the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Mar 29, 2022
The following text was distributed to all militants in the Spark organization, and voted on at a meeting of the whole organization. It was adopted unanimously.
The war in Ukraine cannot be understood without looking at the policies of U.S. imperialism, which laid down the framework in which the war is being fought today.
Putin is certainly “criminally” responsible for the war in Ukraine, as Biden says. But the U.S., under every one of its presidents running from Biden all the way back through Woodrow Wilson, has carried out an unending policy that created the situation leading not only to this war, but to many of the military and other catastrophes that struck Ukraine, Russia and other parts of what once was the Soviet Union.
Starting in the very first years after the October 1917 Revolution, the policy of the U.S., along with that of all the other imperialisms, rested on military invasion, economic isolation and “diplomatic” encircling of the fledgling workers power based on the soviets. The imperialist powers did not succeed in destroying the Soviet Union, but their policy, along with the failure of revolution in key countries of Europe, combined to bring the bureaucracy to power—for which the Soviet population paid dearly.
In the 105 years since October, U.S. policy has varied, with the U.S. sometimes forming a tentative alliance with this bureaucracy—as it did, for example, in World War II and its immediate aftermath, or as it did in Syria in 2015. But even when working in alliance with the bureaucracy with whom it was temporarily sharing a common interest, the U.S. never stopped seeking ways to weaken the Soviet Union. It was no longer the beacon for working class revolution. But the Soviet Union still was an itch under the imperialist skin. Its planned and centralized economy was able to do what capitalism could not do in any other country in the years following the collapse of 1929: it industrialized and to some extent developed at least part of this vast territory. This gave the Soviet Union the possibility to continue somewhat of an independent existence, which existence served as an encouragement to the national revolts that spread through the world at the end of World War II.
With the Cold War, the U.S. shifted gears back to an open policy of “containing” the Soviet Union. NATO was established in 1949 through an agreement between 10 European countries, plus the U.S. and Canada. The purpose of this military alliance was certainly to assert U.S. hegemony over the world, but its creation also served to make a definitive break with the U.S. and Britain’s World War II alliance with the Soviet Union.
NATO, led by the U.S., stationed troops near Soviet borders. The U.S. installed missile batteries within firing distance of the Soviet Union. U.S. and British naval flotillas patrolled the oceans to which the Soviet Union had access.
The Soviet Union, deformed by the bureaucracy, nonetheless outlived World War II, made it through the Cold War, and endured for nearly four more decades.
But in 1991, the bureaucracy itself finally tore up the last ties that held together the various republics that for nearly three quarters of a century had composed the Soviet Union. Their economies collapsed.
(The analysis that Trotsky made and refined, in the 1920s and ‘30s, of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union retained its validity through all these decades. The existence of this bureaucracy—which was not a distinct social class, but a parasite feeding off state-owned property—was an inherently unstable situation, and could be resolved only by the working class taking back power in its state or by the Soviet Union being integrated back into the capitalist system. There was no new class waiting in the wings, ready to step out onto the stage of history. The fact that the degeneration continued for decades longer than Trotsky imagined does not change the validity of his analysis. Rather it speaks to the decay of the capitalist system itself, unable up until now to fully reintegrate the totality of the former Soviet Union. It’s this analysis that allows us to orient ourselves in the midst of the never-ending tug of war between the bureaucracy, represented by Putin, and the U.S., leading the imperialist world, a tug of war that pulls others into it, as Ukraine has been right now.)
In the three decades since 1991, the U.S. and its European allies have worked to pull apart the former Soviet Union. Many of the eastern European countries in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence were brought into the European Union, providing the dominant countries in the EU with a reservoir of low-paid labor. The imperialist powers moved to put their hands on the benefits they could grab from Russian oil and natural gas, from the Russian reserves of raw materials like nickel and palladium, and from the wheat and other grains grown in Ukraine and Russia. NATO organized the military threat behind which all this was carried out. And then NATO moved to integrate almost all the Eastern European states that had once made up a buffer between the Soviet Union and Western Europe, where the U.S. had established dozens of military bases. Finally, NATO gobbled up the Baltic Republics, formerly part of the Soviet Union, and during the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military established bases on the Asian territory of the former Soviet Union.
Plot these developments on a map, put in the dates when various countries and former republics surrounding Russia were “associated with” or integrated into NATO as “members,” and you will have a visual history of the tightening cordon sanitaire that has been built around Russia, the rump left from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For a number of years, Russia acceded to these developments, even openly negotiated some of them. Putin, who moved to the head of the bureaucracy, put out olive branches and asked for Russia to be integrated into NATO. His offers were met by the stationing of more NATO troops and a step up in the “war games” carried out on Russia’s borders. NATO, however, did begin to hint that Georgia and Ukraine might “someday” be considered for membership in NATO.
Like an isolated dog, cornered by NATO’s pack of rabid dogs, Russia finally moved, using the only means the bureaucracy knew: military means. In 2008, with a show of military force, it took South Ossetia and Abkhazia away from Georgia; in 2014, it moved into Crimea, which had a majority Russian population, taking it away from Ukraine. And it gave support to Russian-speaking separatists who moved to break off from Ukraine, taking with them the most industrialized part of Ukraine. These moves were purely military adventures, aimed at reinforcing the strength of Russia against an encroaching NATO. And they were carried out against the interests of the working classes of all these nations.
When Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine in 2022, he may have believed this incursion would be a repeat of what had transpired in 2008/2014. But Ukraine’s military had been rebuilt and trained by the U.S. military, which brought with it vast amounts of military gear and armaments from NATO’s weapon stores.
What the U.S. end game is for this war is not clear. Biden’s speech, with his threat of another “unending war,” in which Russia would be caught, may have been only a bargaining tactic, or it may have staked out U.S. intentions. Whatever finally comes of this edition of the war, all the players, the U.S. first of all, have used the population of these two nations, Russia and Ukraine, as pawns in a deadly chess game.
This is not to retell history in a nutshell—histories which are told much more precisely and fully in various publications of the UC. (See especially two articles from LDC #223, which we are reprinting in this issue.) But tracing this outline is a way to say we base our understanding of the current war by looking at the framework laid down for it by U.S. policy. Combined with Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union and its degeneration, this history of U.S. activity gives us the means to orient ourselves in the midst of a situation that so much of the left, the SWP included, has stumbled over. The U.S. left—that part which still exists—has mostly rushed to align itself with the call to “Stand with Ukraine.” This reveals once again that those organizations do not start from the perspective of the working class and its class interests.
We empathize with the Ukrainian people, particularly its working people, but not with the Ukrainian regime, reactionary as it has always been and oppressive of the working class, and not with the U.S. that stands behind Ukraine today. To “stand with Ukraine,” as Biden would have us do, means to call for a wider involvement of the U.S. in this already deadly war. To wave a blue and yellow flag means to be a shill for U.S. imperialism’s policies.
This country we are caught in is the chief imperialist power in the world; the one that has plunged the world into more wars than any other, directly and indirectly; the one which spends more money on the military than the next 12 biggest military spenders put together; the one which sent more missiles and bombs into Baghdad on the first DAY of its 2003 war against Iraq than Russia expended in the first four weeks of its current war against Ukraine; the one that directly organized the complete destruction of Fallujah and its civilian quarters, using the most horrifying armaments, including modernized “intelligent” missiles filled with a more efficient napalm. The U.S. is responsible for the havoc rained on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only country to have used such weapons; the only one to carry out on such a scale attacks whose purpose could only have been to terrify a civilian population, as were the U.S. firebombings of Dresden and of some Italian cities.
Our duty is to expose and oppose the machinations of U.S. imperialism as it continues brutally to impose itself on the peoples of the world, in the current war and in the ones that are sure to come. Our goal has to be to give workers in our milieus, and the workers we touch through our activities, ideological and historical weapons with which they can orient themselves in the midst of what can only be a steady move toward a wider war. This war is made inevitable by the workings of capitalism itself.
Workers in this country are part of the same working class as are workers in Russia and in Ukraine. It is this working class, our class, that has the possibility to overturn the rule of the capitalists, and to get rid of the abomination that remains of the bureaucracy that destroyed the Soviet Union. It is our class on the scale of the world that will be able to create the possibility for human beings to carry out a social development which will finally serve all of humanity.
Nearly a million people in the U.S. have died from Covid—this translates, officially, into the worst rate per capita among developed countries. Many more people still suffer its long-term effects. Life expectancy in the U.S. declined by almost two years in 2020 and continued its decline again in 2021, in contrast to Europe, where the first year’s much smaller Covid-caused decline in life expectancy was reversed. All of this speaks to the feebleness of the U.S. effort. As tiny as we are, with as little reach into the population as we have, we have seen death and serious harm from Covid run through our milieus during the last two years.
The same logic of this system based on profit strikes everywhere. It seems obvious that its consequences would be nearly catastrophic in the underdeveloped countries. But what is striking is to see that the U.S., the very epitome of capitalist development, fared so poorly by comparison to almost all the other developed countries.
This reflects the fact, first of all, that the U.S. medical system is run almost completely on a for-profit basis and, beyond that, that so few of the services needed by the population are in any way socialized.
A basic public health system, faced with a contagious disease like Covid, would have depended on organized testing, tracing, data collection, real-time analysis and the means to directly reach the population. The U.S. system had been internationally acclaimed just months before Covid hit, designated by the U.N. as the “premier” public health system in the world. Nonetheless, the main measure taken by U.S. public health, during the administration of both Trump and Biden, was to shunt responsibility for overcoming the virus onto the population, that is on each individual. Even the delivery of vaccines depended on individual requests for it, and not a social mobilization. The U.S., which had cornered the market on vaccines, was unable to deliver those vaccines at the rate other countries were able to do.
The virus was real. But so were the consequences of the individualistic measures taken to block the spread of the virus. A whole part of the older population was cut off for nearly two years from most human contact, contributing in many cases to a rapid aging of the already aged. A large part of the children in working class school systems, particularly in the poorest areas, were condemned to remote “learning,” with an absence of any technical organization that could have laid the ground work for it. The outcomes of those two years of lost schooling are being paid right now by the children involved. Childcare was dumped on the home, which means mostly onto women, many of whom were thus forced out of the paid work force.
Effectively, a large part of the laboring population was imprisoned—even if working as “essential workers.” (More privileged layers could escape to their “summer homes” far out in the countryside.) The consequences of this lockdown imposed without any prospects of getting out would not have surprised someone who has watched the way social disorder develops in prison. In a society where women are abused anyway, lockdowns in the homes led to increased domestic violence. Murders between family members increased. Violence against children increased. Alcohol use increased. So did drug use, and with it overdose deaths.
Human beings need ongoing human contact, multiple contacts. The masks, which became the focus of many protests, were both a symbol of this lost contact and also a real physical impediment to communication for a significant part of the population, whether because of hearing problems among the aged, language problems for large parts of immigrant and native-born populations or the fuzzy degradation of the masks that people wore weeks on end, unable to afford new ones—few people got even one free mask.
The impact of Covid is symptomatic of the reality of American capitalism, which not only cornered vaccines, it has also cornered the world’s wealth. This America, this pinnacle of capitalism, sports a higher rate of poverty than almost all other developed countries, and a higher rate of such ills as maternal deaths than do a number even of underdeveloped countries. Unequaled wealth at one end of the U.S. spectrum simply reflects the fierce exploitation of working people at the other, exploitation that takes the form not only of what happens in the workplace, but also the lack of what is provided more or less socially to the population in other countries, such as, for example, public transit or even vacations. In 2020, just over 35% of all people in working families live in or near poverty, according to the government’s pitiful poverty thresh hold. (See Oxfam report.) Not at all the same problem for the corporations in the S&P 500. Their overall rate of profit hit an all-time record in 2021, despite the continuing pandemic. In fact, their enormous profits explain part of this increased inflation.
To defend its obscenely wealthy capitalist class, and maintain their order is a society built on severe exploitation, the American government has recourse to a burgeoning system of jails, prisons and cops who have a license to kill. (Just to illustrate to what extent U.S. bypasses every other country in this imprisonment: the state of Michigan alone, with its 10 million people, in 2019 incarcerated more people than the nations of Canada, France and Italy, with their total population of 164 million altogether.) The U.S. has more people condemned to death than all other developed countries put together. Its police forces, armed with advanced military paraphernalia and weapons, kill people at what even bourgeois politicians call an “alarming rate.” These victims of police aggression are mostly young, but not only; mostly male, but not only; and more of them, proportionately, are black, but not nearly all. The one thing all those victims of police violence have in common is that they almost all come from families in the lower ranks of the income scale. In other words there is a level of police violence that hits across all the colors of the laboring population’s spectrum.
Finally, as the push to overturn access to abortion gains ground, we will undoubtedly hear about a record for the number of women who die from botched attempts to self abort or from abortions attempted in ill-equipped illicit establishments. This push to criminalize abortion, and in some cases to criminalize the women who have an abortion performed on themselves, is itself a means of oppression. Working class women, doubly-oppressed and doubly-exploited, are being pushed back two centuries.
It appears that Biden has lost a noticeable bit of the support he had in the election. Perhaps Democrats will take solace from the fact Trump has never hit much above 40% in polling. BUT, the same polls also show that Biden, less than a year after his election, slipped to less than 30%, worse than Trump ever polled in his worse days.
As things stand now, it would appear that the Democrats—who control the Senate only thanks to Vice-President Harris’s tie-breaking vote, and who barely control the House—may come out of the 2022 elections controlling neither. Biden doesn’t have to run again until 2024, but even that doesn’t look promising.
The war may change all this, but it’s not obvious so far. In any case, as things stand, we would seem to be going down the well-trod path where one bourgeois party wins control in one election, only to begin losing part of it almost as soon as they take office. What is truly classical about the Democrats, however, is that even in their first year, they have not been able to maintain voting discipline among their members.
Biden had staked his election on being the “not-Trump” candidate in the middle of a pandemic associated with Trump’s reckless social attitudes. And his poll numbers in the first weeks of his presidency reflected the fleeting hopes that he would lead the fight to eliminate Covid. But weeks went by, a new peak came, and still another peak came. And the campaign to vaccinate the population ran into headwinds. Biden responded by blaming the unvaccinated part of the population, and he said it openly: “WE have a problem, and YOU are the cause of it.”
In a society which was not organized to deliver the vaccine to people who had to work for their living, Biden’s reproach grated on a raw nerve.
Finally, Biden’s call for workplace mandates, tied to the threat of job loss, added to popular frustration, not simply among Trump voters, but also among some of Biden’s own. What was perhaps most marked in this was the number of people who had been vaccinated the first time, maybe even two, but didn’t or couldn’t heed the call to get a booster.
Stung by the 2020 election campaign that placed responsibility for the virus on Trump’s head, the Republicans took their stand focusing on the difficulties created for the population by various public health measures and used it to make a “democratic” appeal.
Covid became the basis of a political war between the two parties, with Democrats claiming to stand for science and public health and Republicans claiming to stand for individual liberty and democratic rights—one self-serving claim as far-fetched as the other, and both electoral ploys.
In the midst of what truly was a serious epidemic, there was no one who had the means to reach the population with a denunciation of the bourgeoisie and its state for having stripped the public health system bare, leaving it with no resources other than restrictions on the population to combat the virus. There was no organization with weight in the working class that addressed the laboring population to explain the value in vaccination—while recognizing that people are not wrong to worry about a vaccine developed by pharmaceutical companies; and while recognizing that people have valid reasons to feel that they are treated like guinea pigs.
We may have said all of this in our propaganda, in our newsletters and paper, and in our candidates’ speeches, who continued to speak after the 2020 election. But in this great big extent of a continent, we are little more than that proverbial drop of water.
The worse thing in all this is that the anger people feel about their situation finds no outlet, other than in these squabbles. To the extent this is true, the Democrats, and behind them, much of the left which tails along on the same axis as the Democrats follow, cede this large political space to the Republican or to organizations further right.
Overall, the political mood in the U.S. today seems more favorable to the right.
Whatever January 6 brought out into the open, the extreme right that exists in the U.S. is still somewhat marginal. But there is a much broader, somewhat coherent, exceedingly reactionary milieu, and its influence weighs on different layers of the working population.
Many of the same groups and forces that opposed the vaccines, masks and other public health measures had already been pushing a range of other issues. They want to privatize public schools. They push for the anti-abortion measures passed by state legislatures. They oppose immigration. They support the individual’s right to “bear arms.” They oppose environmental measures, particularly restrictions on oil exploration and coal mining. They support the police who shoot civilians. They invade school books, seeking to censor them.
In the absence of any perspective that embodies working class interests, many of these causes draw support from parts of the laboring population, undoubtedly more from among “white” working people, but not only. Such reactionary goals didn’t spring fully formed out of the minds of the population. For a long time, some of them have been pushed by fundamentalist churches. But increasingly, these causes have been funded by Big Money.
For a very long time, money has flowed from large corporations into foundations that funded legal campaigns to block unionization drives or propaganda campaigns to muddy the unions’ reputation, and they sought to limit regulations concerning such things as workplace safety.
But today, corporate-funded foundations have entered the whole political spectrum. Not only are they behind the campaigns to privatize public schools and make abortion illegal, they are behind the legislation to reduce the right of public health departments to intervene in the midst of a public health emergency like Covid, as well as behind the privatization of the post office. They have paid the legal costs to defend a vigilante killer like Kyle Rittenhouse, or to provide high-paid lawyers for several cops accused of murdering civilians.
Much of the money for Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign after the election came from a few of these same foundations, which also put money into organizations that were involved in leading the attack on January 6 like the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys, or the militias who plotted to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan.
Certainly, the whole bourgeoisie is not behind such efforts, and absolutely not its major parts. But neither are the multi-billionaires behind these efforts negligible. To cite just one example: the Charles Koch Institute has poured money at one point or another into most of these right wing “causes.” It got its funds from the profits produced in Koch Industries, whose plants produce, among other things, paper cups, chemicals, jet fuel, fertilizer, electronics, and toilet paper. Money for extreme right causes also comes from a foundation set up by Robert Mercer, the founder of a hedge fund; or one by the CEO of a steel company; or by the Walton family, which derived its money from Wal-Mart; or by Harry Bradley, an electronics manufacturer; or by the Uline family, whose money came from shipping; or from the DeVos family, which got its money from Amway. Almost all the oil companies and AT&T gave their money directly, not even bothering with the formality of setting up a foundation through which money could be conveyed. And there are more. But the point to be made is that some very wealthy people have pushed this reactionary development.
The U.S. has always had forces like those that led the invasion of the Capitol, January 6. The Klan, militias, and other military style forces and white supremacists have always been here—more or less open, more or less violent. They have never gone away. If the bourgeoisie does not call on them more at this juncture, that’s because it sees no need—yet. If it moves to hold them in check, as it has done with some of those most blatantly involved in January 6, it’s because it didn’t decide on throwing them into action—yet. But when it does decide, forces like these will be ready for action.
But more important than these marginal groupings is this much larger reactionary milieu, which after all, is what gave the Proud Boys, etc. the force they needed to invade the capital.
The underlying and basic danger is the fact that there is no political organization in the working class, based on the interests and capacities of the working class, nothing with any weight that offers working people a perspective that accords with their own class interests. Without such an organization, corporate money will be free to stoke its reactionary view of the world, including in parts of the working class.
Certainly, the political situation is not dominated totally by the right wing today. Even if 2020’s vast, nationwide outpouring that exploded on the scene after the murder of George Floyd has retreated today, its experience still lingers in an important part of the population. Moreover, there still exist all those people who have always been active in local areas, organizing resistance and demonstrations that let the population express itself—like the year-long constant demonstrations in small-town rural Georgia, leading up to the trial and conviction of the three racists who murdered Ahmaud Arbery.
There have also been a few strikes—not very many yet, but the kind that showed workers determination not to roll over in the face of corporate intransigence. In 2020, in the worst of the Covid shutdown, there were almost no big strikes. But last fall, strikes at Kelloggs, Frito Lay and John Deere—among the companies considered by the Labor Department, “major companies,” that is involving 1,000 or more workers—seemed to be following in the footsteps of the 2019 GM strikers. There have been many more strikes at small workplaces, often among service workers. But none of this rolled together begins to match the level of activity in much earlier years.
Yet, the mobilization of the Canadian truckers at the bridge between Windsor and Detroit shows that there is enormous resentment, just waiting to boil over. Unfortunately, it also shows that the right wing has found the way to touch working people, giving workers aims that contradict their own interest.
And, yet, this stirring in the working class, even if it’s only a beginning, holds out the answer not only to the immediate problems of jobs and wages, but also to the dangers raised by an organized extreme right that would divide the working class. And, as the vast outburst of 2020 showed in the very midst of the Covid lockdown, things can jump off faster than we can ever imagine.
In any case, it’s this we count on. In this year, when we expect to try to engage in an election campaign in three states under the same banner, Working Class Party, our aim is to let workers express, through their vote, their agreement with the idea that they are tired of being dragged behind one or the other of the two big parties, neither one of which represents them; that they want their own political party and that they want a policy that reflects their class interests, a policy that addresses the problems of jobs, wages, and the organization of work; that they want to take control over the situation they are in; and they want a society that represents their needs and concerns, which can only be one that they build.
This was the axis of our campaigns in previous years. But we need to take note of the changed situation today, as the bourgeoisie moves toward a generalized war in more obvious and accelerated ways, and, as we can see, via Ukraine, how much the bourgeoisie works to divide the working class. War is not new, neither is the fact of divisions in the working class. But those things have more immediacy now. Our campaign will have to pay attention to them. We have to drill down on the idea that there is a working class issue in war, beyond the obvious one that workers are being killed in it.