In July, the ICC received a contribution that gives an appreciation of the online meeting on the war in Ukraine and the responsibilities of revolutionaries of 2 July 2022. We wholeheartedly welcome this contribution which gives a very good picture one of the most important disagreements that were raised during this meeting: whether the war in Ukraine is a prelude to a new world war or only another significant step in the generalisation of local and regional imperialist wars, a generalisation that is not less dangerous and barbaric than a world war. The contribution develops two points: the evolution of the class struggle since the 1980s and the formation of imperialist blocs. We agree with most of the arguments developed in the contribution. There are only some points in the contribution that we think need some clarification
- “The collapse of the bloc system…made it harder for workers to understand the highpoint of the struggles in Poland 1980 as part of the international proletarian struggle and not as a fight for bourgeois democratic rights.” The bourgeoisie used the collapse of the Eastern Bloc to erase any memory of an alternative for capitalism and the experience of the struggles in Poland 1980 had certainly become part of the fight for this alternative. But the working class had failed to apply the main lessons from the Polish experience (the need to politicise) during its struggles in the countries of Western Europe, something that could already been noticed in the course of the 1980s and not only with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.
- “Russia fell into the very trap that the US used against Saddam Hussein and Putin didn’t see it coming.” We don’t know if Putin didn’t see that he was trapped, but in the logic of the imperialist confrontations this would not have made much difference, because Russia had no other choice. It had to start the war, because not attacking Ukraine would also have meant defeat, not in the short run but in the long run.
- “Russia can hardly be seen by the major powers as a menace from which they must defend themselves by accepting the dominance of the US.” This is not true, since Russia is a nuclear power of the first order, with a military apparatus more sophisticated than China. Therefore Russia remains, in the context of the irrationality and the unpredictability of the present situation, a threat for several countries in Eastern Europe and even for major countries in Central Europe such as Germany, with nuclear missiles ranging 2.000 miles and further.
Some points on the online English language discussion about the war in Ukraine of 02/07/2022
I very much welcome the discussion which was stimulating and animated by a desire to understand what the social alternative of Socialism or Barbarism means in the present situation.
It was generally agreed by the participants that the tendency towards the proliferation of imperialist wars, and the war in Ukraine in particular, represents an acceleration of capitalist society towards barbarism but there were disagreements on whether the period is one of chaos in which the bourgeois class has less and less control over the direction of society or whether there is a tendency towards the formation of blocs in preparation for a third world war.
One position defended was that the ICC’s analysis fails to take account of the fact that the situation of decomposition has changed since the 1990s, when the Eastern bloc collapsed under the weight of the economic crisis and the failure of either of the dominant classes in society to impose their ‘solution’ to it; that is, world imperialist war or the proletarian revolution. According to this position, important struggles took place in the 1980s – in the UK and Poland - which did not lead to decisive confrontations raising the perspective of the proletarian revolution. Since then, 30 years have passed without the working class having been able to impose its alternative; in addition the composition of the proletariat has changed (the number of computer technicians has greatly increased, whereas the number of workers concentrated in large factories is greatly diminished). The proletariat has therefore been defeated. At the same time the US is strengthening NATO - the addition of Sweden and Norway as members - it is also reinforcing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue QUAD), Russia is reappearing on the imperialist world stage, the fear of which acts as a cement to cohere the bloc around the US, as it did in olden times. China is being pushed into the arms of Russia, these two powers together are immense and as a bloc would account for most of the Eurasian land mass.
This vision raises several questions:
- How to assess whether the working class is defeated.
The collapse of the Eastern bloc interrupted the tendency for the working class to spread its struggle and to take control of it against the sabotage of the unions because its revolutionary role must perforce be a conscious one; it must understand the capitalist world in which it is exploited in order to realise its historic task. The collapse of the bloc system that had been the framework for imperialist rivalries for almost 40 years was a dramatic change which was used by the bourgeoisie to reinforce the idea that the western ‘democratic’ way was invincible and made it harder for workers to understand the highpoint of the struggles in Poland 1980 as part of the international proletarian struggle and not as a fight for bourgeois democratic rights.
Moreover, in the last 30 years the class has been besieged by the nihilism, despair, sense of no future, atomisation exuded by capitalism in decomposition and now it has also been hit by the pandemic and by the war in Ukraine. It has not yet managed to raise its struggle to the level achieved in the 1980s. This shows how difficult is the process towards revolutionary consciousness and it’s true that the longer the blockage continues the more dangerous is the situation for the proletariat, but I don’t think that there’s a time-out; I don’t think we can say that, if it hasn’t done it in 30 years, then it will never do it. The essence of the proletariat as a revolutionary class is its consciousness; it is obliged to reflect on the worsening of its conditions of existence and its causes, it is obliged to look for a solution, the old mole continues his work even if we can’t immediately see the evidence for this. The reluctance of the bourgeoisies outside of the Ukraine to conscript workers into a fighting force to further their imperialist cravings, shows that they, at least, fear the reaction of the class.
The riots taking place in countries such as Sri Lanka, Peru or the general transport strike in Tunisia show that inflation and the absence of basic necessities are making life increasingly intolerable for workers and obliging a response. They are taking place in the peripheral countries, tend to be inter-classist or placatable with regime change so we can’t over-estimate them, but they do show that it becomes increasingly impossible to live in the old way and that workers will not take that lying down. If we are not yet seeing major strikes in the heartlands of capital, it is partly because conditions are worse in the peripheries but may also be because the more experienced sectors of the class are aware that there is a lot at stake and embarking on struggle is not to be taken lightly. The enormous price rises and shortages that we are about to experience will oblige a reaction.
- What has 30 years of decomposition meant for the bourgeoisie?
It isn’t only the proletariat that has suffered the effects of 30 years of decomposition, it has taken its toll on the bourgeoisie as well. Would it be able to get its act together even if the proletariat were to be defeated? It is finding it increasingly difficult to palliate the economic crisis, this leads to conflicts within the national bourgeoisies about how to manage an unmanageable situation and results in inconsistency and confusion in its policies. It leads to increasingly bitter trade wars as each nation tries to fleece the rest in its desperation: imperialist conflicts proliferate as each national bourgeoisie tries to improve its geo-political position at the expense of an economy already weighed down by debt.
The bourgeoisie is not able to simply turn the clock back 30 years and return to the good old two-bloc system that acted as a container for imperialist rivalries.
Russia is no longer convincing either as a bloc leader or as a menace to cement NATO together under US hegemony. The great empire of Catherine the Great, the great leader of the Warsaw Pact countries, fell into the very trap that the US used against Saddam Hussein and Putin didn’t see it coming! Doesn’t say a lot for his understanding of diplomacy. The Russian military are finding it extremely difficult to bring little old Ukraine to heel because Putin disastrously misunderstood the military balance of forces between the two countries. Now that Russia is embroiled in a long term, economically disastrous war, it can hardly be seen by the major powers as a menace from which they must defend themselves by accepting the dominance of the US.
So where does this leave a supposed Russia-China bloc? Russia no longer has the force to act as bloc leader, but it certainly wouldn’t accept Chinese hegemony and China is trying not to give enthusiastic support for Russia over Ukraine because it realises that the US is setting a trap for it. Moreover, what would be the ideology holding such a bloc together?
How much control does the US really have over other NATO members? Trump wanted to pull the US out of it and go it alone, Biden wants to use NATO to put the European powers under pressure. That would seem to indicate serious differences within the US bourgeoisie about how to dominate the imperialist situation and the use of NATO to accomplish this. There’s a possibility that a subsequent administration could revert to Trump’s position, which doesn’t make for a dependable basis on which to build a bloc; to do this there must at least be a level of trust, continuity, and a clear policy around which to bargain. Sweden and Norway think it’s worth their while to have the protection of being NATO members, but would it defend them in the case of an attack?
- If the proletariat is defeated and the bourgeoisie is preparing for a third world war how does this affect how revolutionaries see their role?
Following the defeat of the first revolutionary wave, the communist minorities did all in their power to maintain in safety a revolutionary nucleus who would draw the lessons of the proletariat’s defeat and keep alive the communist programme in readiness for the re-emergence of the struggle. That is not possible today in the period of capitalist decomposition; if the working class is unable to carry out its historic role, humanity will not survive. The only alternative to fighting for the proletarian revolution would be to just give up and watch capitalism destroy humanity. We must put all our weight on the scales that tip towards the proletarian transformation of society, don’t we?