on page 5 of this issue). Yet despite millions taking to the streets more than a dozen times in four months, Macron has so far been successful, because there is no revolutionary leadership prepared to take on the decaying capitalist system which is producing this social destruction.

Evolution of the Imperialist Proxy War Against Russia

Throughout the war, there has been a systematic mystification and distortion of every aspect of it by the imperialists and their servile media mouthpieces. U.S. president Joe Biden and the other superannuated Cold War leftovers running the Democratic administration are pushing conspiracy theories no less fanatical and crazed than those of Republican Donald Trump and his rightist culture warriors. For the liberal imperialists, Putin is a demonic embodiment of pure evil, a “new Hitler,” capable of any crime, however illogical. The Russian president might blow up a Russian pipeline, or shell a nuclear power plant that Russia controls – who knows? Putin supposedly steals (Russian-speaking) Ukrainian children to turn them into Russians – why? It is hard to tell if the war planners in the Pentagon actually believe the nonsensical desinformatsiya the administration churns out. If they did it would be quite worrisome for the future of the world, to put it mildly, for it could lead to a nuclear miscalculation. 

In a monster multimedia article on “Putin’s War,” the New York Times (18 December 2022) purported to chronicle “the inside story of historic Russian failures.” They don’t mention that this supposed colossal failure has led to Russia incorporating roughly one-fifth of pre-2014 Ukraine. In the Times’ recounting, the Russian military “expected to sprint hundreds of miles across Ukraine and triumph within days,” with “anticipation of military parades in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.” The Russian army did arrive on the outskirts of Kiev within days, while sweeping through the south, and then it stopped. It never intended to take the capital, or to overthrow the government, but rather to encircle it in order to put pressure on for negotiations. And it had some success in that: as by late March there were preliminary peace talks in Minsk, Byelorussia, which then moved to Istanbul, Turkey. Kiev’s negotiators put forward a 15-point plan to declare Ukraine permanently neutral and give up the goal of joining NATO.

Then suddenly, the Ukrainians withdrew their plan. This followed an April 9 surprise visit to Kiev by British then-prime minister and war hawk Boris Johnson, with a message from “the collective West” (i.e., Biden): “no agreements.”5 So after pulling back forces from around the Ukrainian capital (where they were sitting ducks for anti-tank missiles) as a gesture to facilitate talks, Putin declared the talks at a “dead end,” and said Russia’s “special military operation” (SMO) would return to “the plan that was initially proposed by the general staff,” focusing on the Donbass.6 This underscores Putin’s major miscalculation: the Kremlin leader underestimated the U.S.’ determination to destroy Russia (as well as the powerful pull of Ukrainian nationalism backed by imperialism). When Putin declared the “SMO” in Ukraine, it was a fairly accurate description: Russia only sent in 150,000 troops, far from enough for a full-scale war. It was a tactic to pressure Kiev and NATO, but the hardline war hawks were adamant: no concessions.

Then came the introduction of a series of Western weapons that were supposed to be “game-changers.”  First was the M777 light howitzer, introduced in the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan. However, they are easily spotted and the machinery turns out to be so sensitive that by now 40% of them have been knocked out, or are out of commission for repairs. Then came the famous HIMARS rocket launchers, which can send “smart” (satellite-guided) missiles up to 40 miles. This put Russian ammunition dumps and battalion headquarters close to the battle front at risk. Their use in bombing the bridges across the Dnipro River risked isolating Russian forces on the west bank, forcing their withdrawal. By now the Russians have figured out countermeasures, so the HIMARS’ efficacy is not what it was.  The latest of these Wunderwaffen (super-weapons), as the Germans referred to V-2 rockets in World War II, are the Leopard 2 tanks, Abrams tanks and Patriot surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). And after that the Ukrainians want F-16 fighter jets.

No Wunderwaffe: M1 Abrams tank stuck in the mud in Aurora 17 military exercise in Sweden.

The Ukraine War is a precursor war to World War III, as the 1912-13 Balkan Wars were a precursor to World War I, while German intervention in the later stages of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935-37 and Japan’s 1937 invasion of China were precursors to World War II. One aspect of such wars is that the imperialists can test out their latest weaponry, as the Germans did with the Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers introduced by the Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion in Spain in 1937. The U.S. war planners want to try out their not-so-new technology (the Sherman tank has been in service since 1980, Leopard 2s since 1979 and Patriots since 1981, but never against the Russians). They also want to force Russia to bring in its T-90 tanks, not yet deployed in Ukraine, to see how they stack up. Already, the Russians have knocked the first of the two Patriot systems delivered to Ukraine.

For the past six months, the war has been in a holding pattern as the imperialists projected a Russian winter offensive, to be followed by a Ukrainian spring offensive. It’s often said that “General Winter” was key to the outcome of past Russian wars, as Napoleon, the German army and other invaders were not able to wage war in the brutal Russian winter. But both the Ukrainian and Russian armed forces have their origins in the Soviet army, and are capable of waging hard fighting in -30° weather. Yet it was a warm autumn and winter, and a rainy spring, so that since November one could say that “General Mud” is in command – and Ukrainian mud is something to behold. The extremely fertile chernozem (black) soil of Ukraine and southern Russia makes this region a breadbasket for the world, but when turned to mud it can stop any tank, especially super-heavy 70-ton Abrams (compared to 46-ton Russian T-90s). One reason for Pentagon reluctance to send Abrams is that it can just see them stuck in the mud.

Dangerous Disinformation and Provocation on the Road to World War

More importantly, U.S. and NATO military officials as well as Western media misconstrue (and possibly misunderstand) Russian military action by interpreting it according to their own doctrines. Pentagon sources reportedly could not fathom why Russia didn’t resort to a “shock and awe” display of massive fire power at the start of the invasion. Western military leaders (and some Russian military bloggers) also focus on territorial gains and rapid-fire offensives. In different ways they all share the German Blitzkrieg (lightning war) strategy from World War II.7 In contrast, Russian, and before that Soviet, military doctrine aims above all at destroying the enemy’s army, in accordance with Karl von Clausewitz’s dictum that the main objective in any campaign is: “The military power must be destroyed, that is, reduced to such a state as not to be able to prosecute the war” (On War [1873]). So if Kiev kept sending more and more troops into the “meat grinder” at Bakhmut, that didn’t overly bother Moscow.8

But the most dangerous misjudgment to be drawn by imperialist war planners from the fighting in Ukraine is that “Putin Has No Red Lines,” as Nigel Gould-Davies, the senior Russia “expert” at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, put it in a New York Times (1 January) essay, arguing that NATO could keep upping the ante at will, to make ending the war seem less costly than continuing. This is a dangerous game of nuclear chicken. U.S. military spokesmen keep saying in “backgrounder” (not attributable) interviews that they are trying to find what Putin’s “red line” is, i.e., the tripwire for total escalation. Yet the Pentagon and its NATO allies keep introducing one new weapon after another, in effect pushing Putin to escalate – by doing what, exactly? Moscow, Washington and Brussels have so far confined the fighting to Ukraine, although Kiev is provocatively attacking deep into Russia and the Ukrainian fascists (deeply incrusted in the military apparatus) are brazenly using terrorist attacks.

For his part, Putin has said (in a September 21 speech) that if “the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.” He added: “This is not a bluff.” Western media and politicians declared this a threat by Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons, which it was not. What government would not say the same? At least in this case, U.S. intelligence sources add that there is little reason to think Moscow would use its strategic nuclear weapons, that there has been no change in Russia’s nuclear posture, and that it makes no sense for Russia to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. It might, however, make sense to Ukrainian fascist provocateurs to do something like set off a “dirty bomb” dispersing radioactive material around the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant and claim the Russians did it. And once the taboo is broken, some in the Pentagon may be itching to use tactical nukes against a Chinese atoll in the South China Sea.

Bankruptcy of the Opportunist Left

So we have an extremely dangerous situation. For the first time since the 1990s an imperialist war is being waged on the European continent, a war that involves all imperialist states, big and small. (Even “neutral” Switzerland is getting in on the sanctions act, while Finland has joined NATO and Sweden is trying to join, after long cooperating with the Western military alliance.) The aim of the proxy war that the U.S., NATO and EU imperialists are waging against Russia, following Washington’s dictates (and blackmail from Kiev), is to deal Russia a “strategic defeat,” as the main U.S. operative on Ukraine, the undersecretary of state Victoria Nuland (the mastermind of the 2014 Kiev coup and contact person for Ukrainian fascists) put it. Any misstep could send the world spiraling toward a thermonuclear third world war. And yet, in the face of this united imperialist front, ultimately aiming at counterrevolution in China, the left is playing no visible role in opposing the war drive.

In fact, the bulk of the left have become “NATO socialists,” proclaiming “solidarity with Ukraine” and demanding Russian withdrawal, while tacking on a fig-leaf criticism of NATO. Many denounce “Russian imperialism” as they side with the real imperialists. Some opportunists pretend to have an even-handed stance. Thus the misnamed “Trotskyist Fraction” calls for “Neither NATO nor Putin,” even as it demands Russian troops out of Ukraine, which would be a victory for Ukraine and NATO. And it joins pro-Ukrainian marches whose organizers call for NATO arms to Ukraine.9 As always, the so-called Third Camp is really support for the first, imperialist camp. And almost none on the left defend China against imperialism and counterrevolution, joining with the bourgeoisie in labeling it capitalist, and even “imperialist.” In Germany, the only sizeable protests against the NATO war have been led by fascistic and fascist forces, deadly enemies of the working class and virulent defenders of German imperialism.

“Antiwar” protests that are explicitly against the U.S./NATO war are few and far between. One in New York City on January 14, co-sponsored by the several offshoots (WWP, PSL and SUP) of the Stalinoid tendency of the late Sam Marcy, drew perhaps 200 people. The organizers positioned themselves in front of an electronic American flag in Times Square, sporting banners with social-pacifist slogans like “Money for Our Needs, Not the War Machine” and signs for “Negotiations: Yes! Escalation: No!” (both PSL). In contrast to these appeals for bourgeois support for a class-collaborationist “peace movement,” supporters of the Internationalist Group and CUNY Internationalist Clubs stood to the side with signs calling to “Defend Russia, China Against War-Crazed U.S. Rulers!” and “Defeat the U.S./NATO Imperialist War Drive Against Russia and China.” A second Marcyite-led demo, in Washington, D.C. on March 18, drew a similar number while an Internationalist contingent numbered 20.

On May Day in New York City, the left march again numbered about 200, this time with an Internationalist contingent of 50 supporters marching behind a banner proclaiming: “Defeat U.S./NATO War Drive Against Russia & China,” and “Only Socialist Revolution Can Stop World War III.”

The relatively small forces explicitly opposing the NATO war, including in Germany the Stalinist DKP (German Communist Party) and Kommunistische Organisation, as well as groups in Greece, Turkey and the Balkans, almost all seek to recreate a class-collaborationist “peace movement” of the sort they have led in the past. Some are calling for a “new Zimmerwald Conference,” the 1915 meeting of the anti-war left during World War I. But that meeting included “social-pacifists” such as Karl Kautsky, who only wanted to change the imperialists’ policy, calling for peace without annexations. Lenin called to break with the social-pacifists and organized the Zimmerwald Left conference at Kienthal the next year. But even there the Bolsheviks were in a minority with their call to turn the imperialist war into civil war against capitalism. Today, there is no basis for even a “Zimmerwald conference” when much of the left is “social-imperialist,” backing Ukraine and therefore NATO.

Protest of 50,000 in Berlin, February 25, calling for “peace talks” to stop fighting in Ukraine, for  “negotiation, not escalation” and similar pacifist themes. Trotskyists call for workers mobilizations against NATO war.  (Photo: Christian Mang / Reuters)

In Europe there have been the first beginnings of larger protest against the NATO war, but largely social-pacifist in character. In Berlin there was a mass demonstration of some 50,000 protesters on February 25, marking the first anniversary of the war, called by Sahra Wagenknecht, the former Stalinist, now left-populist, and feminist Alice Schwarzer. The protest, with ubiquitous blue and white dove symbols, demanded an end to German arming of Ukraine, but called for “peace talks” to end the fighting. In Genova, Italy, on the same day there was a march of some 10,000 people and a port shutdown to stop transport of NATO arms to Ukraine. The mobilization was noticeably larger than other “antiwar” demonstrations around Italy that day that were not explicitly anti-NATO. Various polls have shown that a majority of the Italian population is opposed to sending weapons to Kiev, but in mid-May Italy’s fascist prime minister Giorgia Meloni met with Ukraine president Zelensky and vowed to increase Italian arms aid.

Today, the imperialists are united in their war drive as the events head pell-mell toward world war. Yet the imperialist war drive also creates the conditions for revolution. The key to victory, from the dawn of the imperialist era to today, is forging a revolutionary leadership. World capitalism is in crisis, and on the imperialist war drive against Russia and China, on the capitalist dismantling of past social gains and the struggle against mounting fascist forces, the contradiction between the objective conditions and the lack of an organized, genuinely communist leadership of the working class is excruciating. The genuinely Trotskyist forces are tiny compared to the tasks we have. This was also the case in 1938 at the founding of the Fourth International, although it had the renowned revolutionary Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia an founder of the Red Army, at its head.

Standing on the program of proletarian internationalism against bourgeois nationalism; fighting for workers action against the imperialist war; calling for revolutionary defense of Russia and China and defeat of the U.S./NATO imperialists and their Ukrainian proxy; fighting for a general strike to defend pension rights in France, for full citizenship rights for immigrants, for working-class leadership of the struggle against all forms of social oppression – against racism, to defend the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people – in short, in championing the struggle for workers revolution from Moscow and Kiev, to the imperialist capitals of Europe and North America and throughout the capitalist world, the League for the Fourth International is fighting to forge an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International that alone can lead the world’s workers and oppressed against the threat of a new imperialist world war.

Only socialist revolution can stop World War III.. ■

  1. 1. See “Down with the Imperialist-Backed Fascist/Nationalist Coup in Ukraine!The Internationalist No. 37, May-June 2014.
  2. 2. See “Defeat U.S./NATO War Drive and Sanctions Against Russia!” (23 February 2022) and “Behind the War: U.S./NATO War Drive Against Russia, China” (28 February 2022), The Internationalist No. 66, January-April 2022.
  3. 3. See “Defeat the Imperialist War Drive and U.S./NATO Proxy Regime in Kiev – Defend Russia, China Against War-Crazed U.S. Rulers” (22 October 2022), The Internationalist No. 67-68, May-October 2022.
  4. 4. See “Selling Imperialist War, from 1898 to ... WWIII? ‘You Furnish the Pictures, and I’ll Furnish the War’,” Revolution No. 19, September 2022.
  5. 5.Ukrainska Pravda, 5 May 2022.
  6. 6. New York Times, 12 April 2022.
  7. 7. Or their counterparts in World War I, the German Schlieffen plan and French doctrine of attaque à l’outrance (attack to the max).
  8. 8. Yevgeniy Pregozhin, head of the Wagner Private Military Company, tasked with taking Bakhmut (formerly Artemovsk in the Soviet Union), naturally has a different viewpoint.
  9. 9. See “German Left in Lockstep in ‘Changed Times’,” in this issue.