Russia, China and the USA’s New World Disorder

It is not the business of socialists to help the younger and stronger robber … to plunder the older and over-gorged robbers. Socialists must take advantage of the struggle between the robbers to overthrow all of them.” Lenin [1]

We enter 2017 with international tensions around the world visibly increasing. This, of course is nothing new, even in recent history. Some might dismiss the massacres in Syria, Iraq and Yemen as just the latest examples of the imperialist proxy wars we have seen since 1945. Russia’s installation of nuclear missiles in its enclave of Kaliningrad to circumvent the West’s missile defences now deployed in the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia might be explained as just a necessary strategic adjustment. We might even conclude that China’s island building in the South China Sea is only a minor response to the 400 US military facilities dotted around the Pacific.

What cannot be ignored is that almost a decade after the explosion of the speculative bubble there has been no solution to the global economic stagnation which it provoked. With no economic solution in the offing and with the different problems of the various great powers mounting the way has opened up for new and more desperate political forces to make their presence felt. We can see some of these in the new climate of nationalism across the globe and in the growing number of openly enunciated threats by the great powers on the planet towards each other. Add to all that the fact that we have arrived at a point in history where the greatest power of all on the planet for the last century is facing new challenges to its economic and military dominance not seen since the collapse of the USSR.

Old Wine into New Bottles?

Into this fractious situation steps the maverick macho man Donald Trump as the new President of the United States. There is now much speculation that the world just became a more dangerous place given that the new President has tweeted that he intends to “strengthen and expand (the US’) nuclear capacity”. Interviewed on MSNBC news he cheerfully announced “let it be an arms race”. At the same time he has also asserted that “Our military domination must be unquestioned”. His tone is brash but in reality will his policy stance be any different from previous US Presidents? His campaign for President may have demonstrated a new capacity for invective and disregard of facts but there is nothing original in his main slogans. These come from well-worn Republican themes.

Trump started off with the slogan of Warren T. Harding in his 1920 campaign against the supposed internationalist (but actual racist) Woodrow Wilson. [2] However even this bogus internationalism was too much for US isolationists who refused to join the League of Nations promised in the last of the 14 Points and Harding won the Presidential election under the slogan “America First!”.

Trump alternated that slogan as shorthand for his revival of Reagan’s 1980 election slogan “Make America Great Again”. Trump’s version of “America First” is bad news for the US Western allies (particularly in the EU and NATO) since it comes with the threat that they will have to pay more to maintain US support. But as well as that, the re-adoption of the Reagan slogan has a more menacing ring to it and threatens any perceived rival of the USA. Taken together what Trump’s declared policy amounts to is a rejection of Obama’s pursuit of US imperialist interests via multilateral agreements and the adoption not of isolationism but a strident unilateralism.

For Republican nostalgists it will recall Reagan’s successes in defeating the “Evil Empire” of the USSR. It’s an advantage which they believe subsequent administrations, and especially Obama’s, have frittered away. Reagan, like Trump came to power at a time of great uncertainty for the world’s dominant power. The USA had lost in Vietnam only five years before and the taking of the US Embassy staff in Tehran as hostages seemed a further indication that US power, if not on the wane, was in severe crisis.

It is no accident that the US defeat in Vietnam occurred only a few years after the post-war boom had come to an end. The clearest sign of this was the abandonment of the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement. Under this arrangement, designed to reflect the dominant position of the US at the same time as preventing a repeat of the beggar-my-neighbour currency wars which had preceded World War Two, all currencies were linked to the dollar which in turn was linked to gold. In an attempt to prevent speculation against currency pegs, capital flows were severely restricted.

But by 1971 the US economy was in crisis. The post-war boom had come to an end and the global rate of profit was in decline. Add to that the cost of the Vietnam War and the US found itself simply printing dollars to meet all its obligations. As a result there were now many more dollars in circulation than there was an equivalence of gold in Fort Knox to cover them. With leaders like De Gaulle openly announcing that he wanted to convert all France’s dollar holdings to gold (thus pushing up the price of gold on the free market) a crisis beckoned. It threatened not just the US economy but also its global hegemony. US Treasury Secretary under Nixon, John Connally told an American audience: “Foreigners are out to screw us. Our job is to screw them first.” The answer was the “Nixon Shock”. This meant the abandonment of the dollar’s peg to gold on August 17 1971 and the arbitrary announcement that the US dollar was now ‘fixed’ at $35 per ounce of gold. But there was nothing fixed about this. The US was now at liberty to devalue just as states had done in the past and this should have signalled the end of the dollar’s unique position. However in meetings in Washington Connally told his European counterparts that: “The dollar may be our currency but it’s your problem.” In the bipolar world of the Cold War the US, as leader of the so-called “free world”, could just about get away with this (especially as it controlled appointments to the IMF and World Bank). As a result

… the suspension of convertibility in 1971 was accompanied by bellicose demands that other countries should revalue their currencies so as to eliminate “unfair exchange rates,” backed up by the imposition of a 10 per cent import surcharge until such time as they complied ... The US was, in other words, seeking to pass on the cost of adjustment to other states.[3]

Two days earlier Nixon had announced in a TV address that “We must protect the position of the American dollar as a pillar of monetary stability around the world.” The result was that “_The era of flexible and floating exchange rates that followed the breakdown of the Bretton Woods exchange regime was not really a victory for the principle of national sovereignty as much as a triumph of US financial hegemony.” [4]

Given its dominant role in world trade, the US could now carry on running up trade and budget deficits and pay for them by printing money which the rest of the world would have to take. (The dollar now trades at $1200 per ounce.) Its entire claim to global dominance thus depends on maintaining the dollar as the world’s central currency. This means maintaining the dollar as the trade currency in the sale of such key commodities as oil. All of which helps to explain which wars the US has chosen to fight in recent years. Afghanistan was in some ways an exception since that war was motivated by the response to 9/11 and the refusal of the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden, but not so Iraq and Libya. As we wrote recently,

US intervention in Iraq and later Libya was because Saddam Hussein and Muammar Ghaddafi threatened US hegemony at its most sensitive point – the control of the world’s financial system. Both wanted to use other currencies than the dollar to sell oil. Thus they had to go and the US put together coalitions which either invaded directly or imposed a no-fly zone (again behind the hypocrisy of saving lives) in order to deny the regime decisive air power. [5]

Contrast this with US indifference over the conflict to overthrow Assad in Syria. No “no-fly zone” was imposed on Syria even after it was shown that Assad, with air superiority, had crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons in 2013. In fact the policy decision here was “better Assad than the Islamic State”. They left it to their surrogates in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to arm the jihadists but did little to support the more secular Free Syrian Army. Vice-President Joe Biden revealed US priorities in Syria in October 2014 in a speech at Harvard;

Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. They [Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE] were so determined to take down Assad,” he added, that in a sense they started a “proxy Sunni-Shia war” by pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad.”

Putin’s Historic Mission

Instead the US has turned its air power on the Islamic State [6] which threatens to destabilise the entire Middle East and beyond. The Obama regime’s indifference to Assad’s fate was good news for the Kremlin. From the end of 2015 Putin moved to more open military support for the regime by sending fighter bombers to aid its fight against the rebels (under the hypocritical cover that their target too was IS). By the end of 2016 Assad, who had looked likely to fall a couple of years earlier, was saved. The capture of Aleppo has opened the way for it to move on Idlib and the crushing of opposition near to Damascus. Many commentators have seen Putin’s victory in Syria as a defeat for the US; yet one more indication that the US is in decline as the world’s dominant force. However Syria has always been in the Russian orbit. It houses Russia’s last military base in the Middle East and, at Tartus, the only naval base it has in the Mediterranean. It could be argued that all Putin has done in Syria was to preserve the status quo.

“Preserving the status quo” is one of Putin’s central foreign policy ideas. It arises from his view that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geo-political disaster in history” and he has been determined to reverse the consequences of that collapse.

After 1945 the USSR and its satellites encompassed the one area where the non-convertibility of the currency meant that the dollar could not, at least officially, penetrate. This was one of the bedrocks of the Cold War since the US could not economically prise open the Iron Curtain and was determined to stop the spread of so-called communism which would have denied it further markets and sources of raw materials. The USSR presented itself as the military equal of the West but its command economy version of state capitalism never had the capital nor economic dynamism of the West’s so-called “mixed economy”.

With no worries about spending, the US Government was also able to run up huge deficits without economic consequences at home. By the 1980s the Reagan regime could embark on an all-out arms race. In the attempt to keep up with the USA the USSR was spending 25% of its GDP on the military compared to the US which devoted only 6% of its GDP. It could not keep this up for long.

For the USSR the wheels had visibly started to come off in 1979 when Brezhnev ordered the Red Army into Afghanistan to prop up a Communist Party in power which had just split in two. This was a disastrous gamble and quite alien to the normally cautious foreign adventures of the Stalinist regime. For the US this was a chance to do a Vietnam in reverse. Instead of US bodies coming home it was now Red Army soldiers who were dying against local fighters, supplied and armed by the opposing imperialism and its allies such as Saudi Arabia. This last power also supplied the Salafist ideology which would later morph from the Mujihadeen into the Taliban and Al Qaeda and end up as IS.

By the time Brezhnev died in 1982 the KGB was already leading a rethink. The models they used demonstrated that the USSR could not beat the US in military confrontation on any level whilst the continuing arms race would economically destroy the USSR. Both internal reform, and an end to the arms race, were needed. The head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, succeeded Brezhnev but died before he could carry out the programme. It would not be until his protégé, Mikhail Gorbachev, took over in 1984 that perestroika and glasnost were adopted. Gorbachev would have persuaded Reagan to end the nuclear arms race (at Reykjavik) if the latter’s advisers had not stepped in to remind him that US imperialism was not only winning the arms race but state defence spending was a key element in stimulating the US economy. By this time it was also too late to reform the Stalinist system, especially as the apparatchniki refused to cooperate for fear of losing their privileges. When they attempted a coup to overthrow Gorbachev the USSR imploded and in 1991 the Cold War was over.

Francis Fukuyama, a US State Department official, now announced “the end of history” but Western triumphalism was not tempered with wisdom. In the “New World Order” Russia and the old Eastern bloc countries were devastated by Western economic “reforms”. Then the Eastern European countries were allowed not only to enter the EU but also NATO, so bringing its military to the borders of a Russia which, by 1997, was almost bankrupt. It could not even win a war against Chechen rebels (armed and supported by Saudi Arabia) inside its own territory. There was a serious danger that Russia itself would be reduced to its 17th century borders.

This was the backdrop to the rise of Putin. He is currently reviled in the West for his annexation of Crimea, ‘intrusion’ into Ukraine and the strafing of Syria but his recent successes need to be put in the wider context of relations between Russia and the West since the 1990s.

Putin, who had been a KGB man, was eventually appointed by Yeltsin to head its successor, the FSB. When Yeltsin suddenly resigned in December 1999 Putin became acting President. At the time the collapse of the rouble had produced an economic disaster and corruption was the heart and soul of the system. Putin, however, was lucky as the commodities (oil and gas) boom of the 2000s started to give the regime economic room for manoeuvre. Soon Russia’s economy would be growing at 7% per annum. His foreign policy agenda was clear from the start. He intended to reverse some of the damage done to Russian power since the fall of the USSR.

One of his first acts was to re-launch the war on Chechenya and Dagestan. Yeltsin had failed to crush a Chechen movement in the North Caucasus which was supported by foreign Mujihadeen fighters and Wahabbists (Saudi backed Islamists). After a brutal campaign Putin eventually succeeded in installing his puppet Kadyrov as President and gave considerable autonomy to the region. Over time this allowed Russian troops to hand over to local pro-Russian forces and they still hold a grip over the territory.

Putin’s success where Yeltsin had failed did his popularity at home no harm, but he could not prevent a further series of humiliations at the hands of the West. Whilst he had supported the US over the 9/11 attacks (especially as a “war on terror” was what he claimed to be fighting in Chechenya) this was not reciprocated by the US. The US not only advanced NATO further towards Russia’s borders as its former satellites were fast tracked into the organisation but also unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Russian alarm intensified as the West also supported a series of so-called colour revolutions in the post-Soviet states, the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005. The EU also played its part as, one by one, the old Eastern bloc regimes acceded to the European Union.

The final straw was the Western-orchestrated revolt against the pro-Russian regime of Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine for his failure to accept accession to the EU. The Western-backed Ukrainian nationalists (and fascists) immediately banned the use of Russian and this provoked a response in the Russian-speaking East of the country. Putin was not slow to support the separatists with military hardware and troops but he has not recognised their demand to become a province of Russia as “Novorossiya”. However, what he did do was organise an invasion of, then plebiscite in, the Crimea to prepare the way for its annexation to Russia in 2014.

Russian troops have been ensconced on foreign territory for some time. They already occupy parts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the 2008 invasion of Georgia [7]. Even so the actual annexation of the Crimea [8] was a significant new development in imperialist rivalries. By supporting the overthrow of Yanukovich in Ukraine, the EU and US gave Putin precisely the opportunity he needed to push back against their remorseless drive to the East. The West have responded with sanctions which have undoubtedly cost Russia economically [9] but they have only served to boost Putin’s nationalist credentials at home.

The Crimean invasion has thus raised tensions between Russia and the US in the last couple of years. All cooperation to maintain nuclear safety between them has ceased. Putin has stationed SU-35 nuclear missiles and Kalibr cruise missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad between Lithuania and Poland. The ostensible reason is so that the anti-missile system which NATO proposes to place in the Baltic States and Poland cannot be used to counter a Russian assault. The threat of nuclear war is back and this time the situation is much more fragile. In the Cold War the USSR and USA were both “satisfied” states in the sense that both had emerged as victors from World War Two. They had more to defend and less need to attack. This was why the MAD [10] doctrine worked well, including in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, with the USA fearing relative decline and the Kremlin watching NATO’s advance to its borders, the world is a lot more dangerous place. During the tussle over Ukraine Putin twice stated that he would be prepared to launch nuclear weapons if Russia was attacked. The seriousness of this threat is underlined by the fact that Russia launched a civil defence exercise against any nuclear, biological or chemical warfare attack involving 40 million people in October. It has been checking its old fallout shelters and plans to build underground nuclear shelters for the entire population of Moscow. Perhaps they need to. According to Professors Gordon Adams and Richard Sokolsky in the January 2016 edition of the journal Defense One:

The United States is on the cusp of launching an unnecessary, expensive, and potentially dangerous plan to modernize its strategic nuclear forces helping stimulate what is being called a ‘new nuclear arms race.”

This involves both sides in spending fortunes on the upgrade of their tactical battlefield nuclear weapons. Obama set off a $3 trillion programme for this in his last year in office whilst Putin announced that:

Russia _has to strengthen the military potential of its strategic nuclear forces, especially with missiles complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence system_”

Such weapons can only make the contemplation of a nuclear first use more likely. Both sides have ramped up the posture of threats with thousands of war games being carried out in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as in Russia itself. Russia and the USA possess 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons (7300 in Russia, 7100 in the USA). In nuclear terms they are about equal, which might sound reassuring, but Russia’s conventional forces (despite massive new investment and reform) lag well behind that of the US. This disparity increases the likelihood of the nuclear option being resorted to, as Putin has threatened, if NATO menaces Russian interests further. In the context of global economic stagnation such open threats mean the world has reached a new and dangerous place.

Some might hope that the maverick Trump, with his constant tweets praising Putin (and even suggesting that he would drop sanctions over Crimea if Russia cooperates against IS), might be the man to establish a more amicable relationship and reduce nuclear tension if he thinks there is “a deal” to be done. It would be unwise to count on that. What Trump admires in Putin is that he has apparently succeeded whilst the US under Obama has appeared weak. His unilateralism means that no-one will be allowed to stand in the way of what he sees are the best interests for the US.

And the US best interests are all about the bottom line for a businessman. Indeed he could have taken the obiter dicta from a third Republican President Calvin C Coolidge, who announced in the Roaring Twenties, that “the business of America is business”. Trump does not speak the language of diplomacy. There are no “agreements” or “accords” in his world there are only “deals”. If we look at who he has appointed to his administration he has chosen the biggest load of billionaires and millionaires ever from Wall St (which he was supposed to hate) including a large number just from Goldman Sachs [11]. These are hardly “outsiders” and there is not much sense of change here. What one observer noted is that Trump

“… is a New York City businessman with interests around the world, wholly divorced from any structural conception of allies, friends and foes. In this, he is very much like Rex W Tillerson, chief executive officer of ExxonMobil and Trump’s choice as secretary of state. For both men, the world is a vast competitive jungle, with opportunities and perils everywhere, irrespective of any government’s presumed loyalty or hostility to Washington.” [12]

Add to that the fact that Trump’s nominees don’t all share his enthusiasm for Russia. Mike Flynn, the nomination for National Security adviser is in favour of a “deal” with Russia. However Tillerson (who got a medal from Putin in 2013) told Congress that “Russia still presents a danger” whilst the nomination for Defence Secretary James Mattis described Russia as “the chief threat to US security”. These are closer to traditional US Republican postures. The unpredictability of what comes next only adds to the sense of insecurity as we kick off 2017.

The Awakening Dragon

And whilst the Trump Administration policy towards Russia is unclear, the same can hardly be said about China which he has highlighted throughout his campaign as the greatest threat to US interests. His claim that China “rapes our country” and his threat to impose massive tariffs on Chinese imports, was repeated by his nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. China, he said, had fallen short of their commitments in economic and trade practices, stolen US intellectual property, been “aggressive and expansionist in the digital realm” and provided empty promises that it would press North Korea on nuclear weapons. [13]

With his “pivot to Asia” Obama has not exactly been ignoring the rise of China both economically and militarily. However this seems only to have revved up the arms race in the Pacific even more. In 2013 we could see that in response to US threats the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was abandoning its former (successful) reliance on developing “soft power” as its chosen imperialist strategy [14]. A new “White Paper” in 2015 fully committed China to the path of military (particularly naval) expansion. This has been accompanied by an appeal to Chinese nationalism [15] and particularism.

China is currently building six large amphibious transport docks and a new class of amphibious assault ships, new aircraft carriers (it only has one at present), and advanced guided missile warships as escorts for far seas operations by China. Add to this the nuclear-powered, diesel electric and air-independent powered submarines which were recently deployed to the Indian Ocean to support Chinese anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. With two new nuclear-powered Type-093 submarines being added to the six it has already, China will become the third most powerful state for attack submarines, behind the United States and Russia by 2020.

To complete its logistics network, China’s military is also building new fuelling ships and will have 10 by 2020 as well as long-range drone aircraft, space-based sensors, and shore-based radar and intelligence-gathering ships. [16]

China is also converting some of the commercial bases (the so-called “string of pearls”) it has developed along Southern Asian shores (in particular Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka) into military installations, as well as a new military base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa. Taking advantage of the economic weakness of many of these countries it either makes financial offers they cannot refuse or threatens to withdraw from other economic activities to get control of the ports. This approach even enabled them to purchase the port of Athens, Piraeus, for $450 billion from the cash-strapped Syriza government in Greece. For the first time ever the Chinese Navy will have a place to dock in the Mediterranean.

On top of this the building of seven islands in the South China Sea are all part of the process of claiming most of the sea as Chinese territorial waters. They also offer 3200 acres of permanent military bases to ensure that the “nine dash line” on the map to underscore Chinese claims is defensible. When Trump took the call from the President of Taiwan China retaliated on 9 December 2016 by flying a Xian H-6 nuclear capable bomber down the entire length of the “nine dash line”. If Tillerson’s blunt declaration that:

We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed” [17] is not just rhetoric, then confrontation is unavoidable and imminent.

Dangerous Times

It is not just a sign that the stakes are being upped in the Pacific. It is also the end of the era in which the US on one side, and China and Russia on the other, simply manoeuvred by trying to create international bodies to exclude each other from specific areas of the globe. Initially China was just as suspicious of Russia as it was of the US but since Obama’s “pivot to Asia” this is now a thing of the past. The twenty year old Shanghai Cooperation Council set up between Russia and China and other Asian states could now be the basis for something more substantial between the second and third largest military powers on the planet. China needs energy security (it imports 60% of its needs) and if the US prevent it coming by sea then getting gas and oil pipelines from Russia, Central Asia and possibly Iran is the easiest solution. It could be the material basis for the strengthening of this axis. In 2016 China sent a top general to Syria to discuss with Russian counterparts and China openly came out in support of the Assad regime for the first time. Previously, whilst it had often aligned with Russia in using its veto against US proposals in the UN, it had never committed itself to more open cooperation with Putin. Now it sees his victories in Crimea and Syria as something of an inspiration.

Paradoxically Trump’s erratic unilateralism might also be another short term gain for China. His declaration that his first act will be to pull the USA out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will kill it. This will give China the possibility to draw erstwhile US allies (such as Australia and India) into its rival Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This only serves to demonstrate that unilateralism which shows contempt for friend and foe alike can only create more instability and uncertainty in an imperialist world beset by economic woes.

This is particularly the case with the EU and NATO. The EU’s own independent imperialist ambitions have foundered since the bursting of the speculative bubble. Trump hates all trading blocs and sees the EU only as such (one which he forgets has been very good for US capital) but it remains to be seen whether his attacks on these bodies, so long central to US interests are no more than bluster intended as an opening gambit in negotiations. Certainly he would be in contradiction with his own Secretary of State-designate and the majority of the Republican establishment.

Trump’s unilateralism thus poses a variety of threats. There was a consensus during the good years of post-war capitalism that “beggar-my-neighbour” policies and protectionism not only undermined world trade but also by blaming “the other” created the psychological and ideological climate for war. But with the continuing stagnation of a capitalism in crisis, with Keynesian and ‘post-Keynesian’ solutions to getting out of a slump not working, the way is open for infantile imperialist posturing to take centre stage. Whilst Japan and South Korea lament the new US policy as likely to undermine their security [18] others, like Duterte in the Philippines, hope to be able to take advantage of it by playing one side against another as some states did in the Cold War.

Back in 2013 we wrote that

“The imperialist moves we are seeing today are, barring accidents, unlikely to have immediate consequences in 2013. China and the US still have much mutual interest in muddling through the crisis but the problems both face in a variety of areas mean that any rapprochement is difficult. With China’s growth now not considered capable of meeting its needs as an economy which can provide more jobs (Cambodia can offer wage rates of one sixth of China’s but lacks the volume of workers with the same skills as in China) the tensions will be racked up. The US too has its problems. Leaving aside its enormous debt burdens, and its incapacity to deal with its fiscal crises, its manufacturing base now accounts for only 9% of its GDP and 25 million Americans are incapable of finding a decent job. All this creates pressure for more economic protectionism. At the highest levels there is no real dialogue between the US and China. The leaders exchange platitudes about mutual benefits from China’s growth whilst the military on both sides have no dialogue and are known to be preparing war plans against each other.”

In 2017 we find that, not only are the same problems still there, but we are no longer just talking about unconnected regional conflicts. From Kiev to Kyoto there is a massive struggle for power going on across the Middle East and Asia which is increasingly seeing the world line up behind either the US and the West, or China and Russia. It is unlikely that China and Russia would initiate a direct confrontation. Even with the 25% cuts Obama made in the US budget in his final years the US still spends $600 billion a year on defence. Russian has only just reached £100 billion and China has just about reached $200 billion.

There are other factors in this imbalance. The United States has 737 military bases (not counting other military installations) in over 150 countries deploying at least 230,000 troops supported by another 2.5 million personnel. Moreover these are troops who are combat trained in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places. Russia’s troops have relatively recent experience in Chechenya and Georgia, not to mention Eastern Ukraine. China, though, last invaded another country, Vietnam in 1978 and the People’s Liberation Army was soundly beaten. To redress the balance China has volunteered 27,000 troops on UN “peacekeeping” missions in the last 15 years.

In short only the US is capable (still) of fighting a war on more than one front but China and Russia are devoting vast resources to be in a position to defend their regional interests. There is no predicting where this latest version of US unilateralism will take us. All we do know is that the world economy is limping along. If “capital must expand or die” the system is getting close to needing life support. Our conclusion remains the same as we wrote in Imperialist Rivalry in the Pacific in 2013.

The need for global capital to engage in a massive devaluation (even greater than the banking write-offs we have seen in the last 9 years) of capital ensures that the crisis behind it all will not go away. At some point one of the major players in all this will be faced with a situation where it sees a tipping point beyond which its interests can no longer be defended. It may be over energy or food security or something else, and it may not come soon, but given the nature of capitalism (which despite globalisation) has never passed to that happy state of cooperation so expected by Kautsky, come it will. The only force which can stand in its way is the collective internationalist might of the world working class everywhere. ‘Socialism or barbarism’ remains our slogan.”


15 January 2017


  1. In “Socialism and War” Collected Works [Moscow 1964] Vol. 21 p. 303
  2. Wilson was greeted in Europe at the end of the First World War as the man of peace. Ironically he too has used the slogan "America First" in his presidential campaign to keep the US out of the war in 1916 but then reneged on this in 1917. Harding's adoption of the slogan may have been as a pointed reminder of Wilson's broken promise. His 14 Points issued in January 1918 were claimed as the blueprint for a new capitalist era. The truth was somewhat more complicated and a lot less idealistic. Wilson only issued his 14 Points after Lenin and the Bolsheviks had issued their own peace call “without annexations or indemnities” in the wake of the October Revolution. It threw the gauntlet down to the imperialist powers by appealing to their own workers to bring the war to an end if diplomacy would not. Wilson issued his own 14 Points in order to head off any propaganda gains the Bolsheviks might make amongst the Allied populations.
  3. From
  4. loc. cit
  6. For the analysis of how US policy led to the “unintended consequence” of the formation of the Islamic State see
  7. See
  8. See
  9. Russia’s economy shrank by 3.7% in 2015 (largely due to the collapse of the commodity boom) and was one of the worst performing in the world as the rouble fell to a record low against the dollar.
  10. Mutually Assured Destruction.
  11. After criticising Clinton during the election campaign for her ties to the banking firm!
  12. Le Monde Diplomatique January 2017
  15. This has been the case ever since the Tienanmen massacre in 1989. Chinese schoolchildren are fed a lot on Japanese atrocities in the 1930s and 40s both to whip up patriotic fervour and justify the CCP’s rule.
  16. From the annual report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission See
  18. Japanese Prime Minister Abe was the first foreign leader to visit Trump to seek assurances about his policies. As Japan has already been building up its armed forces and Abe is said to want to alter the Constitution to free them for more than just defensive duties, Trump’s policy pronouncements are not all bad news. After years of promoting good relations with China, South Korea is supposed to be deploying the Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense (THAAD) system. This is supposed to be defence against North Korean attack but the range of its operations mean it can also act as an early warning system against China. China has threatened a series of economic measures against Korean imports (Trump has no monopoly on such threats) and the South Koreans paralysed by the crisis involving its President are dithering over whether to go ahead.
Friday, February 3, 2017


This is an excellent article, obviously based on long and careful study of the history of imperialism and it leads to important conclusions. Elsewhere we have been reminded that the words socialism and communism have been used interchangeably or as of equivalence, also that so-called communism wasn't real communism. The trouble is that whilst today's Stalinists disagree, and thousands of those workers who survived to the time of Gorbachov regarded communism as being just as it seemed to be at the time, from which the Berlin wall prevented them from leaving it. Although in west Berlin four eastmarks were being issued for one westmark, the overall lack in the east of the consumer goods in the west was a considerable factor in influenceing workers' opinions, and still does, even though assertions of full employment and construction of housing, free education and health services are advanced to counter what is not only bourgeois propaganda against 'communism' of those days. Today whilst all the evils of capitalism is repeatedly being explained and experienced worldwide, workers mostly are wary of any sort of re-run of 'socialism' and 'communism as so far experienced. It is unfortunate from that situation that the two words are still being used in marxist propaganda. What is now needed is clarification as to just what is being proposed by the communist left and other like-minded workers, not just in terms of grandiose perspectives based on tenets such from each according to his work, to each according to his need, but some very clear ideas as to how production has got, yes, got to be organised after capitalism and after money. Until that is made clear, we are left in a realm of terror of capitalism, hopeful wide but vague aspirations and because of so much uncertainty, an easily held if wrong view that the whole communist perspective, with the exception of the support class struggle, is moonshine. Yes replace capitalism by what the world needs, but for enough to want that, the what now, and how, needs to be spelt out. A bridge to the future needs plans.

OK KLZ, what plans do you think would be useful for "A bridge to the future"?

It is hardly surprising that the class adversary takes great pains to present the revolutionary project in a negative light.

Equally, we rarely brim with enthusiasm for the many twists and turns of the ruling class narrative.

Giving up on vocabulary like socialism/communism/proletarian semi state/workers' councils/dictatorship of the proletariat/ is not really solving the problems we face. The real issue is lack of sufficient class struggle in which to make the case for revolution and this is not in our hands. The inertia which yearns for comfortable sleep is possible so long as capitalism can provide a material underpinning. Where that is no longer the case, where the harsh reality of the struggle for getting by outweighs the desire to sleepwalk through life, then we may get a response beyond the current inadequate minority.

We can talk about expropriating the capitalist class and planning production based on needs, but it is like planning your retirement before your first job. Conditions are likely to change beyond anything we can predict, detailed blueprints are not possible in advance. Build the party, fight the attacks, create autonomous workers organisations, such are the tasks we can see.

PS The ICT sometimes talks about accepting the initial congresses of the Comintern but regarding the initial Lenin quote of the article, it has to be remembered that Lenin did advocate supporting the national bourgeoisie of the colonies and I wonder if this contradicts the idea that we can support the second congress of the Comintern...please clarify if I am wrong.

"The early Communist International took great interest in attempting to forge close connections with anti-colonial movements. In stark contrast to the social-chauvinism that characterized the Second International, the Second Congress of the Comintern in July 1920 clearly stipulated:“Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its ‘own’ country, must support – in deed, not merely in word – every colonial liberation movement [and] demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies….”

“Terms of Admission into Communist Internation". It seems to me that we cannot really support the Comintern second congress except in part.

Schless, like you, I don't have any, that's the trouble.

Having attempted to describe some of the problems of extending marxist consciousness in present conditions, it is disappointing to be dismissed by stevein7 as 'the class adversary'! Maybe he would like to inform us of the extent of actual experience he might have had of workers' jobs ? After telling us that 'conditions are likely to change beyond anything that we can predict, detailed blueprints are not possible advance',he goes on to advise 'build the party' etc. But then readers will know that ICT is not the party. If I might be allowed by the editor to mention a party which seems to have quite a lot of support by workers in the USA and has some lines of policy very similar to ICT, then stevein7 might look at icwpred on the web, despite criticism of it which seems to me to be unjustified.

KLZ - to check out some of the jobs stevein7 has done in the past just look at our forum thread "Shit jobs". He has a wider work experience than almost anyone I have known over the last 25 years. Argumentum ad hominem is never a good idea (especially when you know nothing about the "hominem").

KLZ, I am not sure why you assume the class adversary is you! I had in mind the bourgeoisie.

Thank you, Jock, but it's a long time since I learned any Latin.

Ah so.

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