A few days ago, in a post replicated here, Caitlin Johnstone followed the above with this:
There’s still this notion in some anti-imperialist factions that Putin is a strategic wizard outfoxing the empire at 5D chess, but really he’s just fighting on the back foot against a far wealthier, far more powerful foe, and it’s costing his nation dearly.
Whether Ukraine “wins” is irrelevant to the fact the US empire was for relatively little cost able to create a massive sinkhole for Moscow to pour energy and attention into, freeing up the imperial machine to turn the screws on China.
Ukraine Take 1 critiqued the most evidence-defiant and most widely held view (in the West) of the Ukraine War; viz, that Russia is the unprovoked aggressor. That view requires blindness to the reality of the US Empire, an affliction daily reinforced by the silence of media systemically incapable of being truthful with us on matters vital to power.
The subject of Ukraine Take 2 does not make that error. He regards the USA as imperialist but says that so too are Russia and China. I disagree, as I do with the corollary that socialists can defend neither side but must organise for international revolution.
In Ukraine Take 1, I said this of a reference by Richard Murphy to “just-in-time capitalism”:
… just-in-time capitalism is the product of a globalised economy run by and for the rentiers who captured Western governments forty years ago … Those rentiers – the latest in a 500 year line of supremacists whose greatest fear has always been of the rise of a united Eurasia 1 – are determined to crush Russia and ultimately China for one reason alone: the threat those two powers pose to their own licence to exploit the ‘developing world’ …
In an attached footnote I added that:
… the mere possibility of alternative funding, from such as Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, gives the global south leverage in the face of IMF and World Bank loan conditionality.
I claim – as one who, for reasons given many times, pays little heed to the predictable smears by Western corporate media – that Eurasia rising has moral and historic legitimacy. (I could be wrong though, and even if right today that’s no guarantee of what tomorrow may bring. 2 )
In other posts – this for instance – I’ve given my reasons for cautiously welcoming China’s rise. On the one hand I’ve followed assessments of humanity’s grim predicament with the claim that none of the West’s main currents of resistance – social democracy, trade unionism, ‘vanguard’ revolutionary sects, direct action – is capable, though all have merit, of effecting change of the kind, scale and timeliness needed. On the other I’ve said that China’s capitalists (a) have been instrumental in lifting hundreds of millions from poverty, (b) are subordinate to the state – in the West it’s the other way round – and (c) exist precisely because the failure of the West’s Left to make its own revolutions obliged China to adapt to globally entrenched neoliberalism. 3
But that’s China. Isn’t this post meant to be about Russia and Ukraine? Re-read Caitlin’s words:
Whether Ukraine “wins” is irrelevant to the fact the US empire was for relatively little cost able to create a massive sinkhole for Moscow to pour its energy and attention into, freeing up the imperial machine to turn the screws on China.
She might have added that whether Ukraine “wins” is also irrelevant to further and equally low cost goodies for Washington. I refer to the cutting off of EU trade with Eurasia, binding Europe more tightly to its imperial orbit. Also to the weakening, as Europe’s energy-starved businesses go to the wall or relocate in the US, of its transatlantic rival. These things are addressed in other posts, such as this.
While I say Russia has right on her side, there’s a bigger picture. That’s where Stephen Gowans, author of my second take on the Ukraine War, comes in. His analysis is way ahead of Professor Murphy’s, the latter adrift on a sea of delusions fed by failure to see the US as hub of the most powerful empire ever – hence by failure to locate the source of Washington’s hostility to Russia and China in its fear of imperial decline. 4
But that’s a very low bar.
Before I move to the substance of Steve’s take on Ukraine, let me set the scene. In early 2019, I was approached by the publishers of his recently launched, Israel: a Beachhead for Imperialism in the Middle East. Would I care to review it? I would and did, giving the book a resounding ten out of ten. But why was I asked in the first place?
Possibly because I’d more than once – this 2018 post for instance – cited Steve approvingly on the West’s dirty war in Syria. Of which I’ll say this. While Israel: a Beachhead … is a diamond of perspicuity, Palestine has long been an easier cause to sell – other than in Israel itself 5 – than Syria; the propaganda blitz against Damascus far more intense.
This has had consequences not only for liberals and left reformists, but also the far left. Many Marxist groups have fled for cover over Syria (as forty years ago they did over the Provisional IRA) and for this reason those who refuse to do so, like Stephen Gowans, have my respect. 6
The scene duly set, let’s turn to Steve’s position on Ukraine, as expressed in numerous posts. Of which I have selected his What’s Left? blog entry of December 27:
- That 500 year fear of Eurasia rising is expanded on in a post a year ago – Eurasia’s rise is unstoppable – featuring historian Alfred McCoy.
- My fear (other than of US determination to stymie China and Russia triggering WW3) is that Beijing will lose control over its capitalists – finance capitalists in particular – the way the West has. Where I differ from Stephen Gowans and others on the revolutionary left is in seeing that risk as the best of the options realistically available.
- A far more detailed assessment of China’s economic status is given in Michael Hudson’s 2022 publication, The Destiny of Civilisation: Industrial Capitalism, Finance Capitalism or Socialism – see my review here.
- That the US Empire can at one and the same time be both the most powerful ever to have existed, and facing its own decline, is no oxymoron. That mix of formidable power with terminal illness is what makes today’s world so damn scary.
- Support for resistance movements always meets with the most hysterical demonising in the oppressor state. That’s why defending the IRA in the Six Counties was tougher for British socialists than defending the ANC or PLO, and why it was easier to defend the IRA if you were French or American than British. It’s a measure of the importance to Western rule of overthrowing Assad that the propaganda blitz against “Assad apologists” was as intense as that once waged by the British state against “IRA apologists”.
- For all my differences with the Socialist Equality Party hosts of WSWS, including on the question of whether Russia and China are imperialist, it too – unlike most of the far left – refuses to damn the Ba’athist government in Damascus.
- As in Georgia 2008, Russia had its reasons to invade Ukraine. One was to protect ethnic Russian populations who’d had no say in their government’s post-Soviet secession, and whose territories had seen eight bloody years of civil war. We could liken the situations in post-secession Georgia and Ukraine to that of Scots in post-Brexit Britain, but this would not do justice to ethnic Russian fears of Kiev’s brand of nationalism with a decidedly neo-Nazi stripe as evidenced, inter alia, by Zelensky being forced to u-turn on his 2019 vow to mend fences with Moscow and Russian majorities in Eastern Ukraine. (Similar fears had beset Russian speaking Ossetia vis a vis Tbilisi, while in both cases petrol was poured on the flames by the two respective governments’ explicit contemplation of joining Nato.) That’s before we even get on the one hand to the 2014 Maidan coup, on the other to that much longer history set out in Richard Sakwa’s masterly 2016 book, Frontline Ukraine. (By the way, I drop the definite article –
TheUkraine – as a courtesy to West Ukrainians but there are arguments for retaining it given that Ukraine literally means ‘borderland’. After all, isn’t this what makes The Ukraine, alongside South China Sea and Middle East, so likely a flashpoint for Armageddon?)
- See this post of January 2022, its context the failed coup in Kazakhstan. I quote at some length a 2019 report by the RAND ‘think tank’ which sets out detailed suggestions for crippling Russia in Ukraine. Small wonder that so inconsequential a figure as the newly elected and olive-branch waving Zelensky was so easily turned – on the one hand by Azov thuggery, on the other by US and European pressure.
- Western scholars who did not run for cover – honourable exceptions proving the rule – include Reagan appointees Stephen Cohen and Paul Craig Roberts, and Chicago based “political realist” John Mearsheimer. (As ever I stress, since otherwise intelligent folk can muddle the general principle at stake here, that my appreciation of a virtue in one sphere – intellectual and moral courage in this case – need not imply wider endorsement.)
- Russia having focused her deterrence efforts on surface-to-air and other missile systems (as has China) removes US capacity to launch a first strike, aimed at taking out most of her response capability, secure in the knowledge it could deal with the remnants through ‘star wars’ shields. There is currently no answer to incoming missiles at Mach 10 or higher. To which I add only this. It is a habit with bullies to see any diminution of their power to abuse as an act of aggression by the abused.