May Day 2023: There is no "Right Side" in an Imperialist War, No War but the Class War!

2023 May Day Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency

The continued existence of capitalism demands an increasingly higher price. Whether through rapidly rising living costs, rising interest rates, collapsing banks, environmental disasters, or on people who are forced to flee for their very survival. Half a century after the end of the post-war boom, the capitalist system threatens to drag humanity into an abyss. The war in Ukraine not only demonstrates that an “international peace and security order” does not exist, but is a terrible confirmation that the only solution to capital's pursuit of profit is to plunder and destroy the planet. Only the working class, the class that generates the wealth of the world with its labour power can prevent this. But this is only possible if that class is able to come to a recognition both of the destructive force of the wages system and its own potential collective power.

How Did We Get Here?

The economic boom that followed the Second World War was supposed to be evidence that henceforth capitalism, and its pursuit of profit, would guarantee a world of growing peace and prosperity. Despite the huge expansion of shoddy consumerism (in the West) nothing could be further from the truth. In the early 1970s, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall reasserted itself and the Bretton Woods system, which was meant to guarantee the rule of the dollar and Pax Americana, was abandoned (1971-3) as a result of the economic crisis which ensued. In a previous epoch this situation would have led directly to world economic slump and major imperialist confrontation. Instead, the world’s rulers have gone from one expedient to another to avoid a depression of the 1930s type. In the process, the USSR collapsed and with it any lingering illusion that its system of state capitalism was any more progressive than anywhere else on the planet. At the same time governments in the West denationalised loss-making industries and encouraged ‘private capitalism’ (i.e., big business and multinationals) which restructured and farmed out production to areas of cheap labour, like China. This has only drawn out the crisis and allowed the contradictions to stack up. De-localisation of industry from capitalism’s Western heartlands to low wage areas only led to the rise of an imperialist rival in a China developed through the vicious exploitation of wage labourers there. One of the main consequences has been the reduction in real wages of most workers since 1979. At the same time, the deregulation of finance has not only led to the rich getting richer but also to massive speculation which did not end with the collapse of the bubble in 2007-8. Today, the richest 10% of people in the world take 52% of all income. Or, put it another way, around 55% of the world’s population survives on 1.3% of the total wealth of the world. Not even the COVID pandemic stopped the accretion of more and more wealth in ever fewer hands (and in fact accelerated it). The “oligarchs” are not just to be found in Eastern Europe – they hold the levers of power everywhere.

Meanwhile, where war and ‘natural’ disasters haven’t already destroyed people’s dreams, like ambitions of steady professional careers and a secure future, these things are increasingly making way for insecure and precarious (aka “shit”) jobs. Psychological problems are on the rise as the gap between media-fed dreams of instant happiness and the real capitalist world becomes a yawning chasm.

The Ukraine War

Now we are 15 months into a brutal war in Ukraine. But this is not just about Ukraine or Russia. This is the first step on the road to a wider war. What the population of Ukraine is suffering today is what we all face tomorrow. And today both Russian and Ukrainian workers are suffering death at the fronts to defend what? The property and interests of their oligarchic cliques. For our rulers, defence of “the nation” makes sense since they own and control its means of production. For the rest of the population, imperialist war means the loss of home and livelihood and for many, the loss of life itself.

Of course, the propaganda machines on both sides are working flat out to convince us that we should die for “our” country. On the Russian side the denunciation of the treachery of the perfidious West, which has broken every promise not to bring NATO up to its borders, is matched only by its twisted portrayal of the “paedophile” West as decadent for recognition of LGBT+ rights. But then “family values” has been a stock in trade for Russian nationalism since Stalin revived them. On the other side, Putin has been a propaganda gift for the US and its allies. After years of poisoning, killing and jailing opponents, at home and abroad, it is easy to portray his invasion of Ukraine as the act of a megalomaniac. Add to that the brutal Russian strategy (starting in Chechnya and perfected in Syria) of destroying everything that cannot be taken, which has only fed into the Western narrative that this is not a war between Western hubris capitalising on the fall of the USSR against Kremlin revanchism, but one of “democracy” against “autocracy”. The war crimes committed by the US and UK in Iraq or the NATO bombings in the former Yugoslavia are now long forgotten.

Imperialist Confrontation

The outbreak of war in Ukraine has marked a new step towards capitalism’s ‘final solution’ to its economic crisis: general imperialist war. We don’t know when this will erupt, but where conflict was previously limited to economic sanctions and trade wars, the Ukraine war is a step towards direct violence between the major powers. The US and its allies may not be actually sending troops into battle against the Russian forces, but the amount of Western weaponry deployed in Ukraine not only provoked the Russian invasion but has made a material difference to the outcome. More fundamentally it has started an arms race. NATO has already sent so many weapons and munitions to Ukraine that they have now discovered their reserves are nearly exhausted. Weapon production lines which have lain dormant for almost three decades are now being turned back on. New investment has had to be made to get them up to scale. Arms spending was already on the increase after the Russians took back Crimea in 2014, but within a few months of the Ukraine war starting, global military spending passed $2 trillion for the first time with at least 60% of it in NATO states. Of the top military spenders in the world, the US still spends more on arms than the next 9 states put together but all plan to spend more. Germany, which has pledged €100 billion to “military modernisation” since the war started, has overturned its long-standing position of refusing to sell arms into a war zone. Military budgets are increasing everywhere, and this new arms race is an irrevocable step towards a wider conflict.

If that were not enough, the war has further deepened the division of the world. The globalisation (i.e., expansion of Western finance capital into new spheres and hyper-exploitation of cheap labour on capitalism’s fringes) of the last three or so decades is now in reverse gear. Protectionism is on the rise, notably in the US where Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) involves massive state subsidies to new ‘green’ businesses to promote the US position and undermine China in the ‘green technology’ race. On the military front, whilst Sweden and Finland seek NATO membership, Russia, China and Iran are being driven ever closer together to evade Western sanctions and give each other military and economic assistance.

The US ruling class may be bitterly divided on just about everything, but the one point of convergence is China. US hegemony since 1945 saw off the USSR but China represents a much more serious threat. The USSR relied only on military power, but China also has enough economic power to become a threat to the central plank of US hegemony – the still mighty dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The dollar still dominates but it has been in decline for two decades. And the war has done more to undermine it than all the cheap Chinese commodities did during peace. Today more countries are reducing their dollar holdings and others have stopped using it as either a reserve or trading currency. Even US ally Saudi Arabia trades oil for renminbis. It should come as no surprise, then, that Blinken and Biden rarely make a speech without pointing to the greater threat posed by China whether via its technology (Huawei and TikTok) or its threat to Taiwan. Indeed, a whole slew of US generals and ex-military men are currently competing to predict precisely when China will invade Taiwan, giving dates that range from 2024 to the end of the decade.

China has long openly stated its goal was to supplant the US as the world’s superpower by 2049 (a century after the Chinese Communist Party drove the US ally, the Kuomintang, on to the island of Taiwan). Retaking Taiwan has always been a stated goal of Beijing. China has generally been less aggressive than other US rivals as it has carefully built up its economic power, but the global capitalist crisis has not spared China either. It is now bailing out its banks (already reeling from a burst property-boom bubble) as various parts of the infrastructure of the Belt and Road Initiative have turned out to be white elephants. Now, Chinese rhetoric is beginning to match that of the US, especially since the US (which already has some 400 bases with 300,000 troops and 60% of its navy in the Pacific) has built a series of anti-Chinese alliances across Asia. Although the second military power in the world (apart from in numbers of troops), China trails well behind the US in military terms, but then it would be fighting a regional war in its own backyard whilst US military might is spread out across the globe.

Nothing that has happened in the last 15 months has surprised us or indeed other internationalists. The Ukraine crisis simmered for almost 20 years with both the US and Russia promoting their own factions within the divided and corrupt Ukrainian oligarchy. In all that time, neither side has shown one iota of concern for the concerns or fears of the other. The crisis is so deep that imperialist rivalry allows for no rational discussion – it is a zero-sum game which could eventually make zeros of us all now that the Ukraine war has magnified all the tensions that have been haunting the world imperialist order for decades.

Workers Have No Country

For the last four decades of economic stagnation, workers have been in retreat everywhere. We have seen wages cut and our working conditions made more unbearable and precarious. The financial crash of 2007-8 only added to our woes when the ruling class state bailed out the banks, since the price of that bailout was paid by workers via “austerity” which further lowered real wages. Now we are being hit by rampant inflation, yet the world’s leaders (representatives of the “oligarchs” everywhere) solemnly intone that there is no money to pay for wage rises that won’t even compensate for all that has been lost over 40 years. They can find billions for weapons to defend their property and investments but not to repair decaying infrastructure nor invest in health and education.

However, in the last year there are signs that something is beginning to change. Striking millions across the world, from Iran to Europe and the USA, against the decline in living standards, and other attacks, are offering us a glimmer of hope. For the moment, however, the majority of workers are understandably still hesitant. The last few decades have left a legacy of low confidence and expectations. Many still have a faint hope that some left politician or union bureaucrat will pull a rabbit out of the hat to make life more bearable. But there is no real scope for that in the midst of a capitalist crisis. And our struggle must be more than just a fight for “fair shares”. As the history of the last two centuries shows, the capitalist system will not tolerate workers’ gains for long. The demands of profit will demand more exploitation, and this takes many forms.

We thus have to start the real fight for our own interests. What does this mean? It means re-learning how to organise collectively against the attacks against us on all fronts. Strikes and demonstrations are thus only the beginning. They remain token resistance unless they link up with other workers everywhere – isolated workplaces or even regions cannot win on their own. Effective collective action means everyone has to actively participate. Strike committees elected by mass meetings (assemblies) of all workers and recallable by them are the "finally discovered form" (Marx) with which workers can achieve this.

However, these are not the only criteria for success in the struggle. We must be conscious of what we are fighting for and how high the stakes are. The point at issue is no less than the abolition of capitalism and its exploitation through the wages and profit system, which engenders wars and other disasters. (In the process, liquidating the usual ways of dividing workers by race, gender and sexual orientation, upbringing or whatever). As capitalism steps up its war propaganda it will once again call upon us to die “for our country” or “democracy”. But “workers have no country”. We don’t own land or factories, which are “the wealth of nations” (Adam Smith). That is the prerogative of the property-owning capitalist class. Workers have no material interest in supporting either side in these imperialist wars. We reject all the excuses and alibis that are trotted out to make us give our lives to protect their wealth. Their democracy is a sham. They have drawn up the rules of a political game that ensures the safety of the system no matter who wins. Their system of parliamentary representation is nothing but “democracy for the moneybags”.

The lesson has long been clear. We cannot win more than temporary palliatives as long as we play by their rules. Whilst they are stepping up their violence at home and abroad, we have to step up the resistance. Whilst their weapons are tear gas, batons, bombs and missiles, ours are consciousness that a new world is yet possible, and our collective organisation. The latter involves not only creating organisations of struggle wherever wage workers live and work but also an international political organisation to coordinate and guide that struggle against not just this or that state but the entire global system. There are many internationalists around the world who can see all this but who are trapped in the debates of the past. The issues today are too serious for useless polemics, which generate voluminous academic tomes, or sitting on the sidelines. We need a positive engagement to begin to build an international body to lead the global fightback. This is why we have tried to work with others in the framework of No War but the Class War over the last fifteen months to prepare a response to what capitalism has in store for us. Their war or our revolution are increasingly becoming the stark alternatives.

Whether fighting against wage cuts or war, our slogan remains:


Internationalist Communist Tendency
May Day 2023
Sunday, April 30, 2023