03-05-2016 – In a rational world, a fleet of warships belonging to country A patrolling 50 miles from the shore of country B would be seen as a considerable threat to the security of country B. Not so if you happen to be a part of the Western corporate media, and country A is Russia, and country B is the United States of America. In that case, Russia is seen as a hostile provocateur, and the US is seen as waging a heroic struggle to contain an aggressive rogue state. The massive and ongoing mobilisation of US and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) troops on the borders of Russia, far from being seen as unwarranted, is seen as a necessary amassment to prevent the evil Kremlin plotting against Europe.
Needless to say, the world labouring under the hegemony of US imperialism, is not rational, and won’t be until the dragon is slayed. Thankfully, some of the actions of the Russian state are staying the hand of the US imperialist dragon, but this is something which the arrogant hegemon cannot forgive. An example is the Russian intervention on the side of the Syrian Arab Republic against the atrocious proxy war being waged against it by the US and its allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and backed by Israel. At the invitation of the Syrian government, from September 30 last year, the Russian military began taking out the US proxy ISIS forces, and other armed mercenary groups committing barbaric acts against civilians across Syria. The actions of the Russian government, supported by Iran and Hezbollah, tipped the balance decisively in favour of elementary justice – the right of a sovereign state to exercise its own policies independently of imperialism. At the same time, the Russian moves thoroughly exposed the US role in funding and arming jihadist barbarians and trucking them into Syria. The US could not openly defend its own monsters, for even the most blind would clearly see what is an open secret.
Even if Russia had not come to the material aid of Syria, however, Russia would still be relentlessly targeted, and indeed, surrounded on many sides. In an important sense, the US war for regime change is not just directed at Syria, but Russia. It’s not difficult to see that the US/NATO backing of a fascist coup in Ukraine in 2014 was and is another front aimed at Russia. On top of this, Pentagon officials have recently announced plans to deploy 4000 troops, 250 tanks and 1700 pieces of wheeled military hardware to Eastern Europe. It is thought that the Britain and Germany will contribute to these four new battalions. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove is being replaced by US Army General Curtis Scarapotti. Scarapotti reportedly told a US Senate hearing that Russia was displaying “increasingly aggressive behaviour that challenges international norms, often in violation of international law”.
Such rhetoric is scarcely credible. And what should be the response of Russia when NATO essentially occupies Europe? One would think a natural response would be one in which Russia makes every move to defend itself against what could potentially be a dire threat. And this is apparently what has occurred – Russian military troop movements and exercises in the vicinity of the borders with the European countries. Yet the US responds by claiming that the Russian troop movements are “extraordinarily provocative”. The US has sent its troops and advanced military hardware thousands of miles to be stationed on Russia’s borders. In response, Russian troop movements – on Russian territory – are regarded as “extraordinarily provocative”. Welcome to the upside down world of the New Cold War.
Why a New Cold War?
The reasons for the reigniting of the West’s New Cold War against Russia are relatively easy to identify. The capitalist counterrevolution which destroyed the Soviet Union was only the first step for the US. At first, during the 1990s, the US rulers could quite easily work with a pro-US drunkard, Boris Yeltsin. The catastrophic decline in industry, manufacturing, and life expectancy in Russia at that time was largely facilitated by Yeltsin and other oligarchs, who handed US capital, in a financial and political sense, more or less open access. None of this shock treatment had any effect other than to make the dire economic conditions dramatically worse for the majority of Russians. Consequently, Yeltsin and his accompanying “democracy” was almost universally detested in Russia.
Beginning around the turn of the 21st century, the rise of Vladimir Putin and his cohorts saw a vast change in direction for Russia. Putin sought to nationalise some resources, arrested and tried some of the more corrupt oligarchs, and slowly the economy began to pull itself out of the doldrums. Conditions are still not rosy, but by most measures an improvement on the devastation of the 1990s. This is one reason for the popularity of Putin domestically. Another is the fact that under Putin, Russia has sought a path independent of, and not subordinate to, the US behemoth. This alone is enough to enrage the US elite, and they have responded by demonising Putin and Russia itself in endless media propaganda. A string of newspapers and magazines depict Putin as a new version of Stalin.
Yet the more Putin stands up to the US, the more admiration he receives both from Russians within and others internationally, including those who do not at all have left-wing sympathies. The view is prevalent that Putin is a leader who at least, “knows what he is doing”, as opposed to Western politicians who are unable to do anything about their collapsing economies or declining living standards for the majority. Therefore the propaganda of the media scribes in the West becomes ever more shrill, and ever more extreme. In response to some Russian Navy ships sailing in the vicinity of Australia during the G20 Summit in 2014, the Murdoch tabloid the Herald Sun hysterically headlined “The Reds are Coming” complete with Putin in a Navy uniform and a hammer and sickle! Tabloid newspapers in the West are not refined publications admittedly. However the tone of the propaganda was alarming. In fact, one could say that the relentless Western corporate propaganda against Putin and Russia, despite Russia being capitalist for the last 25 years, is a distorted form of anti-communism. It is therefore in the interests of working people to reject it entirely, and seek to combat it.
Of course, working people should not seek to politically endorse Putin, as he is no socialist, and does not seek to lead an anti-imperialist revolution domestically or internationally. The Russian government cannot be extended political support either, as it does contain some particularly objectionable positions, not the least of which is a seeming defence of Zionist Israel. Nonetheless, to the extent that Russia resists the world dominance of the US, and resists the infractions of NATO on its own doorsteps and elsewhere, the world’s workers find themselves in a temporary bloc with the Russian state. Like all political blocs, it not permanent and it is conditional, but for the interim it needs to be real. For example, Russia’s actions in the defence of Syria have arguably prevented a wider regional war. In Ukraine, despite the non-intervention of Russia to back the anti-fascist resistance in Donetsk and Lugansk, the threat of it probably stayed the hand of the US from pushing its proxy ultra-nationalists to wage all-out war on the east against Russian borders. And this is before we even begin to discuss the increasingly independent economic agenda of Russia, in joining forces with rising non-Western nations such as the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
While Yeltsin was pro-US, Putin is not. Putin and his backers seek to protect Russia’s interest not in terms of socialism, but in terms of capitalism. For the US Empire, however, the rejection of socialism in Russia in practice means very little. As Eric Zuesse writes, for the US led West:
“….jihadists are just a side show. The main event is Russia. The end of communism, and of the USSR, and of the Warsaw Pact, doesn’t really make any difference to them. They want the land, and its resources. They don’t care about the people on it – anywhere.”
Moreover, Putin and his cohorts are not willing to subordinate themselves to the US, and are not willing to be controlled by them. Perhaps naively, they may have imagined that the US would welcome them into the family of capitalist nations if they abandoned socialism. Yet this is not the way imperialism works. Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, demands total subservience, which means zero independence. For the Putin led wing of the Russian rulers, this is unacceptable. They believe they have a right to form independent relations with other nations, to engage in trade, cultural and diplomatic relations with any other country, from the first or third world. Yet to even think this, let alone begin to carry it out, is to enrage that entity which arrogates to itself the title of world leader. The fury of the US Empire vents itself in a veritable storm of anti-Russian and anti-Putin propaganda, almost all of which is based on barely concealed lies.
The left and “imperialism”
Many fall for this base level Western propaganda. This is to some extent to be expected, for without significant and strong workers parties in the West, many working people never hear a view opposing the US line. Yet this excuse cannot be claimed by the left parties which exist – for they should know a lot better. Unfortunately, for some of them Russia today is the Soviet Union of yesterday, which even at that time they opposed. Some others hesitate to back Russia out of supposed concern over classic middle class issues such as the lack of “democracy” and limitations on homosexual relationships – as important as these are. Some others subscribe to the absurd theory which claims that Russia is “imperialist”, and is therefore simply competing with the US to divide up the world. All of these positions in the end amount to a capitulation to capitalist propaganda – even if on other issues such groups can see through corporate spin.
The left party Socialist Alternative, publishers of Red Flag, are perhaps the most strident in putting forward the “Russia is imperialist” fantasy. They hold to a type of moral equivalency between the US and Russia, which dates back to their forbears during the 1980s, who proclaimed “Neither Washington nor Moscow but international socialism”. In the same way in which “Neither Washington nor Moscow” in previous decades meant in practice support for Washington, today the “Russia is imperialist” furphy in practice means embracing the US empire, albeit with little conviction. In the case of the proxy war on Syria, Socialist Alternative thus sees the Russian assistance to the Syrian government as “imperialist” intervention. Needless to say, if it was it would be the first imperialist intervention in history where the invaded country issued a formal invitation to its subjugator!
Solidarity, the estranged sister organisation to Socialist Alternative, likewise see Russia as simply a rival imperialist vis-à-vis the US. For them, NATO’s installation of a fascist backed government in Kiev in February 2014 was some kind of justifiable uprising. The real culprit, according to them, is Russian intervention. The “Russia is imperialist” theory immediately paints Russia as world enemy number one, while US imperialism is seen as something minor, or even benign. At times, it even lends itself to covert calls for US intervention. Referring to Crimea’s vote to re-join Russia, which was passed by over 90% of Crimeans, as an annexation (!), Solidarity then go on to lament the lack of action by the US Empire, and their allies:
“The West has denounced Russian intervention in strident terms. But they have been reluctant to take any serious action. Both US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have ruled out sending troops into Ukraine.”
This is because the NATO backed fascists have done the work of imperialist troops! Better to arm proxy forces, even if fascist, than to send in your own uniformed mob. Solidarity here are pining for the West to take “serious action”. It illustrates well the political direction the “Russia is imperialist” theory pushes you – in the direction of the Oval Office in Washington.
The Socialist Alliance, publishers of Green Left Weekly, equivocates on the question of Russian “imperialism”. It appears to be a case of trying to hold on to some fragments of one’s heritage, while also partially chiming in on the anti-Putin/anti-Russia corporate bandwagon. Some of their leading members hold different public positions within the organisation. For example, Chris Slee subscribes to the Russia is “imperialist” theory, while Renfrey Clarke opposes it. Yet Green Left Weekly largely orients itself to real US led imperialism in retrospectively supporting the “independence” of Ukraine in 1991.
Needless to say, what occurred was not “independence” as such, but a capitalist counterrevolution which destroyed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), arguably the greatest setback for the world’s working class to have ever occurred. “Independence” for Ukraine meant the recreation of capitalism, which in turn led to social and economic catastrophe, which ultimately led to the intervention of NATO and a fascist-led coup. In fact, if the USSR had not been overthrown by capitalist counterrevolution, there would be no basis for fascism in Ukraine today. Working people can well do without such “independence”.
The Socialist Equality Party (SEP), to their credit, continually warn about the dangers of a US led war on Russia. Their World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) is full of well researched information on the ongoing military, political and diplomatic brinkmanship and war being carried out by the NATO countries against Russia. They are also skilled at noting how propaganda weapons such as allegations of Russian athletes being on state sponsored doping programs, are used at precise times which coincide with the geopolitical objectives of the US ruling class. They correctly observe that the current unproven allegations against Russian athletes are aimed at getting Russia banned from the Rio Olympics as well as attempting to prevent Russia from holding the soccer World Cup in 2018. However, the SEP in practice are known to be reclusive, and rarely take part in political activity where other left parties are involved.
The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) has quite good positions on the question of Russia and Ukraine, at least on paper. They do stand in opposition to the NATO installed fascist-led government in Kiev in February 2014. They also have defended the right of the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) to operate, and defended them against persecution by the ultra-nationalists – despite some of the actions of the KPU. The CPA noted that the KPU sought governmental and parliamentary alliances not only with Victor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions, but also with reactionary nationalist Yulia Timoshenko, who is now a part of the fascist Kiev junta. However, the CPA, like the SEP, is known for abstention and lack of activity on many fronts, and the anti-war sphere is another one.
One left group which is very active, however, was inactive on the whole question of the US led fascist coup in Ukraine. Trotskyist Platform (TP), which ordinarily puts forward a class struggle perspective on most issues, fell in with other left groups which were paralysed by the events and the aftermath of the events in Ukraine in 2014. The cardinal error which TP commits is that it takes seriously the claim that Russia is “imperialist”. Although, in their lengthy article on the situation in Ukraine, they do not mention the word imperialist in relation to Russia, they do state that Russia is a “rival” to the imperialist West. But for Russia to be any kind of “rival” to the imperialist powers – the US, Britain, France etc. – which are backed by Canberra – it would have to be “imperialist”. But this is plainly false.
This topic would need a separate study in itself. Suffice to say, for Russia to be “imperialist” a number of factors would have to be proven. Firstly, it would have to be proven that finance capital completely dominates the Russian economy. Secondly, it would have to be proven that the Russian state aggressively uses its military power to prize open markets in foreign countries by threats, invasions, occupations and wars. Thirdly, it would have to have a network of military bases in many parts of the world, OR it would have to co-operate its military alongside the United States, Britain, France, Germany and so on. Clearly, none of these factors exist.
Russia’s economy only began to recover from the total devastation of the 90s when Putin and his allies began re-taking parts of it back into state hands. The military conflicts the Russian state has been involved with have been primarily defensive, actions which defended Russia in a territorial or political sense. And in recent times it is quite obvious that Russia is the military target of the US-led West, despite necessary agreed ceasefires where Russia and the US are both militarily active – though for different sides, in Syria.
TP does correctly raise the demand for the lifting of Western sanctions on Russia. However, on other issues such as the US led bombing against Libya in 2011, TP were vociferous in their opposition to NATO. Yet in relation to Russia, their mention of NATO is negligible. In Ukraine, the NATO powers, later backed by Canberra, were instrumental in the installation of a fascist-led government in Kiev. This is while NATO for years has been completing a military encirclement of Russia. In the last couple of years, this military encirclement has pushed the region to the brink of war. The latest US provocation was the switching on of an $800 million missile “shield” in Romania. Just imagine if Russia had moved ANY troops anywhere near the US, let alone surround it, let alone set up missile bases on their doorstep. This is the reality for Russia today. Yet it appears that TP cannot mention NATO’s extremely dangerous provocations against Russia. If they did, it would tend to undermine their claim that Russia is merely a “rival” to the US led West. The reality is that despite Russia being capitalist, it is still enemy number one, alongside Red China, as far as the US empire is concerned. The left needs to defend Russia despite its socio-economic system and despite its political leadership. Working people have a side where Russia defends itself against NATO.
The struggle against fascism
TP seems to view the conflict in Ukraine as one between Ukrainian fascists and Russian fascists, and therefore tries to apply a “plague on both your houses” position, albeit with words backing the Donbass “self-determination” struggle. They raise the reports of attacks on Roma people in Ukraine, and attribute them to what they call the “pro-Russian” side. However, some reports have stated that while some assaults of Roma people in Ukraine were carried out, there is no hard evidence that these were in fact carried out by the “separatists”. It is of course a huge concern that the Eastern Ukrainian resistance included some with pro-monarchist, pro-tsarist and even pro-Nazi political views, in amongst pro-Soviet, pro-USSR, pro-Lenin political views. It is a massive contradiction, born of the rift between the loss of living standards that accompanied the destruction of the former USSR, and the rejection of bureaucratic and politically repressive rule that occurred during those times. In the process of rejecting the lack of workers’ political rights in the former Soviet Union, some turned to nationalism, tsarism and even fascism.
TP is correct to call for a political struggle within the Donbass resistance for the victory of internationalist, pro-working class politics, which overcomes backward political views. Yet the contradiction is that those within the resistance with shady political views are in practice fighting back against US and NATO backed fascism. The principal axis of the struggle there is the one against US imperialism, which in the case of Ukraine is backing real fascism. The resistance in the East of Ukraine was not, as TP claim, one of “self-determination”. The Eastern Ukrainians did not desire self-determination as such – they simply refused to live under a fascist government – and thus were forced to declare their own regional republics. They did this by taking up arms, and with incredible bravery, facing shelling and missiles from the NATO backed Kiev military. The dynamic of the Donbass struggle is overall a struggle against a fascism which hails its origins with fascists who fought with the Nazis in World War II. This is its character despite the presence of some tsarist and anti-Semitic views amongst those who have joined the anti-fascist resistance.
TP is also correct to note that Canberra has played its own role in backing the US/NATO juggernaut in Ukraine, and by extension, Ukrainian fascism. At the time Liberal PM Tony Abbott openly embraced US backed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and jetted to Ukraine to join his “advisory council”. Canberra also blasted Russia, without a shred of evidence, for the downing of Malaysian airlines flight MH17. This appeared to be a part of the US plan to destabilise Russia, by any means. Yet while TP makes muted calls to oppose Canberra’s “meddling” in Ukraine, the best way to do that would be to oppose fascism in Ukraine, while defending Russia against NATO. Yet this is precisely what TP did not, and cannot do. Such actions would undermine its view that Russia is merely a “rival” of the US. And since no one doubts the US is imperialist, labelling Russia a rival is tantamount to labelling Russia as imperialist also. For only an imperialist power can “rival” another imperialist power.
Without formally endorsing the right-wing “Russia is imperialist” theory, TP tips their hat in this direction, placing them in the company of those who they correctly criticise for their opposition to Red China – groups such as Socialist Alternative, Socialist Alliance and Solidarity. They all of a sudden go very quiet with their opposition to NATO, which is marked because they were at the forefront of opposing NATO’s criminal actions against Libya. It is notable that they have also been silent on Russia’s intervention against the US proxy ISIS forces in Syria. Even outright opponents of the Russian state cannot openly disapprove of Russia’s jet fighters taking out the genocidal ISIS mercenaries. If they were consistent, they might claim that such actions were intended as part of “rivalry” with the US.
The moment a left group utters the word “imperialism” in relation to Russia, they are propelled into the camp of NATO, despite their intentions. There is only one imperialism, and it is led by the US. Any mention of Russia as “imperialist” or as a “rival” of the US, immediately lets the US Empire off the hook – its monumental crimes are lessened or forgotten, and it even begins to attract some sympathy – as if it is being targeted by “evil” Russia. Workers can start believing US propaganda about the deployment of huge military arsenals in Eastern Europe as “routine exercises”. US planes on the borders of Russia being warned away can start to be seen as “Russian aggression”. This is how the US aggressor can, through sophisticated corporate propaganda, be seen as “just doing its job”. This is how imperialist wars begin. Left parties, more than others, should know better.
In practice, TP was a part of the left’s silence on the imperialist war provocation against Russia, which included the arming and political backing of fascists in Ukraine. They joined with the Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative and Solidarity in either quietly backing, or attempting to remain neutral, on NATO backed fascists and ultra-nationalists taking power in Kiev. The underlying reasons lay either in original opposition to the Soviet Union, OR, falsely ascribing “imperialism” to the current Russian state. In practice, they meant the same thing – a deathly silence when Russia and the anti-fascist resistance in Ukraine desperately needed international solidarity. At best, at least they did not hail the fascist coup as a “revolution” – despite some of them using this label for similar activity in Libya and Syria. At worst, it meant tacit endorsement of yet another US sponsored effort at regime change – an effort which could have sparked World War III.
No to NATO
The central axis of the West’s confrontation with Russia is the use of NATO, what should be a Cold War relic, to aggressively strengthen US imperialism vis-à-vis Russia. While workers cannot politically endorse the Russian government or the Russian state, workers internationally have an enormous stake in defending Russia against NATO and against US led imperialism. Washington, with Canberra’s backing, seeks the destruction of any semblance of independence from Russia in any sphere – political, diplomatic or military. The world’s workers have a vital interest in pushing back against a rapacious US imperialism, which is lashing out in inverse proportion to its economy’s prospects. The US Empire is prepared to ally with, or arm, anyone – even Nazis – to further its goals.
The main political line in Ukraine for workers is to see the defeat of NATO and its fascist forces. In practice this will mean forming a temporary bloc with pro-Russian forces, but only insofar as they are combating Western aggression. There should be an internal political struggle amongst the anti-fascist resistance for genuinely internationalist and socialist aims. International workers and left parties can assist this struggle by resolutely standing with the anti-fascist resistance against US backed Nazism. Ultimately, there needs to be a political movement for workers’ power and for socialism in Europe and Russia, as the only ultimate prevention of war. Hands off Russia!
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