Revolution or War n°5

(February 2016)

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On the Development of the Imperialist Rivalries since the Russian Military Intervention in Syria and on Revolutionaries’ Intervention

The following statement stems from a discussion and a contradictory debate within our group on the significance and the implications of the Russian military intervention in Syria since September 30th 2015. A comrade began to question our position on the dynamic of the imperialist polarization which, if the proletariat can’t hinder it by imposing its own revolutionary perspective, leads to the setting up of imperialist blocs and to the start a 3rd World War. According to the Thesis on the Historical Situation we adopted at our 2013 Conference, "since 1989, only Germany has emerged as an imperialist power with the capacity to establish itself as head of an up-and-coming imperialist bloc". It could seem that the brutal and massive Russian military intervention belied our thesis by putting Russia back at the centre of the imperialist rivalries. In the course of the discussion, the comrade said he was feeling closer to the positions of the Internationalist Communist Tendency. In a general way and to summarise, the ICT doesn’t share our vision of an ’historical course’ and so, amongst other things, neither its implications at the level of the development of the imperialist rivalries such as we understand them. To systematise our discussion, we have thus taken the ICT articles, in particular Turkey Downs a Russian Warplane and Putin Latest Move in Syria, as the axis of our internal debate. At the time of writing, it is still in progress.

Thus we continue the discussion and the problematic linked to the method of analysis of the situations and to the possible ’predictions’, that is to the definition of the march and the course of events, that we have already dealt with in the previous issue of this journal [1]. Actually, our internal debate, whether it tackles the analysis of the classes’ struggle or imperialist rivalries, greatly exceeds the framework of our group. It goes through the Proletarian Camp. It centres essentially around two approaches and methods put forward and in practice by two of the main historical currents of the Communist Left of the 1970s and 1980s then represented by the IBRP (today the ICT) and the ICC of that time. If we could participate in these debates being consciously assumed, fraternally and without ’defending at any cost the past of one’s own group ’, by the whole Proletarian Camp, we would accomplish one of the tasks that our group set itself when it was constituted.

The IGCL, January 2016

Towards a ’New Cold War’ between the United States and Russia?

The articles of the ICT defend very clearly and with no ambiguity a class position not only by denouncing the imperialist camps that exist but also by defending the historical alternative between war and revolution. This last point is indispensable for a genuine internationalist statement which, in class term, differentiates from and opposes the pacifist movements and organisations of the bourgeois Left. The immediate development of the confrontations in Syria and in the Middle East and, more particularly, the imperialist motivations of Turkey and Russia which brought them close to a direct confrontation, are rightly described. The discussion and the criticism we can make of these statements are thus of a secondary order and are directed to comrades who are on the same side of the class barricade faced with imperialist wars in general and particularly faced with the one presently taking place in Syria. Debating to know who between Russia and Germany – exposing roughly the stakes of our debate – can eventually be the likely main imperialist rival of the United States can appear without importance for the classes’ struggle and the intervention of the revolutionaries faithful to the principle of internationalism. For our part, on the contrary, we think that the conclusions of such a debate are necessary for the development of an efficient communist intervention because it can enable us to recognise the timeline, the stakes and the different moments of the offensives and battles that the bourgeoisie is going to impose on the international proletariat.

Beyond the present conflict in Syria, the article Putin Latest Move... (dated October 5th) tends to open, amongst many antagonistic interests, a main line of imperialist division opposing the United States and Russia [2]:

« Against his will the small-time Syrian dictator found himself in the middle of an imperialist conflict involving the most powerful forces on the international stage. For US imperialism, backed by Europe, the elimination of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, like that of Ghaddafi, has meant and means removing any obstacle to the manoeuvres of its Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. It means removing any residual support in the small sea for the resurgent imperialism of Moscow and forcefully retaking the leadership of the West from Europe, at the same time undermining the Russian ’monopoly’ of energy supplies to Europe itself. The theatres of this ’new Cold War’ are the Eastern European countries, from the former Yugoslavia to Ukraine via Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary. The usual means are being employed: the use of NATO, its expansion to the east, fomenting civil wars, the ’colour’ revolutions and economic sanctions. The important thing was not to allow the old Russian bear to growl again on the strength of its barrels of oil and cubic metres of natural gas »

Considered in themselves, each one of the elements or noted facts, which are real, can appear to be part of a dynamic of imperialist contrast which organises itself mainly around a division between Russia and the United States, the latter being « backed by Europe ». But from our point of view, there are also other elements that the article does not take into account and which, considered in themselves, can indicate another dynamic of imperialist polarisation [3]:

- the military inability to allow the Assad government to regain ground against the different rebel forces in Syria have quite quickly revealed the limits of Russian imperialism;

- France proposed a military coalition to Russia, to increase its military intervention in Syria and to lead the other main European countries to support it military by intervening at its side in the framework of the European Union – and not NATO;

- the French proposal of military coalition with Russia that Putin supported – some weeks after the final French refusal to provide it the ’Mistral’ warships – has come to a sudden end after the Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey on November 24th, precisely two days before the French President Hollande’s visit to Moscow. ’The point is, all major decisions and most minor decisions are taken by NATO at Washington’s behest.’ (Asia Times, Dec. 5th, 2015). How can we not see the sabotage of the US of any bridging between France and Russia?

- Germany, on the pretext of the attacks in Paris, has decided to intervene in Syria (and Mali) alongside France in the formal framework of the European Union.

These important facts indicate that a latent opposition between the Americans and the ’Europeans’ expresses itself permanently. From these elements alone, claiming that it is the historically determining opposition would not be worth much. It would be looking in an absolute manner at each event, each immediate fact, for the verification of a general analysis disregarding the contradictory character of any process. However, the recognition of the main line of imperialist divide leading to the generalised war remains fundamental for the revolutionary proletariat and its political minorities be able to comprehend the moments, the battles and the concrete stakes with which they already are confronted and will be: what is the degree of danger of war of each moment; what are the ideological themes and the political offensives set up by the bourgeoisie; the level and development of the relation of forces between the classes, and so what fights and political orientations to put forward...

Recognising the ’Central Axis’ in the Imperialist Antagonisms in the midst of an Apparent Chaos

The contradictory reality, indeed even apparently ’chaotic’, of the process driving the imperialist rivalries and leading to the affirmation of a central axis of opposition and to generalised war, is not a new problem for the working class movement:

"All these occurrences, coming blow upon blow, created new, extra-European antagonisms on all sides: between Italy and France in Northern Africa, between France and England in Egypt, between England and Russia in Central Asia, between Russia and Japan in Eastern Asia, between Japan and England in China, between the United States and Japan in the Pacific Ocean – a very restless ocean, full of sharp conflicts and temporary alliances, of tension and relaxation, threatening every few years to break out into a war between European powers. It was clear to everybody, therefore, (1) that the secret underhand war of each capitalist nation against every other, on the backs of Asiatic and African peoples must sooner or later lead to a general reckoning, that the wind that was sown in Africa and Asia would return to Europe as a terrific storm, the more certainly since increased armament of the European states was the constant associate of these Asiatic and African occurrences; (2) that the European world war would have to come to an outbreak as soon as the partial and changing conflicts between the imperialist states found a centralised axis, a conflict of sufficient magnitude to group them, for the time being, into large, opposing factions. This situation was created by the appearance of German imperialism." (Rosa Luxemburg, Junius Pamphlet, ch.3, 1915, we underline).

There is nothing new in the fact that, before the historical conditions allow the clear affirmation of the ’central axis’, we see a kind of ’each one for oneself and all against all’ – the present ICC sees in it the chaos peculiar to Decomposition. As Marxists, we must see it as a moment of the process leading to a new imperialist world order up to the definitive affirmation of the ’central axis’ organised in imperialist blocs for generalised war. So it is important to distance ourselves from the immediate – without disregarding it – and to attempt to recognise the lines of force which will end up asserting themselves – unless the proletariat does change directly the parameters of the historical problem.

One of the difficulties for understanding the present imperialist dynamic is also due to the fact that today there are not constituted imperialist blocs as there were before 1989. Yet the schema of the Cold War is dead. The exceptional existence of strictly definite imperialist blocs from 1945 to 1989 and without open war will not happen again. The question of the imperialist polarisation and the constitution of imperialist blocs is not posed like after the 2nd World War... but rather like before when "the two opposite camps grouped together until the last few weeks before the outbreak of war" (F. Sternberg, Capitalism and Socialism on trial [4]). Famous example: the German-Russian pact was signed just a few days before the beginning of the 2nd World War while ’in these conditions, nothing looked so natural as a military alliance between the western powers and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany’ (idem). This alliance ’against nature’ which lasted almost two years and during total war did not prevent the historical, fundamental, “natural” tendency from being expressed despite everything and launching them at one another in June 1941.

The Dynamic of Imperialist Assertion of Germany

Capitalism’s history teaches us that, in the imperialist epoch, the main antagonism which finally determines the evolution of the rivalries and wars is the historical one opposing the ruling imperialist power of the moment, yesterday the British and French colonial powers, today the American power, and those arrived later on the world market and on the imperialist scene. Amongst them, Germany, because of the energy and dynamism of the national capital, is the only one which, twice, could seriously consider questioning the prevailing imperialist order and threaten it directly. But both times it was defeated. Always frustrated, restricted, constrained, repressed, it is unable to really give and express all its historical force except in the world wars, Germany has been relegated at a second rank power after its total and systematic destruction by the American-English air force in 1945 and during the 40 years it remained divided. Since the implosion of the Eastern bloc and Germany’s reunification, it has not stopped coming back as primary actor of the world scene at all levels, economic and imperialist. So it is for fundamental historical reasons and because of the dynamic of the last 25 years that we think that this country will eventually be – regardless of whether the Germany bourgeoisie is aware of it today – the main imperialist rival of the United States. As any process, this one is not inescapable. This is why it is important to follow the development of the imperialist rivalries and to take into account the facts which oppose this. Yet it remains that we don’t see to date any element of historical importance – as was 1989 for instance – which would question the present tendency of the assertion of imperialist Germany. And even less being challenged by the history and the particular dynamic of Russia of these last 25 years – even though Putin can well aspire, dream, of a return of the past imperialist power of the USSR.

This general view enables the understanding that the genuine stake of the American-Russian opposition – which is real – in Syria as in Eastern Europe, rightly described and denounced by the ICT, is precisely for the Americans to prevent any regroupment between Russia and Europe, Germany and France in the first place. It was partly a success in Ukraine: the ceasefire agreement was negotiated between these latter countries and in the absence of the USA which was pushed aside. On the other hand, the latter had succeeded to impose economic sanctions against Russia which not only handicap Russia but also, to a lesser degree, Europe. Up to having driven an important wedge between Russia and France with the non-delivery of the Mistral warships. It is with the same concern that the Americans have "authorised" – to a lesser or greater degree – the destruction of the Russian warplane by Turkey... as a NATO member and two days before the French President Hollande’s visit to Moscow. So the military coalition in Syria proposed by France and accepted by Russia had become impossible.

But globally and since the end of the USSR, and despite the American efforts, the tendency to a reinforcement of the economic links and to imperialist rapprochement between Germany (and behind it France, Italy, etc., that is the main continental European powers) and Russia has not ceased confirming itself.

From an historical point of view, Germany’s decision to intervene militarily alongside France after the November attacks in Paris [5], is one more step of the imperialist assertion of Germany on the world scene, whatever one can think about the more or less modest scale of its military intervention in the present time. In itself, immediately, this will not change anything, or so little, in the military and imperialist relation of forces in Syria. One of the difficulties of the German ruling class, besides the Constitution of its state and its ’pacifist’ national ideology inherited from 1945, is the relative inadequacy of its army forces. On the one hand, it does not have nuclear weapons – but we can bet it will build them very quickly and very easily when the day comes – and, on the other hand, its army still remains in great part adapted to the situation prior to 1989, that is to NATO of that time. If the external military intervention in Afghanistan within the NATO framework had represented a break, the end of a ’taboo’ with regards to the German Constitution, the intervention within the EU framework alongside France represents another significant break from the point of view of the framework of the intervention, outside NATO, that is from the political and strategic point of view. ’We will have to make resources available for initiatives of common European defence (…). Our goal must be a common European army’ (Wolfgang Schaüble, German finance Minister, Bild dec. 27th 2015 quoted by La Tribune , translated by us).

Predicting and Looking Ahead the Course of the Events

It is not enough for the communist groups to proclaim the class principles, internationalism in this case, nor to affirm that the historical alternative is revolution or war, or that the proletariat has to retake the path of the struggle. They need to try to place themselves at the vanguard of the class fight by putting forward orientations and concrete slogans and to struggle to win the effective political leadership of their class. The capacity to anticipate the events to be able to indicate the fights to be led and the lines of confrontation between the classes is essential for the organ of political leadership which is the Party, and which is a task that communist groups of today must already take up. And it is not limited only to the terrain of the working class struggles. "A basic condition for the necessary expansion of political agitation is the organisation of comprehensive political exposure. In no way except by means of such exposures can the masses be trained in political consciousness and revolutionary activity. (…) The consciousness of the working masses cannot be genuine class-consciousness, unless the workers learn, from concrete, and above all from topical, political facts and events to observe every other social class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical, and political life; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata, and groups of the population" (Lenin, What is be done?).

Certainly, it is right, in itself, by principle, and indispensable, to claim that "A capitalism in decline can produce only crises, unemployment, pauperisation and wars however they are fought, with the proletariat playing its usual role as cannon fodder. There is only one alternative: either the international proletariat takes up again the forgotten road to frontal struggle against capitalism..." (Turkey Downs a Russian Plane). But this is not enough and it is clumsy – since it can be misunderstood – to affirm that "It does not matter if these episodes of war are isolated in various strategic zones, like the spots on a leopard, or are more generalised" (we underline). Yet, it matters to know the place and the scale of these conflicts. Whether they take place in Afghanistan, in Syria or in Ukraine, to mention only present wars, they do not have the same significance and do not present the same stakes for the international proletariat as when war directly affects the proletariat of the central capitalist countries. It is important to point out the particular meaning and the new situation the various wars reveal. In the other case, the defence of principles, of proletarian internationalism, it becomes insufficient, because it is a-temporal, valid at any time and any place, without taking into account the terms and the concrete stakes that each imperialist war poses more or less directly to the proletariat.

As well, not distinguishing clearly, or at least underestimating, the ’qualitative’ difference between the present ’local’ imperialist wars and the world generalised war does not enable to clarify in concrete terms how the question of imperialist war is posed today to the working class. Between the view of a predominant dynamic of ’local’ imperialist wars adding up in a continuous way until the generalised war – what one of the articles of the ICT leads us to understand [6] - and the one of a dynamic of massive confrontations between the classes which will decide if this leap towards generalised war is made – what we defend –, the stakes and the battles to ’predict’ between the classes are not exactly the same, nor are the concrete political orientations to put forwards.

The Imperialist War Becomes a Direct Factor of Class Consciousness

The historical situation – the crisis, the wars and imperialist rivalries, and the proletariat’s situation just to mention the main factors – has changed in 2015 and does not present the same stakes. ’The new period which is opening’ brings a very important concrete element for the class struggle: under one form or another, the question of imperialist war is directly posed to the international proletariat and, because of this, becomes a direct factor of consciousness. The same is true for the economic crisis. Until now, the economic sacrifices demanded by the development of the military and the expenses of wars still remained not much directly perceptible or identifiable for the whole world working class – except for its fractions from countries of the periphery of capitalism which are directly struck. Through the threats of indiscriminate bombings, repression, the worsening of the working conditions, the justification of the economic and political attacks, the calls for national unity – let’s remember the ’indignant’ reactions of the bourgeois politicians after the strikes in Belgium of November 23rd.

]] –, the imperialist war becomes also a concrete and immediate question which interpellates directly the great masses of the proletariat in the historical centres of capitalism.

Maintaining that war is becoming a factor of consciousness in the same way as the crisis has implications not only for the communist groups’ intervention but also has as a consequence new lines of ideological and political confrontations and stakes between the classes. With the war in the Middle East and the direct intervention of all the great powers, the attacks in France and against the Russian airliner, the calls for war against terrorism and for national unity, the measures of generalised repression set up everywhere, we have really entered a new period of direct confrontations between the classes that the bourgeoisie is constrained, crisis and imperialist rivalries oblige it, to impose upon the international proletariat.

RL, December 2015.



[2. Since this article has been written, the ICT has reported on the General Assembly of its group in Italy, the PCInt, Life of the Party (in Italian : in which it takes a much more precise position : « In regards with the crisis, the so-called recovery and the war, we underlined how the current war is, actually, a little world war apparently led against IS but which in fact see imperialist gangsters lining up the ones against the other in a dynamic which sees coming out what, in a more or less close future, would become two opposed imperialist poles, on one side China, Russia, Iran and on the other, the United States, the Arab Emirates, Japon and part of Europe (which also depends on energy from Russia) » (translated from Italian and underlined by us).

[3. We leave aside here the interests and the game of the local imperialisms, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, etc., which, while the great powers directly intervene at the military level and confront at the diplomatic one as well as with manouvers and ’foul plays’ of the secret services, are obliged to line up behind the latters.

[4. F. Sternberg, Le Conflit du siècle – capitalisme et socialisme à l’épreuve de l’histoire, Editions du Seuil, 1958, translated by us from the French version of this book which differs a little bit with its shorter English version we have at our disposal: Capitalism and Socialism on Trial, Greenwood Press, 1968.

[5. The January and November terrorist attacks in Paris have been the ideal pretext and this German decision is another demonstration that we have entered into A new period... (see Revolution or War #3) since the attacks against Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 2015.

[6. "To those who love to be alarmist and fear a third world war we can tell them that ’a small world war’ is already taking place" (Turkey Downs a Russian Warplane).