Revolution or War n°23

(January 2023)

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The difficult Road of European Imperialism (Internationalist Communist Tendency – Battaglia comunista)

The following article from Battaglia Comunista of the Internationalist Communist Tendency is an updated version on November 18 of a text written on July 27, 2022. Due to lack of space, we were unable to publish it in the previous issue. It deals with two questions which are essential, even crucial, for the international proletariat in the face of the march towards the generalized imperialist war that capital seeks to impose and of which the war in Ukraine is only the first step. It is therefore this one that, for the moment, tends to define the concrete conditions of the process towards the generalized war. The first of these two questions is the place, the role and the future of the different factions of European imperialism in the growing imperialist polarization, which is also a product and a factor of this march towards generalized war: continental Europe, the European Union, finds itself divided between its eastern and western components, and its main historical powers, Germany, France and Italy in the first place – the United Kingdom has already made the choice of aligning itself behind the United States with the Brexit – are caught in a vice because of the open and growing military polarization between Russia and the United States. The emergence of a European imperialist pole, of an autonomous, imperialist, European military and diplomatic sovereignty, is in the balance. Let us warn the reader: at the center of the July version, this question is only addressed here in a second step in the part entitled Let’s Move on to a Topic That Is only Apparently Collateral.

Second question, equally essential and linked to the imperialist alignments, of a first order actuality in the European case: the concrete conditions of the class confrontations that the process of imperialist polarization and the wars of today will define and already define according to the national situations. That is to say the grounds and the tempos of the attacks that each national bourgeoisie, according to its place and its role in the imperialist polarization in progress and in the war itself, in Ukraine and in Europe today – but also in the confrontation exacerbating between China and the United States starting from Taiwan – will be and is already led to carry against its own proletariat. The revolutionary class and its vanguard political minorities cannot be satisfied with displaying an abstract proletarian internationalism, of principle, valid in any place and at any time, as necessary as it is. It is still necessary to be able to articulate it in each concrete situation in order to be able to answer efficiently to the bourgeois attacks and to put forward orientations and slogans indispensable to each particular battle that is coming. This is the effort that the ICT article makes and that we want to underline and support.

The Editorial Team

The Difficult Road of European Imperialism

On February 24, 2022, the “Ukraine campaign” launched by Russia, “the special operation”, as Putin calls it, began. In Prometeo #26, we explained the reasons for the Russian intervention in Ukraine following the encirclement of Russia by Nato. We also explained that the current war directly affecting two proletariats that have nothing to do with the nationalist interests of their respective bourgeoisies, is not reducible to a warlike confrontation between Moscow and Kiev, but has a wider dimension involving the US, Nato, Europe and Russia, as well as Ukraine of course. That said, the military operation, which, according to Russian calculations, should have been over very quickly, has been going on for almost a year and there is not much sign of a negotiated solution to end the conflict.

The causes are simple. In this context of economic recession, stagflation, speculation, capital flight, or rather, to put it more succinctly, the permanent crisis of the capitalist system of production, characterized by the ever-increasing difficulty of capital invested in the real economy and at the origin of low rates of profit, the tensions between capitalisms and their imperialist “ambitions” are exacerbated to the point of episodes of war waged directly and no longer only by proxy.

Since we do not have a prophetic crystal ball, we simply say that the ongoing war will last a long time, or at least longer than expected. Russia has been bogged down in the Ukrainian quagmire, initially putting up great resistance and then even mounting counter-offensives. This does not mean that Moscow will capitulate or accept a negotiation compromise, it continues its war effort a) to achieve the objectives that were the basis of the “campaign” of Ukraine, that is, to overthrow the Zelensky government, not to allow it to join Nato, to retain the Crimean peninsula, to conquer the autonomous regions of Donbass and, if it could, to take from Kiev the entire Black Sea coastal strip. b) to get hold of mineral wealth, especially rare earth deposits. c) not to lose face in front of imperialist adversaries and allies, which Russia needs enormously, especially at this particularly delicate stage. These are objectives that must always be achieved, barring an unlikely but not impossible economic and social debacle, even before the military debacle. For Russia, negotiated solutions are therefore out of the question for the moment, and it is blaming Ukraine, which in turn declares that it will not accept any “peace” solution or negotiation proposal as long as the Russian occupation troops remain on its territory.

For the United States, however, the fact that the war continues is not a mystery. In support of this thesis, there are not only many statements of Biden “the Russians must go”. Of course, these are only statements that are worth what they are worth, but when strategic interests are behind them, things change, words become deeds and deeds become actions. Biden has a vested interest in the continuation of the war for an infinite number of reasons. First, the longer the war continues, thanks to Washington and Nato’s military and financial assistance to Kiev, the more the Russian economic and war apparatus is weakened, and the latest military events in Ukraine prove this. Second, by weakening Russia, Biden is reshuffling the deck with China. Xi’s declared dream is to create the New Silk Road, with which he would like to establish himself as the world’s leading power, both economically and financially.

If the project were to go ahead, it would cross the entire Asian continent and reach Europe, one of whose gateways would be Russia. The weakening of one of the terminals of the Silk Road would thus be strategically important for the United States, which could strike directly at Russia and China as a result, not to mention the fact that Moscow remains Mr. Biden’s enemy number two. In the perverse imperialist game, the United States is not only disturbed by China’s ambition to become the world’s leading power in terms of trade. What scares Wall Street the most is Xi’s attempt to compete with the dollar in the world’s money markets with his national currency, in the quagmire of speculative activity and, not least, as a safe haven currency. A role that the dollar has always played and that the United States cannot do without, if it wants to maintain the level of monetary and military superiority – where the former finances the latter – that it has enjoyed until now and that it intends to continue to enjoy in the future.

Whether the New Silk Road remains on paper as a child’s imaginative drawing, whether it starts, stops halfway or does not start at all – although Beijing is working hard by buying ports, airports, building ad hoc pharaonic infrastructures in many Asian countries and beyond – does not change the American attitude. Weakening Moscow is a way to weaken the Chinese project and its imperialist ambitions.

In addition, another consideration deserves to be taken into account: trade sanctions, including those on Siberian gas and oil, financial sanctions on exchanges between European and Russian banks, and on technological exchanges necessary for production are not paid by the United States, not even a cent, but by European countries. This, once again, allows the United States to undermine an ally that is no longer as reliable, even if it is for the moment aligned with the strategies of the White House. It allows Biden to keep the EU under his thumb in the name of the “role” of the West, the defense of national identity against the Russian invader, and to thwart the ambitions of the euro against the dollar. In essence, Ukraine also has an interest in continuing the war, benefiting from American support, it can drag its feet while waiting for the balance of power to change on the ground of confrontation and therefore at the negotiating table. Whereas only China has a vested interest in advocating a negotiated solution, at least with a ceasefire, in order to arrive as soon as possible at a negotiation that “satisfies” both parties and saves the Silk Road project.

In this climate of crisis and war, of hunger and death for millions of proletarians, the Ukrainian question, in the medium term, is destined to follow a road already traced by international imperialist interests. This road could stop suddenly and then resume on larger economic and military spaces. It could remain “isolated” and act as a gas pedal of confrontation between other international actors such as the US and China, opening the way to much more serious war scenarios in the Indo-Pacific area, on the disputed island of Taiwan or for the control of the Tonga, Fiji and Solomon Islands, where China is replacing US and Japanese imperialism.

It is true that informal attempts are underway to reach an agreement between the United States and Russia and between the United States and Ukraine to reach a negotiated solution, taking advantage of the strength of the Ukrainian resistance (financed by the United States and Nato, as mentioned above) and the weakness of Russia, even if technologically supported by China, both in military and diplomatic terms. But it is also true that spaces are currently very limited. In fact, the war continues, its end, if there is one, whatever it may be, as well as its timing, will be determined by the imperialist interests at stake, which, if necessary, could dilute the confrontation by widening the scope of the war.

The 20th G20 Congress opened in Bali on November 15. The expectations of international political opinion were high to see the two most powerful imperialist countries at work. In the preliminary phase, both sides made many promises of “healthy” cooperation between China and the United States. Listening to Biden and Xi, one got the impression of a surreal atmosphere of commonality of views on peace in Ukraine. No use of nuclear weapons in this conflict. Joint efforts to reach a final peace as quickly as possible that satisfies both sides. Hugs and kisses and a toast with tar and wine. Then came the first real intentions, still inflamed, however, by a “let’s love each other” that predicted a kind of imperialist dualism based on the common struggle for a healthier environment – both countries are, by the way, the world’s leading polluters – for adequate cooperation in all areas of technological production and foreign trade, i.e., all-out détente. What has emerged, at first, is a kind of declared partition of the world on the basis of the common interests of the two imperialisms, as if the world, once the “good” pacts have been concluded between Washington and Beijing, were a hunting ground exclusively reserved for them.

Later, however, stripped of the stage props, the speeches became more concrete. Biden began by recriminating about Chinese aid to Russia in the ongoing war. Xi responded that if the ally is in military trouble, it owes it to the massive military and financial aid the Pentagon has been providing for years, even before the war broke out, to the government in Kiev. Moving forward, Biden accused China of ethnic oppression in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, and then got to the heart of the matter, the Taiwan issue.

Then, the tone was raised. Biden confirmed that the United States will never, ever change the island’s independence position based on the principle: two territories, two “Chinas” and that if this principle were to be challenged, the United States would be forced to defend its “historical” ally. Xi was even more explicit: the only valid principle is that of one China and the island of Taiwan is the red line that no one should cross. To put it plainly: what is at stake is the inevitable confrontation between the young imperialism that is advancing and the old imperialism that does not want to retreat in the midst of a permanent economic and financial crisis capable of opening another war front in Asia after having opened it in Eastern Europe.

Let’s Move on to a Topic That Is only Apparently Collateral

In such a perspective of generalized war, within the bourgeoisie, but unfortunately not only, the “war in Ukraine” poses a number of problems, the most urgent of which is the role that the European Union is playing or should play in the war that is taking place on its eastern borders and, more generally, in the future wars that will develop everywhere.

The “right-minded bourgeois” on the right and on the left compete over who should be given credit for the primogeniture of a role aimed at building a truly united Europe, united not only by the single currency, the euro, but also structured by a common fiscal system, a cohesion in foreign policy that would make it more credible internationally and, last but not least, a modern and effective military system that would enable it to be autonomous in its strategic choices and not a weak pawn within the international imperialist arena.

In other words, the European bourgeoisies of both the Western (Germany, France, Italy primarily) and Eastern (Poland, Hungary, Romania, as well as the three Baltic republics, plus Finland and Sweden) areas in the face of war found themselves like so many crock pots in the midst of steel canisters as the U.S. and Russia. All caught in the grip of individual interests, whether in the terrain of energy supply, political alignment, or strategic military choices, they felt weak and divided. Hence the emergence of “strong thinking”: either we constitute ourselves as a firm and autonomous imperialist unit capable of playing its role on any front, or the EU will remain out of the picture and submitted – as well as blackmailable – to the strongest imperialism of the day.

Certainly, from a bourgeois point of view, the problem exists, and not a few are its advocates who fearlessly raise the issue on a daily basis in the European parliament and in the responsible national bodies. We who belong to that opposite political sector, the one that does not pose the question of how to solve bourgeois problems, but only those of the international proletariat, in this regard have a couple of points to make to the question posed by the war and the proponents of a strong, powerful and autonomous European imperialism.

The first concerns the real possibilities of the 26 countries that make up the European Community to embark on the road to true imperialist autonomy that would place them on the same level as the other imperialist powers such as Russia, China and the US. However, in this ambitious perspective, the EU has as its first obstacle the now secular dependence on the financial, political, monetary as well as military superiority of the United States. A situation that has always been expressed and even more clearly before and during the course of the war in Ukraine. To clear the field of misunderstandings and misconceptions, a few things should be clarified at once. Above all, in the historical phase of imperialist domination, any act of defense or military attack is entirely within the logic of the global dynamics of the capitalist economic system, its deepening economic and financial crises and the abnormal growth of speculation.

Second, all this originates from the difficulty of capital in realizing profit rates adequate to the risks of productive investment, which undermines the very mechanisms of capital valorization that underlie the exploitation of labor power and, therefore, the existence of capitalism itself as a productive form, and denounces its historical caducity. Third, wars, whether “offensive” or “defensive”, are driven also, and not least, by the need to violently seize markets for energy commodities, those functional to the production of surplus value, and to export capital to where the cost of labor is cheaper. In short, wars have always been the “last resort” to the contradictions of capital, because, in addition to plunder, destruction means creating the conditions for reconstruction and giving oxygen to the asphyxiated lungs of a decaying capitalism.

That said, the “Ukraine war”, provoked by the NATO encirclement of Russia and wielded by Moscow as a pretext for invasion, takes place in Europe with a series of consequences that, by facilitating Washington, penalize the EU, forcing it to be even more subject to American diktats on all fronts. In fact, Biden demanded and obtained “unity” from European countries, subject to a few exceptions and many discontents, which did not strengthen the EU, but rather highlighted its weakness and the emergence of conflicting national interests. Again from a capitalist point of view, those who are paying the price of sanctions on Russia are Europe and certainly not America, first of all on energy, but not only. Russian supplies have been called into question and Moscow, in retaliation, has cut gas supplies to Germany and Italy by 30 percent, putting the two strongest European economies in trouble, alongside the French economy, which, despite Macron’s mediation efforts – “let’s not humiliate Russia” – will end up the same way.

As a first effect, there has been a rush in disarray by the major European countries to find possible alternatives. European governments have offered themselves as an energy demand, resembling more like a begging, to the countries of the lower Mediterranean, such as Algeria, Tunisia and Central Africa as well as the Emirates, with the result of paying more expensive gas and oil, receiving in return an energy product that, very often, is a third less effective. From a commercial point of view, sanctions once again come down on European economies and its inhabitants, proletarians included. The staggering increase in the price of grain and fertilizer is bringing to its knees a sector, agriculture, already suffering from climate change that, inflation aside, threatens to starve hundreds of millions of people not only in Europe but around the world. Still on the subject of the consequences of the war, it should be added how the conflict contributes, on the world money market, to the advantage of the dollar over the euro, which has lost almost 20 percent in four months.

All this has not only failed to enable the European Union to strengthen itself internally but, at least to date, has fostered its opposite. That is, further economic and financial weakness to the benefit of the U.S., with the inevitable result that each individual member country is seeking individual “solutions”, very often in competition with those partners with whom it should cooperate. Some examples: Italy and France are in bitter competition for Libyan oil, although today they have had to leave the coveted business in the hands of Russia and Turkey. The same countries are fighting over the “disposal” of thousands of refugees on the Ventimiglia frontier, resulting in one of the darkest manifestations of national egoism. Not to mention the Visegrad group, which does not even want to hear about refugees. The Berlin-Paris axis, which was supposed to be the economic-political locomotive of future European imperialism, is crumbling under the blows of the crisis. Germany and France are also confronting each other over the complex issue of European leadership and the very thorny prospect of German rearmament, which risks splitting Europe more than uniting it on military ground.

Macron, strong of the fact that France is, after United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, the only nuclear country in Europe, believes that, should the old continent go down the road of collective rearmament in accordance with a more effective imperialist posture, France will have to be its pivot around which the other 25 countries should revolve. However, the French president forgets that such a process would find at least two almost insurmountable obstacles. The first would consist in the economic difficulty that many member countries would have in contributing to the financing of such a project in which they would enter, yes, as small co-financiers, but with a role as extras under the hegemony of Paris. As usual, national interests would end up prevailing, which would be poorly reconciled with the vague interests of a common army moreover led by France. The second and far more serious obstacle would inevitably come from the obstructionism of Scholz, who would never leave such a strategic objective in the hands of its ally-adversary.

What is more, Scholz’s Germany is the European nation with the largest number of U.S. nuclear bases in Europe. Which makes it, at the moment, a closer military ally to the U.S. and NATO than to France and a European military with autonomous ambitions. Not to mention that German rearmament must necessarily rely on military supplies from the Pentagon, as demonstrated by Berlin’s recent agreement with Washington to purchase U.S. F-35A fighter jets. So the 100 billion euros that have been allocated by the Berlin government for German military reconstruction, although this will still take some time before it is fully realized, would end up being the link between the hypothetical, as difficult as it is, EU army and NATO, with much welcome to French ambitions. Not even on the diplomatic ground has the EU managed to find unity and compactness by putting itself forward as an international mediator for the purpose of a “solution” to the war. It is not so much out of false pacifism, but rather to get out of the umbrella of American strategies, leaving the initiative to the opportunistic Erdogan who, as a mid-caliber imperialist, has put himself forward as an international mediator. In reality, he is acting as an interpreter of his own interests and, secondarily, of the national interests of a Turkey in severe economic crisis, but which wants to be a protagonist of its own imperialist destinies by exploiting the course of a conflict that is still a long way from a negotiated settlement. Indeed...

As can be seen, the war, instead of creating the material conditions for the construction of unified European imperialism, complete with a common army, has exposed the weakness of the 26 countries, their contrasts concerning political leadership, the prevalence of national economic interests and their absolute inability to play the slightest role in the diplomatic field, much less the military. In return, it has made the project of a strong EU, cohesive on monetary, fiscal, trade and military grounds, a utopia that only the most naive bourgeois continue to pursue against the reality of the facts. Meanwhile, the war with its retoric of death and destruction continues.

The second remark puts us in a completely different perspective, opposite in terms of strategies and political attitudes towards both the war and the emergence of a new imperialism such as Europe’s, which, if it materialized as its bourgeois supporters hope, would only increase international competitiveness, imperialist frictions, accelerating the mechanisms of war and shrinking the hypothetical spaces of mediation, always assuming, granted, that at that point there might be the will to exploit them.

But the most important thing we must consider is the response that the proletariat, whether directly involved in wars or indirectly affected by them, should give, in order to defend its own class interests. Interests that by definition are opposed to their own bourgeoisie, irreconcilable economically as well as politically, and least of all in the war clash involving proletarians against proletarians. For ease of discourse, let us take as an example what is happening in Ukraine to the Russian and Ukrainian proletariats. At the moment, the two proletariats are yoked to their respective bourgeoisies, suffering their political logic, their justifications for who attacks or who defends. They are hostage to their respective capitalisms, their present and future national interests. Within this war framework, not only are the two proletariats unable to express class demands that would in any way be a disturbance, if not an obstacle to a war that is not theirs, but they are merely the instrument through which the respective bourgeoisies attempt to achieve their strategic objectives, whether offensive or defensive in nature.

The Proletariat and the War

The first task a proletariat faces within a process of class struggle, all the more so when involved in a war, is always to fight its own bourgeoisie. The first enemy to fight is always at home, never forget that. One’s own bourgeoisie, whether belligerent or not, is still the class adversary, the domestic enemy which, as such, must be fought before any other enemy.

Substituing war with class struggle means first of all getting out of the bourgeois logics of nationalism which are nothing but the defense of capitalism, the perpetuation of national exploitation, and the forcing the proletariat to defend with arms that regime which is the basis of wage slavery.

This means distancing oneself from war not on the ground of an imbecile pacifism that, should it succeed (which never happened), would leave things exactly as they were before, both because of the presence of capitalism – based on the exploitation of labor power – and because of the crises that, as scripted, are the causes of wars.

Only desertion, revolutionary defeatism, is valid in this case, but not, as seems to have happened, albeit minimally in the ranks of Russian soldiers who, by deserting, went over to the other side, the Ukrainian side. For in so doing, they went from serving one bourgeoisie to aggregating with the interests of another. In the presence of a class movement, even if only incipient, desertion and revolutionary defeatism consist in moving from the ranks of the national army to the proletarian ranks by joining their struggles.

Not only that, but such attacks on one’s own bourgeoisie must necessarily be accompanied by the effort to “export” them to the proletarians “in the other trench”, in the name of a militant internationalism that unites those oppressed by capital against imperialism, its wars and its barbarism.

For those proletarians who, though not directly called to arms, belong, with their bourgeoisie, to an imperialist front that has direct, immediate or only future interests in the war, the discourse changes, but only for the scenario in which they are called to move. That is, only for tactical contingencies, but not for strategic ones, which remain the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, the transformation of war, even if not fought in person, into class warfare.

A) That is why, first of all, it is necessary to emphasize that every proletariat, while not participating in the war, must take a stand and mobilize itself against its bourgeoisie. This one, belonging in any case to an imperialist bloc – such as all the European and American proletariats faced to NATO, or those faced to the Chinese-Iranian imperialist front – seeks to prepare it ideologically, politically in function of a possible, forthcoming, direct intervention

B) The current war crisis is imposing immense sacrifices, not only on proletarians engaged as cannon fodder in the current conflict, but also on proletarians halfway around the world. Economic, trade and financial sanctions are also affecting the countries that practice them. The consequence is the deepening economic crisis, rising inflation, and abnormally high prices of energy goods that are passed on to consumer goods, that is, to proletarians and their families. Among the price rises are also, let us recall, those of wheat, soybeans and many agricultural goods and fertilizers which, once again, are passed on to the workers as the first recipients of the consequences of the war in the form of unsustainable inflation of food goods. The poverty line has already been lowered for hundreds of millions of workers and their families, both in Europe and around the world.

C) Not only that, the war crisis is also going to hit businesses, resulting in the closure of thousands of small to medium-sized businesses. Which means possible (but in part already occurring) layoffs for millions of European workers, low wages losing purchasing power with inflation, and term contracts making job and social insecurity increasingly as the “normal” pattern of life imposed by capitalism. Last but not least, rising interest rates devastate the complex of debts incurred by families to put their children through school, mortgages to buy a house after a lifetime of savings, not to mention the difficulty of accessing bank loans for so-called exceptional expenses, which very often are not such, such as medical care, necessary recourse to insurance, any unforeseen event that involves an extraordinary economic outlay, etc.

D) In this tragic scenario, on the fringes of the even more tragic scenario of war, a first step the proletariat should take, outside and against any bourgeois ideology of denouncing the aggressor or giving armed support to the aggressed, is to oppose with all available forces the war economy, the sacrifices that war massacres impose even on proletarians not directly involved. The struggle against the war economy is not only a moment of non-acceptance of the sacrifices it imposes, but it is also a first element of consciousness towards the causes of wars and the necessity of their overcoming.

E) A concrete example would be to see workers in the arms production sector cross their arms in protest and refusal to produce war material to be sold on the death market run by imperialisms of all kinds, if not their own. Another example would be military support logistics that should make it difficult or sabotage the transportation of ammunition and complementary equipment.

F) Fantasies, utopias of frustrated revolutionaries? No because it has happened before in the past and some small but significant episodes have occurred even recently in the course of the current war.

All of this can happen, and on a much larger scale, provided that the resumption of the class struggle begins to mount again, progressively breaking out of all the traps that the imperialist bourgeoisies put in place to contain it within the compatibilities of the system on the economic level, and to condition it ideologically on the nationalistic one of “Justum bellum” [of just war]. Obviously, any episode that were to place itself on the terrain of “fighting the war by the class struggle” if it does not have a tactic on how to counter imperialism, a strategy that points the way to the overcoming of capitalism and the awareness of communism as the only alternative, would be doomed to defeat. Only the presence of the international revolutionary party can and must be the political instrument of this social process against exploitation, capitalism, its inevitable imperialist expression. Against its economic and financial crises, against wars and all “dominant” ideologies, which divert the international proletariat from its real goals by dragging it into the abyss of barbarism.

FD, Battaglia comunista, November 18th 2022 (translated y us from Italian)