Revolution or War n°21

(June 2022)

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Can The International Proletariat Hinder the March to Generalized War?

Four months the imperialist war is raging in Ukraine. Entire cities are devastated; millions of civilians, women, children, babies, old people, have abandoned their homes, fleeing the bombs; thousands of them are dead or wounded, traumatized for life; abuses and rapes are multiplying, adding to the terror; tens of thousands of soldiers have already been killed, both Ukrainian and Russian; hundreds of thousands of others are wounded, crippled, mutilated. These images of gutted buildings, destroyed bridges, haggard civilians in the middle of ruins, looking for water or supplies, remind us of the end of the Second World War; of Germany in 1945, Berlin, Dresden, Cologne; of the Channel and North Sea ports under rubble, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg, Le Havre; of the massive exodus of millions of refugees thrown from one country to another. For Europe, the awakening is difficult. Didn’t the European Union and economic integration guarantee peace? But imperialist war has returned. Bloody.

However, it had never disappeared from the capitalist world. The ruins of Mariupol are not unlike those of Aleppo in Syria in 2015-2016; the influx of refugees at the Polish border crossings is not unlike that at the Turkish border crossings. It is a fact: imperialist war is a permanent fact of capital and imperialism. But to point out the permanence of imperialist war is not enough. All wars are not equal; they do not have the same magnitude; nor the same meaning; nor do they express the same dynamics and the same stakes. To limit ourselves to the two bloodiest wars of recent years, those in Syria and Ukraine, they appear in themselves to be just as barbaric, devastating, murderous and terrorizing as each other. Moreover, they involve the same protagonists, Russia on one side and the Western powers on the other, the latter united under the American aegis. In this sense, one can say that the imperialist dynamics and contrasts that were revealed in Syria led to the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. There is thus similarity and continuity between the two.

But there is also a rupture, or rather a qualitative leap between the one and the other. The war in Ukraine marks the first act of the open and forced march to generalized imperialist war, the Third World War, the only answer or exit of capitalism to its economic crisis; and march in which each bourgeoisie, starting with the most powerful ones, is constrained, forced, to engage and to impose to its populations. Until then, the pushes, the dynamic or process, towards generalized imperialist war, were not direct, did not seem to drive in an immediate way the external and internal policies of some and others. Certainly, the military staffs were already working on the return of the so-called “high-intensity war”, the very one that is taking place today before our eyes. Certainly, budgets and arms expenditure did not stop increasing year after year [1]. Certainly, following the Covid pandemic and the shortages of medical equipment, the demand for a return to the production of so-called essential goods on national territory, i.e. “essential” to the defense of each national capital, marked a break for the centralization, organization and planning of the major axes of national production, which was indispensable and appropriate for the establishment of war economy. With the crisis and thus the competition to death between each national capital, the generalized war as a tendency and in the making already tended to dictate the course of events and policies.

But with the war in Ukraine, the question of generalized imperialist war becomes a direct element, a factor, of the situation to the point of precipitating the conscious decisions of the ruling class. “We’ll have to organize ourselves in a war economy for a long time” said, just yesterday, the French president Macron. The war in Ukraine provokes cascading reactions from every imperialism that the war in Syria had not, and could not, produce. Or at least did not require to produce. The most significant? The massive rearmament of Europe, starting with Germany, traumatized by the two world wars and the final catastrophe of 1945. The German decision is in itself another historical break. But it is the whole of Europe, right down to little Denmark, that has decided to boost military spending. Another historical rupture following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland, traditionally “neutral”, have decided to join NATO; and by the way, to reinforce its grip on Russia... that Putin was trying to loosen by invading Ukraine. In short, the danger and the dynamics towards the generalized imperialist war that the war in Ukraine expresses force everyone to revive the military defense expenditures and the armament industry; and above all, to look for political and military alliances provoking alignments and increased imperialist polarization. That is why we say that this is an important step of the march to generalized war.

At the same time, because of the war itself, the forced alignment of the main Western European powers, France in the first place, behind the United States allows the latter to further accentuate its imperialist and military pressure on China; around Taiwan and its straits. Similarly, and on a more local scale but no less significant to the dynamics at play, Israel, which had tried to act as an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine in March, no longer hesitates to bomb Damascus airport and to attack, in fact, the Russian presence in Syria. It is not only the imperialist polarization that the current war is reviving as never before since 1945, but also the pressures, threats and military interventions.

The imperialist and military gearing towards generalized war is engaged. It is not a question of pointing out the permanence of war under capitalism, “any abstract truth becomes an empty phrase if it is applied to any concrete situation”, Lenin used to say. But it is a question of understanding the course of events starting from the imperialist war as it develops concretely, historically, in the reality in movement, in order to be able to grasp the potentialities of response to this march to war and to release orientations and slogans for this struggle. For there is a potential response. For there is another element that intervenes in the historical equation: the reality, in movement, of the class struggle.

The war in Ukraine, first moment of the process towards the 3rd generalized imperialist war, obliges every national bourgeoisie to relaunch even more its economic and politico-ideological attacks against every proletariat. It is not only a question of presenting it the bill of the crisis but also and above all that of the sacrifices indispensable to the military expenses; for the proletariat in Europe for whom the rupture is brutal, of the implementation of the war economy, of the German rearmament, of the reinforcement of NATO and the deliveries of arms and supplies to Ukraine. Already, it is the one who is paying the price of the generalized inflation – especially of gas, petrol and cereals – and the intensification of exploitation in the workplaces that the crisis and the war, combining with each other, are causing. And it is precisely in these redoubled, concrete and well-targeted attacks for the war and on the living and working conditions of the international proletariat that the material and historical basis for a possible reaction, or even a slowing down of the course towards generalized imperialist war, lies. And this on all continents.

It is not a question of repeating and singing dogmatically on every occasion, formulas that have been repeated for more than fifty years now, such as that the proletariat is not defeated, or that it is not ready to accept the sacrifices for the war. Insufficient and impotent, when it is not simply the traditional anarchistic and radical phrase of leftism.

The report drawn from the relation between war and class struggle is clear: the proletariat is powerless to prevent local imperialist wars, including today’s war in Ukraine. This means that the international balance of forces between bourgeoisie and proletariat is not in favor of the latter. But this objective, material observation does not say that this relation is fixed and that the struggle between classes no longer exists, or else would be put in parantheses until a hypothetical and sudden awakening, the revelation falling from heaven, of the proletarian masses. It is important to note what is the very dynamic, the movement, the course, of this dialectical relation between the classes: because of the war, and under the initiative and the offensive of the ruling class, the class struggle will exacerbate and intensify up to massive and historical confrontations; and this, in the terms, the grounds and the timing that each bourgeoisie will try to impose. Then, we can start to see the concrete conditions of the various and successive stakes and battles that the bourgeoisie will lead against the proletariat and that the latter will not be able to avoid. Orientations and slogans will thus become more precise and the practical realization of the principle of proletarian internationalism will be defined according to the places and moments, as the class confrontation develops. It is precisely for this reason that we support the call of the ICT, and its political content, to the formation of No War But Class War committees. [2] The course of events will call for many other slogans. Inevitably. It is up to the communist groups to prepare themselves for this, starting from the reality, in movement, of the class struggle!

Revolution or War, June 14th 2022



[1. Global spending on nuclear weapons alone increased by 9% last year (Report of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, June 2022).

[2. See the ICT’s Call in this issue.