Russia and China: Neither Capitalist nor Great Powers? (Part 1)






Some months ago, the RCIT published a pamphlet which critically assessed the theoretical foundations of the current called Coordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International (CRFI) of which the Argentine Partido Obrero (PO, Workers Party) is the dominant component. [1] Other components of the CRFI are the PT (Uruguay), the EEK (Greece) and the DIP (Turkey).


In reply to our document, the PO/CRFI has published an article in its new journal “World Revolution”. [2] We are currently working on a book about the Great Power rivalry which we hope to publish soon. In this book we will deal extensively with the background of the antagonism between the imperialist powers and the program of struggle against imperialism and militarism (“revolutionary defeatism”). As part of this analysis we will also discuss the positions of various left-wing parties and organizations, among them also the PO/CRFI current.


Below we publish a short summary of our reply to the critique of the PO/CRFI. For a more extensive elaboration of our criticism of the PO/CRFI current we refer readers to the book which, as stated above, we plan to publish soon.




* * * * *




In our pamphlet mentioned above we have dealt with the central theses of PO/CRFI on Russia and China. The PO/CRFI comrades claim that “the process of capitalist restoration is not completed in these countries” and that “they are still not integrated into the imperialist world system”.


As we have demonstrated in our pamphlet these theses unfounded. Both countries are dominated by capitalist monopolies and its economies are operating on the basis of the capitalist law of value. They are fully integrated into the world market and, in fact, China plays a leading role both in world trade as well as foreign investments.


In their reply, the comrades prefer to sidestep our arguments. This is hardly surprising as their positions are really difficult to defend. However, they deal with our, related, position on the class character of China and Russia, namely that these states have become imperialist Great Powers. Their article reiterates the fundamental position of the PO/CRFI:


* that they consider China and Russia not as capitalist Great Powers and, as a consequence,


* that they side with China and Russia against their Western rivals.


On such a basis the PO/CRFI seeks a theoretical foundation for their political alliance with a Stalinist party in Russia – the United Communist Party (OKП). One of its central leaders, Darya Mitina, participated as a key speaker at a major international conference of this tendency in Buenos Aires in April 2018. The OKП supports Russian imperialism in various foreign political adventures like in the Ukraine. It also sides with the reactionary Assad dictatorship against the Syrian insurrectional people. We see: theoretical confusion and abysmal failure to recognize social-historical developments of world politics inevitable results in taking the wrong side in the class struggle as well as betraying the cause of the liberation of the international proletariat and oppressed people! Revisionist theory creates revisionist whitewashing of Chinese and Russian imperialism.


Contrary to the assertion of PO/CRFI, China and Russia have become Great Powers in the recent past. We have demonstrated in a number of studies that their economies are dominated by domestic monopolies and they play a key role on the world market and in world politics. [3]


China has become the largest manufacturer, the largest exporter, and one of the largest foreign investors. (See Table 1) It is the second-largest home of multi-national corporations as well as of billionaires (only behind the U.S.). [4]


Analyzing Great Powers, Marxists have to base themselves on a scientific definition for an imperialist state. As we have elaborated in a number of works, the RCIT considers the following definition as most appropriate: An imperialist state is a capitalist state whose monopolies and state apparatus have a position in the world order where they first and foremost dominate other states and nations. As a result they gain extra-profits and other economic, political and/or military advantages from such a relationship based on super-exploitation and oppression.


Let us now deal with the arguments of the PO/CRFI comrades in detail.






Table 1. Economy: US Decline and China’s Rise between 1985 and 2018 [5]


                                                                                                             Global Share (in %)


                                             1985                                       1998/2001                            2011                                       2016/18


                                             US          CHN                      US          CHN                      US          CHN                      US          CHN




Production                         32.4%    4.3%                       25.4%    6.3%                       20.5%    16.4%                    16.3%    23.5%


Top 500


Corporations                     -               -                               43.0%    2%                          26.0%    14.6%                    25.2%    24%






A Stalinophile Falsification of Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism




A key thesis of PO/CRFI is that Russia and China can not possess an imperialist class character because of their (alleged) backwardness in terms of capital export. Since the PO/CRFI formally adheres to Lenin’s theory of imperialism, they face the problem – like all supporters of the “Russia and China are not imperialist”-thesis – to explain why the leader of the Bolsheviks counted at his time countries like Russia, Japan, Italy or Austria-Hungary among the imperialist states. Obviously they exported much less capital than Britain, France or Germany and they often imported more capital than they exported.


As we have shown in detail somewhere else, the imperialist powers at the time of Lenin and Trotsky differed both in their political superstructure as well as in the specific configuration of their economic basis. [6] However, what united them was that they oppressed and exploited, directly or indirectly, other nations. Lenin summarized his definition of an imperialist state in one of his writings on imperialism in 1916 in the following way: „… imperialist Great Powers (i.e., powers that oppress a whole number of nations and enmesh them in dependence on finance capital, etc.)… [7]


Hence, the revisionist deniers of Russia’s and China’s imperialist character today have to “re-interpret”, i.e. falsify, Lenin’s theory of imperialism. They have to claim that in fact Lenin did not consider states like Russia as imperialist. The PO/CRFI is not the first and probably not the last to revise the Marxist theory of imperialism. Let’s see how they are arguing their case:


In the age of imperialism, great powers define the act of war and carry out the territorial division of the world. However, the analysis of imperialism requires making distinctions between these great powers. According to Lenin, among the six great powers that divided the world, the United States, Germany, and Japan were young and emerging capitalist (imperialist) states and England and France were the old capitalist (imperialist) states. With a socio-economic structure dominated by pre capitalist relations and surrounded by modern capitalist imperialist forces, Russia was quite different from others. While defining Russia’s position in the World War I as imperialist, Lenin stressed this crucial difference: “In Russia, capitalist imperialism of the latest type has fully revealed itself in the policy of tsarism towards Persia, Manchuria and Mongolia; but, in general, military and feudal imperialism predominates in Russia.”


The elements of militarism and feudalism that dominated Russian imperialism were also present in Ottoman imperialism. However, the Ottoman Empire was a semi-colony and did not possess the distinct characteristics of imperialism defined as the highest stage of capitalism. Therefore, neither Russia nor the Ottoman Empire cannot be seen as imperialist powers that defined the (imperialist) character of the World War I. They were dependent on great imperialist powers and therefore occupied a secondary position (at best) in the inter-imperialist rivalry. Hence, the imperialism of Russia and the Ottomans resembled the imperialism of the Greater Rome rather than capitalist imperialism.


The emphases on monopoly capitalism, finance-capital, and capital export in Lenin’s theory of imperialism displays the main foundations of the great powers struggling for the division and re-division of the world. Large armies, expansive territories, and relatively high populations were the sources of power of the pre-capitalist empires. In the age of imperialism, the export of capital took the place of military campaigns and finance-capital invading the markets took the place of invading armies. On the international plane, imperialist armies (that are financed by super profits derived from the plunder of raw materials and exploitation of cheap labor power and using the technical and technological capabilities supplied by capitalist industry) became dominant in every field. The armies of the pre-capitalist empires proud of their almighty past were either defeated by the imperialist invaders (as seen in the case of China) or became auxiliary powers in the service of imperialism (as seen in the cases of Russia, the Ottomans, and Austria-Hungary).


So we see how the PO/CRFI turns the Marxist theory of imperialist states on its head in only three paragraphs. While Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks always consistently argued that Russia (or the Austria-Hungarian Empire) were imperialist powers, the PO/CRFI comrades now claim that these were semi-colonies (like the Ottoman Empire)!


The Bolsheviks’ characterization of Russia as “imperialist” is presented as an a-historical category suggesting that they considered Russia only as “imperialist” like the Roman Empire 2000 years ago, i.e. not as imperialist in the sense of a capitalist power! This is a bizarre distortion of truth!


We have already shown in several works that Lenin viewed Russia as an imperialist power. One can find dozens of quotes which make clear beyond any doubt that the Bolsheviks never ever characterized Russia as a semi-colony (like the Ottoman Empire) but as an imperialist Great Power. They were certainly aware of the differences between various Great Powers (more and less independent powers, economically advanced and backward, etc). But they saw Russia in the same broad category as other imperialist Great Powers!


Lenin himself drew attention to such unevenness repeatedly. In his Notebooks on Imperialism, for example, he suggested a “hierarchization” among the Great Powers. In one of his notes, he differentiated between three categories of imperialist states:


I. Three chief (fully independent) countries: Great Britain, Germany, United States


II. Secondary (first class, but not fully independent): France, Russia, Japan


III. Italy, Austria-Hungary [8]


In place of many more we reproduce here just a few quotes which demonstrate that Lenin and Trotsky characterized Russia before 1917 as an imperialist and not as a semi-colonial state:


Its meaning is that Russia was the most backward and economically weakest of all the imperialist states. That is precisely why her ruling classes were the first to collapse as they had loaded an unbearable burden on the insufficient productive forces of the country. Uneven, sporadic development thus compelled the proletariat of the most backward imperialist country to be the first to seize power.[9]


The Russian bourgeoisie was the bourgeoisie of an imperialist oppressor state; the Chinese bourgeoisie, a bourgeoisie of an oppressed colonial country.” [10]


The last third of the nineteenth century saw the transition to the new, imperialist era. Finance capital not of one, but of several, though very few, Great Powers enjoys a monopoly. (In Japan and Russia the monopoly of military power, vast territories, or special facilities for robbing minority nationalities, China, etc., partly supplements, partly takes the place of, the monopoly of modern, up-to-date finance capital.) [11]


The character of this war between the bourgeois and imperialist Great Powers would not change a jot were the military-autocratic and feudal imperialism to be swept away in one of these countries. That is because, in such conditions, a purely bourgeois imperialism would not vanish, but would only gain strength.[12]


We could provide many more quotes which all demonstrate the same: While Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks were fully aware of the important role of the absolutist Tsar regime and the consequences for the specific, combined character of the Russian state (fusing semi-feudal and capitalist elements), they unambiguously insisted on Russia’s character as an imperialist Great Power (and not a semi-colony)!


Let us give another example: A few weeks after the February Revolution in Russia in 1917, when the autocratic Tsar regime was overthrown and replaced by the bourgeois-liberal popular front government, Trotsky characterized the latter as a “liberal imperialistic government”. He described the continuity, changes and transition of Russian imperialism from the years 1905-07 (when the régime of June 3rd came to power) to 1917 in the following way:


The capitalist classes, reconciled with the régime of June 3rd, turned their attention to the usurpation of foreign markets. A new era of Russian imperialism ensues, an imperialism accompanied by a disorderly financial and military system and by insatiable appetites. Gutchkov, the present War Minister, was formerly a member of the Committee on National Defense, helping to make the army and the navy complete. Milukov, the present Minister of Foreign Affairs, worked out a program of world conquests which he advocated on his trips to Europe. Russian imperialism and his Octobrist and Cadet representatives bear a great part of the responsibility for the present war. By the grace of the Revolution which they had not wanted and which they had fought, Gutchkov and Milukov are now in power. (...) This transition from an imperialism of the dynasty and the nobility to an imperialism of a purely bourgeois character, can never reconcile the Russian proletariat to the war.[13]


As we see Trotsky does not speak about a semi-colonial Russia but about an imperialist Russia. He characterized the liberal Provisional Government in March 1917 as representing “an imperialism of purely bourgeois character”.


How do the PO/CRFI comrades reconcile this with their view that Russia was a semi-colony? Do they want to suggest that Russia was a semi-colony as long as the Tsar ruled and then, between February and October 1917, it suddenly would have become an imperialist state? Leaving aside that this would a) be absurd and b) in contradiction to what the Bolsheviks said, it would also contradict the method of the PO/CRFI itself. The comrades insist, as we have shown above, that Russia did not meet the criteria of Lenin’s theory of imperialism (“emphases on monopoly capitalism, finance-capital, and capital export”). This had not, and could hardly have, changed in February/March 1917!


So how does PO/CRFI explain Trotsky assessment of Russia as a “purely bourgeois imperialism” in March 1917? Is it not much more logical, as we always have argued, that Russia was in essence an imperialist Great Power before 1917 (similarly like Austria-Hungary, Japan, Italy, etc.) and that the February Revolution, resulting in the overthrow of the Tsarist autocracy, led to an important change in the political superstructure of Russian capitalism but not in its economic basis?!


In fact, the PO/CRFI is not the inventor of the idea that Russia before 1917 was not an imperialist power but rather a “semi-colony”. While this thesis was roundly rejected by Russian Marxists in the time of Lenin and Trotsky, it originated among the Stalinists in the 1930s.


As we have already noted in the past, it was the notorious “theory” of Stalin in the 1930s which declared that Russia before 1917 was not an imperialist power but rather a “semi-colony”. Such he instructed the Russian historians to rewrite the Marxist analysis of Russia’s class character.


That Russia entered the imperialist war on the side of the Entente, on the side of France and Great Britain, was not accidental. It should be borne in mind that before 1914 the most important branches of Russian industry were in the hands of foreign capitalists, chiefly those of France, Great Britain and Belgium, that is, the Entente countries. The most important of Russia’s metal works were in the hands of French capitalists. In all, about three-quarters (72 per cent) of the metal industry depended on foreign capital. The same was true of the coal industry of the Donetz Basin. Oilfields owned by British and French capital accounted for about half the oil output of the country. A considerable part of the profits of Russian industry flowed into foreign banks, chiefly British and French. All these circumstances, in addition to the thousands of millions borrowed by the tsar from France and Britain in loans, chained tsardom to British and French imperialism and converted Russia into a tributary, a semi-colony of these countries.” [14]


In summary, the PO/CRFI comrades fail to understand that the law of uneven and combined development resulted in a contradictory development and nature of Russia as a backward, imperialist power. It was this law which allowed the Bolsheviks to explain why Russian imperialism combined both modern as well as backward-absolutist (tsarist autocracy) features of imperialism.


This whole question is not limited to Tsarist Russia. As we said above, there existed also other backward imperialist powers at that time like Japan, Italy or Austria-Hungary. Lenin and Trotsky considered all these powers, despite their economic backwardness, as imperialist. In contrast, the PO/CRFI, following its falsification of Lenin’s theory of imperialism, would be forced to revise the position of the Marxist classics on this issue too and would need to consider all these states as “semi-colonies” as they do in the case of Russia.


[1] Michael Pröbsting: The Catastrophic Failure of the Theory of “Catastrophism”. On the Marxist Theory of Capitalist Breakdown and its Misinterpretation by the Partido Obrero (Argentina) and its “Coordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International”, 27 May 2018,

[2] Levent Dölek: The Character of War in 21st Century: Are China and Russia a target or a side of the war? In: World Revolution / Revolución Mundial Issue 1 (Autumn 2018), pp. 49-59. All quotes from the PO/CRFI reproduced in this essay are from this article if not mentioned otherwise.

[3] On the RCIT’s analysis of China and Russia as emerging imperialist powers see the literature mentioned in the special sub-section on our website: Concerning China we refer readers in particular to Michael Pröbsting: The China-India Conflict: Its Causes and Consequences. What are the background and the nature of the tensions between China and India in the Sikkim border region? What should be the tactical conclusions for Socialists and Activists of the Liberation Movements? 18 August 2017, Revolutionary Communism No. 71,; Michael Pröbsting: The China Question and the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, December 2014,; Michael Pröbsting: China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4, Concerning Russia we refer readers in particular to Michael Pröbsting: Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism and the Rise of Russia as a Great Power. On the Understanding and Misunderstanding of Today’s Inter-Imperialist Rivalry in the Light of Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism, August 2014,; Michael Pröbsting: Russia as a Great Imperialist Power. The formation of Russian Monopoly Capital and its Empire – A Reply to our Critics, 18 March 2014, Special Issue of Revolutionary Communism No. 21 (March 2014),

[4] See on this, in addition to the RCIT literature mentioned above: See also our article on this report:. Michael Pröbsting China: A Paradise for Billionaires. The latest UBS/PwC Report about the Global Super-Rich Delivers another Crushing Blow to the Stalinist Myth of China’s “Socialism”, 27.10.2018,

[5] For the figures on manufacturing see UNIOD Industrial Development Report 2002/2003, p. 152 (for the years 1985 and 1998), UNIDO Industrial Development Report 2013, p. 196 resp. 202 (for the year 2011) and UNIDO Industrial Development Report 2018, p. 205 resp. 209 (for the year 2016). Note that manufacturing is not identical with industrial production since the later also includes mining and the construction sector.

For the figures on the top 500 corporations see Wikipedia: Fortune Global 500, (for 2001), Agence France-Presse: Chinese companies push out Japan on Fortune Global 500 list, July 9, 2012, (for 2011) and Fortune: Fortune Global 500 List 2018: See Who Made It, (for 2018).

[6] We have dealt with this argument in detail in our pamphlet Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism and the Rise of Russia as a Great Power (Chapter II, pp. 6-32)

[7] V. I. Lenin: A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism (1916); in: LCW Vol. 23, p. 34. Many works of Lenin and Trotsky can be read also online at the Marxist Internet Archive,

[8] V. I. Lenin: On the Question of Imperialism, in: LCW 39, p. 202

[9] Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin, Pathfinder Press, New York 1970, p. 56

[10] Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin, p. 174

[11] V. I. Lenin: Imperialism and the Split in Socialism (1916); in: LCW Vol. 23, p. 116

[12] V. I. Lenin: Social-Chauvinist Policy Behind A Cover Of Internationalist Phrases (1915); in: CW Vol. 21, p. 435

[13] Leon Trotsky: War or Peace?, Published in New York, March 30, 1917, in: Leon Trotsky: Our Revolution. Essays on Working-Class and International Revolution, 1904-1917, Henry Holt and Company, New York 1918 (Edited by Moissaye J. Olgin), pp. 209-210, online:

[14] History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course, Edited by a Commission of the C.C. of the C.P.S.U.(B.), International Publishers, New York 1939, p. 162. Another edition of the same book, published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House in Moscow in 1945, contains the same formulation on the same page.