Some Notes on Centrists’ Confusion about the Character of the Global Trade War
by Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 27 May 2019, www.thecommunists.net
It is a well-known axiom that war and revolution are the most profound test of principles. Such historic events challenge both the theory and practice of any force fighting under the banner of Marxism.
While festering economic confrontations like the current Global Trade War between the U.S. and China do not have the same immediate consequences as full-blown military clashes, it is frequently a bellwether. As history has demonstrated, economic wars between Great Powers are often the preamble to shooting wars. A Marxist organization that does not possess a clear analysis of the main dynamics of world politics is incapable of developing a strategy and tactic that serves the interests of the international working class.
We have dealt with the growing U.S.-China Cold War extensively in our recently published book “Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry” (1) as well as a number of related articles. (2) It is not necessary to elaborate our full analysis and programmatic response to this key development in the world situation. The RCIT considers the Global Trade War a clear confirmation of our analysis that China has not only become a capitalist country but also a major imperialist Great Power that is now challenging U.S. status as the long-time, absolute hegemon. (3) The U.S.-China Cold War reflects the accelerating rivalry between the two biggest imperialist powers. The RCIT advocates the program of revolutionary defeatism. An internationalist and independent position of the working class must oppose both Great Powers and their chauvinist drum-beating. Marxists must sharply denounce all social-imperialist forces that have chosen sides in this conflict. (4)
Unfortunately, a surfeit of organizations posturing as Trotskyist lack a consistent and revolutionary perspective. The “Committee for a Workers’ International” (CWI) is a case in point.
As we have already demonstrated in the aforementioned book, the CWI lacks a clear analysis of China’s class character. (5) While an occasional article may have dropped the word “imperialist” when assessing the class character of China, the annual “World Perspectives” and other major documents published by the CWI’s leadership have avoided requisite clarity.
One finds the same fundamental flaw in their latest three major articles on the Global Trade War. (6) Despite considerable length – nearly 9,000 words combined – these articles fail to mention, even once, that China is an “imperialist” state! While the CWI has no problem talking about “U.S. imperialism” or “Japanese imperialism” it cannot mention the phrase “Chinese imperialism”!
This is hardly surprising since the CWI had, until recently, major difficulties in acknowledging that capitalism had been restored in China. Even in its latest articles it has suggested that the capitalist restoration in China might not have been completed.
“Clearly the transition from a fully nationalised, planned economy towards capitalism has gone a long way and can appear complete at first sight. But the rule of the Communist Party elite prevails, with substantial elements of state banks and industries remaining intact. Many of these strategically important state-owned enterprises, mostly in heavy manufacturing or energy production, have been kept alive since 2008 through heavy doses of central bank borrowing.” (7)
Likewise, when dealing with Beijing’s foreign policy (like the Belt and Road Initiative), the CWI article rigorously avoids the attribution “imperialist” and prefers to speak about “Chinese expansionism” – a descriptive term devoid of any class characterization.
As the RCIT has demonstrated, Chinese capitalism has rapidly developed in the last quarter of a century. This gave rise to huge monopoly capitalist corporations – both state and privately owned – that now play a major role in the world market. Likewise, China is number one or two in terms of billionaires. China is a major factor in the world economy, as the Global Trade War ably demonstrates.
However, the CWI leadership ignores these fundamental developments. They remain intellectually trapped in the world as it existed decades ago preceding China’s rise.
All of this reflects the theoretical confusion and impotence of the CWI. It fails to understand the imperialist nature of China and, hence, the class character of one the most important features of the present historic period – the rivalry between the U.S. and China.
Another disturbing aspect of these articles is a complete silence on the positions of Senator Bernie Sanders, the “progressive star” in U.S. politics and a Democratic Party presidential contender. (8) As we recently analyzed, Sanders is an aggressive promoter of an anti-Chinese protectionist trade policy. He’s an advocate of U.S. imperialism in “left-wing” clothing. (9)
The CWI’s silence on this issue is not accidental since its U.S. section has maintained close relations with the Sanders campaign. After Sanders announced his candidacy for the 2020 presidential elections the U.S. section of the CWI quickly declared its enthusiastic support: “Despite our disagreement with Sanders’ decision to run on the Democratic Party ticket, Socialist Alternative will energetically campaign for him to win, while raising our proposals to strengthen the campaign.” (10)
Mirroring its position in the 2016 elections, the CWI doesn’t see a problem in supporting a bourgeois candidate representing one of the two major parties of U.S. imperialism. In contrast, the RCIT and all consistent Marxists consider support for a candidate of a major party of the imperialist bourgeoisie as betrayal of the most fundamental principles of working class policy. (11)
This is another demonstration that confusion and opportunism in theory produces confusion and opportunism in practice and vice versa. The consequence is centrism, i.e. “Marxism” in abstract theory but opportunist adaption yielding a revisionist practice.
It is urgent that comrades in the CWI break with such a useless and dangerous method and turn to authentic Marxism!
(1) Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019. See in particular Chapter VI. The Acceleration of Inter-Imperialist Rivalry and the Global Trade War. The book can be read online or downloaded for free here: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/.
(2) Statement: Global Trade War: No to Great Power Jingoism in West and East! Neither Imperialist Globalization nor Imperialist Protectionism! For International Solidarity and Joint Struggle of the Working Class and Oppressed People! 4 July 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/joint-statement-on-the-looming-global-trade-war/; Michael Pröbsting: Act Two in the U.S.-China Cold War. Global Trade War: What’s Behind the U.S. Targeting Huawei and What Will Be the Consequences? 24 May 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/act-two-in-the-u-s-china-cold-war/; Michael Pröbsting: The Next Round of Escalation in the Global Trade War. After negotiations ended without results, the U.S. imposes new tariffs on Chinese imports and Beijing retaliates, 13 May 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/the-next-round-of-escalation-in-the-global-trade-war/; Michael Pröbsting: The Global Trade War is Escalating. Trump’s new Tariffs on about $200bn worth of Chinese Imports Reflect the Accelerating Rivalry between the Great Powers, 19 September 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-global-trade-war-is-escalating/; Yossi Schwartz: Capitalist Trade and the Looming 3rd World War, 15 July 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/capitalist-trade-and-looming-3rd-world-war/; Michael Pröbsting: The Global Trade War has Begun. What is its Meaning and what should be the Response of Socialists? 13 July 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-global-trade-war-has-begun/; Michael Pröbsting: 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, 17 June 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/where-do-socialists-stand-in-face-of-the-looming-global-trade-war/; 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/. Our documents on the Global Trade War are collected at a special sub-page on our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-global-trade-war/
(3) For an analysis of China as an imperialist Great Power we refers readers, in addition to the aforementioned book “Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry”, to the literature mentioned in the special sub-section on our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-russia-as-imperialist-powers/. In particular we refer 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.
(4) In addition to the documents mentioned above, we refer also to RCIT: Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States, 8 September 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-on-revolutionary-defeatism-in-imperialist-states/. See also RCIT: Six Points for a Platform of Revolutionary Unity Today. A Proposal from the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), February 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/6-points-for-a-platform-of-revolutionary-unity-today/
(5) On the CWI see in particular chapter XI and XXVIII (https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/).
(6) See Robin Clapp: What lies behind the US-China trade war? 25 May 2019 http://socialistworld.net/index.php/theory-analysis/economy/world-economy/10213-what-lies-behind-the-us-china-trade-war; Vincent Kolo: U.S.-China Trade War Escalates: Trump Ramps Up Tariffs Against China, Rocks Global Stock Markets, May 17, 2019 https://www.socialistalternative.org/2019/05/17/u-s-china-trade-war-escalates-trump-ramps-up-tariffs-against-china-rocks-global-stock-markets/; Vincent Kolo: China – US: Can the trade war be halted? 23 April 2019, http://www.socialistworld.net/index.php/theory-analysis/economy/world-economy/10176-china-us-can-the-trade-war-be-halted
(7) Robin Clapp: What lies behind the US-China trade war?
(8) For a Marxist assessment of Bernie Sanders and the “left wing” of the Democratic Party see e.g. Yossi Schwarz: Why Not to Vote for the Democratic Party in the Forthcoming US Elections Or At Any Other Time, 2.3.2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/northamerica/no-vote-sanders/; Yossi Schwartz: Once Again: Opportunism of US Left Exposed. An Analysis of the US 2016 Elections Campaign, 14 August 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/north-america/left-and-us-election/; Michael Pröbsting: The Meaning, Consequences and Lessons of Trump‘s Victory. On the Lessons of the US Presidential Election Outcome and the Perspectives for the Domestic and International Class Struggle, 24 November 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/meaning-of-trump/
(9) See Michael Pröbsting: The Next Round of Escalation in the Global Trade War (Chapter: Bernie Sanders: Supporter of U.S. Protectionism)
(10) Kailyn Nicholson: Democratic 2020 Race Begins – Establishment Tries to Stop Sanders, May 9, 2019 https://www.socialistalternative.org/2019/05/09/democratic-2020-race-begins-establishment-tries-to-stop-sanders/
(11) See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Marxism and the United Front Tactic Today. The Struggle for Proletarian Hegemony in the Liberation Movement in Semi-Colonial and Imperialist Countries in the present Period, RCIT Books, Vienna 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/bookunited-front/