Revolution or War n°26

(January 2024)

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Capitalism on the Brink: Only the International Working Class Can Provide an Historical Alternative to WW3

The past four months have seen a preponderance of events that confirm that the ruling classes of the main powers take the prospect of a generalized war as a given. The historically unresolvable contradictions of global capitalism mean that the defense of each national capital becomes a matter of life and death for each of them. As a result, competition has gone from being purely economic and commercial to becoming increasingly political, i.e. imperialist. With no economic solution in sight, for the still not over 2008 financial crisis, imperialist antagonisms are pushing ahead and setting the stage for yet another world war.

The event that marked a turning point in terms of the concreteness of the prospect of a third world war was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We had previously argued that, sooner or later, the US’ policy of containment of Russia and China would provoke one or the other to lash out and attempt to break the stranglehold militarily. This is exactly what we are seeing play out with the war in Ukraine. While there were initial expectations among many for a quick resolution, either a rapid Russian military victory or a financial and political collapse in Russia due to Western sanctions, the war has played out quite differently. It has become a war of attrition, one in which Ukraine by itself is hopelessly outmatched against Russia, and there are increasing signs and admissions from pro-West media that Russian military-industrial production outmatches the entire West (EU plus US) in key items like artillery shells, guided bombs, and drones. Also, crucially Russia is logistically in a better position to sustain a war on its borders than the Western sponsors of Ukraine. Effectively, Russia has already put itself on a war footing [1] and the US and its allies are eager to close the gap, which will entail greater sacrifices from the working class globally but in particular in Europe and North America, the historical heartlands of capitalism.

Neither Russia nor the US and its European allies see the war from the point of view of an isolated conflict. Even if NATO were to stop supporting Ukraine at a level that would allow it to continue to wage a conventional war, it would not make the necessity for Western countries to prepare for war with Russia less urgent. Quite the contrary. Likewise, Russia’s projected preparation of a force of around 1 million contract soldiers is more than a means to deliver a crushing blow in Ukraine, but preparation for a possible war against NATO.

Although it has been about a decade since US military strategic thinking definitively shifted from emphasis on counter-insurgency or high-intensity policing operations to conflict with “near-peer rivals” (ie China and Russia), the economic, industrial, political and social preparation for such a conflict is still playing out in the US, where a key component of this preparation is the so-called Bidenomics. To take the example of military-industrial production, it will probably take several more years for the US and European countries to increase their military-industrial production capacities to the necessary levels for a conflict with Russia or China, let alone both at the same time. Military industry will have to increasingly come under the direct control of the state. Civilian factories may be re-tooled for military production. Production of commodities that are of military importance will have to be repatriated. The functioning of the national economy will have to be rationalized to some extent, for the more effective functioning of the state in the context of inter-imperialist war. In short, we are faced with a radical social transformation marked by the end of the neo-liberal policies and ideology of recent decades, and characterized by greater austerity for the working class in the name of fighting an imperialist war. An essential part of this process for the bourgeoisie is to politically and ideologically subjugate the working class, not just as passive consumer-individuals observing the spectacle of bombardment of a third rate power by a major military power, but as collective active participants in a process that will be painful for the working class, as it entails a direct clash between economic and military super-powers. The stakes and the costs for the working class of a war between nuclear-armed super-powers are vastly greater than a lower intensity regional war or a counterinsurgency operation. Consequently, from the point of view of the ruling class, the political prerequisites for the two types of wars are also vastly different. It is the difference between securing passive consent – the minimum necessity for a powerful state to wage a counterinsurgency war or any other “local” imperialist war – and ensuring the massive active participation of the working class as such in the project for a major war. The latter is much more painful for the working class and raises the stakes in the class struggle as the ruling class is forced to go on the offensive at home in order to be able to pursue its interests abroad.

We can see the barbarism that a major war has in store for humanity foreshadowed by the war of collective punishment and forced displacement that Israel is currently waging against Gaza, which it unleashed following the October 7th murderous and barbaric rampage carried out by Hamas militants and supporters in southern Israel. This slaughter also did not spare civilians. The fact that there is a disproportion between the 1,600 victims “on the Israeli side” and the 20,000 counted at the time of writing “on the Palestinian side” does nothing to alter the horror of the killings and the terror suffered by the populations, and even less to alter their class, capitalist and imperialist, i.e. anti-proletarian, character. This disparity is simply an expression of the real military balance of power between the capitalist, and so imperialist, state of Israel and the political project for a Palestinian state, which cannot be other than capitalist and imperialist too, not of any supposed humaneness or progressive nature of Hamas and other fractions of the Palestinian bourgeoisie. [2]

Israeli officials have not shied away from comparisons of their current military campaign to the bombings of German and Japanese cities in WWII, which were designed to kill large numbers of civilians. The leader of the Israeli settlement movement has openly called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza, which would solve the “Palestinian question” for Israel in Gaza. Leading Israeli officials have made dehumanizing and genocidal remarks about Palestinians. The brutality of the Israeli campaign in Gaza and the extreme chauvinism that is apparent in Israel are confined to a relatively small geographic area, but that will not be the case in a hypothetical world war. At least in this regard, Israeli political leaders are quite astute in their reading of the global situation. They understand that the present global situation bears within it the germs of a catastrophic future war, like WWII but potentially much worse, and are not hesitant to remind US and European leaders that in a total war, the belligerents make little or no distinction between civilian and military targets.

To effectively struggle against war, we cannot limit ourselves to symbolic protests of moral outrage at the atrocities that are being perpetrated. The only way to resist this dynamic of world war and the barbarity it implies is for the working class to fight on its own ground to refuse the sacrifices necessary for war, and this in every country, whether directly at war or not, in Ukraine, Russia, Gaza and Israel as everywhere else. As the class that materially reproduces daily social life, and whose material interests are diametrically opposed to imperialist war, only the working class can prevent a catastrophic world war. The most effective weapon against war in the arsenal of the working class is today the mass strike, the geographically widespread strike beyond the framework of the company, the union, or the sector, that attempts to progressively encompass as great a part of working class as possible and pursues unifying, class-wide objectives. Only mass strikes in the major powers can impose a class balance of forces that would force the main ruling classes to put their imperialist ambitions on hold in order to confront their main enemy, the international working class.

Adopting and implementing slogans suited to the development of mass strikes – slogans that only communist groups can consistently put forward – is the way to be ’effective’, i.e. to ’scare’ the bourgeoisie, if only a little. The mass strike and opposition to all capitalist states, until their final destruction by workers’ insurrection, is the only alternative to the threatened generalized war.

The Editorial Team, December 25th 2023



[1. Historically, under the impetus of Stalinism, Russian national capital developed on the basis of a war economy.

[2. For those who doubt this, let them turn to the inhabitants of Gaza who were savagely repressed by Hamas at the end of July/beginning of August, and on other occasions by the PLO, when they were demonstrating “against rising prices and living conditions”, it means in class terms, against the misery imposed by the Hamas fraction of the bourgeoisie in power in Gaza.