Thursday, February 24, 2022

Specific Imperialism and Social-Chauvinist Forgetting in Ukraine and Canada

The events in Eastern Europe over the past days and weeks have shocked and concerned the world, and everyone’s focus and attention is rightly on efforts to de-escalate the situation and resolve even strong differences peacefully. But the discussion invariably turns acrimonious once one attempts to analyze whose actions are really impeding peace and development. The dominant view promulgated in the West, most prominently in its privately owned means of communication, like MSNBC, the New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg, the WSJ, etc holds that the barbarian hun simply struck, out of the blue, with no reason or cause whatsoever, as an expression of their backwardsness and unenlightenment.

Liberals, of course, have thrown themselves into this farce with aplomb. Adorned with their Je Suis Ukraine facebook banners and yellow and blue twitter handles, they e-transfer their pennies to the Roman Shukhevych memorial foundation. It is sickening, really. What is a hundred and fifty casualties in comparison with the fifteen thousand who have died in the Donbas over the past eight years? These people don’t know and don’t care, they’ve been told by their favourite liberal plutocrat celebutantes to be outraged, and shake their little fists with indignation. Many of them would not have been able to locate Ukraine on a map a month ago, but now it is their cause célèbre.

It would be bad enough for this view to be held by the owning class and their self-identified mouthpieces and idiots, but what is worse is when self-professed ‘socialists’ do the owner’s work and promote such imperialist canards. In Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin reproaches Kautsky for his narrowly political understanding of imperialism, his having contained it to narrowly national question. Kautsky’s understanding of imperialism, Lenin writes, amounts to merely a thirst for annexations. Lenin says that Kautsky's definition is wrong because it elides that contemporary imperialist interests reflect a preference for annexations of highly industrialized areas, as well as the role of the development of productive forces in securing such annexations, and thus misses whose specific interests that preference reflects, ie financiers. Lenin charges that Kautsky concertedly elides this because he is representative of a kind of onlooker whose real interests are in obscuring, rather that illuminating, the real implications of the ubiquity of the monopoly form. This, Lenin finds, is social-chauvinism, the effort to reconcile the interests of the working class to those of their own monopoly imperialist formation.

Lenin charges that Kautsky believed in the possibility of a benevolent and pacific superimperialism, meant in the sense of a harmonious and perpetual division of the world along capitalist lines. Lenin charges that the intention of the social chauvinist 'socialists,' like Kautsky, is to obscure the reality that, as long as society is still stratified along the lines of a class division between those who possess the means of production and exchange, and those who merely sell their labour to obtain the means of subsistence, "are inevitably nothing more than a 'truce' in periods between wars." [V I Lenin "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916)" Collected Works Vol XXII (New York: Progress, 1963), 295] Kautsky's analysis of imperialism is "permeated through and through with a spirit, absolutely irreconcilable wit Marxism, of obscuring and glossing over the fundamental contradictions of imperialism." [V I Lenin "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916)" Collected Works Vol XXII (New York: Progress, 1963), 298]

In promoting the notion of a perpetual and stable super-imperialist alliance of the monopoly capitalist states and their associations for the purposes of the exploitation of the world, Kautsky obscures the actual development of imperialism. "Instead of showing the living connection between periods of imperialist peace and periods of imperialist war, Kautsky presents the workers with a lifeless abstraction in order to reconcile them to their lifeless leaders." [V I Lenin "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916)" Collected Works Vol XXII (New York: Progress, 1963), 296]

"We ask, is it 'conceivable,' assuming that the capitalist system remains intact - and this is precisely the assumption Kautsky does make - that such alliances would be more than temporary, that they would eliminate friction, conflicts and struggle in every possible form?

The question has only to be presented clearly for other than a negative answer to be impossible. This is because the only conceivable basis under capitalism for the division of spheres of influence, interests, colonies, etc., is a calculation of the strength of those participating, their general economic, financial, military strength, etc. And the strength of these participants in the division does not change to an equal degree, for the even development of different undertakings, trusts, branches of history, or countries is impossible under capitalism. Half a century ago Germany was a miserable, insignificant country, if her capitalist strength is compared with Britain of that time; Japan is compared with Russia in the same way. Is it 'conceivable' that in ten or twenty years' time the relative strength of the imperialist powers will have remained unchanged? It is out of the question."

V I Lenin "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916)" Collected Works Vol XXII (New York: Progress, 1963), 295.

The conflict in the Donbas today reflects the impossibility of lasting peace under conditions of capitalism, as articulated by Lenin in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. It reflects the falsity and unreality of the contention of the End of History made by American NeoConservatives like Francis Fukuyama thirty years ago, and its corollary in the metaphysical nihilism of Lyotard’s purported transcendence of meta-narratives. Society is still wracked by contradiction, a result of class stratification and its implication on the world stage, competition between monopoly capitalist blocs. So long as the development of the means of production and exchange in the world remains alienated by the monopoly capitalist form, conditions of peace will be irregular and punctuated by war.

A previously settled division of the world among great powers and their respective trusts and associations, under the aegis of the United States, is today coming undone, and the efforts of the United States to preserve and extend its sphere of accumulation in the face of a shifting balance of power among those powers is provoking war. The US orchestrated Maidan coup of 2014, as well as the exploitation of Ukraine’s natural resources, and the ethnic persecution of Russian-speaking regions in the east, are hostile acts of war by the United States against Russia.

The pro-war liberal imperialist position requires forgetting and obliviousness, well delineated and concerted stupidity. It requires forgetting the cynical efforts of the United States in weaponizing radicalized jihadi variants of Islam against the former Soviet Union, and the decades of horrors that this gave rise to across the middle east. It requires forgetting the aggressive eastern movement of the US-led military alliance, NATO, right up to and along Russia’s borders. It requires forgetting that the illegal US-orchestrated coup of 2014 was against a governor from those eastern regions. It requires forgetting that it was Ukraine which violated the Minsk agreements, which required acknowledgement of the particularities of the eastern regions of Donestsk and Luhansk, acceptance of their self-government, withdrawal of paramilitaries from those territories, and a program of economic recovery implemented for these regions. It requires forgetting that Ukraine did the opposite, and that the last eight years have been marked by constant shelling, harassment, ethnic persecution against these regions.

The mistake made by those who disclaim the conflict as merely differing orientations of statecraft is in misperceiving imperialism as disconnected from calculated accumulation, just as Kautsky did. The efforts to integrate Ukraine into the Western sphere of accumulation – the political battle between, on the one hand, a pro-Western Ukrainian comprador elite, who favoured disconnection with Russia, and the ideological rehabilitation of Ukraine’s legacy of Nazi collaboration, and, on the other, the institutional public sphere which was, much as Belarus still is today, basically a relatively autonomous adjunct of the Russian state, and culminating in the Maidan coup of 2014 – has everything to do with the division of territories among the competing great powers, specifically in terms of their relative accumulation. The Maidan coup of 2014 reflects, in effect, the economic theft of Ukraine by the West against Russia, it was a revolution of petty Ukrainian capitalists, in concert with their big money accomplices in the West, against the Ukrainian people. Draped in the finery of mostly mythological blood and soil myth, the Maidan of 2014 was in fact an act of war by the United States against Russia, having very little, if anything, to do with ‘freedom’ for Ukrainians themselves.

Chrystia Freeland is having a field day, of course, and has ostensibly flung open the border to Ukrainians who wish to immigrate to Canada. Canada, a settler-colonial imperialist state, fosters and encourages reaction abroad, and then provides greater freedom of movement to the reactionaries, of course. The requirements of actively produced propaganda for belligerence against Russia in this instance, however, produce the most absurd of consequences, where the Russian is identified with the caricature of a barbaric slav, but the Ukrainian, apparently inexplicably, is not. The contention that the overwhelming majority of Russian people are either stupid, or oppressed, or that Putin is acting without their endorsement, is an orientalist trope. It supplants an actual analysis of the situation with a comforting liberal-imperialist mythology of subduing the unenlightened peripheral upstart.

The social chauvinist must necessary gloss over the repeated failures to even attempt to implement the Minsk agreements on the part of Ukraine, they must avoid confronting the reality of fear and persecution visited upon the people’s of Donetsk and Luhansk over the past eight years, they must necessarily be indifferent to their alienation and misery. Such social chauvinists must necessarily avert their eyes from right-wing fascist and terrorist influences in Ukraine, and ignore that the Ukrainian state has joined in the promotion of an official state blood and soil mythology, and the ideological rehabilitation of perpetrators of the holocaust. The social chauvinist must necessary elide, ignore, or block out acknowledgement of the human rights violations perpetrated by officially integrated Neo-Nazi regiments in the Ukrainian armed forces, as well as the fact that these regiments have become a nexus of support for white supremacist elements in the West.

The Russian intervention in Ukraine is already over, for all intents and purposes. It lasted approximately an hour and a half for Russia to demonstrate its overwhelming military superiority over Ukraine, with targeted eliminations of its major military infrastructure, and a relative minimum of casualties. The effort to televisually amplify or contort its extent for demagogic purposes in the West is overwhelming. Elements in the imperialist state most under the sway of financier interests are baying for blood in retaliation. Weapons companies in the West are already salivating.

As tempting as it may be for self-professed ‘socialists’ to be disclaiming Vladimir Putin, and participating in the pious demonization of the irrational slavic despot, this would be a profound betrayal of truth and the working class of all nations, to whom the obligation is to oppose the mystifications of the owning class. Now, instead, is the time to forcefully advance what the outbreak of hostilities really reflects: the effects of the United States efforts to assert hegemony over more and more territory, and more and more economically developed territory, and to integrate these territories into its own sphere of accumulation. However much you may dislike war and conflict, the war and conflict neither started, nor will end, with Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. In many respects the conflict began with the 2014 coup, and any efforts at de-escalation now must needs centre that truth in its discussion of the reasonable expectations of most average everyday Ukrainians, alike with the reasonable expectations of those in the east who have a radically different orientation to the events of 2014. The liberal imperialist press likes to portray what occurred in Crimea in 2014 as an annexation, but this contention elides that the population of Crimea, with an over 80 per cent turnout, voted to leave Ukraine in 2014 in the aftermath of the pro-US coup. Censoring this point is exemplary of the kind of social chauvinist forgetting which aim at papering over the real nature of monopoly capitalist imperialism and its irreconcilable contradictions. Participating in cynical liberal imperialist jingoism against Russia today, especially by means of social chauvinist myopia and forgetting, is objectively siding with the monopoly interests of the United States and its immediate sub-imperial vassal states.

The 2014 Maidan coup was an act of martial economic theft by the United States against Russia. It dramatically impacted the national security calculations of Russia, with a pro-Western vassal suddenly immediately on its doorstep, being armed and trained by NATO functionaries, and it carved up and privatized the energy resources of Ukraine. Worst of all, it marooned several overwhelmingly Russian speaking peoples in the east feeling out of place, persecuted, and militarily threatened by far right wing paramilitary thugs sanctioned by the newly minted pro-Western Ukrainian government.

The last eight years have been hell on earth for these peoples, who have proclaimed independence and been recognized by Russia these past weeks, the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. These people were perpetually let down and immiserated by Ukraine’s refusal to take the steps agreed to in the Minsk agreements. Ukraine did not take steps to ensure that these peoples’ would not be menaced by Neo-Nazi thugs along racial and ethnic lines. Ukraine did not implement a program of economic recovery for these regions. Rather, Ukraine allowed these regions to descend down into omnipresent low-grade civil war for eight years, with enormous casualties and degradation of quality of life. The Russian intervention is the direct consequence of this failure on the part of Ukraine and its Western patrons to even decently ameliorate the consequences of their political and economic annexation of Ukraine.

As we think about the events of the past week, we should keep in mind not only the interests of Western Ukrainians to be free from military aggression, certainly, but we should keep it in mind no degree less than the right of Eastern Ukrainians to be free from military aggression, too. The Russian assault on Ukraine has been immediate and overwhelming, the Western Ukrainian assault on the eastern regions has been a slow and grinding siege, but neither are to the benefit of the people involved, and both are reflective of the changed geopolitical situation. The United States can expend resources to destabilize states on the frontier of NATO and integrate them into its sphere of accumulation, just as it has been able to do for many decades. However Russia, far moreso than in the past, can expend resources to militarily oppose this attempted expansion and economic integration by the US and its immediate vassal-states. Both reflect the intractability of conflict and contradiction under conditions of monopoly imperialism, the changing balance of power, contingent on both political and economic factors each in their own development.

As the United States attempts to destabilize states on the periphery of NATO and integrate them into the US’s own sphere of accumulation, this will be, increasingly, met with military pushback from states which are increasingly able to marshal this pushback as a result of their own economic growth, and the relative decline of the United States. In order to put an end to these kinds of conflicts, akin to those in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, it is imperative to expose the real interests which mobilize such conflicts, namely, the interest which the owning class has in capitalist accumulation and the extension of the monopoly capitalist form. Explicit financial, military and propaganda support for the most reactionary elements on the periphery of the sphere of accumulation of the United States is illustrative of how durable and sustainable peace is ultimately not possible under conditions of monopoly imperialist capitalism.

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