On the 100th Anniversary of the Outbreak of World War I: The Struggle against Imperialism and War
The Marxist Understanding of Modern Imperialism and the Revolutionary Program in Light of the Increasing Rivalry between the Great Powers, Revolutionary Uprisings, and Counterrevolutionary Setbacks
Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 25.6.2014, www.thecommunists.net
1. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the historic crisis of world capitalism is again exacerbating the rivalry between the great imperialist powers. The most obvious examples of this are the recent flare ups between NATO and Russia over the crisis in the Ukraine and the tensions between China and Japan, as well as the USA, in the South China Sea. While an armed confrontation between these imperialist powers is unlikely in the near future, it is obvious that, on the centennial of the start of World War I in 1914, a new Cold War has started. This Cold War will prove to have been the preamble to future wars – first between proxies and later between the great powers themselves – if the international working class will not have prevented this in time by overthrowing the imperialist ruling class and taking power via the socialist revolution.
2. However, the exacerbation of the inter-imperialist rivalry is already having tremendous immediate consequences, long before a possible war between the great powers. All imperialist states will accelerate their armaments programs, paid for by additional cuts in social, health, and education programs at the expense of the working class and the popular masses. No less, the ruling classes in the imperialist states will intensify the ideological poisoning of the working class via a wave of chauvinism and militarism in the media, schools, etc. In addition, the inter-imperialist rivalry will have immediate economic consequences, since it undermines global trade in the world market. A characteristic example of this is the potential consequences of a gas war between the Ukraine, Russia, and the EU. Another example is the impact on international shipping in the South China Sea in the event of an intensification of China’s conflict with Japan and USA.
3. At the same time, the exacerbation of class contradictions is increasingly provoking just, democratic, and social uprisings of the popular masses on the one hand and reactionary movements based on the déclassé middle class, as well as counter-revolutionary coup d’états on the other. Examples of progressive struggles are the wave of Arab Revolution from 2011 onwards (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria); the 2014 Bosnian Revolution; the popular uprising in the eastern Ukraine; the strikes and demonstrations of workers and poor in Brazil; the mass mobilizations and general strikes in Greece, Spain, and Portugal; and the August 2011 uprising of the poor in Britain. Examples of reactionary countermeasures are General Sisi’s military coup in Egypt on 3 July 2013; the Euro-Maidan movement in the Ukraine; the Yellow Shirt mobilizations and the military coup in Thailand; and the semi-fascist anti-government protests in Venezuela. In such conflicts and civil wars it is only natural that the rival imperialist powers attempt to intervene in order to enhance their influence. For the same reasons imperialist powers are increasingly sending military forces into semi-colonial countries in order to enforce their claims (e.g., Obama’s decision to continue the occupation of Afghanistan; the EU’s military intervention in Mali and the Central African Republic; China’s aggressive policy against Vietnam concerning the Paracel Islands; Russia’s annexation of the Crimea).
4. In such a contradictory and explosive situation, it is indispensable that socialists provide the working class and the oppressed masses with a clear analysis of the increasing inter-imperialist rivalry as well as the nature of various local conflicts and civil wars. Without a clear understanding of modern imperialism and the nature of the current world situation, it is impossible for socialists to elaborate a correct program against imperialism and war. However, only if socialists are armed with such an analysis and program, will they be able to play a progressive role in advancing the building of an authentic revolutionary party of the working class and show the workers’ vanguard a way out of the current crisis. If they fail to provide such an interpretation, they merely contribute, albeit involuntarily, to the mass confusion which is currently endemic in the international working class movement.
A Correct Understanding of Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism is the Precondition for a Revolutionary Theory and Practice in the Present Period
5. Lenin’s theory of imperialism is based on the understanding that, as a world system, capitalism has reached its historic limits. During this epoch, the forces of production repeatedly clash with the private property relations and the nation state. In the course of the twentieth century, capitalism’s having expended itself provoked two world wars. Subsequently, these massive blood lettings were followed, starting in the early 1970s, by the long-term decline of the world economy as expressed in the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, in the over-accumulation of capital, etc. The culmination of this last process was the Great Recession of 2008/09 which opened a new historic period of capitalism’s decline. The acceleration of capitalism’s crisis inevitably intensifies the process of monopolization and the rule of the great powers, and exacerbates both class contradictions and heated competition among nation states. At the same time, we witness accelerated super-exploitation of the semi-colonial world – i.e., the appropriation of extra-profits by the imperialist monopolies and their home states which in turn intensifies the inequality between rich and poor countries. These extra-profits help the imperialist bourgeoisie bribe the upper layers of the working class – the so-called labor aristocracy, which forms the material basis for the reformist bureaucracy in the workers’ movements. Hence, we see increased antagonism between the ruling capitalist class and the proletariat and the popular masses, between the imperialist states and the semi-colonial world, as well as between the great imperialist powers themselves. Objectively, this reality is the backdrop for the increasing number of revolutionary upheavals, as well as for counter-revolutionary setbacks. Consequently, the present historic period is fundamentally revolutionary in character.
6. The RCIT defends the orthodox Leninist viewpoint and rejects the various revisionist attacks, explicit or implied, on it. We reject those theories and currents which claim that the inter-imperialist rivalry is being replaced by the emergence of a global “transnational capitalist class” (various Stalinists, left social democrats, and autonomous groups inspired by the theories of Leo Panitsch and Sam Gindin or Toni Negri and Michael Hardt). Similarly, we reject those who claim that rivalry between the great imperialist powers is ostensibly decreasing because the Western powers are forming a joint phalanx against the allegedly non-imperialist powers Russia and China. (e.g., Stalinists, Socialist Action [Britain], Counterfire [Britain], WWP [USA]). Whether intentionally or unintentionally, these schools of thought are echoing Kautsky’s schema of “Ultra-imperialism”, i.e., this famous revisionist’s theory that the great powers are increasingly joining forces in order to better exploit the working class and the (semi-) colonial countries. As such, these progressive forces erringly justify their revisionist conceptions by either declaring that China is still a “socialist” country or a “degenerated workers state.” Or, while accepting the fact that Russia and China became capitalist countries more than two decades ago , they contend that both are semi-colonial capitalist countries exploited by the Western powers, or that they are “pre-imperialist” countries.
7. As we have shown in various places, the error of these groups is that they consistently ignore the fact that emerging imperialist China has become the world’s largest economy; that its monopolies rank – according to different annual indexes – among the second or third largest national group in the annual lists of the world’s largest corporations; that its super-rich capitalists similarly rank amongst the second, third, or fourth largest national group among the richest people on earth; that China is a major capital exporting nation; and that its military is becoming more and more powerful. At the same time, these groups ignore the fact that Russia is an imperialist power whose economy is dominated not by foreign capital but, rather, whose domestic monopolies control Russia and gain substantial extra-profits from investments abroad; that Russia is playing a dominating influence in various Eastern European and Central Asian countries; that it oppresses and super-exploits national minorities and migrants inside the Russian state; and that its military is one of the most powerful on earth (behind the USA and China). In summary, it is impossible to understand the dynamics of the present historic period, if one denies the existence of different great imperialist powers (including China and Russia) whose rivalry is not being mitigated but rather exacerbated.
8. These various revisionists ignore or falsify Lenin’s understanding of imperialism. They view one or two aspects of Russia’s or China’s economy in isolation (e.g., its figures of accumulated capital export) and claim that, since the figures for these emerging imperialist powers are less than the strongest western imperialist powers, they somehow don’t fit into their schema of imperialist states. If Lenin would have adopted such an eclectic, undialectical approach, he would have, at his time, discounted the imperialistic nature of Russia, Japan, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and the United States. The true Leninist method – as we have shown in various places – demands viewing the nature of an imperialist power as such by analyzing the totality of its economic, political, and military position in the global hierarchy of states. Thus, a given state must be viewed not only as a separate unit, but first and foremost in its relation to other states and nations. An imperialist state usually enters a relationship with other states and nations whom it oppresses, in one way or another, and super-exploits – i.e., it appropriates a share of the latter’s produced capitalist value.
A Brief Overview of the Imperialist Powers Today
9. Beyond the decay of capitalism as a global system, the basis for the exacerbation of the inter-imperialist rivalry during recent years have been important changes – economic, political, and military – in the relations of forces between the imperialist powers themselves. Since World War II, the United States has been the absolute hegemon among the imperialist countries. However, this overwhelming dominance started to decrease as early as the 1960s and 1970s, and in subsequent decades the decline of US hegemony has accelerated. While today the US remains, relatively, the strongest of imperialist power, its status has fundamentally changed to being one of primus inter pares. The US empire has become severely over-extended, its political and military dominance being entirely disproportionate with its declining economic base. This development resembles the decline of British imperialism in the decades before World War I. While, after 1945, the US accounted for half of the world’s industrial manufacturing – making it the center of the production of capitalist value – subsequently, its relative economic power gradually declined until, in 2011, it was superseded by China, and now accounts for only 19% of global industrial production. (As an aside, we draw our readers’ attention to the fact that, even this figure is too high, as official production statistics of all western economies are significantly inflated, seeing how they surreptitiously attribute to themselves mass sums of capitalist value transferred to them by the semi-colonial world which they dominate.) Similarly, if we scrutinize the world’s largest corporations (indexed in the so-called Fortune 500), we witness a significant decline in the place of US monopolies on this list, decreasing from 40% to 26% between 2000 and 2011. No less striking is that the US has been transformed from the world’s largest creditor to its biggest debtor, and has become the world’s leading importer, rather than an exporter, of capital. At the same time, the US still holds important assets which reflect its past strength: the US dollar is still the world’s leading currency for international trade and its military budget is greater than the next nine national military budgets combined. However, regarding the first of these assets, the EU, as well as Russia and China, are taking concrete steps to challenge the dollar’s monopoly in the conducting of global trade and finance, while the second – the US’s massive military spending – could not prevent it from facing defeats both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Consequently, the US is no longer able to intervene wherever and whenever it chooses, as was so clearly demonstrated in the autumn of 2013, when the US was forced to negotiate with Russia in Geneva over the Syrian crisis. Similarly, the US could not stop Russia from taking over Crimea, nor does it prevent China from flexing its muscles in the East China Sea. Related to this loss of absolute hegemony, reflecting as it does the political-moral crisis of the American empire, is the increasing unwillingness of the US population to complacently accept the deaths of US soldiers involved in their country’s imperialistic adventures. To summarize, US imperialism is in a state of decline; the force and threats of force it wields are based on its past indisputable hegemonic position while, in fact, it has become a Colossus with feet of clay, similar to Britain before 1914.
10. European imperialism – organized under the EU, and led by Germany with France as its junior partner – is in a contradictory position. On the one hand, during the past decade it managed to more or less retain its position in the world market, as its monopolies avoided a significant decline and basically kept their share among the world’s leading corporations. While, in fact, Germany, Italy, France, and the UK did encounter very modest decreases in their respective shares of the world market (Britain more so than others), they nevertheless remain among the world’s leading economic powers. The Euro has gained in strength as a currency of world exchange. At the same time, the EU’s main problem is that it is not a unified power. Hence, its effective weight in the world economy and politics does not equal its numerical weight (i.e., the total is less than the sum of its parts), to say nothing about the relative strength of its combined military forces. Without US backing, the EU would be in an extremely weak position, for example, in its struggle with Russia over influence in the Ukraine. Similarly, by itself the EU would be incapable of effectively defending its shipping along world-wide trade routes, nor of ensuring its imperialistic access to the raw materials of the South. This is why the only chance for Europe’s monopoly capital is to push forward the creation of a pan-European state apparatus which will effectively unite its economic, political, and military power. Such a project will undoubtedly demand massive attacks being made on the interests of the working class, the middle class, and even sectors of the bourgeoisie as, among other things, it will require a massive increase in the EU’s military spending. As long as such a project has not begun to approach some sort of parity with the relative strengths of the US, the EU will be forced to ally itself with the latter in order to realize its global interests.
11. Japanese imperialism could also potentially retain its position as the world’s third largest economic power as is reflected in its share of world industrial production as well as being the home base of leading global corporations. However, Japan has three basic problems: it lacks close allies (like those, for example, which Germany has in the EU); it faces a huge and rising rival directly at its front door (i.e., China); and its military is still weak. As a result, it is still politically and militarily dependent on the US. Hence, Japan’s ruling class, served by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Abe, is whipping up reactionary chauvinism and militarism, and is launching massive attacks on its working class and peasantry, not least because it needs to finance its massive re-armament.
12. China’s rise as an emerging imperialist power is the single most important development in world politics of the last decade. As already mentioned above, China has become the largest producer of capitalist surplus value. In the Fortune 500 index of the world’s leading corporations, the number of Chinese monopolies ranks only behind those of the US. China has become a major capital exporter and has become one of the biggest foreign investors in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Hence China – and to a lesser degree also Russia – is appropriating a substantial mass of extra profits from the super-exploitation of the semi-colonial world. It is the world’s largest holder of foreign exchange reserves and – like Russia – is increasingly making itself independent of the US dollar by steadily reducing its hold of US bonds. Together with Russia and the other BRICS states, China is establishing a global bank as an alternative to the IMF. Another sign of major changes in the hierarchy of imperialist powers is China and Russia’s creation of a joint rating agency to counter US dominance. China’s rise as an imperialist power is also reflected in its having become the world’s second-largest military spender, as well as its recent militarist forays against Japan (the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands) and Vietnam (the Paracel Islands).
13. Russia too is an important emerging imperialist power. After the catastrophic collapse of the USSR, Russia has again become a major producer of capitalist value. While Russia ranked fourteenth on the list of the world’s manufacturing countries in 2001, by 2011 it advanced to eighth place. It has created a number of monopolies which dominate its economy and increasingly invest their capital abroad. However, one has to be clear that Russia’s economy and its monopoly capital are substantially weaker than that of China or the US. Putin has advanced the formation of the Eurasian Union and is attempting to increase Russia’s hegemony in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. It is the world’s third greatest military power. Russia’s status as an imperialist power is illustrated by its ability to stand up against the US and EU imperialism in major issues of world politics (e.g., Georgia in 2008, Syria since 2011, and the Ukraine in 2014). There is no doubt that the specific formation of the bonapartist regimes in Russia (the Putin regime since 1999) and China (the Stalinist-capitalist regime since the early 1990s) enables both states to severely suppress their respective working classes and hence to utilize their economic resources effectively.
14. There are also a number of other smaller or junior imperialist states throughout the world (e.g., various smaller states in Western Europe; Australia, Canada, and South Korea). These all have witnessed capitalist development since the 19th century and are dominated by their own monopolistic bourgeoisie. For many decades, they have participated in the super-exploitation of the South. As a result, they have accumulated massive amounts of capital and wealth which enables them to bribe a substantial layer of the middle class as well as the labor aristocracy. However, these states are too weak to play an independent role and, hence, they must ally themselves with the stronger great powers, filling a junior role by which they can ensure their own specific interests in the world economy and politics. It is important to recognize that these smaller countries are not semi-colonies but imperialist states; they are not exploited by the great powers, but rather profit economically and politically from the imperialist world order. So despite the differences in size and influence between, let us say, Switzerland and the US, both are imperialist states and the working class has no interest in supporting either of them in the event of armed conflict.
The Struggle against Imperialism and War Requires the Support for Just Struggles of the Workers and Oppressed in Each Country
15. The same dynamics which are exacerbating the inter-imperialist rivalry – the deepening crisis of the world capitalist system – are also accelerating the social and political convulsions throughout the world and, in particular, in those countries which do not belong to the small circle of very rich and powerful imperialist states. As a result, we have witnessed in the last few years broad-based class struggles and revolutionary uprisings, as well as the rise and growth of fascist movements and counterrevolutionary coup d’états, in the Arab countries, in Latin America, in Asia, and in Southern Europe. A correct understanding of the causes of these revolutionary and reactionary movements is essential for Marxists for two reasons. First, various imperialist powers try to intervene and to exploit such upheavals to advance their own reactionary interests. Secondly, since the struggle against imperialist war starts by advancing the class struggle against the ruling capitalist classes in all countries around the world, victory or defeat in this or that country has important consequences for this struggle as a whole.
16. Lenin used to emphasize Hegel’s saying that “the truth is always concrete,” i.e., that Marxists have to concretely analyze the positions and interests of the combating classes in each situation. This involves studying whether the workers and the popular masses are engaged in a struggle which is objectively directed against a bourgeois dictatorship; against a reactionary regime which launches an austerity offensive or which acts as a national oppressor; or against an imperialist aggressor. Similarly, one has to evaluate if the struggle is an authentic mass struggle or rather a middle-class movement initiated and controlled by reactionary forces in order to achieve reactionary goals. In the event of imperialist intervention, one must analyze whether a given democratic or national liberation struggle has become fully subordinate to the imperialist maneuvers and thereby no longer possesses any significant internal dynamic of a workers’ and peasant liberation struggle. If this is the case, Marxists must change their position and give up critical support for the liberation struggle.
17. Based on such an approach, Marxists must support just struggles and revolutionary uprisings and fight from within such movements for the political and organizational independence of the working class, i.e., they must break the workers away from their (petty-)bourgeois leaderships and organize them around a revolutionary party. This demands that revolutionary communists apply the united front tactic, i.e., that they combine practical collaboration with the mass organizations of the workers and oppressed (including their leaders) while at the same time providing uncompromising criticism of the failed strategies of these leaderships. Marxists must fight to combine democratic revolutions or anti-austerity struggles with a program for working class power. To do so they need to struggle among the workers’ vanguard and the masses for a perspective of building workers’ and popular action councils and armed militias, as well as a workers’ government based on such organs. Where this or that great power attempts to intervene in the situation, revolutionaries must fight for the complete independence of the liberation movements from any imperialist influence. Examples of such just struggles and uprisings are the Arab Revolutions since 2011 (including in the ongoing revolution in Syria), the Bosnian Revolution of 2014, the popular uprising in the eastern Ukraine, the protests of workers and the poor in Brazil, and the anti-austerity mobilizations in southern Europe. These all were/are authentic mass uprisings for democratic or social goals, regardless of imperialist attempts to corrupt the leadership of these movements (like that of Western imperialism in Libya in 2011 and Syria today; or that of Russian imperialism in the eastern Ukraine). On the other hand, movements like the Euro-Maidan in the Ukraine or the Yellow Shirt mobilizations in Thailand were reactionary middle-class mobilizations fully controlled by reactionary forces and aimed at achieving reactionary goals (like Ukraine joining the EU, the pro-US semi-fascist riots in Venezuela, or encouraging the Thai military and judiciary to institute a coup d’état). For the meantime, both General Sisi’s military coup on 3 July 2013 in Egypt and the military coup in Thailand on 20 May 2014 represent the highpoints of such reactionary offensives.
18. For authentic Marxists, the struggle against imperialism and war does not begin by promising what we will do in the future in the event of open war between the great powers, but by providing a correct analysis of, orientation towards, and concrete program for the actual ongoing class struggles of today. Those who, due to their adaption to petty-bourgeois pressures, fail to take up positions on the correct side of the barricades in today’s revolutions and counter-revolutions will inevitably surrender to the pressures of chauvinism in any future wars. Hence, the RCIT denounces as politically criminal the support exhibited for the Euro-Maidan movement, as a kind of legitimate democratic struggle, by most of the larger centrist organizations (e.g., the Mandelite Fourth International, Peter Taffee’s CWI, the Cliffite SWP/IST, the ISO [USA], and the Morenoite LIT-FT). Equally we denounce those who hailed the reactionary military coup of General Sisi in Egypt as a “second revolution” and who fail today to side with the mass protest movement against the regime (e.g., the ex-Stalinist European Left Party, the Communist Party of Egypt, IMT, LIT-FI, and the Cliffites). However, revolutionaries must also draw a line in the sand for those centrists and left-reformists who – when they actually do join the correct side of the barricade – invariably insert elements of confusion among the masses by disseminating a program replete with opportunistic adaption to the petty-bourgeois leaderships of such movements. Examples of this phenomenon are the uncritical support for the pro-Western FSA among the Syrian rebels by the Mandelite Fourth International and the LIT-FI, and the Mandelites failure to oppose NATO bombing in Libya in 2011. Yet another example is the support of various Asian and Australian socialists for a bourgeois-parliamentarian perspective in the struggle against the military dictatorship in Thailand.
The Revolutionary Struggle against Imperialism, War, and Reaction
19. The escalating contradictions and tensions between the great imperialist powers, the intensification of the capitalist crisis, and the manifestations of the latter in the heightening of the class struggle make the understanding and application of the Bolshevik program against imperialist militarism and wars mandatory for the workers’ vanguard. The Communist International, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, and later – after its Stalinist degeneration – the Fourth International led by Trotsky, distilled the experience of the revolutionary worker movements’ anti-militarist and anti-imperialist struggles before, as well as during, World War I, experience which ultimately culminated in Russia in the socialist October Revolution of 1917. From their analysis, they determined that the starting point for every Marxist must be the famous dictum of the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz who summarized the essence of any military conflict by the famous words, often repeated by Friedrich Engels and V.I. Lenin: “War is merely a continuation of policy by other means.” In Marxist terms this means that the working class must fundamentally oppose its imperialist government equally in times of peace as well as in times of war. It must use – regardless of whether during peace or war – every weakness and crisis of its class enemy to undermine and ultimately overthrow it. The German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht famously summarized the Marxist approach in the slogan “The main enemy is at home!” This means that the working class in the imperialist countries must view their own ruling class as the main enemy. Hence, it should focus its perspective and utilize the domestic political crisis of its ruling class – caused by inter-imperialist rivalry, military adventures abroad or even full-scale wars – to advance the class struggle against its own bourgeoisie, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing it by means of a socialist revolution. The Marxist approach to imperialist wars is expressed in the principle “Turn the imperialist war into a civil war!” which Lenin and the Bolsheviks and later Trotsky and the Fourth International made a pillar of the revolutionary program.
20. Hence, there is a political abyss between authentic revolutionaries and reformists like the French Front de Gauche and the Communist Party PCF (both members of the European Left Party/ELP) who were part of a war-mongering imperialist government which launched wars of aggression against Serbia in 1999 and against Afghanistan in 2001, and which more currently supports the French military interventions in Africa in 2013/14. Equally repulsive are leaders of the German LINKE who openly support the imperialist, apartheid state of Israel which has been suppressing and expelling the Palestinian people from their land since 1948. We equally denounce the open supporters of Russian and Chinese imperialism who proclaim their support for the Eastern imperialist camp against its conflict with the West. An example of the latter is the support of Russia’s Stalinist-chauvinist KPRF for Putin’s war of oppression in Chechnya. Other examples are the pro-Russia and pro-China stands of various Stalinist and proto-Stalinist forces around the world (like the WWP[USA]) in various conflicts (Syria, Ukraine, East China Sea). Equally we denounce the Japanese Communist Party’s support for its government’s colonial claims to various islands in the East China Sea.
21. When war looms, various social democratic, Stalinist and centrist forces in the workers’ movement, as well as progressive liberals, raise the slogan of peace at any price. This is usually combined with helpless appeals to the United Nations and the renunciation of violence on principle. Such pacifist slogans at times find a certain resonance among sectors of the working class. While there is, in fact, a progressive aspect to such sentiments when advanced by politically-raw workers who, in this way, attempt to express their hatred for imperialist wars, when propagated by various petty-bourgeois, social democratic, and Stalinist forces, the ideology of pacifism is utterly reactionary. In such cases it is an ideology cynically used to disarm the workers and oppressed peoples when, in fact, the latter can only achieve liberation from the imperialist yoke by means of an armed class struggle. In addition, reactionary pacifism confuses the working class and distracts it from the important support for just liberation wars – by oppressed nations like, for example, the Kurds; against imperialist occupation, like in Afghanistan or in Mali; or against a reactionary government and its fascist militias, like that in the eastern Ukraine.
22. To win the workers’ vanguard, and later the entire proletariat, over to a revolutionary anti-war program, even during times of peace Marxists must consistently make the case for proletarian internationalism on all issues. The famous words from Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto – “The workers have no fatherland" – was never intended to mean that socialists should be ignorant about oppression and discrimination of nations. Quite the contrary, Marx and Engels considered the struggle against any form of national oppression as a crucial part of the proletarian liberation struggle. However, what they meant and what is, more than ever, still valid today is that the workers must in no way identify their own class interests with the interests of the national state, which is nothing but the state of the capitalist ruling class. This is particularly true for the workers in the imperialist states – the US, the EU, Japan, Russia, and China as well as in smaller imperialist states – all of which are the biggest robbers and oppressors of the laboring masses around the globe. Hence, socialists must explain the need for the workers to break with every form of political and ideological identification with the imperialist national state. Trotsky explained this in his crucial document War and the Fourth International: “A ‘socialist’ who preaches national defense is a petty-bourgeois reactionary at the service of decaying capitalism. Not to bind itself to the national state in time of war, to follow not the war map but the map of the class struggle, is possible only for that party that has already declared irreconcilable war on the national state in time of peace. Only by realizing fully the objectively reactionary role of the imperialist state can the proletarian vanguard become invulnerable to all types of social patriotism. This means that a real break with the ideology and policy of ’national defense’ is possible only from the standpoint of the international proletarian revolution.” (Leon Trotsky: War and the Fourth International, 1934)
23. From this follows the need for Marxists to mobilize the working class in imperialist countries not only against all forms of militarism and aggressive foreign policy. They must also explain that the workers must unconditionally support the struggles of the oppressed people against the imperialist states – in particular those who are in conflict with their “own” ruling class. Trotsky summarized this principle in his statement: “The struggle against war and its social source, capitalism, presupposes direct, active, unequivocal support to the oppressed colonial peoples in their struggles and wars against imperialism. A ’neutral’ position is tantamount to support of imperialism.” (Leon Trotsky: Resolution on the Antiwar Congress of the London Bureau, 1936)Naturally, such support for the struggle of oppressed peoples against imperialism must go hand in hand with a sharp denunciation of the (petty-)bourgeois leaderships of these struggles.
24. Hence, Bolshevik-Communists denounce those pseudo-Marxists who failed to call for the military victory of Argentina against Britain in the Malvinas War 1982; of Iraq against the US in 1991 and 2003; of Afghanistan from 2001 until today; of the Lebanese Hezbollah against Israel in 2006; of the Palestinians in Gaza against Israel; or of the Tuareg in the North of Mali against the French occupiers. Among these cowering pseudo-Marxists are the left-reformist ELP, the Stalinist KKE in Greece, as well as centrist forces like the Mandelite Fourth International, Peter Taffee’s CWI, Alan Wood’s IMT, and the various groups in the tradition of the late Tony Cliff.
25. Yet another important expression of proletarian internationalism is the unconditional support of Marxists for the complete liberation of national minorities, including migrants, living in their own and in all other imperialist countries. Thus, Bolshevik-Communists advocate the struggle for equal rights for migrants, who are, in their vast majority, a nationally oppressed layer of super-exploited labor, and other national minorities. As the RCIT has repeatedly elaborated, this includes the struggle for equal wages, access to jobs, equal language rights, etc. In addition, Bolshevik-Communists oppose the reactionary control of immigration by the imperialist states. The transformation of the imperialist states into armed fortresses to keep out poor masses from the semi-colonial world is a prime example of the existing global apartheid regime which divides the world – and hence the world proletariat – in exploiter and exploited nations. Marxists in the imperialist countries must resolutely oppose their aristocratic ruling class and raise the slogan for “Open Borders.” This slogan against imperialist border control will significantly increase in importance given the swelling of the flow of migrants from the South hoping to enter the rich North, due to the barbaric super-exploitation of the former by the latter, and the dramatic, worldwide climate change. During the present period of globalization, in which migrants constitute an ever-increasing proportion of the working class in imperialist countries, the struggle for full equal rights for migrants is one of the most important issues for which Marxists must prepare the proletariat in the imperialist world, as part of their campaign against future imperialist aggression and wars. In addition, the very fact that migrants represent such a substantial minority of the proletariat will create tremendous difficulties for the imperialist ruling class in their future wars. This is because, from the start, they will have a sizeable minority which is much less, or not at all, inclined to rally to the defense of the “national fatherland” – in particular if, for example, the ruling class wages wars against oppressed peoples with whom the migrants share either national or religious links. To summarize, in light of the waves of chauvinism which will be generated as inter-imperialist rivalry increases, the proletarian internationalist struggle for the equality of migrants and open borders constitutes, for Marxists, the most important political and ideological challenge for the preparation of the working class in imperialist countries.
26. Therefore, the RCIT denounces those reformists and centrists who support, in one way or another, the perpetuation of national oppression of migrants. Examples of such shameful capitulations to chauvinism are the support for reactionary actions like the “British Jobs for British Workers” strikes in 2009 by the Stalinist CPB and the CWI’s section; the defense of immigration control in the imperialist states (by left social democrats, Stalinists, and obscure ultra-left sects like the groups of the so-called Spartacist tradition); as well as the refusal of nearly all reformists and centrists to fight for the abolition of the state language, and for full equality for the languages of national minorities and migrants.
27. The struggle against imperialism and war – which most basically involves the spread of revolutionary ideas and programs among the working class – is serious only if, from the very beginning, it is accompanied by a struggle against the forces which mislead and confuse the proletariat. Hence, Marxists must strenuously fight against those reformist and centrist forces which, in one way or another, opportunistically adapt to their own bourgeoisie. If these forces so readily adapt to their own ruling class in times of peace, it is guaranteed that they will completely capitulate to them when the pressure to do so increases in times of war. Glaring examples of the latter are the support by social democrats for the waging of imperialist war by their respective governments during World War I; and support by them and the Stalinists of such governments during subsequent wars: World War II, Serbia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, etc. No less representative of such treacherous opportunism is the refusal of various centrist groups like the CWI or the IMT to defend semi-colonial nations who have become victims of aggression of their own imperialist bourgeoisie (e.g., the Malvinas war 1982, Afghanistan since 2001, Iraq 2003, Palestine, etc.). These forces openly adapt to social-patriotism. In fact, they are social-imperialists. Trotsky already emphasized that Marxists have observed the concrete policy of such “socialist” groups: “At the same time, it is necessary to follow attentively the inner struggle in the reformist camp and attract in time the left socialist groupings developing towards revolution to a struggle against war. The best criterion of the tendencies of a given organization is its attitude in practice, in action, toward national defence and toward colonies, especially in those cases in which the bourgeoisie of a given country owns colonial slaves. Only a complete and real break with official public opinion on the most burning question of the ‘defence of the fatherland’ signifies a turn, or at least the beginning of a turn from bourgeois positions to proletarian positions. The approach to left organizations of this type should be accompanied by friendly criticism of all indecision in their policy and by a joint elaboration of all theoretical and practical questions of war.” (Leon Trotsky: War and the Fourth International, 1934)
28. Finally there are those reformist and centrist forces who oppose the foreign policy of their own imperialist bourgeoisie by giving – directly or indirectly – support to the rival imperialist power. This is often justified by claiming that these powers are less imperialistic or not imperialistic at all, or that they are more democratic, etc. For example various Stalinists and centrists claim that China is a kind of workers’ state or at least a non-imperialist capitalist country. Others claim that Russia is not an imperialist but a semi-colonial or a “pre-imperialist” state. All these serve as justifications for lending these powers support against the US and EU. Conversely, there are also various petty-bourgeois progressive forces in Russia and China who justify tactical support for the US or the EU because these countries are less authoritarian. All this is a complete betrayal of the principles of proletarian internationalism. Such an opportunistic adaption to a rival imperialist power has nothing to do with anti-imperialism. It is in fact just another form of social-patriotism. Ignoring the imperialist character of Russia and China forces one to walk not only into the theoretical trap of Kautskyanism, but also into the political trap of an inverted social-imperialism. This is no new phenomena. Lenin and Trotsky already denounced such inverted social-imperialists like the Germanophile Jewish Bundists in Russia during World War I or the social democrats and Stalinists in Germany, Italy, Austria, and Japan who supported the US, British and French imperialists during World War II. The road of Marxists must follow the principle as formulated by Trotsky: “The struggle against war, properly understood and executed, presupposes the uncompromising hostility of the proletariat and its organizations, always and everywhere, toward its own and every other imperialist bourgeoisie.” (Leon Trotsky: Resolution on the Antiwar Congress of the London Bureau, 1936)
29. The exacerbation of the inter-imperialist rivalry will increase the conflicts and wars conducted in the semi-colonial world, these wars being, in fact, proxy-wars between different great powers. An actual, recent example of this is the Euro-Maidan movement and the new right-wing government in the Ukraine which acted as a proxy for US and EU imperialism. Naturally, in such cases Marxists must not lend any support for such forces, as many centrists have done so in the case of the Ukraine. At the same time, it would be an equally criminal mistake to subsume all struggles in the semi-colonial world with imperialist proxy-wars. While it is unavoidable that various imperialist powers will attempt to utilize national and democratic struggles in the South to advance their own influence, this does not mean that the struggle for democracy and national liberation ceases to exist as a progressive factor in world politics. This would be a reactionary conclusion which would condemn socialists to stand at the sidelines of the class struggle. In fact it would be a capitulation to the bankrupt methods of “imperialist economism” against which Lenin warned already a century ago. As the RCIT wrote in another document, Marxists have to “concretely analyze if a given democratic or national liberation struggle becomes fully subordinated to the imperialist maneuvers and doesn’t possess any significant internal dynamic of a workers and peasant liberation struggle. If this is the case, Marxists must change their position and give up critical support for the national liberation struggle.” (Liberation struggles and imperialist interference, 2012) This was the method on which Lenin and the Bolsheviks based their policy:
“Britain and France fought the Seven Years’ War for the possession of colonies. In other words, they waged an imperialist war (which is possible on the basis of slavery and primitive capitalism as well as on the basis of modern highly developed capitalism). France suffered defeat and lost some of her colonies. Several years later there began the national liberation war of the North American States against Britain alone. France and Spain, then in possession of some parts of the present United States, concluded a friendship treaty with the States in rebellion against Britain. This they did out of hostility to Britain, i.e., in their own imperialist interests. French troops fought the British on the side of the American forces. What we have here is a national liberation war in which imperialist rivalry is an auxiliary element, one that has no serious importance. This is the very opposite to what we see in the war of 1914-16 (the national element in the Austro-Serbian War is of no serious importance compared with the all-determining element of imperialist rivalry). It would be absurd, therefore, to apply the concept imperialism indiscriminately and conclude that national wars are “impossible”. A national liberation war, waged, for example, by an alliance of Persia, India and China against one or more of the imperialist powers, is both possible and probable, for it would follow from the national liberation movements in these countries. The transformation of such a war into an imperialist war between the present-day imperialist powers would depend upon very many concrete factors, the emergence of which it would be ridiculous to guarantee.“ (V. I. Lenin: The Junius Pamphlet, 1916)
30. The revolutionary program against imperialism, war, and reaction can only be spread if those who defend such a program unite in a single organization and fight as a determined and disciplined collective for those ideas. In this struggle, they will inevitably encounter determined resistance not only from the ruling class itself but also from its supporters inside the ranks of the workers’ movement. It is urgent that authentic socialists intensify their efforts to overcome the crisis of leadership in the working class and join forces in order to build a revolutionary workers party in each country as part of the World Party of Socialist Revolution, which will be the Fifth Workers International. Such an International, as well as the pre-party organizations which we are building today, must orientate themselves neither to the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia nor the labor aristocracy, but first and foremost to the proletariat of the South as well as the lower strata of the proletariat in the old imperialist metropolises. It from the forces belonging to these layers which will join the class struggle that the new International will be built. Hence, we repeat that the forces for new revolutionary parties and the new Workers’ International will not coalesce by the addition, the “regroupment,” or the “left unity” of revolutionaries with left-reformist and centrist forces. Of course there are and will be healthy forces among the socialist left around the world. But only those sharing the orientation towards the new layers of the vastly expanding world proletariat which is joining the class struggle will themselves be able to contribute to the building of the new International. The Bolshevik-Communists of the RCIT are determined to work for such a new International and look forward to discussing and collaborating with socialists around the world in order to advance this goal.
31. The struggle against imperialism and war demands that the working class must fundamentally and equally oppose its imperialist government in times of peace as well as in times of war. Following Liebknecht famous slogan “The main enemy is at home!” the working class in the imperialist countries must view their own ruling class as the main enemy. Hence it should focus its activity to utilize the domestic political crisis of its ruling class – caused by inter-imperialist rivalry, military adventures abroad, or even full-scale wars – in order to advance the class struggle against its own bourgeoisie, with the goal of overthrowing it by means of a socialist revolution. Instead of spreading pacifist illusions, they must base their program on the Lenin’s anti-war program which he summarized in the principle “Turn the imperialist war into a civil war!”
32. The struggle against imperialism and capitalism is impossible without the consistent support for the liberation struggle of the oppressed people for democratic rights and national liberation. This requires the unconditional support for the struggle against imperialist occupiers (e.g., in Afghanistan and Mali), against reactionary dictatorships (e.g., in Syria, Egypt, the eastern Ukraine, Thailand, etc.) as well as against national oppression (e.g., the Kurds). Equally, socialists in the imperialist countries must struggle for full equality of migrants. Those, who fail in this task, fail to understand the essence of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution and only mislead the workers’ vanguard. At the same time, such a struggle must be combined with the perspective of building workers’ and popular action councils and armed militias as well as a workers’ government based on such organs.
33. The working class can win the struggle against imperialism and war only if it learns to understand who its friends are and who its enemies are. Revolutionaries must help them by waging an open political and ideological struggle against reformist betrayal and centrist confusion. If this task is properly undertaken, revolutionaries will surely progress in their work towards the founding of new revolutionary parties and the Fifth International. Building new revolutionary parties is the key task in the coming period, since without such parties the working class will be unable to overthrow the imperialist bourgeoisie and, hence, will not be able to prevent future imperialist wars which endanger the existence of mankind.
For additional RCIT analyses of imperialism and the present world situation, we refer readers to the following publications:
RCIT: Escalation of Inner-Imperialist Rivalry Marks the Opening of a New Phase of World Politics. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, April 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism (English-language Journal of the RCIT) No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-april-2014/
RCIT: Aggravation of Contradictions, Deepening of Crisis of Leadership. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, 9.9.2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 15, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-september2013/
RCIT: The World Situation and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Communists. Theses of the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, March 2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 8, www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-march-2013
Michael Pröbsting: 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, 448 pages, http://www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net/; in March 2014 the publishing house PROMEDIA published a shortened German-language translation of this book (see: http://www.mediashop.at/typolight/index.php/buecher/items/michael-proebsting---der-grosse-raub-im-sueden; The title is: Der Grosse Raub im Süden. Ausbeutung im Zeitalter der Globalisierung). A summary of the book can be read here: http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-summary/
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, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/revcom-number-4
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, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 21, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-russia/
Michael Pröbsting: Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Summary of the RCIT’s Analysis, 28 March 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-china-and-russia/
Michael Pröbsting: More on Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Reply to Chris Slee (Socialist Alliance, Australia) and Walter Daum (LRP, USA), 11 April 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/reply-to-slee-on-russia-china/
Michael Pröbsting: No to chauvinist war-mongering by Japanese and Chinese imperialism! Chinese and Japanese workers: Your main enemy is at home! Stop the conflict on the Senkaku/Diaoyu-islands in the East China Sea! 23.9.2012,in: Revolutionary Communism No. 6, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/no-war-between-china-and-japan/
Michael Pröbsting: Imperialism, Globalization and the Decline of Capitalism, Originally published in the Book Richard Brenner, Michael Pröbsting, Keith Spencer: The Credit Crunch - A Marxist Analysis (2008), http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialism-and-globalization/
Michael Pröbsting: ‘Americanise or bust’. Contradictions and challenges of the imperialist project of European unification, Fifth International Vol.1, No.2 (2004), http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/eu-imperialism-americanise-or-bust/
Michael Pröbsting: Liberation struggles and imperialist interference. The failure of sectarian “anti-imperialism” in the West: Some general considerations from the Marxist point of view and the example of the democratic revolution in Libya in 2011, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 5, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/liberation-struggle-and-imperialism/
Michael Pröbsting: „Umwandlung des imperialistischen Krieges in den Bürgerkrieg“. Lenin, die Bolschewiki und ihr Kampf gegen den imperialistischen Krieg (Transformation of the Imperialist War into Civil War. Lenin, the Bolsheviks and their Struggle against Imperialist War), in: Revolutionärer Marxismus Nr.40, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/lenin-und-der-imperialistische-krieg/
Michael Pröbsting: Marxismus, Migration und revolutionäre Integration (2010); in: Der Weg des Revolutionären Kommunismus, Nr. 7, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/werk-7. A summary of this study in English-language: Michael Pröbsting: Marxism, Migration and revolutionary Integration, in: Revolutionary Communism, No. 1, http://www.thecommunists.net/oppressed/revolutionary-integration/
Michael Pröbsting: Die halbe Revolution. Lehren und Perspektiven des arabischen Aufstandes (The Half Revolution. Lessons and perspectives of the Arab Uprising; in: Der Weg des Revolutionären Kommunismus, Theoretisches Journal der Revolutionär-Kommunistischen Organisation zur Befreiung, RKOB), Nr. 8 (2011), http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/werk-8