Revolution or War n°20

(February 2022)

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Crisis and Perspective of Generalized War? Only One Answer: Proletarian Internationalism

The past two years have been especially grim for the working class. Based on estimates of excess mortality attributable to Covid, 20 million people have died from the disease in the almost exactly two years since the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization in February of 2020 (as of February 13th, the 95% confidence interval is 14-23.1 million) [1]. During this time, inequality has risen risen drastically as the ten richest people on Earth have doubled their wealth [2]. So obscene is the present accumulation of wealth that the International Monetary Fund has warned of the prospect of mass unrest as one of the principal drivers of instability in the coming years. These capitalist technocrats articulate this concern from the standpoint of the implications it will have for continued capitalist accumulation, not for any humanitarian reasons.

This is useful context for understanding the ideological role played by the populist right, which denies the reality of the pandemic and opposes vaccination and non-pharmaceutical interventions in the name of individual liberties. These are the same elements for whom the American Occupational Health and Safety Administration [3] would be an example of tyrannical overreach. They would like individual capitalists to be as unrestrained as possible in their pursuit of profit. Therefore, they naturally oppose any restrictions on gathering in indoor commercial venues as well as any mandatory vaccination policy for workers in crowded, poorly ventilated workplaces. We have to be clear that vaccination, as well as non-pharmaceutical interventions – like improving ventilation and mandatory masking to reduce transmission of respiratory infections, or improving drainage to prevent standing water to reduce incidence of mosquito-borne diseases – are not a question of individual choice. Epidemics and pandemics of all kinds are a social problem that can only be dealt with socially. On the other hand, by denying the very reality of the Covid pandemic, this right-wing populist ideology serves to allow the capitalist class to wash its hands of the social murder for which it bears sole responsibility.

In the context of this socially explosive situation and the irreconcilable class antagonism that determines it, the leaders of two of the leading imperialist powers, the United States and Russia, openly discuss the prospect of world war. It hardly needs to be said that such a war would almost certainly result in a nuclear confrontation and mutual ruin. The consequence would be catastrophic; a genuine population bottleneck from which humanity would not recover for decades, in the most optimistic case. We are very far from the conditions of WWI, when the pace of war was relatively slow and when military operations were based on trench warfare and waves of infantry advancing under cover of artillery fire. War between states today is fought with combined arms and relies on air superiority, electronic warfare and overwhelming firepower. If such a war were to be fought by nuclear powers, say a hypothetical war between Russia and NATO, whichever side was in danger of losing the conventional fight would likely resort to the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield or against the airbases of the opposing side. Once this rung on the escalatory ladder is reached, few military strategists think that the result would not be a nuclear holocaust.

Russian Iskander Mobile Missile Launcher. From Kalinigrad, they can can strike Berlin for example.

This is why the current crisis concerning Ukraine and NATO’s eastward expansion is so dangerous. It is not so much that this particular crisis is likely to be the immediate catalyst for WWIII but that the crisis has the potential to result in a consolidation of mutually antagonistic imperialist blocs. If the US successfully goads Russia into attacking Ukraine, for example to prevent the pro-Russian regions of Donbas being overrun by the Ukrainian armed forces, the US will be in a position to demand the western European economies disentangle themselves from Russia. If Russia is cut off from being able to sell their hydrocarbons in US dollars, it will be forced even more into China’s orbit, just as western Europe will be forced into greater dependency on the US. This dynamic explains the difference in tone between the US/UK and Germany/France in regards to the Ukraine crisis, the latter having a lot more to lose should crippling economic sanctions be introduced against Russia. This is not, however, the whole picture.

Proletarian Internationalism against Imperialist War

The only response the working class can give to the prospect of generalized imperialist war is a generalized struggle for its own immediate and historical interests. Indeed, there is no opposition between immediate and historical proletarian interests. The historical role of the proletariat as the revolutionary subject is a function of the proletariat’s immediate condition under capitalism as an exploited class.

Concerns relating to cost of living are top of mind for working class people around the world. In the US, workers on average lost purchasing power despite wages nominally increasing. The situation is similar in many parts of the world, including in the UK where there have been protests against the rising cost of living [4]. Despite being organized by a Labour Party affiliated pressure group, this is indicative of the growing discontent fuelled by rising living costs. The loss of purchasing power combined with increased national insurance costs could lead to a further 30% of UK households being unable to buy basic essentials [5]. The situation is not better in Russia, where household disposable incomes are lower by an average 10% compared to 2013 [6]. Yet, predictably, this real problem – literally a matter of life and death for many people – is all but ignored in the media. Instead we are subjected to an incessant chorus of warmongering propaganda. Proletarian internationalism is not an abstract principle to uphold faced with the threat of war. It is the revolutionary policy that corresponds to the immediate needs of billions of people around the globe.

Workers must rally in defence of their class interests. The mass strikes in Iran and Kazakhstan, despite their considerable limitations, indicate the way forward for workers in the capitalist metropolises. The conditions are ripe for mass strike in the main powers. Already, an international dynamic – still limited – of workers’ struggles and strikes, particularly in the United States, is emerging. These strikes mainly aim to respond to the reduction in purchasing power by demanding higher wages. The stage is set for a desperate class struggle, which will decide whether we will move towards world war and barbarism or towards worldwide proletarian revolution.

Revolutionary minorities have a responsibility to begin building the skeleton of the future international. This will inevitably entail a process of debate and clarification as diverse currents consolidate into a genuine world party of the proletariat, in a dynamic process that is also heavily influenced by the development of the working class struggle. It is historically unprecedented that an International would form on the basis of a single revolutionary current. This does not mean that we simply ignore the real differences between currents but that we debate them and clarify them through praxis, through verification in the class struggle. The contemporary revolutionary organizations are not monolithic. Pretending that they are is to obfuscate the real divergences that exist within these organizations and is objectively a sectarian obstacle to regroupment.

A little more than 100 years ago, revolutionaries who would go on to form the Third International had many important divergences but they shared certain fundamental political positions. Foremost among these were proletarian internationalism, revolutionary defeatism, as well as the role of leadership of the party in the working class struggle and in the dictatorship of the proletariat. While many of the questions, such as on unionism and parliamentarism, have been settled by history, the above three fundamental positions continue to be a sensible basis for international regroupment. They are certainly not the only important positions but they are fundamental.

The stakes could not be higher and the formation of the main tool of the proletariat’s emancipation, the international revolutionary party, on the basis of the principled unity of revolutionaries around the world is becoming an increasingly urgent necessity.

Revolution or War, February 13, 2022