Britain vs Russia: a conflict between declining imperialist powers

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jk1921
Britain vs Russia: a conflict between declining imperialist powers
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Britain vs Russia: a conflict between declining imperialist powers. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

jk1921
Excellent piece dissecting

Excellent piece dissecting the various competing interests in the inter-factional fights of the bourgeoisie, both between and within states. The following paragraph, however, needs some qualification:

"We cannot trust any of the protestations of innocence, neither the claim that Russia has destroyed all its chemical weapons, nor the denial that the nerve agent used could have come from Porton Down. The UK government is just as capable of cynical extra-judicial murder as the Russian government or the mafia. And since we have no access to proof all we can rely on is an analysis of the imperialist interests of the various players in the situation. In the present situation of weakness of the UK and NATO it seems that Russia had the most to gain by probing weaknesses and divisions. It is also consistent with its role as a force for destabilisation. At the same it is possible to say that if the Russian state did order this assassination, it has not turned out particularly well for it so far, since it has not resulted in increased divisions among its main rivals."

Others are going to come to the opposite conclusion and suggest Russia actually had nothing to gain from this and that it is UK and Western imperialism that is reaping all the benefits by embarassing Russia, distracting from internal dysfunction and discrediting Putin in advance of the World Cup, etc. There has even been mention of a possible boycotting of the World Cup this summer (I doubt that happens). In any event, it seems like there is starting to be some push back against the narrative that this must have been the Russian state and the recent pronouncements that Porton Down cannot verify the nerve agent came from Russia are certainly at least mildly embarrasssing for the British government.

Of course, the Western governments and their intelligence services--the US and UK in particular--are already suffering a serious credibility problem after openly lying their nations into war with Iraq. It shouldn't come as any surprise that there are serious doubts raised about the Russiagate narrative by elements of the left and among many "searching elements". In fact, one does not need to be a conspiracy theorist or naive about Russian intentions to doubt the vercity of the UK state's claims. Today, the Toronto Star published an op-ed that casts doubt on the British claims written by its national affairs columnist. (Canada has its own contentious relationship with Russia, given that its foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland is of Ukrainian origin and had been harshly critical of Russia's machinations in the Ukraine. Russia has repsonded by pointing out that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator who edited an anti-Semitic Ukrainian language newspaper during the war.)

 

baboon
I think that the passage of

I think that the passage of the article quoted by jk is essentially correct; and that is that we can't know for sure if the Russians were behind the poisoning or not. From being exposed to such a supposedly deadly agent the Skripals seems to have recovered quite quickly. The UK government has admitted that it has "waved through" over 2000 Russian oligarchs and their cronies (and their money) with both pro and anti-Putin elements among them. There are all sorts of gangsters herein with links to Kazakh, Ukrainian and other mafia elements who (particularly the Kazakh's) would have had access to Novichok or the formula for it which could be written on a couple of pages of a notepad. There were widespread reports, including in some ICC articles from memory, of the dangers of the spread of these types of agents after the collapse of the Soviet Union.It's possible that the attack was ordered by the Kremlin but I don't see what possible advantage it thought it could gain from it. On the other hand, it's more certain that the Kremlin was involved in the polonium poisoning of Litvinenko in 2006. So I don't think that we can know anything for sure on this, which is what the article says.

The main point drawn out in the article is the weakening of Britain and Russia as world powers. The ICC was very quick off the mark in seeing the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989; not so quick to see the military resurgence of Russia a decade or so ago and is, I believe, correct in seeing the present situation as different from the Cold War in the sense that the bloc system had crumbled. The poisoning comes a month after the new British Defence Secretary, Gavin Williams, talked of Russian cyber attacks on Britain "costing five thousand lives". The British bourgeoisie, in much the same way as the Falklands, has used the issue of an "enemy" and a "just cause" to try to maintain its influence and press its own imperialist interests in the face of its weakening but as the article points out this is happening in entirely different circumstances to the Cold War. The article points to the Trump factor and where the 60 Russian diplomats expelled are open to replacements. The Germans have been nervous about the expulsions and jk gives an example - though the link he gives doesn't connect.

As part of the sharpening of these tensions it looks likely that there will be some sort of strike against Syrian/Russian interests from the US, France and Britain in response to the gassing in Ghouta. This is fraught with danger. Again one could ask what interest there was in the Syrian regime using something as crude as a chlorine attack on Ghouta when the rebels were almost broken? And there has been evidence before that the al-Nusra dominated "White Helmets" had their own poison gas productions. But, on the other hand, general interests, even imperialist interests give way to irrationality in the world of decomposition. And there's the hypocrisy of a Britain which condoned the Iraqi poison gas attack on Halabja which killed 5000 Kurds. And there's the Trump factor here again which has gone from "withdrawal from Syria in a few days" to probable further involvement in the war.

jk1921
I fixed the link. At least, I

I fixed the link. At least, I think I fixed it....

jk1921
I think we need to be careful

I think we need to be careful with this kind of argument also:

"For an outright defence of Russia, we can refer to John Pilger, who wrote an article in the Off-Guardian that demands Russia be given ‘due process’ before it is condemned[4]. In an interview with Russia Today he went further and argued that Russia has demonstrated that it has destroyed all its chemical weapons, that Porton Down is not far from Salisbury, and that the Skripal case is a drama carefully constructed by Britain[5]. Essentially giving the Russian line, in other words."

I am not naive to the fact that there are elements of the bourgeois left who think Russia and Putin constitute some kind of progressive, anti-imperialist force in the world and Pilger may very will fit this bill. But I am not sure its fair to suggest that defending "due process" is somehow parrotting a Russian line. Nor would it necessarily be to suggest that the UK state might have its own hand in this affair. We should be cautious in a environment where it is pretty clear that there is a neo-McCarthyite campaign being used to discredit any questioning of the "establishment" as somehow serving Russian aims, not to legitimate this tactic.

baboon
I think the article is clear

I think the article is clear in saying that we can't know exactly what went on in the case of the Skirpals and in this murky world of spies and gangsters then the options are open. But like fairness, there's no "due process" in imperialism and these sorts of events are secondary to the consequences. I think that the article is correct is denouncing the defenders of Russian imperialism here in Britain - the likes of Pilger, the Labour leadership, George Galloway, for example - while at the same time denouncing the imperialist aspirations and manoeuvres of the British bourgeoisie and its allies within a situation of centrifugal tendencies.

However, we shouldn't ignore the details of events that feed into the anti-Russian hysteria that is being whipped up. To question this is not to support Russian imperialism. Take Eastern Ghouta for example. The deal to complete the evacuation of Eastern Ghouta was finalised several days ago between the jihadis, the Syrian regime and the Russians. At the last minute the jihadi faction pulled out of the deal and insisted on staying. The faction in control here is the Army of Islam (Jaysh al-Islam) a Saudi-backed Salafist group (sometimes backed by the west) that has used civilians as human shields, paraded Alawite muslims through the streets in cages and itself admitted that it used chlorine gas in a mortar attack on the Sheikh Masqood neighbourhood of Aleppo in 2016 ("Deutsche Welle, 25.5.2016), though it later said it was a "mistake" to use it. It will have been entirely in the interests of the Army of Islam and its Saudi backers, to use a chlorine attack in Ghouta and implicate the Assad regime. Chlorine is easily available, a small amount of liquid chlorine turns into a large gas cloud and it sinks to the lowest point which would have been devastating for those sheltering in cellars. So it's perfectly possible that this was a set up to implicate the regime and the Russians. On the other hand, having almost secured a deal to evacuate Eastern Ghouta to see it fail, Assad, who is not known for his compassion, could well have launched a chemical attack to be done with it. These points are interesting but secondary to the denunciation of all the murderers involved.

Depending on the amount of "retribution" unleashed, the US, French (Trump is favouring Macron over the British "special relationship) and British action could well bring the sort of peace and order to Syria that these killers brought to Libya a few years ago. I think that the greatest concern of the US in all this is the role of Turkey which has been gradually moving towards Russia (Russia allowed it into Afrin) and, it seems, that Turkey had forbidden US flights from its Incirlik base. There are reports that most of the US fighters based at Incirlik have been moved to Afghanistan anyway.

jk1921
Corbyn is a Defender of Russian imperialism?

baboon wrote:

I think the article is clear in saying that we can't know exactly what went on in the case of the Skripals and in this murky world of spies and gangsters then the options are open. But like fairness, there's no "due process" in imperialism and these sorts of events are secondary to the consequences. I think that the article is correct is denouncing the defenders of Russian imperialism here in Britain - the likes of Pilger, the Labour leadership, George Galloway, for example - while at the same time denouncing the imperialist aspirations and manoeuvres of the British bourgeoisie and its allies within a situation of centrifugal tendencies.

The Labour leadership are defenders of Russian imperialism? Does that include Corbyn? There may be no due process in imperialism, but critical thinking would seem to require that we approach claims made by state intelligence agencies--the same agencies that it is more or less openly acknowledged have lied their nations into war in the past--with some real caution. And I think reasonable people can come to differing conclusions about who is most likely to have benefited from things like the Skripal attack and the alleged Syrian gas attack. But beyond this, this all seems to point to a bigger problem right now for the legitimacy of Western "democratic" states--there is a kind of "epistemological nihilism" afoot with increasing numbers of the population simply unable or unwilling to believe what their governments and the experts tell themis true. Obviously the spread of conspiracy theory through the Internet and social media is a big part of this, but the lunatic fringe aside, there is good reason for the populace to be skeptical of the "truths" told by establishment insitutions--even if in any given case they may be right.

Demogorgon
I think we need to be clear

I think we need to be clear that the Labour leadership, including Corbyn, are defenders of British imperialism. Corbyn is no more defending Russian imperialism than Theresa May was when she brushed Litvenyenko's murder under the carpet.

Corbyn's line on this has a number of elements both on the imperialist and the social front. Firstly, there are elements of the bourgeoisie that are concerned about the competence of the current administration. The idea of "due process" has nothing to do with protecting Russia but protecting the UK from the blundering conduct of the Foreign Office, the current leader of which has a record of making any number of inaccurate statements.

This fear has already been realised as it's become clear that the definitive attribution of Russia as the guilty party wasn't definitive at all and the British propaganda effort has been undermined as a result. While support for Britain by other states will be determined by imperialist interests first and foremost, doubts over the veracity of the "evidence" weakens those states' capacity to sell that support to their respective populations or to dissenting elements of their own ruling classes which have their own interests with respect to Russia.

There are elements of many ruling classes that also worry about being dragged into a confrontation with Russia at a time when global stability is at a fever pitch. In just the last few days, the situation in Syria has escalated drastically, with the potential for military action targeting Russian positions there. The potential for a direct confrontation between some of the most powerful military machines on the planet is suddenly a very real possibility.

The bourgeoisie is being dragged along by events but is not entirely blind to the very dangerous powder keg being stoked here. This is particularly the case for those bourgeoisies who are not yet directly threatened by Russian imperialism. For them, one side of bourgeoisie rationality emerges: a real anxiety about the direction of world events. Others have a more direct need to prevent Russian activity and for them it's time to draw a line in the sand, war or no more. And there are, of course, many shades between these poles.

On the social front, Corbyn's critical support relates to what JK says about the growing cynicism towards Government pronouncements which has hardly been helped by this. Ideally played, his cautious approach could have gone a long way to rehabilitating the image of the intelligence apparatus as non-partisan and "objective", which serves the long-term interests of the bourgeoisie and the intelligence apparatus itself. This latter factor may also be an attempt by the Corbyn faction to ingratiate itself with said apparatus.

Corbyn is also mindful of the sentiments of his base - if his "pacifism" is openly compromised too early, he risks alienating them. Not only will this frustrate the direct interests of his faction's very real hunger for government, it also weakens the role he currently plays for the entire bourgeoisie, i.e. soaking up the growing discontent in the population.

While the motivations of the anti-Corbyn factions are more-or-less as described by the article - they don't trust him on foreign policy - this doesn't mean that the interests of the Corbyn faction itself are based on anything other than the interests of British imperialism.

 

baboon
Yes, that was much too strong

Yes, that was much too strong to say that the present Labour leadership are defenders of Russian imperialism. They are, as Demo says, first and foremost defenders of British imperialism and that is how it will remain and that is within the historical weight of the Labour Party. But more so than the likes of John Pilger and George Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn has supported the "Stop the War" circus for years and has generally supported an anti-American line which has been a de-facto support for Russian imperialism in various regional wars. His insistences along the due process lines show certain "adjustments" from his previous positions more fitting to a leader of the opposition who hopes to be in power.

KT
Agreement and Discusssion

No: Jeremy Corbyn is not a defender of Russian imperialism. But first...

Like posters above, I also support the thrust of this article, in particular

·         its insistence on looking at the historical evolution of inter-imperialist tensions as the only way of gauging the weight of immediate events

·         its denunciation of the ‘democratic’, largely ‘western’ powers and the assertion that they have been and remain perfectly capable of the kind of atrocities and war-mongering in defence of their national interests as Russia, Assad or indeed organisations all parties label as ‘terrorist’ at some time or another.

The article is correctly headlined as a fight between declining imperialist powers. However as far as I can see, all the major imperialisms – with the important exception of China – are declining in their influence on world affairs and if true, this has important implications for the tools we use to analyse the evolution of events.

In the past, and in its analyses of the origins of the two world wars last century, the ICC has pointed to the fact that it’s the weaker if rising imperialist power which is compelled – when unrestrained by significant class struggles – to overturn the existing state of affairs. This was twice the case concerning Germany in 1914 and 1939. I would argue that this approach remains valid as far as China is concerned.

But the period since 1989, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the relative disintegration of both the Eastern and Western blocs, has seen all other major imperialisms in ‘retreat’: the US, Russia, Britain. Counter to this, the struggle of every man for himself (in its specific, historical context) has seen a relative rise in the regional reach of countries like Turkey, Iran, Saudi, Israel, etc.

The US, which has tried to play the role of lone world policeman, has found it increasingly hard to impose its will, from the relatively successful ‘press-ganging’ of erstwhile allies for the first Gulf War to today’s apparent impotence in regards to North Korea or the Russia influence in Syria via Assad. However a retreat in effectiveness in no way implies a lessening of imperialist drive: on the contrary. Despite China’s on-going and aggressive efforts at ‘catch-up’, no other state can match US military firepower. Despite certain statements to the contrary (ie Trump’s ‘there is no reason for us to be in Syria’) the dominant world power’s relative weakening is, in general, propelling it to be more aggressive, both at the economic (trade wars) and military level. For example, the US militarily controls around a third of Syrian territory, according to some sources (1). Its allies and bases encircle Iran (2), according to others.

The problem for the US is how to enlist Putin in a bid to curb China, whilst at the same time confronting a relative resurgence of Russian imperialism following two decades of retreat on the world arena. Little wonder that different factions of the US bourgeoisie – and sometimes different individuals within the same faction – appear conflicted regarding the attitude towards Putin. & Co. Whatever the ramifications of this political confusion, the result of decomposition and in part manifested by populism, it remains the fact that the US, still the world’s dominant power, in seeking to maintain the status quo is in fact one of the prime forces shaking it!

Events covered by this article and the intertwined Syrian imbroglio have conjured from media outlets around the globe the prospect of a Third World War. The BBC regularly labels the clashes in Syria as a ‘world war in miniature’ while Trump’s “will he won’t he” threats of reprisals against Russia and Assad, coupled with Russia’s riposte of “grave consequences” all add to an impression of imminent Armageddon.

Communists don’t want to stoke paralysing fears in the population in general or the working class in particular. But current events certainly reinforce their arguments that, as with the ecological health of our planet, the future of species cannot be left in the hands of a decaying and increasingly irrational ruling class.....

For the ‘United Kingdom’, also in a Janus trap (of seemingly ‘leaving Europe’ whilst strengthening ties on the military level and diplomatic level) and relegated to the minor role of money launderer, information gatherer/trader and occasional assassin by successive US administrations, the situation is no less complex and beyond the scope of this post.

Suffice it to say, regarding Corbyn and Russia, that that while the Third Communist International ceased to be a proletarian organisation by dissolving in substance in the face of world war whilst becoming a Stalinist tool in name, its constituent Communist Parties were integrated into the defence of their relative nation states becoming either ruling bodies (in Eastern Europe) or useful appendages (as in GB where ‘The Party’ and Trade Unions under its influence were vital in quelling workers’ recalcitrance in the face of sacrifices demanded during WW2).

In Britain, post WW2, a Labour Government spearheaded an almost Stalinist-style state control of a shattered economy (including nationalisations of strategic sectors such as steel, the railways and the establishment of the National Health Service). Lip-service to ‘the Russian model’ was rife; significant layers of the British ruling class adopted a ‘Soviet bent’ (with its roots in 1930s pro-Soviet radicalism and the Spanish Civil War). In this miasma of generalised anti-fascism where toffs like spies Philby, Burgess, Mclean and the former keeper of HM The Queen’s Art collection Anthony Blunt were indeed acting as Soviet agents, the ‘rule’ still held: no less than Labour, the British Communist Party, in general had been absorbed into the nation’s defence.

Post Hungary ’56, in the ‘radical’ Sixties, amidst the Vietnam War, the growth of Trotskyist influence in the UK added longevity to the myth that Russia was somehow ‘different’. (Stephen Hawking, the scientist celebrated in a recent ICC article, can be seen marching at the head of a 1969 anti-Vietnam War demo in London with Tariq Ali of the Trotskyite International Marxist Group on one side and actress Vanessa Redgrave of Gerry Healey’s Workers Revolutionary Party on the other.) The influence of 'leftism' was significant in this period.

These are the antecedents of the ‘radical’ Labour Trades Councils of the 1970s and 1980s; the ‘fightback’ of the Parliamentary Labour Party to expel ‘entrists’ like The Militant Tendency in the Blair years and, in part, the inspiration behind the ‘grass-roots’ Momentum movement which supports Jeremy Corbyn.

Thus it is with good reason that the right wing can label him as ‘Moscow’s stooge’ (subjectively he has much sympathy with the overt, ‘traditional’ state capitalist model, the old Soviet-inspired ‘anti-nuclear’ and ‘peace’ movements so widespread in 50s and 60s Britain) whilst he remains, in all senses of the term, the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and possible future UK Prime Minister.

Written but not posted prior to the most recent interventions of Demogorgon and Baboon. Edited for grammar.

 

·         (1) The National Interest http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-us-military-proud-owners-one-third-syria-25306 )

·         (2) ·   Sorry: a map showing US bases surrounding Iran won't reproduce here. I'm working n it.      

jk1921
RE: The recent strikes in

RE: The recent strikes in Syria:

It is interesting that in her statement reagrding the strikes, May seemed to connect them to the Skripal affair when she said that chemical attacks were beyond the pale be they in Syria or the the UK. In this, in apparent contradiction to other statements, this action seems to have been driven as much by a desire to punish Russia for its ongoing global stratgy of "asymetrical engagement" rather than immediate events in Syria.

For Trump and the US, it seems absolutely essential that there be British and French involvement this time (as opposed to the unilateral strikes of a year ago); othwerwise Trump would be accused by the "resistance" forces of "wagging the dog." Of course, British and French involvement didn't stop that from happening with prominent resistance figures like Rachel Maddow and Robert Reich almost immediately raising the specter of Trump trying to distract from his ongoing legal and ethical troubles with the strikes--this despite the fact that part of the resistance strategy has been to criticize Trump from the right regarding his weakness on Putin and Russia. Trump's strongly worded call-out of Russia for its support of Assad did little to convince elements of what looks like a bizzare "centrist-extremist" cultural underurrent from suggesting that Trump had already called Putin to warn him in advance and get his military assets out of the way. Still, further to the left others are worrying that the Russiagate narrative is driving Trump to confront Putin in ways that are truly dangerous and that WWIII may very well be in the offing, driven by the liberals in the Democratic Party.

All of the political chaos in the US around Russiagate and the possible ulterior motive for the UK made the participation of France in these strikes all the more important and Macron did not waste the opportunity to assert French imperialism's interests, as well as promote himself with some grandstanding about Western values, etc.