Ukraine, Bosnia, Syria, Egypt and Venezuela are all currently flashpoints in the growing rivalry between the US led bloc of older imperialist powers and the rising Russia/China bloc of emerging imperialist powers caused by the onset of the global crisis of falling profits. These flashpoints reflect the life and death struggle of these imperialist powers to restore their profits at the expense of their rivals. Ultimately this struggle is downloaded onto the masses who suffer attacks on the living standards and their lives. The uprisings and revolutions in these flashpoints represent the mobilisation of the global working class entering the stage to break free from imperialist oppression and the national bourgeois regimes that are its lackeys. There can only be one of two outcomes. Either imperialism destroys the planet and humanity, or the working class overthrows imperialism and builds a socialist society. For humanity to live, capitalism must die!
Crisis in Ukraine
Ukraine has provoked much hot air as a crisis flashpoint between the US/EU and Russia. The bourgeois intellectuals are all trying to join-up-the-dots. The conservative bourgeoisie are into realpolitik. Stratfor, for example, shows that Russia’s resurgence is based on economic realities of scarce resources. This realpolitik view sees the ‘Great Game’ between Russia (and today China) and the West over oil and gas in Asia as driving geopolitics. Some draw the one-sided conclusion that rival imperialists have billions invested in each others’ economies so that war becomes irrational. This was the conclusion that Karl Kautsky drew from the bourgeois economists of the early 20th century. John Mersheimer argues that in the post-WW2 period nuclear arms led to a stalemate in Europe so that economic conflicts stop short of war. Today self-claimed Trotskyist Louis Proyect makes this argument when he lists the overlapping investments of the imperialist powers and sees their common interest in opposing Islamic radicalism as a barrier to war. This position is one-sided because it is clear that the two imperialist blocs are already engaged in proxy wars from Sudan to Syria and actively enlist Islamic radicals as proxies.
An equally one-sided conclusion is that imperialist conflict and risk of war results from the irrational policies of rival political elites rather than the economic laws of imperialism. These policies lead to corruption as in the case of the misguided self-interest of the neo-cons or the Russian oligarchs. We can see both positions on Ukraine argued on democracynow between Snyder and McGovern. Snyder presents the US neo-con position as that of defending human rights from terrorism around the world. McGovern characterises the neo-cons as part of a CIA conspiracy to dominate the world. This position is one-sided because while the bourgeoisie are into power politics, rational or irrational, the revolutionary left does not reduce economics to power politics – or does it?
Most of the self-proclaimed revolutionary left in the Western imperialist states see geopolitics as the result of either US global hegemony oppressing Russia (or China) as a semi-colony, or independent capitalist state, in all the flashpoints; or like the Third Camp they see Russia (and/or China) as imperialist but not in the Marxist-Leninist sense of newly emerged state monopoly capitalist rivals to the US led bloc of imperialists. Both are wrong. The pro-Russia camp makes the fundamental mistake of defending one imperialist power (Russia or China) against another (US/EU) ultimately calling for workers to go to war on behalf of Putin’s regime or its semi-colonial allies like Assad in Syria. The Third Camp which dates Russian imperialism back to the Stalinist regime in the late 1920s or 1930s or Chinese imperialism to the Maoist regime in the 1950s. It fails to understand that without the experience of the DWSs the conditions could not exist to allow these countries to escape the fate of the semi-colonies and become new imperialist rivals to the US/EU bloc.
Neither camp understands Lenin’s theory of imperialism as arising out of the export of capital to counter the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (LTRPF). Imperialism is merely the political competition of rival superpowers. The pro-Russia camp misses the increasing export of capital by Russia and China, not to mention the conditions arising out of their history as DWS that have allowed them to escape domination by Western imperialism. For the Third Camp, modern imperialism emerged as a political regime in Russia and China where the law of value was suppressed by the state so that the extraction of ‘surplus-labor’ was planned rather than realised by a capitalist market. Therefore, the reintroduction of the law of value in the early 1990s is insufficient to explain why Russia and China escaped the fate of semi-colonies to become imperialist today.
On the contrary, for Marx and Lenin, the activation of the counter-tendencies to the LTRPF requires the rise of monopoly state capital as a stage in capitalist development in which imperialist states export capital and compete economically, politically and militarily to plunder the world. Armed with this theory we can explain why the US is now trying desperately to defend its hegemony from the rise of Russia and China as new rival imperialisms. As we will see each major crisis embodies the unresolved previous crises and is a bigger threat to capitalisms survival. So each crisis is not merely a repeat of previous cycles of crises. Paul Mason, one time member of the League for Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI), compares the flashpoint of Ukraine to Russia facing another ‘1905’- the first Russian revolution against the Tsar.
This historical analogy breaks down precisely because it confuses a crisis before WW1 when Russia was a weak peripheral imperialist power ruled by the Tsar, with Russia today as part of a rising imperialist bloc emerging out of a DWS. So while the analogy holds as a prediction that the imperialist war raises the prospect of revolution, it ignores the global nature of the crisis and the existing proxy wars already underway in all of these flashpoints. Similarly, those who take the Kautsky position of ultra-imperialism as a barrier to war fail to see that despite collaboration in some regions, e.g. Afghanistan and Syria, the rival blocs have also been involved in proxy wars from Georgia, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, DPRK, etc. Not only are they taking sides behind their proxies to grab oil, gas and other resources, in some places they are also backing rival Islamic sects as their proxies in these, e.g., Syria where the Russia/China bloc including Iran supports al-Assad while the US and its allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia support the Sunni bourgeoisie.
That is why the flashpoints we talk about here are places where the two major imperialist blocs clash face to face to re-divide the world and force their rivals and ultimately the workers and peasants to pay for their policies to restore their profits. As with all crises the imperialists fear that workers have the potential to rise up and obliterate their rotten society. So they fund their political ‘cronies’ and paramilitaries to divide and rule the workers and peasants. This happens everywhere from Bosnia to Venezuela. The failure of the revolutionary left to enter as an independent force in these struggles leaves these counter-revolutionary forces able to divide and rule the masses by appealing to racism and chauvinism. Yet we have seen that workers are ready and willing to fight. What they need is a revolutionary leadership. It is time for the self-proclaimed revolutionaries to take the crisis of leadership seriously and call for international regroupment such as the Zimmerwald Left which rallied the revolutionaries who did not betray the world proletariat to the imperialists with the outbreak of WW1.
Imperialism – the epoch of crises, wars and revolutions
The capitalist world economy is in the grip of a classic crisis of falling profits and overproduction of capital that characterises the imperialist epoch. Crises perform the function of destroying value to restore the rate of profit. By WW1 capitalism was already ripe for overthrow. The basic contradiction between capitalist profits at the expense of workers living standards had created the conditions for socialist revolution. War necessarily opened the road to revolution. But the revolution was betrayed by the reformist Second International. Even so WW1 failed to destroy enough value to open a period of sustained new accumulation. Within 10 years crisis reared its head again in the great depression and WW2.
Again, capitalism survived world war only with the connivance of the Stalinist Comintern and the isolation and capitulation of the 4th International to Stalinism/reformism. The post-war boom was made possible by the massive concessions forced on the working class by the war and the onset of the cold war. It was brought to an end in the late 1960s by the LTPFT and a new crisis of overproduction. But neither the restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet bloc nor the neo-liberal re-colonisation of the semi-colonial world could re-create the conditions necessary to restore capitalist profitability to the pre-crisis levels of the 1960s. Each failure to overthrow capitalism in the throes of crisis since WW1 brought historic defeats for the world’s workers. What was lacking was an international vanguard party.
What we have got today is the structural crisis coming to a head as a crisis of overproduction that is causing trade wars and military wars to resolve the crisis. But unlike the bourgeois reformists, Marxists understand that trade wars necessarily become real wars as the rival imperialists fight to defeat their rivals and plunder the global market and super-exploit the workers. The imperialists drive to destroy value to restore profits also destroys workers living standards which are reflected in wider gaps in income. They compete to grab the resources of their rivals to drive down the value of raw materials necessary for profitable production.
So who are the main imperialists today and how is it that we see China and Russia emerging as a power bloc in competition with the US-led power bloc? What we have in all these flashpoints is a frontline between the US/EU bloc and the Russia/China bloc. But how did Russia and China become major rivals of the US/EU imperialist powers?
As we have seen since the early 20th century the imperialist powers have gone to war to re-divide the world market so that the stronger benefit by defeating the weak. But once the imperialist epoch had arrived at the turn of the 20th century and the world market was divided among the existing powers, no new states could escape colonial or semi-colonial servitude to arise as new imperialist states. Orthodox Trotskyists assume that the restored workers states must become semi-colonies of existing imperialism. The Third Camp as as have seen think that Russia and China developed as imperialist powers outside the sphere of the capitalist world market. But it cannot account for their resistance to imperialist domination and rapid growth after their re-entry into the world market. We argue that this was made possible because of their history as DWSs. That is, their economic ‘independence’ from global capitalism allowed the centralised state apparatus developed under the DWS to be ‘taken over’ by the new bourgeoisie as the apparatus of the monopoly capitalist state to retain overall control of capital restoration and accumulation.
Hence it was its history as a DWS that allowed the Russian state to capitalise on former workers' property not only in cheap resources from devalued state enterprises, but also science, technology and military hardware. These are forces of production developed by the DWS that allowed Russia to escape re-colonisation by the existing imperialist powers and align itself to China (which was able to undergo the same process) in a new bloc rivalling the US/EU bloc. This is the only explanation for the developing global faceoff in many hotspots between the declining US/EU bloc and the rising Russia/China bloc. The bourgeois liberal and pseudo-Marxist explanations are based on empiricism. As Trotsky pointed out in his In Defense of Marxism empiricism takes only surface impressions of events and fails to see them as a living whole and part of a contradictory process of change.
Thus facing the current crisis, there is no prospect of any capitalist semi-colony e.g. SA, Brazil and even India, of escaping semi-colonial dependency and making the transition to imperialism. Unlike the DWSs they never expropriated the bourgeoisie and were unable to maintain a relative independence from the capitalist world. While the liberal left got excited about the BRICS is now obvious that when these states got exposed to the GFC of 2008 only Russia and China had the capacity to continue accumulating capital while, Brazil, India and South Africa went into decline. This has allowed Russia and China to emerge as new imperialist states and form a global bloc against the US and EC.
This analysis alone explains why the US/EC are pushing against this bloc in a number of hotspots where their interests clash, as in Ukraine, Syria or in Africa (Sudan) and Asia (DPRK). There is a global face off between the two blocs in a new struggle to divide the world economy to stave off their decline and fall and with it the capitalist system. Without this Marxist analytical framework it is not possible to arrive at correct analyses of the class interests at stake in any flashpoint, nor produce a revolutionary program to guide the struggle for socialism. We can demonstrate this by looking at each flashpoint in turn.
Bosnia is one of the longest suffering colonies fought over by rival imperialisms. Trotsky documents this in “The Balkan Wars: 1912-13: the War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky”. Here we have the story of a colony ravaged by imperialism in three historic crises; WW1 WW2 and most recently the current structural crisis that began in the 1970s accompanied by the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet bloc. With the collapse of the USSR and other DWSs in the late 80s and early 90s, Yugoslavia was once again Balkanized by US and EU imperialist powers backing their proxy states. The war in Bosnia was provoked by imperialism to breakup Yugoslavia into capitalist semi-colonies. The Dayton Accords in 1995 redrew its borders as a UN protectorate opening it up to imperialist plunder of its industries and workforce.
Today, nearly 20 years later Bosnian workers are now mobilising on a multi-ethnic basis to take back the privatised industries. We have to unite with them to break from imperialism and their imperialist puppet regime. This includes Russia and its interests in the Balkans. Like Kosovo, Bosnia is a US protectorate as part of the US-EU (NATO) expansion into Eurasia to make a bridgehead to break-up the new Russian empire in Central Asia. At the same time Russia is pushing back into the Balkans with its South Stream gas pipeline that branches into Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia and on into Italy [see graphic].
Ukraine gained its independence with the breakup of the USSR in 1991. Since then has balanced between EU and Russia. Late in 2013 the US/EU bloc gave an ultimatum to Ukraine to turn its back on Russia and sign a free trade agreement. This ultimatum included IMF and EU policing of economics, politics and law designed to strip Ukraine of its wealth. It was no surprise that Yanukovych balked. Apart from its historic connections, Russia has much at stake in Ukraine, including the gas pipelines that takes Russian gas to Europe and $billions in bonds. It co-owns with EU capital the planned South Stream pipeline that will go across the Black Sea close to the Russian Naval Base in the Crimea due for completion in 2015. China has also increased its economic stake in Ukraine to push its investment strategy in Eastern Europe, notably a major port development in the Crimea that will cut 5000 miles off the new ‘silk road’ between Asia and Europe.
Despite the inflammatory rhetoric in the West, and Russian sabre clinking in Crimea, the US/EU and Russia/China have an interest to do a deal here to keep Ukraine intact and split the booty at the expense of workers and poor farmers. Boris Kagarlitski thinks so too. “The sheepskin is not worth dividing up”. Russia depends on Ukraine’s pipelines. France is delivering a helicopter carrier. Germany has strategic economic ties with Russia. In fact the EU and Russia have integrated economies. Stratfor concludes: “In the long run, most of Russia's levers are intact. Central and Eastern European nations are still dependent on Russian energy, and the lingering economic crisis in Europe still makes Russian investment attractive -- especially if it does not come with the conditionality that defines loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Moreover, the political fragmentation in Europe and the lack of cohesion in NATO predate the Ukrainian crisis and will still influence decisions by Central and Eastern European nations long after the current crisis in Ukraine is over. Even if we currently see strong rhetoric coming from Central and Eastern Europe, these countries will return to their original strategy of seeking accommodation with Moscow after the Ukrainian crisis is over.”
The pro-Russian and Third Camp left has to be exposed. Both fail to understand the threat the Russia/China bloc poses to the US/EU bloc. We also have to expose the Mensheviks and Mandelites that argue for a new Constituent Assembly which is a popular front with imperialism. Revolutionaries are for mobilising all independent working class forces into a revolutionary party, into councils and militias to resist both imperialist blocs and their Ukraine proxies and fight for a workers and farmers government.
Syria has to be seen as key to revolution in MENA (Middle East and North Africa) because of the prolonged armed struggle linked to the Palestinian struggle. At the same time Syria brings all the contradictions to the surface in the form of inter-imperialist rivalry. We have argued in an earlier article on the Arab Revolution that Syria is the site of proxy wars between the two imperialist blocs. We showed how in MENA both blocs want to keep the status quo to share the booty and suppress the Arab Revolution. They learned that in Libya where they failed to disarm and contain the rebels that there was no payoff in terms of oil contracts for either bloc. As yet there is no pro-imperialist regime able to reap the oil profits for either bloc unlike Iraq where oil contracts have been shared and Afghanistan where China reaped the largest copper mine in world. On the contrary it is reported that the rebels in the East are selling oil to the DPRK!
Thus the Syrian revolution is microcosm of the balance of forces in the world situation. We refer you to a good analysis of how all imperialists are ganging up on the Syrian revolution and doing deals to keep the workers down and share the spoils. The bourgeois factions are all fighting to prove to ALL the imperialists that they can destroy the popular revolution and stabilise the region. They can only do this because the imperialists embargo arms to the fighters while they use their proxies–Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States on the one side, and Iran on the other –to arm their respective bourgeois factions. The key to the Arab revolution in MENA is that the rival imperialist blocs fear escalating proxy wars into open inter-imperialist wars will risk the uniting the uprisings from Tunisia to Syria into wider armed regional uprisings.
The tragedy in Syria is that the pro-Russian camp and the social imperialist Menshevik camp have abandoned the revolution, isolating the small revolutionary forces confronting the bloody slaughter of the al-Assad regime as well as the reactionary Jihadists. We must overcome this great betrayal by the Western so-called Marxist left and fight to unite the Syrian and Palestinian struggles with those all across MENA, and in particular that of Egypt where the revolution is still alive and kicking.
Egypt is decisive in the completion of the Permanent Revolution in MENA as it has a strong and militant labor movement capable of rising to the task of overthrowing the military regime now in place. The uprising of January 2011 arose out of years of workers strikes. It was never going to succeed in splitting the ranks of the army from the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) and overthrowing the regime without firmly basing itself on organised workers and mounting a general strike. The SCAF is the most powerful force in Egypt and the dominant bourgeois fraction owning more than a third of Egyptian business. It has traditionally been a proxy for US capital. The uprising of 2011 forced the SCAF to make concessions in deposing Mubarak and holding elections. It did a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime which proved unpopular with the masses. Morsi had tried to appeal to China to stave off economic bankruptcy. But despite China’s military and other investments Morsi was forced to impose tough austerity measures. His break with al-Assad in Syria failed to win further US backing and doomed his regime. Under pressure from a mass uprising of millions, the SCAF deposed Morsi and proved that it was not a neutral champion of the Egyptian people but the dominant bourgeois force in Egypt prepared to smash the revolution in return for economic backing from both imperialist blocs.
The SCAF has failed in this aim as despite heavy repression the revolution has deepened and a major strike wave has spread across Egypt, uniting in a new union federation. This is the proof of what we said last July about the revolution deepening. The deposing of Morsi was not a decisive defeat of the working class. It was not a ‘coup’ in the sense of that of Pinochet or the Brazilian junta since it was immediately met by mass resistance of the MB supporters and the revival of a mass strike wave. The sectarian attempt by the SCAF to turn the labor movement against the MB as ‘terrorists’, has failed. Now that the revolution has returned to its base in the labor movement, the unity of the working class on a non-sectarian basis behind a revolutionary party and a transitional program to break from the SCAF is the order of the day.
This will bring the revolutionaries up against the misleaders of the pro-Russian camp who will declare al-Sisi’s new relationship with Russia and China as the ‘lesser evil’ in relation to the US/EU camp. It will also expose the misleaders of the Menshevik camp that subordinates labor struggles to the call for a popular front with the ‘progressive’ bourgeois, for yet more constituent assemblies and more elections. Neither is capable of mobilising the working class as the revolutionary force to overthrow both the national bourgeoisie and its imperialist masters in both blocs. It vindicates our revolutionary perspective we held since 2011 that the revolution that does not base itself on the working class in industry will not succeed. Our program is to build from the strike waves towards a general strike based on workers councils and militias that will forced a split of the ranks of the army from the SCAF and open the way to the revolutionary insurrection and a Workers and Peasants’ Government.
On the surface the flashpoint in Venezuela is unlike those in Europe and MENA. However, beneath the surface we can see the two main imperialist blocs engaged in a fight for control of Latin America. Long the ‘backyard’ of the US, China has stolen a march on the US since 2008 to become a major rival in Latin America. As we proved in our Cuba Sold Out article, China has played the key role in restoring capitalism to Cuba. Not only that, China now bankrolls ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas) aligned with China against the US-led regional associations such as the Organization of American States (OAS). The current struggle in Venezuela is therefore in the last analysis the fight between the US to roll back ALBA, and China to protect its investments in Latin America. It appears that the US is opening up a serious attack on Venezuela to break China’s hold over ALBA including Cuba. It was the US puppet regime in Panama that called for the OAS to ‘mediate’ in Venezuela, spurring President Madura to sever relations with that US puppet state which could be detrimental to its trade with China.
The US is backing the anti-government opposition in Venezuela and using is proxy states in the OAS to further destabilise the Bolivarian revolution. Revolutionaries must defend Venezuela against this US trade wars, internal disruption, and attempted coups, without given any political support to the Bolivarian bourgeois regime or its alliance with Chinese imperialism. Most of the Latin American Menshevik left supports the Bolivarian states and their popular front regimes as progressive against US imperialism. But as we have shown, these regimes are bourgeois Bonapartist regimes balancing between the masses and both US and Chinese imperialism. Our program is for the formation of independent workers and peasant organs to break with the Bolivarian regimes and their links to both imperialist blocs. It is necessary to fight for workers councils and militias capable of uniting the working class around a revolutionary program for workers power to overturn the bourgeois state and impose Workers and Peasants governments in a federation of Socialist Republics of South and Central America!
Against those who see geopolitics as driven by rival power elites dragging nations and peoples into their irrational wars, we see geopolitics as the necessary expression of the laws of motion of capitalism in the imperialist epoch. We understand that in this epoch capital is concentrated into the banks of a small number of imperialist powers where only the strongest survive at the expense of the weakest. Today, Russia and China have escaped the fate of semi-colonies and are testing their strength as rival imperialists against the US/EU bloc. Each bloc must win over the other to offset the LTRPF in its own camp. This is already sparking numerous conflicts and proxy wars. But as they are dragged into these conflicts workers begin to fight back, starting with the struggle to defend basic democratic rights against dictatorial regimes. These struggles are met invariably by state repression which in turn forces workers to unite and organise. But there is no prospect of workers currently trapped in national struggles, isolated and desynchronised, of uniting across national, ethnic or other divisions as an armed revolutionary force without a revolutionary Marxist program. And that program requires an international Marxist Party that can unite the most class conscious workers around the world to make a victorious socialist revolution.
We urgently need an emergency international conference of revolutionary Marxists committed to build a new ‘world party of socialism’ based on the 1938 Transitional Program and Trotsky’s Transitional Method.