Why is there so much confusion internationally about the nature of the war in Ukraine? Why do so many socialists insist on labelling Russia and China as imperialist powers, and conflict between those countries and the USA/Nato bloc as ‘interimperialist’?
As the economic crisis of global capitalism deepens, the drive to war becomes ever more pronounced. Understanding the nature of this aggression is key to working out how to respond to it.
In late November 2022, comrade Joti Brar gave a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the drive to war and explained how anti-imperialists must be clear in their stance on the various conflicts, including the Ukraine war, that imperialism instigates in its quest for hegemony and domination. She described the work that anti-imperialists must do and explained the role of The World Anti-imperialist Platform, a global anti-imperialist movement that was launched in Paris in October, in clarifying and unifying anti-imperialist positions globally.
The recent third meeting of the World Anti-imperialist Platform in Caracas on 4 March 2023 included the participation of the ruling socialist party of Venezuela, the PSUV, and demonstrated that nations under the threat of imperialism understand the importance of this platform.
On Saturday 4 March, our party also organised an event in London to coincide with actions taking place worldwide, coordinated by the Platform. The event, which also highlighted the legacy of Venezuela’s revolutionary leader Comandante Hugo Chávez, ten years after his passing, was held in Bolivar Hall, also known as the ‘hall of the people’ and owned by the Venezuelan embassy.
As the global war drive of the US-led Nato imperialist bloc intensifies, the work of the Platform will grow, reaching every corner of the globe and becoming ever more important. Only through unity can we achieve victory and a brighter future for humanity!
The rising tide of global war and the tasks of anti-imperialists
Greeting, comrades. As Nina said, we’re here talking about the rising tide of global war and the tasks of anti-imperialists, and of course the communists are the leading anti-imperialists because we are the people who understand that the only true way to defeat imperialism is via socialist revolution, everywhere.
In the context of this rising tide of global war, our party has been at the core of a new international project to bring together the forces who are making a correct analysis of the war drive right now, and the forces involved on each side. As Nina said, it is not a World War One analogous situation of two sides of aggressors fighting it out, in whose victory workers have no interest.
This is not that situation.
The situation we’re in now is that on one side we have an aggressive, belligerent, dominating, exploiting, imperialist bloc trying to maintain the global hegemony of imperialism against the rising tide of an anti-imperialist bloc.
At this moment, the outright war is focused on Russia. Ukraine, and the Ukrainian people, are being used as a proxy force by the imperialists, who care nothing about the rights, the freedoms, the future of Ukraine or the freedom of Ukrainian people; who have brainwashed them into becoming their cannon fodder, their foot soldiers in the war to destroy, to balkanise, and to control Russia, its people, and its resources in order to stop the rise of an independent Russia.
But it’s also aimed at stopping the rise of an independent China.
These two are seen as the major stumbling blocks to imperialist hegemony for obvious reasons. We’ve talked about that quite a lot of times before, and I’m going to talk about it a little bit today as well.
Understanding the war
From our perspective, the single most important theoretical task that faces anti-imperialists today is that of correctly characterising the ongoing war in eastern Europe and the imminent wars in east Asia. So in particular that’s south Korea and Taiwan, where the provocations towards a full outbreak between Nato and its proxies on one side, and either the DPRK or China on the other side, are ratcheting up ceaselessly, constantly.
If we don’t have a correct assessment of what kind of wars they are, then we’re not going to be able to form a correct policy in response to the wars. We’re not going to be able to guide workers in our countries in their struggle to defeat imperialism, whether that’s locally or globally.
If we want to make this assessment, we have to look at the wars in their context. And we’ve been trying to do that for a long time. In fact, if you go back to the edition of Proletarian back in December 2004, the editorial of that newspaper, one of the earliest editions of our paper, which only began in August 2003, the editorial was about the colour revolution that at that moment was ongoing in Ukraine. And we pointed out then the class interests involved. We pointed out then that this was ultimately aimed against Russia. We pointed out then the rehabilitation of fascists by the West to use as its proxy force in Ukraine.
So we’ve been commentating on this situation for a long time. We know the war didn’t start yesterday. We understand, and we’ve been trying to draw people’s attention to, the policy being pursued by the imperialists and their proxy forces, and the propaganda war that they wage in order to reinforce their war drive.
We have to look in context. We have to note the history out of which the conflicts develop. We have to look at the policy that’s pursued by both sides before the outbreak of war, and we have to look at the nature of each force involved in the war.
But as soon as we try to do this, we’re faced with a deep controversy in our movement. In particular, how should we characterise the nature of the economies and the societies of two of the major participants, which we would say are the major targets of these wars: the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China?
It’s not an accident that this is where the controversy is when you think about imperialism’s goals. The controversy that rages surrounds the question ‘Are Russia and China imperialist powers engaged in wars of dominance, colonisation and rivalry over the control of profits and superprofits? Is the war between the USA and Russia and/or China a WW1 type of war, ie, an interimperial war for the redivision of global spoils; or are Russia and China fighting justifiable wars (just wars, we say as Marxists) of national liberation and/or self-defence?”
Clearly, our policy in responding is going to be very different depending on the answer we give to that question. So it really matters. This is not a theoretical armchair debate. It has a very practical significance, which again, to my mind, is why there’s so much disinformation pumped into this space and manufactured around this question: precisely to confuse people and stop them from orienting themselves properly.
The ideologues of the USA and its allies really want us to believe that Russia and China are imperialist powers. They’re working hard to persuade us that workers have no side in this war, which is a conclusion that while it might not stop them opposing the war in general, it will definitely stop them from supporting any of the forces involved or helping their fellow workers to see through the propaganda of the western media.
They’ll find themselves agreeing with it: “Yes, Russia’s bad”, “Yes, China’s bad”, “Yes, Russia’s aggressive”, “Yes, China’s colonising Africa” …
All of these tropes are thrown at us on a daily basis. And if you go along with the idea that these are imperialist powers, you will support those lines of reasoning, so that, whether you mean to or not, you will encourage your working class to end up siding with its own imperialists, because if it’s a case of two imperialist powers and we don’t really like either of them, very often the workers will say: “Well, might as well stick with what we know then. Our lot, at least they’re not Chinese, you know?”
Unfortunately, we’re really handicapped in our efforts to come to a rational conclusion on this question by the plethora of distortions of socialist theory that have been spreading in our movement for decades. Some of them have been purposefully planted in our midst by class enemies. Others have originated from theoretical mistakes that have been made by revolutionaries in the past, but have been transformed into dogmas, that as time goes on bear less and less relation to reality. And yet people cling on to them saying: “No, no, so-and-so said this and this is how it is.” And they try to enforce a kind of dogmatic schema onto the world despite the fact that the evidence shows them that it’s not right.
This abundance of ‘improvements to’ or ‘reapplications of’ socialist science, in particular of Lenin‘s definition of imperialism, has led to widespread confusion in the ranks of the socialist and anti-imperialist movements around the world. The foremost ranks, the leaderships of many parties and the leading cadres and the most vigorous activists around the world who call themselves communists and anti-imperialist, who think of themselves as fighters for the working class, are riven with confusion and wrong ideas on this topic.
It’s a perilous moment for workers and oppressed peoples everywhere right now. It’s totally undeniable that if the proxy war that’s raging between the US imperialism-led Nato bloc on the one side and Russia and China on the other turns into open warfare between the world’s strongest military powers, that can lead us not only into the biggest and most terrible war we’ve ever seen but also into nuclear war.
And understandably that has people worried. That is a definite possibility. It’s not Russia and China who are threatening that by the way, it’s Nato. Which, backed into a corner, and feeling itself needing to retain its control, is the one that’s pushing us in that direction. That’s the direction the imperialist war drive is pushing us, towards World War Three, towards a nuclear confrontation.
It may well be that the historians of the future, when they look back, will find that the opening shots of World War Three have already been fired, just like when we look back at World War Two we say that when the Japanese went into Manchuria, when the Spanish Civil War started, these were actually the beginning salvos of World War Two. It didn’t actually start in 1939. What happened in 1939 was that these local conflicts became part of a wider conflagration which embraced the globe.
We can see that’s the direction things are heading in. As human beings, of course, we hope that sanity will prevail. Of course, we live with the hope that even the imperialists, ultimately, will realise that nobody wins in this scenario. You hear these arguments all the time from the Russians and the Chinese: “But it doesn’t make any sense to keep going this way. Nobody wins, nobody wins.”
But it’s also clear that in their role as representatives of vast stores of monopoly capital, imperialists are not capable of being guided by simple human logic. They act, as I have said many times before, on behalf of their capital, and their capital has to expand and accumulate. It has to dominate, or they go under as capitalists. That’s an iron law of the imperialist capitalist economic system, and that’s why even the most logical and powerful arguments can’t persuade the representatives of capital to be reasonable.
Thus it is a really historically important moment for anti-imperialists. We can see the direction things are going in. We’ve witnessed this growing bellicosity of the USA towards all the countries it thinks are an impediment to its supremacy. In the middle east, in particular, that’s Iran. In southeast Asia, in particular, that’s the DPRK. And then, of course, most especially it’s Russia and it’s China.
It’s clear that our response to this war drive is not a minor academic question. Our analysis is what underpins our action, and the content of our action will determine our effectiveness as we try to impact the world situation in the interests of the working masses, against imperialism: ultimately, for peace, via socialism.
Despite the failure of both the military and the economic aspects of its aggression against Russia, the Nato bloc isn’t showing any sign of backing down or changing its approach.
Quite the contrary. The USA is so desperate to maintain and save its position of hegemony by any means necessary that this is leading it to look for ways not to get out but to expand and prolong the war. Despite all the opposing evidence, it’s clear that the US ruling class, and its various minor sidekicks around the world, hopes to find a way to wear down its opponents and come out on top.
So we’re facing the possibility of Nato’s war spilling over into neighbouring countries in eastern Europe first. We can see how many populations in eastern Europe have been groomed to be prepared to be the next round of cannon fodder.
The Polish population, the Baltic states’ population, parts of Yugoslavia‘s population: they’ve all been poisoned steadily over decades with nationalism, with historical revisionism, with anticommunism, with Russophobia, with all kinds of lies to keep them confused and to enable Nato imperialists, when they feel the need, to use them as foot soldiers against Russia. Never mind the consequences for themselves, their families, their country, or the world.
When we look at the war in Ukraine, it’s really important to recognise that it’s Nato which is the aggressor. And yet two lines have really emerged in the international communist movement when looking at that war. On the one hand, there is a whole section of people calling themselves socialists who insist that the war is interimperialist and the workers have no side. And on the other side are people like us who believe that one side is conducting an aggressive imperialist war and the other is engaged in a war, a just war, of self-defence.
Obviously these two lines differ drastically in their explanation and in the attitude they’re asking workers to take. So, when we launched the anti-imperialist platform, it was to bring together the people who have this clear view of what the war is about. It was on the on the basis of some common positions about what’s happening.
An agreement around the the historical context for the war in Ukraine is the first set of agreements that we’ve made. In particular, that the war in Ukraine is not the result of Russian aggression but of the western imperialist drive to war, in particular of the USA. That the war really began, or this phase of the war really began, when the USA financed, armed and organised the fascist coup in Kiev in 2014.
As I referenced earlier even, that wasn’t the real beginning. In fact, the work to prepare these forces has been going on since the collapse of the USSR and even earlier. After that coup, eight years of antifascist war were waged by the people of the Donbass, who refused to accept the imposition of the coup government and the new fascistic social order it brought with it.
The 14,000 deaths that ensued amongst the population of the Donbass during that war were totally ignored by the western media – who cry about the deaths of Ukrainians today now that Ukraine is being forced to fight a war on behalf of the USA. But when the people of the Donbass were defending themselves against fascists for eight years, their deaths were completely disappeared by the western media.
So we are agreed that Nato has been waging a relentless war drive – ever since its foundation, in fact, in the 1940s. First against the USSR, then against Russia, with the ultimate aim of breaking the country into pieces and creating in its place a number of weak and dependent states whose governments could be easily controlled and whose natural resources could be looted at will.
Who says Russia is imperialist, and why?
If you want a smaller example of how that works, look at Yugoslavia. If you want to hear the language the imperialists used to cover this aim, it’s amazing how they’ve co-opted the language of socialism to do it. They talk about ‘Russian imperialism’ being something that must be opposed. They talk about ‘self-determination’ of the Ukrainians being the deciding factor of the war, the key thing there – they are defending the self-determination of Ukraine. Although they are the ones who have kept replacing Ukraine’s government when the Ukrainians kept getting it wrong – 2004, 2014 coups in Ukraine against the popular will to enforce the government that the west wanted to put into Ukraine. But no, they’re defending self-determination.
Then they tell us what they want for Russia, because they talk openly about the desire to ‘regime-change’ Russia, but they’re ‘helping’ the Russians to change their regime. They’re going to ‘decolonise’ Russia. That’s the language they use now. They’re going to ‘decolonise Russia’. What do they mean? They mean smash it into pieces. And their justification will be: “Oh, this is a national group, and that’s a national group, and that’s a national group, and we’re supporting the decolonisation of all these groups from the imperialist Russia.”
So you see the way that they distort reality and co-opt the language of the progressive world against it. In support of that aim, the USA and the Nato imperialists have been stirring up strife amongst Russia’s own people (for example, in Chechnya) and amongst its neighbours and its allies, as we talked about earlier: all these regime-change operations in Georgia, in Kazakhstan, in Ukraine.
And at the same time, they have been steadily advancing hostile military bases all along Russia’s borders. I’m sure all of you have seen the maps that show you where all the Nato bases are, ringing around the borders of Russia – despite, of course, all the lying assurances they gave in the last days of the USSR that Nato would “not move one step eastwards”. That was the promise that was made to good old Gorbachev back in 1989 or 90 or whenever it was. And we have to understand the brutal destruction and dismemberment of Yugoslavia in that context, too.
In order to present Russia to the Ukrainian people as their enemy, the western secret services have been really busy. They’ve been helping their puppets in the country to rewrite Ukraine’s history and to impose a new fascistic social order. In the process, they’ve rehabilitated Nazi collaborators from World War Two as national heroes. They’ve indoctrinated a generation of children with historical lies, with anti-Soviet propaganda, with racist ideas. They’ve banned the Russian language. They’ve scapegoated Russian speakers and essentially they’ve created a two-tier ethnic apartheid state in Ukraine.
None of this is ever talked about in western media, which claim to be defending the ‘democratic’ Ukrainians against the evil ‘totalitarian’ Russians. So the present phase of the war, this year, was in fact started by Nato and its Ukrainian proxies. Because instead of agreeing to talks with Russia about a new European peace and security framework, which Russia had been asking for for a long time, they accelerated the shelling of civilian areas in Donbass. They accelerated the build-up of Ukrainian military forces along the border of the Donbass. They were clearly making preparations for an armed invasion aimed at taking back the liberated antifascist areas in Donetsk and Lugansk.
In fact, this is not new. The imperialists have been meddling in the internal affairs of Ukraine for over a century. If you go all the way back to before World War One, you find fascistic and nationalistic forces, and almost none of them were ever homegrown. They were always tools and proxies of various imperialist powers. Sometimes it’s Germany, sometimes it’s Britain, sometimes it’s France, sometimes it’s the USA, but always they gain, these little groups have gained strength and the ability to become a force because of their backing from outside.
They were used during the revolutionary period. They were used during the interwar period. They were used during World War Two. They were used during the Soviet period after World War Two. They have been, these elements, a tool of the imperialist powers for the entirety of the 20th and 21st centuries, always with the aim of using Ukraine as a battering ram against Russia.
Any attempts by Ukraine’s people to maintain some level of independence or of friendly relations with Russia since the fall of the USSR have been crushed. As we talked about earlier, those two coups removed governments that wanted to be, not even totally pro-Russia, just neutral. They just said: “Let’s have a balance. Let’s have good relations in both directions. Russia is an important trading partner, we don’t need to cut off our nose to spite our face. We have historical strong links, cultural ties, trade links, everything, infrastructure links, with Russia. There’s no point turning it into our enemy. But we can also have good relations with the west, can’t we?”
That was the hope of many Ukrainians, and that was the promise of many Ukrainian governments and prospective governments. But governments who took those positions at certain crucial moments were ousted by the west.
When we come back to more recent times, when we look at the ceasefire in Donbass that was promised by the Minsk 2 agreement back in 2015, it was never respected by the imperialist powers who were supposed to be backing it. The USA, Britain, Nato, all continued to arm and embolden the Ukrainian fascists. They wanted to create ‘facts on the ground’.
It’s just the same way that Israeli peace process was used to create ‘facts on the ground’ that undermined the ability for there to be a Palestinian state.
We saw in Ukraine the facts on the ground being created by the armed forces and the armed militia of Ukraine to undermine any chance of actually implementing what had been agreed to in the Minsk peace process. While the Ukrainian side was continuing to shell civilians in the liberated towns, it was also building huge fortification lines across the Donbass.
And those have been revealed now during the course of this war, during Russia’s special military operation. We’ve seen again and again the hurdles the Russian and the Donbass forces have to face when they are taking on the Ukrainian military, which has dug in to these fortified positions that have been built up over eight years: trenches and huge fortifications, very solid positions that are difficult to overcome.
They basically transformed the entire territory of eastern Ukraine into a well-equipped and powerful bridgehead whose only real purpose could be to prepare the country for a full-scale war with Russia. Why else would you do it? Why? What’s the benefit to Ukrainians of covering their country in weapons and fortifications? It’s only that you’re assuming that there’s going to be a war with Russia that you’ve done all of that.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s armed forces were receiving extensive training and reorganisation from Nato, basically transforming the country into a Nato member state in all but name. And the one that just happened to be the home to the biggest Nato army in Europe.
At the same time they were doing all this with the armed forces, politically they turned Ukraine into a lawless protectorate. Very similar to what they did to Libya in 2011. After the coup, essentially, the state forces disappeared. You end up with a situation where every oligarch had got his own militia controlling different sections of the country.
These gangs make the law as they see fit and loot the country and terrorise the people. The country has been essentially recolonised by the west. Its people have been immiserated. They’ve lost so many of the amazing things that they had built during the Soviet area, and the imperialists have put themselves in a position to be able to loot Ukraine’s economy at will.
The USA at the same time (since 2014) felt safe to use Ukrainian territory for a secret and quite extensive biological weapons development programme because it’s basically a lawless territory. It’s a CIA playground. I think it was John Pilger who described it as such back in 2014, 2015 something like that. He said: “Ukraine’s become a CIA playground. They can do what they want over there just like what happened to Libya.” That programme, of course, doesn’t just threaten Russia. It threatens the world.
In the year leading up to the launch of Russia’s special military operation, Volodymyr Zelensky, the stooge regime headed by the actor Volodymyr Zelensky, made repeated assertions about Ukraine planning to join Nato. Of course, Nato’s only European target is Russia. He announced Ukraine’s intention of developing the country’s own nuclear weapons. Again, there’s only one possible target for those weapons, that’s Russia. And obviously Ukrainian cities are a minute or two’s flying time from Russian cities.
At the same time, Zelensky repeatedly declared his intention of retaking Crimea, although the people of Crimea rejoined their territory to Russia lawfully and by the overwhelming will of their people in 2014, by a referendum. Which the west has never recognised, although it was totally overwhelming, because they don’t like it.
Far from being a bastion of ‘freedom and democracy’, Ukraine is a country where first the communist party and later all opposition parties have been banned. Independent media is closed down. Antifascist political activists and journalists have been persecuted and murdered. Nazi goons have been allowed to run rampant terrorising the people, and the rule of force has entirely replaced the rule of law.
This is the ‘democracy’ that is talked about in the western media when they say: “Well, we have to be on the side of Ukraine versus Russia.”
Of course, it’s not actually Ukraine versus Russia. It’s Nato, and in particular the USA, versus Russia. And the Ukrainians are the proxy force of the moment. But we have to recognise that it’s Nato’s war. It’s not the war of the Ukrainian people.
It’s old news now that the Azov battalion and other armed fascist groupings which started off independent of state control were all armed and trained by imperialist instructors. They were later incorporated into Ukraine’s national guard and into regular military structures, and received lots of training by Nato instructors, including British instructors.
The internet’s full of pictures of British forces training fascist squads in Ukraine. And these have brought their poison of racist supremacy and Russophobic hysteria, with which all of their members are very thoroughly inculcated, into every part of Ukraine’s military and civilian structures. It’s really been a quite a takeover over in the last year or two.
If you take all the above into consideration, it’s very clear, once you see the context, once you look at the forces involved, that while the imperialists are engaged in an unjust, a criminal war of aggression by proxy, the Russian side and in its alliance with the peoples of the Donbass, who have now returned to Russia, is engaged in a just war of self-defence against imperialist attack.
At the same time, it’s a war of national liberation of the oppressed Russians in Ukraine. When we look at the recent referendums in the south and east of Ukraine, those along with the 2014 referendums in Crimea, they were carried out according to democratic principles of self-determination.
Their results should be recognised and respected. The overwhelming majority of the populations there wanted, quite rationally, to return to or join with Russia in preference to remaining under the jackboot of the US-backed fascist regime in Kiev. We have to respect that decision, and we have to be able to explain to our fellow workers why that decision is the right one, and needs to be respected. We must also be able to say to them that whatever further action Russia needs to take in defence of its newly liberated regions or in defence of the whole country’s sovereignty, and right to live in peace generally, they will also deserve the active support of workers and oppressed peoples everywhere.
We are on Russia’s side. For all the reasons I’ve outlined, we are on the side of Russia. Russia is fighting a just war of self-defence and national liberation against imperialist aggression.
When we look more generally at this idea of ‘workers having no side’, we believe it’s really important to push back hard against this misinformation. We want to make a few things really clear on that front. And these are messages that have to come from us into the working class movement here and everywhere.
First is that the conflicts that have already or are threatening to break out, they’re not isolated and they’re not local. Our media tries to present them to us as if they are, as if it’s something that just happened to happen over here between Ukraine and Russia, between China and Taiwan, between north and south Korea, between Venezuela and Colombia, between Congo and Zimbabwe, over here, over there: “It’s just between these people and these people.”
From Libya to Congo, from Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Ukraine, Taiwan, Xinjiang, south Korea, Colombia, Venezuela … all across the globe, the imperialists have no qualms about sending armaments and cannon fodder to fuel the wars that are waged by their mercenaries and their proxy armies.
It’s all part of an integral drive of the USA to retain global hegemony, and all these efforts need to be met by a united and anti-imperialist world front.
It’s really important that we see the connection between all these apparently local conflicts. The main targets are Russia and China, but there are many smaller targets along the way. They’re all stepping stones. They’re all part of the overall picture.
And the more we can unite the resistance the better chance we have of succeeding in resisting and defeating imperialism. We mustn’t be allowed to feel that: “Oh, we’re British, it’s nothing to do with us what happens in Venezuela”, “We’re British, it’s nothing to do with us what happens in Taiwan or in south Korea”. It is to do with us. And we’ll find out very soon why it is to do with us!
It’s important as well to push back against this idea that: “Oh well, Russia’s capitalist so we don’t care about it.” It might be a capitalist country, but it’s actually a country whose socialist past has left it with an ability to stand up for itself against imperialist control.
The USSR bequeathed to Russia some very important things. First, it left it a very strong military, strong in self-defence capabilities in particular, because that’s the whole ethos of a socialist military: to defend against attack from outside. Which it knows it’s going to get because, well, the imperialists exist and they’re going to attack the socialists and try to strangle them. So socialist countries have to have a strong military if they want to survive – but it’s always focused on self-defence. So Russia has that.
It’s a legacy of the Soviet Union that Russia also has advanced technological and industrial capabilities, a diverse economy and a very well educated population. These are huge assets. They enable it to withstand a huge amount of pressure that the imperialists try to bring to bear.
When you’re pushing back against the idea that Russia is imperialist it’s very important to understand what imperialism is. The Russian economy is not characterised by the export of capital and the repatriation of superprofits from around the globe.
We know what it feels like to live in a country like that because we live in a country like that. It’s a well-known phenomenon in our lives the way that the money that comes in, the loot of the globe that comes in via the city of London, distorts our economy. We do less and less which is productive. There’s this huge funnel of wealth, and the people who facilitate the entry of that wealth into the city of London are paid enormous salaries way out of proportion to any service they render in terms of the the general price of labour-power.
Then, servicing those people, are layers of next-level mandarins, and then next-level service people, and next-level service people, and so on. It ripples out and distorts the price of property. It ripples out from London across the country, distorts wages, ripples out and distorts our entire economy to the extent that a huge proportion of the people in this country are living off wealth that has been pulled in from other parts of the world.
We don’t live at a standard that is reflective of the wealth that we ourselves are producing.
When you live in an imperialist country your economy is characterised by the export of capital. That means the capital goes abroad, sets up facilities, exploits the labour-power of workers elsewhere, and makes huge profits doing so because labourers and land and facilities are cheap in other places and the massive profits it makes it repatriates and then it starts the process again. The wealth that those workers abroad create doesn’t stay where it was created. It comes back here.
That’s why a country as small as ours with as few resources as ours and as small a population as ours is somehow the ‘sixth-biggest economy’ in the world. Based on what? What do we do? How can we be the sixth-biggest economy in the world with the tiny population and a tiny land size? If we stop to think about it, it doesn’t make any sense.
Why is Congo a ‘small country’, huge enormous Congo, with all its people and resources, and Britain is a ‘big country’, with a tiny population and a tiny land size? That is imperialism. It’s the loot from imperialism that our country’s economy is characterised by.
Russia’s economy is not characterised by that. Of the hundred largest banks in the world, for example, only one is Russian. It’s at number 66 on the list and it’s a state-owned bank. It’s the only one: Rosbank. The banking capital of Russia is not rampaging the globe and pulling back the world’s wealth into Russia. That is not how Russia’s economy functions.
Russia’s political and economic life is not dominated by a financial oligarchy whose primary activity is extending the reach of Russian-based monopolies and Russian-based finance capital across the face of the Earth. Russia monopolies do exist. Their primary activity is the trade and export of commodities – in particular, the export of raw materials. This trade is carried out in conditions of standard capitalist trade between one country and another, one company and another, not under the conditions of forced inequality that are imposed by the imperialist monopolies everywhere they go.
When our media fill the pages and the airwaves with diatribes against ‘Russian imperialism’, their primary aim is to confuse the workers. They themselves are quite well aware that Russia is not imperialist. If you look at what was happening at the beginning of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, the USA felt confident in launching its economic war and its proxy war against Russia. “Russia is going to fall in a moment,” they were telling each other. “Oh, Russia’s just a gas station with a flag.” “This economy is the size of Texas, it’s going to collapse any second now,” they said.
That’s not a description of an imperial superpower is it? They tell us Russia is imperialist to upset us, to make us feel like Russia is our enemy, because they know that we view imperialism as a dirty word. Imperialist powers, they force unequal terms of trade and exploitation onto poor and weak countries; they’re able to back up their financial power with the threat or the use of military power.
Russia doesn’t do that. Russia hasn’t invaded or been aggressive towards any other country. It trades with them in terms of equality. Russia’s foreign policy is actually still characterised by the basic principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. It relies on forging bonds of trust, of respect, of cooperation, with other nations. This is not the activity of an imperialist dominating power.
Russia does have a strong military. As we discussed before it’s a legacy of the USSR and was developed with the aim of defending its people and territory. And this is still the guiding ethos of the Russian military. You can see that because it only ever goes outside its borders to the assistance of its anti-imperialist allies. So, it went to Syria. It went to Venezuela, went to Kazakhstan, by request – to help.
It doesn’t interfere. It doesn’t dominate, doesn’t control, it doesn’t loot.
It’s not like Trump leaving his base in north-east Syria where the oil happens to be. The Russians are there, putting their people on the line, to defend the people of Syria at the request of the Syrian government, and they performed an amazing function there of helping Syria to to hold the line against a vicious proxy war that was launched against them.
No country is in either military or debt slavery to Russia. So it’s fundamentally incorrect to label Russia as an imperialist power. This term is used like a swear word by the imperialists to make us hate Russia, to give a left-sounding justification for joining in with Russophobic hysteria. It is not a fact.
I have not yet seen any of these people who, in a very ‘socialist’ or ‘revolutionary’ way, say: “Oh, Russian imperialism, Russian imperialism …” like swear words, not one of them, bring a single fact to back up this allegation, this assertion. They throw it around to put people off like a swear word. They don’t use it in a scientific way. They don’t bring up Lenin’s thesis and explain: “And so in this way and this way and this way, this is how Russia is fulfilling Lenin’s definition of imperialism.”
I don’t think they can. If anybody has seen any information, any articles that do say they do that, I’d like to see them, because I’ve never seen it yet. I’ve seen nothing like that. I just see name-calling, and its aim is to stop workers from sympathising with and siding with Russia and the Russian people in their defensive war against Nato aggression.
Who says China is imperialist, and why?
We find a similar picture when we come to look at China. China is a large developing country, and it’s become the key linchpin in the anti-imperialist world, world front, precisely owing to its revolutionary foundations and its strong economy, which developed on those revolutionary foundations. Despite the inroads of the market into its economy – which our party has always been open about discussing and debating, in particular comrade Harpal has written a brilliant book going into great detail about the history and development of China’s revolution, its economy, the marketisation of the economy recently, and what we feel that that means for China – no matter all of that, one thing is clear: that China today does retain the ability to plan some very vital aspects of its economic and social life in the long-term interests of the people there.
The Chinese are able to develop scientific, technological, industrial and military bases, to educate people, to offer financial, technological, logistical and infrastructural assistance to many smaller and poorer developing countries around the world. They’re able to be an independent force, independent of imperialist control, not only on their own territory, but to offer other nations the opportunity to move towards independence from imperialism also.
No wonder the imperialists hate them, especially when the imperialist economic crisis is deepening and they’re so desperate for profit. The fact that at the same time that they’re desperate for avenues to take profits those avenues are shrinking, not only because of the glutted markets but also because of the activity of countries like Russia and China, which are helping countries to withstand the domination and control of imperialism … well, you can see why they view Russia and China as a mortal threat.
For what? Are they aggressive? No! They want to live in peace. But you can’t live in peace with imperialism. The only peace imperialism knows is the peace of the grave. Any kind of independence is a declaration of war. That is the sad truth of this system. You either lie down and get trampled in the mud or you stand up knowing that standing up is going to mean fighting back.
When we look at the Chinese economy, just as with the Russian economy, as soon as you look with with a thinking mind, it’s clear that China’s economy can’t possibly be characterised as one that’s living principally from superprofits that were acquired via the export of capital. Clearly that’s not the main characteristic of the Chinese economy.
It’s the opposite. China is the country that most imperialists go to in order to exploit a cheaper labour force and to repatriate the superprofits they’ve made from doing that. China has been a source of imperialist riches for 20 years or more. The idea that China is the one that’s superexploiting the globe is nonsensical.
It is true that China’s rapid growth and development has led to many of her banks appearing on the top of the list of the world’s biggest financial institutions, but we also have to take account of the fact that they’re overwhelmingly state-owned or state directed. Part of the reason that so many of these are very large is that if it’s a Chinese state bank, it’s going to be enormous because China is enormous.
It doesn’t indicate or prove that China is looting the globe if there’s a bank in China that’s one of the biggest in the world. China has a quarter of the world’s population in it at this point. Even if it never goes outside its home territory it can be enormous.
There is the growth of a commercial banking sector in China, which is focused purely on maximising profit for shareholders. That is what commerce means: capitalist marketplace economics. Their activities aren’t the dominant ones in China and their owners, and that’s the crucial part, really don’t control or set the policy of China’s government or military. China’s political and economic life is not dominated by a financial oligarchy whose primary activity is extending the reach of China-based monopolies and China-based finance capital across the face of the earth.
You know that from the experience of your life: the banks you go to, the cars you drive, the things that you buy. Many of things are made in China but for western monopolies. It’s the western monopolies that are making the superprofits from the things that most of us are buying and consuming every day. Chinese monopolies have certainly grown and proliferated in recent years, but as with the banking sector many of them are state-owned and those that are not are subject to tight state regulation.
The objective of state-owned corporations abroad for China is to extend Chinese trade links and mutually beneficial cooperation. Chinese private companies do pursue profit, but they do not and are not able at the present time to dominate China’s political system. They have to subordinate their business interests to the needs of the country as a whole. They’re not free to develop untrammelled economic and military power in the pursuit of imperialist superprofits.
Jail terms that have been given to corporate executives who’ve been found guilty of bribery, corruption, or conspiring against the interests of the Chinese people are clear evidence of the Chinese government’s attempts to rein in the worst aspects of the capitalist market and the anti-people activities of Chinese monopolists.
The ability to put forward a theoretical possibility that Chinese market capitalism could develop into Chinese imperialism shouldn’t be transformed into an assumption that that development has taken place. You have to look at the facts, have to look at reality as it is, and not just say: “Well, there’s a lot of market in China. China’s big. Ergo China must be imperialist.” It’s not one plus one equals four and a half. You have to look at the reality as it is, as it’s developing.
It has to be admitted that so far China’s monopolists have not been able to gain the upper hand in China. Their economic power remains at this point subordinate to the people-centred government of the Communist Party of China. That’s a fact.
We should also note that given the vast size of the Chinese population, that even theoretically, it seems pretty absurd to imagine that China could join the populations of the imperialist countries in living off the backs of the world. Who would be left to live off the back of? If you think about all the countries that have been described as imperialists (by various imperialists and charlatans), their peoples add up to more than half the world’s population.
But the whole point of imperialism is that a tiny minority of the world lives off the back of the vast majority, who are kept impoverished and whose wealth is looted. You can’t turn that formula on its head and have the system still operate: the whole world can’t be a leech off the backs of five workers in a corner of Africa somewhere!
It doesn’t make any sense – unless we are saying that some powers have fallen out of being imperialist? Britain is no longer an imperialist country but China is? Is that what we’re saying? None of it makes any sense. And a lot of these people who are rewriting the definition of imperialism, they’re essentially including anybody who’s got an economy bigger than a certain size; that’s how some of them seem to do it, just if your economy is a bit big or if you do a lot of international trade. For others, then if you’ve got any market economy at all, then that’s a bit imperialist.
These definitions are becoming more and more absurd in their attempts to justify what is quite clearly a wrong position. It’s just wrong. It doesn’t make any sense and I would invite all of you in this room and anybody viewing: just go back and read Lenin, and then compare it to the arguments you’re being given. You will see it doesn’t make any sense.
Now let’s look at the use of military force. We know imperialism backs up its financial muscle with military force. Let’s look at China. China has one base outside its territory. It’s not a big base: it’s a tiny little anti-piracy naval base in Djibouti. Outside of that, and if you want to really count that, it doesn’t have military bases outside of its territory.
It has started no wars. It doesn’t live by looting others’ resources or superexploiting their peoples. Its foreign policy is still characterised by the revolutionary aims that were set in 1949 at the time of the revolution: non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations; forging bonds of friendship, respect, and cooperation with other nations; developing a strong military with the aim of defending China’s people and territory from imperialist domination and control. That’s the guiding principles of China’s foreign policy.
It is not an imperialist foreign policy backing up an imperialist financial muscle. No nations are in military slavery to China. No nations are in debt slavery to China. It’s quite the opposite. China outrages the imperialists because it offers assistance. It offers technology transfer. It offers infrastructure development. And these things have the potential to help raise other developing countries out of the poverty trap and the debt enslavement that they currently suffer.
What our imperialists hate, and what they describe as ‘Chinese imperialism’, is actually just Chinese assistance to fellow nations. Which is undercutting the imperialists’ ability to keep other nations in economic enslavement.
If you look at all of those facts, you’ve got to recognise that China is not the enemy of workers: not here, not anywhere. China is their friend. Likewise, it’s just not correct to describe it as imperialist.
Global capitalist crisis leads to global wars
Russia and China aren’t being targeted as rival imperialists; they’re being targeted by the gangsters in Nato because they exist as strong and independent states that are able to defend themselves and others, and which therefore represent an obstacle to US world domination.
The imperialists had thought that they’d assured their domination for all time after the collapse of the USSR, and their whole foreign policy has been to never ever allow the rise of a power that can threaten the USA’s military with parity. Now they’re terrified that Russia and China are becoming powers that will be able to threaten economically and militarily on a parity.
The growing alliance between Russia and China actually offers hope to the people of the world. They are its hope of an alternative to US domination and imperialistic superexploitation.
A strong anti-imperialist camp is our people’s best defence against the aggressive plan of the bloodthirsty Nato alliance. It’s our best defence against the looming threat of nuclear war. If we want to avert a nuclear war, the best thing we can do is strengthen the forces of the anti-imperialist camp to such a point that the imperialists get scared to push the button because of what’s going to happen to them in response.
And that means doing our part here to wake workers up and to pull them into the camp of anti-imperialism rather than letting them carry on being unknowing, unwitting foot soldiers for imperialism. That’s our job here.
Humanity is faced right now with a very strong possibility that the USA’s proxy war in eastern Europe will soon be spread to theatres in east Asia. Nato’s Indo-Pacific strategy is to isolate China, ‘isolate’ through constant unnecessary provocations, through stirring up disputes with all of China’s neighbours, trying to regime-change all of China’s friendly neighbours, and by ratcheting up economic, diplomatic and military tensions.
All this is intensifying the prospect that either Taiwan or south Korea, or both, could become a new front in this aggressive war drive anytime.
Despite allegedly committing to the ‘One China’ policy, the USA is aggressively pursuing a policy of permanent separation of Taiwan from China via a proxy government in Taiwan. They’re doing exactly to Taiwan what they’ve done to Ukraine – trying to turn its people into cannon fodder for a war against China.
At the same time, the USA is conducting ever more frequent and huge military exercises alongside the puppet south Korean army aimed at rehearsing an invasion and a nuclear strike against north Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK. These provocations are really serious, and they’re a really unacceptable threat to the safety and the security of the people of China and the people of Korea.
Just as the provocation against Russia became too serious to be ignored at the beginning of this year, when the Russian people were faced with that accelerating build-up of Nato forces on their borders and the threat of an invasion of the Donbass and even of Russia, so the Taiwan issue for China, and the south Korea issue for the DPRK, these are questions of the territorial integrity of those states, questions of reunification of countries which have been temporarily and unjustly divided.
Therefore as far as the anti-imperialist movement, as far as the socialist world, is concerned, these countries have an inalienable right to liberate and reunify with their colonially occupied and oppressed territories. We have to recognise that if war breaks out in Taiwan, if war breaks out in south Korea, it doesn’t matter who fires the first bullet on the day that the conflagration begins. It is Nato that has caused those conflicts to happen.
We can see that with their formation of all these alliances: the Quad (USA, Japan, Australia, India), the Aukus (Australia, Britain, USA), all these military alliances in the Pacific alongside Nato’s invitation to Australia, Japan and south Korea. Nato: what does Nato stand for? Someone tell me. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. And yet they’re inviting Australia, Japan, and south Korea to their ‘defensive’ meetings … to defend the North Atlantic? I don’t think so.
It’s very very clear that their ambitions are to provoke war in the South Pacific, and they’re lining up all the foot soldiers to try to win that war and crush China and crush the DPRK, just as they tried to line up all their forces to crush Russia. How’s that going for them in Russia?
And if they don’t manage to get what they want and they’ve used up all the Ukrainians and they throw in the Poles and the people of Latvia and Lithuania? How will it be going for them then? Is it working out? How’s it working out for Europe?
Ultimately, the root cause of this desperate war drive by the US-led imperialist bloc, is the economic troubles affecting the world capitalist system, which has actually been in a deep crisis of overproduction ever since the construction boom that followed World War Two came to an end in the 1970s.
If you’re old enough, you’ll remember some of those troubled times. I remember the fun of power cuts when I was a little kid. The monopolists, they got a temporary reprieve, didn’t they, with the collapse of the USSR and the eastern European socialist republics>? Those territories were opened up to their looting, and the imperialists had a field day. They had a bonanza looting the wealth of the former socialist bloc. That gave their system a shot in the arm for 20 years.
It also gave them the sense that they were free to take aggressive moves to control and destroy all the remaining independently-minded states in the world. They drew up a list and they were successful in Yugoslavia, in Iraq, in Libya, at destroying strong independent states that had stood out for sovereignty since the second world war, in the period leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union and after.
But now the bonanza they got from that from those events has been exhausted, and the fact that now the the masses of the world have become even more impoverished means that the capitalist markets again are totally glutted and their quest for profits are getting more and more desperate.
They have so much capital to invest, it’s not possible for them to find profitable ways to invest it, given that the people who have to buy the things they produce are too poor to buy them. That’s the bind they’re in. That’s the bind. They have too much capital. They can’t reinvest it.
The people are too poor. That’s the irony. That’s the Gordian knot that capitalism creates for itself and can’t get out of. It’s only the working class that can free the world from the trap that this knot creates, by just cutting it entirely, dismantling this entire system and setting up planned production. There isn’t another way out.
The imperialist ‘way out’ is global war. What does global war do? It supplies an armaments drive, and there’s a huge amount of production which goes into producing literal cannons for the cannon fodder to use. Then there’s the promise of unrestrained looting of the vanquished territories. That will give you a bit of a shot in the arm for a while. There’s a prospect of economic demand via rebuilding everything you’ve destroyed. That gives you a shot in the arm. That gives you demand for a while. It gives people jobs and money to spend.
For a while. But it doesn’t last. What was that they said at the end of World War One, the ‘Great War’ as they called it then? They didn’t know it was World War One. At the end of the Great War, ‘Great’ as in very big – people have forgotten that’s what great means – they said: “Never again.” From 1918 to 1939 is just 20 years. And during that time, in what state were the working classes of most of the world, the ones who hadn’t broken free of that system? Everybody knows about the Great Depression and the terrible condition of the workers in the imperialist countries, never mind the rest of the world, the oppressed countries, the colonies.
What was the only way out of that crisis? World War Two. An even bigger war, even more deaths, even more destruction, and by the middle of the 1970s, certainly by the end of the 1970s, that postwar boom was gone – was over. That is the only ‘solution’ that imperialism has to its crises, and it gets out of it just to get back into it again. There isn’t a way out from underneath this system. There just isn’t.
Building a real antiwar movement with anti-imperialism at its core
These are simple truths that are amply demonstrated by history, and they point inexorably towards the conclusion that only the removal of the capitalist imperial system of economic production and its replacement by a planned economy can rescue humanity from this downward spiral of crisis and war.
Understanding all these things, it becomes really evident that it’s of vital importance that communists and anti-imperialists make common cause all around the world in a broad anti-imperialist front.
We need to explain to workers everywhere that it’s not Russia, it’s not China, that needs to be opposed; it’s the imperialist powers led by Nato, with the USA chief amongst them.
As well as educating our own people about these truths, we have to work hard to bring this orientation to the antiwar movement. We have to challenge the misleading, the dangerous, assertions of forces who call themselves communist, socialist, progressive, antiwar, who have declared the war to be interimperialist and said that both sides are to blame. We have to do what we can to expose this idea and to kick it out of the antiwar movement.
It is not serving our people. Quite the reverse, it’s serving imperialism. This line is based on a wrong theoretical premise – ie, that every large economy in the capitalist world must be an imperialist, or even that every capitalist economy has elements of imperialism. And it can only bring joy to our enemies by confusing, demoralising, and demobilising the very workers who have the potential to be the most militant and active sections of a really effective anti-imperialist antiwar movement.
When it comes to the antiwar movement, there are some eally important messages we need to take into it:
- It’s not the Russians the Chinese or the north Koreans who are who are threatening us with World War Three. The cause of the war is the profit-driven war drive of Nato, the criminal alliance which is in reality little more than a front for the armed wing of US imperialism. This is the the reason why Russia China and the DPRK are really being targeted.
- The antiwar movement must mobilise the masses in every country for a campaign of active non-cooperation with the imperialist war effort. We might be powerless individually but together we have power. We can stop the imperialist war machine in its tracks if we decide to collectively.
Our aim all over the world has to be to sabotage and obstruct Nato’s war machinery in every way possible, refusing to fight or to assist its armies, whether direct armies or proxy armies (and they’re operating in many, many countries those proxy armies, as well as direct army bases of Nato and its allies), and by refusing to transport its men and its materials. What would happen if the Greek workers stopped the trains going through their territory on the way to Ukraine?
By refusing to allow its bases to operate unimpeded on our territories, refusing to manufacture or supply their armaments and their other vital equipment, refusing to broadcast print or distribute their propaganda lies, which are so important to their war effort. By refusing to cooperate with their trade and sanctions wars, the war machine can be brought to a halt.
All these things are carrried out in practice by working-class people. The imperialists set the policies, but it’s workers who carry them out. If workers can be organised and brought to realise their power, victory is possible.
So the slogans of real anti-imperialists at this time must be:
Defeat for the Nato-led imperialist alliance!
Victory to the forces of national liberation and anti-imperialist resistance!
No cooperation with imperialist war!
That slogan about victory is really important. In the imperialist countries in particular, the so-called antiwar activists really shy away from admitting that one side is right, and that therefore we need to be on its side, and we want it to win. If you want your side to lose, you need the other side to win – but they don’t want to go all the way and say: “Yes, we support the resistance.” They always come up with reasons why they mustn’t.
So it’s very important that we help workers to see that they have a side, and that we call for its victory. We want the victory of the forces of national liberation and anti-imperialist resistance.
We have to take to the antiwar movement this understanding that the accelerating war drive, the economic crisis, the hunger crisis, the environmental crisis … all of these are making it abundantly clear that the need to remove the capitalist economic system is more urgent than ever. That conclusion is inescapable. It’s our job to take that into the antiwar movement. That’s the only real antiwar position: defeat for imperialism and the establishment of socialism is the antiwar position.
The World Anti-imperialist Platform has been launched to coordinate the efforts of those who genuinely desire to work for the defeat of imperialism.
With this crisis of capitalism deepening and the war drive becoming more desperate, the Platform has been formed to amplify the voices, to unify and magnify the activities of all those struggling for the defeat of the US-led Nato block. We hope in this way to do our part in bringing some clarity to workers everywhere and making a meaningful contribution to what is going to be a world-historic battle that we’re being faced with in this coming period.
As part of the effort of the Platform, we launched something we call the Paris Declaration. I think everybody in this room has probably seen it or read it. It’s on our website. It’s also on the website of the Anti-imperialist Platform. It was written in order to clarify the position that anti-imperialists should be taking towards the war drive and towards the global war that’s coming.
The Paris Declaration, which we think is of historic importance, was launched on 14 October this year. It remains open for revolutionary anti-imperialist parties to sign. It’s based on the logic and reasoning that I’ve given in this presentation, and we hope that it will continue to attract anti-imperialists and help to clarify the struggle for workers all around the world, that it will help us to bring together forces on the Platform that can really offer a clear direction to the struggle for people everywhere.
Closing comments by vice-chair Nina Costa
Thank you, Joti, for bringing the necessary clarity that the antiwar movement needs and workers in this country and around the world need. For some workers in some countries these are matters of life and death.
It isn’t for theoretical articles that they read the newspapers. It’s about their sovereignty, it’s about the right to exist, and when we we urge people to fight a fire, if you don’t know what the fire is, you cannot fight it. If you say it’s just a neighbour burning weeds, or if you say it’s just a fireplace, there’s no reason to fight to extinguish the fire.
And that’s the problem when the notion of imperialism gets so confused, so twisted. It cannot be fought. It demobilises, as Joti said. So thank you very much for bringing this clarity.
We don’t say ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’. We say that the right thing, the right side for the working people, is to want the victory of Russia, knowing that Russia is not the Soviet Union. We don’t have illusions. We know full well that Russia is defending, Russia’s capitalist ruling class, is defending its existence. We know that. We don’t expect it to do the job for us, but as long as fascist thugs prevail in the Ukraine, there’s no chance for the workers to win anything.
They have outlawed, they’re killing, communists in Ukraine, so by us and by the people in Ukraine not taking the right stance against those fascists what are we doing? We are allowing them to exist and to spread in the Baltics, to spread in Poland. We are going to see more fascism in Europe if we don’t do anything; if we don’t understand who and what the enemy is, and there is no excuse.
The facts are there. Joti explained them, exposed them. These are the real data that Lenin studied in his era. He looked at facts, at numbers, and we can research and look at these facts and see who is imperialist and who is not.
But some people don’t. You know why? Because they don’t want to create those alliances; they don’t want to see the alternatives for countries. They don’t want to have strategies and tactics as coooommunists. They want to just stay away, hold a third position, pretending to defend workers but not really proposing real tactics for us to win.
I think that it’s very very necessary to remember who we fight and what are the character of the countries involved, so thank you very much Joti Brar for a very enlightening talk.
If you want more information on the character of the war and the Marxist-Leninist analysis, please look at our numerous articles and pamphlets that you will find at thecommunists.org – there is a wealth of material. And please have a look at the Paris Declaration on our website, and at Proletarian TV on YouTube. That way you’ll have more information, more analysis, on imperialism and the anti-imperialist struggle.
Thank you very much.