Revolution or War n°20

(February 2022)

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Ukraine and Taiwan: Flashpoints in an Uncertain Imperialist World

(Extracts, Communist Workers Organization -ICT)

We decided at the last minute to change the contents of this issue in order to take up and translate part of the article as soon as possible Ukraine and Taiwan: Flashpoints in an Uncertain Imperialist World, [1] only a part of it because it is too long for our journal, which the CWO has just published. Armed with the principle of proletarian internationalism, the CWO forcefully denounces imperialism and the growing sounds of the jackboot. “ Certainly if we believed all the stories in the Western press about the threat of Russian expansionism towards Ukraine or China’s imminent invasion of Taiwan, then the threat of global war is as close as it has ever been in the last six decades. During the last three of them of course, it has been the Western powers, under their alias of “the international community”, who have led the way in invasions, as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. This does not prevent them claiming to be the “good guys”, promoting democracy and human rights against corrupt dictatorships. Let’s just state it bluntly: in an imperialist world all the actors are driven to become rapacious powers fighting their own corner. There are no “good guys”.

After a rather complete and argued history which traces the difficulties of Russian imperialism since 1945 – the part we cannot reproduce for lack of space – the article highlights the imperialist polarization of recent years and its current acceleration. In the new imperialist configuration, a central polarization between the US and China is emerging. The CWO comrades clearly show how Russia, seeking to counter and react to the American and NATO ’containment’ which it also suffers on its own borders, here with Ukraine, is led to move closer and closer to China to counter the US. If it goes all the way, this dynamic leads to the constitution of a Chinese-Russian imperialist bloc against the latter.

No mention is made of the present and concrete relationship between the proletariat and the perspective to war. There is no doubt that the comrades of the ICT defend that the proletarian struggle is the only real alternative to generalized war. But we also know that they do not share our conception of the historical course, that is, of the relationship of the proletariat to the question of war. However, at a time when an organization like the International Communist Current continues, in the name of Decomposition, to reject any possibility and even dynamic towards generalized imperialist war – throwing away a fundamental position of Marxism and the Communist Left and thus sowing confusion and opportunist confusion – the fact that the main organization of the proletarian camp, the ICT, is clear and determined on this question is of the utmost importance; it is to be encouraged and welcomed. In fact, in addition to the aggravation of the economic crisis, the dynamics of imperialist rivalries have concrete and immediate implications for the development and content of the struggle between the classes. Faced with the alternative of revolution or war, only the proletarian camp, the party in the making, and the pro-party forces within it are able to defend the principle of proletarian internationalism in a consistent and efficient manner – that is, extending it to those of revolutionary defeatism, of proletarian insurrection and dictatorship – and in a practical way by putting forward orientations and slogans indispensable to the development and unity of proletarian struggles. No one else will be able to do it in their place.

The New World Order (CWO-ICT)

In a Kremlin speech in 2005 Vladimir Putin characterised the collapse of the USSR as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the Twentieth Century.” [2] The years that followed the break up of the USSR were characterised by triumphalism in the West, summed up in the ironic echo of Stalinism that we had arrived at “the end of history”. [3] A KGB officer in Berlin at the time, Putin subsequently had to observe the Eastward march of NATO and the EU right up to the old Russian borders. Russia not only lost the satellites of East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria but also Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Azerbaijan and the Central Asian republics. The Russian state could do little at this point as its economy was undergoing “shock therapy” on the advice of prominent US economists. Following the economic stagnation of Gorbachev’s perestroika, Yeltsin attempted to impose a more deep-seated restructuring of the Russian economy, one that had taken the West 20 years to accomplish, in a matter of months. It was a disaster which not only saw Russian GDP fall by 40% by 1999, it also saw 45,000 state enterprises sold off for a song to those who already had strong political (as well as criminal) connections, creating a class of oligarchs who were literally a law unto themselves. It culminated in a financial crash in 1998 which led to the devaluation of the rouble, and further misery for a population whose life expectancy was falling. Putin regards this period as one where the West “blatantly tricked” Russia by promising not to extend NATO right up to Russia’s borders. [4] Instead NATO and the EU enthusiastically integrated all the former Eastern bloc states, and parts of the old USSR, apart from Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, into their orbits. It is something Putin is determined to halt, and, if possible reverse, which is why he now talks of defending Russia’s “historic territories” like Ukraine.

[Here follows a rather long, detailed and very interesting passage, which we had to cut due to lack of space, which traces the history of Russian imperialism from the fall of the USSR to Putin’s arrival in power, through the Yeltsin years. We encourage English-speaking readers to read the whole article.]

So why is Putin mustering large bodies of troops on the Ukrainian border for the second time this year? It all started with the Biden administration signing an agreement to supply Ukraine with $125 million of weaponry in April 2021. The Pentagon openly declared that this was for “defence against Russian aggression”. [5] This was put on hold in June so Russian forces began to stand down, only for half the package to be reaffirmed by U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, on a visit to Kyiv in October. The Russian troop build-up thus resumed. And the USA is not the only NATO power arming Ukraine. Turkey has sold drones which Ukraine used in October to destroy separatist artillery in Luhansk. [6] And the British, ever seeking arms deals around the world, have also got in on the act by selling missiles to Ukraine. And to affirm their loyalty to the Western Alliance (i.e. curry favour in Washington) the Royal Navy sent the Type 45 destroyer, HMS Defender, on a deliberately provocative route within 5 miles of the Crimean coast. [7]

Both Putin and the West are thus playing at what used to be called in the first Cold War, “brinkmanship”. It is part theatre and part serious, and of course always leaves room for “misunderstandings”. What Putin has seen is that the US has retreated from its previous position as the world’s policeman. In the last decade or so it has withdrawn from Syria (Russia has saved the Assad regime as a result), Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving behind only chaos and misery. He is aware that the West, and the Europe is divided over how to deal with his pushback against the last 30 years of NATO expansion. He is also aware of Russia’s relative weakness against the combined forces of NATO. The Ukrainian conscript army itself is the third largest in Europe (over 700,000 troops), and is undergoing reform and reorganisation, which, with new and sophisticated weaponry from NATO powers, will make it more effective. Putin worries that Ukraine may soon be strong enough to recover the Donbass. He knows too that there are some situations in which neutrality is more important than action. Thus, in the Caucasus in 2020 he remained neutral in the Armenia-Azerbaijan war, allowing Erdoğan’s unconditional support for Azerbaijan to bring about the rapid defeat for Armenia. [8] It seems he has learned from Afghanistan – via both Brezhnev’s adventure in the 1980s and the twenty year US debacle there – that any military action has to be sudden, short and sharp. The added advantage of this is that the Western powers have no settled policy on how to deal with a more aggressive Russian policy in its own backyard, and where there is always the possibility of exploiting the differences between them over such issues as Nord Stream 2.

Trump famously made these divisions worse by his criticism of some of the most important NATO “allies”. Biden has since mended some fences with European allies, but there are still fears in Europe that the US will make some deal with Putin without consulting them, and then leave them to sort out the consequences. Blinken, the US Secretary of State has already conceded that Nord Stream 2 will come on line in 2022 (although the new German government has so far not sanctioned it) although it did get outgoing Chancellor Merkel to agree to the threat of more joint sanctions if Russia starts cutting off supplies of gas to Ukraine.

The USA really wants to concentrate on the far more dangerous threat to its global dominance that comes from China. Although the rhetoric is different, “the pivot to Asia”, and the need to cut the faux frais of its imperialist reach elsewhere, are about the only issues which unite the bulk of the US ruling class (from Trump to Biden). As part of the need to concentrate on China, the ignominious retreat from Afghanistan was negotiated by the Trump administration whose concessions to the Taliban undermined the Afghan government [9] to the point that only a massive re-commitment of US troops would have preserved it. Biden was just as critical of the futility of the Afghan adventure as Trump, so did nothing to prevent the Kabul debacle. Although there is much bluster about “red lines” and “serious consequences on both sides, the prospect of meetings in Geneva in January and a face to face between Biden and Putin in February, should ensure that the current theatre around Ukraine will go on into the new year. As a token of this Putin withdrew 10,000 troops from the “exercises” on Christmas Eve, which still leaves an estimated 90,000 on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea. However, whilst the US is more focussed on “the threat from China”, and wants to deal with Russia separately, the distinction may be harder to maintain given recent developments between these two states. In the last year in particular Russia and China have been seeking closer cooperation.

Russia/China and the USA

[We had to remove here two paragraphs that trace the relations between the late USSR and China, then present the development of close and growing economic relations between Russia and China in recent years.]

Since 2014 US sanctions against both states have ensured that China-Russia rapprochement has gone beyond economic cooperation. Whilst the US was scrambling to get people out of Kabul in August, the two countries were engaging in “large-scale joint exercises for the first time inside China”. [10] In October, Chinese and Russian warships held joint manoeuvres in the Pacific completing a near circle around Japan’s main island in the process. Then on November 19, both militaries sent bomber flights into Japanese and South Korean air defence zones, “forcing Seoul to scramble its fighter jets in response”. [11] Four days later the Defence Ministers of Russia and China then signed a “roadmap of closer military cooperation” for the next four years citing US aerial threats as the reason. [12] It adds that the two countries share a desire to counter a perceived U.S. ideology “of militarism, interventionism and the forcible imposition of U.S. values on other countries.” [13] And of course this new military alliance is “a contribution to peace”.

Russian Vladimir Putin and Chinese XI Jinping in Beijing, last February 4th 2022
(Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Source: AP)

If that sounds familiar it is because we have been subjected to exactly the same propaganda from the US and its allies. Although they remain the most powerful forces on Earth, both economically and militarily, together accounting for 60% of the world’s expenditure on arms, they want to keep it that way. As Biden made clear earlier this year: “ On my watch China will not achieve its goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.” [14]

However in the Indo-Pacific the US does not have any alliance like NATO, with its integrated command and control structures. In fact, the only one of America’s Asian treaty alliances that has such a structure, is the one with South Korea. During the Cold War the US did try to set up a NATO-equivalent in the region called the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, or SEATO. This however never became a real military alliance, and lacked the common foe the USSR represented in Europe, so it was wound up in 1977. The US is now trying to nudge the NATO allies to take up more of the cost of the military expenditure in their own backyard against Russia, whilst it is also trying to build towards a series of alliances against China that might, in time, amount to the kind of close cooperation enjoyed by NATO states.

It is not difficult for the US to build a picture of “a Chinese threat”. Stories of Chinese military exercises simulating an invasion of Taiwan, or the constant overflying of Taiwan’s airspace, all add to a genuine picture of a much more assertive China. [15] The building of artificial islands in the South China Sea, the insistence that this is virtually China’s Mare Nostrum and the disputes with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines and other states in the region are real enough. China’s maritime militia (hundreds of fishing boats with guns) are used to enforce China’s claim to control various islands whilst not being officially part of the state apparatus. [16]

At the same time the US is stepping up the ideological issue too. The repression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang and the dismantling of democratic opposition in Hong Kong, as well as the increasingly authoritarian control which President Xi wields over the Chinese Communist Party, all fit the US “we defend democracy” narrative. In February 2021 Biden made this more explicit. “We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that … autocracy is the best way forward and those who understand that democracy is essential.” [17]

By playing on these military and ideological threats the US has been ratcheting up alliances, both formal and informal, as part of its manoeuvring to hold on to its position in the great game for world domination. These include the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) which includes the USA, Australia, Japan and India, the Five Eyes intelligence sharing organisation of the English-speaking states of the USA, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and most recently, the US controversial deal with Australia and the UK, AUKUS.

The Five Eyes operation is basically the US keeping its allies informed about what it has learned of Chinese advances but the Quad has organised joint naval manoeuvres annually throughout the Asia Pacific region since the 1990s. The 2020 exercise took place off the Malabar coast and significantly had the added presence of the navies of New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam. It was during this exercise that the creation of a “NATO” for the Asian-Pacific region was first openly discussed. A further step towards a new anti-China dominated alliance in the Pacific came this year with the formation of AUKUS. Our comrades in Australia summed up its aims:

“ On September 15th, as part of revamped efforts by the US under Biden to gather its allies against China, Biden, Morrison and Johnson signed the AUKUS pact, which not only involves Australia to now be building nuclear submarines at the Corp in Osborne, South Australia, but also entails enhancing military interoperability, new forms of meetings and engagements between defence and foreign ministers and officials, and deeper cooperation across cyber, applied AI, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities.” [18]

And to round 2021 off Japan and the US have now concocted a plan in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan: “ Under the plan, the US marine corps would set up temporary bases on the Nansei island chain stretching from Kyushu – one of the four main islands of Japan – to Taiwan at the initial stage of a Taiwan emergency and would deploy troops… ” [19]

These alliances enormously help to consolidate US power particularly against the perceived growing challenge from China. There are many ironies in this contradictory situation into which imperialism has stumbled. Not least is that the rise of China was predicated on the injection of massive doses of Western capital which could not find sufficient profit levels at home after the 1970s. Cheap Chinese commodities produced by the highly exploited Chinese working class, not only allowed Western economies to restructure in the face of a global economic crisis of accumulation, but also led to the creation of an economic giant which openly claims it will become the world’s dominant power by 2049, challenging the very country from where its initial capital came in the first place. It certainly undermines the capitalist notion that trade, especially “free trade” promotes enduring peace, but then the whole history of imperialism has already amply demonstrated this. The shock in the West is that China’s embrace of “the market” has not automatically led to the collapse of the Communist Party’s rule. It was assumed it would go the way of the USSR. More than thirty years since the Tiananmen massacre, Party rule seems as strong as ever.

The real fear for the US is that China’s economic growth will give it a basis for transforming power relations. At the moment this seems a long way off and the dollar still rules supreme in world trade with no serious rivals, just as it has since 1945. However there are worrying signs for the US. China’s much trumpeted Belt and Road iniziative has been analysed in these pages before, but now 142 states are signed up in various ways to it. There are problems with many of these countries but the project continues. At the same time, Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has opened the door for China to sponsor an alternative trade bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“ The RCEP trade bloc is the world’s largest, both in terms of population and GDP, roughly accounting for 30 percent of the global total for each. The RCEP member countries are Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. This equates to a market value of close to US$25 trillion and a total consumer base of about 2.5 billion, of whom an estimated one billion are middle-class consumers. That is roughly the equivalent of 3 x the United States. ” [20]

The trade bloc aims to reduce tariffs to zero on 92% of traded goods of its members so, although there are many economists who think it will not amount to much, it is a potential game changer. China has recovered from the pandemic faster than expected. Its annual exports were up 22% in November 2021 which is its highest growth in a decade. On the other hand the Chinese real estate sector is in crisis after the 6 December default of the Evergrande conglomerate. The Chinese property sector accounts for about a third of total economic output so this is bound to have a detrimental effect on overall growth figures for 2022.

Even without the pandemic, the current situation thus lacks some of the predictability of the post-war rivalry between the USSR and the USA. Whilst Putin is openly trying to redress the balance of power on the Southern and Western borders of Russia [21], the US has also dubbed China a “revisionist” power. On its own the US still has, at least on paper, enough military might to take on not only Russia and China, but the next 5 ranked powers in the world as well. Its military budget will rise to $750 billion this year but whereas this was 6% of its expenditure in Reagan’s time that figure now represents 15% today. It is unlikely to diminish given both the seriousness of the perceived threat (naturally talked up by the military and the industries that get the contracts) and the constant development of new types of weaponry. There is in fact an arms race in cyber warfare, in drone warfare and in missile defence systems going on at some pace, all driven by the fear of losing a strategic advantage in any field.

Most worryingly is the increased notion in all the military forces that low yield tactical nuclear weapons can be used on the battlefield. In February 2020 the US conducted a military exercise which simulated using a submarine-launched nuclear weapon against Russia [22] (which US intelligence believes is also looking at the same possibility). Additionally China is credited with new weapons which could override the US 5-1 superiority in aircraft carriers such as the Dongfeng-41 (“East Wind”) “carrier-killer” missile [23], while its recent test of a hypersonic glide vehicle [24] which it is claimed launched a missile whilst travelling at five times the speed of sound, has only added more intensity to the arms race. The question begged by all this is “where is it leading us”? You cannot eat weapons nor can they be used to create anything. As tools they have limited use for hunting down the Earth’s declining wildlife, but other than that they only make money for those who sell them to the many warring parties in the world’s “local” conflicts from the Sahel and Syria to Ethiopia and Yemen. They bring misery to millions but the scale of today’s suffering will be nothing compared to what the system is now preparing.

The boom after the Second World War was predicated on the massive destruction of capital which allowed a new cycle of accumulation to begin. The extent of that destruction was enough to ensure that no power would lightly engage in generalised warfare. The costs had to be weighed in the balance. However the boom came to an end in the early Seventies, and the system has staggered from one expedient to the next to survive. The transfer of much productive capacity to China was just one of these, but today this has simply reproduced an imperialist rivalry of the most dangerous kind, with new alliances and a new, highly sophisticated, arms race in many fields. It cannot be predicted when this will lead to a more generalised conflict, although Admiral Davidson, the outgoing head of US command for the Indo-Pacific, openly declared that it would be within “the next six years” (as he, of course, called for an increase in the military budget). [25] The system is inexorably taking us down that more than dangerous road. The actual flashpoint might not be either Ukraine or Taiwan, but in these uncertain times nothing can be ruled out. This is a struggle for mastery over the planet, and it will not go away. As our Italian comrades concluded in a recent article on Taiwan:

“ It is obvious that capitalism is preparing a new conflict of global significance and is not afraid of pushing the planet to the brink, not only on the environmental level, but now openly also on the economic and social level. Even if sometimes unconsciously, capitalism pursues the idea which every sensible human being instinctively hates and rejects: the idea of destruction, as its salvation, its resurrection. By devaluing capital and obtaining the much desired “creative destruction” according to the famous Schumpeter definition, capital would then have the paved the way to restart a new cycle of accumulation as after previous wars, regardless of the effects that this “regeneration” would have on the planet and on its population. ” [26]

Communist Workers’ Organisation, February 2022



[2. See ’Putin deplores collapse of USSR’. BBC News. 25 April 2005.

[3. Marx had always argued that the establishment of communism would be “the beginning of real human history”.

[4. A point he repeated recently as reported in the Financial Times. See


[7. The British Government at first tried to deny that the route was provocative and that it it was just a matter for the Royal Navy but the discovery of MOD documents at a bus stop in Surrey left by the candidate ambassador to NATO revealed that this is precisely what was discussed “at the highest levels” The ambassador did not get the job!.

[8. See

[9. See

[13. idem.

[14. Quoted in

[15. For a more detailed analysis of what is going on around Taiwan see

[17. Also quoted at

[21. Of which the rapid use of Russian and Belarusian troops to save the government in Kazakhstan from a “popular uprising” is another example.