One Year Since the Invasion of Ukraine: On the Road to World War Three?

Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency.

One year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nothing has happened to in any way change our view that this is more than a war over Ukraine. It is the next step in the growing imperialist rivalry for economic control of the resources of the planet which capitalist production has so degraded over the last two centuries. It is a real step towards generalised warfare to add to the myriad of conflicts which have already created 100 million refugees across the world. We predicted in December 2021,(1) if Russia did invade Ukraine, that it would be no cakewalk. Indeed this latest crisis arose because the West was already arming and training the Ukrainian Army to the point where it was looking capable of re-taking Donetsk and Luhansk which pro-Russian forces, with a little help from their friends in the Kremlin, had occupied since 2014.

One year on, the estimate is that Ukraine has suffered 100,000 military deaths whilst officially something like 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have also died. The Russian Army has lost 200,000. These figures may not be precise but they are indicative of the scale of the human loss. On top of that, 17 million Ukrainians have become refugees (about half of them displaced within Ukraine and half fleeing abroad). Ukraine began the war as one of the poorest in Europe (its per capita GDP was around the same as Paraguay) but now its economy has been all but destroyed. It will take years and a lot of international aid to rebuild it once the war is over.

Hardening Alliances

But that is a remote prospect right now. There is no room for compromise on either side as the talk is increasingly only of defeat or victory. At the recent Munich Security Conference,(2) China called for an end to the war in a negotiated settlement but this fell on deaf ears. China, of course was only defending its own interests in this proposal. Although they have “a partnership without limits” with the Kremlin, and have thus refused Western demands to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they are not, yet, in so desperate position as Russia that they need to take up arms. China has a lot more to lose for a start, and may yet lose much in the coming years in terms of trade given that economic sanctions are a weapon of war against all the states that the capital-rich West opposes. The Chinese plan for peace was thus received with much scepticism by the West who know that any “peace” they would negotiate would leave Russia in control of chunks of Ukraine. Just like a previous Munich Conference where Mussolini acted as an “honest broker” to deliver Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to Hitler.

However Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, did underline one thing. The West, or “some forces” as he politely put it, was not interested in peace because they had "bigger strategic goals than Ukraine." He did not elaborate but everyone knew he was referring to the US, whose top officials Biden and Blinken rarely talk about the war in Ukraine without reference to the threat posed by China. A whole series of top US ex-generals and admirals are making a second career for themselves predicting that China will invade Taiwan in 2024, 2025 or 2027. In May 2022, Blinken announced in a speech on the Ukraine war that “China is both the only country with the intent to reshape the international order and increasingly the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do it”. Apart from the US of course, but then they created the current “international order” as Pax Americana in 1945.

The US seemed to have finally triumphed when the USSR collapsed in 1991. Yet paradoxically this started to undermine US control as allies were no longer disciplined by the certainties of the Cold War. Moreover, the economic contradictions of capitalism, which had brought down the USSR, continued to eat away at the so-called “free world” – above all, the fall in the rate of profit, the root of all the contradictions and upheavals of the capitalist order. The bursting of the speculative bubble in 2007-8 only exacerbated the crisis as states took on unparalleled debt to save the banks. The consequence of that has been austerity for the working class and a gradual decline of investment especially in social and material infrastructure that is now visibly collapsing. Little wonder that Pax Americana has been looking even more shaky over the last few years. Trump threatening US allies he would pull out of NATO, unless Europeans paid more for defence, only added to a series of debacles for the US military from Somalia and Iraq to Afghanistan.

The war in Ukraine has reversed all that. Germany has been forced to abandon the Ostpolitik it has pursued for years but now, at great economic cost, it has bowed to the US line and begun building facilities to store LPG (mainly from the USA), instead of relying on Russian gas and oil. It now requires a dramatic economic shake-up to match its new-found political decision to send arms to a war zone. At the same time Finland and Sweden are applying to join NATO – making the very encirclement of Russia, which Putin feared so much that he felt compelled to engage in this adventure in Ukraine, even tighter.

Towards World War

Even Macron of France could recognise, at the Munich Security Conference this February, that the war in Ukraine is not “only a European war”. He was aiming his remarks at delegates from the so-called “Global South” who were less than enthusiastic about NATO support for Ukraine “until victory”. Some were demanding more aid and investment in peaceful projects in their states. Macron must also have raised eyebrows amongst delegates from ex-French colonies when he denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “neocolonialist and imperialist”. What makes it more startling is that French troops have just been booted out of Mali and the Central African Republic to be replaced by the gangster militia of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Brigade. It is now openly recognised that this militia, filled with criminals from Russia’s gaols, is an arm of Russian imperialism and receives arms from the state. Russian imperialism has thus joined China in making inroads into Africa, often by claiming they too have been the victims of imperialism in the past. And as if to underline this, South Africa’s navy has joined the Russian and Chinese navies in ten days of exercises off its Kwazulu-Natal coast coinciding with the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

In fact, many states in the Global South don’t buy into the NATO narrative that this is all about Russian aggression. Last October, 143 countries supported a US-backed resolution in the UN declaring Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory to be illegal but 35 others did not. Some of these states are less beholden to the US than in the past and also remember that the UN did not condemn the US/UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 as illegal because no-one actually proposed a similar resolution.

However Macron is right – this is already a war beyond Europe. Not only has it consolidated the incipient alliance that Russia, China, Iran and Belarus were developing together but it has altered the entire perspective of all the great powers. One of these are the persistent warnings, from the EU and the US alike, that if China supplies Russia with weapons then it will be a “red line” or a potential “world war”. Zelensky himself after Munich stated that “my hope is that Beijing will maintain a pragmatic attitude, because otherwise we are risking World War Three”.(3) The amount of weapons and ammunition that has been consumed in this single year has revived arms production everywhere. Previously in the post-Cold War world arms production facilities were being gradually reduced but now the genie is out of the bottle once again. The war in Ukraine has already depleted so much weaponry and ammunition that all the major arms producers are running to catch up. The “military-industrial complex” once denounced by Eisenhower has never gone completely away but will now be back with a vengeance. Once these weapons production lines are up and running they will take on a momentum of their own and we will once again witness the same kind of arms race that preceded the two previous world wars. And just to underline this point, Putin in his two and half hour speech(4) to commemorate the anniversary of the “special military operation” has pulled out of the START talks intended to maintain a limit on the number of nuclear weapons produced (whose main rationality was economic as you can only destroy the planet once and they already have enough to do that).

Capitalist Democracy v. Capitalist Autocracy

But perhaps the most potent weapon in the arsenal of the West is propaganda. Putin’s regime makes it an easy target. A killer of dissidents and journalists at home and abroad he has become a “useful idiot” for Western imperialism. Not only can the West paint Russia as the aggressor (despite the fact that they have broken every promise they made that NATO would not be extended to Russia’s border) but they can also claim, as Biden has, that this is an existential war between democracy and autocracy. The aim here is not so much about this war, but preparation for the war to come which will be waged on workers everywhere. Whilst Putin can only appeal to Russian nationalism in the crudest way (in his speech on the anniversary of the start of the war he made much of the fact that gays are no longer persecuted in most of the West, which in his terms makes it tolerant of “paedophilia”, unlike macho Russia). This is a constant trope of Russian nationalism which we have encountered ourselves in discussions with so-called Russian “internationalists”. The West of course will also play the nationalist card, but they also know that fighting for “King and Country” (as in World War One) has its limits these days. Much better to find a good cause which seems unimpeachable like "anti-fascism" (as in World War Two). But as both sides claim to be fighting fascists on the other side, Biden used his Warsaw speech to say that “the world” (aka the USA and NATO), by helping Ukraine with military and other assistance, stood up for sovereignty and democracy (even if Ukraine, which, like Russia, is near the top of the global corruption league, has hardly been a model of democracy). The world is now in an existential contest and freedom and democracy is winning. He asserted that "democracies in the world have grown stronger, not weaker. The autocrats in the world have gotten weaker, not stronger."

Well no-one likes autocrats but what is this democracy they are now preparing us to die for? It is as Lenin wrote in The State and Revolution: a fake democracy, a democracy “for the moneybags”. Under modern financial capitalism parliament is just a fig leaf to hide the charade where those who have the money can create lobbies, pressure groups, etc. to buy influence and get the legislation they demand either stopped or enacted as it suits them. Russia and Ukraine are not the only states run by and for “oligarchs”. It is blatantly obvious in the USA where “pork barrel” politics has dominated the political scene, but it is also to be found in Britain and the EU as recent scandals have demonstrated. In the USA, since the current downward part of the cycle of accumulation began (and forced the dollar off the gold standard in the 1970s), the top 1% have seen their control of wealth balloon from 35% to 70%. In the same period the working class in the richer countries has seen its share of GDP drop by around 10%. When they ask us to die for “the country” or “democracy” they are asking us to die for the system that exploits us. They are asking us to die in defence of their property since they own most of every country. The war in Ukraine is already playing a part in the further fall in living standards via shortages and inflation but it will be nothing to what we can expect as the war generalises. And that is why the fight for our living standards has also to become a fight against the drive to war.

No War but the Class War

This is why we in the ICT have given our support to the idea of No War but the Class War. We have laid out the five basic principles that the first group formed was based on. These are:

  • Against capitalism, imperialism and all nationalism. 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.

As we said last March we do not expect to get an instant and massive response to No War but the Class War for several reasons. The fall in living standards that the working class has endured has come about via a massive restructuring exercise forced on the capitalists by the crisis of the fall in the rate of profit which brought an end to the post-war boom. This restructuring disorganised workers in the richest capitalist countries and broke up many of the industries they worked in. The result was the fall in workers’ wages we highlighted above. In addition, new work practices and new types of contracts have made life more precarious for many. It will thus take some time before workers everywhere recover their confidence to fight back. There are already plenty of signs of it across the world, including in the UK and USA. At the moment, most of these struggles are within the union framework (i.e. within the legal framework of wage bargaining the state will tolerate) but the crisis is not only getting worse, the signs are that the system is running out of palliatives. In such conditions we need to keep pointing out that there is no money for wage rises but plenty is being sent to fight the war in Ukraine.

And we need to campaign around it now. Once an imperialist war starts, the first casualty may be the truth, as the cliché has it, but the second are its opponents. As in every previous war the freedoms we enjoy today will be removed and those that campaign against the war will either be drowned out or end up in gaol (as some in Russia already are). We need to get the message across before we are gagged or forced underground. Right now we must call on workers everywhere to desert the war front and offer what assistance we can to deserters, strikers and refugees.

At the moment most of our energy has to go into convincing potential supporters that this is not just a war about Ukraine. Even some internationalists who have taken up solid class positions don’t fully accept our perspective about where we have arrived at in history. We are not saying global war will happen this year or next but capitalism is on an unavoidable path which will eventually take us there. We must not get into sterile polemics with them as has happened so often in the past. The situation is now too serious for that and our efforts must be concentrated on building opposition to global war.

Our political fire needs to be turned on the real enemies of the working class starting with those that call for defence of one side or another in this imperialist war. We, and others, have already exposed(5) these defencists so we don’t have to repeat those criticisms here. At least these openly state their position. There are however others who adopt the slogan and symbols of No War but the Class War but are in fact using it to cover their own agenda. Sometimes this is of a radical reformist type that has no intention of addressing workers everywhere. We have already had to distance ourselves from such “activists”. Even worse are those who use the slogan No War but the Class War but it has no relation to the actual political content of what they say next. One of the worst in this respect is the declaration of a “No to Imperialist War” conference in Rome on 16 October 2022 which appeared on the Pungolo Rosso(6) website. Ostensibly internationalist, you have to read this “anti-imperialist” declaration to see that whilst they criticise Russia it is never described as “imperialist”. An examination of the participants reveals that they are Stalinists with a certain pro-Russian nostalgia. The bedrock of internationalism is that we have no countries to defend anywhere. Democracy or autocracy may sound different but they are both emanations of the capitalist system. It is a system in deep crisis which requires another massive devaluation of capital, the extent of which can only be achieved in the massive destruction that a world war can bring.

No War but the Class War groups will rise or fall with the rise and fall of the struggles that break out. It is not only an initiative for the here and now but an orientation for the whole period to come. And if total opposition to capital does not finally arise in the age we have now entered, if there is no mass class movement against both exploitation and war, based on independent organisations like strike committees and councils, if no authentically revolutionary political organisations are formed to unite the international working class in overthrowing all states, then the fate of humanity would be sealed. The fight for a different world begins now.

Internationalist Communist Tendency
24 February 2023


No War but the Class War committees have been formed in the UK, Italy, France, Turkey, Canada and the USA. More are in the process of formation and support has been given from many other countries. If you want to be put in touch with anyone who may be interested where you are then write to us and we will relay the message to the nearest supporters.

(1) Ukraine and Taiwan: Flashpoints in an Uncertain Imperialist World




(5) The War in Ukraine, the Working Class and the Future International and British Anarchism Succumbs to War Fever


Further ICT articles on the Ukraine War not already referred to in footnotes:

Russia's Annexations in Ukraine are Another Step Towards Global Imperialist War

War in Ukraine: The Other Attack on the Working Class

The Ukraine War is a War Against Workers Everywhere

War in Ukraine: No War but the Class War!

The War in Ukraine Opens the Way to Global Imperialist Conflict

Friday, February 24, 2023