Where Do Socialists Stand in Face of the Looming Global Trade War?


A Showcase of the Practical Consequences of the Assessment of the Class Character of the Chinese State


by Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 17 June 2018




In these days, the imperialist Great Powers are close to an open trade war. US President Donald Trump announced on 15 June a 25% tariff on $50bn of imports from China. This tariff affects more than 800 strategically important imports from China. China’s Commerce Ministry said it would respond with tariffs “of the same scale and strength” and that any previous trade deals with Trump were “invalid.” China also listed 659 U.S. products which would be affected by this tariff. (1) As the Asia Times commented, this development is “raising the specter of a full-blown trade war between the two economic giants. (2)


Furthermore U.S. imperialism also threatens to impose tariffs on imports from the European Union, Japan, Canada as well as other countries. Naturally, it is possible that the Great Powers will find a last-minute compromise. This could delay the outbreak of a full-blown global trade war. But it is evident to every prudent observer that even if such an escalation can be avoided for now, it is only a matter of time until the next crisis erupts. Sooner or later, a full-blown trade war between the imperialist powers is inevitable.


We do not intend to deal at this place with the economic background of these developments which is located in the accelerating rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers in face of the decline of capitalism, particularly since the beginning of the current historic period in 2008. For a closer analysis we refer readers to the various World Perspective documents which the RCIT has published in the past years. (3)


We rather wish to draw the attention of socialists to the following issue: where do socialists stand in face of the looming global trade war? It is obvious that this is not a side-issue of the class struggle. The looming global trade war is rather a prelude for World War III between the Great Powers. By this we do not mean that such a World War is around the corner. No, there are multiple steps, crisis, catastrophes in between the present tensions and such a military escalation which probably will take a number of years. But everyone with a minimum knowledge of history – just think about the first half of the 20th century – will have to recognize that a full-blown trade war between Great Powers opens the road to war in order to finally settle matters in favor of one or the other camp.


So, where do socialists stand in face of the looming global trade war? The answer to this question is related to the class character of the states involved. Socialists in imperialist countries never support the policy of economic protectionism of their ruling class – like imposing tariffs on imports from other countries, forbidding the import of certain commodities, etc. Therefore, when a trade dispute or even a trade war erupts between two or more imperialist states, socialists in all countries involved oppose such sanctions.


For this reason the RCIT has always opposed the sanctions of the Western imperialist states against Russia in 2014 and vice versa. We take the same stance in the current looming trade war: we oppose the protectionist steps of all imperialist states – the U.S., China, European Union, Russia, Canada, Japan, etc.


Socialists take a different position in cases where imperialist states impose sanctions against non-imperialist, semi-colonial countries. In such cases, they fight against the sanctions imposed by the imperialist power. However, socialists take a different position concerning the semi-colonial country. They defend the latter against the imperialist aggressor and support its counter-measures against the opponent. They call workers in the imperialist countries to break the sanctions against these countries.


For this reason the RCIT defend countries like North Korea, Iran or Venezuela against the sanctions imposed by imperialist powers.


Such is the set of revolutionary tactics which the RCIT applies today on these issues and which is derived from the Marxist understanding of imperialism and the program of revolutionary defeatism which Lenin and Trotsky elaborated.


We therefore ask socialists in other organizations: which stand do you take in relation to the looming global trade war?


For the Stalinists and pseudo-Trotskyists who consider China as a “socialist state” or a “deformed workers state”, the answer is simple: they will take the side of China in this dispute.


For those who consider China and Russia as non-imperialist, semi-colonial, countries, they will, if they are consistent, also take the side of these states and defend them against U.S. imperialism.


Only a clear analysis of China and Russia as imperialist Great Powers – like the U.S., the European Union and Japan are – allows for a consistent program of anti-imperialist and defeatists tactics.


The current looming trade war is a powerful example that the theoretical discussion on the class character of China and Russia is not a play with words or an academic exercise. Rather it is one of the most important issues of the current historic period which has tremendous practical consequences.


This is the reason why the RCIT has elaborated in the past years a number of studies on the political and economic nature of Russia and China. We have demonstrated that these states have become emerging imperialist powers. (4) We have shown that the program of revolutionary defeatism applies to Russia and China as well as to U.S., the European Union, Japan and other imperialist states. (5)


There are various organizations who accept that Russia and China have become somehow “powers” capable of challenging the old Western imperialist Great Powers. But these organizations staunchly refuse to characterize Russia and China as imperialist states. (6)


However, the looming global trade war will force all these organizations to take a clear and unambiguous stance. Either they share the RCIT’s position of opposing all Great Powers and their protectionist sanctions. Such an agreement is important but then, they have to ask themselves, why do they take such a position without recognizing the imperialist character of Russia and China? Would they take a similar defeatist position in countries like North Korea, Iran or Venezuela which are undoubtedly not imperialist but semi-colonial states? We are sure they that they would not. So is it not time for these organizations to accept the analysis of Russia and China as imperialist powers?!


Or are these organizations consistent and draw from their refusal to recognize Russia and China as imperialist powers the logical conclusion that they must side with these two states against the U.S.?! That would be too bad as it would make them part of the camp of pro-Eastern social-imperialism.


Whatever these socialists conclude, the looming global trade war demands a concrete and practical program: either the program of anti-imperialist defeatism or the program of social-imperialism. There is no third option.






(1) David Lawder, Ben Blanchard: Trump sets tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods; Beijing strikes back, Reuters, June 15, 2018 / https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-media/china-state-media-condemn-u-s-tariffs-leave-room-for-negotiation-idUSKBN1JC03P


(2) Asia Times: Trade war looms as Trump announces China tariffs, June 16, 2018 http://www.atimes.com/article/trade-war-looms-as-trump-announces-china-tariffs/


(3) Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, RCIT Books, Vienna 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2018/; RCIT: World Perspectives 2017: The Struggle against the Reactionary Offensive in the Era of Trumpism, 18 December 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2017/; RCIT: World Perspectives 2016: Advancing Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase, 23 January 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2016/; RCIT: Perspectives for the Class Struggle in Light of the Deepening Crisis in the Imperialist World Economy and Politics, 11 January 2015, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-january-2015/; 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, RCIT Books, Vienna 2013, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-of-the-south/.


(4) 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: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-russia-as-imperialist-powers/. 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, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-india-rivalry/; Michael Pröbsting: The China Question and the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, December 2014, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/reply-to-csr-pco-on-china/; 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.


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, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialism-theory-and-russia/; 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), https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-russia/.


(5) See on this, in addition to the above mentioned documents: RCIT: 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, 25.6.2014, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/struggle-vs-imperialism-war/; Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South, chapter 13; Yossi Schwartz: Marxism and War, 30.1.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/marxism-and-war/; 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, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/liberation-struggle-and-imperialism/; 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/


(6) See for our criticism of various socialist organizations e.g. the RCIT pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: Syria and Great Power Rivalry: The Failure of the „Left“. The bleeding Syrian Revolution and the recent Escalation of Inter-Imperialist Rivalry between the US and Russia – A Marxist Critique of Social Democracy, Stalinism and Centrism, 21 April 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/syria-great-power-rivalry-and-the-failure-of-the-left/