On RedMed’s ‘International Anti-Imperialist and Anti-War Declaration’
On 25-26 June the BT participated in an “Emergency International Anti-War Conference” initiated by the Christian Rakovski Balkan Socialist Centre and RedMed. On 27 June, immediately following the conference, the organisers circulated a proposed draft declaration based on the opening remarks of Savas Michael Matsas requesting that participating organisations: “Please send us your comments, agreements, disagreements, amendments etc. to be able to publish it as soon as possible as Declaration of this important event.”
The BT’s main speaker at the conference commenced his address the previous day as follows:
We are one of very few groups claiming the mantle of Trotskyism which favour a Russian military victory over the US/NATO and its Ukrainian proxy. Russia is not an imperialist power—and for decades it has been threatened by the NATO imperialist alliance. While many tendencies on the left wing of contemporary ostensible Trotskyism are prepared to call for the defeat of the US/NATO/Ukraine coalition, few are prepared to take sides. Most tend to treat the two combatants as qualitatively similar.
We do not shrink from stating clearly that a Russian military victory would be in the interests of the world’s workers and oppressed—despite the fact that the Putin regime is politically and socially reactionary. The fundamental issue in this conflict is Russia’s right to resist imperialist encroachment—strategically Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is essentially defensive.
We sent the following commentary on the proposed draft declaration:
The Bolshevik Tendency broadly agrees with the essential characterisation of the war as outlined in the draft statement circulated by the organisers of the 25-26 June emergency conference. We recognise the urgent necessity to struggle to ‘stop the imperialist war drive to global annihilation turning it into revolutionary struggle for universal emancipation, world Socialism.’ As Marxists who favour the military victory of one side (Russia and the Donbass republics) we cannot, however, describe our attitude to this conflict as “anti-war” because we only wish to see this war end after a Russian/DPR/LPR victory.
We fully agree that Russia is not imperialist and that to describe it as such contradicts the socio-historic content given that term by Lenin. We further endorse the statement’s observation that:
“A military victory by US/NATO led imperialism against Russia today (and China tomorrow) will be a catastrophe not solely for the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and of the entire Eurasian region reduced into fragmented semi-colonies but for humanity as a whole. A decisive strategic defeat of world imperialism, on the contrary, not only will advance the world struggle against capitalism and imperialism but it will create the best conditions to defeat capitalist restoration as well.”
We also agree that genuine socialists cannot “be ‘neutral’ or ‘equidistant’ in the on-going military conflagration that started in Ukraine,” but wonder why the obvious corollary is not explicitly stated, i.e., that class-conscious workers should adopt a Russian defensist position. Asserting that the world’s workers and oppressed have an interest in a Russian military victory over NATO and its Ukrainian proxy may run counter to prevailing attitudes among many layers of the population where we are active, but, as Trotsky observed, revolutionaries have a duty to “tell the truth” to the masses, even when it is unpopular.
We look forward to the day when tens of millions of international proletarians are sufficiently politically conscious that the imperialists must carefully weigh each reactionary adventure or provocation against the risk of setting off a wave of revolutionary struggle. With our very modest forces we seek to work toward that day; and we celebrate the small but politically significant examples set by the heroic Italian and Greek workers who blocked NATO weapons shipments destined for Ukraine.
We were pleased when the DIP’s [Revolutionary Workers’ Party] leading cadre, Sungur Savran, in response to an inquiry by our comrade Hans-Peter Breitman, told the conference that you do indeed stand for Russian military victory. We note, however, that we have not seen this position stated explicitly in any of the statements of the Christian Rakovsky International Socialist Center. We believe that Russian defensism is the sharpest way for revolutionaries to draw a “line of demarcation” in this conflict from the various attempts of pseudo-Trotskyists to give their neutrality a “revolutionary defeatist” cover.
The tasks of dual-defeatists are of course very different from those of Russian defensists. For example, we oppose the strikes by Belarusian railway workers aimed at impeding the delivery of arms and equipment to Russian troops—whereas advocates of dual defeatism would necessarily endorse such actions.
Our call for a Russian military victory in Ukraine does not imply a shred of political support to Vladimir Putin’s bonapartist regime or the oligarchs it serves. We pose it in the same fashion that Trotsky called for military victory for the Kuomintang against Japan in 1937:
“We never denied the necessity of a military bloc between the CP and the Kuomintang. On the contrary, we were the first to propose it. We demanded, however, that the CP maintain its entire political and organizational independence, that is, that during the civil war against the internal agents of imperialism, as in the national war against foreign imperialism, the working class, while remaining in the front lines of the military struggle, prepare the political overthrow of the bourgeoisie.”
—Leon Trotsky, On the Sino-Japanese War, 23 September 1937
In addition to the question of Russian defensism, we have several other concerns with the statement. The first is that we do not consider it accurate to describe the 6 January 2021 events in Washington DC as a “fascist coup.” Instead, at the time we observed:
“The storming of the Capitol, spearheaded by fascist elements and enabled by a suspiciously minimal police presence despite the well-advertised prospect of an aggressive protest, did not amount to an attempted fascist coup….It is unclear to what extent the various organized fascist elements had any serious expectation of being able to charge into the Capitol.”
The evidence that has emerged since has not revealed any serious preparations were made by the fascist elements for gaining access to the Capitol building, nor did they have much of a notion about what to do once inside. It was an anti-democratic riot incited by “a racist, misogynistic narcissist with bonapartist tendencies,” but, unlike the Maidan insurrection of 2014, it was not a coup.
A more substantial issue is the suggestion that there is an equivalence between Russia and China in terms of “restorationist regimes.” In our view there is no “process” of capitalist restoration underway today in Russia—the degenerated Soviet workers’ state was destroyed in August 1991 when the capitalist restorationist forces, led by Boris Yeltsin, triumphed over the decrepit remnants of the CPSU “hardliners” as we described at the time (see: Soviet Rubicon & the Left: Three Days in August and ICL/LRCI: False Assertions and Foolish Consistencies). Putin’s regime does not represent a Stalinist caste, but rather the gaggle of corrupt billionaire oligarchs who sit atop the Russian economy. Kremlin ideologues instrumentalise Soviet nostalgia only for the purpose of evoking Great Russian national chauvinism. In China, by contrast, Xi Jinping heads a bureaucracy whose power is still fundamentally derived from the collectivised property relations. In recent decades China has astounded the world with its unprecedented rate of industrialization, capacity to successfully weather global economic turbulence and the dramatic improvement in popular living standards via successful poverty reduction programmes (see: The Myth of Capitalist China).
US imperialism’s provocations in Ukraine are, in part, aimed at neutralizing Russia to facilitate future efforts to overturn the ruling Stalinist caste in Beijing and restore capitalist rule. The Chinese Communist Party is not restorationist as such but, as Trotsky observed of its Soviet analogue, it is a bureaucracy within which “all shades of political thought are to be found,” including overtly pro-capitalist advocates of counterrevolution. The task of revolutionaries in China, where the commanding heights of the economy remain collectivized, is to lead a political revolution to shatter the grip of the CCP and replace its political monopoly with the direct rule of workers’ councils. In Russia the task is to smash the existing bourgeois state, re-nationalise the entire economy and on that basis restore the exercise of workers’ power as in the early period following the October Revolution.
Despite these significant differences, we appreciated the opportunity to participate in the recent conference and look forward to working together on issues where we share common ground in the future. We would hope that such activities may result in, or be accompanied by, fruitful political exchanges that might lead to a closer political convergence. As you may know on Mayday our comrades in London and Toronto marched with (a very few) others on the basis of the following common slogans: “Down with NATO’s proxy imperialist war in Ukraine,” “US/NATO war drive vs. Russia/China hurts workers everywhere” and “Russia has the right to defend itself against imperialist encirclement.”
Perhaps in future we will be raising these or equivalent slogans in common with the comrades of the Christian Rakovsky International Socialist Center and other conference participants—thus being able to act together despite being separated geographically. Combining joint actions around a few clear slogans—for example during the proposed protest outside of NATO’s headquarters in Brussels—with serious political discussion and debate may offer the possibility of making progress in the struggle to crystallize a future international revolutionary tendency. We hope you agree that it is far better to seriously explore areas of agreement and, particularly, outstanding differences than to project a level of political agreement which does not (yet) exist. Only by seeking to resolve, rather than paper over, significant differences can we make serious progress toward the rebirth of the Fourth International. In Trotsky’s memorable phrase revolutionaries must always be prepared to put “Programme First!”
—Bolshevik Tendency, 28 June 2022