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





In this chapter we want to deal with some specific issues which are arising from the peculiar character of China and Russia as emerging imperialist Great Powers. In particular we will discuss the consequences of this peculiar character for the specific political physiognomy of social-imperialism.




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




It seems important to us to understand the specific appeal which pro-Eastern social-imperialism might have for a number of activists. It might be the case that to some these forces siding with Russia and China look more radical, more “anti-imperialist” than the pro-Western social-imperialists. For most progressive activists, it does not need much explanation why the U.S., the European powers or Japan have to be considered as imperialist. These imperialist powers have a long history of decades or even centuries of direct or indirect oppression and exploitation of the people of the South.


It is different in the case of Russia and China. China’s history as an oppressive Great Power more or less ended with the first Opium War in 1839-42 when the Western Powers attacked the Middle Kingdom and began the humiliation of this proud nation. Before that, Beijing dominated various Muslim people, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, etc – directly or indirectly via the Cefong System (China’s Imperial Tributary System). However, from the mid-19th century onwards, China struggled against the domination of the European Powers, Russia and Japan. After the Revolution of 1949 it rebuilt itself as a Stalinist state. Only in the past one, two decades did Beijing attempt to rebuild the Middle Kingdom as a global acting power.


Similar with Russia. While it was an expanding and oppressive Great Power for centuries, this radically changed with the socialist October Revolution in 1917. With the creation of the Soviet Union, it was no longer an imperialist power but rather the most important opponent of the Great Powers and a key ally of many oppressed people fighting against imperialist domination. While Moscow lost its revolutionary appeal with the Stalinist degeneration, it remained a progressive factor, to a certain degree, in a world dominated by U.S. imperialism and its allies. After the restoration of capitalism in 1991/92, Russia remained rather a weak state for the first years. Its rise as a new imperialist power is, like in the case of China, a rather recent phenomenon.


It is hardly surprising that both Beijing as well as Moscow emphasize that they are not striving for hegemony. A central theme in their propaganda is the opposition against the “unipolar world order” and the advocacy of “multilateralism”, i.e. the co-existence of several Great Powers in East and West. Such an ideology has a basis in objective reality as Russia respectively China can not realistically expect to defeat the U.S. and to replace it as the new world hegemon in the foreseeable future. To a certain degree their position is similar to the U.S., Japan or Germany in the late 19th century and early 20th century which also were “late-coming”, emerging powers. In contrast to Britain, France or Russia, they hardly had any colonial possessions and claimed their “fair share” of the cake.


For all these reasons, it is not surprising that Russia and China appear for many progressive activists around the world not as “imperialists” but rather as opponents or challengers of the old imperialist powers of the West. (Likewise, the U.S. under President Wilson also appeared to many as a “progressive” and not as an imperialist power.) In fact, similar to the periods before the two World Wars, the world situation is characterized by the rise of imperialist Great Powers striving to challenge the old powers. As a result, both – the old as well as the new imperialist powers – are fueling the arms race and are threatening the oppressed peoples.


This is why the RCIT warns against any illusions in the emerging Great Powers and against any support for them. Trotsky explained in the 1930s that the Stalinist Comintern was the most dangerous enemy for the liberation struggle as it was less discredited than the social democrats:


The struggle against war is inseparable from the class struggle of the proletariat. Irreconcilable class consciousness is the first condition for a successful struggle against war. The worst wreckers of class consciousness and the worst saboteurs of the revolutionary struggle at the present time are the so-called ‘communists’. (…) That is why the struggle against war must begin and end with the unmasking of the treacherous role of the Comintern, which has finally become an agent of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The Second International is, of course, no better. But it is more compromised and therefore less dangerous.[1]


From this follows that any support for China’s and Russia’s strategic goal of a “multilateral world order”, as it is proclaimed by the pro-Eastern reformists, is inherently social-imperialist. Since a “multilateral world order” means nothing else but a world order with several Great Powers which, by their nature, stand in thorough rivalry against each other, the Stalinists support for such a goal has nothing to do with socialism and everything to do with bourgeois geopoliticism. One does not need to be an Einstein to understand that such a world order would not be more peaceful but at least as crisis-ridden and war-mongering as it was in the past.


Behind this reformist pipe dream of a long-term and stable “multilateral world order” is the revisionist illusion of the possibility to pressurize the imperialist bourgeoisie to stop striving for expansion and agree to a peaceful coexistence with its rivals. It is, as we already pointed out above, a result of the false Stalinist theory that a neutralization of the world bourgeoisie would be possible. Trotsky’s criticism has not lost its validity: The struggle against war is decided not by pressure upon the government but only by the revolutionary struggle for power. The ‘pacifist’ effects of the proletarian class struggle, like its reformist effects, are only by-products of the revolutionary struggle for power; they have only a relative strength and can easily turn into their opposite, that is, they can drive the bourgeoisie to take the road to war.[2]


Consequently, these social-imperialists view the liberation struggles of the workers and the oppressed from the point of view if they advance the goals of such reordering of the world in the interest of Russia and China or not. They will only support those struggles which will weaken the West and which will strengthen the global position of the Eastern Powers. Hence, the resistance of the Yemeni people against the U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is good. So is the resistance of Iran and Venezuela against the U.S. So is the mass movement of the “Gilet Jaunes” (Yellow Vests) since it is directed against a government of the EU. It is different with strikes of Chinese or Russian workers, with national struggles of the Chechens or the Uyghurs or of the Syrian people against Russia’s ally Assad.


Again, we see that the Stalinist “anti-imperialism” is only “anti-imperialist” against one camp of the Great Powers but not against the other. This is not better than those liberal forces in Russia and China which support Western sanctions and pressure of the “international community” against “their” governments in order to improve the human rights situation in their countries. True, the Stalinists in Western countries usually wrap up their support for the Eastern Great Powers in “socialist” language while the petty-bourgeois or bourgeois democrats in Russia and China rather refer to the UN Human Rights Charta. But this means nothing else than that their fig leaf might differs. The essence is in both cases the same: inverted social-imperialist support for a rivaling Great Power. In other words, such “anti-imperialism” is only half “anti-imperialism” and half “pro-imperialism” which, in the end, equals social-imperialism.


Such pseudo-“anti-imperialism” is often combined with isolationist national-centeredness. Such Stalinists or semi-Stalinists claim that the only important issue would be to oppose their own bourgeoisie. To justify such a stand, they refer to the famous formula “The main enemy is at home”. Of course, such an argument lacks any basis. As if Lenin and Liebknecht would have opposed only the Russian or the German ruling class! As every freshmen of the history of the workers movement during World War One is aware, the Marxists opposed not only “their” ruling class but also all other ruling classes of the Great Powers participating!


Remaining content with opposing one owns bourgeoisie reflects the Stalinist “socialism in one country” theory. It expresses the wrong idea that authentic socialist policy can be defined on purely national lines, by taking a stand only on issues relevant in one owns borders. But as a matter of fact, this is impossible for socialists! The political issues of a given nation are inextricably linked with global issues. Imperialism is a world system. Opposition against imperialism is only possible on a world scale and not in only one country! If “socialists” oppose their “own” imperialist rulers but support the rivals, they are not social-imperialists in regard to their own bourgeoisie but in regard to the rivaling bourgeoisie! They are simply inverted social-imperialists as the Fourth International called such forces! [3]


It is a well-known practice of Great Power to support struggles of oppressed people against their imperialist rivals. The Japanese did so during their war against Russia in 1904/05; the Germans supported the Irish revolutionaries against Britain during World War I; during World War II the Japanese supported the Indian National Army of Bose and the Western imperialists supported the Chinese forces fighting Japan as well as the anti-German Partisans on the Balkan. One could go one with many more examples. In short, supporting a liberation struggle against a rival Great Power does not necessarily demonstrate anti-imperialism but can simply serve to aid the Great Powers interests of one imperialist camp.


Let us note finally that powerful states can also sometimes agree and join forces to fight against this or that force in semi-colonial countries. This was already the case during the Taiping Uprising in China in the 1850s and 60s or against the so-called Boxer Uprising in China in 1899-1901. Actual examples are the Great Power hostility against the Arab Revolution and against various petty-bourgeois Islamist forces. It is therefore not surprising that also pro-Eastern and pro-Western social-imperialist parties sometimes agree, e.g. against so-called radical Islamists.


The task of authentic revolutionaries is not to reorder to world to the advantage of this or that Great Power but to fight against all great Powers and to completely destroy the imperialist order and to replace it with a socialist world!




Inverted Social-Imperialism as a Variation of Class-Collaboration




It is necessary in this context to briefly deal with the historic roots of the phenomenon of inverted social-imperialism. As we just explained this category characterizes those pseudo-socialist forces which, openly or concealed, support not their own imperialist bourgeoisie but the imperialist bourgeoisie of a rivaling Great Power. The Marxist classics have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that there is not just a single form of social-chauvinism but rather several variants. Lenin and Trotsky explained that, in addition to capitulation to one’s own imperialist ruling class, there also exists social-chauvinism as capitulation to the ruling class of the rivaling imperialist powers. During World War I, a significant sector of the petty-bourgeois Jewish Bund in Russia (which was part of the Second International) supported the German imperialist camp, as they considered the Tsar to be the main enemy. Another famous example was the Russian-Jewish socialist Alexander Parvus, a former close collaborator with Trotsky in his younger days, as well as of the left-wing wing in German social democracy. He later became a reformist and collaborator of German imperialism.


In the 1920s – during the so-called period of “stabilization” of capitalism – Europe’s social democracy became an advocate of the Dawes Plan and supported America’s hegemony over the old continent. It collaborated with U.S. imperialism and was in a kind of opposition to “their” ruling classes. As Trotsky put it at that time: “the European Social Democracy is becoming before our very eyes the political agency of American capitalism.[4]


Similarly, in the 1930s and during World War II, the German, Austrian, and Italian social democrats, Stalinists, and most centrists like the SAP supported Western imperialism. They justified their support for French, British, and US imperialism by stating that their main enemy was the fascist ruling class at home. When the ruling bureaucracy in the Soviet Union was in an alliance with Hitler in 1939-41, the Stalinists made advances towards the Nazis and focused their fire against the war-mongering “plutocratic democracies” Britain and France. [5]


The Trotskyists always sharply condemned such inverted social-imperialists, not less than they condemned the “ordinary” social-imperialists. Such wrote the American Trotskyists about the pathetic nature of the exiled leaders of German social democracy after 1933:


While a measure of bourgeois democracy is maintained in a country, that is, while the social democracy is tolerated, it [social democracy, Ed.] proves its indispensability to the bourgeoisie in all crises, above all when war comes, for then it does not allow itself to be excelled in patriotic zeal. But what about the social democratic party of that country in which fascism has rudely suppressed or exiled it, in which there is not even a pretense of democracy – how can it come out in favor of the “defense of the fatherland”? It cannot and, as a rule, it does not. What it does do, however, is hire out its services to the ruling class of a foreign democracy, asking in return only that it be brought back to the position it once occupied in its native land on the gun carriages of its temporary foreign employer. The exiled German social-democratic leadership is now playing precisely that not very dignified role in world affairs. A blatant example was the revelation a year and a half ago that the sorry hero of the Saarland social democracy, Max Braun, had applied to the French government for financial support to his newspaper and his movement in return for military propaganda among the youth of the German emigration which would convert them into ardent soldiers for the French army “against German fascism”. The perverted war-mongering of the German social-democratic leaders, who capitulated cravenly to fascism when they had invincible forces at their command and now hope to restore their power by “a policy that expects salvation by foreign bayonets”, as one of their dissident number puts it, is not confined to France. In all the imperialist “democracies” the German social democrats have their emissaries and representatives whose main activity is directed towards mobilizing the labor movement for the new Holy War, this time not “against czarism” but “against fascism”. The United States has its share of these ladies and gentlemen, mainly former members of the Weimar Reichstag.[6]


Trotsky also totally rejected the argument of those who justified support for an imperialist state with the argument of the necessity to fight fascism. He replied to those who distorted his support for an intervention of the Red Army of the Soviet Union against Hitler in 1933:


But they are absolutely wrong in thinking that the proletariat can solve great historical tasks by means of wars that are led not by themselves but by their mortal enemies, the imperialist governments. One may construe the document as follows: during the crisis over Czechoslovakia our French or English comrades should have demanded the military intervention of their own bourgeoisie, and thereby assumed responsibility for the war — not for war in general, and of course not for a revolutionary war, but for the given imperialist war. The document cites Trotsky’s words to the effect that Moscow should have taken the initiative in crushing Hitler as far back as 1933, before he became a terrible danger (Biulleten Oppozitsii, March 21, 1933). But these words merely mean that such should have been the behaviour of a real revolutionary government of a workers’ state. But is it permissible to issue the same demand to a government of an imperialist state?[7]


Today we are witnessing a similar phenomenon among the so-called “Anti-Germans” or “Anti-Nationals” in Germany and Austria. This is an arch-reactionary, pseudo-left-wing current which is extremely pro-Zionist and pro-American, and which justifies their support for these reactionary forces with their opposition to chauvinism and the purportedly inherent “Anti-Semitism” of the German and Austrian people.


Lenin and Zinoviev gave the following comprehensive definition of social-chauvinism which made clear that this current includes not only those who support their “own” imperialist bourgeoisie but also those who support the ruling class of a rivaling imperialist power.


Social-chauvinism is advocacy of the idea of “defence of the fatherland” in the present war. This idea logically leads to the abandonment of the class struggle during the war, to voting for war credits, etc. In fact, the social-chauvinists are pursuing an anti-proletarian bourgeois policy, for they are actually championing, not “defence of the fatherland” in the sense of combating foreign oppression, but the “right” of one or other of the “Great” Powers to plunder colonies and to oppress other nations. The social-chauvinists reiterate the bourgeois deception of the people that the war is being waged to protect the freedom and existence of nations, thereby taking sides with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Among the social-chauvinists are those who justify and varnish the governments and bourgeoisie of one of the belligerent groups of powers, as well as those who, like Kautsky, argue that the socialists of all the belligerent powers are equally entitled to “defend the fatherland”. Social- chauvinism, which is, in effect, defence of the privileges, the advantages, the right to pillage and plunder, of one’s “own” (or any) imperialist bourgeoisie, is the utter betrayal of all socialist convictions and of the decision of the Basle International Socialist Congress.[8]


It goes without saying that Trotsky and the Fourth International resolutely denounced all such manifestations of inverted social-imperialism. Authentic Marxism is both consistently internationalist and anti-imperialist or it is not Marxism at all! The RCIT fights for a new Revolutionary World Party based on a consistent anti-imperialist program. Such a program includes unconditional opposition to all forms of social-imperialism.




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




What will happen in case of a qualitative acceleration of inter-imperialist conflicts? Will the inverted social imperialists remain loyal supporters of the rivaling Great Powers or will they collapse and capitulate to their own ruling class?


One could take the example of the Stalinists in the 1930s and 1940s. By and large they implemented loyally every turn which Moscow dictated: they served their own bourgeoisie and they served the rivals – whatever was requested by the Comintern headquarter. There were some difficulties when the French and British Stalinists had to declare ”their” bourgeoisie as main enemies in autumn 1939 (instead of Hitler). For example, one third of the Stalinist Members of Parliaments in France left the party and many members left the “Communist” parties at that time. But, by and large, Moscow succeeded to avoid major ruptures.


Will we see a repetition of such a scenario in future war-like periods? Of course, this is not easy to predict. However, we think that this is rather unlikely as it seems to us that the differences between the present and the then situation outweigh the similarities. First, the Stalinists at that time had a consolidated international organization with many highly loyal cadres who still saw the USSR as the fatherland of the October Revolution. Many cadre spent time in Moscow and were trained there for years. Nothing of this sort exists today. There is no Comintern – the IMCWP is a loose and heterogeneous alliance without any organizational centre; in short: it is no unified organization at all. The Stalinists side with Russia but it would be total nonsense to see them as organic part of the Putin regime’s apparatus. The Chinese never – even in the Maoist golden age – attempted to build anything which would come close to a Comintern-type of organization. They were always much more national-centered than their Stalinist rivals in Moscow.


Furthermore, the Stalinist Comintern spent a lot of money to finance the party apparatus in numerous sections. As a result, these parties were highly dependent on the Soviet bureaucracy. Today, neither Moscow not Beijing spend similar significant sums. Yes, there are various media outlets like Russia Today or academic institutions like the China-based World Association for Political Economy (WAPE) but this is nothing compared with the efforts of the USSR at that time.


So in general when push comes to shove, the inverted social-imperialists – trained in the mindset of patriotism – would likely, in their majority, drop their pseudo-defeatism and join the ranks of the patriotic defenders of their fatherland. The only factor pushing in the opposite direction would be a situation like Germany after 1933 when a new regime would simply imprison all oppositionists en masse. In such conditions, even critical reformists would see no benefit in being social-patriots but would rather turn to an imperialist rival in the hope to regain their position at a later point. That would be a situation in which the reformists would be no longer “fat” but would have become pretty “lean” to use the aptly characterization of Trotsky.


The camp of the lean parties is depicted by a different picture. In the character of their ruling bureaucracy, in their entire past and in their aspirations these parties do not differ from the fat ones. But they, alas, have been deprived of pastures just as the imperialist fatherlands which cast them out were deprived of colonies. The fat ones are most of all concerned with preserving the status quo both within their own countries as well as internationally. For the lean ones, status quo implies impotence, exile, meager rations. The Italian, German, Austrian, and now the Spanish socialist parties too are not directly bound by the discipline of national imperialism which rejected their services with a kick. They were cast into an illegality counter to their traditions and their best intentions. Because of this, naturally, they have not in the slightest degree become revolutionary. They do not of course so much as think of preparing the socialist revolution. But their patriotism is temporarily turned inside out. They stubbornly dream that the armed force of the “democracies” will overthrow their national fascist regime and enable them to reestablish themselves in their former posts, editorial offices, parliaments, leading bodies of the trade unions and to reopen their bank accounts. While the fat ones are interested only in being left in peace, the lean ones, on the contrary, are interested in their own way in an active international policy.“ [9]


[1] Leon Trotsky: How to Struggle against War (1937), in: Trotsky Writings 1937-38, p. 54

[2] Leon Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution (1929), Pathfinder Press, New York 1969, p. 268

[3] The German Stalinists in emigration have become inverted social-patriots, transforming themselves from nationalist champions against the Versailles Peace Treaty to defenders of the status quo created by this very same treaty. It follows from the present position of the German Stalinist that they will transform themselves into real social-patriots as soon as the fascist dictatorship in Germany is replaces by another type of bourgeois regime.” (The Evolution of the Comintern. Resolution of the First Conference for the Fourth International in July 1936, in: Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, p. 127)

[4] Leon Trotsky: Perspectives of World Development (1924), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/07/world.htm

[5] The Fourth International condemned the sudden 180-degree turn around of the Stalinists after the signature of the Hitler-Stalin-Pact: “At first sight the conduct of the French and English sections of the Communist International appeared to be diametrically opposite. In contradistinction to the Germans, they were compelled to attack their own government. But this sudden defeatism was not internationalism, but a distorted variety of patriotism —these gentlemen consider their fatherland to be the Kremlin, on which their welfare depends. Many of the French Stalinists behaved with unquestionable courage under persecution. But the political content of this courage was besmirched by their embellishment of the rapacious policy of the enemy camp. What must the French workers think of it?” (Fourth International: Imperialist War And The Proletarian World Revolution, Adopted by the Emergency Conference of the Fourth International, May 19-26, 1940; in: Documents of the Fourth International, The Formative Years (1933-40), Pathfinder Press, New York 1973, p. 337, http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/fi/1938-1949/emergconf/fi-emerg02.htm)

[6] Max Shachtman: Old Garbage in New Pails, in: New International, Vol.5 No.6, June 1939, https://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtma/1939/06/garbage.htm

[7] Leon Trotsky: A step towards social patriotism (1939), in: Writings 1938-39, p. 211

[8] G. Zinoviev / V. I. Lenin: Socialism and War (1915) ; in: LCW Vol. 21, pp. 306-307 (our emphasis)

[9] Leon Trotsky: Progressive Paralysis. The Second International on the Eve of the New War (1939), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-40, p. 37