A commentary on a hidden polemic of the ISA against its internal critics
By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 27 February 2023, www.thecommunists.net
A few days ago, the International Socialist Alternative (ISA) published a lengthy article on the first anniversary of the Ukraine War. Written by Tom Crean, a member of the ISA International Executive, the article reiterates this organisation’s position which wrongly characterises the conflict as an inter-imperialist “proxy war”. Consequently, the ISA continues to vehemently oppose any military aid for the Ukraine. 
The author repeats the ISA’s argument that the Ukraine War would be basically an inter-imperialist local conflict between NATO and Russia, resp. between Western and Eastern Great Powers. “From the beginning, this war has been a battleground for the inter-imperialist conflicts which increasingly dominate our epoch, most immediately between Russian imperialism and NATO, itself a “sub plot” in the wider Cold War conflict between U.S. and Chinese imperialism. (…) The Ukraine war cannot be understood outside of the context of the new era of global instability where inter-imperialist rivalry and conflict is posed in a far sharper way than during the previous era of neoliberal globalization.”
While even the ISA can not deny the fact that the Ukrainian army have the “enthusiastic support of the big majority of the population” as well as “have displayed enormous determination”, this does not count much for them since the Ukrainians’ struggle has “been “hijacked” by Western imperialism for its own ends.”
As we have demonstrated in our documents on the Ukraine War, this argument ignores the fundamental fact that the war is first and foremost an aggression of Russian imperialism  against the Ukraine, a capitalist semi-colony,  which threatens to subjugate the people to brutal national oppression. This is not to deny the fact that the conflict has a dual character. But one has to differentiate between the liberation war of the Ukraine and the inter-imperialist conflict. Hence, the RCIT – as well as our comrades in Socialist Tendency (the RCIT Section in Russia) – has always supported the Ukraine’s war of national defence (including its right to get weapons) but, at the same time, we have opposed all forms of Great Power chauvinism (e.g. sanctions, armament). We have summarised our internationalist and anti-imperialist program in the slogan: “Defend the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion! Against Russian and against NATO imperialism!“ 
Are national liberations wars not possible in a period of inter-imperialist rivalry?
In our articles about the ISA’s refusal to defend the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion, we have pointed out that the rationale behind its position is the denial of the possibility of oppressed peoples to fight just national liberation wars in the current historic period.  Of course, there have been and there will be such “proxy conflicts” where local forces primarily act as agents of this or that Great Powers.
However, this is only one important aspect of the current period of Great Power rivalry. Because, at the same time, such rivalry accelerates the drive of imperialist powers to expand their spheres of influence in the semi-colonial world by any means necessary. In other words, inter-imperialist rivalry provokes not only more proxy conflicts but also more attacks on oppressed peoples. Hence, such inter-imperialist rivalry also provokes an increasing number of liberation wars. In fact, these contradictory and explosive tendencies are part of the nature of imperialism and have always been such. (For a more detailed analysis of imperialism and its contradictions we refer readers to various works which we have published on this issue. )
Our prognosis is based on historical experience. Just think about the inter-war period 1919-39. At that time, a number of legitimate wars of national defence against imperialist aggressors took place. Such were the struggle of the Rif-Kabyls under Abd-el-Krim in 1921-26, of the Syrian people in 1925-27, of Ethiopia against Italy in 1935-36, of China against Japan from 1931-45, – to name a few examples. All these where national liberation struggles which communists in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky unconditionally supported.
Of course, like today, Great Powers did try to interfere at that time in such struggles in one way or another. As we pointed out in other works, the League of Nations even put economic sanctions on Italy in 1935. And the U.S. supported China against Japan and imposed sanctions against Japan since the latter was their main Pacific rival. But such tactical support by this or that Great Power did not alter the total character of these just national wars. 
The ISA’s refusal to support legitimate national liberation wars is deeply rooted in their historic tradition which derives from Ted Grant and Peter Taaffe and we have called “neo-imperialist economism”. As we have explained in detail in a recently published pamphlet, the ISA and its predecessor (the CWI) has repeatedly denounced just wars of oppressed peoples as “reactionary” and refused to side with them. Among these were, for example, Argentina’s Malvinas War against Britain in 1982, the Irish people’s struggle in North Ireland against Britain, the armed resistance of the Afghan people (from 2001-21) as well as the Iraqi people (1991, 2003-11) against the Western powers, the four Gaza Wars of the Palestinians against Israel, etc. 
The above-mentioned article by Tom Crean basically repeats this “neo-imperialist economist” approach. “The course of the war completely confirms that there is no basis for genuine independence for Ukraine on the basis of capitalism. This will require a revolutionary struggle led by the Ukrainian working class against all imperialist forces linked to a workers movement internationally conscious of its tasks. The key missing factor in Ukraine today is an independent working class force.”
Basically, this means that as long as a strong revolutionary party does not exist and a liberation war takes place under a non-revolutionary leadership, the ISA refuses supporting it! Given the weakness of revolutionary forces, this means that such struggles usually take place under a non-revolutionary leadership (which is also true, by the way, for trade unions struggles, for women’s and LGBT+ struggles etc.), and that, consequently, the ISA can never support such struggles. This is in fact what the Grantites have done for a number of decades and authentic Marxists have always denounced this as a shameful capitulation to social-imperialism.
Attacking the Squad? Not really!
Crean’s article also includes a sharp polemic. “There are those on the left, such as the Left parties in Sweden and Finland or the Squad in the U.S. Congress, who argue that we should unequivocally take the side of the Ukrainian bourgeois state in its fight with Russian imperialism and support its arming by Western imperialism. They argue that this is essentially a war of national liberation and ignore or downplay the role of Western imperialism. Such a position represents a capitulation to U.S. imperialism which remains, despite its indisputable weakening, the dominant imperialist power in the world, and an enemy of the oppressed and working class everywhere. It would be to accept the narrative of Joe Biden that this is a fight of “democracy against autocracy.””
Of course, the real targets of this polemic are not Left parties in Sweden and Finland or the Squad in the U.S. Congress. In fact, the ISA and it’s U.S. section (to which Tom Crean belongs) have a long record of opportunistic adaptation to the Bernie Sanders and the Squad. It supported Sanders’ campaign to become the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate – one of the two mainstream imperialist parties in the U.S. – both in 2016 as well as in 2020. 
It is telling that the ISA and it’s U.S. section denounces the “capitulation to U.S. imperialism” by the Squad … when it comes to the Ukraine War. But at the same time, it has not raised a single word of criticism against the Squad when they really capitulated to U.S. imperialism in the past month! As we reported in other articles, Bernie Sanders and the whole Squad have joined a hysterical chauvinist campaign waged by the ruling class against China after the balloon incident.  Every single Squad member of Congress voted for the imperialist bills – jointly introduced by the leadership both of the Democratic as well as the Republican Party – denouncing the “Chinese invasion” and calling for a “policy of the United States to act promptly, responsibly, and decisively to deter and stop foreign aerial surveillance platforms violating United States sovereignty, including those directed by or connected to the CCP.” 
Shamefully, the ISA’s U.S. section (which is the largest section of this international organisation) not only refused to criticise its allies in the Squad but have even failed to publish a single article or statement about the “balloon crisis” at all! Could this have been motivated by their close political relationship with Sanders and the “Squad”?
No, a not so hidden polemic against the Russian section
In reality, the real target of the ISA’s polemic are not Sanders and the Squad but their own comrades in Russia (“Социалистическая Альтернатива” [CA]). An official ISA report about their recently held World Congress reveals that a heated debate took place there about the position of socialists in the Ukraine War. While the ISA strictly opposes any support for the Ukraine and calls for actions to stop military aid for the country, the Russian section has courageously opposed the Putin regime and its imperialist invasion. Based on fundamental agreement on such a defeatist position, the Russian section of the RCIT has collaborated with the comrades of CA since a few months. A result of this collaboration has been the launching of a joint internationalist and anti-imperialist initiative. 
However, as the ISA reported, the Russian comrades were completely isolated at the World Congress and its position was condemned by all other delegates. “This session also featured an important debate, which since developing over the last few months, has helped to sharpen our understanding of the war and the tasks it posed. Congress discussed ISA’s Russian section publicly expressing support for Western military “aid” and summarising their position in the slogan “victory to Ukraine!”. Congress decisively (with one opposing vote) rejected this position, and agreed to continue to discuss intensively with all comrades on an internal level, conducting a comradely discussion with a view to uniting around a programme of consistent internationalism and anti-imperialism.” 
Such shameful betrayal of the liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people by all delegates (except those from the Russian section) demonstrates how much the ISA is engrossed in the social-imperialist tradition of Grantism and remains unable to break with its degenerated caricature of “Trotskyism”.
The comrades from CA are therefore completely correct when they write in a polemic against the ISA that this organisation acts as “accomplices of Russian imperialism.” “When the ISA calls on the working class around the world to sabotage the supply of aid and weapons to Ukraine, the Ukrainian worker will rightly perceive such socialists as accomplices of Russian imperialism.” 
Naturally, given the ISA’s historic tradition of social-imperialism, the comrades of CA face a Herculean task as they commit themselves to “fight not only externally against Putin's Bonapartism, but also internally in the International for the right revolutionary line.”  To be successful, such a struggle would require overcoming the programmatic legacy of Grantism on which this organisation has been based since its foundation in the mid-1960s and which is ferociously defended by hardened cadres who completely dominate this organisation for decades.
Crean’s article concludes: “War poses a unique test for the left and revolutionary left. The bulk of the left, including the far left, has utterly failed this test.” This is true but, ironically, the ISA is part of such left which failed the test (once again)!
In the coming period, we will see a growing number of conflicts and wars. Authentic socialists who want to serve the liberation struggles of the workers and oppressed need to draw the necessary lessons of such crucial conflicts like the Ukraine War. The RCIT considers it as urgent to intensify the collaboration of internationalist and anti-imperialist revolutionaries in order to advance the common struggle for a socialist future!
 Tom Crean: Russian Offensive Begins as Ukraine War Escalates. One year on, not only is the war far from over, it is clearly escalating with the possibility of becoming a much wider conflict, 23 February 2023, https://internationalsocialist.net/en/2023/02/one-year-of-war. (All quotes are from this article if not indicated otherwise.)
 The RCIT has published numerous documents about capitalism in Russia and its rise to an imperialist power. The most important ones are several pamphlets by Michael Pröbsting: The Peculiar Features of Russian Imperialism. A Study of Russia’s Monopolies, Capital Export and Super-Exploitation in the Light of Marxist Theory, 10 August 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-peculiar-features-of-russian-imperialism/; by the same author: 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. Another Reply to Our Critics Who Deny Russia’s Imperialist Character, August 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialism-theory-and-russia/; Russia as a Great Imperialist Power. The formation of Russian Monopoly Capital and its Empire – A Reply to our Critics, 18 March 2014 (this pamphlet contains a document written in 2001 in which we established for the first time our characterisation of Russia as imperialist), http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-russia/; see also these essays by the same author: Russia: An Imperialist Power or a “Non-Hegemonic Empire in Gestation”? A reply to the Argentinean economist Claudio Katz, in: New Politics, 11 August 2022, at https://newpol.org/russia-an-imperialist-power-or-a-non-hegemonic-empire-in-gestation-a-reply-to-the-argentinean-economist-claudio-katz-an-essay-with-8-tables/; Russian Imperialism and Its Monopolies, in: New Politics Vol. XVIII No. 4, Whole Number 72, Winter 2022, https://newpol.org/issue_post/russian-imperialism-and-its-monopolies/; Once Again on Russian Imperialism (Reply to Critics). A rebuttal of a theory which claims that Russia is not an imperialist state but would be rather “comparable to Brazil and Iran”, 30 March 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/once-again-on-russian-imperialism-reply-to-critics/. See various other RCIT documents on this issue at a special sub-page on the RCIT’s website: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-russia-as-imperialist-powers/.
 For a political and economic analysis of the Ukraine see e.g. the pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: Ukraine: A Capitalist Semi-Colony. On the exploitation and deformation of Ukraine’s economy by imperialist monopolies and oligarchs since capitalist restoration in 1991, January 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/ukraine-a-capitalist-semi-colony/
 We refer readers to a special page on our website where more than 160 RCIT documents on the Ukraine War and the current NATO-Russia conflict are compiled: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/compilation-of-documents-on-nato-russia-conflict/. In particular we refer to the RCIT Manifesto: Ukraine War: A Turning Point of World Historic Significance. Socialists must combine the revolutionary defense of the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion with the internationalist struggle against Russian as well as NATO and EU imperialism, 1 March 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/manifesto-ukraine-war-a-turning-point-of-world-historic-significance/; see also: Manifesto on the First Anniversary of the Ukraine War. Victory to the heroic Ukrainian people! Defeat Russian imperialism! No support whatsoever for NATO imperialism! 10 February 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/manifesto-on-first-anniversary-of-ukraine-war/
 For our critique of the ISA’s position on the Ukraine War see e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Protests in Iran and Ukraine War: The ISA’s Double Standard. Unprincipled “socialists” combine opposition against Ukrainian resistance struggle with support for draconic Western sanctions against Iran, 28 October 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/protests-in-iran-and-ukraine-war-the-isa-s-double-standard/; by the same author: A Confirmation, Unfortunately. The ISA officially reiterates its refusal to defend the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion, calling it an “inter-imperialist proxy war”, 29 July 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/a-confirmation-unfortunately/; Boycotting the Ukrainian Resistance Is Neither Internationalist Nor Socialist! On the “International Socialist Alternative” and its refusal to support the Ukraine’s war of defence against Russian imperialism, 10 June 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/isa-boycotts-the-ukrainian-resistance/; Nao Hong: ISA: A Kautsky-Type of International, 28 July 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/isa-a-kautsky-type-of-international/; Yossi Schwartz: The ISA, by opposing the delivery of weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian imperialism, serves Russian imperialism, 14.04.2022, https://the-isleague.com/the-isa-by-opposing-the-delivery-of-weapons-to-ukraine-to-fight-russian-imperialism-serves-russian-imperialism/
 Our most detailed works on the Marxist theory of imperialism are two books by 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, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/; 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, 2013, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-of-the-south/
 See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: A Marxist Slogan and its Caricature. On the social-imperialist distortion of the slogan “The Main Enemy Is At Home” in the context of the Ukraine War and the Taiwan Strait Crisis, 17 August 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/the-marxist-slogan-the-main-enemy-is-at-home-and-its-social-imperialist-distortion/; by the same author: The Ukraine War and the Second Sino-Japanese War: A Historical Analogy. The dual tactic of Marxists in the Ukraine War today draws on the approach of their predecessors in the war between China and Japan in 1937-41, 10 March 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/ukraine-war-second-sino-japanese-war-a-historical-analogy/
 See e.g. the pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: The Poverty of Neo-Imperialist Economism. Imperialism and the national question - a critique of Ted Grant and his school (CWI, ISA, IMT), January 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/grantism-imperialism-and-national-question/
 See e.g. Michael Pröbsting: I Don't Want to Wage War, But If I Have to ... On Bernie Sanders and the liberal left in the U.S. in the current NATO-Russia conflict, 11 February 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/bernie-sanders-and-the-nato-russia-conflict/; by the same author: 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/; see also 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/
 See e.g. Michael Pröbsting: U.S.-China Rivalry: Air Cowboys. The U.S. Air Force shot down four flying objects in eight days as China announced a similar move, 13 February 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/u-s-china-rivalry-air-cowboys/
 See e.g. Michael Pröbsting: The Chinese Balloon and America’s “Socialists”. The so-called “Squad” joins the hysterical campaign of U.S. imperialism, 10 February 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/the-chinese-balloon-and-america-s-socialists/; by the same author: Bernie Sanders Too. America’s prominent “socialist” Senator joins the hysterical-chauvinist campaign against China, 17 February 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/bernie-sanders-too-u-s-chinese-balloon/
 See on this: Joint Declaration of the Anti-Imperialist Conference of Revolutionary Socialists in Russia: Our Solidarity is with the Ukrainian People! The working class of Russia and all the oppressed need to organize to stop the war and the occupation of the Ukraine, 26 November 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/joint-anti-imperialist-initiative-of-revolutionary-socialists-in-russia/#anker_2; Report: Joint Anti-Imperialist Initiative of Revolutionary Socialists in Russia. Conference of socialists from different organisations agrees to coordinate forces in the struggle against Russian imperialism and the Putin regime, 28 November 2022 https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/joint-anti-imperialist-initiative-of-revolutionary-socialists-in-russia/#anker_6
 Danny Byrne: ISA 13th World Congress: Preparing for New Twists and Turns in the ‘Age of Disorder’. Report from International Socialist Alternative’s World Congress — further reports to follow, 15 February 2023, https://internationalsocialist.net/en/2023/02/isa-13th-world-congress
 Зарево, электронный журнал социалисток и социалистов, Весна 2023, Год войны против Украины, p. 36 (our translation)
 Ibid, p. 41 (our translation)