IBT identifies subsidies for neo-colonies as proof of ‘Russian imperialism’
In a 10 July 2021 statement, published in response to the intrusion by British destroyer HMS Defender into Russian waters off Crimea, we commented:
“Marxists recognize the inalienable right of Russia (as well as Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other non-imperialist countries being bullied by the UK/US or other NATO imperialists) to vigorous self-defense against military threats from land, sea or air.”
We criticized the bloc of Pabloites and other self-proclaimed “Trotskyists” (including our former comrades in the International Bolshevik Tendency [IBT]) who refuse to endorse the incorporation of Crimea into what they characterize as “imperialist” Russia, despite the overwhelming approval of the residents of the territory. We observed that:
“Yet unlike actual imperialist powers, whose predatory relationships with colonies or semi-colonial countries centre on pumping value out of them, Russia’s weak capitalist class has not invested in establishing factories, mines or plantations; nor have they undertaken to build the transportation infrastructure—railway, ports, canals etc.—necessary to exploit such assets. In fact, rather than economically exploiting its dependents and allies in the Commonwealth of Independent States (all former Soviet republics), the Kremlin has been subsidizing their economies by supplying energy at prices substantially discounted from current world market rates.
“To our knowledge, none of the assorted impressionists and ‘Marxist’ muddleheads who so glibly proclaim Russia to be ‘imperialist’ have made any serious attempt to explain exactly how this is supposed to work. The economic inputs/subsidies are certainly no secret. In 2014 (13 March), a few weeks after the U.S.-engineered coup which brought down Yanukovych, the Washington Post reported:
“‘Consider also that Russia’s “friends” have proved expensive. Moscow’s closest ally, Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus, gets about $7 billion a year in fuel subsidies and as much as $2 billion a year in Russian loans and grants. The two tiny client states that Russia took from Georgia after the August 2008 war, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have received more than $1.8 billion in Russian direct investment and $800 million in “private” investment from Russian state-controlled companies. Add in eastern Ukrainian provinces and allied Central Asian states, and Russia could be on the hook for $12 billion in annual subsidies.’”
On 30 January, during a Zoom meeting the IBT held to discuss recent developments in Ukraine, our comrade Alan Davis criticized their impressionistic notions about “Russian imperialism”:
“Firstly, on the issue of Russia’s supposed imperialist nature: until Ukraine recently chose to end direct natural gas imports from Russia a few years ago they were getting a subsidy on those gas imports which was greater than the FDI [foreign direct investment] from Russia that Jordan referred to in his presentation. This reduced gas price (33 percent below world market rates) was part of the debt relief package alongside a direct payment of $15 billion from Russia.
“Now you might say this was a kind of loss-leader in a special case for Ukraine, except that as a general rule Russia provides gas at subsidised prices for its near-abroad neighbours, which the IBT describe as Russian neo-colonies. This is not the action of an imperialist state.”
Alan was reiterating points we have made before regarding the tendency of those ostensible Marxists who consider Russia to be imperialist to avoid the tricky issue of the subsidization of supposed neo-colonies. Josh Decker, one of the IBT’s leading comrades, took up the challenge and addressed the issue head on:
“Alan talks about reduced gas prices for Ukraine, and in fact Russia offering this to its neo-colonies and its periphery. Alan says that this doesn’t seem very imperialist. I would actually turn that around on Alan: what neo-colonies do you know of that routinely offer discounts on its main export commodity to poorer countries around the world? It would seem to me that only an imperialist country could routinely do this as a matter of policy in order to bring in these countries into its sphere of influence. So I think that’s a point that actually works against you.”
Comrade Josh is entitled to his opinion, even if its sounds like something from the satirical Onion (aka “America’s Finest News Source”). As we are quite sure he had no comedic intent, we are struck by the idealist, rather than materialist, flavor of his argument. For our part, we are happy to cling to the old-fashioned Leninist view that imperialism, at its core, involves advanced capitalist countries extracting value from more backward, colonial and semi-colonial dependent ones, not subsidizing them.