Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry

The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan

A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective


By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), January 2019


BOOK Defeatism in Imperialist States_WEB
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List of Tables


List of Figures








Part 1: Features of Imperialism in the 21st Century



I. The Historic Crisis of Capitalism



II. Global Offensive of the Capitalists against the Working Class



III. Capitalism and the Increasing Relevance of Migration



IV. The Marxist Criteria for an Imperialist Great Power


Main Characteristics of an Imperialist respectively a Semi-Colonial State


Is a Transition from Being One Type of State to Another Possible?


“Sub-Imperialism” – A Useful Category?



V. The Emergence of China and Russia as New Great Powers


Production and Trade


Monopolies and Billionaires


Capital Export and Military Spending



VI. The Acceleration of Inter-Imperialist Rivalry and the Global Trade War


At the Onset of a New Cold War


Tianxia – China’s Ideological Challenge


Protectionism and Militarism


The Imperialist Drive for Control of the South


Rivalry between U.S. and China as the Main Axis of Inner-Imperialist Contradictions



VII. Imperialist Great Powers: Some Historical Comparisons


Excurse: The Law of Uneven and Combined Development


Some Historical Examples about the Unevenness of the Great Powers before 1939


Globalization and Great Power Rivalry in the Period before World War One


The “Fat” and the “Lean” Cows




Part 2: Modern Revisionist Theories of Great Power Rivalry in Today’s World



VIII. Revisionist Whitewashing: Stalinist and Bolivarian Admirers of Beijing’s “Socialism”


Is China a Unique Case of Capitalist Miracle?


Russian Stalinists: Failure to Understand Imperialism in their own Country


The Ultra-Stalinist CPGB-ML: “Anti -Imperialist” Russia and China?



IX. Revisionist Whitewashing: Russia and China are neither Capitalist nor Great Powers (PO/CRFI)


Capitalism is still not restored in Russia and China?


Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism and its Stalinophile Falsification


Russia’s and China’s Capital Export: Myth and Reality


On the Character of China’s Foreign Investments


State-Owned Corporations in China and Russia: Not Capitalist?


The Role of Migration



X. Revisionist Whitewashing: China and Russia are Semi-Colonies rather than Great Powers (LIT / UIT / FT)


LIT: Is China Comparable with Brazil, India or Mexico?


UIT: China is Super-Exploited by Imperialism?


FT: Russia and China can not become Imperialist before a Major War?



XI. Revisionist Whitewashing: When the Category “Imperialism” has no Meaning (CWI / IMT / IST)


CWI: “Forgetting” about Russia’s or China’s Imperialist Character?


IMT: A purely formal Recognition of Russia and China as Great Powers


SWP: Theoretical Indifference




Part 3: The Program of Revolutionary Defeatism against All Great Powers



XII. Is World War III Inevitable? (Critical Notes on Michael Roberts)


Population Growth and Long Upswings


What are the Conditions for Long Upswings?


An Element of Kautskyanism



XIII. The Proletariat as an International Class


Internationalism and National Liberation


On Aristocratism and the Labor Aristocracy



XIV. The Internationalist Character of the Struggle against Imperialist War and the Social-Patriotic Nature of the Stalinist Theory of “Socialism in One Country”



XV. The Meaning of the Dictum “War is the Continuation of Politics by Other Means



XVI. Revolutionary Defeatism as a Combined Strategy


The Contradictory Nature of Imperialism as the Objective Basis for Anti-Imperialism


The Marxist Classics on the Combined Strategy



XVII. The Relationship between War and Revolution


“Small” and “Large” Imperialist Wars


World War III and Revolution – A Contradiction in Itself?



XVIII. Revolutionary Defeatism in Conflicts between Imperialist States: The Marxist Classics


Marx and Engels in the Pre-Imperialist Epoch


The Bolsheviks and the Russian-Japanese War 1904/05


The Full Elaboration of Lenin’s Defaitist Program in World War One 1914-17


Bolshevik Agitation against the War in Russia


Trotsky continues the Revolutionary Struggle against Imperialist War



XIX. Revolutionary Defeatism in Conflicts between Imperialist States: Programmatic Components (1)


For Working Class Independence – No Support for Any Great Power!


The Struggle against Chauvinism


Changes in Conditions and its Consequences


The Moral Crisis in the Western Imperialist Countries



XX. Revolutionary Defeatism in Conflicts between Imperialist States: Programmatic Components (2)


The Issue of Sanctions of one Great Power against Another


Global Trade War and Internationalist Tactics


Wars between Great Powers respectively their Proxies


Siding with the “Lesser” (Imperialist) Evil?


The Poverty of Pacifism


The Slogan of Disarmament


International Courts of Arbitration and United Nations



XXI. Revolutionary Defeatism in Conflicts between Imperialist States and Oppressed Peoples


Imperialist Wars and Occupations of Semi-Colonial Countries


Imperialist Non-Military Aggressions against Semi-Colonial Countries


Oppression of National Minorities


Tactics of Mass Struggle


On Complex War Scenarios



XXII. Revolutionary Defeatism and the Struggle for Full Equality of Migrants




Part 4: The Failure of the Left in the Struggle against Imperialism



XXIII. The Left Facing Great Power Rivalry: Pro-Western Social-Imperialists


General Introductory Remarks


The Party of the European Left (PEL)


Islamophobia is the new Anti-Semitism of the 21st century


The Japanese Communist Party


JCP: Advisor for an Alternative Strategy for Japanese Imperialism



XXIV. The Left Facing Great Power Rivalry: Pro-Eastern Social-Imperialists (Stalinists)


The Stalinist Alliance around the “International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties”


Defending the Sovereign Rights of Greece”: The Stalinist KKE as an Example of Bourgeois Social-Chauvinism


Stalinism and Counterrevolution in Syria


Russian Social-Imperialism: The KPRF, the RKRP and the OKP


Stalinists Cheer Serbian Chauvinism against Kosovo Albanians


The Ultra-Stalinist CPGB-ML: Loyal Cheerleaders of Russian and Chinese Imperialism


Excurse: Some Observations on the “Pacifist” and the “Belligerent” Social-Imperialists



XXV. The Left Facing Great Power Rivalry: Pro-Eastern Social-Imperialists (Non-Stalinists)


Boris Kagarlitsky and Rabkor: Great Russian “Marxists” ready to fight for Moscow’s Interests “with Blood and Iron”


The Pro-Russian/Chinese Pseudo-Trotskyists (PO/CRFI)


The Spartacist sects and their defense of the Chinese “Deformed Workers State”



XXVI. On Inverted Social-Imperialism and the “Anti-Imperialist” Appeal of Russia and China


What are the reasons for the misplaced “anti-imperialist” Appeal of Russia and China?


Inverted Social-Imperialism as a Variation of Class-Collaboration


What will Inverted Social-Imperialists do in Case of a Major War?



XXVII. The Left Facing Great Power Rivalry: Deniers of Russia’s and China’s Imperialist Character without Drawing Conclusions



XXVIII. The Left Facing Great Power Rivalry: Eclectic Social-Pacifists


CWI/IMT: Refusal to Defend Semi-Colonial Countries against Imperialism


IMT Russia: No Support for “Chechen Separatism”


Did Lenin “correct” his Program of Revolutionary Defeatism?


The Russian Socialist Movement: Confused Eclecticists




Part 5: The Task of Organizing the Anti-Imperialist Struggle



XXVIX. Building the Revolutionary World Party in the Age of Great Power Rivalry


Changes in the Conditions to Build a Revolutionary World Party


Orientation to the New Militant Layers of the Working Class and Youth


Reformism and Centrism as Obstacles



Appendix: Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States







About the Author



Preface for the Spanish Translation of “Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry”


By Michael Pröbsting, 13 March 2021




We are glad to present the Spanish-language translation of our book on the Great Power rivalry. This is already the third language – after Portuguese and Korean– in which this comprehensive book has been translated after its original publication in English language two years ago.


The publication of this book is obviously very timely because of the principal relevance of the Great Power rivalry in the current world situation. It is impossible to grasp the dynamic of the world political developments without understanding the key role of the antagonistic interests and conflicts between the imperialist Great Powers (U.S., China, EU, Russia, and Japan).


However, there is also another reason which makes the translation of this book such a welcoming event. The workers and popular movement in Latin America have always been dominated by various shades of petty-bourgeois and bourgeois populism as well as by Stalinism. Since the rise of Chavez, the current known as Bolivarianism has become particularly influential. As Latin America had to suffer from the domination of U.S. imperialism for more than a century, Washington has been clearly the enemy No. 1.


When China did rise as a new Great Power, many leftists (not only in Latin America but globally!) viewed it as a welcome counterweight against the long-time absolute hegemon. This has resulted in a positive view of the Stalinist-capitalist regime in Beijing and the outright denial of China’s imperialist character.


Such a development demonstrates once more the poverty of nationalism and national-centeredness. Viewing global developments from a national or regional – and not from an international – point of view can only result in a one-sided and wrong analysis. Hence, Trotsky emphasized in his writings of the theory of the Permanent Revolution that each and every class struggle must be approached not only from a national but also, and primarily, from an international point of view. For the same reason, Trotsky insisted on the necessary international character of the process of revolutionary building from the very beginning.


It is in such tradition that the RCIT has always explained that socialists must in all political events defend the interests of the international working class and not that of only one (or several) countries. Such an approach allowed us to recognize from early only that the ruling class in Beijing was a reactionary enemy of the workers and poor peasants in China which abolished social rights, advanced the establishment of capitalist production relations and oppressed national minorities like the Muslim Uyghurs. As we explained in our works, the regime of a Great Power which exploits and oppresses its own people can never be an ally of the proletariats’ liberation struggle!


While Chinese imperialism first expanded in Asia and Africa, it has also become a major foreign investor in Latin America itself in the last few years. Still, many leftists ignore this rise and continue denying the imperialist character of new Great Power in the East!


There is a certain interesting parallel with the 1930s since at that time various bourgeois nationalist currents in Latin America (e.g. APRA in Peru) had a very positive view of the U.S. under President Roosevelt. They saw Washington as a potential ally against the old European colonial powers and, consequently, denied the imperialist character of the U.S.. Trotsky and his supporters argued with cadres of APRA and tried to convince them of the necessity to take a consistent anti-imperialist position, i.e. to oppose all Great Powers (including the U.S.). [1]


Unfortunately, most forces of Latin American Trotskyism share the Stalinists’ denial of China’s imperialist character. The Argentinean PO (both factions) even fancies that capitalist restoration still has not been completed in China! Others – like the PTS/FT, PSTU/LIT and UIT – recognize its capitalist character but also categorically reject the theses of Chinese imperialism. We have dealt with their arguments in the present book and, since its publication two years ago, we have written some additional essays which discussed more recent works from Latin American Trotskyists on China. [2]


The current global developments make a correct assessment of the Great Power rivalry more urgent than ever. We are in a period characterized by the Third Depression, i.e. the worst economic slump of the capitalist world economy since 1929, a global anti-democratic turn towards chauvinism and state bonapartism; and the COVID-19 pandemic, the ruling classes all over the world are determined to strengthen themselves at the expense of their rivals. Against such a background, an acceleration of the rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers – in particular between the two strongest, U.S. and China – is unavoidable.


In such a period, socialists – in Latin America as well as globally – must not lend support to any imperialist bourgeoisie. They need to fight against imperialist domination by any Great Power – the U.S., China or others. In any political, economic, or military conflict between imperialist states, socialists must take a revolutionary defeatist position against all of these reactionary enemies. Latin America can become free only in the struggle against all imperialist powers and not in alliance with one of them!


Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to comrade Rubén Jaramilllo who has undertaken the exhausting work of translating this comprehensive book. As always, he has approached this project with tenacity, patience, and a high degree of professionalism!




[1] See e.g. Leon Trotsky: Ignorance Is Not a Revolutionary Instrument (1939), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39, pp. 182-190; see also Leon Trotsky: Latin American Problems: A Transcript (1938), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky, Supplement (1934-40), pp. 782-794

[2] See e.g. Michael Pröbsting: How is it possible that some Marxists still Doubt that China has Become Capitalist? (A Critique of the PTS/FT). An analysis of the capitalist character of China’s State-Owned Enterprises and its political consequences, 18 September 2020,; by the same author: Unable to See the Wood for the Trees. Eclectic empiricism and the failure of the PTS/FT to recognize the imperialist character of China, 13 August 2020,


Preface of the Korean Translation of “Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry”


By Michael Pröbsting, 30 April 2020




I am very pleased to see the publication of the Korean translation of our book on the Great Power rivalry. This is already the second language – after Portuguese – in which this book has been translated after its original publication in English language a bit more than a year ago.


It does not need many words to explain why the issue of Great Power rivalry is a highly urgent subject for socialists on the Korean Peninsula. It is literally located in the midst of four of the worlds five Great Powers – Japan, China, Russia and the U.S. (due to its strong military presence in South Korea itself as well as in other East Asian countries). Hence, the acceleration of rivalry between these imperialist powers can not but has direct consequences for the Korean people.


The recent events of the global triple crisis will no doubt further accelerate the antagonisms between the imperialist powers. Faced with the Third Depression, i.e. the worst economic slump of the capitalist world economy since 1929, a global anti-democratic turn towards chauvinism and state bonapartism; and the COVID-19 pandemic, the ruling classes all over the world are determined to strengthen themselves at the expense of their rivals. [1] The escalating exchange of chauvinist accusations between Washington and Beijing in the context of the COVID-19 crisis (racist slur of “the Chinese Virus”, speculations about the US resp. the Chinese military being responsible for the creation of the virus, demands for financial compensation, etc.) demonstrate that the rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers – in particular the two strongest, U.S. and China – will be one of the most important feature of world politics in the coming period.


However, there is also another reason which is mentioned in this book but not elaborated in much detail. South Korea itself has become an imperialist state in the 2000s. As the Korean comrades of the RCIT have emphasized – and the author of these lines also contributed a pamphlet on this issue [2] – the capitalist class was able to strengthen itself to such a degree that it could overcome its traditional semi-colonial position and became a monopoly bourgeoisie. Hence, South Korean corporations have become major players on the world market and participate in the imperialist super-exploitation of poorer nations.


A political expression of South Korea’s rise in the league of imperialist states has been the trade war with Japan which began in summer 2019. [3]


These developments demonstrate that the fundamental programmatic conclusions elaborated in “Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry” are highly relevant not only for the five Great Powers but also for smaller imperialist states like South Korea. In summary, these conclusions are that South Korean revolutionaries must not lend any support to their own imperialist bourgeoisie (or any other like that of China). In any political, economic or military conflict with other imperialist states, socialists must act on the old maxim elaborated by the German communist Karl Liebknecht: “the main enemy is at home”. Hence, the Marxist principles which are valid in other imperialist countries are also relevant for South Korea: Any concession to the domestic monopoly bourgeoisie, any adaption to Korean nationalism is paramount to social-chauvinism.


And there is also another issue which makes the analysis of this book relevant for Korean Marxists. As the Peninsula is divided in two states since the devastating war in 1950-53, socialists need to take a clear stance on the long-standing conflict between the U.S. respectively the ruling class in Seoul and North Korea. In contrast to the South, North Korea is not an imperialist state. Since the Stalinist regime implemented the restoration of capitalism, North Korea has become a poor semi-colony. Hence, Marxists have to duty to defend North Korea against the aggression of the U.S. as well as other imperialist powers. Hence, revolutionaries oppose the sanctions against North Korea and call for the military defeat of its enemies in case of a war. Naturally, such defense must go hand in hand with resolute opposition against the bureaucratic, state-capitalist dictatorship in Pyongyang. Such tactics are part of the strategy for the revolutionary unification of Korea and the struggle for the overthrow of the South Korean bourgeoisie as well as of the North Korea Stalinist-capitalist ruling class.


We conclude this brief preface by expressing our hope that the analysis and conclusions of this book will stimulate a fruitful discussion among socialist activists in South Korea. We are aware that due to the traditional strong influence of the Stalinist “National Liberation” current, large sectors of the left oppose the idea that South Korea has become an imperialist state. They rather continue considering the state as a semi-colony (or neo-colony) oppressed and exploited by the U.S. and Japan. However, the dangerous consequence of such a wrong position is – as the recent trade war with Japan demonstrates – that such leftists support the Korean monopoly bourgeoisie. As we have repeatedly emphasized, in practice, such an approach is equivalent to social-imperialism. Korean socialists must break with such a treacherous position and take a firm, internationalist and anti-imperialist stance!


Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to comrade Hong Su-Cheon who is not only an excellent translator but also a Marxist theoretician in his own right who has already published two works on the issue of imperialism. [4]


[1] See on this the new book by Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It. A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle, April 2020,; see also the RCIT Manifesto: COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive. We are at a turning point in the world situation as the ruling classes provoke a war-like atmosphere in order to legitimize the build-up of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes, 21 March 2020, The RCIT has published several dozen documents on the COVID-19 crisis which are all collected at a special sub-page in our website:

[2] Michael Pröbsting: South Korea as an Imperialist Power. On the nature of South Korean monopoly capital and the ensuing programmatic tasks of the workers vanguard, December 2019,; in Korean language: 제국주의 열강으로서의 남한. 한국 독점자본의 성격과 그에 따른 노동자 전위의 강령적 임무, 미하엘 프뢰브스팅, 혁명적 공산주의인터내셔널 동맹 (RCIT) 국제서기, 2019 12,

[3] See on this e.g. Down with the Imperialist Trade War between Japan and South Korea! Down with all chauvinist boycott campaigns! Class War instead of Trade War! Joint Statement of the Revolutionary Communists of South Korea and the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 19 July 2019,^; in Korean language: · 제국주의 무역전쟁 분쇄! 모든 배외주의·민족주의 보이콧 캠페인 반대! 무역전쟁이 아니라 계급전쟁으로 나아가자! 남한 혁명적 공산주의자 · 혁명적 공산주의인터내셔널 동맹 (RCIT) 공동성명, 2019 7 19,

[4] 홍수천: 한반도 전쟁 위기와 · 제국주의 패권 쟁투 (Hong Su-Cheon: War Crisis on the Korean Peninsula and the Rivaly between US and Chinese Imperialism, Article in Korean language, Spring 2019),; 홍수천: 시기 격화하고 있는 제국주의 패권쟁투와 사회주의자의 임무 (Hong Su-Cheon: The Acceleration of the Great Power Rivalry in the Present Period and the Task of Socialists in Korea, Article in Korean language, March 2019),


About the Author


Michael Pröbsting was born in Vienna (Austria) in 1967. He became politically active when he was 14 years old and has been an organized Trotskyist militant since the age of 16. After five years of membership in the United Secretariat of the Fourth International of Ernest Mandel, he joined the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (later renamed to League for the Fifth International) in February 1989. He served on the leadership bodies of the Austrian section from 1989 and of the LRCI/LFI since 1994, until he and his comrades-in-arms were expelled by the majority of this organization in April 2011. Soon after this, they founded the Revolutionary Communist Organization for Liberation in Austria and the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency which has sections, activists and fraternal organizations in 18 countries on all continents. He serves as the International Secretary of the RCIT.


As part of his international political work, Michael Pröbsting has spent lengthy periods in Occupied Palestine (Israel) in 1985, Eastern Germany during the political revolutionary process of 1989-91, Britain in 1994, and during the revolutionary period in Argentina in 2002. In addition, he gained experience in workers’ and anti-imperialist movements during visits to numerous countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America.


Michael Pröbsting is the author of many articles and pamphlets in both German and English of which a number have been translated in other languages. His books are:


* Rosa Luxemburg – ”Ich bin ein Land der unbeschränkten Möglichkeiten“ (Co-Author, 1999)


* The Credit Crunch – A Marxist Analyses (Co-Author, 2008)


* Marxismus, Migration und revolutionäre Integration (2010)


* Die halbe Revolution. Lehren und Perspektiven des arabischen Aufstandes (2011)


* The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism (2013)


* Cuba’s Revolution Sold Out? The Road from Revolution to the Restoration of Capitalism (2013)


* Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice (2014)


* Greece: A Modern Semi-Colony. The Contradictory Development of Greek Capitalism (2015)


* Marxism and the United Front Tactic Today (2016)


* World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings (2018)