The Putin Club

The ideological drift of Canadian communists, from Vladimir Lenin to Vladimir Putin through Subhas Chandra Bose, and the urgency of communists rediscovering Lenin and Luxemburg.

By Stephen Gowans

March 2, 2023

If anyone should be challenging Russian president Vladmir Putin’s nonsense about Ukraine existentially threatening Russia by proposing to join the EU and NATO, it’s communists, who effectively showed in WWI how capitalist powers invented similar casus belli to justify plunging the world into the abyss of war. “When and where,” asked Rosa Luxemburg, “has there been a war since so-called public opinion has played a role in governmental calculations, in which each and every belligerent party did not, with a heavy heart, draw the sword from its sheath for the single and sole purpose of defending its fatherland and its own righteous cause from the shameful attacks of the enemy?”

All the same, it’s nominal communists (who think communism is defying the United States and therefore admire Putin for spearheading the project), along with the Far Right (which admires Putin’s reactionary values), who propagate the Kremlin leader’s nonsense. Rosa Luxemburg would be shocked to discover that the Communist Party of Canada (CPC), one of whose clubs bears her name, has tossed aside her thinking on war and imperialism—and even more shockingly, that of Lenin—to join the Putin Club.

Of course, that’s not how the party sees it. In a statement on the first anniversary of the war, the party conceded—as we’ll see, disingenuously—that Russia’s invasion is not justified. It made this concession only after a) listing a series of actions undertaken by NATO over three decades which the party says provoked Russia’s aggression, and b) describing the war as one in which the United States seeks “to weaken and destabilize the Russian government and foment ‘regime change’ in the Kremlin, and ultimately to carve up Russia into four or five weak and dependent mini-states in its place.”

To be sure, in its wildest dreams, Washington would love to topple Putin and replace him with a president it could control, while fragmenting Russia. But there is a wide gulf between wild dreams and actual plans. The party offers no evidence that these are the war aims of Washington and not just the fantasy of party leaders. Unless the US state has suddenly fallen under the sway of lunatics, it very likely has no such plan. The United States couldn’t defeat the rifle-toting Taliban; opted not to invade military pipsqueak Syria after the going got tough in a crippled Iraq; and shied away from giving tiny North Korea, with its rudimentary nuclear deterrent, a bloody nose. With a record like this, it’s highly improbable that anyone in Washington has serious thoughts about invading a country that possesses the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. While the party doesn’t say so, the implication of its line of argument is this: Moscow is defending itself against a leviathan bent on achieving a highly ambitious plan of destroying the Russian state. If what the party says about NATO’s actions and aims are true, could it sincerely believe that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is unjustified?

Lay aside for the moment that the origins of the Third International, the very same organization from which the CPC sprang, are found in the rejection of, and disgust with, socialists who blamed war in the modern era on one capitalist power provoking another. Lenin and Luxemburg wrote scathingly of socialists who invoked the idea of defensive war to justify their betrayal of socialist commitments to stay away from choosing sides in wars between capitalist states. These wars were never about self-defense and always about securing advantages for one capitalist class at the expense of another—an inevitable feature of a capitalist-driven, friction-producing, rivalry among states for profit-making opportunities.

What, according to the Putin Club, is Russia—or more precisely, the Russian oligarchy—defending itself against? Apart from the party’s evidence-free attribution of the war to the desire of Washington to overthrow Vladimir Putin and carve Russia into a series of weak states, club members cycle through a litany of reasons why we should understand Russia’s aggression against Ukraine as a defensive war, some matching the CPC reasoning, others bearing a close resemblance.

One argument is that Russia was provoked by NATO’s encroaching on Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. This is true enough, but the argument follows with the false claim that Russia is thus justified in responding with war. To say that Russia is justified in maintaining a sphere of influence, is to justify empire and imperialism. That’s hardly the kind of argument one would hope to hear from a communist.

A related argument identifies Ukraine’s desire to exit the Russian sphere and attach itself to the EU and NATO as an economic and military threat to Russia. This is true. But does the threat justify Russia’s aggression against Ukraine? Cuba’s exit from the US empire threatened the United States economically and militarily, but that hardly justified a US invasion. Indeed, the exit of one colony after another from the empires of former colonial powers threatened all these powers economically and militarily, but no self-respecting communist would argue, for example, that the French war in Indochina was justified because Vietnam’s exit from the French empire threatened French profits and undermined the economic base on which its military power resided.

Others stoop to hyperbole to argue improbably that Russia is threatened existentially by NATO. The existence of an anti-Russian alliance is not equivalent to an existential threat. The Kremlin certainly faces threats, but not all threats are existential. Moscow, it should be kept in mind, has the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and a formidable triad of nuclear-tipped ballistic and cruise missiles, strategic bombers, and ballistic missile submarines. A hostile military alliance may loom on its Western frontier, but the likelihood of NATO trying to do to Russia what Russia has tried to do to Ukraine is approximately zero. While NATO may threaten Russia militarily, few military threats are existential, a fortiori in Russia’s case, considering it commands the world’s most formidable nuclear deterrent. One NATO tank on Russian soil is the path to Golgotha, a reality unquestionably understood at the Pentagon. Russia is no more threatened existentially by NATO than Europe is threatened existentially by Russia (the Biden Club’s matching contribution to the flurry of nonsense.) 

China, too, is a nuclear power, though compared to Russia it is far less formidably equipped with weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. It is also boxed in by rivals. By the reasoning of those who exculpate Russia for its aggression against Ukraine by depicting the aggression as a defensive war against a US proxy, the logic for a Chinese invasion of South Korea is even more compelling. The Korean peninsula is home to a complement of 27,000 US troops, stationed at the largest overseas US military facility in the world, backed by a sizeable South Korea military that serves under the de facto command of a US general. If any country is threatened by a US surrogate on its periphery, it is China by South Korea, and yet few people would defend, in advance of the fact, a Chinese invasion of the Korean peninsula. Significantly, few of the people who today defend the Russian invasion of Ukraine did so in advance of the actual invasion. They dismissed US warnings in late 2021 that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent as preposterous; mere US propaganda intended to besmirch Russia’s reputation. They believed then, as those of sound mind believe today, that such an act would be morally repugnant. And yet today, after the fact, their minds are changed. The mental journey from “Russia would never conduct itself in such a morally objectionable way” to “Russia has conducted itself in this way and its conduct is morally defensible” proceeds along the following path:

  • Defying the United States is morally excellent conduct.
  • Any country that defies the United States is morally excellent.
  • Russia defies the United States therefore it is morally excellent.
  • Prior to February 24, 2022: A morally excellent country wouldn’t invade its neighbor, therefore US warnings that Russia is about to invade Ukraine are preposterous, and are aimed at calling into question Russia’s moral excellence.
  • From February 24, 2022 forward: The invasion of Ukraine was undertaken by a morally excellent state. Therefore, the invasion is morally defensible.

Those who have travelled along this path are guided by no principle, but one: Defend whoever defies the United States. In this they reveal themselves to be unprincipled, grubby, propagandists.

This is surely not the path of communists. But it is a path that had been trod by non-communists, and rather disreputable ones at that. Take, for example, Subhas Chandra Bose. A charismatic leader of the Indian anti-colonial movement, and at one point leader of the Indian National Congress, Bose allied with Hitler initially, and Imperial Japan subsequently, in a failed effort to defeat British imperialism in India. While the project of evicting the British from India to remove an impediment to Indian independence was admirable, allying with empires that rivaled that of Britain to achieve this goal was not only morally unconscionable, but shockingly naive. Bose thought he could use imperialists to achieve an anti-colonialist aim, and imperialists agreed to use the anti-colonialist Bose to achieve their imperialist ends. By allying with Hitler and Tojo, Bose elevated the goal of ending India’s oppression above the goals of liberating from the yoke of his patrons’ imperialism Jews, Slavs, Koreans, Chinese, Indonesians, Indochinese, and Filipinos.

Germany and Japan sought to destabilize Britain’s colonial holdings in order to weaken Britain and defeat the empire in war. The outcome, had Britain lost the war, would have been the division of British colonial assets between Germany and Japan, not India’s independence. Bose’s naivete in believing that imperialist patrons would help him deliver India from the yoke of imperialism would have been touching in a child but was revolting in a man who had not been officially certified as feeble-minded. Kim Il Sung mocked nationalist leaders, like Bose, who joined forces with imperialist powers. He said they were like the man who appeals to the robber outside his house for help in evicting the robber already in his house.

Bose’s error was to fail to see that the oppression of India could be brought to an end with less difficulty and greater moral clarity as part of a project to end all oppression. Communists were committed to the project of freeing humanity from all oppressions, not just some. Bose’s approach was an affront to the communists’ universalism. He set the liberation of India above all other struggles against oppression, and indeed, even colluded in his alliance with Germany and Japan in the oppression of other nations. Brecht, the Marxist, wrote: “Everything or nothing. All of us or none.” Bose’s dictum, in contrast, was, liberate India from oppression, and damn the rest. Bose’s echo is heard in the Putin Club’s siding with Russian imperialism against that of the United States. The communist alternative is to oppose imperialism, tout court.

The Indian nationalist’s allying with the Far Right in the pursuit of a very restricted Leftist goal contains within it a cautionary lesson for advocates who today urge the Left to join with the Far Right in an alliance against NATO arming Ukraine.

The goals of the Left and Far Right in connection with war are fundamentally different.

The Marxist Left has been guided historically by five principles.

  • War is the result of capitalism.
  • The are no defensive wars between major capitalist states in the modern era.
  • To end war, capitalism must be transcended.
  • Working people have no country.
  • The working class does not take sides in wars between capitalist powers.

In contrast, the Far Right:

  • Sees no causal connection between capitalism and war.
  • Defends the idea of war guilt.
  • Supports the bourgeois order.
  • Promotes identities related to country, nation, people, religion, or civilization.
  • Takes sides in wars between capitalist states.

Hence, on questions of war, the Marxist Left and the Far Right are on different pages. So how could anyone think there is sufficient common ground between these two groups to even begin to talk of an alliance?  The answer is that proponents of the alliance define the Left, not as the Left of Lenin and Luxemburg, but as the Left of those who think communism is defying the United States and defending anyone who spearheads the project—in other words, the Left of the Putin Club and not the Left of Lenin and Luxemburg. The Putin Club and Far Right do indeed agree on a few points and hence, are possible allies. They agree that: there is no connection between the war and capitalism; Russia’s war is defensive; NATO should cease all support to Ukraine. As we’ll see, four of five of the abovementioned Far Right characteristics are present in the CPC, which isn’t to say the party is Far Right (it isn’t) but that, unlike the traditional Marxist Left, it intersects in matters of war with the Far Right. Significantly, none of the five guiding principles of the Marxist Left are present in the party in connection with its stance on the war in Ukraine.

The Putin Club is not committed wholly to apologizing for Russia’s aggression by invoking the concept of defensive war. Club members sometimes deploy another argument: Russia’s war in Ukraine is a humanitarian intervention.  According to this view, Moscow has launched a special military operation, not a war, to defend Russian-speakers in the Donbas, who, according to Mr. Putin and his votaries, are the objects of a campaign of Nazi-inspired genocide. The basis for the genocide claim is that Russian-speakers have been dying in the civil war between the secessionist Donbas republics and Kyiv government, the latter inspired by Ukrainian nationalism and nostalgia for Stepan Bandera. Where Bose collaborated with the Nazis against British imperialism, Bandera collaborated with the Nazis against what he saw as Russian imperialism. To the Putin Club, Bose is fine because he joined forces with the Nazis against British imperialism, which they dislike, but Bandera is reviled because he collaborated with the Nazis against Russia, which the Putin Club admires.

The Kremlin presents the civil war deaths of Russian-speakers as genocide by claiming Kyiv is motivated to liquidate Ukraine’s Russophone population. The problem is that (a) there’s no evidence of this and (b) a plausible alternative explanation is that the deaths happened in the course of a civil war, not because the Ukraine government seeks the annihilation of people who speak Russian as their first language. The fact that Moscow has not invoked the Genocide Convention, which it would do if it truly believed its allegation had any substance, is significant.

The Putin Club’s rallies against the war are aimed at NATO. Stop NATO! No to NATO. End the War. Nowhere does the club demand that Russia reverse its aggression or withdraw from Ukraine. This comports with the club’s position that NATO provoked Russia and that Russia is engaged in a defensive war. To end the war, NATO’s arming of Ukraine most stop, that is, NATO must stop impeding Russia’s invasion. In the hands of the Putin Club the demand “Stop the War” becomes the tacit “Stop Trying to Stop Russia.” This fits with the Club’s view that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a defensive response to a NATO plan to annihilate the Russian state and disarticulate it into a handful of easily controlled statelets answerable to Washington.

The Club’s position on the origin of the war represents a substantial departure from the thinking of Lenin and Luxemburg. The Marxist giants held that wars between capitalist powers originate, as Luxemburg put it, in roots which “reach deep down into the Plutonic deeps of economic creation.” Less poetically, Lenin urged his followers to consider “the economic essence of imperialism” as the key to understanding modern war and modern politics. The Putin Club will have none of this. “Bosh!” they say. “Russia is defending itself from an existential threat. Economics (i.e., capitalism) has nothing to do with it.” A fine analysis for communists!

Pressed on why, if they’re really against the war, they don’t demand Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine, the Putin Club falls back on sophisms. “We’re dealing with our own imperialism first,” its members retort. One can only influence one’s own government, they explain. Non-Russians can demand Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine, but because non-Russians exercise no influence over the Russian government (on par, it might be added, with most Russian citizens), the demand would be pointless. One can only influence one’s own government. Therefore, it’s only of one’s own government that demands should be made.

The first problem with this argument is that it’s made by people who have long histories of picketing the embassies of governments that are not their own. Canadian communists have held countless demonstrations outside the embassies and consulates of the United States and Israel, to name just two, demanding changes to the policies of these foreign governments. But now, when asked why they haven’t demanded Russia reverse its aggression on Ukraine, they answer that it is pointless to make demands of foreign governments—that Canadians must deal with their own imperialism first. That the argument is hypocritical is evidenced by the fact that one chapter of the Putin Club held its last “antiwar” rally outside the US embassy. It didn’t darken the doorstep of the Russian embassy. Unless the Canadian members of the Putin Club have a special influence over the US government about which we know nothing, their argument is constructed on a foundation of dishonesty. It is also the case that those who make this argument rhapsodize about the coordinated international protests that were organized against Apartheid South Africa and the war-obsessed George W. Bush administration. None of these people, so concerned about focusing only on the government they can influence and dealing with their own imperialism first, sat out these demonstrations. Their craven mendacity is revolting.

Imperialism is the relationship between countries competing for opportunities to accumulate capital on the world market. Any discussion of imperialism necessarily involves a discussion of two or more countries. One cannot talk of imperialism and talk of one country alone. When Hilferding, Kautsky, and Luxemburg wrote about war and imperialism, they didn’t limit their remarks to Germany, on the grounds that the German government was the only one over which they had influence and that discussion of the conduct of other governments was pointless. When Bukharin, Trotsky, and Lenin wrote on imperialism and war, they, like their German comrades, covered the world. They didn’t restrict their attention to Russia. They did this because they saw themselves as part of an international movement whose scope was all humanity. They rejected the idea that they were dues-paying members of a parochial party whose horizons stopped at national borders. “Working men have no country,” said Marx.

An antiwar campaign that says No to NATO but not No to Russian Aggression is like campaigning to ban boxing as a sport, by pressing Canadian boxers to hang up their gloves, and ignoring boxers from other countries. It entirely misses the point that the problem isn’t Canadian boxers—it’s boxing itself. What’s more, were the campaign successful and all Canadian boxers persuaded to stop boxing, the sport would continue anyway, just not with Canadian boxers. A campaign to pressure all boxers, regardless of nationality, to quit the sport is better, but still doesn’t go far enough. If boxing is to end as a sport, the conditions that support it must be overcome.

Lenin argued that a campaign to pressure all countries to lay down their arms wouldn’t end war, because it would fail to address what makes countries go to war in the first place. In his view, the peace movement was utopian; it promoted the illusion that peace could be achieved without eliminating the cause of war in the modern era—capitalism. The CPC’s stance on the Ukraine war doesn’t even rise to the standards of Lenin’s utopian propaganda of peace. That’s because it targets only one side of the war—like asking Canadian boxers to quit, while turning a blind eye to boxers from other countries. If peace campaigns are ranked from worst (presses only one side to lay down its arms) to better (presses both sides to lay down their arms) to best (seeks to overcome the conditions that compel countries to take up arms in the first place), the CPC campaign ranks as worst. Lenin would be dismayed.

The Putin Club relies on another sophism: We must remain silent on Russia’s aggression, or at least minimize what we say about it, lest we add to the cataract of invective against the country, thereby fueling belligerence against Russia at home and strengthening the hand of jingoists who wish to escalate the war. But if Russia has committed an egregious aggression, known to all, not least because Russia’s war-making is covered exhaustively in the media, then pretending it hasn’t happened, or trying to exculpate Moscow by blaming its aggression on NATO, is not only dishonest, it’s a losing strategy. Those who deny an obvious crime, or seek to blame it on others, are, for very good reasons, ignored, and should be. Far better and honest to show that two states, the US and Russia, are at dagger’s drawn, that their mutual hostility arises not from lofty motives but is rooted in economic rivalry, and that the confrontation of these states over economic advantage threatens the entire world.

Thus, there is an important sense in which making a demand of the Russian government from outside Russia is not pointless: when doing so establishes one’s credibility as a champion of the proletariat against all bourgeois governments involved in a war, and when not doing so arouses suspicions (true in this case) that one is not a champion of the international proletariat but an apologist, defender, and votary of one side of a bourgeois-led conflict which has arisen as a necessary consequence of the capitalist-driven, friction-producing, rivalry of states for profit-making opportunities.

The concept of imperialism was central to the writing of Bukharin, Lenin, and Luxemburg, but its meaning has eluded members of the Putin Club, some of whom believe Russia exists outside the circle of imperialist powers; that the country is a target and victim of imperialism, not a participant in it. In the classical view of Marxist imperialism, Russia is as much a part of an imperialist world order as is the United States, the European Union, and China. This is all too much for those whose politics is defined by the necessity of finding a state of presumed moral excellence to defend. And so, in self-defense, they dismiss the classical Marxist view as out of date, because it defines Russia as part of an imperialist system and thus oppugns the moral excellence they so desperately want to believe Russia embodies. Their ostensible reason for rejecting the classical Marxist view is that it was developed more than a century ago and therefore is out of date. Confining the counter-argument to the overt reason offered for rejecting the theory: If we’re to judge the utility of a theory based on how long ago it was formulated, then Marxism is also out of date—the Communist Manifesto was published 175 years ago. So too is the second law of thermodynamics and Darwin’s theory out of date by this reasoning.

Of course, the utility of a theory should not be judged by its age but whether it rests on sound principles and accounts for the facts.

At the core of the classical Marxist theory of war and imperialism are two propositions:

  • Capitalism incessantly drives states to seek expanded profit-making opportunities beyond their borders.
  • In a world divided among states, where each state competes against every other for profit-making opportunities in the world market, war is inevitable.

This view was expressed in the resolution of the 1907 Stuttgart Congress of the Second International, which Lenin and Luxemburg took a hand in writing. “Wars between capitalist states are as a rule the consequence of their competition in the world market, for every state is eager to preserve its markets but also to conquer new ones.”

The theory follows naturally from Marx’s and Engel’s observation in the Communist Manifesto about the expansionary nature of capitalism. “It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”  Significantly, all of capitalism’s nestling, settling, and connecting, has been orchestrated by states, each vying with the other.

The classical view was hardly new or unique to Lenin and Luxemburg. It was expressed at the Second International’s London Congress as early as 1896. “Under capitalism the chief causes of war are not religious or national differences but economic antagonisms.” In 1910, the Copenhagen Conference reiterated this view: “Modern wars are the result of capitalism, and particularly of rivalries of the capitalist classes of the different countries over the world market.”

This, dear members of the Putin Club, is the classical Marxist theory of war and imperialism. As to the question of whether it is out of date, we must ask:

  • Has capitalism’s expansionary character changed since Marx and Engels commented on it 175 years ago?
  • Is the world no longer divided among capitalist states?
  • Is competition no longer a fundamental characteristic of the capitalist world?
  • Are states no longer under the sway of oligarchs scouring the world for profit-making opportunities?

All of these questions must be answered in the negative. However, the CPC disagrees.  In its statement on the first anniversary of the war, the party declared the classical Marxist theory of war and imperialism to be “not a completely accurate or particularly helpful assessment, especially at this critical moment.”

The Second International in its vast majority was uncomfortable with what the classical Marxist theory demanded of socialists at the “critical moment” of war. So too is the CPC today. Above all, socialists, according to the Stuttgart Congress, were not to be misled by “national prejudices” that are “systematically cultivated in the interest of the ruling classes, in order to divert the mass of the proletariat from their class duties and international solidarity.” Ignoring this, socialists abandoned the radical Marxist apercu that the cause of war is the system itself and instead looked for a guilty party (and not a guilty system) to blame. War would not be seen as caused by a friction-producing rivalry among states driven by capitalist expansionary imperatives; instead, it was to be understood through a Manichean lens of conflict between evil states, starting aggressive wars, and good states, trying to defend themselves. With the Putin Club’s conviction that a morally excellent state, Russia, is defending itself from the provocations of an aggressive alliance, NATO, it’s clear on what side it has come down; not the side of Marxism and the international proletariat, but the side of Putin and the Russian bourgeoisie. Lenin and Luxemburg insisted on adding the following to the Stuttgart resolution: Socialists will “utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war in order to rouse the masses of the people and thereby hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.” The CPC has followed a different plan. It is trying to rouse the masses of the people to pressure NATO to get out of the way of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Putin Club’s ideology arises out of the Marxism that developed in connection with solving problems related to the defense of the Soviet Union. The peace movement that Lenin had scorned for fostering the illusion that peace was possible in a capitalist milieu became useful as a project to be assigned by Moscow to Communist parties in the US orbit. To occupy the time of nominally revolutionary parties operating in what Moscow saw as a non-revolutionary time and place, Communist parties in the capitalist world would be given the task of mobilizing support for peaceful coexistence between the capitalist and Communist worlds. Their role was not to “to rouse the masses of the people and thereby hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule,” using “the economic and political crisis created by” great power rivalry, as Lenin and Luxemburg had done. The times had changed. Rivalry among capitalist states for economic advantage had been superseded by rivalry between a US-led capitalist world and Soviet-led socialist world. The job of the Communist parties in this new world was to promote peaceful co-existence, so the Soviet Union could recover from its devastation in WWII and develop economically, free from the necessity of diverting critical resources to military competition with the capitalist world. They were to forget about revolution, pursue reforms within capitalism, and work, through the peace movement, to stay the aggressive hand of the United States. For many Communist parties, their main role became one of working on behalf of a foreign state to oppose the aggressions of their own state. For some, like the CPC, the mission carries on, even though the conditions that inspired it long ago quit the scene.

Times have changed. The Soviet Union has dissolved. The Russian state is vehemently anti-communist. China, whose “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is a euphemism for “capitalism as a tool to develop the means of production,” is integrated into the US economy as the United States’ main manufacturing center, but, at the same time, competes vigorously with its own home-grown capitalist enterprises against US, EU, and Russian businesses, and pursues the construction of its own informal empire by means of the Belt and Road Initiative. The bipolar rivalry of capitalism vs. communism has been replaced by a return to great power competition. Nowadays, the world looks much more like the one Lenin and Luxemburg inhabited than the one that shaped the politics and thinking of the CPC leadership.

When the Soviet Union dissolved, the Marxism that developed in connection with questions related to how to build and defend a socialist state in a collapsed empire devastated by war became an anachronism. When China took the capitalist path, and Soviet socialism was dismantled, the world turned more strongly toward the status quo ante. Rivalry between the capitalist and communist worlds metamorphosed into a competition among capitalist states in a world in which capitalism was triumphant. The new world was one Lenin and Luxemburg would recognize. All the same, communists who cut their political teeth during the Cold War, carried on as if nothing had changed, failing to grasp that the Marxism of Lenin and Luxemburg had become relevant again, while the problems addressed by the Marxism of Stalin and Khruschev—how to build and defend a socialist state in the old Russian Empire, and what role communists in the capitalist world were to play—had dissolved.

Today the CPC remains what it was during the Cold War. It promotes reforms for the working class within capitalism and works to restrain the aggression of Canada and its US patron against foreign states. It is indistinguishable in most significant ways from the social democratic NDP, expect that a) it proposes more robust reforms for the working class, many of which are utopian within a capitalist context, and b) opposes Canadian militarism, where the NDP generally supports it. It is a party of social reform and anti-militarism which reflexively springs to the defense of any state that defies the United States for the sole reason that it defies the United States. Compare the party against the four characteristics of the Far Right mentioned earlier in connection with the question of war:

  • Sees no causal connection between capitalism and war.
  • Defends the idea of war guilt.
  • Supports the bourgeois order (by pursuing reforms within the capitalist system).
  • Takes sides in wars between capitalist states.

This is not a party of which Lenin or Luxemburg would approve or recognize as communist.

It behooves communists to rediscover Lenin and Luxemburg, the giants of Marxism. Their insights have more relevance to the world we inhabit than the anachronistic Weltanschauung and politics of the CPC and the Putin Club.

Speeches About A Nice Little Peace

By Stephen Gowans

February 16, 2023

The United States provoked Russia into a war by crossing Moscow’s redline when it encroached on Russia’s sphere of influence in Ukraine.

That’s the judgement of Graham E. Fuller, a former CIA operations officer and vice-chair of the US National Intelligence Council, now an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

“Washington denies the validity of any Russian ‘sphere of influence’ in Ukraine while the US itself still maintains its own strong sphere of influence throughout Latin America,” writes Fuller in a recent blog post. “And can you imagine a Chinese military base in Mexico to bolster Mexican sovereignty?”

Fuller’s analysis is sound. Powerful states preside over spheres of influence and don’t like other states encroaching on what they regard as their turf. Washington’s failure to respect Russia’s sphere of influence in Ukraine touched off a war.

But problems arise when Fuller’s “is” statements become others’ “ought” statements.

The fact that large powers have spheres of influence doesn’t mean that spheres of influence are acceptable. It’s not alright for Russia to dominate its periphery because the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere (and much more). On the contrary, it’s unacceptable for either country to maintain spheres of influence.

Others advance a related argument: The key to world peace is mutual respect among great powers for their respective informal empires. People who favor a multipolar world—one divided among a few large countries—are guided by this thinking.  But a world divided into multiple spheres of influence is the very essence of imperialism, at least as understood by J.A. Hobson, Rudolph Hilferding, Nicolai Bukharin, V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg—people who fought against the imperialism that preceded, and led to, World War I, and inspired the anti-imperialist movement that followed.  

To these thinkers, war was inevitable because the world was multipolar and the expansionary nature of capitalism meant that multiple powers would be forever jostling for profit-making opportunities in a world completely divided into spheres of influence. The competition would inevitably lead to war.

Unlike today’s self-styled anti-imperialists, the aforementioned thinkers tried to understand the roots of imperialism, in order to eradicate it. If the point of understanding the world is to change it, as Marx said, today’s ‘anti-imperialists’ seek to change the world without first understanding it.  

Revolutionary socialist thinkers believed that the solution to the problem of imperialism, and the wars that attend it, reposed not in peace programs, pacifism, and disarmament campaigns—dismissed contemptuously by Lenin as “simply running away from unpleasant reality, not fighting it.” Instead, it meant changing what made countries go to war.

The idea that great powers are capable of respecting other powers’ spheres of interest is naïve. Large states are under the sway of powerful capitalists, whose survival depends on their ability to access opportunities to exploit labor, land, markets, and natural resources in competition with capitalists represented by other states. Respecting other states’ spheres of influence means turning your back on profit-making opportunities. What capitalist state is going to do that if it has the power to challenge a rival?

Spheres of influence exist because capitalism—an expansionary system—inevitably breaches national borders. And just as much as capitalism compels great powers to breach their own borders to establish spheres of influence, so too does it drive them to breach their own spheres of influence to encroach upon those of rival powers.

One might as well ask rival corporations to respect the others’ market shares as exhort large powers to respect the others’ informal empires.

In the war in Ukraine, there are two questions critical to the origins of the conflict.

  • Will Ukraine be integrated into the Russian economy or the European economy? Russia’s war on Ukraine is intended to keep as much of Ukraine as possible in the Russian sphere and out of the European (and by extension, US) sphere.
  • Will Europe’s economic ties to Russia be weakened (especially in oil and gas) in order to more fully integrate a Europe that occasionally flirts with the idea of autonomy into the US economy? So far, the answer is yes.

Underlying both questions is a single, deeper, question. Whose investors, Russia’s or the United States’, will profit most from the opportunities Ukraine, and, more broadly, the continent as a whole, offer for capital accumulation? In the capitalist struggle for profits, which countries’ investors will come out ahead?

Against this backdrop, Lenin’s contempt for the pious expressions of benevolence that form the stock in trade of what he called “the propaganda of peace” becomes understandable. Against the profits of the few, the voices of the many for peace count for nothing in the halls of power. Roger Waters’ plea to the UN Security Council for peace, sponsored by Russia, fosters the illusion that the world can be changed by “speaking truth to power.” But as Noam Chomsky once remarked, power already knows the truth. Moreover, “power” doesn’t care what you, or I, or Rogers Waters think.

Waters has taken the side of Russia, which is why the Russian embassy to the UN asked him to address the council. The musician has come to his position on the grounds that (1) Biden is a bigger gangster than Putin and (2) the United States provoked Russia. Both of these statements are true, but neither justify Russia’s aggression, neither provide tenable grounds to side with Russia, and siding with Russia isn’t going to deliver the world from the horrors of war.

Waters is like a person who deplores the violence of boxing, and, after attending a boxing match, blames the ensuing violence on the boxer who threw the first punch. The musician remains to be instructed in the reality that boxing is a violent sport, and that if you want to end the violence of boxing, you have to end boxing, not plead with the boxers to be nicer fellows.

Committed to the idea that capitalism makes war inevitable in a world parceled out among great powers into spheres of influence, Lenin argued that the key to ending war, lay, not in siding with the weaker power (the lesser gangster in Waters’ terms), but in replacing the capitalism that entangles states in a rivalry for economic advantage—that is, in striking at the root of the problem. Radical, from Latin radix, radic- ‘root’, aptly describes Lenin’s approach. Sadly, radicalism has few apostles nowadays.

Were Lenin here today to witness Waters’ Russian-sponsored plea for peace to the UN Security Council, he might summon words little different from those he uttered in 1916. “The German, the English, and the Russian governments only stand to gain from speeches in the socialist camp about a nice little peace, because …  they instil belief in the possibility of such a peace under the present governments.”

Peace, Lenin said on another occasion, “must be sought for and fought for, not in … a reactionary utopia of a non-imperialist capitalism, not in a league of equal nations under capitalism,” both of which he saw as illusions, but in a radical solution to the problem.

The horrors of war will not be eliminated by speeches about a nice little peace, nor by raging against one war machine and not another, and nor by failing to recognize that the war machine is capitalism (and not only the US expression of it.)

Neither will war and all its terrors be ended by practice untethered from a coherent theory of war.

There Are No Lesser Evils in Imperialism

December 19, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

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 Brief Critique of Anti-War Activism

December 7, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Re-reading Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War, I was struck by a point he makes about the Second International holding two contradictory positions on war: (1) Capitalism = war, therefore ending war = abolishing capitalism; and (2) War can be prevented within the context of capitalist society by a vigorous peace movement.

I reviewed the Second International declarations on war and militarism, and, indeed, these two contradictory positions appear in each and every one of them (see table below). They all say, first, that war can be ended only by abolishing capitalism, and then go on to say, war can be ended or prevented by actions x, y, and z, neither of which involve abolishing capitalism. 

Take the 1910 Copenhagen Conference. The conference’s declaration on war and militarism notes that “Modern wars are the result of capitalism, and particularly of rivalries of the capitalist classes of the different countries over the world market.” It adds that “Wars will cease completely only with the disappearance of the capitalist mode of production.” But later on, the declaration contradicts itself when it insists that wars can be prevented if, in a crisis potentially leading to war “immediate steps” are taken “to bring about an agreement among labor parties of the countries affected for united action to prevent the threatened war.”

Quite by accident, I came across an analysis on the Ukraine war by Socialist Action Canada. Echoing Second International resolutions of over 100 years ago, it too presented the same two contradictory positions. Here’s how the analysis begins: “The unfolding tragedy can be halted by mass protest actions in every country, along with the construction of a broad, democratic anti-war movement.” It ends with a contradictory message: The only way to end war is “to eradicate the capitalist profit system by means of workers’ socialist revolution.”

So, which is it? Wars won’t end until capitalism ends? Or, wars won’t end until a broad, democratic anti-war movement organizes mass protests?  

What I found more striking about the analysis was this: Except for a brief reference to “workers and the poor, women and children” (in other words just about everyone) comprising “the first and foremost victims of war”, the analysis makes not one reference to the specifics of how the war has harmed the bulk of humanity. To be fair, the analysis was written in the first weeks of the war, before the impact could be fully felt and known. But today, almost a year into the war, much of the anti-war writing I’ve seen is silent on the following effects of the war.

  • Inflation and concomitant reduction in standards of living;
  • Central banks inching economies toward recession to control inflation;
  • Deeper poverty and the prospect of a debt crisis in low-income countries;
  • The threat of black-outs and power cut-backs in Europe.

Heretofore, 21st century wars have had negligible if any impact on the mass of people, except in the countries affected, with the result that arousing any serious mass opposition has been all but impossible. But the war in Ukraine is one which touches almost everyone in unpleasant ways, and yet the doyens of the “peace movement” have nothing to say about this. Much anti-war writing dwells on the question of how much of the blame for the war lies with Russia and how much with the United States, and absolutely nothing on how this war is affecting nearly everyone and how this offers a greater opportunity than other wars of this century for successful agitation against war and for a Marxist understanding of it.

Into this vacuum has stepped the IMF and World Bank—organizations that call for an end to the war to save humanity from the conflict’s regrettable effects on the material conditions of most people. These organizations have become the unlikely de facto leaders of an anti-war movement. They have focused attention on a matter of the greatest relevance to the greatest number, namely, that on top of killing people in Ukraine, the war is plunging hundreds of millions in low-income countries deeper into poverty, while degrading the living standards of most everyone else. The self-appointed “peace movement”, in contrast, is too busy conducting agitprop for Moscow on social media (or pretending it’s not when it really is) to take any notice that the war has concretely produced an almost universal harm.  

It may be that the pro-Putin wing of the peace movement doesn’t want to draw too much attention to the suffering caused by the war, because most people correctly blame the war on Russia. Russia, after all, is the incontestable proximate cause. Being very vigorous opponents of war, our peace activists don’t want to sully the already sullied reputation of their favorite belligerent.  

In turns out that the love of humanity of this contemptible lot has a very narrow compass; it contains but one class of people–the leaders of US-adversary states. They love the anti-communist, misogynist, homophobic Putin, or whoever he tells them to love, but can’t find the energy to love their neighbors, the people they work with, and the class to which they belong. Their lodestar formula is: Whatever Washington dislikes is good. In another time, these same people would have rushed to defend Hitler, sung paeans to Tojo, and composed panegyrics to Mussolini, for one reason and one reason alone: Washington was against them. That is the sum and substance of their politics: opposition to Washington and solidarity with whoever shares their antipathy, including Chinese billionaires and telecom company executives, Russian oligarchs, and misogynist Iranian theocrats. Their equally repugnant counterparts on the other side, use the repugnance of some of Washington’s adversaries to justify support for Washington—betise of an equally objectionable character.

Meanwhile, you’ll find very little in their activism that tries to show—as “radicals” are supposed to do—what lies at the root of war. How can war be eliminated, or at least markedly suppressed, unless its causes are understood? Of course, some acknowledge the nexus between capitalism and war, and the necessity of abolishing the former to end the latter—as the Socialist Action Canada author did—but even they quickly contradict themselves by claiming wars can be ended short of ending capitalism, by galvanizing public opinion, pressuring governments, and engaging in feckless exhibitionist acts, like taking to the stage to interrupt the speeches of politicians, shouting a demand for the war to end, soon after shuffled away by security as the audience welcomes the ejection of a character they see as a crackpot. Their exhibitionist nonsense creates one impression: Not, the war must end, but, it’s the crackpots who are against it.

But they are the exception. The majority of the “peace movement’s” leaders don’t even go so far as to explore what Lenin called the economic essence or modern politics and war. Instead, they content themselves with generating an endless stream of revolting propaganda on behalf of whichever bourgeois state they’ve decided to docilely follow, like devoted dogs padding obediently after their masters.

Marxist and Liberal Views of War in the Resolutions of the Second international

 Marxist ViewLiberal View
Brussels Congress, 1891“Only the creation of a socialist order, putting an end to the exploitation of man by man, will put an end to militarism and assure permanent peace.”The Congress…calls on all workers to protest, by means of unceasing agitation, against all desires for war.
Zurich Congress, 1893“With the disappearance of class domination, war will likewise disappear. The fall of capitalism means universal peace.”Socialists “must protest unceasingly against standing armies and demand disarmament. The whole of the socialist party must lend its support to all associations whose object is universal peace.”
London Congress, 1896“Under capitalism the chief causes of war are not religious or national differences but economic antagonisms, into which the exploiting classes of the various countries are driven by the system of production for profit. Just as this system sacrifices unceasingly the life and health of the working class on the battlefield of labor, so it has no scruple in shedding their blood in search of profit by the opening up of new markets. The working class of all countries should rise up against military oppression on the same ground that they revolt against all other forms of exploitation under which they are victimized by the possessing class. To attain this object, they must acquire political power, so as to abolish the system of capitalist production.”The working class demands: 1) The simultaneous abolition of standing armies and the establishment of a national citizen force. 2) The establishment of an international tribunal of arbitration whose decision shall be final. 3) The final decision on the question of war or peace to be vested directly in the people in cases where the governments refuse to accept the decision of the tribunal arbitration.
Stuttgart Conference, 1907“Wars between capitalist states are as a rule the consequence of their competition in the world market, for every state is eager not only to preserve its markets but also to conquer new ones, principally by the subjugation of foreign nations and the confiscation of their lands. … Wars are … essential to capitalism; they will not cease until the capitalist system has been done away with…”“The Congress considers that the democratic organization of national defense, by replacing the standing army with the armed people, will prove an effective means for making aggressive wars impossible … ” The resolution goes on to refer “the growing power of the proletariat” through “its energetic intervention” to “maintain peace.”
Copenhagen Conference, 1910“Modern wars are the result of capitalism, and particularly of rivalries of the capitalist classes of the different countries over the world market…Wars will cease completely only with the disappearance of the capitalist mode of production.The Congress suggests that wars can be prevented by socialists undertaking “a vigorous propaganda of enlightenment among all workers…as to the causes of wars, in order to educate them in the spirit of international brotherhood.”   Additionally, it proposes “international arbitration be made compulsory in all international disputes”; “complete disarmament”; “the abolition of secret diplomacy”: and the “guarantee of self-determination of all nations.”   If further urges that, “in the event of war danger” that “immediate steps” be taken “to bring about an agreement among labor parties of the countries affected for united action to prevent the threatened war.”

Would a Plan for a Just Peace in Ukraine Make Any Difference?

December 5, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Would a peace plan for Ukraine that addresses each parties’ ostensible concerns about security and ethnic rights create a lasting peace?

In my view, it would not.

The parties’ substantive concerns are economic. Concerns about security and ethnic rights, while real, conceal more profound issues.

A plan that addresses the surface concerns but not the substantive ones is bound to fail.

What might the contours of a peace plan for Ukraine look like?

  • Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.
  • Ukraine
    • Pledges neutrality, foreswearing membership in any military bloc.
    • Agrees to an irrevocable long-term lease of Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol.
    • Guarantees languages rights for Russophones and declares Ukraine to be a country for all its citizens, not a national Ukrainian state, and not one in which ethnic Ukrainians have superior rights. Instead, all citizens are guaranteed equal rights regardless of their language, religion, or ethnicity.

This proposal meets Russia’s stated concerns about security and the rights of Russian-speakers in Ukraine. At the same time, it restores all Ukraine’s territory.

But the plan fails to address key areas of tension.

First, it says nothing about whether the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines, built to circumvent Ukraine as a transitway for Russian natural gas, will be re-engaged to fulfill their originally intended role.  If so, Ukraine will be denied a major source of revenue in transit fees.  After the United States, Ukraine had been the major opponent of the pipelines. Kyiv would be expected to oppose any move to open the pipelines. So too would Washington.

It is unlikely that Moscow would agree to a plan that doesn’t see Russia’s return to Europe as a hydrocarbons vendor. Washington, conversely, is likely to oppose Russia’s re-engagement with Europe as an energy provider, considering that Europe’s renunciation of Russian gas has provided Washington with a much-needed market for US LNG.  The United States is now the world’s top LNG exporter.

Second, the plan fails to address perhaps the key issue underlying tensions since 2014: Whether Ukraine’s economy will be oriented toward the West or Russia.

Bearing an antipathy to Russia, a country they see as an historical oppressor, nationalist ethnic Ukrainians have pressured Kiev to orient their country toward the West, not only militarily, but economically. In contrast, Russophone Ukrainians have inclined more strongly to economic integration with Russia. For these reasons, Washington and Brussels have supported nationalist ethnic Ukrainians, and Moscow has backed Russophone Ukrainians. Both ethnic groups are used as tools by their superpower patrons to advance great power goals in Ukraine.

Thus, the cultural struggle between ethnic Ukrainians and Russophone Ukrainians is not only a struggle over nationalism and linguistic rights, but also a struggle over economics, with both the West and Russia intervening in Ukraine’s affairs for self-serving economic ends. A plan that addresses the surface linguistic and cultural concerns, but fails to tackle the key issue of Ukraine’s integration into one or the other economic bloc, will not produce a durable peace.

Cut-throat competition for markets, raw materials, pipeline routes, investment opportunities, and strategic territory is an enduring feature of capitalism. It is unlikely that a workable plan for peace can be found in a world in which capitalist competition is a constant. 

To sum up, a peace plan that addresses the ostensible reasons for war will make little difference. Ostensible reasons mask deeper motives—motives whose taproot is capitalist competition.

To end the fighting, one of two things must happen:

  • Russia, the United States, the European Union, and Ukraine pledge not to conduct themselves as capitalist powers. This isn’t going to happen.
  • The competition for Ukraine weakens one or both of the sides until one or both decides the potential gains are outweighed by the costs.

That’s how competitions end. In the victory of one side, in both sides simultaneously withdrawing, or in the mutual ruin of both. They don’t end in a just peace.

Is the Communist Split on the War in Ukraine an Echo of An Earlier Division?

December 2, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Eliseos Vagenas, a member of the central committee of the Greek Communist party (KKE), has written an interesting article in the party’s newspaper, Rizospastis, refuting the claim that the Russian invasion of Ukraine fostered a split in the international communist movement (ICM). Vagenas contends that the split existed well before the Russian invasion.

One can also argue that the split recapitulates a division within the Second International circa 1914—one which led to the creation of the Third International and the Communist parties to which the current ICM is its nominal heir.  

According to the Greek communist, the ICM has been split for some time on a least six questions, summarized below. When Russia invaded Ukraine, the parties moved to support or oppose Moscow, based on their pre-existing orientations, defined by either approach 1 or approach 2.

Two questions are critical to the positions the various ICM parties have taken on the war in Ukraine:

  • What does imperialism mean?
  • Is peace achievable in a capitalist world?

Communist parties that have either leaned toward outright support of Russia or greater condemnation of the United States and NATO, tend to view imperialism in a manner that departs significantly from the classical Marxist view and have developed an understanding of how to end war that revises Marx and borrows from liberalism. These parties see imperialism as the aggressive foreign policy of one capitalist state, the United States (and its satellites), and regard Russia as a victim of US imperialism. For them, the term ‘US imperialism’ is redundant, because imperialism is a monopoly of the United States.

What’s more, these parties tend to equate imperialism with war, and reject the notion that it has other dimensions, including peaceful capitalist competition, diplomacy, and even international security architectures. (Ask the North Koreans whether the UN Security Council is an expression of imperialism.) For these parties, imperialism is US war-making and little else.  

In contrast, parties that view the war in Ukraine as an inter-imperialist conflict adopt the classical Marxist view of imperialism. For them, imperialism is a system of cut-throat competition among states in which each state is compelled to expand the territory over which it has influence and control in order to guarantee its access to markets, raw materials, investment opportunities and strategic territory and thereby to ensure its self-preservation and that of the capital accumulating enterprises it represents. The competition is expressed in multiple ways, including war, but not limited to it. It may be, and has more often than not been, expressed in trade and investment agreements. (See, for example, Robinson’s and Gallagher’s The Imperialism of Free Trade.)

Kenneth Waltz’s review of the split in the socialist movement precipitated by WWI, which he presents in his classic Man, The State, and War, calls to mind the current split in the ICM as identified by Vagenas.

Parties which support Russia in its war on Ukraine tend to embrace, as Waltz describes them, “the techniques of the bourgeois peace movement—arbitration, disarmament, open diplomacy” as well as the belief that popular opinion “can exert enough pressure upon national governments to ensure peace.” This, Waltz argues, is a revision of Marx’s view, which “points to capitalism as the devil.” The “socialism that would replace capitalism was for Marx the end of capitalism and the end of states,” and it was the end of states, for Marx, that meant the end of war. An anti-war movement founded on the notion that popular pressure and international security architectures can ensure peace, is a tradition that Waltz identifies as originating in the Second International as a revision of Marx. It is also a tradition that Waltz pointedly notes failed to keep the peace in 1914.

Waltz elaborates. Members of the Second International “were united in that they agreed that war is bad, yet they differed on how socialists were to behave in a war situation. … Jean Jaures and Keir Hardie eloquently urged a positive program of immediate application. Socialists, they said, can force capitalist states to live at peace.”  As history shows, they couldn’t. Indeed, most socialists facilitated the war by supporting one of the belligerents.

In contrast, some “French and most German socialists argued that capitalist states are by their very nature wedded to the war system; the hope for the peace of the world is then to work for their early demise.” It is not, to bring the argument up to date, to support the weaker capitalist states in order to balance the strongest in a multipolar system. Indeed, this view is anti-Marxist in the extreme. For Marx, war ends when states end, not when weaker states balance the strongest and the world becomes multipolar.

The precursors of the Third International, Communists avant la lettre, argued that wars “are part and parcel of the nature of capitalism; they will cease only when the capitalist system declines, or when the sacrifices in men and money have become so great as a result of the increased magnitude of armaments that the people will rise in revolt against them and sweep capitalism out of existence.”

This resonates with the view of Vagenas, advocating for approach 2 as presented in the table above: The “capitalist world cannot be ‘democratized’.” It “cannot escape from wars no matter how many ‘poles’ it has.” War can only be escaped through “the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism, for the new, socialist society.”

Approach 1, then, evokes the Second International, while approach 2 appears to be consistent with the positions of the Third International.

On the basis of the foregoing, it would seem fitting to label approach 1 as “Liberal Bourgeois,” consistent with its tolerance of Communist participation in capitalist governments and broad progressive movements for capitalism’s reform; its penchant for a stepwise journey toward socialism; the absence of capitalism from its analysis of imperialism; its embrace of a peace movement whose techniques originate in a liberal theory of war; and its acceptance–indeed, its celebration–of China’s robust capitalism. Liberal Bourgeois Communists are nothing if not enthusiastic in their panegyrics to Chinese capitalism as “the world’s greatest anti-poverty machine” and never sparing in their praise of Chinese capitalism for “lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.” In their devotion to capitalism as a cure for poverty they have outmatched even the staunchest Republican.

Approach 2 can be labelled “Communist,” reflecting its resonance with classical Marxist positions.

It is regrettable that some Communist parties have suffered an ideological drift toward positions that the founders of the ICM, Lenin and his colleagues, repudiated.

It is equally regrettable that as self-proclaimed heirs of Marx, these same parties espouse a view of how to ensure a peaceful world that originates, as Waltz argues, not in Marx, but in a liberal bourgeois theory of war.

Antiwar Activism: Scientific or Futile

November 20, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

This post examines the ongoing war between the United States (via Ukraine) and Russia, and the threat of war between the United States and China, with a view to identifying the cause of these conflicts, and, on this basis, to deduce the most effective way to oppose inter-State violence.

The War in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine following on the Russian invasion of that country is in its tenth month. The war pits an invading Russia against a Ukraine that is fully supported by, and is an instrument of, the United States. The end of the war is not in sight. But the war must end, if we are to have any chance of escaping the hardships the war imposes on all but a tiny fraction of humanity.

The crossing of an international frontier by Russian forces may be, in the deceptive language of Moscow, a “special military operation”, but it is, at the same time, an inexcusable invasion and an odious act of aggression. The impact is felt world-wide, outside Europe as much as within. Russia alone, however, is not solely to blame for the turmoil. Equally consequential have been the responses of the United States, its NATO satellites, and its cat’s paw, Ukraine. 

The invasion itself has disrupted the export of grain from Ukraine, with grim consequences for world food prices, made all the worse by US-organized sanctions on exports of Russian grain and fertilizer. US-led efforts to destroy the critical Russian oil and gas industry through sanctions, and Russian retaliation, have sent energy prices soaring.

Keen to protect the assets of the wealthy from the corrosive effects of inflation, monetary authorities have tightened credit, paving the way to recession, growing joblessness, and escalating mortgage rates. Climbing housing, food, and energy prices reduce expenditures on other goods, with effects that ripple through the world economy. As The New York Times notes: “Consumer spending is set to collapse as households’ disposable income vanishes to pay for larger mortgage payments on top of higher energy bills and rising food prices.” The upshot: disposable income adjusted for inflation is sinking. The outlook through 2023, according to the IMF and World Bank, is grim. The major cause: the war in Ukraine. “Large-scale war is simultaneously destructive of productive capacity, disruptive of trade, and destabilizing of fiscal and monetary policies,” Niall Ferguson reminds us. War, he notes, “is history’s most consistent driver of inflation, debt defaults — even famines.” 

People struggle to pay for groceries, heat their homes, fill their gas tanks, and pay their mortgages or landlords. People will lose their jobs as the recession bites. The citizens of low-income countries—hundreds of millions of them—teeter on the brink of starvation. A number of their governments will default on their debt as national currencies depreciate against a rising US dollar, buoyed by tight money.

Those with assets—the wealthy—have a vigorous defender in central banks, whose bourgeois masters are prepared to swell the ranks of the unemployed to curb inflation. Meanwhile, the demands of employees for higher wages and salaries to offset the rising cost of living are resisted by governments and businesses and reviled by the court philosophers of the bourgeois media. With the looming prospect of growing unemployment, workers’ demands for pay increases will soon yield to the fear of joblessness. Capitalism has so structured the existence of the employee class to offer it an unpalatable choice: declining real wages or no wages at all.

In contrast, governments and the bourgeois press heap no disdain upon businesses that hike prices under the lash of inflation. The burden of resolving economic crises in capitalist society is always borne disproportionally by labor. Workers will be forced to accept a reduced standard of living, in the interests of safeguarding the fortunes of shareholders, bondholders, and high-level corporate executives.

As a result of the fracking revolution, the United States now sits upon vast oceans of saleable natural gas. Under US pressure, Europe is re-orienting its energy supply from inexpensive Russian piped-gas to higher-priced US liquified natural gas (LNG). A bonanza of profits awaits the US energy industry, so long as the war can be dragged on long enough to completely wean Europe off Russian petroleum, and attach the continent to the US LNG teat. The war, on one level, is a fight for market share.

US arms-manufacturers are also set to make a killing, literally as well as figuratively. To date, Washington has committed $52 billion in military and financial aid to help Ukraine fight Russia. The White House is asking Congress for $40 billion more.  Further requests are likely to follow. A large part of the aid represents a transfer of dollars from the pockets of US workers to the pockets of the high-level executives and shareholders of Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and other US weapons-manufacturers. The war is also a fight for arms industry market share.

Pressed by Washington to contribute to the war, Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy, has pledged to increase its military spending—it will soon spend more than Russia on arms and troops—starting with the purchase of US-manufactured F-35s. Germany has chosen the US-made aircraft over jet fighters made by its European partner, France. Here too the war is about market share, as well as making product markets grow.

Sweden and Finland, poised to join NATO, will contribute additional funds to the coffers of the US arms industry. NATO countries tend to source their equipment from US arms manufacturers in order to assure their militaries are able to “interoperate” with that of the United States. Anything that strengthens NATO, boosts the profits of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and other US armorers.

Under pressure from France, Europe has increasingly explored the possibilities of strategic and military autonomy. i.e., independence from the United States in foreign and military affairs. This has been accompanied by a desire to do business with Russia and China to a degree Washington judges to be incompatible with the interests of its main client, corporate USA.

To combat Europe’s dalliance with the notion of independence, Washington has exploited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to discredit any further talk of strategic autonomy and to bring Europe more firmly under US control, through a strengthened NATO organized around opposition to Russia (and China), and made dependent on North American energy. Much has been made in the US press about the so-called folly of Europe, Germany especially, allowing itself to become dependent on Russian natural gas, glossing over the reality that the proposed solution, reorientation to North America, simply shifts the dependency across the Atlantic Ocean, and puts Washington more firmly in control. By making Russia a pariah State, the integration of the vast European market with the vast land on Europe’s eastern periphery has not only been arrested, it is being reversed, with Europe now spurred to transition to a tighter economic integration with North America.

A territory teeming with natural resources, North America has always stood as a potential competitor with natural resources-abundant Russia for the raw materials and energy needs of a large and prosperous European market. But Russia has always had a distinct advantage: proximity. Natural resources can be transported to European manufacturers at a lower cost from nearby Russia than distant North America. Economically, it makes more sense for Europe to access its resources from the raw materials treasure trove on its eastern rim than from the natural resources-storehouse across the Atlantic.

The war has allowed Washington to negate the economic logic of Europe buying oil and gas from Russia. Washington has turned Russian aggression into a reason for Europe to eschew its neighbor as its natural-resources-supplier, to the greater glory of North American miners and energy producers.

The IMF and World Bank have sounded multiple alarms about how the war is slowing economic growth and sending prices spiralling. But, as we’ve seen, as a pretext to expel Russian businesses from the European market, the war promises a cornucopia of advantages to North American corporations and investors, whose returns will surely grow as Russian competitors are barred from the European arena. One way to win the cut-throat competition for customers is to eliminate the competition altogether.

From the vantage point of Wall Street and Bay Street, the war needs to continue for two reasons: (1) to weaken Russia economically, militarily, and diplomatically, in order to cripple the ability of Moscow to act on behalf of Russia’s profit-making enterprises on world markets in competition with their North America rivals; and (2) to consolidate Russia’s occlusion from European markets in favor of US and Canadian corporations.  Weaning Europe off Russian oil and gas, along with coal, fertilizer, and ammonia, and reorienting its energy markets to North America, is a project that cannot be accomplished overnight. The fillip of war must be maintained to ensure the project is carried to completion.

In fine, a protracted war benefits the US arms industry; strengthens NATO, and, in the process, generates more business for US weapons-makers; knocks Russia out of the European market, creating new opportunities for North American enterprises; and brings Europe more firmly under the US thumb. It also raises European energy costs, putting European manufacturers at a disadvantage relative to their North American competitors. Relatedly, it encourages European manufacturers to relocate to North America to take advantage of lower energy costs. 

From Moscow’s point of view, the war must continue in order to send a message to countries on Russia’s periphery that a Ukraine-style move to reorient their economies away from Russia toward one or more of its economic rivals will not be tolerated.

To be sure, Russia is fighting a defensive war, but not in the defense of the security of its territory. The war is fought in the defense of the profits of Russian investors and enterprises. The territory of Russia, a country equipped with a vast array of nuclear weapons, has never, for a second, faced a substantial security threat from Ukraine or even an expanding NATO; the threat posed by Ukraine is loss of economic territory. This threat has grown ever larger now that Moscow has handed Washington the gift of providing it a reason to organize Russia’s expulsion from the European market. The threat Ukraine and NATO pose to Russia remains one aimed directly at the owners of major Russian enterprises that do business in Europe, not the physical security of Russian citizens. To the contrary, it is Moscow itself that poses a more significant threat to the physical safety of Russians. The Kremlin has doubly placed its citizens in harms-way—first, by sacrificing some of them to the Moloch of war (an estimated 100,000 Russians have been killed or wounded in combat in Ukraine); and second, by exposing them to an escalating risk of becoming a direct target in a nuclear war.

While Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula has strategic significance, its loss as a result of a complete victory by Ukraine would in no way be fatal to the security of the Russian State. It is highly unlikely in the extreme that any State or group of States would attempt an invasion of Russia; Moscow’s formidable nuclear force makes the country virtually unassailable. This key fact has been ignored in the rush of some to defend or at least falsely explain Russia’s inexcusable actions. The security threat posed to Russia of NATO’s expansion toward its western border, while not trivial, has been highly exaggerated.

The war in Ukraine is the elevation of the competition between North American and Russian profit-making enterprises for the European market to the level of violence between States. Firmly ensconced in a reticulation of capitalist pressures, neither Washington nor Moscow can, at the moment, abandon the war without abandoning something more fundamental—the capitalist nature of their societies. To be sure, at some point the war will have to be abandoned, but only when one side, bearing in mind a capitalist calculus, judges the prospects of gain relative to loss to be too unfavorable to continue. That point has yet to be reached.

Capitalist societies will always work on behalf of capitalist class interests at the expense of the working class. Hence, wars over the question of which country’s enterprises will dominate the world market will persist a tout prix, indifferent to the harm they cause working people, focussed only on the rewards they promise the working class’s exploiters.

The Threat of a Sino-American Conflagration

For a number of years now, lawmakers, analysts, and journalists in the United States have talked about a US war with China, as if a clash between the world’s two largest powers is as inevitable as the ebb and flow of the tides.

While some historians talk of the Great Powers sleep-walking into the First World War, as if the Grande Guerre was an accident, portents of that war were sounded well before it began. It was widely know in the years immediately preceding the Great War’s outbreak that the kindling of tensions and grievance in competition among countries for economic advantage attached to colonies, markets, and strategic territory, had piled high. All that remained was a spark to light a fire.

If you read major US newspapers today, it’s hard not to get the sense that, if history does not repeat itself, at least it rhymes. In press accounts, a second Sarajevo looms menacingly large on the horizon (Taiwan, perhaps?) For example, The Wall Street Journal has reported that “Chinese and U.S. officials” have conceded that “Beijing and Washington must work out how to coexist—and avoid, or at least postpone, a conflagration” (my emphasis).

If his Economic Interdependence and War, international relations scholar Dale C. Copeland argues that Germany supplied the spark that touched off WWI with the aim of weakening Russia before the Tsarist state grew strong enough to threaten Germany’s economic supremacy in Europe.

There’s little doubt that Washington’s concerns about China parallel those of Berlin in 1914 about its Tsarist rival. “Many lawmakers and analysts in Washington are convinced China poses a grave threat to U.S. interests,” observes The Wall Street Journal—those interests being manifestly economic, as evidenced by the steps Washington has already taken to “contain” China.

Here’s the Journal’s two-sentence summary of Washington’s anti-China containment efforts: “Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese goods in an effort to restore American industrial might. Mr. Biden has kept those tariffs in place and imposed new measures aimed at curbing exports of advanced semiconductors to China.”

On top of Trump’s efforts to restore US industrial might, the Biden administration is acting to freeze Chinese firms out of competition for emerging and lucrative profit-making opportunities in robotics, artificial intelligence, electronic vehicles, super-computing, 5G, and more, by denying them access to critical technology. US strategy, as articulated by national security advisor Jake Sullivan, is to maintain “’as large of a lead as possible’ over competitors like China in foundational technologies.” Washington also aims to shift supply chains (that is, low-wage manufacturing) from China to India and Vietnam while undermining leading Chinese firms, among them Huawei.

US efforts to “contain”, which is to say “hobble”, China – principally as an economic rival—prompted Chinese leader Xi Jinping to “chide” US president Joe Biden for introducing “a suite of economic policies that” he said “completely violate the principles of market economy and undermine the rules of international trade.”

Xi’s description of the Biden administration’s anti-China polices is accurate, but amusing. Xi, who leads a country that is said to be Communist and calls itself socialist, demands adherence to Hayekian principles. Rhetoric aside, Xi is no more a socialist than Biden is a Hayekian. Both are leaders of States whose mission is to obtain advantages for their major enterprises in the competition for world markets.

The rule here, followed by both leaders, is that market principles and free trade are great for other countries, but not your own. Political economy, the mystification of capitalism, may be about comparative advantage and laissez-faire, but the real world of capitalism is about making money whichever way you can. Often, if not almost always, the best way to help national firms accumulate capital is to intervene in markets and tilt the international playing field in their favor. In Washington, it’s called protecting US interests. In China, it’s called protecting Chinese interests. In either case, the interests of a country’s profit-making enterprises are (1) identified with the national interest and (2) antagonistic to those of other nations. In bourgeois ideology, the bourgeoisie is the nation. Conflict between nations is conflict between competing national groups of bourgeoisie.

Theory of War

Will the keen competition between the United States and China for world markets escalate to violence? Given that both US and Chinese officials talk of “at least postponing a conflagration”, the answer must be that economic competition between major States has a high-probability of escalating to war. “We’re going to compete vigorously,” Biden has said, adding that he “is looking to manage this competition responsibly.” If this sounds like a madman saying “I’m going to shake this bottle of nitroglycerine vigorously, but I’m going to do so responsibly,” it ought to.

How might a conflagration be avoided altogether, rather than simply postponed? It should be clear that if the roots of the conflict lie in capitalist competition among rival national groups of bourgeoisie for economic advantage in the world market, then preventing a conflagration unavoidably means changing the system that gives rise to capitalist competition. What begins as a competition between two sets of capitalists for the local market becomes a competition between states on behalf of their profit-making enterprises for the world market—a competition that may—and frequently has—led to war. It has, indeed, in Ukraine.

Capitalism is a society in which its material needs are met, to the extent they are met, as the unintended side-effect of the competition among private owners of capital for opportunities to exploit commodified labor in pursuit of capital accumulation.

The question of how to avoid a conflagration, or how to end the war in Ukraine, is, au fond, a question about where war comes from. Is it inherent in a system, like capitalism, as some Marxists argue, or in the anarchic nature of international relations, as the Realists argue? Or is it to be found in the failings, not of systems, but of individuals? These questions are important, because they dictate how best to bring war to an end and how prevent it.

Most antiwar activism is, unfortunately, inspired by the erroneous notion that war does not arise as the inevitable working out of the internal logic of a system, but in the flawed freely-made choices of political leaders. By this thinking, war is like crime, a departure from morality, international norms, or international law, freely chosen by high-level officials of the State. The job of the antiwar activist is to pressure political leaders to exercise their free will to act legally and morally.  War, thus, is seen as a choice, not an imperative, or high-probability-outcome of a system of competition for markets, natural resources, investment opportunities, and strategic territory, or for security in an anarchic system of international relations.

Contrast the approach of trying to catalyze pressure on leaders, or promote antiwar activists and peace candidates in elections, with one that views war as a high-probability-outcome of conflict among States, engendered by competition among profit-making enterprises on a world-scale to exploit commodified labor in pursuit of capital accumulation.

Political leaders, if they’re not members of the capitalist class themselves, have often risen to their positions in the State with the considerable assistance of the business elite. Not only do they owe their positions to wealthy contributors to their election campaigns, they know that if they serve the capitalist class ably while in power, it will ensure they enjoy a comfortable and rewarding post-political life.     

More significantly, to avoid crisis and instability, political leaders in capitalist societies have no option but to make capitalism work. The range of policies they can pursue without touching off a major economic crisis is limited. They must cater to the interests of capital to avoid precipitating an investment strike or capital flight. They cannot, for example, enact policies that reduce the degree to which labor is exploited so much that the incentive for future investment disappears.  Political leaders, thus, are not free, if they are to continue to preside over capitalist economies, to choose any policy they wish. They must, no matter their political stripe, pursue policies that are favorable to capitalism. In the realm of foreign affairs, that means implementing policies that aid owners of capital to compete in the world market against the owners of capital represented by other States.

Let us suppose that the Biden administration, in order to avoid war with Russia, decided that Russia’s oil and gas industry ought to continue to dominate Europe’s energy markets: despite the fracking revolution unlocking access to oceans of natural gas beneath US soil, creating a bonanza of potential profits if markets can be found; despite the fact that Washington could strengthen its hold over Europe by making the continent dependent on US LNG, giving Washington extra leverage to extract concessions from Europe favorable to corporate USA; despite the reality that a proxy war with Russia could hand the US arms industry a handsome source of profits. Despite all these toothsome delights, suppose the Biden administration, in order to live in a world of peace, declined to act as any government presiding over a capitalist economy must act, or be replaced—by creating conditions favorable to capital accumulation.  Avoiding a war that could bring tremendous benefit to investors and corporations out of a humanitarian devotion to peace is a dereliction of the duty of the capitalist State, one that will not long go unpunished.

The capitalist class exercises considerable sway over the State, through: campaign contributions; ownership and control of the media, giving it significant influence over public opinion; major lobbying efforts, far in excess of any that can be mustered by grass-root groups, popular organizations, and labor; funding of think-tanks, to recommend corporate policy preferences to government; the hiring of court philosophers, intellectuals who can present capitalist class interests as universal; the placement of capitalist class representatives in key positions in the State; and the vast over-representation of the millionaire class in elected positions, the judiciary, upper levels of the civil service, and journalism.  If that weren’t enough, the ability of investors, bondholders, and shareholders, to destabilize capitalist societies if bourgeois needs are not met, by simply refusing to invest, or taking their investments to other jurisdictions, virtually guarantees that the State will promote the interests of its major profit-making enterprises, even to the point of war.  

If Biden said, let Russian energy and natural resources companies profit at the expense of the potential future profits of their US competitors, in order to avoid war, and at the same time, let Chinese enterprises dominate the Eurasian market and the industries of tomorrow, at the expense of their US rivals, to avoid a future conflagration with China, he would be ushered into retirement by the State’s major shareholders, the capitalist class, as swiftly as a corporate CEO who decided he no longer had an appetite for the class war would be defenestrated by his company’s directors.  And yet, a sizable proportion of antiwar activists believe that through a combination of moral suasion, demonstrations, and the election of peace candidates to political office, that political leaders can be persuaded to negate the interests of the capitalist class in order to appease the demands of the people for peace. One might as well petition wolves to become vegetarians.

It could be argued that the foregoing has little relevance for understanding China, even if it is germane to Russia. Russia makes no pretense of being anything other than a capitalist society, even if certain “Marxist-Leninist” Russophiles find it comforting to believe otherwise. Vladimir Putin makes no secret of his contempt for Russia’s socialist past, and has made clear that as long as he remains president, socialism does not lie in Russia’s future.

But China does make a pretense of being Communist, and certain “Marxist-Leninist” supporters believe that China is socialist. China is socialist so far as words can be made to mean anything one wants them to mean. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”—the qualification is a dead give-away that we’re talking about something other than socialism as it has been understood historically—is a capitalist society governed by the Communist Party of China (and ruled by capitalist imperatives), where the party’s principal goal is national rejuvenation through capitalist development, not the emancipation of the proletariat and elimination of class. This makes Communist China something like Japan under the Meiji emperor and Germany under Bismarck.  

To be sure, the mechanisms of capitalist class influence that characterize US society hardly seem to characterize China. Lay aside the fact that China’s Communist party admits capitalists and boasts not a few billionaires. But is this so odd? China is a People’s Republic, not a Workers’ Republic. The Communist party’s main newspaper is the People’s Daily, not the Workers’ Daily. Capitalists and billionaires, if they’re Chinese, are thus part of the Chinese people, the basic unit of analysis for the Chinese Communist Party, and therefore have a role to play—indeed, the principal one—in China’s economic development under the capitalist path the party has chosen. The party does not set as its goal the elimination of the wage system, the emancipation of the proletariat from the capitalist yoke, or an end to the exploitation of humans by humans—historical goals of socialism. It sets instead as its aim the economic development of China.   

Because the party has chosen economic development by capitalist means, the pressures that bear on any capitalist society bear equally on Beijing, just as they did on other countries that set State-led capitalist economic development at the top of their agendas (South Korea, and Germany and Japan from the late nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth). If China is to achieve its goal of rising prosperity through capitalist development it cannot afford to absent itself from the industries of tomorrow anymore that it can be expected to yield profit-making opportunities to corporate USA. Capitalist development is impossible without capitalist competition for markets, raw materials, and investment opportunities. As we’ve seen, competition for these prizes, at least incubate the possibility of war, and often leads to it. So long as Beijing is committed to the continued division of humanity into nations, with the Chinese nation competing against other nations in the world capitalist market, it cannot avoid the friction between nations that increases the probability of inter-State violence.

Scientific Antiwar Activism

Central to the aim of socialism is the elimination of war: (1) war between classes, to be achieved by doing away with the division of humanity into classes; and (2) war between nations, to be achieved by abolishing the division of humanity into nations. From this perspective, opposing war and promoting peace, begins with education, specifically, instilling in the class of people who depend on wages and salaries for a living, awareness of the reality:

  • That war between nations is a high-probability outcome of the competition for economic advantage that is an ineluctable feature of capitalism.
  • On the basis of the above, that capitalism, as a breeder of war between nations, is a threat to humanity.
  • That the employee class bears the greatest burden of war and is its greatest victim (evidenced today by the cost-of living crisis and the growing economic hardship created by disturbances to the world economy set in motion by the actions of the participants in the war in Ukraine).
  • That the probability of war among States can be reduced by eliminating the division of humanity into classes, that is, by means of socialist revolution.
  • That the probability of war can be eliminated altogether by eliminating the division of humanity into nations, the longer-term project of socialist revolution.

Opposing war and promoting peace becomes effective at the point it becomes a project of opposing capitalism and promoting socialism. It is feckless when it fails to:

  • Show that capitalism creates conditions favorable to war between nations;
  • Identify war as one of a number of morbid symptoms of modern capitalism;
  • Promote socialism as the liberation of humanity from its war-promoting divisions. 

Antiwar rallies whose first aim is to pressure political leaders to take the peaceful path (to use moral suasion to discourage the wolves from eating the sheep) is bound to be ineffective. The idea that pickets waved in the face of velociraptors can deter the hunter from stalking its prey is Quixotic. The education of the working class about how capitalism conduces to war, not to speak of a whole suite of other social maladies, and the task of organizing the employee class to bring about a radical overhaul of society in favor of socialism, has a greater chance of success.

Lenin argued that modern war could not be understood without understanding “the economic essence of imperialism”, i.e., modern capitalism. Likewise, modern war cannot be overcome without overcoming its economic essence.

By overcoming the economic conditions that promote inter-State violence, socialism promises a significant reduction in the likelihood of war. Creating a world of peace, therefore, means, first and foremost, creating a world of socialism. An antiwar campaign that is not, first, a socialist campaign is futile. Peace activism, if it is to be effective, must be socialist activism above all else.


The Wall Street Journal, (“U.S.-Europe Trade Booms as Old Allies Draw Closer”, November 20, 2022), echoes some of the points made in the foregoing, namely:

  • The U.S. is turning into one of Europe’s biggest energy and military suppliers, replacing Russia as a natural-gas purveyor and helping Europeans to beef up their defenses [my emphasis].
  • Germany plans to buy 35 U.S. F-35 jet fighters, built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
  • U.S. services exports to the European Union are surging, up 17% in 2021 year-over-year to 305 billion euros, equivalent to $315 billion, according to EU data.
  • The burgeoning trans-Atlantic relationship is part of a reorganization of the global economy along East-West lines.
  • The EU-U.S. economic relationship is stronger than it has been in quite some time.
  • European foreign direct investment in the U.S. increased by 13.5% to about $3.2 trillion last year from a year earlier.
  • FDI in Europe increased by about 10% last year to roughly $4 trillion. Those sums dwarf investment flows between the U.S. and China.
  • Some of the rebound in European investments in the U.S. is driven by concerns among Europeans about the prospects of their economy. German chemical group Lanxess AG is focusing future investments in the U.S. … largely due to high energy prices.