Why is Britain so set on escalating the war in Ukraine?

Tanks, depleted uranium shells, long-range missiles, F16s: hardly a week goes by without some news of how Britain is upping the ante again.

Proletarian writers

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The deeper the economic crisis bites, the more desperately the ruling class is throwing everything it can into military confrontation. Only through victory in war will it stand a chance of keeping its failing system alive for another generation. The world’s masses owe it to their children to make sure that such a victory is never achieved.

Proletarian writers

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The recent announcement that Rishi Sunak’s government would be providing first depleted uranium shells to Ukraine and then Storm Shadow long-range missiles represent two of the latest of examples of the British government’s consistent and active efforts to escalate the war in Ukraine. It is doing so with zero concern for the lives of British workers and even less for those of Ukrainians.

Reckless and criminal escalation

This was demonstrated very clearly when the Ukrainian military stored the aforementioned depleted uranium shells in a large ammunition depot near the town of Khmelnitsky. When Russian armed forces blew up this arms store, a cloud of radiation was dispersed across the town, posing both immediate and long-term health risks to everyone resident or present in the area.

Not for nothing did the Russian foreign ministry warn the Sunak government not to provide such weapons to its Ukrainian proxies. Russian armed forces are not using such weapons in Ukraine themselves, knowing well the health risks they pose.

Russia had previously warned very strongly against the use of such weapons: “If Kiev is supplied with such shells for Nato heavy military equipment, we will consider this as the use of dirty nuclear bombs against Russia with all the ensuing consequences,” a statement said. (Russia warns Britain against supplying Ukraine with depleted uranium shells, Donbass Insider, 22 March 2022)

The cancer epidemics in parts of Serbia and Iraq following Nato’s widespread use of depleted uranium munitions there are just two of the many war crimes perpetrated by British and US forces in their wars of plunder that are carefully ignored by British and US establishment politicians, journalists, lawyers and scientists.

How far across Ukraine and neighbouring countries this radiation and its effects might spread is at this time unknown. Nor can we yet know how Ukraine’s food exports will be affected. In all likelihood, no meaningful effort will be made to find out by our self-identifying ‘defenders of human rights’.

Sanctions war has failed

These latest reckless escalations by British imperialism come hard on the heels of bitter admissions carried in the Spectator and the Telegraph that the “shock and awe” sanctions war that was supposed to “reduce the rouble to rubble”, in the words of US president Joe Biden, has been an abject failure. The aggressive western wagers of this economic war had confidently expected to bring about the collapse of the Russian economy, triggering either a mass uprising by a hungry and unemployed populace or some other political crisis that could result in the long dreamt-of regime change in Moscow.

But, owing to the preparations the Russian government has been making since 2014, the severity of the sanctions regime has been mitigated both by increased state intervention in the Russian economy and by redirecting the country’s trade flows eastwards – in particular to China, Iran and India. The workers and economies that are being destroyed by the sanctions are not those of Russia but of the west, most specifically those of the European Union and Britain, where residents and industry alike have been suddenly cut off from the cheap and reliable flow of Russian oil and gas on which they have depended for decades.

Now, having failed to defeat the Russians either economically or militarily, the imperialists are getting desperate.

The aim of the war in Ukraine, from the perspective of US imperialism, is to destabilise Russia itself and, ultimately, to secure regime change (ie, the installation of a client regime in place of an independent one) and, ideally, the fragmentation of the country. This is all in order that the USA and its junior partners in Europe can seize full, unrestricted control of Russia’s immense natural resources.

With the global overproduction crisis deepening every day, the contradictions of the imperialist economic system are becoming ever more apparent. US imperialism, mired in a mountain of bad debt, has reached the point where it is not only seeing long-term stagnation at home but is also losing control over markets overseas that it has long sought to dominate by means of its economic, technological and military might.

Meanwhile, African nations are increasingly trading with China and turning to Russia for energy and security partnerships, thus further deepening the contradictions faced by US imperialism and forcing it down the road of trying to remove both the Putin-led government in Moscow and the Communist party (CPC) in China. The removal of these two rival centres of power, which are working increasingly closely together, is necessary for US imperialism if it is going to succeed in ‘solving’ its crisis via the ruination of its opponents and the destruction of the opportunities for independent development that they are offering to the oppressed countries via Brics, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) etc.

Decline and decay of British imperialism

British imperialism, likewise mired in crisis and tied hand and foot to the US imperialist bandwagon, is equally desperate for these plans to be brought to fruition, hence its reckless escalation of the war in Ukraine by supplying long-range missiles and depleted uranium munitions. The British ruling class has played a subservient role to US imperialism since at least 1956, when it failed to win its war to bring down Abdul Nasser’s anti-imperialist pan-Arabist Egypt.

The decay of British imperialism actually has its origins ever earlier than this. In fact, even at the highest point of the development of British capitalism, the seeds of its own terminal crisis had already been sown. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels pointed out in Capital Volume 2, there is a tendency inherent within the system for capitalists not only to maximise profitability at all costs but to actually cut out commodity production altogether if they possibly can.

“The process of production appears merely as an unavoidable intermediate link, as a necessary evil for the sake of money-making. All nations with a capitalist mode of production are therefore seized periodically by a feverish attempt to make money without the intervention of the process of production.” (Chapter 1, 1885)

Marx identified a tendency that would be explored and fleshed out by VI Lenin in his work Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Written in 1916, at the height of the first world war, Lenin’s examination of the development of imperialism included an analysis of the ongoing deindustrialisation of Britain. He showed how the development of imperialism was linked to the declining profitability of commodity production for the home market in Britain in the latter part of the 19th century.

At this point, British capitalists were able to realise far greater profits by exporting their capital to the colonised nations, where resources and land were cheaper and where labour could be exploited in a far more profitable fashion (ie, with even greater brutality). This brought the British ruling class into conflict with other imperialist powers, mainly the newly unified Germany. The competition for markets, resources and hyper-exploitable sources of labour led (ultimately) to the mass slaughter of World War 1.

As a result of the war, however, the British ruling class was much weakened, and it ultimately failed to restore its position as the overwhelmingly dominant power in the world, partly because it had heavily indebted itself to the rising power of US imperialism during the course of the war.

It was only after World War 2 though that the crisis of British imperialism was fully realised. Britain began to lose control of its colonial possessions (starting with India) and faced the reality of having to depend upon US imperialism for economic and military support both for reconstruction at home and for exploitation of the oppressed nations abroad.

A faction within the British ruling class tried to resist this subordination to the USA, but it was decisively defeated in 1956, partly due to the anti-imperialist struggles of the Egyptians and also because the US ruling class would not tolerate what it regarded as its British junior partner operating without its consent. Following the Suez debacle, the British ruling class realised it had little choice but to fall in line behind the USA if it wished to continue to operate in the markets it still dominated abroad, even after being forced to give up direct control of most of its empire.

In order to maintain their profits, Britain’s financiers need to be able to move capital anywhere in the world. They require all barriers to this to be knocked down, and, since WW2, the USA is the only imperialist country with the global economic and military power to be able to do this. The state of British imperialism is one of profound and multiple crises: it has undergone a longer decay and is much more vulnerable than the USA is.

The fortunes of the imperialist powers ultimately rest on convincing the oppressed and developing nations of the world that they have to accept the terms dictated by countries like Britain if they want to escape being put under an economic siege or subjected to military attack.

Anti-imperialist bloc cutting the ground from beneath the imperialists’ feet

Today, the economic fortunes of British imperialism are entirely tied to US economic and military power. The British ruling class has been cutting its own armed forces down for many years now, so it depends ever more heavily upon the USA to facilitate the ability of British finance capital to keep on plundering the world.

The British state may spend a large amount of defence, but it does not maintain the kind of forces that would be capable of taking on the Russian or Chinese armies for more than a few days. What Britain’s armed forces have specialised in since their failure in the Iraq war is in waging wars by proxy, training and directing jihadists in Libya, mercenaries in Yemen and fascists in Ukraine to do the heavy lifting while they remain in the shadows – advising, directing and facilitating.

If Nato’s fascistic Banderite forces in Ukraine lose their war with the Russian Federation, which they show every sign of doing in the near future, this will be a defeat for US imperialism of an even greater magnitude than its humiliating retreat from Afghanistan in 2021. Many nations that are currently dominated by British and US imperialism will see the defeat of the Nato-aligned forces in Ukraine as being a clear sign that the US-led imperialist bloc has been fatally weakened.

This in turn will undermine British imperialism’s ability to continue to exploit countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. If US imperialism decays or collapses entirely, the British ruling class will be fatally weakened as well, not only in terms of the markets and resources it seeks to control overseas, but also in its ability to contain the class contradictions within Britain society itself.

This is why the British ruling class is desperate to secure the destruction of the Russian and Chinese governments. Because British imperialism needs to ransack huge areas of the world if it is to try and resolve the deep crisis in which it is enmeshed, and the anti-imperialist governments of Russia and China are standing in the way of that goal.

That is how we must understand Sunak’s declaration at the recent G7 meeting in Hiroshima that China is “the biggest challenge of our age to global security and prosperity”.

Of course, Sunak was referring solely to the ‘security and prosperity’ of the class he represents – the class of billionaire owners of capital. All that will come to the majority of the world’s workers from the strengthening of our exploiters is the prolongation of the existence of the system that keeps them immiserated, condemned for another generation and more to the miseries of unemployment, poverty, crisis and war.

Those of us who oppose British capitalism at home must learn this lesson: that there can be no victory over capitalism at home without also destroying British imperialism’s ability to loot abroad. Only with the departure of this parasitic system can the British working class advance in solidarity with the workers of the world to a bright and fulfilling future.