The significance and impact of the war in Ukraine

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At the beginning of 2020, the global Covid crisis represented the product, but above all constituted a powerful accelerant, of the decomposition of the capitalist system on different levels: important economic destabilisation, loss of credibility in the apparatus of the state, accentuation of imperialist tensions.

Today the war in Ukraine represents a further step in this intensification through a major characteristic of capitalism’s descent into its period of decadence and, in particular, into its phase of decomposition: the exacerbation of militarism.

The brutality of this acceleration was not anticipated in previous reports (cf. The Resolution on the International Situation from the 24th ICC Congress) and, even if the Report on Imperialist Tensions of November 2021 in its last point underlined the expansion of militarism and the war economy (point 4.3) and the extension of chaos, instability and bloody warfare (point 4.1), their brutal acceleration in Europe through the massive invasion of Ukraine still caught the ICC by surprise.

The war in Ukraine marks the brutal acceleration of militarism

We should recall, from a general point of view, that the development of militarism does not solely belong to the present stage of decomposition but is intrinsically linked to the decadence of capitalism: “In fact militarism and imperialist war constitute the central manifestation of the entry of capitalism into its period of decadence (...) to such an extent that for revolutionar­ies at the time, imperialism and decadent capi­talism became synonymous.

As Rosa Luxemburg pointed out, since imperi­alism is not a specific manifestation of capitalism but its mode of existence throughout the new historical period, it is not particular states that are imperialist, but all states. In reality, if militarism, imperialism, and war are identified to such an extent with the period of decadence, it is because the latter corre­sponds to the fact that capitalist relations of production have become a barrier to the devel­opment of the productive forces”. (“Militarism and Decomposition”, International Review no. 64, 1991, point 3). During the 75 years which separates August 1914 from November 1989, capitalism has plunged humanity into more than ten years of world war and then, for nearly 45 years, the Cold War and “armed coexistence” between the American and Russian blocs, which were concretised by bloody confrontations between the two alliances (Vietnam, Middle East, Angola, Afghanistan) and by the crazy armaments race which turned out to be fatal for the Eastern Bloc.

In a situation where the bourgeoisie, like the proletariat, became incapable of imposing a solution to the historic crisis of capitalism, the collapse of the Russian Bloc opened up the phase of decomposition, a phase characterised by an all-round explosion of chaos and every man for himself, a product of the break-up of the blocs and the disappearance of the discipline imposed by them. Militarism thus expressed itself through a myriad of barbaric conflicts, often under the form of civil wars, through the explosion of imperialist ambitions and the disintegration of state structures: Somalia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Donbass and Crimea, the Islamic State, Libya, Sudan (North and South), Yemen, Mali... These also tended to come closer to Europe (Yugoslavia, Crimea and Donbass) and impact on it strongly through floods of refugees.

However, the present war in Ukraine doesn’t only constitute the continuation of the development of militarism in decomposition as described above but, without doubt, represents an extremely important qualitative deepening of its barbaric manifestations, and this for several reasons:

- it’s the first military confrontation of this depth between states unfolding on the doorstep of Europe since 1945, and this is engendering an exodus of millions of refugees towards European countries, to the point where Europe today has become the central theatre of imperialist confrontations;

- this war directly involves the two largest countries in Europe, one of them nuclear-armed and holding other massively destructive weaponry, and the other supported financially and militarily by NATO. This opposition between Russia and NATO tends to remind us of the bloc conflicts of the 1950’s to the 1980’s and the nuclear terror that it engendered, but it occurs today in a much more unpredictable context given the absence of established blocs and the bloc discipline that comes along with them (we will return to this below);

- the breadth of the fighting: tens of thousands killed, the systematic destruction of entire towns, the murder of civilians, the hare-brained bombardment of nuclear facilities, the considerable economic consequences for the whole of the planet, underlining both the growing barbarity and irrationality of conflicts which can end up in a catastrophe for humanity.

The basis of the Ukrainian conflict

The development of the war in Ukraine can only be understood by seeing it as the direct product of the two dominant tendencies marking imperialist relations in the present period of decomposition, tendencies which the ICC has highlighted in its preceding reports: on the one hand the struggle of the United States against the irreversible decline of its global hegemony, which has resulted in it stimulating chaos across the globe; and on the other hand, the sharpening of imperialist ambitions all over the place, which has particularly re-animated Russian aggression, fuelled by ambitions to again take up an important place on the imperialist scene, and by a persistent spirit of revenge.

  1. The struggle of the United States against the decline of its hegemony

Since Obama’s presidency, the American bourgeoisie has been more and more focused, both from the economic and military point of view, on its principal challenger, China. On this point there is absolute continuity between the Trump and Biden administrations. However, on the means and context of “neutralising” Russia, some divergences have appeared: Trump aimed rather to use the services of Russia against China, but this option came up against a resistance and opposition of large parts of the American bourgeoisie and its state structures (secret services, army, diplomatic corps... ),  given the shady links tying Trump to a leading Russian faction, but above all because of the distrust towards an alliance with a country that had been the absolute enemy for 50 years. The strategy of the dominant part of the American bourgeoisie represented today by the Biden administration rather aims to deal a decisive blow to Russia, on a scale that would mean it would no longer be a potential threat to the United States: “We want Russia so weakened that it will not be able to do things like invade Ukraine” declared US Minister for Defence, Lloyd Austin on a visit to Kyiv on April 25[1]. The policy of weakening Russia also allows the United States to launch an indirect warning to China (“this is what will happen if you decide to invade Taiwan”) and to impose a strategic reverse on Russia, since the conflict greatly reduces the military potential of Putin and thus transforms his “alliance” with Xi Jinping into a burden for the latter.

The Ukrainian crisis has offered the Biden administration a prime opportunity to implement, in a Machiavellian manner, such a strategy of the progressive weakening of Russia while catching China in a trap.

  1. Out and out imperialist demands and Russian ambitions

For its part, the dominant faction of the Russian bourgeoisie has made a major error by mixing-up the tactical debacle of the United States in Kabul with a strategic defeat, whereas it was really a question of a fundamental re-positioning of US forces faced with its central adversary, China. Russian imperialism, in trying to accentuate its return to the foreground since the collapse of the USSR, thought the moment opportune to strike a heavy blow by re-conquering Ukraine (or at least large, strategic regions of it). While for Putin this was part of “Historic Russia”, Ukraine was not only increasingly escaping the Russian zone of influence but risked becoming a spearhead of NATO five hundred kilometres from Moscow.

The decision taken, Putin fell into the trap laid by the United States with the latter demonstrating its capacity for Machiavellian deception very similar to the strategy used against Saddam at the time of the first Gulf war and his invasion of Kuwait: shouting from the rooftops that Russia was about to launch a massive invasion of Ukraine while specifying that they would not intervene, “Ukraine not being part of NATO”. Putin could only interpret this as a retreat from the hard line of Biden and much more so given that initially the American response seemed to be globally limited to the type of retaliatory measures applied after the occupation of Crimea in 2014.

Russia’s invasion profits the United States in the short term

In succeeding to draw Russia into a major war in Ukraine, the Machiavellian manoeuvre of the United States has undeniably allowed it to make important short-term gains on three crucial fronts:

1. The restoration of NATO

The war has obliged the countries that were showing a certain independence to return to the ranks (whereas this didn’t happen at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003). In fact, NATO has been restored in all its glory under American control whereas Trump even thought of withdrawing from it – against the advice of his military. Contesting European “allies” have been called to order: thus, Germany and France have broken or are breaking their commercial links with Russia and in the rush have made military investments that the United States has been demanding from them for 20 years. New countries, such as Sweden and Finland have posed their candidatures to NATO and the EU has even become partially dependent on the Unites States for energy. In brief, things have gone quite to the contrary of the illusory hopes of Putin in seeing the European states divided on the question of Ukraine.

2. The weakening of Russia

The war implies a considerable weakening of Russia at the military level but there’s also an economic weakening which will gradually intensify as the war continues. After three months of the “special operation” the results are already dramatic for Russia:

  • Russian forces have suffered crushing defeats on the ground, with the failures of the lightning offensive on Kyiv which was also aiming at the elimination of the Zelensky regime, at control of air space over Ukraine, at the taking of Kyiv and Kharkov, at the offensive towards Odessa cutting off Ukraine from its maritime outlets, operating in conjunction with the Transnistria Republic. The retreat of Russian troops from the north of Ukraine and a return to more limited objectives over the Donbass and a less ambitious but just as bloody military strategy of wearing down the enemy, kilometre by kilometre, town by town, with intensive artillery bombardments (Mariupol, like Aleppo in Syria) are admissions that the initial objects were too ambitious for the military capacities of Russian imperialism.
  • The Russian army is now without thousands of tanks and armoured vehicles which are out of action; dozens of helicopters and planes shot down, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet (the Moskva) sunk, more and more frequent attacks on fuel and armaments depots and logistic centres in Russia itself. Beyond the figures, it’s above all the modernisation of the Russian army which displays its limits with sophisticated armaments malfunctioning, stocks exhausted and organisational chaos in the army, raising problems of provision of food and fuel, which are moreover growing as a result of widespread corruption, and even through sabotage within the army itself.
  • Russian troops have suffered very heavy losses (according to military analysts): more than 15,000 deaths and 40,000 out of action (deaths, wounded, taken prisoner and... desertions), or about 20% of the forces initially engaged, which is equivalent to Russian losses suffered in 8 years of the 1980’s in Afghanistan. The morale of the soldiers, who don’t know why they have not been greeted as liberators, is low and the war is not popular. Also the Russian bourgeoisie has avoided calling up conscripts (for this reason they call it a “special operation” and not a war) and have massive recourse to mercenaries (Wagner Organisation, the Chechen Kadirovni) or sending out thousands of offers on specialised sites for kontracktniki  (short-term contracts for military specialists), generally coming from the poorest regions of Russia. If “war crimes” are by definition “collateral effects” of any war, the massacres of civilians and the destruction of entire towns are particularly salient in this war: on the one hand from the fact of demoralisation and of the despair existing within the Russian units and on the other hand, because of this type of “urban” war is more suited to the Ukrainians given the disparity of the military power between the protagonists.

However Putin cannot stop the hostilities at this stage because he desperately needs trophies in order to justify the operation domestically and save what’s left of the military prestige of Russia, which will mean still more military, human and economic losses. On the other hand, the more the war is prolonged, the more Russian economic and military power will crumble. The United States, cynically, also has no interest in favouring an end to hostilities, even if it means sacrificing military, civilian and urban centres in Ukraine, because it wants to bleed Russia dry. In this sense, the present campaigns around the defence of a martyred Ukraine, Russian war crimes (Bucha, Kramatorsk, Mariupol...) and the question of “Ukrainian genocide”, campaigns organised by the United States and Britain in particular, which takes aim at Putin personally (“Putin as a mad-man”; “Russia is not part of our world”), allows them to counter any possibility of negotiation in the short term (sponsored by France and Germany or by Turkey) and have pushed for the  maximum weakening of Russia, even encouraging regime change. In short, the carnage can only continue and the barbarity spread, probably for months, even years, and this under a particularly bloody and dangerous form with, for example, the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons.

3. China put under pressure

Behind Russia, the United States is basically taking aim at China, putting it under pressure because the fundamental objective of the Machiavellian manoeuvre of the United States is really to weaken the Russo-Chinese duo and deliver a warning to China. The latter has acted in a reserved manner to the Russian invasion deploring “the return to war on the European continent” and calling for the “respect of sovereignty” and for “territorial integrity in line with the principles of the UNO” (Xi Jinping, 8.3.22). In fact, China has close links with Ukraine (14.4% of its imports and 15.3% of Ukrainian exports) and it has signed a “Strategic Cooperation Agreement” with President Zelensky “concerning the pivotal role of his country in the EuroAsiatic project of new Silk Roads” (Le Monde Diplomatique (LMD), April 2022, page 9). But the Ukrainian conflict precisely blocks various branches of the “Silk Road” which, without doubt, constitutes a non-negligible objective of the American manoeuvre.

Since then, far from gaining from the situation generated by the war in Ukraine China has found itself faced with an insoluble dilemma: an already weakened Russia is obliged to ask for help from China, which has however shown itself circumspect and has up to now has openly avoided supporting the “special operation” of its ally, because to aid a weakened Russia also risks weakening China: that would lead to economic reprisals and the loss of commercial routes and markets to Europe and even the United States which are much more important than business with Russia (3% of its imports and 2% of its exports). On the other hand, the collapse of Russian military power and the immense difficulties of its economy will make Russia an ally which will no longer contribute much on its strong point (military expertise) and which on the contrary risks becoming a burden for China.

Also, Peking, while disapproving of them, applies sanctions in a symbolic manner rather than handicapping Russia: the Asiatic Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has suspended operations with Russia and Belarus; China’s largest state refineries have stopped fuel purchases from Russia for fear of retaliatory measures from the West. Similarly, the largest state banks have refused to finance energy agreements with Russia because they are too risky. In the corridors however these same state enterprises buy back on the international markets, using front companies and long-term contracts for cheap stocks of liquefied gas and Russian petrol that nobody wants.

 The long term consequences of the war

If, in the short term, the war has been able to favour an atmosphere of bi-polarisation, particularly propagated by the image of a confrontation between an “autocratic” and a “democratic” bloc, fiercely advocated by the United States, this impression must already be reconsidered when the position of China is analysed (cf. the preceding point). And in the long term, the implications of the present hostilities, far from encouraging a stable imperialist regroupment, will accentuate oppositions and tensions between imperialist vultures everywhere.

  1. Despite American opposition, the intensification of everyman for himself

In pushing the Ukrainian conflict to its limits, the USA is stirring up the development of every man for himself, despite the unity temporarily imposed on Europe. At the vote in the UN on the exclusion of Russia from the Council on Human Rights, 24 countries voted against and 52 abstained: India, Brazil, Mexico, Iran but also Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) developing their own imperialist positions without aligning with the United States or Russia and not participating in the boycott of the latter: “Contrary to the majority of western nations with the United States at their head, the countries of the south adopted a prudent position regarding the armed conflict opposing Moscow to Kyiv. The attitude of the Gulf monarchies, otherwise allied to Washington, is emblematic of this refusal to take part: they denounce both the invasion of Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. A multi-polar world is thus imposed where other than ideological divergences it’s the interests of states which come first” (LMD, May 2022, page 1). Japan, which has been gearing up its re-armament programme and which has shown itself more aggressive towards Russia and China, clearly affirmed its own imperialist ambitions in refusing to stop its gas pipeline project with Russia. Turkey, a member of NATO, nevertheless pursues its own imperialist objectives in maintaining good relations with Russia (although there are still contentious issues regarding the war in Libya and over the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict). Even European countries have not cut off all contact with Russia (France and Italy are reluctant to close their subsidiaries to Russian-Europe gas pipelines going through Ukraine that are still functioning, even if with some reductions, and providing revenues for both belligerents; Belgium has excluded the diamond business from its boycott) and Hungary looks greedily towards Ukrainian Transcarpathia with its Hungarian minorities. The brutal tendency of each for themselves will be accentuated even more by dire imperialist and economic spin-offs from the war in Ukraine.

  1. Bleeding Russia dry

For the Russian Federation, the consequences of this “special operation” will be heavy and risk constituting a second profound destabilisation after the fragmentation resulting from the implosion of its bloc (1989-1992): on the military level it will probably lose its rank as the number 2 world army; its economy is already weakened and will fall into more and more trouble (a regression of 12% of the economy according to the Russian Minister of Finances, the most important retreat since 1994). The campaigns around war crimes and the setting-up of structures for investigation and judgement at the international level have the aim of judging Putin and his councillors in an international court for “war crimes”, even for “genocide”. Following this, internal tensions between factions of the Russian bourgeoisie can only intensify, while the Putin faction finds itself cornered and fights desperately in order to survive. Some members of the leading faction (cf. Medvedev) are already warning of the consequences: a possible collapse of the Russian Federation and the rise of diverse mini-Russias with unpredictable leaders holding nuclear arms.

  1. China confronts an accumulation of problems

The consequences of the Ukrainian crisis are dangerously destabilising for the main challenger to the United States, China; first of all, concerning the dilemma of its attitude towards Russia faced with the fear of sanctions on its economy, but also the blocking of important arteries of its Silk Road: “For now, the great work of the Chinese president – silk roads weaving their web up to Europe via Central Asia – is threatened. As are all hopes of seeing tighter links with the European Union as a counter-weight to the United States” (LMD, April 2022, page 9). The Russo-Ukrainian conflict comes at a bad time for Xi Jinping some months before the Congress of CCP, in which he will have to have his third mandate renewed, and all the more so given that the pandemic has begun to hit hard again and economic perspectives are mediocre[2].

The Chinese economy is still suffering badly from the pandemic. In March and April 27 million inhabitants of its industrial and commercial metropole Shanghai, along with large parts of the capital Peking, were in lock-down. More and more openly the population is showing panic and discontent faced with weeks of inhuman confinement. However, it’s difficult for the government to revise its position of “Zero Covid”: (a) because of the extremely low rate of vaccination among older people and the inferior quality of Chinese vaccines faced with present variants; and (b) above all given the political impact that changing this strategy would have on the eve of the 20th Congress of the CCP on the Xi faction which has been the fierce champion of it. Thus, in Shanghai, Xi has imposed a drastic lock-down against the “sabotage” of local cadres, provoking great discontent among the population. He has sent 50,000 police-army specials from Shandong under the responsibility of the central government in order “to take control of the situation”. For Xi, “It’s essential that the ‘Zero Covid’ strategy works and that Shanghai is ‘clean’. To fail would raise serious questions, by default and in part at least, from the opposition forces trying to oppose his re-election”. “Zero Covid in Shanghai: the political fight of Xi Jinping”, A. Payette, Asialyst, 14.4.22). And this at any cost: experts from the Japanese investment bank, Nomura, calculated that at the beginning of April that 45 Chinese towns, representing 40% of Chinese GDP, were in total or partial lock-down. These drastic measures bring serious problems for transportation and the ports (at the end of April more than 300 ships at Shanghai were waiting to be unloaded/loaded, triple that of 2020 when the situation was already critical), as well as interruptions in industrial production and national and international supply chains.

Consequently, the slow-down of the economy, accentuated by repeated lock-downs over two years in the political framework of “Zero Covid” and by the war in Ukraine, becomes more manifest with a presently estimated growth of 4.5% of GDP – the Chinese government expected higher growth of 5.5% but the most pessimistic prognoses talk only of 3.5% (cf. “Zero Covid in Shanghai; the political battle of Xi Jinping” A. Payette, Asialyst, 14.4.22) – and this in the same year when People’s Congress must meet in order to elect a new president. What is particularly preoccupying for the Chinese bourgeoisie are the abysmal economic figures for March: thus, retail sales lowered by 3.5%, unemployment increased by 5.8% (in underestimated official figures) and imports have almost ground to a halt. The building sectors, radically protected by the state in order insulate certain large companies, continues to plunge: the sale of habitations has fallen by 26.7%, the most serious since 2020. “According to a report of the Institute of International Finance published at the end of March, financial flows leaving China are unprecedented. The Russian invasion of Ukraine puts Chinese markets in a new light’. This flight is ‘very unusual’ adds the report. Chinese obligations held by foreign investment have fallen by 80.3 billion yuan for the month of February alone, the steepest fall registered since January 15, when statistics begun to be registered. (...) Some western sanctions against the country are resulting in a fall of foreign investment along with a flight of Chinese capital (...) These economic and financial threats are serious because they show the growing distrust of foreign investment towards China” (“War in Ukraine: the double language of China could cost it dear”, P. A. Donnet, Asialyst, 16.4.22).

Finally, the difficulties of the economy weigh heavily on the maintenance of gigantic financial projects of new routes for the Silk Road, otherwise thwarted by the blockage of several of its branches because of the Ukrainian conflict, but also by the growing chaos of decomposition like the destabilisation of Ethiopia which was to have constituted a central “hub” for its African branch, or again, the difficulties of some countries to re-pay China because of their debts (Sri Lanka, for example).

The United States won’t hesitate to accentuate and exploit these problems in its confrontation with Peking in a difficult context for the Chinese bourgeoisie, which is subject to stronger pressures on the economic, social and political fronts.

  1. Affirmations of the imperialist ambitions of the European countries despite American pressure

In Europe, the decision by Germany to massively re-arm by doubling its military budget could constitute a major imperialist “fact on the ground” in the medium term. At the beginning of the period of decomposition, our analysis showed that the only pole capable of facing up to the United States was Germany (“Militarism and Decomposition”, International Review no. 64, 1991); and, even if today the growth of China, which we neglected at the time, has to be taken into account, the massive re-armament of Germany must represent a major factor for future imperialist confrontations in Europe and in the world.

In fact, this re-armament must be understood in the context of the prolongation of the Ukrainian conflict and the more and more clearly expressed dissent between the countries of Eastern Europe (fanatically anti-Russian Poland faced with a Hungary very close to Moscow), but also between European powers (France, Germany, Italy) and the United States regarding its policy of war to the end against Russia. Faced with the possibility of a return to power of the Trump faction in the United States, and the constitution of the “intransigent” pole of United States-Britain-Poland towards Russia, the military autonomy of the European powers through the development of a pole of the European Union outside of NATO is imposed more and more as an imperious necessity.

  1. Intensification by the US bourgeoisie of an aggressive policy which stimulates chaos despite its internal differences

The domestic situation in the United States, in particular the tensions within the bourgeoisie, are themselves a powerful factor of unpredictability. What will be Biden’s margin of manoeuvres after the mid-term elections in November and who will be the next president of the United States - maybe Trump again? In fact, Biden’s popularity has fallen this last month as consumer prices have soared to levels never seen for four decades hitting fuel, food, housing and other expenses. “Joe Biden’s approval ratings have oscillated around 42.2% according to the poll aggregate of FiveThirtyEight. With the mid-term elections in seven months, we expect more and more elected Democrats to lose their slender control of one, even perhaps both chambers of Congress” (20 Minutes, 15.4.22). The Europeans know perfectly well that the engagements of Biden and the “return to grace” of NATO is only valid for two years at most.

But whatever faction of the bourgeoisie is in government, it is clear that since the beginning of the period of decomposition (cf. wars in Iraq of 1993 and 2003) it is the United States, in its will to defend its declining supremacy, which is the main force for the extension of chaos through its interventions and manoeuvres: it has created chaos in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and facilitated the birth of both Al Qaida and ISIS. During the autumn of 2021, it consciously stirred up tensions with China over Taiwan with the aim of regrouping other Asiatic powers behind it, but in this case with more mitigated success than in the case of Ukraine. Its policy is no different today, even if its Machiavellian manoeuvres allow it to appear as a peaceful nation opposing Russian aggression. This fomenting of chaos and war by the United States has become the most efficient barrier against the development of China as a challenger: “This crisis will certainly not be the last chapter of the long battle engaged in by Washington to ensure a dominant position in an unstable world” (LMD, March 2022, page 7). At the same time the war in Ukraine is used to issue an unambiguous warning to Peking over an eventual invasion of Taiwan.

Characteristics of the current exacerbation of militarism

The phase of decomposition strongly accentuates a whole series of characteristics of militarism and demands a closer examination of the forms that are taken in present imperialist confrontations.

  1. The irrationality of war takes on hallucinatory dimensions

The absence of all economic motivations or advantages for war was patent at the outset of the decadence of capitalism:

“War was the indispensable means by which capitalism opened up areas external to itself for development, at a time when such areas existed and could only be opened up through violence. In the same way, the capitalist world, having historically exhausted all possibility of development, finds in modern imperialist war the expression of its collapse which can only engulf the productive forces in an abyss, and accumulate ruin upon ruin...”

 “Report of the July 1945 Conference of the Communist Left of France, taken up in the “Report on the Historic Course” adopted at the 3rd ICC Congress, International Review no. 18, 3rd quarter, 1979).

The war in Ukraine strikingly illustrates how war has lost not only all economic function but even its advantages on the strategic level: Russia has launched a war in the name of the defence of Russophones but it has massacred tens of thousands of civilians in Russophone areas while turning these towns and regions into a field of ruins and submitting them to considerable material and structural losses. If, in the best case at the end of the war, it has taken Donbass and the south-east of Ukraine, it will have conquered this field of ruins, a population that hates it and suffered a consequent strategic setback at the level of its ambitions as a great power. As to the United States with its policy aimed at China, it is led here (literally led) to undertake a policy of “scorched earth”, without economic or strategic gains other than an immeasurable explosion of chaos on the economic, military and political level. The irrationality of war has never been as clear.

This growing irrationality of military confrontations goes hand-in-hand with increasingly irresponsible factions coming to power, as was shown by the adventure of Bush Junior and the “Neo-Cons” in Iraq in 2003, the Trump presidency from 2016 to 2020 or again the Putin faction in Russia. They are the emanation of the exacerbation of militarism and the loss of control of the bourgeoisie over its political apparatus, giving rise to catastrophic adventurism by these factions which are extremely perilous for humanity.

  1. The economy at the service of war

More than ever, an economy at the service of war and the absurd scale of military spending in the midst of an economic crisis and a pandemic is revealed in the clear light of day:

“Today, armaments crystallize the nec plus ultra of technological perfection. The fabrication of sophisticated systems of destruction has become the symbol of a modem high-performance economy. However, these technological 'marvels', which have just shown their murderous efficiency in the Middle East, are, from the standpoint of production, of the economy, a gigantic waste.

Weapons, unlike most other commodities, have the particular feature that once produced they are ejected from the productive cycle of capital. They serve neither to enlarge or replace constant capital (unlike machines, for example) nor to renew the labour power of the workers who set this constant capital in motion. Not only do weapons do nothing but destroy - they are already a destruction of capital in themselves, a sterilisation of wealth.” (“Where are we in the crisis: economic crisis and militarism”, International Review no. 65, 1991

Since 1996, military expenses in all countries have doubled, showing the tendency towards the rise of militarism. According to the Stockholm Institute for Peace Studies (SIPRI) $2 trillion dollars have been spent on armaments, a new record. Of this total, the United States has spent 34%, China 14% and Russia 3%. The war in Ukraine will result in an explosion of military budgets in Europe, while the Covid pandemic and the ecological and economic crises demand massive investments.

Moreover, the economic arm is massively utilised in the service of militarism: already China has threatened Australia with retaliatory economic measures because the country criticised its policy in Hong Kong or over Sin-Kiang (the “Uygur Autonomous Region”) and Algeria, which is in conflict with Morocco, has  cut gas deliveries, but the war in Ukraine takes this type of policy onto another level: the United States and the European countries have used it to take Russia by the throat and the United States threatens retaliatory measures against China if it supports Russia; they are  also used to put pressure on Europe (American gas replacing Russian gas). The cancer of militarism weighs more and more on commercial exchanges and the political economy of states.

  1. Local wars, global consequences

The consequences of the war for the economic situation of numerous countries have been dramatic: Russia is a large producer of fertiliser and energy, Brazil depends on this fertiliser for its crops. Ukraine is a major exporter of agricultural products and the price of commodities such as wheat could well explode; some states such as Egypt, Turkey, Tanzania or Mauritania are one hundred per-cent dependent on Russian or Ukrainian wheat and are on the brink of a food crisis; Sri Lanka or Madagascar, already super-indebted, are bankrupt. According the General Secretary of the United Nations, the Ukrainian crisis risks: “tipping up to 1.7 billion people – more than a fifth of humanity – into poverty, destitution and hunger” (ONU info, April 13, 2022); the economic and social consequences will be global and incalculable: pauperisation, misery, hunger, revolts...

The present expansion of military confrontations increases unpredictability

The serious acceleration of militarism demands that revolutionaries closely examine the dynamic of current military confrontations and are precise about the challenges and dangers of the present period. This is not a dissertation on the “sex of angels”, but of understanding all the consequences of this dynamic in order to determine the relations of force, the links between war and class struggle and the dynamic of workers’ struggles today as well as our intervention towards them.

  1. What is the significance of polarisation at the level of imperialist confrontations?

For a dozen years now, a polarisation has effectively developed between the United States and China. Above all, this polarisation is the result of a change of policy of the United States affirmed during the term of the Obama administration:

“In 2011, the American leadership came to the conclusion that their obsessional war against terrorism – although still popular in Congress and general opinion – had weakened America’s status as a superpower. During a secret meeting in the summer, the administration of Barak Obama decided to take a step back and accord a higher strategic importance to competition with China rather than the war on terror. This new approach dubbed the Asiatic ‘Pivot’ was announced by the American president during the course of a speech given to the Australian parliament in Canberra on November 17 2011”(LMD, March 22, page 7). This growing understanding of the dangerous challenge to the maintenance of the declining leadership of the United States drove it to re-position its economic and military means in order to confront the main danger, China. The resistance of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the emergence of the Islamic State held back and slowed down the implementation of this policy by the Obama administration, so that it would only be fully deployed with the Trump administration and would be formulated in the “National Defence Strategy” elaborated by the then Defence Minister, James Mattis.

Thus, this tendency towards polarisation essentially comes from the United States and constitutes the present strategy of the declining superpower that has the aim of maintaining its hegemony. After the failure of its position as the “world’s gendarme” it is now concentrating on a policy aiming to counter its most dangerous challenger. For China on the contrary, such a polarisation is highly unsettling for the moment[3]: despite its massive investment in its army, it is well behind in the development of its military equipment and its technological and economic development (the Silk Road) which at the moment requires the maintenance of globalisation and multi-polarity. As is the case since 1989 with American imperialist policy, the present policy of polarisation can only exacerbate chaos and every man for himself. That is clearly concretised today through the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the massive re-armament of Germany, the growing aggression of Japanese imperialism, the specific position of India, manoeuvres by Turkey, etc.

  1. Does this polarisation bring about a dynamic of stable alliances, even the reconstitution of blocs?

Let’s remind ourselves first of all of the position of the ICC concerning the formation of blocs after 1989: “Although the formation of blocs appears his­torically as the consequence of the development of militarism and imperialism, the exacerbation of the latter in the present phase of capitalism's life paradoxically constitutes a major barrier to the re-formation of a new system of blocs tak­ing the place of the one which has just disappeared”. (“Militarism and Decomposition”, 1991, International Review no. 64, point 9). To what extent do the current conflicts favour the factors leading to a dynamic towards the constitution of blocs?

(a) The force of arms having become a preponderant factor in order to limit world chaos and to impose itself as the head of the bloc, and with the United States having a military power equivalent to all the other major powers put together, no country today has at its disposal: “the military potential of the USA to a point where it could set itself up as a rival bloc leader” (“Militarism and Decomposition”, point 10), which is again illustrated by the war in Ukraine. As “the scale of conflicts between the blocs, and what is at stake in them takes on an in­creasingly world-wide and general character (the more gangsters there are to control, the more powerful must be the ‘godfather’ (...) the more the bourgeoisie's different fractions tend to tear each other apart, as the crisis sharpens their mutual competition, so the state must be reinforced in order to exercise its authority over them. In the same way, the more the open historic crisis ravages the world economy, so the stronger must be a bloc leader in order to contain and control the tendencies towards the dislocation of its differ­ent national components” (“Militarism and Decomposition”, point 11).

(b) Given that “the formation of imperialist blocs corresponds to the need to impose a similar discipline amongst different national bourgeoisies, in order to limit their mutual antagonisms and to draw them to­gether for the supreme confrontation between two military camps” (“Militarism and Decomposition”, point 4), are we seeing a tendency to strengthen this discipline today?

The imposition of discipline by the United States on the European states within NATO in the framework of the war in Ukraine is temporary and is already resulting in fissures:  Turkey plays “The Lone Ranger”, Hungary has maintained bridges with Russia, Germany drags its feet and France pushes for the constitution of a European pole. For its part, China’s alliance with Russia is of limited scale and the former is very careful not to engage too much alongside Russia, while other countries in the world have demonstrated their reservations about taking a side between the conflicting powers.

In sum, even if there is a push towards polarisation, particularly on the part of the American superpower; even if, in this framework, temporary alliances can be made (United States, Japan, Korea; Turkey-Russia in Syria; China-Russia) or through old alliances being temporarily reactivated (NATO), the tendency in present imperialist confrontations does not indicate a dynamic towards the constitution of two antagonistic blocs, such as we saw before the first and second world wars or at the time of the “Cold War”: “(...) in the time after the Cold War, states have had neither friends nor permanent Godfathers but fluctuating, vacillating allies of limited duration” (LMD, May 2022, page 8).

The constitution of blocs was a dominant tendency up to the phase of decomposition. In this latter period, the tendency rather, given the aggravated characteristics of this stage, is to the intensification of the dynamic towards war without the constitution of blocs: “In the new historical period we have entered, and which the Gulf events have confirmed, the world appears as a vast free-for-all, where the tendency of "every man for himself" will operate to the full, and where the alliances between states will be far from having the stability that characterized the imperialist blocs, but will be dominated by the immediate needs of the mo­ment. A world of bloody chaos, where the American policeman will try to maintain a mini­mum of order by the increasingly massive and brutal use of military force” (Militarism and Decomposition”, point 11).

Is the present dynamic oriented towards a world war, that’s to say a generalised confrontation between all of the countries regrouped around their respective leaders?

The world wars that we have known in capitalist decadence were all linked to a coalition behind a “boss”, whose architecture was determined well before the explosion of conflict which, in the logic of blocs, unfolded into global confrontations: two great alliances confronted each other in 1914: the Entente (the Triple Alliance between Britain, France and Russia, from 1907 and later the Quadruple Alliance after Italy rallied in 1915) faced with the Triple Alliance (between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy founded in 1882, going into 1887 and confirmed in 1891/1896); two axes of alliances confronting each other in 1939: Rome-Berlin-Tokyo (concluded in 1936 and completed by the German-Soviet Pact in August ’39) and the alliance between France and Britain combined with two tripartite alliances (France-Britain-Poland and France-Britain-Turkey) as well as a “political entente” between Britain and the United States; finally, the two blocs of the West and the East (NATO and the Warsaw Pact) facing each other between 1945-1989). Moreover, such wars imply a massive mobilisation of enormous armies which the bourgeoisie is avoiding today, the massive mobilisations of populations (partially happening in Ukraine) whereas that the armies of the major imperialisms have been reconfigured since the 1990’s (reduction of size, priority to specialised, professional forces and development of technologies linked to military robotics and cybernautics in the case of the American, Chinese, Russian and European armies) and the widespread use of mercenaries and private “contractors” 

  1. Doesn’t such an analysis underestimate the dangers of wars today?

The analysis laid out above must in no way be of re-assurance regarding war in the period of decomposition despite the absence of a bloc dynamic. In fact, it is vital to be conscious that such a context doesn’t at all exclude an important military conflict, and that the danger of a direct military confrontation between the major powers is negligible; quite the contrary: “The constitution of imperialist blocs is not the origin of militarism and imperialism. The oppo­site is true: the formation of these blocs is only the extreme consequence (which at certain mo­ments can aggravate the causes), an expression (and not the only one), of decadent capitalism's plunge into militarism and war” (“Militarism and Decomposition”, International Review no. 64, 1991, part 5).

Paradoxically, the absence of blocs makes the situation more dangerous inasmuch as conflicts are characterised by a greater unpredictability: “In announcing that he was placing his forces of dissuasion on alert, the Russian leader, President Vladimir Putin has constrained the major states to update their doctrines, most often inherited from the Cold War. The certainty of mutual annihilation – the acronym ‘MAD’ (Mutually Assured Destruction) meaning crazy – is not enough to exclude the hypothesis of so-called ‘limited’ nuclear strikes with the risk of an uncontrolled free-for-all” (LMD, April 2022, page 1). And again paradoxically, the regroupment around blocs limited the possibilities of them sliding out of control:

- because of the bloc discipline;

- also because of the necessity to inflict a decisive defeat beforehand on the proletariat in the centres of capitalism (cf. the analysis of the historic course in the 1980’s).

Thus, even if there is presently no perspective of the constitution of blocs or of a third world war, at the same time, the situation is characterised by greater underlying peril linked to the intensification of each for themselves and the growth of irrationality: the unpredictability of the development of confrontations, the possibility of them getting out of control, which is stronger than in the decades from the ‘50’s to the 1980’s , marks the stage of decomposition and constitutes one of the particularly preoccupying dimensions of this qualitative acceleration of militarism.

What is the impact on the working class?

In conclusion, we must understand that the conditions for war between on the one hand the first and second world wars, and on the other hand those of today, are fundamentally different and, consequently, so are the perspectives for the proletariat. If the slide into barbarity in Ukraine is destructive and brutal, the significance of such conflicts is also more difficult for the working class to understand. Whereas fraternisations were technically and politically possible during the First World War – workers were still capable of communicating through the trenches – that potential doesn’t exist today. There are no longer hundreds of thousands of people massed together on the military fronts with possibilities of discussion, massive reactions against their officers and revolt.

For now, we can thus not expect any class reaction on the war front, even if Russian soldiers could desert or refuse to be enlisted for the war in Ukraine. Today the working class hasn’t the capacity to offer a class resistance against imperialist war – neither in Ukraine, nor Russia – nor at this time in the West. As to the more general perspectives for the development of class struggle today, they are examined in the Report on the Situation of the Class Struggle.

ICC, 9.5.22


[1] The Biden faction also wants Russia to pay for its interference in domestic American politics as, for example, the attempts to manipulate recent presidential elections.

[2]Xi has only a 50% chance of being re-elected for a third term of presidency because he has made three great errors”, explained a source quoted by British journalist Mark O’Neill, an expert on China living in Hong Kong. “The first is of having ruined Chinese diplomatic relations since 2012. When he came to power, China had good relations with the majority of countries in the world. Now, because of his doing, relations with many countries have been damaged, particularly in the West as well as its allies in Asia. The second is the policy of ‘Zero Covid’ which has severely hit the Chinese economy, which will not reach the growth rate of 5.5% of GDP expected this year. More than 50 towns are now under lock-down and there’s no end in sight. The third is the alignment with (Vladimir) Putin. That’s had the effect of damaging still more the already bad relations with Europe and North America. Some Chinese businesses are now not signing new contracts with Russian firms because that could bring sanctions. Where is the benefit for China? (Quoted in “’Zero Covid’ in China: Xi Jinping is as deaf as a post to the alarm over the economy”, P.A. Donnet, Asialyst, 7.5.22).

[3] Leaks coming from the Pentagon have revealed that at the end of Trump’s mandate, Chinese military high command secretly contacted the Pentagon in order to find out if there was a danger of a nuclear attack on China by Trump.


Report on imperialist tensions (May 2022)