“These accursed questions” Irish Workers Notes, 22/3/2023
(reblogged from Socialist Fight, our fraternal comrades, at https://socialistfight.com/2023/04/14/imperialism-imperialist-outposts-and-national-wars/)
Without doubt the war in Ukraine is the most pressing political question of the early twenties for the left. Arguments circulate on what imperialism is, the nature of the modern imperialist system, the universality of participation by the global bourgeoisie in that system, whether the war is a defensive “national” war, which nation is acting defensively and around the periphery of that lingers arguments for the impossibility of any progressive bourgeois opposition to imperialism.
The divisions on the left resemble those on self determination prior to and during the formation of the 3rd International, and has produced political positions that represent, due to the level of decay, a much fainter echo of the political collapse in 1914. However, as we approach the end of the present era rather than a simple re-run of the First World War, it is the ‘Napoleonic’ sweep of the USA’s global victories that has largely, to date, reshaped the world to the satisfaction of an imperialism that is in decline and crisis and which is driving the war agenda. But that is changing.
The ‘baccilli’ that Lenin noted eating at the periphery of empires still exists. That bacilli exists only very faintly in Ireland since the imperialists’ treasured pacification process has triumphed, but the era of the consolidation of a global hegemony and the pacification processes that marked it is ending hence the urgency in preserving the dried out husk of the Belfast agreement. Despite the imperialists and their compradors best efforts the contradictions produced by the lack of an Irish Democracy still surface in the southern state’s GDP figures born of its dependent status and the manoeuvring between US imperialism and the EU over market access and taxation.
It also has surfaced most pointedly over Brexit, a fissure that represented the first tectonic shift in the slow tearing apart of US and EU interests. That fault line ripped at its weakest point in a Britain devoid of a coherent working class opposition with a bourgeoisie desperate for revival and deluded by its own fevered dreams in its imperial history into believing in a reconstructed empire and partnership with the US as a counter to European economic weight.
The same tectonic forces have became increasingly visable in an only partially decided tussle taking place between the US and the EU over Ukraine which has produced Nuland’s expletive laden dismissal of EU interests, (“F*ck the EU”) and the act of environmental terror in the North sea exposed by Seymour Hersh. The successes for US imperialism so far are producing their own contradictions which are witnessing the growth of right populism in Europe and is increasingly ‘liberating’ the German bourgeoisie from their sly pretences at anti-militarism and pacifism to the increasing horror of the German working class populace.
Imperialist hegemony while it produced a global “common sense” is not and never has been uniform and ‘complete’, seperate national interests still existed and chafed at the crisis ridden system of global imperialism. Now reeling from the internal contradictions of falling rates of profit and concommitant financial instability this process has accellerated. As the world redivides and responds to the growing economic crisis and to the declining hegemonic power new bourgeois forces are emerging that are increasingly rejecting that “common sense” for a vision of a multi polar world. This is admitted by the European Council on Foreign Relations whose recent survey now talks of “a new era of global politics” in a “post western world”. What exactly those emerging forces are and what they represent is the bone of contention on the left. While we must be cautious and guard against any suggestion that history is simply repeating itself the arguments surrounding self determination and imperialism are being consciously revisited, or in some cases thoughtlessly regurgitated, as global war threatens.
By the time of Lenin’s ‘summing up‘ document the right of nations to self determination had been a recurring theme since 1903 and 1913 in Russia, and later in Poland, but “these “accursed questions”.” as he had described them, had again raised their heads as part of the right wing of the 2nd International’s justification for their collapse in1914.
During the debates surrounding the establishment of the 3rd International what Lenin constantly reiterated was that in each case every war had to be assessed in concrete terms – arguing that; “We Marxists differ from both the pacifists and the Anarchists in that we deem it necessary historically (from the standpoint of Marx’s dialectical materialism) to study each war separately”. His reference to dialectics is of course no shibbolithic touchstone, it was a method of central importance to his analysis which took in to consideration the ever changing dynamics of war.
In his argument against the social chauvinists that claimed “national” status for the German war effort Lenin makes the point that historically the national wars against despotism and feudalism fell within a time-frame of classical national revolutions ending in 1871 but these were not wooden impenetrable parameters and even though the “fundamental historical significance” of these wars was progressive it was also clear that there was contained within that an element of plunder by those progressive nations, for example by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian war and by the French in the Revolutionary wars. Lenin pointed out the fact that while “The war of 1870-1871 was a historically progressive war on the part of Germany until Napoleon III was defeated” … “as soon as the war developed into the plunder of France (the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine), Marx and Engels emphatically condemned the Germans.
Marx and Engels also had approved of the refusal of Bebel and Liebknecht at the beginning of the war to vote for credits and advised the Social-Democrats not to merge with the bourgeoisie, but to uphold the independent class interests of the proletariat. They implied support for the state in its historically progressive endeavours but insisted on the proletariat’s independence from that state. That independence meant the ability to take what was progressive and to move forward with it.
Marx had a clear view of where the progressive content lay in the war and what the proletariat’s interests were and the existance of an independent workers programme did not for a moment imply any abandonment of his own support for the progressive anti imperialist aspects of Germany’s war. There was a revolutionary ‘permanance’ to his and Engels’ position of supporting what was progressive in the National bourgeoisie’s war of liberation while maintaining an independent workers programme that was capable of going beyond the constrictive demands and plunderous intentions of the German bourgeoisie.
So even in the era of progressive bourgeois wars of liberation contradiction was at the heart of their analysis. Marx condemned ‘just’ wars that had revolutionary content but which had “developed in to plunder” and on the other hand neither did self determination for small nations meet with automatic approval, both he and Engels refused support for Czech and Southern Slav ‘self determination’ due to the wider imperialist context and their political purpose as “whole reactionary nations” serving as “outposts” of the Russian empire against the objectively progressive, but still potentially plunderous, nations in Europe. This subtlety based upon concrete detail was distorted by both the right and the centrists in the 2nd international who justified their political collapse by attempting to argue that Marx had simply picked a side in these wars, an argument Lenin rejected for, among other things, its “howling anti-historicalness”.
In later elaborations Lenin was careful not to rule out the possibility of wars with a progressive national content occurring beyond the era of classical historically progressive bourgeois wars and went to some pains to make the argument that while the First World war was inter-imperialist that, even then, bourgeois wars were still possible in which there was a progressive anti imperialist content.
As a counter to the notion that the imperialist powers fighting over the “fair” distribution of colonial possessions could pose as a “defence of the fatherland” Lenin gave as examples nations that were breaking out from “the oppression of the reactionary great powers” arguing that “every Socialist would sympathise with the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states”, insisting that; “A war on such a historical ground can even today be a bourgeois-progressive, national-liberation war.”
This had been provoked by Luxemburg’s assertion in 1916, writing as Junius, that “In the epoch of this unbridled imperialism, there can be no more national wars”. In her defence, Luxemburg’s rejection of “national” wars was a knee-jerk reaction to the repulsively pro-imperialist social chauvinists which she bitterly opposed but Lenin, most emphatically in this debate, defended democratic self determination as the basis of internationalism and it was precisely on the basis of this position that Lenin criticised Luxemburg for her dismissal of the Easter Rising as a ‘putsch’.
The “apolitical” and “harmful” position she had taken was described as a sort of “imperialist Economism”. Those who argued that wars of national liberation were no longer possible were falling in to the same trap as “the old Economism of 1894–1902, which argued in this way: capitalism is victorious, therefore political questions are a waste of time.” Now the argument went; “Imperialism has triumphed—therefore there is no need to bother with the problems of political democracy.” Although enthusiastically agreeing with her assessment of the “imperialist background” and her polemic against the right Lenin insisted that; “it would be a mistake to exaggerate this truth; to depart from the Marxian rule to be concrete; to apply the appraisal of the present war to all wars that are possible under imperialism; to lose sight of the national movements against imperialism.”
In the debate with Junius, Lenin defended Luxemburg’s position that in the particular contemporary concrete conditions, the world had been divided up among a handful of “Great” imperialist powers, and, therefore, every war, even if it starts as a national war, is transformed into an imperialist war and affects the interests of one of the imperialist Powers or coalitions.” But it is on this precise point that Lenin makes an insightful and important observation; “Of course, the fundamental proposition of Marxian dialectics is that all boundaries in nature and society are conventional and mobile, that there is not a single phenomenon which cannot under certain conditions be transformed into its opposite. A national war can be transformed into an imperialist war, and vice versa.” The most salient concrete point was that the Great European war was imperialist on all sides and the 2nd internationalists had no justification for supporting their respective national war efforts disguised as “Just wars” or as a “defence of the fatherland,” but Lenin was careful not to convert that in to an iron general rule.
While considering the possibility of the development of national struggles out of the first imperialist world war “highly improbable…” Lenin nevertheless considered “national wars” not impossible in the era of imperialism “even in Europe” and he set out a series of hypothetical conditions that would allow such a possibility to emerge. In the list of conditions needed to allow such a “national war” to arise in any post first world war settlement was a protracted period of dormancy of the proletariat achieved by a victory “similar to those achieved by Napoleon” which would end “in the subjugation of a number of virile national states”, and most importantly, would throw the proletariat back for “another 20 years” allowing for the emergence of bourgeois national struggles in Europe itself.
History was not viewed by Lenin as a simplistic linear process; “to picture world history as advancing smoothly and steadily without sometimes taking gigantic strides backward is undialectical, unscientific and theoretically wrong”. There always was posed the possibility of defeat and the reversal of historic gains for the proletariat creating changed and indeed more backward conditions and history has of course verified the correctness of this understanding.
Hypotheticals and history
When we turn to today’s conditions we find decisive US power and working class dormancy in the West following the Second World war compounded by the triumph of ‘neo liberalism’ and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This produced exactly the kind of sweeping Napoleonic style victory for US imperialism that Lenin had envisaged as possible in a European context, politically defeating the working class and exacerbating the multi-generational dormancy which the working class, particularly in the imperialist centres, has been afflicted with.
Since that victory and with the lesser western imperialist powers in tow many semi colonial bourgeois states, particularly of the Arab nationalist variety were brutally crushed by a Western imperialism which in rolling back historic political development boasted that it could bomb Iraq into the Stone Age; becoming increasingly callous with each attack and leaving behind it regressive religious regimes or reactionary imperialist backed oppositions. Only the vast Eastern capitalist states in the protracted process of dismantling the legacy of their nationalised property relations remain, and more importantly have began to look like they might withstand the unbalanced ‘competition’ of the global hegemon in the midst of a long term profitability crisis, financial instability and collapse. It is this crisis that is driving forward the war plans of the US but what marks today’s conflict is the tendency of semi-colonial countries especially in the global south to resist being pulled in to the conflict on the side of imperialism, despite their best efforts, as a multi-polar world economy begins to, rather weakly, take shape.
Lenin did his best to present hypotheticals for the emergence of “just” wars out of the European conflagration of his time and while his analysis retains all of its power, what he could not have foreseen was the foundation of the USSR and its subsequent collapse in to an independent capitalist state in Russia. But what he did do was advise us that in order to understand the character of a war we must define its “substance” or material context; “War is the continuation of policy. Consequently, we must examine the policy pursued prior to the war, the policy that led to and brought about the war. If it was an imperialist policy, i.e., one designed to safeguard the interests of finance capital and rob and oppress colonies and foreign countries, then the war stemming from that policy is imperialist. If it was a national liberation policy, i.e., one expressive of the mass movement against national oppression, then the war stemming from that policy is a war of national liberation.”
When we examine the pre-war policy of Russia we find no attempts to subjugate Ukraine within the CIS during its formation and later we find concerted attempts at compromise with imperialism over the revolt by the Donbass people against the installation of a racist regime that targetted their ethnicity. Repeated attempts at finding a resolution via the Minsk talks were made while Ukraine proceeded implacably with hostilities driven by imperialist influence and by the zealous fascist militias sent to the front line to maintain military discipline and to continue shelling the rebel enclaves.
There was a progressive core to the Donbass people’s demands for self determination and a conscious resistance to Nazism but the Russian state did not support their demands for recognition until the last moment when all possibility dissipated that the Minsk talks could be productive. In fact the whole process which was brought to an end with the help of Boris Johnston’s timely intervention was later revealed to be a sham according to the recent revelations by Angela Merkel. In comparison to the western preparations for all out war, Russian policy was defensive reflecting their need to prevent further imperialist expansion in to Crimea and inescapably this included protecting the Donbass region’s demands for self rule.
When we examine policy from the other side we find that the war was a natural extension of US imperialist policy towards Ukraine’s land and natural resources and towards its location as a launchpad for weapons systems aimed at Moscow.
Imperialism is the key
For Lenin in the context of the argument with Junius a “genuinely” national war was one where “ a “long process of mass national movements, of a struggle against absolutism and feudalism, the overthrow of national oppression”….” took place. History did not advance “smoothly and steadily” and did indeed take a “gigantic stride[s] backward” as he envisaged and while a struggle against national oppression is applicable in the Irish context today it is not a woodenly applied rule for all circumstances. No such struggle took place in the young capitalist Russia of today, it was not subject to national oppression and never has in any colonial sense, and it has arrived at its conflict with imperialism not through any quality of its own bourgeoisie but through imperialism’s aggressive designs upon their independence which threatens them with exactly the same kind of national oppression which all of imperialism’s opponents of the last 30 years have suffered.
There is nothing ‘progressive’ about the Russian bourgeoisie, they gained their power through the dismantling of socialised property relations and the brutalisation of an already dormant Russian and East European working class. As a result of the smash and grab tactics of sections of the Stalinist bureaucracy and the extremely corrupt giveaway of nationalised property it had an unstable ruling class attempting to negotiate its independence within the imperialist system. As crisis driven global capitalism arrived at the ‘neo liberal’ era Russia arrived at capitalism not as an imperialist power but as a capitalist state with a large state sector, and an economy based on the export of raw materials, or as a “gas station masquerading as a country” to quote the arch imperialist John Mc Cain.
This historical throwback did not mean that Russia would have to re-run the classical birth pangs of a capitalism emerging from feudalism. It had been arrived at in reverse gear as it were, with the aspects of the nationalised state economy most viable on the global market representing the plumb targets for seizure by private hands. We do not believe that western imperialism’s conflict with the soviet union was ‘purely’ ideological and they were content with their supposed ‘moral’ victory with the emergence of a Russian capitalist class which would play its part in a pacific global capitalist system as some of the more naïve elements of the Russian restorationists seemed to believe. This emergent capitalism arrived in the inevitable context of a rampant imperialism, pressing for absolute global control and it was of course precisely the sources of privatised wealth along with the large sections of the Russian economy including banking that remain unprivatised which the imperialists had, and still have, their eyes upon.
Russia did not leap-frog from being a defeated degenerate workers’ state unable to compete with western imperialism into being an imperialist state in its own right. Neither is it a colony nor a semi colony. More accurately it has been described as having the economic characteristics of one of the “semi peripheral” countries that developed due to outsourcing of production by the imperialist centres in order to lower labour costs according to one assessment. This was driven by the fundamental internal contradiction of capitalism the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall but Russia, (like China), differs from other semi-peripheral capitalist countries in that it arrived at its productive capacity as the material beneficiary of decades of the socialised means of production and huge military and civil infrastructural projects. As an emerging capitalist state its deconstruction of the state sector has not been as thorough as ‘neo-liberal’ economic doctrine demands and it has been “deformed” somewhat if we can borrow a characterisation by that legacy leaving global financial capital unable to fully benefit from their victory.
The ‘othering’ of Russia has long preceded the outbreak of the Ukrainian conflict, from its foundation as a coherent independent capitalist entity Russia has continuously been in danger of being broken up and swallowed by imperialism. Zbigniew Brzeinski’s anti-Soviet imperialist theory transferred seamlessly into an anti-Russian imperialist theory, up-dated only prior to the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine by the 2019 Rand Report on how to cause Russia to “over reach”, which at least took an honest and open eyed view of its “escalatory” potential. This strategy was constantly in play with the eastward push of NATO throughout the smaller East European states which became almost without exception increasingly right wing as EU and US financial and political ‘support‘ poured in through the same sources as was available to the Ukrainian Right during the ‘Orange revolution’ and in the build up to Maidan.
While Russia, due to both the progress and regressions of history, differs from the “virile” nations opposing the Napoleonic style continental victory envisaged by Lenin it has nevertheless emerged over a century later as a non-imperialist capitalist state under attack and in danger of encirclement by the global imperialist hegemon and its allies and it must be afforded critical support in defeating the imperialist proxy armies on its borders. Failure to do so means falling into the same ultra-left trap that ensnared Junius.
Ukrainian self determination?
The aggressive imperialist strategy towards Russia included exacerbating tensions on its borders, in Ukraine this was acheived through the multi-billion Dollar funding of already existant West Ukrainian Russophobia. This expanded following the ‘Orange revolution’, and ultimately led to imperialism’s support for the 2014 Banderaite coup in Kiev. After a decade of western economic ‘medicine’ the nationalist Eastern Ukrainian petit bourgeoisie’s dreams of ethnic grandeur produced its reactionary programme, promising to reject all that was Russian and to guard the frontiers of ‘white’ Europe.
With each political advance by imperialist interests economic conditions worsened for the Ukrainian working class as a whole. Following the success of the 2014 coup household poverty in Ukraine rocketed and conditions for workers worsened catastrophically under the hammer of an extreme right government. The process of selling off agriculture to global investors, which already had invested heavily in oligarch controlled land, was accellerated by the structural adjustment programme, formalised in the Rada in 2021. This measure was aimed at wrenching ownership from the eight million small farmers, working less than eight acres on average, by western investment funds including; “Vanguard Group, Kopernik Global Investors, BNP Asset Management Holding, Goldman Sachs-owned NN Investment Partners Holdings”, and rather unsurprisingly given Seymour Hersh’s latest revelations, “Norges Bank Investment Management, which manages Norway’s sovereign wealth fund”.
Standing behind these in turn is the “European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC)” which demanded profit enhancing ‘rationalisations’ in return for their investments, laying off and imiserating thousands of agricultural workers as part of this process. These increasingly severe economic shocks to the Ukrainian masses came against a political background of distracting and hysterical Russophobia and systematic western preparations for a war against Russia.
The Ukrainian working class, in all its ethnic varieties, are devastated by this war which was carefully fostered by Washington and gleefully seized upon by deep rooted and well organised West Ukrainian fascists. Racism is always the right’s solution to internationalism and working class solidarity and with increasing boldness it resurrected plans to scapegoat minority populations and the Russian speaking population in particular in search of an ethno-nationalist state which they dreamed would be at the heart of a wider, and more right wing, Europe.
The western propaganda narrative surrounding the Maidan coup is utterly false, Ukraine as a multi ethnic state already had national self-determination and was in the process of deciding its own economic policy. The attempts by the sitting President to avoid getting even deeper in hock to the IMF and the ECB and his openness to a non-exclusive deal with Russia was the issue that led to the Fascists’ armed provocation in Maidan Square and the purging of the Rada.
It was the alarmed attempts by the Donbass population to resist the xenophobic ultra-nationalism of the new coup regime and its mobilisation of the Army against them that led to large scale desertions and demands for self governance for the Donbass republics. The murders in the Odessa Trade Union hall are rarely mentioned anymore but they also were a central part of the assault on the left and on the Russian speaking people of Ukraine that led to a war un-noticed by much of the world and which was carried out most enthusiastically by the Azov battalion and other Nazi militia then formalised as the National Guard. That war began in 2014, not 2022 and it was always planned as an opener to a more decisive escalation.
This imperialist strategy is all about pillage. Its plans for an ‘over-reaching’ Russia has not just resulted in the denial of democracy to the Donbass and to Russian speaking citizens, it has ruthlessly robbed the entirety of the Ukrainian working class and small farmers. There is a dearth of political attacks on this corrupt semi-fascist regime and even fewer demands for its overthrow but in spite of the low level of class consciousness it is important to argue that Ukrainian workers and small farmers should convert this war into a civil war against their imperialist backed state.
As the pillage of Ukraine is ever further advanced an extreme-right rump state is looking increasingly likely as the West’s only option. The Economist observes: “If reconstruction of Ukraine were to fail, and its economy to falter, then the Ukrainian democracy would start to fail too.” They have a point, albeit they have noticed the dissapearance of democracy rather late and there is no doubt that the economy of Ukraine is already ruined. The coup leaders of 2014, confident of the backing of Nuland and Pyatt and despite their nationalist rhetoric, traded any claim to national self determination for the status of an “outpost” of US imperialism, these concrete facts cannot be overlooked. In spite of the grandiose nationalism of their most committed ideologues they have became nothing more than the servant of imperialism resulting now in the “the further crushing of small capital by large”, as Trotsky had noted about the German National Socialism they mimick. Even the most brief glance at the Ukrainian economy today reveals the tragedy of this in full.
‘Maybe’ to NATO?
In his opposition to Junius, Lenin’s writing relied heavily on what he described as “Marxian Dialectics” to explain how conflicts develop and the strength and balance of class forces within them but analysis especially from those ‘less critical’ of the latest imperialist adventure lacks any such understanding of the dynamism and contradictions of war. Many have simply did what Marx was falsely accused of by the social chauvinists of 1914 and have simply ‘chosen’ a side.
In tandem with a certain softness or ’empire blindness’ towards US imperialism the pro Kiev left find themselves unable to contradict Josip Borrell’s view that Russia is a “neo-colonial imperialist power”. The left version of this re-invention of Russian imperialism has in most cases been achieved by mechanically transposing the conditions of Lenin’s era, of inter-imperialist rivalry and the struggle for colonial possessions on to today, echoing the “howling anti-historicalness” of the 2nd internationalists. Their commitment to the non-imperialist Ukrainian state as a victim of “Russian imperialism” has stood both Trotsky’s hypothetical defence of the Vargas regime and Lenin’s characterisation of imperialism on their heads and has locked them into an extremely confused position where they must continually play down the role of Ukrainian fascism and, while acknowledging its participation, the role of US imperialism. The implications of their position on Libya, Syria and now Ukraine has placed them in an unescapable position. They are being dragged along to the right as the extreme right exercises increasing weight at the heart of a purge afflicted Ukrainian state which advances exponentially the suppression of the Ukrainian left, the wider working class and increasingly the country’s small farmers.
In some less extreme instances the ‘No to NATO’ slogan in Ireland is either submerged under or completely replaced by a demand for Russian troops to withdraw, a desired objective of NATO itself, although even NATO now increasingly appears to consider this unrealistic. In the unlikely event that this demand should be achieved it would represent an enormous betrayal of the people of Donbass who came out in 2014 to oppose the Maidan coup, initially with their bare hands, and also of the Ukrainian soldiers who deserted and ultimately turned their guns around rather than shoot at what in the early stages was unarmed demonstrations. Beyond the blood soaked Donbass, where the “pro Russian” population are highly likely to face summary justice and ethnic cleansing, withdrawal would spell disaster for the entire working class of Ukraine which would immediately be lumbered with an extreme right if not outright fascist state strengthening the already safe environment for imperialist finance capital.
Beyond Ukraine it would represent a stunning geo-political victory for imperialism. The impact of their defeat in Afghanistan and their partial defeat in Syria would be reversed and their strategy of encirclement and harrying of Russia and China would continue unabated. There is nothing transitional about the demand, it puts an equals sign between non-imperialist Russia and their imperialist attackers and is a liberal dead end posing as the equal and opposite of the call for NATO withdrawal. It is not. In fact if we keep Merkel’s confession in mind we should see that imperialism has no intention of honouring any deals and such a withdrawal would consolidate their position in Ukraine. Achieving it would do absolutely nothing to promote revolution in either Russia or Ukraine and it would plunge western workers into an extension of the present era of political torpor.
Russian workers independence?
While calls for ‘independent working class politics’ are formally correct they also can either be taken to a Junius like extreme of denying the right to self determination, or they are left undeveloped. What they might be in concrete terms or how the workers of Russia can independently fight imperialism and go beyond ‘their own’ bourgeoisie’s programme of exploitation and their vacillations, including their pretended ability to crush fascism, remains not only unstated but in most cases completely unexplored. In the worst cases a wooden juxtaposition is then established between workers ‘independence’ and opposition to imperialism, as if the working class of Russia had no particular reason for defeating western imperialism’s plans for their subjugation. No ‘permanancy’ or dynamism exists in this approach and deprived of an anti-imperialist perspective sections of the Irish left believe that all the Russian working class can do is call for peace. Pacifism for ‘our enemies’ workers, Russian withdrawal for ours?
Russian workers of course have an interest in defeating imperialism, after all, any successful imperialist carve up of Russia will, at least initially, ‘deal’ with the ‘oligarchs’ in pragmatic ways to gain access to their means of production and raw materials, no doubt converting them from demonic oligarchs into ‘honest entrepreneurs’ in the process. But imperialism has the super-exploitation of Russian workers in mind. The un-privatised banking sector would present a prime target for takeover, not to mention the land of the Russian Steppe along with “slimmed down government” and the theft of the pensions that partially bought Putin his popularity, and then the Russian working class can look forward to a corrupt comprador bourgeoisie and the conditions enjoyed by every other authoritarian country that US imperialism has “liberated”.
In a crushing 30 years of war conducted to impose the imperialist hegemon’s idea of democracy on other nations in not a single instance did their victory and the removal of dictators, only to be replaced by different dictators, liberate or advance the cause of the working class. It advanced solely the cause of imperialism, the political defeat of the workers in the western countries and the literally physical crushing of the workers, peasants, and petit bourgeoisie of the conquered nations. One look at the lynchings, slavemarkets and poverty in the newly ‘liberated’ Libya gives us a sense of the depths of that despair. Yet from those that saw the ‘progressive’ content in British and French bombers over Libya, not a word or a lesson learned instead we see hand wringing pacifism fade indiscernably in to support for arming Ukraine. They have crossed the Rubicon, but unlike Julius Caesar who was aware that when he did the die was cast, they are as yet unaware of the profoundly irreversable nature of their position.
While the Russians, reacting to imperialist encirclement, were provoked into a defence of the Donbass republics and are facing an imperialist proxy army in doing so it is also important to highlight the inability of the Russian bourgeoisie in carrying out their self proclaimed mission of destroying Nazism. For Russian workers the road to the defeat of imperialism and fascism means an independent political mobilisation in support of the Donbass republics in their struggle against imperialism’s armies. The nostalgia for the Soviet union which is occasionally manipulated by the state represents a powerful force still existing among the Russian working class, albeit one corrupted by the degeneracy of Stalinism, but it must be interrogated and converted in to an investigation of why the Soviet Union collapsed and why Stalinism failed. The contradiction between bourgeois nationalism and internationalist working class opposition to imperialism opens up all the old questions and presents them afresh – impacting, it must be remembered, almost as much on Irish left and left republican politics as anywhere.
Lack of clarity on what imperialism is and how to fight it means that all too often sections of the working class fall prey to the cynical manoeuverings of the National Endowment for Democracy and a plethora of imperialist funding bodies’ colour ‘revolutions’ so opposition to imperialism must use proletarian methods in Russia as elsewhere and demands must be transitional. Simple agnostic reportage is not enough, saying what “should be” is also an essential component of both propaganda and agitation. Demands must be made to smash imperialism and defeat their plans to crush Russia, for a Russian socialist republic, no return of the oligarchs in the Donbass, for socialist republics and for no compromise with the fascist generals in Kiev. Overthrow the Kiev regime, global banking out and seize the land in a socialist Ukraine. EU workers mobilised against the economic crisis should support these calls with direct action against their governments war plans and the NATO war machine. There is no doubt that the historic weakness of the working class makes this seem unrealistic but everything is changing, imperialism is failing in its own objectives, and it is on the basis of clear political demands that the left will ultimately rally.
More than ever “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership” and in the absence of a revolutionary programme and mobilisation populist nationalism presenting itself as the cure to US and EU ‘Atlanticism’ is on the ascent. In the US it is fed by Trumpite autarky while in Europe the sacrificing of bourgeois national economic interests to the programme of the US has produced a similar right-wing reaction. In the economic powerhouse of Europe the AfD is rising in a context where the poison of fascism in Ukraine has been normalised and explained away as “ultra-nationalism” and, albeit by proxy, German tanks are again rolling in Ukraine as society is increasingly acclimatised to war. If the Vietnam syndrome has already been conquered in the US then something resembling a WWII syndrome is in the process of being conquered by the German bourgeoisie.
While it is still an extremely tenuous development the world is beginning to reorganise outside the control of the almighty dollar and much of the neo-colonial and non imperialist world has found new voice. A defeat for imperialism in Ukraine is recognised by the western bourgeoisie as making that possible. The Economist bemoans ‘the loss of the West’s authority’ the European Convention on Foreign Relations talks of “entering a new era in global politics” and a “post western” world, Politico talks of “a new era in geo-politics” and Bloomberg talks of “a new cold war emerging out of the Ukrainian rubble”. At the same time the Israeli extreme right insists in fanning flames threatening “stability” and the “’expansion of the peace circle’ with the Arab world” that would allow the US ‘pivot’ away from the Middle East towards Asia to aquire the force they demand.
For the Irish left making propaganda and agitation which clearly identifies imperialism and which attempts to pull together all the threads of resistance to its drive to war and plunder is essential. It is through such a struggle that the Irish state’s pretensions towards formal neutrality, its position on Ukraine, on NATO and on national liberation can be confronted by a rejuvenated left that does not believe that the road to revolution consists of a simple tally of Dail seats. The working class should take heart from imperialism’s impotence in Ukraine, it breaks the spell cast by its endless bloody victories, it exacerbates the inherent contradictions within the long term profitability crisis and it heralds a new dawn in working class struggle.