A Critique of the Pro-Sino-Russian “Anti-imperialism” Trend in the USA and Western Europe, or Part I of a response to “Position paper from Red Guards Austin, 2016”
By Daniel K. Buntovnik
17 July 2016
The appearance of new political centers for the advocacy and advancement of Marxian revolutionism in the United States is a good thing. It would, however, be unreasonable to suppose that any one of these centers is infallible, no matter how grounded in the “science” of whatever “-ism” it pretends to be. Revolutionary agitators, organizers, and educators should avoid the pitfalls of sectarianism and provincial-particularism-cum-universalism by remaining open to the ideas emitted by a panoply of political centers (which need not necessarily be constituted by sects), moving in this way towards a decolonial transmodern pluriversalism as an authentic universalism. The potential mass organization of futurity operating on a genuine democratic centralism need not conceptualize its constituent political centers as tentacle-like “branches” sprouting from the sectarian center of one metropolitan province, but as disparate centers, autonomous in and of themselves, which link up, like the social individuals who exercise agency in coming together to take part in the formation of a collective, even though they may not have been previously “related” in the mundane sense.
It is in this spirit of critical open-mindedness that I received some of the criticisms of American left-wing activist groups that a Maoist-oriented organization based in Austin, Texas and calling itself the “Red Guards” after the eponymous Red Guards of 1960s China made in their 2016 position paper “Condemned to Win!”. What follows are some of my reflections on what they put forward in that paper, which serves also as a launch pad to further elaborations.
Allegations of bogus “anti-imperialist” posturing
The author(s) of “Condemned to Win!” see as problematic a trend they identify among the formally organized leftist groups in the United States (and beyond) in the form of a vulgar anti-imperialism which they call “alternative-imperialism”. They argue that one “cannot be an anti-imperialist and at the same time be a running dog for Russian or Chinese imperialism.” Others have argued exactly the opposite. For example, that there is at the present moment no such thing as Russian imperialism and that you cannot oppose imperialism without standing in solidarity with certain key policies of the government of the Russian Federation [X, X]. Before we can evaluate both lines of argumentation about how we are to oppose imperialism and come to a sound conclusion as to which one, if any, is correct, we must first consider what imperialism is, what its essential features are today, and how developments in imperial systems over the course of the last one-hundred years which have passed since the “classical” Marxian theorists first described modern imperialism might change our orientation towards it.
A brief overview of “imperialism” and its development
Human societies have been confronted by something we might call “imperialism” (the system of empire) for thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries that a number of political theorists (the “classical” Marxians) began to elaborate analyses of a new form of imperialism that was qualitatively different from that of Imperium Romanum or Manden Kurufaba. Whereas in those ancient and medieval empires, outgrowths of the earliest agricultural class societies, the basic schematic elements of imperialism (the amassing of wealth and privilege by members of one class and/or polity to the detriment of others, combined with an expansionist thrust) could be found in practices of conquest, colonization, enslavement, tribute collection, and vassalage, the arrival of modernity signalled the beginning of a long process of progressively layering new features onto the imperial schema, as well as transforming or discarding some of the old.
While the embryonic capitalism of the first modern empires arising around the 15th century CE preserved many of the trappings of the older class system of feudalism, such as the continued predominance of artisanal and handicraft-type manufacturing, their distinctive novelty was in the emergence of a wealthy and powerful merchant class associated to a large extent with the transatlantic triangular trade.
A middle phase of capitalism seemed to be inaugurated when these empires underwent industrial revolutions and holders of capital in the form of “large-scale machine industry” (prefigured by those plantation-capitalists who made factories out of the land and machines out of human beings) became the principal basis for an imperialist power elite. In this middle phase of empire (safeguarding some of its predecessor’s traits as had its predecessor kept some of those of the system preceding it), factories, mills, and industrialization were concentrated more densely in the imperial “core” or “metropolitan” countries, the objective being to plunder resources and raw material from the “savage” peripheries, refine/assemble/upgrade them into more valuable finished products with “civilized” know-how, and sell them back in the colonies at a profit, fulfilling in this way a little bit of the mission civilisatrice through commodification and exports.
But by the “late stage” of capitalism, which we seem to still be stuck in and which had already begun to take shape by the time the classical analysts of modern imperialism produced their theories, new developments in the financial sector signalled another shift; the financier, the rentier, the investor, the banker, the holder of a more abstract and vertically concentratible form of wealth called finance capital began to supersede the robber baron industrialist of yesteryear as the archetypal representative of the power brokering imperialist class.
It is the superior vertical concentratibility of wealth permitted by financialization which allows modern imperialists, in what would seem a paradox to those of olden days, to “[exploit] inequalities in the world economy” by outsourcing industrial capital to poor (“Third World”) semi-peripheral to peripheral countries—dismantling their factories and mills at the heart of “civilization”, setting up shop in places where labor is sold at a fraction of the cost—and importing the manufactured goods to the core (at an immense rate of profit to the core-based financier, of course). And though the (super)exploitation is palpable, these imperialist profiteers claim to be doing a favor to those neocolonial countries by providing them with “more jobs”. The industrial core becomes the rust-belt, and “hard work pays off” becomes more jobs, more poverty.
It is the topsy-turviness of this stage in which “certain of [capitalism’s] fundamental characteristics began to change into their opposites” that Vladimir Lenin identified as being at the essence of modern capitalist imperialism. Another important inversion of capitalism’s fundamental characteristics, one identified by Lenin, is the transition from free competition to monopoly; that is, the lessening of competition, the greater concentration of power in lesser numbers of hands. Ironically, apologists for today’s monopoly capitalism defend this system by barking about mythical “free markets” at the mere insinuation that trust-busting state intervention might threaten to undermine their rate of return investment.
The newest imperialist phase
Lenin described imperialism as the transition from “free competition” to “monopoly” in 1916, one-hundred years ago. To what extent has monopolization progressed since then?
Answering the question of whether or not monopoly capitalism has progressed to such an extent that we face before us now a form of imperialism (call it “unipolar imperialism”) in which Empire is axed around a unique central core—a monopole—centered in the United States, perhaps on Wall Street, is paramount to determining whether or not it is anti-imperialist to rally behind the proverbial barricades of pro-Russian and pro-Chinese forces as they make their stand against American Empire. Clearly the United States played a hegemonic role in world affairs throughout much of the last two (maybe even three) centuries and it has continued to play that role throughout this century. It is the dominant great power in the world today in terms of military, economic, political, and perhaps pop-cultural force… the top dog, so to speak. But is it the only great power capable of contesting international hegemony? The only dog in the fight for monopolization?
In “The New Imperialism of Globalized Monopoly-Finance Capital”, University of Oregon sociology professor and Monthly Review magazine editor John Bellamy Foster identifies three key “classical” Marxian analyses of imperialism: Bukharin’s Imperialism and the World Economy (1916); Luxemburg’s The Accumulation of Capital (1913); and Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916). Foster argues that these analyses “were responses to a period of international instability, marked by the decline of Britain as the hegemonic power in the world economy and the rise of competing nations, particularly Germany and the United States, leading in the ensuing struggles to the First and Second World Wars” [X]. Thus the imperialism which they grappled with was clearly multipolar in nature, emanating from more than one center. Indeed, for Lenin, “an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several great powers in the striving for hegemony”. Lenin also noted that, despite monopolization being a trend towards severely reduced free competition, monopolies nevertheless “do not eliminate [free competition], but exist above it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts” [X].
Foster also suggests that there is now a ubiquitous belief among leftists that “the world has entered a new imperialist phase” which “is widely referred to as neoliberal globalization”. Given that many of the theorists of this 21st century phase of imperialism highlight major differences from the classical Marxian theory of imperialism outlined by thinkers like Lenin, key among these differences being the shift from multipolarity to unipolarity, a new name is needed. If “imperialism” was the stage of capitalism described by Lenin in which inter-great power rivalry and conflict was “an essential feature”, and if today capitalism is essentially different in that it has reached a stage where such rivalry is non-existent, giving way in its stead to a unilateral global assault by fascistic Empire, we must give this stage a name to distinguish it from the fundamentally dissimilar stage described by Lenin and other classical Marxians a hundred years ago.
Theories of “super-imperialist” neoliberal globalization
Some (e.g. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, William Robinson, and Leslie Sklair) see the latest stage of capitalism (neoliberal globalization) as being led by a deterritorialized and/or transnational state entity one might name simply “Empire”; not centered in any one nation-state but represented by multinational corporations and privately contracted security/mercenary/intelligence firms, much of its wealth is hidden away in offshore accounts, only a fraction of which was revealed by the Panama Papers. Foster further relates that Robinson’s idea that “globalization involves a supersession of the nation-state as the organizing principle of social life under capitalism” is said by Ernesto Screpanti, another 21st century imperialism theorist, to be the approach “that today most nearly replicates the outlook of Kautsky’s ultra-imperialism”. (Kautsky, a German Marxist leader and contemporary of Lenin, forewarned at the beginning of the 20th century of a coming imperialist phase in which “the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital in place of the mutual rivalries of national finance capitals” would take place. Lenin mocked this theory as “notorious” [ibid] and “ultra-nonsense”).
Others (e.g. Michael Hudson, Peter Gowan, Leo Panitch, and Sam Gindin) make the case that neoliberal globalization represents the ascendency of a quasi-“all powerful” American Empire which dispossesses all other empires. In this analysis, Europe and Japan have become wholly-owned subsidiaries of American Empire. These theorists call the current stage of capitalism “super-imperialism”, a term which Lenin also used a synonym for Kautsky’s theory of ultra-imperialism.
What both of the theories of neoliberal globalization described above seem to share is their acceptance of “end of history”-style narratives of the post-Cold War era. While the first emphasizes the beginning of inter-imperialist co-operation—the deterritorialized ultra-imperialist Empire is made possible through capitalists’ class conscious realization that transcending the obsolete form of the nation-state will lift impediments on their ability to accumulate wealth via multinational corporations, the second theory posits the end of inter-imperialist conflict through American Empire’s victory over great power rivals Germany and Japan in two world wars, further cemented in place by the apparent defeat of Communism seen in the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, the fall of the Berlin Wall, political revolutions and coups in Eastern Europe, the disestablishment of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, and the defeat of Central American national liberation movements. Nevertheless, the theory of deterritorialized transnational Empire, although many elements of it resonate, seems, for now, to fit better on the pages of sci-fi books than in objective analyses of the dynamics of imperialism in the present, for who can deny that the division of the world into nation-states continues to be very real and significant? Whoever denies this has surely never travelled across any international border that is not between the US and Canada or outside of the Schengen Zone. Foster’s essay further points to the fact that although the “reach [of multinational corporations] is global[,] their property and their owners have a clear national base”. It is the second theory of neoliberal globalization, that which posits it as the project of a uniquely American “super-imperialism”, that seems to justify the pro-Russian/Chinese position, and which needs unpacked.
Sino-Russian regroupment against neoliberal globalization?
With the exit of the Soviet Union from the world stage, why are the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation increasingly paired in any informed discussion of 21st century global geopolitics? How was this rapprochement possible after the outright disavowal of Marxian ideals by Russia’s post-Soviet political system (ideals which are still paid lip service by the Chinese leadership), given the legacy of the three decades long Sino-Soviet split, born from the Chinese Communist perception that the Soviet Russian Communists were revisionist traitors to the cause, “bent on seeking Soviet-U.S. co-operation for the domination of the world”?
In parallel to the emergence of a new scheme to implement a US expansionist drive on the global level at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st (in large part dependent upon the discovery/construction of NATO’s new raison d’être: “radical Islamism”, perhaps with Russian containment coming in a close second), notoriously outlined by the think tank “Project for the New American Century”, Sino-Russian rapprochement took shape through the foundation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a political, economic, and military alliance between China, Russia, and several Central Asian states, which is on course to expand and incorporate several other states in the near future, including India and Pakistan as soon as this summer (putting China in the awkward position of being in alliance with a capitalist state’s decades long fight against Maoist rebels), as well as Iran, Belarus, and Mongolia. This realignment of great powers was a sure sign that the predicted era of global unity and long-lasting peace founded on the evolutionary plateau of “liberal free market democracy” heralded by Fukuyama after the disintegration of the Soviet Union was an illusion. Furthermore, the fact that both of these strategic initiatives (the “Project for the New American Century” and the Sino-Russian regroupment) essentially occurred in tandem indicates that, rather than one initiative being purely reactive to the other, the bourgeoisies of each great power were simply following the imperial logic of carrying out the struggle for international hegemony.
Opponents of American “super-imperialism” paint this trend towards regroupment outside the spheres of US-EU-Japanese influence as strictly anti-imperialist. For them, it is a question of nations seeking to liberate themselves from “Dollar Dependency” and “Debt Peonage”. In this perspective, China and Russia are “ex-empires which have taken the political decision to become mutually dependent on each other, […] creating [a] symbiotic relationship.” Brazil and South Africa are posited as potential collaborators with the SCO in a bid to “create a new, dollar-free and independent economy and market” [ibid].
But the ideological basis of this supposed “anti-Empire alliance” has nothing to do with any kind of Marxian class conscious objection to the underlying logic of late stage capitalist development. The “anti-super-imperialists” demonstrate a willingness to overlook the Sino-Russian national bourgeois leadership at the heart of appeals to the possibility of a “dollar-free and independent economy and market” through SCO-led “anti-super-imperialism” as an alternative to neoliberal globalization. The underlying suggestion here is that, with the right balance of power between global bourgeois forces, fairer and freer conditions can be won under capitalism which would put some wind in the sails of the working class movement. These “super-imperialism” analyses posit the national bourgeoisies of Russia and China as classes who unconsciously advance the movement towards socialist revolution.
Even if one does accept the premise that the SCO represents strictly an oppositional bloc to Empire, that is, the theory of “super-imperialism” as the end of inter-imperial rivalry through the arrival of an all-powerful US-led Empire on the world stage, this nevertheless downplays the presence of tension between the United States and its imperial allies and the possibility of rising antagonisms in those relationships. A variety of these antagonisms can be identified: American policymakers have openly discussed plots to “[take] the Saudi out of Arabia”, replacing the House of Saud with “the Hashemite monarchy that now rules Jordan”. Another example would be a leaked phone call that revealed antagonism between the US and EU with regard to the Ukraine conflict, with the Assistant Secretary of State telling the US Ambassador to the Ukraine, “Fuck the EU.”
A modest decline in US imperialism’s ability to enforce policy objectives through brute militarism seems to be evidenced by two key trends. First, there is the fact that another quasi-unilaterally US-implemented “coalition of the willing”-style invasion à la Iraq and Afghanistan seems increasingly unfeasible as it would be incredibly unpopular and likely lead to an undesirable backlash for the US bourgeoisie. Secondly, there are also signs of Europe and Japan emerging as independent imperial militarist centers. Top EU officials have called for the formation an EU military force. German leaders have recently discussed the need to amend their country’s constitution to allow for leeway in military adventures in Iraq [X, X], while Japan has in the last year lifted constitutional restrictions preventing its military from carrying out overseas assaults [X]. The Japanese government is also fostering its own military-academic industrial complex by directing universities to abolish social science and humanities departments and move towards weapons research, including notably weaponized robotics research.
Pro-Sino-Russian revolutionary US defeatism, pan-defeatism, or “neither victory nor defeat”?
For subjects in the heart of American Empire who desire to see the defeat of capitalist neoliberal globalization and the wars and neocolonial occupations that go along with it, it is of paramount importance to determine whether the material dialectic flipside of this equation is the victory of the bourgeois great powers China and Russia.
Important questions must be asked:
- If revolution is not immediately feasible in the Bible-thumping heartland (much less the liberal-progressive cosmopolitan burgs) of American Empire, will the defeat of the latter at the hands of a Sino-Russian-led alliance facilitate the revolutionary movement in the core?
- If the ruling capitalists in China and Russia are victorious in facilitating the unhinging of US hegemony, will this accelerate the revolutionary movements in those Eurasian countries?
- Should socialists in the United States and the European Union hail the Russian social-patriotic defense of the fatherland in Donbass and Lugansk as a historically progressive struggle? And what of the Russian military intervention in Syria, ostensibly on the same side as the US military intervention?
During much of the First World War, Lenin endorsed a policy called “revolutionary defeatism”. Lenin posited revolutionary defeatism as the axiom that “during a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government”. Lenin was careful to explain that this policy of calling for the defeat of the Russian Empire did not imply a desire for “the victory of Germany” as its compliment [ibid]. Instead, it was held that “in all imperialist countries the proletariat must now desire the defeat of its own government” [ibid]. Here Lenin presents revolutionary defeatism not as the argument that German victory would be a “less evil” outcome of revolution in Russia throwing a wrench in the country’s war machine than a continued costly struggle for Russian victory and defense of the tsarist fatherland, but that Russian defeat would accelerate the revolutionary movement in Russia, making the defeat-slogan a call to defeat all imperialisms; the transformation of imperialist war into civil war would spread to Germany and “the German victory [would] be short-lived”. It was not a pro-German defeatism, but an anti-imperialist pan-defeatism. If we accept Lenin’s 1915 formulation, that proletarians of “all” imperial core areas must desire the defeat of their own government (implying that in a colonial national liberation war, proletarians do not need to wish for the defeat of their government), the answer to the questions posed above then depends on whether we see modern Russia and China as imperialist in the modern sense, a question which we will return to later.
The idea of “revolutionary defeatism” was not a new one on the Russian political scene when Lenin was writing about it in 1915. A prototype of the call for “revolutionary defeatism” was deployed by Russian revolutionaries a decade earlier, during the inter-imperialist Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. In that earlier instance however, Lenin’s explanation of what revolutionary defeatism entailed was quite different from the one he offered during the First World War. While, during the First World War, Lenin tried to distance the notion of revolutionary defeatism from formulations that “[put] the question in the form of a choice between military outcomes on the government plane”, Hal Draper argues in The Myth of Lenin’s “Revolutionary Defeatism” (1953) that Lenin was in fact guilty of doing exactly this as he deployed a lesser evilist line of argumentation for defeatism that glamorized Japanese imperialism as a progressive force during the Russo-Japanese War. Draper further shows that Soviet (Stalinist) historiography covered up this inconsistency between Lenin’s early pro-enemy nation defeatism and later pan-defeatism out of embarrassment. (Lesser evilist, pro-enemy nation defeatism being considered an error—Lenin and Trotsky split on the question of the defeat-slogan during the First World War with Lenin criticizing Trotsky’s characterization of Russian defeatism as implying a desire for German victory, a difference which the supporters of Stalin were keen to play up in an effort to discredit Trotsky as thoroughly un-Marxist-Leninist). Draper’s book makes the case that Lenin actually abandoned slogans of revolutionary defeatism after returning from exile in Switzerland after the February Revolution (in March 1917) and realizing that it was too “theoretical” and out of touch with the common people of Russia, many of whom were not chauvinistic “social patriots” but had “defensist sentiments” out of an instinctual desire to defend their country from oppression; they “[accepted] the war only as a necessity and not as an excuse for making conquests” [Lenin].
Draper points to the fact that during the 1904-1905 war, “pro-Japanism in the sense of desiring the victory of Japanese imperialism but also in the sense of ‘idealizing’ Japan as a progressive force” was commonly associated with the policy of revolutionary defeatism. He explains that “a ‘desire for defeat’, tended to merge this sentiment into its obvious consequence: a wish for the victory of Japan”. It is in an article written by Lenin in 1905, after the surprise attack on the Russian naval fleet in Manchuria, “The Fall of Port Arthur”, where he exhibits most strongly the pro-enemy nation essence of his formula for revolutionary defeatism at that time. But what was the basis for this Japanophilia?
In “The Fall of Port Arthur”, Lenin writes, “Advancing, progressive Asia has dealt backward and reactionary Europe an irreparable blow.” At that time, the Empire of Japan was undergoing rapid industrialization and modernization, developing free market capitalism following the end of sakoku isolationism. Japan was a constitutional monarchy with a House of Representatives while Russia was a semi-feudal absolutist dictatorship with no constitutional law.
Key to Lenin’s enthusiasm here for the “advancing” and “progressive” character of Japanese imperialism was the notion that Japan was at a higher stage of social development than Russia. Lenin rebuked his contemporaries who argued “that a socialist could only be in favour of a workers’ Japan, a people’s Japan, and not of a bourgeois Japan” because, this, he argued, “is as absurd as blaming a socialist for admitting the progressive nature of the free-trade bourgeoisie as compared with the protectionist bourgeoisie”.
Lenin reiterates this point several times over:
“The proletariat is hostile to every bourgeoisie and to all manifestations of the bourgeois system, but this hostility does not relieve it of the duty of distinguishing between the historically progressive and the reactionary representatives of the bourgeoisie.”
“While struggling against free competition, we cannot, however, forget its progressive character in comparison with the semi-feudal system. While struggling against every war and every bourgeoisie, we must draw a clear line in our agitational work between the progressive bourgeoisie and the feudal autocracy; we must recognise the great revolutionary role of the historic war in which the Russian worker is an involuntary participant.”
If we transpose this formula for revolutionary defeatism by the progressive power which states that, when conflict arises between two bourgeois great powers, the bourgeoisie of the more socially advanced nation plays a revolutionary role in dragging forward the bourgeoisie of the backwards nation, then the 21st century “anti-imperialist” enthusiasm for the “progressiveness” of the national bourgeoisies of China and Russia quickly loses steam, because, in the Leninist schema for stages of economic development, monopoly-finance capitalism is a progressive outgrowth of free competition under industrial capitalism. If, in 1905, capitalist, constitutional Japan was more advanced than semi-feudal, autocratic Russia, then it follows that today the measure of a great power’s progressiveness is the degree to which it has developed socially by transitioning via financialization from the more primitive system of nation-state-based industrial capitalism to the “higher”, more “civilized” system of free transnational trade: neoliberal globalization.
A proponent of this view might argue that the neoliberal austerity measures implemented across the Global North in recent years are progressive in that, in globalizing poverty, cutting the social benefits/privileges found only in the wealthy countries, and dismantling the welfare states whose construction was only possible with Marshall Plan imperialist superprofits, they reduce the inflated living standards of the labor aristocratic imperial core middle class and professionalized workers and their excessive consumerism run amok. By polarizing the rich-poor divide in wealthy countries and rendering the petit bourgeois downwardly mobile (proletarianizing them), as well as trending towards multiculturalism, the revindication of postcolonial centripetal migrations of labor as a path to reparations, and the dissolution of the nation-state system, neoliberal globalization sets the stage for a globalized class struggle, wherein a super-rich global ruling class and a global poor face off in struggle relatively freed up from the hindrances of national division.
While the old school Marxian theorists supposed that it would be the working class socialist movement which would carry out the task of establishing “the future union of peoples in a single world economic system, which is the material basis for the victory of world socialism” [Stalin], neoliberal globalization confronts us with the possibility that this system may be brought about not by proletarian revolution but by bourgeois-globalist revolution. This is what makes neoliberal globalization, as opposed to neoconservative protectionist isolationism, progressive from the scientific perspective.
Proponents of “pro-Russian anti-imperialism” base their argument for the progressiveness of the defeat of American imperialist machinations as a whole or partial result of the strategic initiatives of the Russian bourgeoisie on the denial of Russia being imperialist. For proponents of this position, as we shall examine more closely in sections below, Russia is a non-imperialist capitalist power not because it has advanced to a higher stage of development than US capitalism, but precisely the opposite: because it is at a lower stage; privatization has not progressed as far as in the West (much of its industrial capital is state-owned) and its economy is not as financialized as that of the US. And since it is assumed that Lenin’s conclusion that it is only in imperialist countries that socialists must subscribe to defeatism is a scientific axiom, it is therefore thoroughly un-socialist to desire the defeat of capitalist, underdeveloped Russia. But if we accept the kind of pro-enemy nation defeatism espoused by Lenin during the Russo-Japanese War and its accompanying lesser evilist proposition that scientific socialists must admit “the progressive nature of the free-trade bourgeoisie as compared with the protectionist bourgeoisie”, then one is forced to uphold the American bourgeoisie as progressive as compared with the backwards Russian bourgeoisie. While the American bourgeoisie is leading negotiations for significant new free trade measures such as the TPP and T-TIP, the Russian bourgeoisie and its satellite bourgeoisies in Belarus and Kazakhstan are the most protectionist in the world [X, X]. Other SCO states, including China and India, are also world leaders in protectionism [X].
Take a step back from this economism and, on the cultural plane, the outlook for a “pro-(Sino-)Russian anti-imperialism” is not much better. Although critiques of “pink imperialism” accurately point out the shamelessness of imperial recuperation of the struggle for LGBTQIA+ liberation and the absurdity in the idea that rights for gays will come to Afghanistan via American drone campaigns, reactionary outbursts against “Gayropa” from the Russian state and Orthodox and fundamentalist Christians do not under any circumstances lend themselves to progressiveness. Western “pro-Russian anti-imperialist” lefts seem blissfully unaware, or just don’t care, that their counterparts in the East base a significant part of their case against integration into neoliberal globalization on socially conservative arguments against a culturally decadent West. In Eastern European states town between US/EU and Russian great powers, it is the Soviet nostalgic pro-Russian “socialists” who propose laws to, in their own words, “do everything possible to stop propagation of homosexuality and the destruction of Christian values and the traditional family” [X, X].
Nevertheless, it does seem that, in slowly backing away, at first from the pro-“progressive enemy” and quasi-two-stagist narrative of revolutionary defeatism as the triumph of modern bourgeois-democratic liberal capitalist imperialism over outmoded semi-feudal autocratic capitalist imperialism in the Russo-Japanese War to the pan-defeatist calls for simultaneous revolutions in Germany and Russia (and all state participants in the inter-imperialist conflict) during the First World War, and then away from defeatism tout court after the bourgeois-democratic February Revolution to an appreciation of the “‘conscientious’ revolutionary-defensism” of the Russian masses, Lenin discretely abandoned the defeatist formula because it had become a roadblock to revolution.
So is it this “revolutionary defensist” path which allows us to transcend the binary trap of “victory or defeat” which implicitly excludes the possibility of working class leadership in its formulation of inter-capitalist conflict as a sadistic restaurant of mass slaughter where the only items on the menu are those outcomes offered by bourgeois governments? Only if the addition of a transcendental “third way” was somehow enough to everytime set us free from the trap of binary thinking. Alas, we have merely shifted to another duality: “victory or defeat” or “neither victory or defeat”. What is clear is that revolutionaries must blaze their own trails.
In the words of the cat-dog:
“All categorical options are a trap. There are not only two paths, just as there are not just two colors, two sexes, or two beliefs. The answer is neither here nor there. It is better to make a new path that goes where one wants to go.”
The anti-austerity fightback attempts to apply a kind of revolutionary defensism of social benefits and public services under attack, though its successes seem to be relatively few and far between. But this kind of defensism, if it is not principled, can easily slip into chauvinism, e.g. from defending the right to a job to the “right” to defend against an immigrant competing for a job.
Revolutionaries within US Empire must assess to what extent the masses sincerely accept the “War on Terror” and its next phase which US military policymakers call “The New Thirty Years’ War” as a necessary evil—some kind of just war—and not just a cynical “excuse for making conquests”, before calculating how effective defeatist-sloganeering might be. Certainly the effects of sustained mass hysteria following 11 September 2001 must be considered. Broadcasting Twin Tower collapses on repeat was a powerful trigger for defensive instincts and amplifying perceptions of an oppressive Axis of Evil “hating us for our freedom”, but its effect may be wearing off. If such sincere defensism does still exist on a mass scale, the defeatist slogan may prove counterproductive to anti-imperialist mobilization. On the other hand, if defensism has become largely insincere, with young people joining the US military for its promises of career advancement and the chance to “see the world”, all while basically knowing full well that it is fighting for imperial hegemony and hydrocarbon conquest, then perhaps embracing desire for defeat still has its place. In that case, it is important to articulate who—what social forces—will defeat US militarism and global economic exploitation: Sino-Russian capitalists leading a new economic bloc against Dollar Dependency and Debt Peonage, low-class Westerners leading a struggle against capitalism, a combination of the two? If we opt for the first or the third, we must ask whether socialist struggle in China and Russia to defeat those nations’ bourgeoisies parallel to the low-class Westerners’ struggle undermines the SCO economic project.
Revolutionaries in Russia and China, meanwhile, are advised to determine to what extent NATO’s geostrategic war games and containment policies foster genuine sentiments of oppression among the masses there. In those places it might also be considered to what extent scaremongering about the decadence of Western culture can also be used to project class antagonism between the workers and the national and comprador bourgeoisies within those countries externally. If Russian and Chinese proletarian comrades come to the conclusion that they are indeed at the butt end of a super-imperialism, then they must determine whether antagonism and strife between them and their patriotic national bourgeoisies undermines the struggle against super-imperialism.
But it must also be clarified whether a non-super-imperialist country can still be imperialist in the sense of a lower stage of imperialism; for the Old Bolsheviks certainly did not negate in their scientific analysis that the underdeveloped Russia of 1905 was imperialist, even if it was a semi-feudal imperialism, qualitatively different from the higher stage imperialism of Japan. The Chinese and Russian revolutions, though they failed to bring about a socialist world, did fulfill the development tasks of the “bourgeois-democratic” revolution in their countries (i.e., they are no longer “semi-feudal” to any significant degree; the veneer of “socialism” was used to build monopolies through state ownership of industry).
Thus it is the supposition of “super-imperialism” (again, that is unipolar globalist imperialism—unforetold by the classical Marxians but by Kautsky) as marking a revolutionary new stage of capitalism that begs the question of whether the socialist revolution in countries poorly integrated into the super-imperial globalized system no longer faces before it the “simple” task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and instauring the socialist stage of development, but must also carry out the task of the bourgeois-globalist revolution before it can move on to the socialist and communist stages. It is this suggestion, that a unique and new historical stage of development has been reached, or is being reached by something we must call bourgeois-globalist revolution, where the revolutionary class is the transnational bourgeoisie who grows class consciousness, attacks and overthrows the reactionary national bourgeoisies and which sheds the old imperialism of its essential feature of inter-great power imperialist rivalry, which justifies the characterization of China and Russia as backwards (non-imperialist) countries. The thesis of neoliberal globalization as unipolar super-imperialism negates the old school Marxian idea that the union of peoples into a single world economic system “can only be voluntary, arising on the basis of mutual confidence and fraternal relations among peoples”. The decolonization wave of the 1960s did indeed “lead to the crisis of world capitalism” [ibid], but capitalism managed to survive this crisis by initiating the bourgeois-globalist revolution of neoliberalism, instauring a neocolonialism which seems immune to the old school national liberation movements.
The confusion of “pro-Sino-Russian anti-imperialism” is in the fact that it is reactionary against the bourgeois-globalist revolution for the wrong reasons. It opposes the globalist half of the revolution but embraces the bourgeois half. This is inherently and doubly un-socialist because the socialist revolution is, if not globalist, not socialist. Socialist revolution in the 21st century must carry out, in addition to the expropriation of the means of production, certain tasks of the bourgeois-globalist revolution associated with “supersession of the nation-state as the organizing principle of social life under capitalism” (e.g. removal of barriers to free movement of labor [passport privilege], removal of protections which sustain inequality between countries). Socialist revolution cannot and will not be led on by nationalist and protectionist bourgeois forces.
Towards a sharper critique of masquerading “anti-imperialism”
Now let us go back to the allegation of the Red Guards Austin introduced at the beginning of this essay that a trend exists among certain Western leftists to substitute opposition to American imperialism with support for alternative imperialist projects, namely Russian and Chinese.
There are varying degrees to which this trend is realized. In its mild form, opposition to imperialism downplays the imperialist ambitions (if not outright real imperialistic actions) of foreign capitalist polities engaged in self-interested resistance to the ongoing process of US-led neoliberal globalization. In its severe form, opposition to imperialism is essentially reduced to cheerleading what we might call, if not imperialist, petit-imperialist and aspiring-imperialist forces who are engaged in contests for international hegemony not with the aim to abolish exploitation or liberate countries from neocolonial subjugation, but to increase their own competitivity in global markets. No matter the severity, at the heart of this tendency is the substitution of principled revolutionary opposition to all imperialism (not only “super-imperialism”) with opportunistic enthusiasm for the weakening of one country’s imperialism at the hands of powerful capitalists from another, or a powerful coalition of capitalists from multiple others.
Vulgar anti-imperialism (anti-super-imperialism) is akin to championing the plight of mom ’n’ pop shopkeepers displaced by Wal-Mart, calling it anti-capitalism, and accusing any worker who criticizes their small business boss of being a Wal-Mart PR Rep or an ultra-leftist unwittingly undermining solidarity with the enemy against the bigger enemy. Vulgar anti-imperialism is the projection of the petit-bourgeois populism of “Main Street versus Wall Street” or “the super-rich 1% (billionaires) versus the 99% (including ‘middle class’ multi-millionaires)” onto a global scale.
A number of would-be “anti-imperialists” have appeared out of the woodwork in recent months and years to weave twisted defenses of 21st century Great-Russian “social patriotism” [X, X, X, X]. These polemics are no doubt reactionary outbursts to geopolitical developments which point towards the re-emergence of Russia as a great power in inter-capitalist competition following the brief disorientation triggered by Soviet collapse: namely, the Russian Federation’s decisions to annex the Crimean peninsula in March 2014 (first colonized by the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century and home to a strategically located Russian naval base) and to intervene militarily in Syria (also home to a strategically located Russian naval base [X]) in 2015 (still ongoing). These confused would-be opponents of imperialism deny that spacefaring, nuclear warhead-armed, expansionist [X] polities like the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are highly advanced capitalist states, claiming that they have not yet developed monopolistic capitalism.
What happens when you discard the fact of monopoly capitalism’s essential multipolarity: the tragic case of the “hardcore anti-Germans”
An apt comparison might be made between this anti-Americanism cum anti-imperialism and a heterogenous political identity claimed by some radicals leftists in Germany known as Antideutsch (“anti-Germans”). The anti-Germans argue that German national identity has been so tainted by the legacy of the Holocaust and Nazism and that it stands as a barrier to internationalism and the struggle against capitalism. They reject the notion that the left can “rely on the German working-classes”, the vast majority of whom harbor “a deep authoritarian disposition”. One anti-German group calling itself sinistra! explains the tendency as “a radicalization of anti-national theory” whose roots go back to the First World War, when Karl Liebknecht remarked that “the most dangerous enemy is to be found in your own country”.
Where anti-Germans stand out from much of the left is in their self-declared solidarity with the state of Israel and their prioritization of the critique of antisemitism masked in anti-Zionism. But where the tendency really veers away from the vast majority of what we conceptualize as “the left” is in their embrace of Americanism. Like with the “anti-American/pro-Russian anti-imperialists”, this embrace of the “enemy” varies in degree from group to group. It is said that “all anti-Germans […] denounce anti-Americanism” because of the German heritage of Nazi resentment at American and Allied troops (and not the German left) preventing the full realization of the Final Solution which they allege occupies the core of much of Germany’s anti-Americanism.
The embrace of the myth of the “progressive enemy” in its more severe form described by the anti-German sinistra! group is not pretty:
“[S]ome anti-German groups (often referred to as ‘hardcore anti-Germans’, although this term might be quite misleading) made it a point to celebrate every single move in American foreign politics in the past and present. Instead of just giving the US credit for the major role they’ve played in defeating Nazi-Germany in World War 2 and thereby putting an end to the holocaust, these groups are drawing close similarities between WW 2 and the “War on Terror”. By this they are putting the reactionary and anti-Semitic regimes in the so called Islamic world on one level with the Nazis. This is not only a serious minimization of the nazi era and the holocaust, but also a violation of the (radicalized) categorical imperative of Karl Liebknecht, that the main enemy is one’s “own country”. These anti-Germans see themselves on the side of civilization and declare Islam their main target instead of Germany.”
Like the “hardcore anti-Germans”, the “hardcore anti-American imperialist” tendency makes the error of discarding the essential multipolarity of imperialism. Further, Liebknecht wasn’t calling for the defeat of German Empire at the hands of Russian and American imperialisms, but by a revolutionary social movement led by its own working class.
Coupling Liebknecht’s axiom with the acceptance of the unipolarity of imperialism leads to lesser evilist thinking: “If, as an American, my enemy is my ruling class, then it’s good if the Russian ruling class hurts my ruling class. If Russians of the subaltern sort get fed up with their government’s participation in wars in the Ukraine and Syria and form an anti-war movement that leads to decline in Russian influence there, then Ukraine will join NATO and turn away from Russian/SCO protectionist capitalism and Syria will undergo regime change, and that’s what my enemies at home want so that’s bad.” The moment you accept this lesser evilism, you begin to look to the Russian ruling elites as your friends instead of the common people of Russia. Taken to its extreme, this “hardcore” tendency to make saviors out of perceived foreign enemies can lead to even more cringeworthy iterations than “pro-Russian anti-imperialism”. Some would-be leftists in the West apply the same faulty way of thinking to extend “critical support” to ISIS as an enemy of US imperialism [X]. Sometimes this phenomenon even works in reverse, such as when American white supremacists managed to receive official DPRK sponsorship for their self-declared support and solidarity for the besieged North Korean state [X].
The Liebknechtian “enemy at home” theme of anti-Americanism can soon be forgotten when one begins to accept the idea that American imperialism is the only imperialism in the world today. Focus is displaced in the same way that the “hardcore anti-Germans”, in their unthinking embrace of Americanism, forgot that Germany was supposed to be their main enemy. By assimilating the American ruling class point of view, they began to view America’s main enemy du jour, “radical Islam”, as their main enemy. The same process of displacement and forgetting occurs with the “pro-Russian anti-imperialism” variety of anti-Americanism. When one adopts this attitude, one begins to see the cohesion of the “most realistic” social force for the defeat of US imperialist machinations (i.e., Sino-Russian/SCO-led capitalism) as more essential than organizing or mobilizing in one’s own Western community, where the people are too brainwashed, unreliable, holding a deeply reactionary disposition. Whenever one adopts any sort of “pro-enemy” anti-imperialism, there is a real danger that the struggle against the enemy at home is displaced by prioritizing the struggle against “the enemy’s enemies” wherever they are, often leading to cheerleading because those enemies are physically nowhere near the “anti-imperialist” living in the heart of Empire. The pro-Russian Westerner begins to spend more time sharing Russia Today articles, complaining about Pussy Riot psyops, and speculating about the collapse of the dollar as the world reserve currency, than he does organizing and mobilizing to defeat empire at home. And even if he does take this step, it is to organize a pro-Russian micro-sect whose members’ activity are directed to amplifying the cheerleading he would otherwise do individually. He begins to fret as much about Ukrainian enemies as American ones, if not more.
Russian monopoly-finance capital
The majority of the “anti-imperialists” we have been discussing here bank their thesis of (Sino-)Russian non-imperialism on the presence of lower levels of finance capital found in countries like Russia (and China) relative to countries like the United States, France, Britain, and Japan. They argue that finance capital does not dominate the Russian economy in the same way that it does in these other countries, and therefore it is not imperialist.
But here they have abstracted one essential feature of imperialism outlined by Lenin (the importance of finance capital’s role) from the synergetic whole and discarded the equally essential notion that imperialistic monopolization can never totally eliminate competition. Although imperialism’s monopolization and elimination of free competition is not equivalent to the implementation of centralized economic planning, the latter was used to varying degrees to modernize Russian and Chinese imperialisms. Indeed, as we have seen, the supposition of a super-imperialist elimination of all imperialist competition requires adjustments to old school Marxian theory; it requires admittance of a new stage of development unforeseen by most of the classical Marxian scientific social theorists. In other words, supposition that Russia and China’s successful bourgeois-democratic and failed socialist revolutions during the 20th century have not pretty much brought them up to speed with the rest of the imperialist world only makes sense in the case that the rest of the imperial great powers have entered, and are already quite advanced in, a new revolutionary period; namely, the idea that neoliberal globalization is in fact a bourgeois-globalist revolution. On the other hand, the Sino-Russian rapprochement and its expansionist policy to incorporate the South Asian subcontinent into its own almost demi-global economic bloc shows that there are now two great camps vying for hegemony to carry out the bourgeois-globalist revolution according to their own interests. Within each camp there are antagonisms too innumerable to cover here.
The other problem with the “not enough finance capital in Russia and China for them to be true imperialists” argument is that this ignores the vast discrepancy between the levels of finance capital in Russia and China relative to the smaller sovereignties whose territories fall within the Russian and Chinese traditional imperial spheres of influence, which date from the pre-capitalist period.
Before looking at the inequalities between China and Russia and their supposedly “ex-”imperial spheres of influence, it is important to iterate the notion of continuity between semi-feudal, national capitalist, and globalist capitalist imperialisms, including the American and Western European empires. It is certainly no coincidence that pre-capitalist empires have a tendency to become monopoly-finance capital empires. Russia and China are no different in that Russian and Chinese “socialist” dominion over what were once semi-feudal empires evidences both a lack of true socialist commitment to unification of peoples on a voluntary basis as well as continuity between imperialisms. Bourgeois-democratic modernization under the veneer of “socialism” allowed 20th century Russian and Chinese nationalists, many/most of whom likely genuinely thought they were Communists, to save their backwards semi-feudal empires from being transformed into colonies of the more advanced empires by reversing the order of the Western recipe for modernization by implementing nationalization-cum-monopolization before and in parallel to industrialization. (In other words, free competition was ended in order to accelerate development to a level which would increase competitivity vis-a-vis other monopoly capitalisms).
One “anti-imperialist” analyst and apologist for Great-Russian chauvinism identifies a group of countries “very poor in finance capital” among which are categorized Russia and “most of the Eastern European countries”, as if the Russian Federation were on equal finance capital footing with the Republic of Moldova, when in that country 70% of the banking sector is controlled by Russian capitalists. It was in Moldova, said to be the poorest country in Europe, that a scandal dubbed “the theft of the century” unraveled last year in which a sum equivalent to one-eighth of the country’s GDP (about one billion USD) was apparently syphoned off to a pro-Russian politician. To give an idea of the scope of this neocolonialist robbery, this would have been proportionately equivalent to over 262 billion USD “disappearing” from Russian banks and funneled to a foreign country.
“One can only conclude that foreign investment, far from being an outlet for domestically generated surplus, is a most efficient device for transferring surplus generated abroad to the investing country.” – Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy in “Obstacles to Economic Development”
The migrant flow from Moldova to Russia also resembles that seen in other neocolonial-type relationships, such as that between Mexico and the United States. It is said that “foreign remittances constitute 30 percent of [Moldova’s] GDP – ‘and 60 to 65 percent of these remittances come from Russia’”. In recent years, Russia has used denial of entry to Moldovan migrants as a means of economic sanction and intimidation to deter Moldova from opening up to trade with the West [ibid].
The intermediary strength of Russian capitalist imperialism is apparent here. Russian finance capital does not dominate globally to the extent of US capital, but it is clear that it plays a petit-imperialist role in regional markets. To deny this would be to paint the relationship between Russia and countries like Moldova as one in which each party comes to the table as an equal, overlooking the inequalities of this nested financial core and periphery relation existing semi-independently of the global core-periphery schema. Middle countries like Russia and China are not at the vanguard of neoliberal globalization, nor however are their throats under the jackboot of it. They do have some aspects that could be characterized as semi-neocolonial; for example, the exploitation of Chinese workers by American corporations like Apple, which takes more than 98% of the profit for each iPhone assembled in China [Foster], but they are nevertheless capitalist great powers whose ruling bourgeois cliques’ class character is more patriotic nationalist than comprador. The simultaneous appearance of semi-neocolonial aspects does not negate the monopoly type relationship between the banking sectors of countries like Russia and Moldova or perhaps China and North Korea or the imperialist logic behind SCO bids to unseat US hegemony or at the least prevent US encroachment into their spheres of influence. They are simply less developed, poorer great powers, but imperialist nonetheless.
We can already anticipate what the apologists for petit-imperialism will retort to such facts: this imperialism “doesn’t count” because Moldova is a former Soviet republic that had previously been annexed by the Russian Empire after a semi-feudal inter-imperialist (and therefore not really imperialist) war between the Ottoman and Russian Empires; there are a lot of Russian settler-colonizer descendants there; and US/NATO/EU imperialism is bigger and badder; and therefore countries colonized by Russia should keep adhering to Russian capitalism. But this is exactly what makes “alternative-imperialism” an apt name for this position. The authors of “Condemned to Win!” are right to declare, “You cannot be an anti-imperialist and at the same time be a running dog for Russian or Chinese imperialism.”
The binary political thinking of vulgar “anti-imperialism”, an international analogue to domestic lesser evilism in the two-party system
The illusion-sowing and myopic opportunism of Westerners who deploy “‘pro-enemy’ anti-imperialist” analysis of foreign affairs is mirrored in their countries’ domestic politics. It must be understood how and why lesser evilism drives reactionary approaches both abroad and at home.
We can observe the fundamental similarity of these two lesser evilisms by continuing briefly the case study of Moldova introduced above, where, much like in eastern Ukraine, the “Party of Socialists” engages in pro-Russianism, based more on nostalgia for the Soviet era than on any genuine will to build socialism, by using as its slogan, “Together with Russia!”. Together with capitalist Russia, together with undocumented migrant-exploiting Russia. Thus in Eastern European countries Democrats and Republicans find their analogues in pro-Westerner and pro-Russian political camps. The difference between “Together with Russia!” and “Together with Europe!” is as palpable as “I’m with Her!” and “Make America Great Again!”.
Let us take as another example the case of NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. Certain sections within America’s organized Left moved beyond agitating to arouse opposition to US-led NATO intervention, into the pitiful realm of attempting to arouse admiration for the Libyan Jamahiriya, the “state of masses” and land of universal health-care, vast sums of free money, and direct democracy as a legitimate and “actually-existing” form of socialism. This push to switch and/or pair opposition to US imperialism with support for the Islamist “socialist” ideology concocted by Muammar Gaddafi in The Green Book [X] is mirrored in the attempts of the organized US Left to switch and/or pair opposition to that edifice of the US bourgeoisie’s class dictatorship known as the two-party system with support for the pseudo-anticapitalist Green Party of Jill Stein and Cynthia McKinney, in whose personnage we see perhaps most clearly the rapprochement between Green political movements of the Islamic “socialist” and environmentalist varieties. (Note that voting for an evil third party does not constitute a break with lesser evilism).
Opportunistic adhesion to “actually-existing socialism” abroad (which places the political center “out there” to the detriment of emerging political centers “over here”)—whether it’s in the form of shrieking defensively about the the “state of the of the masses” in Libya, the “socialist state control of industry” in secular Arab national “socialist” Ba’athist Syria (the same state that agreed to systematically torture people on behalf of the CIA “in a gesture of goodwill towards the United States”), or the world’s youngest “Red-Brown” coalition-based “people’s republics” in Donbass and Lugansk—follows the same logic which leads too many left-wing activists in the US to rally behind (without voicing much, if any, criticism) the “actually-existing movement for political revolution” in the US, even though this movement remains firmly opposed to social revolution with weak sauce ideologues like Bernie Sanders, Robert “Saving Capitalism” Reich, and Jill Stein at the helm.
When this part of the US left forces do finally arrive at the call for a bourgeois (Green) break with the two-party system, it’s only after they abandon Wall Street’s left wing and graveyard of social movements, the Democratic Party, with great reluctance. Even into July 2016, some “socialist” two-party system critics still had such hyped-up levels of delusion in the “progressiveness” of elements of the Democratic Party that they were still openly discussing the possibility that Bernie Sanders would break from the Democrats to run as a Green Party candidate, even though he announced many times his intention to support Hillary Clinton.
At home and abroad, work with bourgeois forces competing to implement their mildly differing imperialist visions of capitalist globalization, some a little more protectionist, some a little more neoliberal. These are the courses of action, the arguments go, that will “advance the working class movement”; because by tossing another big-contender reformist pro-capitalist party in the electoral mix, you pave the way for a revolutionary mass party of the working class, and by deluding yourself into believing that Bush-Cheney C.I.A. torture infrastructure was partially socialist, you pave the way for the final annihilation of monopoly capitalism. Although it is common for groups advocating these positions to pick one or the other—lesser evilism abroad (pro-Russian but anti-two party system) or lesser evilism at home (pro-Green/Bernie but anti-‘vulgar anti-imperialist’), they really evidence two sides of the same coin.
In truth, people who cannot argue for the defense of Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and so many other countries from the US war machine, or breaking with the two-party system, without sowing illusions in and glamorizing the lacklustre leadership of these causes (Gaddafi, Putin, Stein, Sanders, et al.) show the hollowness and bankruptcy of their own thought.
The theories espoused by United Kingdom-based blogger and “pro-Russian anti-imperialist” Phil Greaves (picked here as an example of the wider trend and political current he represents) illustrates the mistake of reducing anti-imperialism (and therefore imperialism) to mere policy options that great powers can pick and choose in whether or not to implement. This is the same error which Lenin criticized Kautsky for making a century ago, when he lambasted Kautsky’s non-sensical talk of a unipolar imperialism that did not take into account “the competition between several imperialisms”:
“The essence of the matter is that Kautsky detaches the politics of imperialism from its economics, speaks of annexations as being a policy ‘preferred’ by finance capital, and opposes to it another bourgeois policy which, he alleges, is possible on this very same basis of finance capital.” [X]
According to Greaves, the bourgeois government of the Russian Federation implements certain key “objectively anti-imperialist” [X] policies (which good Western leftists ought to “support” by joining good pro-Russian [“Communist”] organizations in the West) by sending its military to intervene in Syria against ISIS and in Ukraine against the pro-Western government installed after the Maidan movement (both identified as fascist US puppets). This abstracts politics from economics by positing that Russia, an imperialist country (because, as we have seen, it uses monopoly finance capital to exploit countries in its sphere of influence in a neocolonial fashion), can in one place be “objectively imperialist” and in another be “objectively anti-imperialist”. One can only come to the conclusion that the Russian bourgeoisie has implemented a “bad” imperialist policy decision in Moldova, while at the same time implementing a “good” anti-imperialist policy decision in Ukraine and Syria, if one wears the ideological blinkers of an unscientific school of “thought” we might term neo-Stalinism.
Going back to the catalyst of this essay, the 2016 position paper of the “Red Guards” of Austin, Texas also resonated with me in their condemnation of the vulgar Third Worldism of the Jason Dumbruhe and LLCO variety, which I criticized some months ago here on my blog. The Red Guards Austin note, as I did, that this Third Worldism originated on Ivy League campuses.
In this essay I have focused on the critique of vulgar anti-imperialism, an area where I found myself to be in agreement with the Red Guards Austin. There are nevertheless some areas where I feel the Red Guards’ positions, which are not unique to their group, should be contested. I will present the bulk of these criticisms in Part II of my response to “Condemned to Win!”. In light of their self-declared willingness to accept criticism, I hope that Part II and the following section will be received by them in a comradely fashion.
It has to be admitted that use of the term of derision “bastard” is problematic and stands in dissonance with Red Guards Austin statement that they “hold that bad gender practice is not acceptable for Maoists and that rectifying this should be given the utmost priority, without delay, excuses, or liberalism.” The term “bastard”, having arisen in English common law as a synonym for “whoreson”: the child of an “illegitimate” sexual liaison, is steeped in misogynist and patriarchal thinking. The Oxford dictionary informs us that the etymology of the insult “bastard” is ultimately Latin, coming from the word bastum which means “packsaddle” and entered the English language via the related Old French expression fils de bast, “son of a mule driver who uses a packsaddle for a pillow and is gone by morning” (compare with modern French fils de pute). Formulations found in “Condemned to Win!” like “arch-revisionist bastard Deng Xiaoping” and “bastards like Krushchev, Brezhnev, and their crews” are no less problematic bad gender practice than if they were to refer to these people as “sons of bitches”.