Right from the start of the war in Ukraine, Western imperialism has insisted it is all about an aggressor and a victim, and the defence of democracy against dictatorship. For its part, Russian imperialism tries hard to appear anti-Nazi, as if we were still in World War II. Meanwhile, this criminal war continues, with its tragic toll of death and devastation.
The Donbas and its independent republics, the Crimean Peninsula, the coasts of the Black Sea, the pipelines crossing Ukrainian territory, the attempt to escape from the deadly embrace of NATO, are certainly the contingent and strategic reasons that have unleashed the aggression of Russian imperialism against Kyiv. But the real scenario behind this war has other implications. The bi-polar Cold War world ended with the implosion of the USSR. Today we are witnessing a complex multi-polarity with many actors in direct conflict with each other, or who are, at best, fair-weather friends.
For now, the real clash is between Moscow and Washington. Biden has every interest in the war that has broken out in Europe continuing for as long as possible. First of all, because by doing so he is able to sell weapons to NATO countries, making billions of dollars from them. Secondly, it tends to weaken his Russian opponent in favour of NATO and its encirclement of Russia. As a result, it also tends to weaken Russia’s Chinese ally which remains, in the eyes of the Pentagon, Enemy No. 1.
The new Silk Road and the role of the yuan frighten Washington more than Moscow’s tanks. In fact, Beijing's projects are not just an attempt to become a pole of world imperialism in a few years’ time. It is happening now. The Silk Road will bring, to all intents and purposes, an integrated flow of goods, capital and advanced technologies across the Asian continent from Beijing to Europe and the Southern Mediterranean. But to do this, Chinese imperialism needs a vast array of support points from consenting countries by dint of the yuan, and agreements with governments willing to be part of the project. Currently, China has managed to involve 140 countries, from Pakistan to Russia (a "memorandum" of understanding between the two countries on Moscow’s readiness to join the project was signed on 4 February 2022, promising inevitable economic advantages, such as gas and oil sales, supplies of which to Beijing have doubled since the outbreak of the war).
From Baluchistan and Kazakhstan to the major European capitals, Beijing has guaranteed the availability of ports like Malta, Bilbao and Casablanca. The Chinese multinational COSCO has also ensured access to the ports of Athens and Marseille in the Mediterranean, plus Hamburg on the North Sea, and Mombasa in Kenya. In addition to iron and copper mines, Beijing has also leased ports in Peru. It attempted the same thing with Trieste and Genoa but, for the moment, without success. To all this we must add the enormous financial flow that would reach Europe from China, making the yuan a possible competitor to the dollar, both in the exchange of goods and as a monetary safe haven.
This is why the third American aim is to strengthen the dollar against the euro, the yuan threat, and the Russian attempt to revive the weak rouble as a defence against current and future sanctions. The more the war continues, the more the US has the opportunity to tie Europe to its economic, financial and strategic interests, whilst restricting the expansionist aims of Russia in Europe and China on four continents. Let us not forget that the US economy, though still the most powerful in the world, suffers from serious problems in manufacturing, where surplus value is created. Its balance of payments on foreign trade is in the deepest of reds since the end of World War II. Its profit rates are in free fall, speculation advances with geometric progression and the management of the entire society is marked by public and private debt both of which are at record levels.
Moreover, the last few American administrations have suffered from the prodigious increase in Chinese competitiveness which, according to the plans of President Xi Jinping, within twenty years, will become the largest economic, commercial and financial power in the world, supplanting the economic and monetary dominance of the dollar.
All this is taking place in the middle of a structural crisis of the world economy which is pushing states as never before towards all kinds of war “solutions” – from proxy wars, to those fought in the first person (Russia in Ukraine), to a possible generalised conflict that could jeopardise the continued existence of humanity. Other minor players are included in this tri-polar scenario, such as Iran, in the Russian-Chinese orbit, and Turkey which, like Hungary and despite being part of NATO, has not voted to sanction Russia. On the other hand, Turkey has supplied war drones to Ukraine, confronts Moscow in Libya and Syria, but grants the Turkish Stream pipeline to Russia, in a sort of imperialist game played on several tables. Last but not least, it presents itself as the only mediator between Russia and Ukraine, bypassing in one fell swoop the USA, which has no interest to the negotiation of a ceasefire, so as to act as a fifth imperialist pole alongside the Russian, Chinese, American, and Iranian ones. Europe, as usual, does not exist on a coherent imperialist level due to the conflict of interests of individual countries more interested in defending their economic expectations, than on giving themselves a military structure.
But this is not what we want to talk about, we have already done it elsewhere and we will continue to do so in the press of Battaglia Comunista, Prometeo and in all the international organs of the ICT (Internationalist Communist Tendency) to which we belong. Here, we want to highlight the direct consequences of war for the world proletariat and what political framework every revolutionary vanguard should, and should not, adopt.
Let's start with the consequences of the Ukrainian war. The sanctions policy imposed by Biden is having the inevitable consequence of an extraordinary increase in the price of all raw materials (gas and oil above all), with a relative increase in inflation which in Europe has already reached an average of 6%. But the figure must be broken down, because 6% is not the same for all social categories. With the increase in the cost of fertilisers, agriculture and livestock are suffering, with the result that bread, fruit, vegetables and meat have seen increases of up to 10-12%, particularly affecting proletarians and pensioners. Not to mention the soaring gas and electricity bills. The rise in energy prices is penalising small and medium-sized enterprises as well as the macro economy. According to official data, in Europe hundreds of thousands of companies will have to close, or reduce their staff. This means lay-offs, unemployment and, if all goes "well", an increase in short-term contracts, obviously with minimum wages. This is for those who are not at the war front; for those at the front, there is death and for their families there is flight, mass migration and generalised misery.
On the other hand, so to speak, the usual American pressure on NATO countries has imposed an increase in military spending up to 2% of GDP, putting Western economies in further difficulty. Economies still struggling with the pandemic crisis and with the consequences of the "financial" crisis of 2008, which continue despite the huge capital outlay by central banks, in an attempt to save a capitalist system that is springing leaks everywhere. This inevitably has repercussions for the world of work through financial damage that penalises the poorest social strata; changes to the labour market where new contracts, when they exist, are for a fixed term and dismissal is even easier; wages stagnate and where they do grow they are significantly lower than the increase in productivity. Furthermore, unemployment, which increases the numbers of those who officially survive below the poverty line, is constantly expanding.
Returning to the ongoing war, we should emphasise how the current four million Ukrainian refugees have found a welcome among European countries that their Asian and African counterparts have never had, because they are white and Christian and not Arabs and Muslims. But this is another matter that deserves a separate discussion.
The Pacifist Dead End
Our focus here is the criticism and political denunciation, among the many other problems created by the war, of pacifism. Pacifism, despite its infinite varieties, remains inextricably tied to war. This is not the oxymoron it seems. One can be a pacifist for many reasons: out of a humanitarian spirit, out of the horror that war generates, out of fear that what happens outside our home, looking out of the media window, until sooner or later it ends up coming in the front door. Pacifism can also be due to an ideological propensity, dictated by a false sense of democracy and peaceful coexistence among fellow human beings. As if an act of collective will can wish away war and the terrible disasters that it brings, complete with its havoc of death and contempt for humanity. In short, nice feelings but which in the capitalist world find space only in the writings, often dangerous, of hacks who trying to make a career out of this chorus to present themselves as soloists singing for the greater good, such as the sanctity of human life, or in praise tall getting along with each other, in a bubble of phony democracy. This seems a good thing to say because aversion to war is a good starting point, albeit one limited to an absolutely bourgeois and conservative vision.
But someone should explain to these honest souls that, since imperialism became capitalism's only form of existence, no pacifist demonstration, not even those with maximum international participation, has ever stopped a war. (The examples come from the recent history of pacifist oppositions to the two world wars, from the oceanic demonstrations against the Vietnam war, in a small way, the few demonstrations over the dissolution of Yugoslavia, even the biggest ones against the war in Iraq in 2003).
The reason is very simple, as the lack of realism on the part of pacifists is taken for granted, whatever their political nature or their starting "philosophy". Asking imperialism to stop waging war, as we have written several times, is like asking capitalism not to make a profit. Here is the oxymoron. Wars do not break out because there is a madman or a criminal in the government of one country or another – now the epithet of “butcher” is in fashion – but because the incurable contradictions of the capitalist system can only create economic crises, which become financial, which accelerate the competition between imperialist powers which, in turn, transform economic and financial tensions into wars, however they are waged. It is the law of capital. It is the attempt, in contemporary capitalism, to overcome the economic crises due to low profit rates that create problems for the valorisation of the invested productive capital, through military action to conquer areas of raw materials (especially energy) functional to modern production techniques. But, above all, whether the arrogant imperialist bourgeoisies are aware of it or not, the larger they are, the more capital value they destroy and, for the winners, more market spaces open up because economic destruction is the condition for starting a new cycle of accumulation which becomes more extensive the deeper the destruction of value that preceded it.
Pacifism, therefore, not having the categories of Marxist analysis, cannot go beyond the superstructural aspect. It fights against wars in words, leaving the causes that bring them into being unchanged. By acting in this way, pacifism not only does not stop wars, not only is it ineffective in its campaign of "humanitarian" denunciation, but by pursuing peace as a strategic objective it does nothing but preach a return to the "status quo ante", a return to capitalism, to wage slavery, to the relationship between capital and labour which is the basis of all social inequities, all economic crises and all wars.
We have to explain to pacifists, but not only them, that only the class struggle against capitalism and its wars can be successful, but only by breaking with bourgeois schemes of pacifism, nationalism and choosing which side to stand on when war breaks out.
AGAINST THE WAR, FOR THE CLASS STRUGGLE is the only slogan that revolutionaries can put forward for a truly human society, without exploitation, without social classes, and without becoming sacrificial victims to the gods of profit and wars to satisfy them.
fd (Battaglia Comunista)
10 April 2022