Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Mr. Putin” is “convinced Russia’s Western enemies” are “seeking to yank Ukraine from Russia’s orbit.” Clearly, the United States and Russia are locked in a struggle over Ukraine; each wants the territory in its own orbit—that is, in its own empire. US efforts to yank Ukraine from the Russia orbit have been largely successful. Russia is yanking back, but it’s unlikely to win the tug of war.
The idea that the war in Ukraine is but one battlefield in a larger war between two empires is difficult to grasp for people whose understanding of imperialism is influenced by dependency theories developed in the immediate post-WWII period. That period was characterized by one capitalist empire, that of the United States, absorbing most of its former capitalist rivals into its orbit. Under US supervision, the now combined powers, once rivals, jointly exploited the periphery.
People who subscribe to this view, whether consciously or through osmosis, look at the world through a lens whose purpose, when the lens was crafted, was to explain the international system at a time when neither Russia nor China existed as capitalist powers and rivalry among capitalist powers was muted by US primacy. Glimpsed through this lens, Russia and China appear as what they once were, but are no longer: socialist counterweights to a capitalist metropolis.
This, to be sure, is a view of a world that expired 30 years ago, when the Soviet Union was succeeded by a capitalist Russia, and China was at least a decade along the path of capitalist development and integration into the US economy as a low-wage manufacturing center.
Today, Russia and China are capitalist powers. But if they appear to some, not as metropolitan powers keen on integrating regions into their own expanding economies, but as powers lying outside the metropolis, as opposed to merely outside the US empire, it’s because they are understood incorrectly as being what they once were, rather than what they have since become. Both powers are external to the US empire (to some degree; China is so only partially), but the US empire is no longer equal to the metropolis; it is now only one part of it.
None of this is to say that theories about metropolitan exploitation of the periphery are wrong, only that the notion that Russia and China are external to the capitalist metropolis is mistaken. The former socialist giants have joined the metropolis, not as a part of a Kautskyist ultra-imperialism led by Washington, but as rivals of the USA, EU, and Japan.
Is there a better theory?
In its emphasis on rivalry among capitalist powers, the classical Marxist theory of imperialism comports more fully with contemporary developments than dependency theories. If we accept that the contemporary international system is marked by an emerging multipolarity, and that the principal powers in the multipolar system are capitalist, then the world of today bears a much stronger resemblance to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to which the classical Marxist theories of imperialism referred, than it does to the 20th century period of US-led ultra-imperialism.
That’s not to say that the classical Marxist theory is without its problems. But it does say that despite its problems, the classical theory is a better fit with an emerging multipolar world than theories which were developed to explain a world characterized by a US-led metropolis exploiting a periphery, opposed by a socialist Russia and socialist China.
Continuing to see Russia and China as socialist powers that lie outside the metropolis, when they are now large capitalist powers with unconcealed projects of integrating regions into their own economies, is tantamount to applying the geology of the desert to the rainforest, and on this basis, declaring that trees (i.e., an imperialist Russia and an imperialist China) don’t exist.
To summarize, here are four errors that are made by seeing the contemporary multipolar world through a Kautskyist ultra-imperialist lens.
Adopting the now extremely dated view that Russia and China are socialist, rather than capitalist.
Seeing Russian and Chinese opposition to the US empire as rooted in socialism, rather than capitalist rivalry for economic territory.
Perceiving the US empire as equal to the metropolis, rather than as only one part of it, along with Russia and China.
Regarding the periphery as exploited by the US empire alone, rather than by Russia and China, as well.
According The New York Times, the US arms industry is profiting handsomely from the war in Ukraine.
The Pentagon has awarded at least $6 billion to arms companies to resupply weapons sent to Ukraine.
Raytheon has secured $2 billion in contracts to expand or replenish weapons used to help Ukraine.
Lockheed has secured nearly $1 billion to refill stockpiles being used in Ukraine.
The share prices of Lockheed and Northrop Grumman have jumped more than 35% this year.
US arms sales to foreign militaries—many of which have boosted military spending in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine—total $81 billion this year.
In response I tweeted the following.
Had Moscow not pulled the trigger on war in Ukraine, the conditions would never have been set for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to swim in a sea of new orders.
This elicited the following reply: “The bigger thanks goes to all the people who have blocked or refused to negotiate to end this war. Like the state department, Biden etc.”
Why would we expect the people who desired the war, viz., “the state department, Biden etc.”, to have the slightest inclination to want the war to end, when its clients—the US arms industry, the US oil and gas industry, and US industry generally—profit handsomely from it? Expecting Washington to negotiate the end of the war is tantamount to expecting wolves to become vegetarians—especially when the wolves have discovered a toothsome feast.
Did I mention that with Europe looking for a new energy supplier, after Washington pressed the EU to wean itself off Russian energy in the wake of the Kremlin’s assault on Ukraine, that the United States has become the world’s leading exporter of liquid natural gas? It is also the planet’s top petroleum producer.
At the same time, we wouldn’t expect Russia, the party that instigated the war and has failed to achieve its war aims, to have much desire to bring its assault to an end. It too is a wolf, with a hunger for sheep, so far unsated.
The notion that either the Russian wolf or a lupine Washington have, at this point, strong motivations to end their hunt for Ukrainian sheep is Quixotic.
The additional notion that the Fata Morgana of “the antiwar movement” can pressure “the state department, Biden etc.” or Moscow to negotiate an end to the war is equally illusory.
In the West, there exists a farrago of Washington-haters who call themselves antiwar but are merely anti-US. They flatter themselves that they are the nucleus of an antiwar movement. If capitalist imperialism is one of the greatest causes of human misery, they don’t know it. The critical problem, in their minds, is the people who run US foreign policy. If only the right people were elected, or the current set of leaders were pressured by popular opinion to conduct the country’s foreign policy differently, all would be well.
Almost to a person, this group of activists argued vehemently before the war, and with unbridled certitude, that Moscow would never invade Ukraine. In their astigmatic and decidedly un-Marxist Weltanschauung, military aggression, like imperialism, is a US monopoly. Russia would never, therefore, behave in so scurvy a (US) manner. To US warnings that Russia was about to invade Ukraine, they thundered scornfully, “US propaganda!” Despite Putin providing them with ample reason to revise their view of Moscow’s nature and capabilities, and notwithstanding the egg that still drips from their faces, they cling tenaciously to the now discredited theory that Putin’s Russia is not imperialist. They have discovered a multitude of reasons why it was obvious from 2014 that an invasion was not only predictable but desirable…and un-imperialist, of course. But if before the war they denounced the claim that Russia was capable of launching a war of aggression on its neighbor as a slander against Moscow, viz., that Moscow would never carry out so heinous an act (after all, wasn’t Moscow a member of the now forgotten Friends of the UN Charter?), how is that they have so quickly come to regard what they once saw as heinous as justifiable and even desirable?
If states were free to act just as they pleased, Russia could end the war now by reversing the act that instigated it. But true to their inability to see beyond Washington to rivalry among states as an immanent characteristic of the capitalist world economy, and one with a high probability of ending in war, the Friends of Neo-Imperial Russia demand Biden negotiate an end to the war, not that Russia do the same, and not that Putin withdraw his forces from Ukraine. They believe implicitly that the Kremlin is champing at the bit to negotiate a peace, out of a strong devotion to international harmony, and all that prevents the flower of peace from blooming is Washington’s intransigence. What they fail to mention is that the peace Putin aspires to is a peace in which Russia is allowed to digest those parts of Ukraine it has already gobbled up. In other words, it wants to achieve at least some of its war aims, and then to be left in peace to enjoy them. It is a commonplace that all belligerents want peace. What’s rarely acknowledged is that they want peace on their own terms. Peace preferably; war if necessary.
An antiwar movement, if one existed in either the West or Russia, would seek to end the war in order to lift the burden it has imposed on ordinary people. People everywhere, in Russia as much as Europe and North America, struggle to make ends meet as the war sends energy, food, and housing costs soaring.
Instead, Westerners who say they are against the war, but are really against the US part in it, seek fecklessly to mobilize energy for an antiwar movement based on the following arguments:
Putin’s cause is just.
The war escalates the risk of a nuclear exchange.
A world where Russia and China, and not just the United States, can throw around their weight, is desirable.
The trouble is that the power of any of these arguments to arouse opposition to the war is approximately zero, which is why there is no antiwar movement.
First, it is difficult enough to justify a war of aggression with good arguments. But the arguments for war offered by Moscow have been so risible that no one, except Russian chauvinists and a few mental defectives in the West, have taken them seriously. If we accept the argument that Russia has been provoked by escalating NATO military threats and that Moscow’s efforts to project influence into Ukraine through diplomatic means were rebuffed by Washington and NATO, there remain two objections: (1) Being provoked is not a legitimate reason for war; and (2) imperialist goals achieved through diplomatic means are still imperialist goals; they are no more acceptable for being achieved through soft power than hard.
Second, the threat of nuclear annihilation is a constant. People have learned to live with it. It will not move them to action and the intensity and scope of this war has not been great enough to meaningfully escalate the risk of a nuclear exchange.
Third, you can put lipstick on the idea of Russia and China having as much clout as the United States by calling three-power imperialism “multipolarity”, but the idea remains a pig no matter how much lipstick the sow is forced to wear. Anyone who thinks it’s possible to mobilize large numbers of people under the banner “we need three strong imperialist powers instead of one”, is detached from reality.
But what if people were mobilized for reasons that resonate with their suffering to oppose the war in numbers large enough to pressure governments to act? Would the movement not also be large enough to bring about a social revolution to overcome the very roots of the problem, namely, capitalist-driven competition for markets, raw materials, investment opportunities and strategic territory? In other words, wouldn’t a movement large enough and powerful enough to end a symptom of the disease also not be large enough and powerful enough to end the disease itself? Should the goal be to end this particular war, or to significantly reduce the probability of war by overthrowing the conditions that conduce to it?
Finally, is there much point in calling for an antiwar movement here, and not one there? The war affects all working people, Russians as much, indeed more than North Americans and (Ukrainians excepted) Europeans. An antiwar movement ought to unite, across international lines, all people affected deleteriously by it against the class that wills it and the system of capital accumulation that demands it. It must be international, not confined to one side.
People who call for Washington to negotiate an end to the war, but not Russia to reverse the act that instigated it; who argue that the ultimate responsibility for the war lies with US foreign policy and not the global capitalist economy (like saying flu is caused by a sore throat); whose reasons for opposing the war having nothing to do with the effect it has on ordinary people, and only on the effect it has on the imperialist aspirations of Moscow; and who call, not for a union of antiwar voices across international lines, but an antiwar parochialism confined to the West, are arguing for the side of the Russian ruling class against that of the United States.
Marxism, socialism, the workers’ movement, are not movements against US foreign policy alone, but against the capitalist class, no matter what its postal address. These movements are also for something: Not the rise of two great capitalist powers, Russia and China, against a third, the United States, but for socialism and workers of the world uniting. They are for an end to the division of humanity into classes and nations, and not, as the bogus antiwar activists would have it, the persistence of class and the rise of great nation states.
“A large part of the story involves shocks like rising oil and food prices … that are outside the control of policymakers,” writes the Nobel prize-winning economist. “These nonpolicy shocks explain why inflation has soared almost everywhere — for example, British inflation just clocked in at 9.1 percent.”
But rising oil and food prices are not outside the control of policymakers.
Oil prices are rising largely because US, Canadian, and EU policymakers imposed an embargo on imports of Russian hydrocarbons.
And food prices likely wouldn’t be rising had the US and NATO negotiated a new security architecture in Europe when Moscow pleaded for one in December. The West summarily dismissed Moscow’s overtures, seeing greater advantage in letting Russia—which Washington views as a great power rival—weaken itself by stepping into the quagmire of a war in Ukraine. The war is disrupting Ukraine grain exports, putting upward pressure on food prices globally.
If energy and food inflation is beyond the control of Western policymakers, as Krugman alleges, how do we explain this: The Washington Post revealed that the Biden administration anticipated that its response to a Russian invasion of Ukraine would precipitate rising energy prices and a food crisis, but was prepared to “countenance” these outcomes, despite the widespread pain they would cause.
The Post says Biden believed the stakes of allowing Russia to swallow up Ukraine were greater than the harm of spiraling energy and food prices.
The newspaper, however, didn’t explain what the stakes are, in the administration’s view. A good guess is that they are seen as the possible failure of the longstanding project of the United States absorbing Ukraine—seen in Moscow as part of the Russian sphere of influence and vital to its prosperity—into a US-led anti-Russia alliance.
Is a US victory in the game of grab really worth the pain of a growing affordability crisis, to say nothing of a looming food crisis in Africa and the Middle East?
The truth of the matter is that soaring oil, gas, and grocery prices—and a looming recession accompanied by climbing energy and food bills—are sequalae of decisions made by policymakers.
Krugman wants to lay the blame for the economic train-wreck on Putin. His “invasion of Ukraine has seriously damaged the world economy,” he writes.
This is too simple.
The proximal cause of the train-wreck is not the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s the West’s response to it. US, Canadian, and EU policymakers didn’t have to impose a fossil fuel embargo on Russia. Nor were they compelled to bolster Kyiv with tens of billions of dollars of aid, ensuring the war would drag on. (The longer the war lasts, the longer Ukraine’s grain exports will be disrupted, and the longer food prices will remain artificially high.) This was a decision policymakers freely took, with foreknowledge of the consequences.
The sad reality is that Western policymakers decided to become embroiled in a war they might have averted, had they seized the opportunity when offered. In maneuvering to weaken Russia by imposing a hydrocarbons ban, and furnishing Ukraine with aid to draw out the war (fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian), they have knowingly imposed substantial costs on their own citizens.
High inflation, then, is not the uncontrollable consequence of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. It is the anticipated and countenanced corollary of the pursuit of the US foreign policy goal of weakening Russia.
What should happen?
Russia should end its war on Ukraine and withdraw its forces.
The United States, Canada, and European Union should lift their embargo on imports of Russian oil, gas, and coal and cease other measures of economic warfare against the country.
NATO, little more than an instrument of US foreign policy and the means by which Washington dominates Europe, should be disbanded. The European Union, whose combined military spending and armed forces overshadow Russia’s, is capable of defending itself.
US and Canadian troops should be withdrawn from Europe and reoriented to territorial defense from power projection.
Brussels should negotiate a security architecture for Europe with Russia.
This is what we might wish to happen, but realistically, none of it is likely to happen. The expansionary imperatives of capitalism compel each state to compete on behalf of their capital-accumulating enterprises for investment opportunities, markets, sources of raw materials, and strategic opportunity on a world scale. Capitalism-induced rivalry creates tensions among countries—antagonisms that have a high likelihood of escalating to war. Therein is found the roots of the struggle among the United States, Europe, Russia, and Ukraine—a struggle that has burst forth in overt violence and produced a looming economic catastrophe.
Until economies are re-oriented to satisfying human needs rather than investors’ needs for handsome returns, until capitalism is overcome, there is no real hope for any meaningful turning away from the inauspicious path on which humanity now treads.
Journalist Patrick Cockburn decries Russian president Vladmir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine as manifestly dumb. Putin, “convinced himself,” writes Cockburn, “that a Russian army of inadequate size would easily topple the government in Kyiv and the Ukrainian army would meekly surrender.” 
If Putin believed about Ukraine that he only had to kick in the doors and the whole rotten structure would come tumbling down (as Hitler believed about the Soviet Union), the expectation has, to be sure, turned out to be decidedly wrong. But we’ll have to wait to find out whether the invasion represents “the most disastrous decision in Russian history,” as Cockburn contends. The key question, from the perspective of Russian raison d’état, is whether the decision makes the Russian state and the elites it represents stronger relative to what they would have been had the invasion not been carried out. It’s too early to tell.
If Putin has blundered, and he may have, then so too, on the surface, has Biden. Biden’s decision to embargo Russian hydrocarbons, and to pressure Canada and the EU to do the same, has hurt Western consumers far more than it has hurt Russia.
According to the New York Times, “oil and refined fuel prices” in the United States “have risen to their highest levels in 14 years, due largely to sanctions on Russia oil.” Gasoline prices are up by more than 60 percent over last year. And higher fuel prices are rippling through the US economy, contributing to record high inflation. 
The Eurozone is dealing with a similar set of problems. “High prices are already sending shudders through an economy that is geared up to run on cheap Russian energy,” reports the Wall Street Journal. This has fueled record-high inflation and prompted some industrial companies to close. 
With monetary authorities raising interest rates to temper strong upward pressure on prices, Western economies are on the brink of a recession, and tens of millions teeter on the precipice of economic hardship. 
Meanwhile, this month alone, Moscow’s “coffers were expected to receive $6 billion more in oil and gas revenue than anticipated because” embargo-induced supply restrictions sent oil prices soaring. As the New York Times reports, “China and India, the world’s most populous countries, have swooped in to buy roughly the same volume of Russian oil that would have gone to the West. Oil prices are so high that Russia is making even more money now from sales than it did before the war began four months ago. And its once-flailing currency has surged in value against the dollar.” 
An embargo to punish Russia that ends up punishing Western consumers with higher energy prices, but allows Russia to reap the benefit of rising prices, surely rivals Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine for sheer stupidity.
Or does it?
If Biden’s goal is to punish Russia while protecting Western consumers, then his embargo decision has clearly backfired. But are these his goals?
Another view is that the US aim is to shift Europe’s energy dependence from Russia to sources under US control, in order to weaken Russia, and its oil and gas industry, and strengthen the oil and gas industries of the United States and its allies. Europe stands to lose big time, since sourcing energy from further afield will raise the continent’s energy bill. Additionally, by shifting Europe’s energy dependence to US-controlled suppliers, Washington increases its leverage over a Europe that increasingly seeks strategic autonomy at US expense. Washington has complained about Russia’s ability to use its energy supplies to blackmail Europe. Dependence on US-controlled suppliers simply shifts the role of potential blackmailer from Moscow to Washington.
According to the Washington Post, the Biden administration had discussed, even before Russia launched its invasion in February, the possibility that its response to the invasion would cause global spillover effects, in rising energy costs, food shortages, and a global recession. Moreover, US officials said they were willing to countenance these consequences.  (Fine for them; buffered by great wealth, they’ll hardly feel the effects themselves.)
If Western consumers are paying more for gasoline, natural gas, and groceries; if Africa and the Middle East are on the brink of a food crisis; if hundreds of millions are teetering on the edge of joblessness as the world economy slips closer to recession; it’s not because a stupid decision was made by a blundering Biden administration that has had calamitous unanticipated consequences; it’s because these are the anticipated and countenanced consequences of a US strategy to weaken Russia and bring Europe more firmly under the US thumb.
If Biden is stupid, his stupidity promises to produce welcome results for US energy companies, to say nothing of corporate America as a whole, which, on balance, stands to profit from Washington gaining greater leverage over Europe, one of the world’s largest economies and rival for world economic supremacy with corporate USA.
If there’s stupidity at play here, it’s the stupidity of believing that Washington’s actions are aimed at protecting and enlarging the interests of ordinary people. On the contrary, you and I are merely the means to the ends of—and collateral damage of the decisions taken to benefit—the elite of billionaires and wealthy investors who are the only people who really matter in Washington.
The war in Ukraine didn’t have to happen. For months, Moscow pressed Washington and NATO to negotiate a new security architecture in Europe. Moscow’s entreaties were dismissed out of hand. Once the war began, Washington could have launched efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution. Instead, it did the opposite, pumping billions of dollars of arms into Ukraine, and pressing its allies to do the same. This has been a boon for investors in US arms manufacturing, but a menace to the world, which now lives under a sword of Damocles in an elevated risk of nuclear war with Russia.
Tally up the consequences of Washington’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Rising energy prices.
A world economy on the brink of a recession.
A looming food crisis.
An increased risk of nuclear war.
These consequences harm you and me, and everyone else like us, but they hardly affect the wealthy, if they affect them at all (with the exception of the last.)
But there are other consequences—effects that are hardly calamitous but, on the contrary, are pleasing to a narrow spectrum of the population, namely, corporate USA and wealthy US investors. These are:
Soaring demand for US arms.
The promise of a cornucopia of future profits for US weapons makers as NATO members hike their military outlays and two new members, Finland and Sweden, join the alliance. (To ensure interoperability of forces, NATO members largely buy their equipment from a common provider, the US arms industry.)
Growing opportunity for the US hydrocarbons industry.
US control of Europe’s energy supplies and therefore greater US political leverage over Europe.
Higher energy costs for European businesses, reducing their competitiveness relative to US firms.
Government decisions that hurt you and me may appear to be evidence of government stupidity. It’s more likely that the consequences are not calamitous for everyone, and the calamity for the rest of us is anticipated and countenanced.
“Capitalism can pursue no other policy than that of imperialism.” Rudolph Hilferding
“Imperialism is an inevitable accompaniment of capitalist development.” Nikolai Bukharin
“Colonial politics and imperialism are … the inevitable consequences of the very foundations of capitalism.” V.I. Lenin
By Stephen Gowans
June 18, 2022
Blaming the war in Ukraine on Russian aggression or, alternatively, NATO provocations, represents a failure to understand capitalist imperialism as a system of rivalry among states for economic advantage. Imperialism is not what Russia alone does, or only what the United States and its janissaries do, but is, instead, a system in which all capitalist powers and blocs are enmeshed. It is not a policy choice, but the inevitable outcome of rivalry among states that originates in the expansionary imperatives of capitalism. To borrow from Lenin, capitalist imperialism is “the struggle for the sources of raw materials, for the export of capital, for spheres of influence, i.e., for spheres for profitable deals, concessions, monopolist profits, and so on, in fine, for economic territory in general.”  Blame for wars that spring from this system cannot be assigned to only one state or alliance. The blame lies with capitalism itself. Capitalism inevitably creates antagonisms among states, and the antagonisms can, and often do, escalate to war.
The historian William Appleman Williams explained this well.
The issue is not whether capitalism is a unique cause of war. It is not. The causes of war, including the economic ones, operate within capitalism just as they have within other systems of political economy. It does seem demonstrable, however, that capitalism heightens and intensifies the role and impact of economic factors in causing wars. The essential dynamic engine of capitalism, after all, is held to be a never-ending economic competition within a world marketplace. … the competition has an inherent tendency to escalate into political tension and conflict, and that exacerbates and reinforces other causes of such contention. For this reason, capitalism reveals a strong propensity to produce or result in organized violence … [The] capitalist outlook structures the world in such a way that capitalist leadership often sees itself as being confronted with a choice between war or defeat in the competitive marketplace. 
Assigning blame for war to one bloc or state, rather than to the internal workings of capitalism, was denounced by all leading Bolsheviks, and much later, by Domenico Losurdo, who faulted the historian Fritz Fischer for blaming WWI on Germany alone. Losurdo wrote: “Fritz Fischer’s weighty monograph, [Germany’s Aims in the First World War] published in the early 1960s, makes the mistake of always defining imperialism in the singular, as if the German variety alone were operative.”  In a similar vein, we can fault many contemporary Marxists and anti-imperialists for making Fischer’s mistake of always defining imperialism in the singular, in this case, as if the US variety alone is operative.
Lenin wrote of one imperialist war, WWI, as “the natural continuation of the policies of the capitalist class and of the governments of all countries” (emphasis added).  Commenting on the same war, Lenin’s colleagues, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, contended that “Undisputedly, the game of grab played by all the great powers was the real cause of the war. Only an idiot can continue to believe that the war took place because the Serbs killed the Austrian crown prince or because the Germans invaded Belgium” (emphasis added). 
“The German capitalists maintained that Russia was the aggressor, whereas the Russians proclaimed everywhere that Germany began it. In Britain word went round that the British had entered the struggle on behalf of ‘gallant little Belgium.’ In France, everyone was writing, screaming, and singing to prove how gloriously France was behaving in defense of the heroic Belgian nation. Simultaneously in Austria and Germany it was being trumpeted that these two countries were repelling a Cossack invasion and were waging a purely defensive war.” 
“This “was all nonsense,” declared the two Bolsheviks, “a fraud.”  In truth, they said, “The essence of the imperialist war was … that in it, all were aggressors” (emphasis added).  That’s because the “essential desire of every one of the financial capitalist [States] is to dominate the world; to establish a world empire, wherein the small group of capitalists belonging to the victorious nations shall hold undivided sway” (emphasis added).  “In this manner,” Bukharin and Preobrazhensky argued, “the reign of financial capital must inevitably hurl all mankind into the bloody abyss of war for the benefit of bankers and [billionaires]; a war which is not for a people’s own land but for the plunder of other lands; a war that is waged in order that the world be subjugated by the financial capital of the conquering country.” 
It’s a surprise, then, to find that a Communist-led organization should make the same error the Bolsheviks and Losurdo condemned. “The West – driven by the imperialist ambitions of the United States and its NATO allies … provoked the actions of the Russian government,” declares the Canadian Peace Congress.  This is no different from saying, Germany, driven by imperialist ambitions, provoked the actions of the Entente. In a prize fight, the fighter who lands the first blow has not—driven by his ambition to win the fight—provoked the actions of his opponent. If we want to understand prize fighting, we have to understand it as an institution, as a system of rivalry in which the actors seek the same prize at the expense of their rivals. The same is true of capitalism on a world stage.
In concert with the Peace Congress’s attempt to identify the guiltier party, a recent online discussion panel, sponsored by the Toronto Association for Peace and Solidarity , also promoted an erroneous understanding of imperialism. Rather than locating the root cause of the war in rivalry among states driven by capitalist compulsions, it focused, in a climate of febrile attention to the war on Ukraine, exclusively on NATO, as if a war that is at the fore of public awareness can be understood in the motivations of one belligerent alone, or that the central problem is NATO (just one of many instruments of imperialism) rather than the capitalism-driven system of rivalry itself.
One cannot help but think that were the Bolshevik intellectuals transported across time to the present, they would, contrary to the approach of the Peace Congress, take a whole-system perspective, examining the role of capitalism and its imperatives in creating multiple antagonisms among the United States and its NATO alliance, the EU, Russia, and Ukraine.
The Canadian Peace Congress tries to explain the war in Ukraine as an outcome of the United States’ “imperialist ambitions,” but says nothing about the source of these ambitions (where do they come from?) and nothing about the imperialist ambitions of Russia (as if Russia, a country as thoroughly capitalist as any of those of the NATO alliance, is somehow immune to ambitions to defend and expand its economic territory.) That’s odd, considering the Congress is Communist-led. You might expect Communists to point out that:
Imperialist ambitions arise inevitably from the internal workings of capitalism.
Capitalism compels business people to nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and set up connections everywhere, as the Communist Manifesto explained, which means that capitalists from various countries are always bumping up against each other in pursuit of the same profit-making opportunities in the world market.
The compulsive drive for markets, investment opportunities, and raw materials creates antagonisms among states.
Capitalism is a danger because it incubates imperialist ambitions that conduce to war.
Blame for capitalism-driven war lies, not in the actions of a single belligerent state or bloc, but in capitalism itself.
Ending the seemingly interminable succession of capitalism-driven wars will only happen when, as Lenin put it, “the class which is conducting the imperialist war, and is bound to it by millions of economic threads (and even ropes), is really overthrown and is replaced at the helm of state by the really revolutionary class, the proletariat” (emphasis in the original).
These wars won’t be ended by cheering on one or more of the contestants, hoping that in the struggle for the world market one side grows stronger and the other weaker, as the apostles of multipolarity do today.
Instead of a communist, or class, analysis of the war in Ukraine we have been presented, not only by the Canadian Peace Congress, but by many groups and people who present themselves as Marxist-Leninists, with a Fritz Fischer-like perspective—one that makes the mistake of always defining imperialism in the singular, as if the US variety alone or the Russian variety alone is operative. This perspective transforms the meaning of imperialism from a system of rivalry for markets, raw materials, investment opportunities, and strategic territory into a denunciatory label to be attached to whichever bourgeois power one happens to dislike.
Similarly indefensible and often sophistical arguments are presented by soi-disant Marxist-Leninists to justify departures from class analyses.
For example, some say that while they recognize all parties to the war in Ukraine to be aggressors, they reserve their condemnation for their own country’s government because it is the only one over which they can exert some influence. There are two problems with this argument.
First, people can, and have, exerted influence over foreign governments. The movements to pressure South Africa to abandon apartheid, and the similar BDS movement aimed at apartheid Israel, represent such efforts. The worldwide demonstrations for peace in the lead-up to the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, were also efforts to influence what, for most of the participants, was a foreign government: that of the United States. Those who refuse to condemn Russia on the grounds that it is a foreign country over which they have no control, have had no reservations in the past about condemning the United States, Israel, and South Africa, and seeking to alter these countries’ courses of action. The argument they make to justify their silence on Russia, therefore, lacks credibility.
Second, even if it were true that no pressure can be exerted on foreign governments, it does not follow that this binds one to omerta, a code of silence on the actions of foreign governments. The related argument that one’s main duty is to oppose one’s own government fails for the same reason; opposing one’s own government is not equal to refusing to acknowledge that other states, also enmeshed in a system of rivalry for markets, investment opportunities, and strategic territory, also behave, as a consequence, in repugnant ways. What’s on trial, or ought to be, is not the United States or Russia, but imperialism, a system of rivalry in which all states under the sway of capitalism (including China) are ensconced. As much as I can walk and talk at the same time, so too can I condemn Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and oppose my own government’s contributions to the war, while at the same time locating the source of their imperialist ambitions and belligerent actions in the systemic imperatives and logic of capitalism.
Others say they fault all belligerents, but refuse to cite Russia’s aggression for fear of adding to the weight of pro-war sentiment in their own country. This view is problematic. Failing to acknowledge Russia’s aggression when it has been visibly brought to the public’s attention, in no way challenges one’s own government’s arguments for war or makes the argument against war any stronger. It does, however, guarantee that, in failing to acknowledge the obvious, building credibility with the larger public becomes unnecessarily difficult. It seems far more likely that a public, in Europe anyway, that already sees Russia as an aggressor, but favors a rapid end to the war and opposes military build-ups , will be more receptive to an argument that acknowledges the apodictic reality of Russian aggression. A sounder approach to refusing to acknowledge Russia’s belligerent actions, or worse, to defend or excuse them, is to argue thus: Russia’s attempt to retain Ukraine within its sphere of influence by war is indefensible, but at the same time, so too are the actions of the United States and its allies, to draw Ukraine into the EU sphere, and therefore, the larger US ambit. Two blocs are fighting over the profit-making opportunities and strategic assets that repose within the borders of Ukraine, and the victims are the ordinary people around the world who are paying, if not in their lives or displacement through war, through their pocket books, in increasingly unaffordable energy and food, and higher taxes or foregone social expenditures due to increased military outlays, to say nothing of facing an elevated threat of nuclear war. This is not a war of justice, where one bloc has virtue on its side, but a war against humanity in which all participating governments are aggressors.
Perhaps thinking wrongly that organizing against the war in Ukraine amounts to supporting Russia, the Peace Congress avers that it takes courage to promote “peace and solidarity in moments of crisis and in an atmosphere of pro-war frenzy and propaganda.” But what courage is really needed to say what a majority of the population already thinks, namely, that
Russia’s actions are deplorable;
the US and NATO should have accommodated Russia’s request to negotiate a security architecture in December;
Washington should not be taking measures to prolong and intensify the war; it should be working toward a diplomatic solution.
(The Congress doesn’t say who it is promoting solidarity with, but one gets the sinking feeling it’s Russia. No wonder it thinks courage is required.)
One especially vacuous argument presented by those who misunderstand imperialism holds that failing to take a side in a rivalry among capitalist states for markets, spheres of influence, and investment opportunities is an exercise in cowardice. A side must be taken, these imbeciles insist. As a matter of logic, there is no compelling reason why one must take a side in a conflict. This is particularly true if the disputants pursue goals that are either indifferent or inimical to one’s own interests. In point of fact, the Bolshevik view of imperialism does take a side: that of the proletariat. What it doesn’t do is take the side of one bourgeoisie against another. The imbeciles demand we do.
Finally, some have dismissed the Bolsheviks’ analysis of imperialism as outdated, faulting it for being specific to conditions that prevailed in WWI, and therefore incapable of capturing the dynamics of a world dominated by a single hegemon. Two points can be made about this objection.
First, the early twentieth century was characterized by the predominance of the British Empire, which held large parts of the world under its sway, if not in its thrall. Britain’s primacy may not have been as strong as that of the United States today, but the empire was unquestionably first among great powers. The difference between a world dominated in the early twentieth century by the British Empire and the world dominated by the United States today, is quantitative, not qualitative, a matter of degree, not kind.
Second, while for a very brief period the United States was almost completely unchallenged as a global leviathan, both Russia and China have emerged as “revisionist” capitalist powers, to challenge the primacy of the United States and “revise” the US-superintended world order. By revise the world order, I mean repartition the world’s economic and strategic territory. Some people think there’s something progressive about this. If so, then World Wars I and II were progressive events, for they were the outcomes of Germany’s and Japan’s attempts to revise the world order to create greater multipolarity.
Germany and Japan, driven by the needs of their growing capitalist economies, emerged in the early twentieth century to challenge the British Empire, and to revise the global order London led—that is, to take from Britain and other great powers, the economic territory Berlin and Tokyo said they needed to thrive. Germany at a minimum lusted after a sphere of influence in all of continental Europe, while Japan sought pre-eminence in East Asia. Russia, today, is driven to protect its economic territory from US-led encroachments, while China’s capitalism-driven need for foreign markets and secure access to raw materials entangles it in a rivalry (along with complementarity) with the United States and the European Union. The rivalry may lead to war.
The period of conflict between the United States as the leader of the capitalist world, and the Soviet Union and Maoist China, as large powers, is different in one fundamental respect from the great power rivalry that marks the present: Russia is not a socialist country (and neither, by any common definition of the word “socialist”, is China.) That it is necessary to make a statement as blindingly obvious as this, one on par with, the earth is a sphere, is testament to the fact that some Marxist-Leninists are in the grips of an extraordinary delusion about the political economy of Russia and China. No, Russia is not the Soviet Union, and China, highly integrated into the US economy as a sphere of exploitation for US corporate behemoths seeking low-wage labor, while at the same time, a hot house for a growing clutch of billionaires with interests around the world, are not tribunes of the people, as some luftmenschen would like to believe.
The world politics on which the Bolsheviks cut their analytical teeth bears a much stronger resemblance to that of the world today than to the post-1945 twentieth century struggle between capitalist and communist blocs. Today, capitalist Russia and a China very much under the sway of capitalism, appear more like Germany and Japan during the so-called Second Thirty Year War, 1914-1945, namely, as rising capitalist powers with a mission, developed under the lash of capitalist expansionary imperatives, to repartition the world, than they resemble the Soviet Union and Mao’s China.
While NATO has unquestionably played a role in bringing about the war in Ukraine, focusing on NATO, and identifying the United States and its allies as bearing the greater guilt for the conflict, presents imperialism as if it were a policy that governments can adopt or reject at will rather than a capitalism-driven rivalry for the world market in which antagonisms among states are inevitable and wars are nearly ineluctable. We ought to be at a place where we can, to borrow from Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, explain the cause of the war in Ukraine as the outcome of “the game of grab played by all the great powers” and not—as “only an idiot can continue to believe”—either NATO provocations or Russian aggression.
 V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. International Publishers. 1939. P. 124.
 William Appleman Williams. The Great Evasion. Quadrangle Books. 1964. P. 75.
 Domenico Losurdo. War and Revolution. Verso. 2015. P. 137.
 “Resolution introduced by the delegation of the central committee of the RSDLP to the International Socialist Women’s Conference at Berne”, in Lenin: The Imperialist War. International Publishers. 1930. P. 472.
 N. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky. The ABC of Communism.Penguin Books. 1970. P. 158.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=7bFEdpj5dYU While this may not be true of the Toronto Association for Peace and Solidarity, some solidarity groups see their mission in connection with the war in Ukraine as one of expressing solidarity with one capitalist country, Russia, against an alliance of other capitalist countries, NATO, rather than solidarity with the proletariat, whose blood, labor, and future, is threatened by the struggle between these two bourgeois blocs.
 V.I Lenin, “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky,” 1918, in Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1974, pp. 227-325.
The first is that the “entire world is caught up in the decline of one capitalist empire and the rise of yet another.” The declining capitalist empire is the United States and the rising capitalist empire is Eurasia, at the center of which lies capitalist China and capitalist Russia. The decline of one capitalist empire and the rise of yet another can be characterized as the emergence of a multipolar capitalist world, to supersede one of US supremacy. This is the condition sought by the multipolaristas, a gaggle of people united by little more than a common abhorrence—not of capitalism, or imperialism, or wars of aggression—but of US foreign policy.
Wolff’s second point is that “a different economic system not driven by a profit motive offers a deeper solution to any on offer at present.” Lenin’s solution is a nonpolar world free from imperialism, in contrast to the multipolaristas’ cheerleading the rise of one capitalist empire as it challenges another.
Among Lenin’s “various definitions of imperialism, one of the most significant characterizes it as the claim of a few chosen nations to base their own prosperity and primacy on despoliation and domination of the rest of humanity. They regard themselves as model nations.” (Losurdo, Class Struggle, 2016, p. 158) We might think, for example, of the “model nation” which launches a crusade against what it says is neo-Nazism in a neighboring country, one intended to impose a Quisling government and integrate the country’s economy into that of the aggressor, or which pursues a humanitarian intervention under the pretext of arresting genocide.
A subsidiary point: Losurdo challenges a commonly held misconception that the Bolshevik leader’s understanding of imperialism can be reduced to a check list of characteristics that define individual states—that Lenin had one definition of imperialism, rather than several. These characteristics have been misrepresented in various places as criteria for determining whether a country is imperialist. In point of fact, they were Lenin’s descriptions of capitalism as a globe-girding economic system in what he called its highest stage—a stage in which capital had become highly concentrated; finance capital is dominant; the export of capital (as opposed to goods and services alone) is important; gigantic international corporations compete across the globe; and a few great powers have divided the whole world into spheres of influence. To repeat: This is a description of an economic system, not of individual countries. Another point: In a world economy of monopoly capitalism, imperialism is inevitable.
Lenin did not reduce imperialism to the export of capital or define it as an exclusively monopoly capitalist phenomenon. Consider these words from Lenin’s volume on imperialism: “Colonial policy and imperialism existed before this latest stage of capitalism and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and achieved imperialism.” (V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, International Publishers, 1939, p. 81-82)
Or this, a shock, perhaps, to those who believe Russia cannot be considered imperialist in any Leninist sense: “[Among] the six powers [that had divided the world], we see, firstly, young capitalist powers (America, Germany, Japan) which progressed very rapidly; secondly, countries with an old capitalist development (France and Great Britain), which, of late, have made slower progress than the previously mentioned countries, and, thirdly, a country (Russia) which is economically most backward, in which modern capitalist imperialism is enmeshed, so to speak, in a particularly close network of pre-capitalist relations.” (V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, International Publishers, 1939, p. 81)
To sum up. A country doesn’t have to be capitalist to be imperialist (imperialism, i.e., empires, existed long before capitalism.) Nor does it have to export capital (imperialism also antedated monopoly capitalism.) To be imperialist, all a nation must do, as Lenin explained, is oppress another nation. The essence of imperialism, wrote Lenin, is the “division of nations into oppressor and oppressed.” (V.I. Lenin, Declaration of Rights of The Working and Exploited People, 4 January, 1929 in Pravda No. 2 and Izvestia No. 2.)
Who exactly is hurt most in the struggles of capitalist empires? The answer is the class Lenin championed: ordinary working people.
In Ukraine, workers are plagued by invasion, displacement from their homes, the danger of death or injury, and the loss of jobs and incomes.
Ordinary Russians will soon struggle with rising prices and lost employment, if they aren’t already.
The working class in Europe, already careworn with declining purchasing power, will soon pay even higher rates for energy, and will be hurt further by higher taxes or reduced services or both as growing military outlays stress government budgets.
Worldwide, the struggle of empires puts upward pressure on prices, for food and energy especially. Hunger will increase. The difficulties of making ends meet will grow.
Finally, the struggle of capitalist empires carries with it the risk of a regional war escalating into a global conflagration. It’s something none of us—most all, ordinary working people—want.
Lenin’s solution, a nonpolar world free from imperialism, is not achievable by choosing sides in the struggles of competing capitalist empires. It’s only possible by doing away with capitalism and empire as institutions of domination and exploitation. And that won’t happen by cheerleading the rise of yet another capitalist empire, or supporting Russia’s efforts to reassert a sphere of influence in Ukraine and carry out a war of aggression on ordinary Ukrainians on the backs of ordinary Russians at the expense of ordinary people in Western Europe, North America, and the whole world over. Nor will it happen by encouraging the co-belligerent actions of the US government and its NATO subalterns in pursuing the US goal of fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian.
As governments representing bourgeois interests compete for markets, investment opportunities, strategic territory, and spheres of interest, it may be fitting to recall an observation of Marx and Engels: “The workers have no country.” Not Russia. Not China. Not the United States.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was the culmination, to that point, of the struggle between the United States and Japan for control of China and the Pacific. Pearl Harbor, a naval base located at the US colony of Hawaii (Hawaii did not become a state until 1959), is a synecdoche for a larger Japanese attack on US and British colonial possessions in East Asia and the Pacific. Not only did Japan attack Hawaii on December 7, 1941, home to the US Pacific Fleet, it also attacked the US colonies of Philippines, Guam, Midway Island, Wake Island and the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
The United States, Britain, the Netherlands, and other Western powers had increasingly encroached on Japan’s backyard, creating colonies and spheres of influence that not only threatened Japan’s access to the markets and raw materials of East Asia, but also stood as potential threats to Japan’s own sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“In Japanese eyes,” wrote historian John Dower, “it was the non-Axis West that aimed at world domination and had been engaged in that quest, with conspicuous success, for centuries; and it was the value system of the modern West…that explained a large part of its bloody history of war and repression, culminating in the current world crisis.” Later, “the American bombing of Japanese cities was offered as proof beyond any conceivable question of the bestial nature of the enemy.”
In August 1941, Japan laid the ideological groundwork for its impending attack. In a manifesto titled The Way of the Subject, Tokyo pointed to what it saw as a crisis that was enveloping East Asia, one traceable to the value system of the West. Western values included ways of thinking that “regard the strong preying on the weak as reasonable…and stimulate the competition for acquiring colonies and securing trade, thereby leading the world to a veritable hell of fighting and bloodshed.”
If war was to ensue, Japan warned, it would only be because the West had pushed it inevitably along war’s path.
Japan’s neighborhood, East Asia, was teeming with Western military bases and shot through with Western influence. It was a place, complained the Japanese, “where a half million British ruled 350 million Indians, and another few score thousands of Englishmen ruled 6 million Malayans; where two hundred thousand Dutchmen governed a native population of 60 million in the East Indies; where twenty thousand Frenchmen controlled 23 million Indochinese, and a few tens of thousands of Americans ruled over 13 million Filipinos. Eight hundred thousand white men, the tally went, controlled 450 million Asians.”
Tokyo noted that Japan, unlike the United States, Britain, France, and the Netherlands, was linked to the region by natural ethnic and geopolitical ties. As such, and as an avowed opponent of Western imperialism, Japan had an historical mission: to liberate its ethnic brethren—one Asian people—from the yoke of Western colonialism and fold them into a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere under Japanese leadership.
As Japan pushed into China in pursuit of its vision, upsetting Washington’s own designs on the country, the United States imposed an oil embargo. Dependent on the United States for oil, Tokyo cast its gaze upon the oil rich Dutch East Indies, which produced enough oil to satisfy Japanese needs. But Japan would first have to knock out the US fleet in the Pacific, based at Pearl Harbor, if it was to achieve its aim. The result would be the December 7 attack.
Some have argued that Washington deliberately provoked Tokyo to war and welcomed the attack, since it provided a justification for US entry into the war. Public opinion in the United States was against foreign entanglements and Japanese aggression would surely rally US Americans around the flag.
There are parallels between the US and Japanese struggle over East Asia, and the current US and Russian struggle over Eastern Europe.
Japan was a weak imperialist power, with limited colonial possessions, surrounded by strong Western powers which had pushed into Japan’s neighborhood over many decades. Tokyo had a number of grievances against its stronger imperialist rivals, and believed that as a Pacific country it had a geopolitical and ethnic affinity with the region. What’s more, Western rivalry threatened Japan’s economic success, since the country depended on access to raw materials and markets that Western powers either controlled, or could soon control. The Japanese, posing as anti-imperialists of the first order, lambasted the West for its imperialism in East Asia—an imperialism which, through successive waves, had pushed right up to Japan’s borders.
Japan’s critique of Western imperialism, did not, however, make Japan any less of an imperialist power itself, however much it might have wanted the world to believe otherwise. Nor did Tokyo’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere liberate the peoples of Asia from imperialism. It only liberated them for a time from Western imperialism, but visited upon them a Japanese imperialism that was even more vicious in some places and at some times than what it replaced.
We cannot know how antiwar organizations operating under principles that guide many North American antiwar organizations today would have responded to the events of December 7, 1941, but we can make a guess, based on the following principles and beliefs that appear to guide these organizations.
The existence of US imperialism negates the existence of its rivals’ imperialism.
A US rival’s war of aggression is not an attack or invasion or violation of the UN Charter; it is a ‘military operation’, or simply a crisis.
US rivals don’t start wars; they’re provoked to war.
All blame for a US rival’s war of aggression lies with Western powers.
Accordingly, all responsibility for ending a US rival’s war of aggression lies with Western powers.
In regards to Pearl Harbor, today’s North American antiwar organizations would likely have quite fittingly condemned Washington for its imperialism and provoking a Japanese escalation to war, but at the same time, would likely have either apologized for the Japanese attacks as an unavoidable response to US provocation or would have simply ignored them. A demand would be made that the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, and other Western powers dismantle their colonies and renounce their spheres of influence, but no call would be made for Japan to cease its military operations or refrain from imposing its rule on the territories it attacked.
None of this would comprise an authentic anti-war analysis and set of demands, but would represent a one-sided, anti-Western-war view, that would happily leave Japan off the hook for its imperialism and for initiating a war of aggression.
An organization that is only against the wars of its own country and not those of other countries, is not antiwar, anymore than an organization that is only against the wars of other countries and not its own, has a tenable claim to the title of peace organization.
The War in the Pacific was an inter-imperialist struggle. If North American antiwar organizations operating under their current principles had shaped the view of that war, the story of Japan as a vicious, imperialist power, committed to aggressive war to achieve its aims, would never be told.
The “military operation” announced by Russian president Vladimir Putin on February 24, is the latest episode in a struggle between two powers, the United States and Russia, for control of Ukraine. There is little good that can be said about either of these powers.
Russia is no more a progressive state than is the United States, and, indeed, is a good deal less so. The country’s president, Vladmir Putin, an anti-Bolshevik apostle of “traditional values”, i.e., homophobia, misogyny, and religious superstition, is admired by the Tucker Carlsons and Donald Trumps of the world, as well as some supporters of the trucker convoys, for his “anti-woke stance.” Trump thinks the world of Putin, much as US reactionaries of another time admired Hitler and Mussolini for their “strong” leadership and anti-Bolshevism. Putin has little good to say about Lenin and Stalin, disapproving of the Bolsheviks’ nationalities policies and criticizing Stalin for not pre-emptively attacking Nazi Germany. Putin proudly announced that he wouldn’t make in connection with Ukraine what he sees as Stalin’s mistake in connection with Germany.
Nor is Russia any less an imperialist state than the United States, though it is, to be sure, much less powerful than its US rival, far less dangerous, and its domains far less extensive. But it is imperialist, all the same, however much it is opposed to the prospect of its own domination by the United States. For all its anti-hegemonism, Moscow is not opposed to subjugating other countries. Russia intervened militarily in Syria in 2015, not out of a selfless commitment to rescuing the government in Damascus, but to advance Russian aims. Syria is a vassal of Moscow, and while Damascus may (or may not) find the terms of its vassalage preferable to those the United States would impose, it remains a Russian vassal state all the same.
As to Ukraine, it has the unfortunate fate of finding itself in the middle of an inter-imperialist struggle. Through subterfuge and machination, the United States in 2014 installed a pro-US, anti-Russian puppet government in Kyiv. That government has acted to integrate the territory, people, military, and markets of Ukraine into the United States’ informal empire. In insisting on membership in NATO, participating with NATO forces in military exercises along Russia’s borders, refusing to implement the Minsk II agreement, vigorously engendering opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and proclaiming its intention to reclaim Crimea, home to the Russian Black Fleet, the US puppet government in Kyiv has done much to provoke Russian aggression. Indeed, it is difficult to conclude that this wasn’t its aim, since Kyiv played it cards as if it was. Moscow would rather Ukraine be integrated into its own informal empire, the Eurasian Economic Union, though faute de mieux, it has been prepared to accept Ukraine neutrality. An independent Ukraine, one not under the de facto control of Washington, would likely have opted to join neither the (vast) informal empire of the United States nor the (much smaller) informal empire of Russia. But a Ukraine under the informal control of the United States has recklessly crossed so many Russian red lines.
On a moral and legal plane, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is indefensible. Putin’s invoking Article 51, Chapter VII of the UN Charter, (the right of self-defense in response to an attack) is a total farce, as is Putin’s claim that the Kyiv government is a neo-Nazi government and that Kyiv is carrying out a genocide against Russians. These claims demonstrate that Moscow can stoop as low as Washington in inventing totally ridiculous pretexts for wars of aggression. To be clear, there are neo-Nazis in Ukraine, a few in government, and more than a few in the military, but they tend to be Russophobes first and neo-Nazis second; that is, they’re neo-Nazis because they hate Russians—as in, the greatest enemy (the Nazis) of my enemy (Russia) is my greatest friend. That’s not to defend Russophobia, but the neo-Nazi reference is frequently invoked, not out of respect for the truth, but because its utility in shaping public opinion against Ukraine is greater, at least in the West, than pointing out that there are many Ukrainian nationalists who dislike Russia for its history of dominating Ukrainians, some of whom are neo-Nazis, and others who are not. Moreover, the presence of neo-Nazis in government and in the military is hardly unique to Ukraine.
As to Ukraine carrying out a genocide against its ethnic Russian population, this is only true if we accept the kind of infinitely flexible definition of genocide that the United States, in the person of Adrian Zenz, is infamous for deploying against China as an exercise in mobilizing public opinion against a rival. To be sure, the Ukrainian nationalist Russophobes in Kyiv have hardly sought to find an amicable way to co-exist with their ethnic Russian compatriots, but when Putin likens this behavior to genocide, he takes a page from the execrable Adrian Zenz, and shows himself to be just as execrable for doing so.
The Russian president says he has no plans to occupy Ukraine, and this may be true. Certainly, it would ill-serve Russia to become bogged down in a second Afghanistan. But Moscow says it intends to de-Nazify and de-militarize Ukraine, which means, it intends to install its own puppet government in Kyiv, after it jails or murders the Ukrainian nationalists who, whether neo-Nazi or not, are painted with a broad neo-Nazi brush. Thereafter, the Russian president will try to persuade ethnic Ukrainians that they’re part of the same Russian family, and should feel at home with their pro-Russian Quisling government.
The United States’ role in this tragedy is as much about its relationship with its former imperial rivals, Germany, Italy, and France, as it is about its attempts to weaken Russia. These three powers, and the Europe they lead, incessantly threaten to spin out of the US orbit. Increasingly, they talk of strategic autonomy, while pursuing economic integration with Russia and China, to US dismay. Russian aggression provides the occasion to bind Europe more firmly to the United States, by rallying Europe against Russia through the US instrument of NATO, and pressing the continent to sever some economic ties with Russia. Germany will be expected to cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, to its great disadvantage, since it will lose an inexpensive source of energy, and to the great advantage of the US liquid natural gas industry, which will fill the void with a more expensive product. While certification of the pipeline has only been suspended for now, Washington will continue to pressure Germany to cancel the pipeline altogether. The benefits of Russian aggression against Ukraine for the US investor class are so numerous, that champagne bottles must have popped in Washington and on Wall Street when the Russian president announced the beginning of his country’s military operation in Ukraine. European drift toward the Russian economy is eclipsed. NATO is strengthened, with indubitable benefits in new orders from NATO countries for arms from US weapons makers. Calls for more weapons purchases to bolster the US military will escalate; yesterday, for example, a Wall Street Journal op-ed demanded a naval build up. And the arms industry will run at full-tilt pumping weapons into Ukraine to fuel an insurgency, as Washington fights Russia to the last Ukrainian. Wars for which the United States has not participated except to act as an arms supplier have always been kind to the country’s investors; this one promises to be the same. Finally, Russian military operations, along with Western sanctions, will drain the Russian economy, weakening Russia, or at least stifle its growth, and make it less a formidable US rival. How could Wall Street not look with pleasure upon the prospects?
Most Left pundits and “anti-imperialists” thought Russia wouldn’t invade, and that Washington’s warning that an invasion was imminent was utter nonsense, along the lines of the Iraqi WMD scare. Patrick Cockburn, though hardly alone, dismissed the possibility of a Russian invasion, arguing that Russia had assembled too few troops along its borders to invade Ukraine. This was just Washington hype and war hysteria, he wrote. Others took as gospel the words of Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many fakes, disinformation, leaks, slander and lies” she said—a self-referential statement, it turns out. The lesson here is that governments lie but sometimes they don’t, and that it is unwise to assume that governments always lie or that ones that are in the cross-hairs of US aggression don’t. Putin talked of a US empire of lies. He omitted mention of a Russian empire of lies.
Before leaving the topic of information warfare, something ought to be said about RT (Russia Today). RT exists in the first instance to serve Russian ends, and specifically to propagate information favorable to the attainment of the goals of the Russian state. The modus operandi of RT’s US network is to act as a platform for anyone with a compelling critique of US policy or who will go to bat to defend Russia. There may be a partial overlap between the pursuit of Russian state aims, and the provision of progressive discourse and analysis, but no one should be mistaken that RT’s raison d’etre is to promote a progressive point of view. It is doubtful that RT would long provide a platform to persons whose critique of US society and foreign policy was matched by an equally rigorous critique of the Russian side. I may be wrong, but we may soon find out if this is true if anyone tries to advance, on RT, the kind of analysis I’m presenting here.
What ought to be done?
First, Ukraine should be neither the means to US ends nor the means to Russian ends. Ukraine ought to be the means to Ukrainian ends. The country must be allowed to develop independently and to choose its own government freely, without foreign interference or involvement. The country’s leaders must be answerable to the people of Ukraine, not to the president of the United States, nor the president of Russia. To achieve this, Russia must immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine and cease interfering in Ukrainian affairs. The United States and its satellites must do the same. Next, the countries of Europe, along with Canada, must withdraw from NATO. NATO is not a defensive alliance. Europe can readily defend itself against Russia. Its military expenditures are four times greater than those of the Russian Federation, (France’s alone are equal to Russia’s), and France has an independent nuclear force. NATO is a cover for the United States to maintain a military presence in Europe, on the territory of its former imperialist rivals. Al Haig, former NATO Supreme Commander and Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, once acknowledged that US troops are in Europe (stationed at what are called NATO bases to hide the fact that US bases are scattered across the continent) to ensure that European markets remain open to US exports and investment. Fourth, the United States and Canada must withdraw their forces from Europe (and from elsewhere abroad.) North American militaries must be re-oriented to self-defense, not power projection. The same demand must be made of all the world’s militaries; they must exist for one reason alone: to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The struggle against reactionaries who masquerade as anti-imperialists
Finally, regarding the variegated group that calls itself anti-imperialists. Anti-imperialists come in many hues. Marxists of various stripes are almost always anti-imperialist but tend to self-identify as Marxists (Marxists, Marxist-Leninists, Communists, socialists, and so on.) It is taken as a given that if you’re a Marxist, you’re anti-imperialist, and, hence, that the anti-imperialist moniker is unnecessary. But the converse isn’t always true—anti-imperialists are not always Marxists. Some people who self-identify as anti-imperialists, but not as Marxists (and I say some, not all), practice an anti-imperialism of a sort favored by Charles Lindbergh and others in the late 1930s and 1940s, and expressed as America First, a name that has resonance with Trump. Supporters of the America First cause admired Hitler and Mussolini, especially their opposition to bolshevism and the “wokeism” of the day, and opposed US war against fascism in Europe. Their intellectual descendants exist today. Some of them can be found on the conspiracy theory web site, Global Research. They admire Putin’s commitment to “traditional values,” including faith, homophobia, misogyny, submission to authority, and strong leadership. While they call themselves anti-imperialist, they’re really only opposed to US imperialism. The imperialism of Russia and few other countries never shows up on their radar. They are, in reality, anti-Marxist conservatives, who falsely identify as anti-imperialists to create a progressive façade to mobilize the energies of Marxist anti-imperialists to a reactionary agenda. These are the same frauds who have celebrated the far-right truckers’ convoys, and are very likely at this very moment denouncing anyone who has an unkind word to say about Vladimir Putin and his imperialist war on Ukraine. In its statement on the Russian aggression, the Party for Socialism and Liberation argued sagely that the role of anti-imperialists “is not to follow the line of countries in conflict with U.S. imperialism, but to present an independent program of peace and solidarity and anti-imperialism.” That is the hallmark of Marxist-inspired anti-imperialism. We can do without the other kind.
Joe Biden thinks, or at least says he thinks, that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would “be the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II.” Biden is either delusional, or supremely confident in the power of US propaganda to turn black to white, otherwise he couldn’t possibly summon the chutzpah to utter such arrant nonsense. Unless Russia plans (a) to invade Ukraine and then (b) burn it to the ground, as the United States did to North Korea from 1950 to 1953, or napalm and exfoliate the country, as Washington did to Vietnam, or bomb and sanction it into the stone age, as the Pentagon did to Iraq twice, or spend 20 years killing civilians in drone strikes as four US administrations did to Afghanistan, then Russia could hardly match the United States in producing consequential markers on the record of post-World War II war and peace.
Equally absurd are the remarks of the leader of one of Washington’s favorite lickspittles, the government of Canada. “We are working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression is absolutely unacceptable,” intoned the popinjay Justin Trudeau, a man whose servility to US interests is without limit. “We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full court press to ensure Russia respects the people of Ukraine.” Too bad Canada hadn’t acted to ensure the United States respected the peoples of Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to say nothing of the peoples of Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Palestine, among others.
To avoid the terrible fate of being excommunicated from the church of respectable bourgeois politics, Canada’s peace and love party, the NDP, advocated the use of “sanctions” rather than “war” to deter what is said by governments and respectable (i.e., bourgeois) media in the West to be an anticipated Russian “aggression” against Ukraine, thus accepting as legitimate and propagating two spurious claims: (1) that sanctions—which regularly produce death and misery in excess of what is wrought by bullets, shells, bombs, and missiles—are a peaceful and desirable alternative to war, rather than a means of warfare itself, and a particularly vicious one at that; and that (2) Russian aggression lies at the heart of the dispute over Ukraine.
At its base, the conflict between Russia and the United States pivots on the question of security guarantees. Russia has asked for them and the United States refuses to grant them. Why does Russia feel insecure?
For one thing, the country, along with China, is at the center of the US reticle—Russia constituting what Washington calls a “revisionist power.” “Revisionist”, in US hands, means seeking to revise the international rules-based order—an order based on a set of shifting rules of which the United States alone is the architect and which it invokes whenever convenient, for its own benefit. Revising the international order is refusing to do whatever the US commands. The US president, uncrowned king of the world, or much of it, might as well intone, “The international rules-based order, c’est moi.” US politicians and journalists are quick to use the words “dictator” and “authoritarian” to refer to the targets of US aggression, but, skilled propagandists to a person, refuse to use the words in reference to Washington’s own relationship with the rest of the world. Yet the words fit to a tee. The United States seeks a relationship of prepotency vis-à-vis other countries. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger described the relationship this way, in an amusing 1970s song, sung to the tune Yankee Doodle.
Yankee Doodle came to town
H-bombs in his pocket
Says chum if you don’t toe the line
I’ll blast you with my rockets
To be sure, the dictator’s tools of coercion have always surpassed H-bombs alone and include sanctions (more aptly known as starving people into submission, a favorite of Canada’s “peace-loving” NDP), fomenting rebellions, and declaring US toadies to be the legitimate leaders of countries that defy the US dictatorship (Juan Guaidó, for example.)
In 2019, the RAND Corporation, the Pentagon’s think tank, drew up a list of measures the United States and its satellites, such as henchman Canada, could take to “overextend and unbalance” Russia as a means of coercing Moscow to toe the US line. The measures were:
Expand U.S. energy production to stress Russia’s economy, potentially constraining its government budget and, by extension, its defense spending. By adopting policies that expand world supply and depress global prices, the United States can limit Russian revenue.
Increase Europe’s ability to import gas from suppliers other than Russia to economically extend Russia.
Impose deeper trade and financial sanctions to degrade the Russian economy.
Challenge the legitimacy of the state. Create the perception that Moscow is not pursuing the public interest by focussing on widespread, large-scale corruption.
Encourage domestic protests and other nonviolent resistance to distract or destabilize the Russian government.
Undermine Russia’s image abroad to diminish Moscow’s standing, influence and prestige.
Encourage the emigration from Russia of skilled labor and well-educated youth.
Relocate bombers and missiles within easy striking range of key Russian strategic targets to raise Russian anxieties.
The point is that the United States views Russia as a challenge to what the late Hugo Chavez once called the international dictatorship of the United States and Washington has not sat idly by, allowing the challenge to its dictatorship to stand, as evidenced by RAND’s recommendations.
The second reason for Russia to feel insecure, if the first isn’t enough, is that the United States is the world’s greatest menace to peace, contrary to the efforts of Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau, sanctions-loving social democrats, and the Western bourgeois media to flip this reality on its head. The United States’ addiction to war—according to Washington’s own Congressional Research Service, “the US military has waged war, engaged in combat, or otherwise employed its forces aggressively in foreign lands in all but eleven years of its existence”, that is, in more than 95 of every 100 years since 1776—is brushed aside. Twenty years in Afghanistan, the destruction of Iraq, the illegal occupation of Syria, the air war on Yugoslavia, the bombing of Panama and invasion of Grenada, wars on the peoples of Vietnam and Korea, to say nothing of wars of economic aggression on these and countless other countries—all these US aggressions are forgotten. Instead, we’re led to believe that, motivated by a desire to recover territory lost to the Russian empire, Vladimir Putin has asked for security guarantees he knows Washington cannot grant, and will use the denial of these guarantees as a pretext to invade Ukraine. Why the United States cannot guarantee Russia’s security, and why security guarantees are “non-starters”, is never explained. However, the undeniable US record of worshiping Mars is explanation enough: The United States cannot provide security guarantees, because the rules-based international order, of which the United States is the sole architect and its plutocrats the principal beneficiaries, depends on military threat and aggression as its ultima ratio. The alluring goal of integrating Russia into the US economy as a complement to, rather than as a rival of, corporate USA, offers too many lucrative profit-making opportunities for Washington to voluntarily surrender its program of anti-Russian military pressure.
Moscow has presented its request for security guarantees in the form of two proposed treaties, one with the United States and the other with the United States’ instrument, NATO. As far as I can tell, the details of the proposed treaties have never been presented in major US media, perhaps because they contradict the Western narrative of Russian belligerence.
Draft treaty with the United States:
Russia and the US shall not use the territory of other countries to prepare or conduct attacks against the other;
Neither party shall deploy short- or intermediate-range missiles abroad or in areas where these weapons could reach targets inside the other’s territory;
The US shall not open military bases in the post-Soviet countries that are not already NATO members, use their military infrastructure, or develop military cooperation with these states;
Neither party shall deploy nuclear weapons abroad, and any such weapons already deployed must be returned. Both parties shall eliminate any infrastructure for deploying nuclear weapons outside their own territories;
Neither party shall conduct military exercises with scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons; and,
Neither party shall train military or civilian personnel from non-nuclear countries to use nuclear weapons.
Draft treaty with NATO.
NATO shall not expand further east and must commit to excluding Ukrainian membership;
NATO shall not deploy additional forces or arms outside the borders of its members as of May 1997 (before the alliance started admitting Eastern European countries);
NATO shall not conduct any military activity in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, or Central Asia;
Russia and NATO shall not deploy short- or intermediate-range missiles within range of each other’s territories;
All parties shall refrain from conducting military actions above the brigade level which shall be confined to a border zone to be mutually agreed upon; and,
Neither party shall regard the other as an adversary or create threats to the other, and all parties shall commit to settling disputes peacefully, refraining from the use of force.
The provisions of the proposed treaties are in no way aggressive. On the other hand, the expansion of an anti-Russian military alliance up to the border of Russia, a country the alliance-leader, the United States, defines as a challenger to its hegemony, is unquestionably menacing to Russia. As to the canard that NATO cannot possibly pose a threat to Russia, for, after all, it’s merely a defensive alliance, that too depends on historical amnesia. An alliance that was at the center of unprovoked wars on Yugoslavia, Libya, and Afghanistan, is, ipso facto, an instrument of aggression. It is also an instrument of US domination, used (a) to keep Washington’s former imperialist rivals Germany, Britain, France, and Italy under US tutelage; (b) to create markets for US weapons manufacturers by demanding that NATO lackeys buy weapons systems that interoperate with the US military; and (c) to enlist NATO subalterns in the US project of “overextending and unbalancing” states that remain outside the US empire.
It may, contrary to what one reads in the press, be very much in the interest of Washington to provoke a Russian invasion of Ukraine. What better way to overextend and unbalance the Eurasian giant? A Russian invasion of the east European country would be a march into a quagmire. Washington welcomes the opportunity to overextend and unbalance Russia via a Ukrainian proxy—that is, to carry on the US war on Russia to the last Ukrainian. What’s more, and referring back to the RAND Corporation’s proposals, what better way than by provoking an invasion of Ukraine to do the following?
Undermine Russia’s image abroad to diminish Moscow’s standing, influence and prestige.
Create a justification to impose deeper trade and financial sanctions to degrade the Russian economy.
Provide a pretext to relocate bombers and missiles within easy striking range of key Russian strategic targets to raise Russian anxieties.
Pressure Germany to cancel Nord Stream 2 to increase Europe’s ability to import gas from suppliers other than Russia as a means of economically weakening Russia.
“Strobe Talbott, the original choreographer of NATO expansion in the post-cold war order,” as M.K. Bhadrakumar describes him, has “triumphantly congratulated Blinken and Jake Sullivan for cornering Russia.” And well he should. In Ukraine, Washington has created an anti-Russian state on Russia’s border, which, while not formally integrated in NATO, is a de facto NATO asset. Left alone, Ukraine poses a threat to Russia. Invaded by Russia, it remains equally a threat.
Provoking a robust Russian reply to an advancing and predatory NATO offers other benefits to Washington as well. France and Germany—the principal EU actors—evince a growing desire to achieve a strategic autonomy that would allow them to take advantage of the economic opportunities a closer relationship with Russia would create. Growing Russian-European economic integration would disadvantage US corporations. For example, in preference to reliance on Russian natural gas, Washington has pressed Europe to purchase liquid natural gas from the United States, even though the cost is much higher. Washington has also balked at the prospect of EU military autonomy on the grounds that it would cut US arms companies out of contracts for military provisioning. In other words, the United States uses its dominance over its former imperial rivals to tilt the field in favor of corporate USA (and also to keep former and therefore potential future imperialist rivals in check.) There’s a cost, then, of belonging to the US empire—sacrificing one’s own economic interests to those of the US plutocracy. A Russian invasion of Ukraine would provide Washington with a moral argument to pressure Germany and France into renouncing their growing openness to Russia in favor of more openness to corporate USA, while cementing Europe’s place in the US empire and countering the gravitational pull of Russia on European economies.
Russia is clearly threatened by the United States and its NATO alliance, and the treaties proposed by Russia to guarantee its security would desirably stay the hand of an aggressive Washington, to the benefit not only of Russia, but to those of us who live in NATO countries who have nothing to gain, and much to lose, from the US plutocracy’s continuing predatory advance on its rivals. It is not Russians who are our enemy. Our enemies are the leaders of the column in whose ranks we are invited to march.
Coming soon. The Killer’s Henchman: Capitalism and the Covid-19 Disaster. Available for pre-order from Baraka Books.
The question of whether the Russian president ordered the killing of a marginal Russian politician is unclear; at the moment, there’s no evidence he did, only an accusation by the United States. And since Washington has a clear political motive to blacken the reputation of the president of a country it deems a peer competitor, its accusation, unencumbered by evidence, can be readily dismissed. What’s not so readily dismissed, however, is the reality that the US government and major Western news media are using the events surrounding the alleged poisoning to call for the cancellation of a pipeline that would transport Russian natural gas directly to Germany. The cancellation would simultaneously hurt Russia and benefit the United States. Washington proposes to sell liquefied natural gas to Germany, at a higher cost to Germany than the Germans would pay to import natural gas from Russia. The cancellation of the pipeline and its replacement by US LNG shipments, would bind Germany more strongly to the United States, by making the country more dependent on the United States for its energy needs, and less dependent on Russia, while creating a handsome profit-making opportunity for US energy and shipping firms. Putin had a very weak motive to eliminate Navalny. The latter is a marginal opponent, but the United States has a strong motive to create a pretext to call for the cancellation of the pipeline; the cancellation would open the door to US LNG sales to Germany. That motive may have impelled Washington to use the Navalny incident to opportunistically accuse Putin of an attempted assassination and to call for the cancellation of the pipeline in retaliation, or worse, may have involved the United States in faking an assassination attempt, relying on the complicity of Navalny, who has in the past received US government funding.
I can’t know whether Alexei Navalny, a low-profile Russian politician, was the target of a Putin-ordered assassination attempt, but I do know that the account offered by Western governments and news media, alleging that the Russian president or his underlings ordered Navalny eliminated, is far from convincing. Indeed, the narrative is nonsensical, and requires the suspension of critical judgment to be believed. To this point, it is nothing more than an accusation without evidence.
The fact of the matter is that the events surrounding the collapse of Navalny on an airplane and his subsequent hospitalization in Germany are murky. There are many questions about the Navalny affair that remain unanswered, observed The New York Times in a September 22 editorial. “And this will likely remain so. Chief among them is whether President Vladimir Putin ordered or approved the attempted assassination.” 
Basis for the accusation
On what basis does The New York Times raise the question of whether Putin tried to murder Navalny?
To begin, we’re told that it “is now an established fact, confirmed by laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden, that Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union.”  Embedded in this observation is an insinuation, namely, that if Novichok was developed by the Soviet state, then only the agents of its successor state, Russia, could have used it. This was the argument used by the British government to explain a previous alleged Novichok poisoning—that of Sergei Skripal, a Russian intelligence agent who spied for the British, was caught and jailed in Russia, and later released in a prisoner exchange. Since no one else had the means and motive to do this, argued London, the Russian state must have been involved.
It needn’t be pointed out that it doesn’t follow as a logical necessity that because the nerve agent was developed in Russia that it remains exclusively in Russian hands. For “a number of years specialists from Western states and relevant NATO centres have been developing chemical substances related to the ‘Novichok’ group,” contends The Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Union. The Mission claims the United States “has issued more than 150 patents for combat use of the mentioned chemical substances.” 
The claim, of course, may or may not be true; I’m in no position to verify it. But arguing that because Novichok was made by Soviet scientists that only Russian agents could have used it, is akin to attributing the death of anyone who has ever been killed by an AK-47 to Moscow, since the machine gun was developed by a Soviet engineer. It also converges on blaming the Swedish government for every hit and run death involving a Volvo.
Considering that Putin was accused in the West of ordering Skripal’s assassination, it would seem highly unlikely that Novichok would, at this point, be the murder weapon of choice for Russian assassins. “The perpetrators knew that Novichok had been identified in the attack against Mr. Skripal,” observed the Times, “and that its use was a violation of international law.”  This, the editorial board offered as evidence of Putin’s culpability. But far from inculpating the Russian president, the Times’ observation seems, on the contrary, to point to a different explanation: That whoever poisoned Navalny (if indeed he was poisoned) did so with the intention of framing Moscow. Novichok, as a consequence of the Skripal case, and the ‘Made in the USSR’ label stamped on it by Western officials and news media, has turned the nerve agent into a Russian calling card. Only the most incompetent assassin would leave a calling card behind as an identifier. Indeed, if we’re to believe the conspiracy theory favored by Western governments and news media, we must believe that Russian intelligence is so incompetent that it’s (i) incapable of successfully carrying out assassinations (both Navalny and Skripal survived their putative poisonings), and that (ii) it has a self-defeating penchant for littering crime scenes with signs the West can use to point an accusatory finger at Moscow.
What’s more, how credible is a narrative that relies on a nerve agent as a murder weapon? A bullet to the head, a garrote around the neck, a stiletto to the heart, or maybe even a plastic bag over the head, followed by dismemberment by a bone-saw, much favored by Mohamed bin Salman’s henchman, are surely simpler and more effective ways of eliminating a political foe. Death by Novichok has a Hollywood feel about, more James Bond than reality.
Significantly, MBS, the day-to-day ruler of the Saudi feudal tyranny, can order the carving up of a critic, Jamal Khashoggi, and still The New York Times editorial board eschews any reference to the Saudi government as a regime, in contrast to the fondness it has for tarring with the R word any state that refuses to genuflect to US global primacy, Russia included. Neither do the same Western officials and news media demand accountability of MBS, a US client, as they do Putin, the head of a government which does not bow to the international dictatorship of the United States.
That Navalny survived his poisoning, as did Skripal, despite the lethality of the nerve agent—surely low probability events—invites another question: How likely is it that an assassin’s target would survive poisoning by a deadly toxin? Is it not reasonable to ask: Were Navalny and Skripal really poisoned by Novichok? If so, has the nerve agent’s deadliness been accurately described?
Navalny: US hero, Russian nobody
Western officials and news media present Navalny as a major political figure in Russia, but in seven polls conducted from April 2014 to December 2019 by The Levada Center, a Russian polling organization, Navalny’s support never exceeded 2 percent of Russian voters.  According to Fred Weir, the veteran Russia correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, “Navalny, who is part of the extra parliamentary opposition, he’s kind of like, say, the Communist Party would be in the United States. Or something like that. He’s definitely on the margins.”  Which invites the question: Why would the Russian president seek to assassinate a figure who’s definitely on the margins? Doing so would only raise Navalny’s meager profile, and provide ammunition to Western governments and news media to further their war on Russia. “Navalny,” concludes Weir, “is little more than a nuisance, and I can’t believe that Putin would rocket him to the top of the world political agenda through a botched attempt to assassinate him or even an effective one.”  This would be self-defeating. The preferred Western narrative demands that we suspend critical judgment to believe that Russian assassins are the world’s most incompetent, incapable of successfully carrying out their missions, and that Putin is an inept practitioner of the political arts.
Nord Stream 2
As Navalny rockets to the top of the world political agenda, his name is invoked increasingly in connection with Nord Stream 2, a pipeline to carry natural gas from Russia directly to Germany, by-passing such US clients as Ukraine. The pipeline, nearing completion, will join Nord Stream 1 as a second direct Russia-to-Germany route. US president Donald Trump has criticized Berlin, opining that the pipeline should never have been allowed to have been built, and has vowed to impose sanctions to stop it. Germany’s purchase of Russian natural gas, Trump charges, will make the US satellite “captive to Russia” and enrich Moscow.  The reality, of course, is that the pipeline will make Germany less captive to the United States. Furthermore, Nord Stream 2 will allow Germany to reduce its imports of Persian Gulf oil, eroding US oil company profits. Successive US administrations, reported The Wall Street Journal, “have pushed Europe, and Germany in particular, to create the infrastructure required to receive shipments of liquefied natural gas from the U.S.—a potential source of large revenues” for US big business, as an alternative to buying from Russia. But liquefied natural gas “from the U.S. needs to be shipped over the Atlantic and would be considerably more expensive than Russian gas delivered via pipelines. A senior EU official working on energy regulation said Russian gas would be at least 20 percent cheaper.” All the same, Washington wants Europe to “agree to some sort of racket and pay extortionate prices,” as one EU official put it.  In order to maintain Germany’s energy dependency on the United States, Trump has ordered the Germans to stop Nord Stream 2, and a plan is being bruited about in Washington to sanction companies involved in the pipeline’s construction.
As Canadian journalist Eric Reguly explains:
“U.S. President Donald Trump has condemned the project, and several senior Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz, have called for sanctions against the German port that is helping to build the pipeline. The Novichok poisoning in August of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has heightened calls outside and inside Germany to kill Nord Stream.” 
Navalny may very well be an instrument of a racket developed by Washington to coerce Germany into paying extortionate rates to US energy firms. The New York Times editorial board has added its voice to the growing chorus of calls for “the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline,”  and for the silent but implied call for the purchase by Germany of US liquefied natural gas. How convenient that there’s a surplus of US natural gas ready to be transported across the Atlantic if and when the pipeline is cancelled in retaliation for Putin’s alleged assassination of a political opponent.
In contrast, the Times has not called for an end to US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and US senators haven’t demanded that the United States impose sanctions on the Saudi kingdom, even after US intelligence concluded that MBS ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi; indeed, even after the kingdom’s de facto ruler ordered the assassination of not a single man but a whole nation when he initiated an unprovoked war on Yemen. To be sure, the complication here is that the war on Yemen is led from behind by Washington  and arms sales to the Saudis are highly lucrative and a source of Brobdingnagian profits for the US arms industry. By comparison, Russian natural gas sales to Germany deny US investors a profit-making opportunity, while at the same time increasing German dependence on Russia while concurrently reducing it on the United States. What’s more, while there is credible evidence MBS ordered the Khashoggi dismemberment, there is no evidence that the attempted assassination of Navalny was ordered by Putin.
The US-Navalny nexus
It should be pointed out that while Navalny is a marginal figure in Russia, he is a figure to which the US government is willing to give money. As evidenced by the contradictory way he his portrayed by Western news media and his derisory status in Russia, Navalny’s significance is many times greater in the West than it is in his home country. He is Washington’s man.
The National Endowment for Democracy, a discreditable organization created by the US government to overtly undertake civil interventions abroad that the CIA once undertook covertly, has provided Navalny with financial assistance, according to The New York Times. This was reported under the headline, “Russia isn’t the only one meddling in elections. We do it too.”  In an August 2007 article titled “US: overt and covert destabilization,” Le Monde Diplomatique reported that the NED “was created in 1983, ostensibly as a non-profit-making organisation to promote human rights and democracy. In 1991 its first president, the historian Allen Weinstein, confessed to The Washington Post: ‘A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA’.”  In other words, the NED overtly works to destabilize governments Washington doesn’t like, namely, those that in the interests of democracy refuse to submit to rule from Washington. That US meddling in other peoples’ affairs is carried out under the bold guise of promoting democracy and human rights reveals the boundless hypocrisy of the US government. Navalny is an instrument of this apparatus, a tool for Washington to try to destabilize a country it regards as a peer competitor, and to use in the project of upending a pipeline project that favors Russia at US investors’ expense.
Assassins R US
The spectacle of US officials and news media expressing moral repugnance at the assassination of political opponents is, frankly, vomit-inducing. The US government runs the world’s largest assassination program. The Pentagon and CIA, working together, regularly assassinate by means of drone strikes anyone who takes up arms against the United States’ political, military, and economic domination of their homeland—a domination which challenges the concepts of democracy, self-determination, and human rights. One particularly gruesome weapon used by US assassins is named appropriately, the Ninja; it’s a “modified Hellfire missile” which carries “six long blades tucked inside, which deploy seconds before impact to slice up” its prey,  recalling the bone-saw used to slice up Jamal Khashoggi.
The Russian president “had the greatest motive, means and opportunity” to attempt an assassination of Navalny, reasons the New York Times editorial board, pointing to Putin as the perpetrator of a botched assassination, and demanding that he be held to account (by, inter alia, cancelling Nord Stream 2, thus preparing the way for US energy and shipping companies to step into the breach and profit handsomely.) The reasoning is flawed. While the Russian leader may have had the motive, means, and opportunity, others also had the motive, means, and opportunity, and perhaps to a greater degree. It doesn’t make sense for Putin to have targeted an inconsequential opponent unless he is a fool; indeed, such an act would be self-defeating, and no one questions the nous of the Russian president. Moreover, it makes no sense that if Navalny were truly the object of an assassination attempt that Russian operatives would use Novichok, since Western officials and news media had already run a campaign, in connection with Sergei Skripal, to indelibly stamp “Made in Russia” on the toxin. As mentioned above, using Novichok would be akin to leaving a calling card, an act more befitting agents trying to frame Russia than Russian agents trying to evade detection. At the same time, the US government, which decries Russia as a peer competitor and has entered into a low-level war against it, has its own motive. It is forever on the look out for opportunities to demonize the Russian president, in order to justify new actions to weaken Russia, including calling for the cancellation of Nord Stream 2, an event that should it transpire will create an important profit-making opportunity for US businesses. The events surrounding the Navalny incident offer a pretext for actions by the United States against Russia and on behalf of US investors. The possibility that the affair is a politically motivated operation run by Washington in aid of US corporate interests (both directly in securing a market for US LNG exports and indirectly in keeping one economic competitor, Germany, under the US thumb, and another, Russia, deprived of natural gas revenues) cannot be easily dismissed.
1. The Editorial Board, “Vladimir Putin Thinks He Can Get Away With Anything,” The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2020.