Submitted by ICConline on
More than a year already of appalling carnage; hundreds of thousands of soldiers massacred on both sides; more than a year of indiscriminate bombings and executions, murdering tens of thousands of civilians; more than a year of systematic destruction turning the country into a gigantic field of ruins, while the displaced populations number in the millions; more than a year of huge budgets sunk into this butchery on both sides (Russia is now committing about 50% of its state budget to the war, while the hypothetical reconstruction of the ruined Ukraine would require more than 400 billion dollars). And this tragedy is far from over.
In terms of imperialist confrontations, the outbreak of the war in Ukraine was also an important qualitative step in the sinking of capitalist society into war and militarism. It is true that since 1989, various warlike ventures have shaken the planet (the wars in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria...), but these had never involved a confrontation between major imperialist powers. The Ukrainian conflict is the first military confrontation of this magnitude between states to take place on Europe's doorstep since 1940-45. It involves the two largest countries in Europe, one of which has nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction and the other is supported financially and militarily by NATO, and has the potential to result in a catastrophe for humanity.
Beyond the indignation and disgust provoked by this large-scale carnage, it is the responsibility of revolutionaries not to limit themselves to general and abstract condemnations, but to draw the main lessons of the Ukrainian conflict in order to understand the dynamics of imperialist confrontations and to warn the workers about the exacerbation of chaos and the intensification of military barbarity.
Offensive of US imperialism exacerbates chaos
While Russia invaded Ukraine, a major lesson of this year of war is undoubtedly that behind the protagonists on the battlefield, US imperialism is on the offensive.
Faced with the decline of its hegemony, the US has been pursuing an aggressive policy to defend its interests since the 1990s, especially towards the former leader of the rival bloc, Russia. Despite the commitment made after the disintegration of the USSR not to enlarge NATO, the Americans have integrated all the countries of the former Warsaw Pact into this alliance. In 2014, the 'Orange Revolution' replaced the pro-Russian regime in Ukraine with a pro-Western government and a popular revolt threatened the pro-Russian regime in Belarus a few years later. Putin's regime responded to this strategy of encirclement by employing its military strength, the remnant of its past as a bloc leader. After Putin's 2014 takeover of Crimea and Donbass, the US began arming Ukraine and training its military to use more sophisticated weapons. When Russia deployed its army to Ukraine's borders, they tightened the trap by claiming that Putin would invade Ukraine while assuring that they themselves would not intervene on the ground. By means of this strategy of encircling and suffocating Russia, the United States has pulled off a masterstroke that has a much more ambitious goal than simply halting Russian ambitions:
- As of now, the war in Ukraine leads to a clear weakening of Moscow's remaining military power and a lowering of its imperialist ambitions. It also demonstrates the absolute superiority of US military technology, which is the basis for the "miracle" of "little Ukraine" pushing back the "Russian bear";
- The conflict also allowed them to tighten the screws within NATO, as European countries were forced to fall in line with the American position, especially France and Germany, which were developing their own policies towards Russia and ignoring NATO, which French President Macron considered to be “brain dead” until two years ago;
- The primary objective of the Americans in teaching Russia a lesson was undoubtedly an unequivocal warning to their main challenger, China. For the past ten years, the United States has been defending its leadership against the rise of the Chinese challenger: first, during the Trump presidency, through an open trade war; but now the Biden administration has stepped up the pressure militarily (the tensions around Taiwan). Thus, the conflict in Ukraine has weakened China's only important military ally and is putting a strain on the New Silk Road project, one axis of which passed through Ukraine.
While a polarisation of imperialist tensions has gradually emerged between the US and China, this is the product of a systematic policy pursued by the dominant imperialist power, the US, in an attempt to halt the irreversible decline of its leadership. After Bush senior's war against Iraq, Bush junior's polarisation against the "axis of evil" (Iraq, Iran, North Korea), the US offensive today aims to prevent any emergence of major challengers. Thirty years of such a policy have not brought any discipline and order to imperialist relations. On the contrary, it has exacerbated every man for himself, chaos and barbarism. The United States is today a major vehicle for the terrifying expansion of military confrontations.
The intensification of every man for himself and of tensions
Contrary to superficial journalistic statements, the development of events shows that the conflict in Ukraine has by no means led to a "rationalisation" of the contradictions. In addition to the major imperialisms, which are under pressure from the US offensive, the explosion of a multiplicity of ambitions and rivalries accentuates the chaotic and irrational character of imperialist relations.
The accentuation of the American pressure on the other major imperialisms can only push them to react:
- For Russian imperialism, it is a question of survival because it is already obvious that, whatever the outcome of the conflict, Russia will emerge clearly diminished from the adventure which has exposed its military and economic limits. It is militarily exhausted, having lost two hundred thousand soldiers, especially among its most experienced elite units, as well as a large quantity of tanks, planes and modern helicopters. It is economically weakened by the enormous costs of the war and the collapse of the economy caused by Western sanctions. While the Putin faction is trying by all means to keep power, tensions are arising within the Russian bourgeoisie, especially with the more nationalistic fractions or certain "warlords" (eg Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group of mercenaries). These unfavourable military and unstable political conditions could even lead Russia to resort to tactical nuclear weapons.
- The European bourgeoisies, especially France and Germany, had urged Putin not to go to war and were even prepared, as Boris Johnson's indiscretions revealed, to endorse a limited attack in scale and time to replace the regime in Kiev. Faced with the failure of the Russian forces and the unexpected resistance of the Ukrainians, Macron and Scholz had to sheepishly adhere to the US-led NATO position. However, there is no question of submitting to US policy and abandoning their own imperialist interests, as illustrated by the recent trips of Scholz and Macron to Beijing. Moreover, both countries have sharply increased their military budgets with a view to a massive reequipment of their armed forces (a doubling for Germany, i.e. 107 billion euros). These initiatives have also raised tensions in the Franco-German couple, particularly over the development of joint arms programmes and over the EU's economic policy.
- China has positioned itself very cautiously in relation to the Ukrainian conflict, in the face of the difficulties of its Russian "ally" and the thinly veiled threats of the United States towards it. For the Chinese bourgeoisie, the lesson is bitter: the war in Ukraine has shown that any global imperialist ambitions are illusory in the absence of a military and economic force capable of competing with the US superpower. Today, China, which does not yet have armed forces equal to its economic expansion, is vulnerable to American pressure and to the surrounding war chaos. Of course, the Chinese bourgeoisie is not giving up its imperialist ambitions, in particular the reconquest of Taiwan, but it can only make progress in the long term, by avoiding giving in to the numerous American provocations ("spy" balloons, banning of the TikTok application...) and by carrying out a broad diplomatic charm offensive aimed at avoiding any international isolation: reception in Beijing of a large number of heads of state, Iranian-Saudi rapprochement sponsored by China, proposal of a plan to stop the fighting in Ukraine. ..
On the other hand, the imperialist every man for himself is causing an explosion in the number of potential conflict zones. In Europe, the pressure on Germany is leading to dissension with France and the EU has reacted with anger to the protectionism of Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, seen as a real declaration of war on European exports to the US. In Central Asia, the decline of Russian power goes hand in hand with a rapid expansion of the influence of other powers, such as China, Turkey, Iran or the US in the former Soviet republics. In the Far East, the risk of conflict persists between China on the one hand and India (with regular border clashes) or Japan (which is massively rearming), not to mention the tensions between India and Pakistan and the recurrent ones between the two Koreas. In the Middle East, the weakening of Russia, the internal destabilization of important protagonists such as Iran (popular revolts, struggles between factions and imperialist pressures) or Turkey (disastrous economic situation) will have a major impact on imperialist relations. Finally, in Africa, while the energy and food crisis and war tensions are raging in various regions (Ethiopia, Sudan, Libya, Western Sahara), aggressive competition between imperialist vultures is stimulating destabilisation and chaos.
Explosion of the irrationality of militarism
A year of war in Ukraine has underlined above all that capitalist decomposition accentuates one of the most pernicious aspects of war in the epoch of decadence: its irrationality. The effects of militarism are, in fact, becoming ever more unpredictable and disastrous, regardless of initial ambitions:
- the United States fought both Gulf Wars, as well as the war in Afghanistan, to maintain its leadership on the planet, but in all these cases the result was an explosion of chaos and instability, as well as streams of refugees;
- whatever the objectives of the many imperialist vultures (Russian, Turkish, Iranian, Israeli, American or European) who intervened in the horrific Syrian or Libyan civil wars, they inherited a country in ruins, fragmented and divided into clans, with millions of refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries or to the industrialised countries.
The war in Ukraine is an exemplary confirmation of this: whatever the geostrategic objectives of Russian or American imperialism, the result is a devastated country (Ukraine), an economically and militarily ruined country (Russia), an even more tense and chaotic imperialist situation in the world, and still millions of refugees.
The increasing irrationality of warfare implies a terrifying expansion of military barbarity across the globe. In this context, ad hoc alliances can be formed around particular objectives. For example, Turkey, a member of NATO, is adopting a policy of neutrality towards Russia in Ukraine, hoping to use this to ally itself with Russia in Syria against the US-backed Kurdish militias.
However, and contrary to bourgeois propaganda, the Ukrainian conflict does not lead to a regrouping of imperialisms into blocs, and therefore does not open the dynamics towards a third world war, but rather towards a terrifying expansion of bloody chaos: important imperialist powers such as India, South Africa, Brazil and even Saudi Arabia clearly retain their autonomy from the protagonists; the bond between China and Russia has not tightened, on the contrary; and while the US is using the war to impose its views within NATO, member countries such as Turkey or Hungary are openly going it alone while Germany and France are trying in all sorts of ways to develop their own policies. Moreover, the leader of a potential bloc must be able to generate trust among the member countries and guarantee the security of its allies. China, however, has been very cautious in its support for its Russian ally. As for the United States, after Trump's "America First" approach, which had chilled the "allies", Biden is basically pursuing the same policy: he is making them pay a high energy price for the boycott of the Russian economy, whereas the United States is self-sufficient in this area, and the "anti-China" laws will hit European imports hard. It is precisely this lack of security guarantees that led Saudi Arabia to conclude an agreement with China and Iran. Finally, as a major obstacle to a dynamic towards a third world war, the proletariat is not defeated and ideologically mobilised in the service of the nation in the central industrialised countries, as illustrated by the current struggles in various European countries. An ideological weapon capable of mobilising the proletariat, such as fascism and anti-fascism in the 1930s, does not exist today.
The war in Ukraine is stirring up the other dimensions of the "polycrisis
The situation is all the more delicate because the "Ukrainian crisis" does not appear as an isolated phenomenon but as one of the manifestations of this "polycrisis", the accumulation and interaction of health, economic, ecological, food and war crises, which characterises the twenties of the 21st century. And the war in Ukraine constitutes in this context a real multiplier and intensifier of barbarism and chaos at the global level:
“The aggregation and interaction of these destructive phenomena produces a 'vortex effect' (…) it is important to stress the driving force of war, as an action deliberately pursued and planned for by capitalist states.” In fact, the war in Ukraine and its economic repercussions have favoured rebounds of Covid (as in China), accentuated the rise in inflation and recession in various regions of the world, provoked a food and energy crisis, caused a setback in climate policies (nuclear and even coal-fired power stations are back in operation) and led to a new influx of refugees. Not to mention the ever-present risk of bombing nuclear power plants, as still seen around the Zaporizhzhia site, or the use of chemical, bacteriological or nuclear weapons.
In short, one year of war in Ukraine highlights how it has intensified the "great rearmament of the world", symbolised by the massive military investments of the two great losers of the Second World War, Japan, which has committed 320 billion dollars to its army in 5 years, the biggest armament effort since 1945, and above all Germany, which is also increasing its defence budget.
As an obviously deliberate product of the ruling class, the carnage in Ukraine clearly illustrates the bankruptcy of the capitalist system. However, the feelings of impotence and horror generated by the war do not favour the development of a proletarian opposition to the conflict today. On the other hand, the significant worsening of the economic crisis, and the attacks against workers which directly result from it, is pushing the latter to mobilise on their class terrain to defend their living conditions. In this dynamic of renewed struggles, warlike barbarism will eventually constitute a source of awareness of the bankruptcy of the system, which today is still limited to small minorities of the class.
R. Havanais, 25 March 2023
 The term is used by the bourgeoisie itself in the Global Risks Report 2023 presented at the World Economic Forum in January 2023 in Davos.
 "The 20sof the 21st century: The acceleration of capitalist decomposition poses the clear possibility of the destruction of humanity", International Review, No. 169 (2022).