No War but the Class War Meeting in Glasgow

The document below is based on the introduction to the meeting the CWO held in the Red and Black Clydeside Bookfair on 7 May 2022. It was an inaugural event in Glasgow and though in a very central location on Sauchiehall St, the numbers in attendance were not great. The CWO was the only organisation which was holding a meeting on the current war but it was timed to coincide with the ACG (one of the anarchist organisations which had also taken an internationalist position on the war) meeting. This robbed it of some possible support and the attendance was only just over a dozen. Those who came were either pacifists or largely anarchist supporters of Ukraine. Some were motivated by humanitarian horror and others by the idea that Ukraine was an innocent victim of Russian aggression. One person announced herself as a trade union organiser from Bulgaria. The latter piece of information was intended to demonstrate that as someone from Eastern Europe she had particular knowledge of what was going on in Ukraine. This particular knowledge was that “the working class in Ukraine had ceased to exist” because its Left was divided between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian factions. She therefore considered that internationalism was simply a luxury for those in the West and the only thing that could be done was to oppose “Putin’s aggression”.

A CWO sympathiser pointed out to her that there were others from Eastern Europe in the meeting (indeed about a third of those present) and that she was no more capable of speaking for Ukraine than anyone else. The key question was not to give in to nationalism but raise the banner of internationalism in order to show workers that there was an alternative.

Some anarchists in the audience, putting aside the vision of a stateless, classless global community they professed to share with the CWO, considered that supporting Ukraine was supporting an anti-fascist cause. They simply refused to accept that the likes of the Azov Battalion were not only neo-Nazi in origin but financed and armed by the Ukrainian state. They were basically taking their view from some anarchist groups in Ukraine who maintain the myth that there are militias defending themselves without defending the state.

What they all lacked was any idea that this was a dress rehearsal for a wider war and that Ukraine represented all our futures. We were not surprised by the responses. We are not yet in an all-out imperialist confrontation and in past imperialist conflicts workers have only begun to resist war once the material reality of its consequences have been experienced. We thus don’t expect to win people over to our perspective immediately but know what our challenge is, as the first sentence of this talk stated.

Internationalism and the Ukraine War

The invasion of Ukraine is a decisive turn in imperialist relations but most people do not seem to have grasped this, as the attendance at this meeting seems to confirm. The war over Ukraine has not come out of a clear blue sky. It is the consequence of a series of contradictions which have been building up for half a century.

Let’s start by explaining how we got to here. Since the post-war boom came to an end in the 1970s the global capitalist system has tried various policies to kickstart capital accumulation. These have allowed it to manage the downturn but have not solved it. Ultimately the system needs some mechanism to devalue existing capital in order to start a new cycle of accumulation. And the previous crises of the last century were only overcome by a global war which destroyed a lot of capital.

This decline of the cycle of accumulation has however taken much longer to work out than in the nineteenth century. When post-war boom ended the first trick of the capitalists was to attack workers’ wages via inflation. This went on throughout the 1970s and early 1980s (and once again is now coming back to haunt us). When that came up against stiff resistance the bosses turned to restructuring production by writing off capital in the West in order to invest massively in Asia and Latin America. Cheap Chinese goods partially compensated workers in the advanced capitalist states for the fall in real wages – something that has been continuous since 1979. Then of course various states, but especially the US and UK, decided to remove all banking regulation to allow the financial sphere to speculate on all kinds of activities. This led to an enormous speculative bubble which burst in 2007-8. (1) Once again though the working class paid for this capitalist crisis with “austerity” whilst the bankers were bailed out by states everywhere because the alternative was the complete collapse of the system.

And moving production to China lengthened supply lines and increased energy consumption thus contributing to further intensify global warming and climate change. Right now, in Ethiopia and Somalia, 20 million people face starvation in the face of a drought so long and unprecedented that not even camels can survive. And the final consequence of this economic crisis is the rise of China and the threat to US hegemony.

US Hegemony and Western Hubris

For the US the key to their power still lies not just in the fact that its military spending is equal to the next 14 next biggest spenders on the military in the world, but is also due to the dominance of the dollar in world trade. 80% of all transactions use the dollar, and the US banking system holds the dollars of many states. It allows them to starve Afghan people by not releasing the Afghan national treasury to the Taliban and it allows it to impose sanctions for every action it deems a threat anywhere in the world. It enables it to force European firms to toe its line. Something people in Iran know all about. And sanctions against Russia have been a major cause of the current conflict.

When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the USSR Russia, on the advice of US economists, adopted Western free markets overnight. It led to the collapse of the economy and the ruble, and to general impoverishment whilst those with the right connections made billions and became oligarchs. At the same time the NATO powers extended their reach towards Russia although promising several times under Clinton and other Presidents that they would not bring NATO up to Russian borders. It was after all “the end of history” for the Western “democracy” (read “imperialism”) and it concluded in their victory so why not cash in?

Some warned against that. George Kennan, the inventor of the US policy of “containing communism” after 1947, before he died, warned in an interview in the 1990s that any extension of NATO would only create resentment in Russia, and there would eventually be a price to pay. But Western hubris did not stop. Putin came to power in 2000. He was appalled by the fact that the USSR had meekly surrendered without firing a shot, but his first steps were to secure the loyalty of the oligarchs (by gaoling Khordokovsky and exiling Berezovsky, the others got the message that they had to cooperate with the Kremlin). He then reduced Grozny to rubble before installing his own puppet Kazyrov in Chechnya. For the next 14 years the price of oil and gas (and hence Russia’s main source of income) went up. It helped consolidate the Putin regime. Meanwhile NATO in 2004 reached Russia’s borders when it incorporated the 3 Baltic Republics. NATO was now a 2 hour car drive from St Petersburg.

2004 also saw the beginning of the fight over Ukraine, with the Western backed Orange Revolution which ousted Yanukovich, the pro-Russian winner of a rigged election. Aided by the CIA and US Republican Party-backed organisations, a pro-Western regime under Yuschenko was installed in Kyiv. But here came a difference with Russia. Whilst Putin tamed his oligarchs, the Ukrainian ones were all rivals for power. They fell out over who should control the spoils of the state, allowing Yanukovich to be re-elected in 2010, this time in a fair election. He had though promised to join the EU (though not NATO) but when he reneged on the EU agreement in 2014 the pro-Western factions (with help from their friends in the US etc) organised the Maidan. After an attempt at brutal repression, the democratically elected Yanukovich fled, and the pro-Russian elements in the Donbas not only got Russian help, but Russia itself re-took the Crimea (which had been given to Ukraine by a decree of Khruschev in 1954, something Putin always claimed was illegal). Putin and his siloviki had been cautious until 2008, but after defeating Georgia (another potential NATO candidate) in South Ossetia, and after saving Assad and Russia’s last warm water port in the Mediterranean in Syria, the Russians felt that they were at least stronger on their own borders. NATO’s ignominious retreat from Kabul can only have encouraged the Russians to think that there was a weakness they could exploit.

However what really tipped the balance in Ukraine was the amount of military aid being shipped by NATO to Ukraine. And when Ukraine deployed some of these to the Donbas, where 14,000 have been killed in 8 years of continuous fighting, the balance of power began to alter. The Russian response was to threaten full invasion unless there was a declaration of Ukraine’s neutrality. The bluff did not work, and the lack of real preparation for an invasion was confirmed by the performance of the Russian army, which we predicted last November (2) would find it difficult to defeat a re-organised Ukrainian army with NATO supplied weapons. Instead the Russians have lost over 20,000 men already and resorted to the same tactics used in Grozny and Aleppo to destroy the civilian parts of cities. This is what modern imperialist war is about.

Internationalist Responses to the War

The horror of war in Ukraine has provoked a number of responses. It’s good to see that all the organisations of the Communist Left have in one way or another come out clearly against the war in Ukraine in defence of the workers who are its principal victims. (3) This cannot unfortunately be said for all anarchists, some of whom have gone in for defence of Ukraine under the myth that the local militias are independent of the state. On the other hand the Trotskyists, Stalinists and Maoists, who we call the “the capitalist left”, either continue to argue that Russia is not imperialist, or like most Trotskyists still cling to the “lesser evil” argument to support one side or the other.

One anarchist organisation which stands out as internationalist is KRAS, the Russian affiliate of the IWA. On the day after the war began they were quick to recognise that this was the product of the capitalist class on both sides. We quote:

The ruling elites of Russia and Ukraine, instigated and provoked by world capital, greedy for power and bloated with billions stolen from the working people, came together in a deadly battle. Their thirst for profit and domination is now paid with blood by ordinary people – just like us.

More than that they also recognise how serious this war is for humanity as a whole. Whilst the immediate cause of the war is:

the struggle of the ruling classes of the countries of the former Soviet Union for the division and redistribution of the "post-Soviet space",

It is also part of the

larger-scale and global contradictions, and the struggle for world domination between NATO, led by the USA and China, challenging the old hegemon and fastening its "little brother" in the Kremlin to its chariot. Today these contradictions give rise to local wars. Tomorrow they threaten to turn into a Third Imperialist World War.(4)

This is the key issue. For all we know we may already be in the early stages of that Third Imperialist World War.

The fact that no negotiated settlement was possible before the war means that a quick negotiated deal is not on the agenda now. Hence this war will linger on. According to documents held by journals like Foreign Affairs the US is quite happy for this to happen as a long war under sanctions will only further weaken Russia and the economic impact will turn the population against the regime. All the indications are that this is a pipe dream but it is very dangerous. Nearly 20 years ago Putin called the collapse of the USSR the greatest geopolitical disaster of the last century. He could not understand why it had abandoned its imperialist position without a fight. His KGB boss Andropov did understand, writing that the arms race Reagan started was not a prelude to an attack on the USSR but would crush it economically. Now Putin is in a position of power he is facing exactly the same pressures but does not want Russia to go down without a fight. His threat to use nuclear weapons at the beginning of the invasion was not an idle one. And when the French defence minister reminded Putin that NATO was also a nuclear power we had tit for tat threats of nuclear war for the first time in 60 years. Russia is now completely being forced into a Eurasian bloc with China both countries facing economic aggression from the USA in the shape of sanctions. Given that Russia’s GDP is not much more than Italy’s it is particularly vulnerable.

The war in Ukraine has also been good for the USA, in that previously reluctant NATO partners are now upping arms spending and decoupling from oil and gas trade with Russia, Russia in its turn is selling cut price oil to China which can thus boost its own economy. What the war in Ukraine has made abundantly clear is that the world is dividing into two armed camps, one headed by China, the other by the USA. And even if this war ends with some kind of settlement (which is increasingly unlikely) it will only set the scene for the next round of imperialist murder. The world capitalist crisis has not gone away and none of the actors have much room for manoeuvre except in trying to assert their interests above others. Now NATO is bribing politicians in Finland and Sweden to campaign for their inclusion in NATO whilst war mongering British politicians like Truss and Elwood are calling for the defeat of Russia, and its removal from Crimea.

Workers everywhere will be the main victims either by reduced living standards, which we are seeing already with galloping inflation around the world, or by being pushed into fighting and dying for their bosses’ interests. There must be no support for any side in this or any other imperialist war (and today all wars are the product of imperialism). However our call is not a pacifist one. Imperialist war is a form of class war against workers.

This is a war on multiple fronts against all workers and threatens the future of humanity. But we can resist. Attempts to defend our living and working conditions can sow the seeds of a wider movement which recognises that capitalism – the current system of production characterised by the existence of private property, wage-labour, money and states – is the source of the problem. We have to pose the social question and the possibility of creating a society where production is according to need, not profit, a global commonwealth where states and borders have disappeared, where independent organs created by the working class can begin to collectively address the problems facing humanity.

No War but the Class War

So what is to be done? Well we don’t think any one group can change the world and certainly not those who don’t attempt to work within the wider working class. This is why we have called for revolutionaries everywhere to set up NWBCW committees. We have already suggested on our website the basic points on which we could come together in an anti-war movement which is anti-capitalist. These are:

  • Against capitalism, imperialism and all nationalisms. No support for any national capitals, “lesser evils”, or states in formation.
  • For a society where states, wage-labour, private property, money and production for profit are replaced by a world of freely associated producers.
  • Against the economic and political attacks that the current war, and the ones to come, will unleash on the working class.
  • For the self-organised struggle of the working class, for the formation of independent strike committees, mass assemblies and workers’ councils.
  • Against oppression and exploitation, for the unity of the working class and the coming together of genuine internationalists.(5)

One of our first tasks is to report the scattered anti-war actions so far: protests in Russia, soldiers disobeying their orders in Ukraine, refusals to handle shipments by dockers in the UK and Italy, sabotage by railway workers in Belarus – these actions, based on an understandable revulsion to the situation, need to take on the working class perspective to be truly anti-war, and avoid them being used by one side or the other. Support for Russia or Ukraine in this conflict means support for war. The only way to end this nightmare is for workers to fraternise across borders and bring down the war machine. We will be telling them not to buy into nationalist propaganda. We have to organise with an aim to disseminate the internationalist message to those who will be the likely victims before we are overwhelmed by another wave of war. We need to find ways for internationalists of all tendencies to work together. In 1943 our ancestors founded the Internationalist Communist Party in Nazi occupied Italy in the middle of the Second World War. They denounced both sides as imperialist and called on workers to “desert the war” on both sides. It cost them the lives of several comrades at the hands of both the Gestapo and the Stalinists who were intent on restoring Italian capitalism. We have now entered the early stages of a new global conflict but our call remains the same.

With these points we have worked with others to set up "No War but the Class War" committees around the world to extend the message in every way possible. The first group was formed in Liverpool a few weeks ago and since then their message has been picked up by comrades across the world going from Korea, via Turkey, Brazil, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Italy, Canada to the United States as well as other places. If you are interested in getting involved leave your email and region and we will try to put you in touch with others who may be thinking along the same lines. Let’s fight the only war worth fighting – the one that puts an end to the system that brings such death and misery.


(1) There are literally scores of analyses of the operation of the world capitalist system on our website but perhaps start with this one:


(3) This article refers to a good summary of the positions taken on the war up to mid-April by Controverses. It can be found at



Tuesday, May 24, 2022