The U.S. is the largest empire in world history. Supporting the nations threatened by its military is the least socialists living within the U.S. empire can do.
Last week, Jason Schulman and Dan La Botz of the Democratic Socialists of America published an article titled Against Campism, for International Working-Class Solidarity. The article argues that Socialists within the DSA should refrain from supporting states in the anti-imperialist “camp” (China, Russia, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, ect.), and instead should support the working class of those states. This article is a response to that article and argument.
First off, supporting the working class of anti-imperialist nations, and the states of anti imperialist nations, is not mutually exclusive. In fact, the best way for people living within imperialist states to support the working class of the anti-imperialist camp, is to critically support the states in that camp. It is this critical support that the authors misidentify as “opposing support for democratic movements” within the anti-imperialist camp. It is not that some leftists oppose “democratic movements” within the anti-imperialist camp, rather these leftists believe that all nations have the right to self determination, regardless of the political path they choose. Additionally, many leftists are skeptical as to whether “democratic movements”, as presented by the western media, are truly democratic movements. Generally, these leftists believe that any criticism of anti-imperialist states should be properly contextualized and not serve as a justification for further military and economic aggression by the imperialist camp (U.S., Europe, and their allies).
The authors point out that Karl Marx (notably piss poor anti-colonial positions), Eugene Debs (dead before the 1917 split), Rosa Luxemburg (friend of Lenin and famously murdered and mutilated by Social Democrats), and C.L.R. James all “emphasized that workers in each country should support those in another in their struggles for democracy and social justice.” All leftists would of course agree with the vague statement. If we are doing lists of dead revolutionaries however, it bears mentioning that many equally renown leftists offered critical or direct support to the anti-imperialist camp during their lifetime. These leftists include: Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Thomas Sankara, Fidel Castro, Che Guevera, Hugo Chavez, Walter Rodney, Huey Newton, Malcom X, Ho Chi Mihn, Nelson Mandela, and many more.
The USSR and Eastern Bloc
The article does correctly identify the 1917 Russian Revolution as the major splitting point between social democrats and socialists/communists. It bears mentioning that this split was largely driven by social democrats insistence that Russia continue fighting in “the Great Imperialist War” or WWI, while the socialists/communists opposed any involvement in the war. Already, the burgeoning Marxist-Leninist movement had staked out a clear anti-imperialist and anti-war position.
To their credit, the authors seem to offer limited support for the Soviet Union until 1927. From that point on though, they uncritically recite the tired right-wing history of the USSR verbatim. They claim, exactly like right wing historians, that Stalin waged a “counter revolution” elimination of old Bolshiviks. While Stalin undeniably eliminated some “old bolsheviks”, it was these Bolshivik’s that were of a counter revolutionary nature. Furthermore, the authors crucially omit that this “elimination” only came after the number two leader within the Soviet Union and Stalin’s close personal friend, Sergei Kirov, was assassinated by a lone gunman. It was in response to this assasination that other “old bolsheviks”, such as Grigory Zinoviev, were executed. Many of these “old Bolshivik’s” had ties to forighn agents, domestic opposition, or even the despicable Leon Trotsky. These executions were necessary because of how precarious the military and domestic political situation within the USSR was. The USSR was still recovering from a German invasion during WW1, invasion by 14 capitalist nations (including the U.S.) during the Russian civil war, and trade sanctions.
The authors then proceed to greatly distort reality, characterizing the USSR’s multiple diplomatic proposals to lead an anti-Nazi coalition of Soviet, U.K. and French troops in the 30’s as an “alliance” between the USSR, French empire and British empire. For what it is worth, this limited “alliance” was repeatedly turned down by the British and the French empires because they wanted Hitler to attack the USSR. Even more dishonest, the authors repeat the right-wing lie that the anti-communist Nazi regime and the USSR were “allies” before WWII. In reality, the USSR was the last major European power to make any sort of agreement with Nazi Germany (Britain France & Italy 1933, Poland 1934, U.K. France and Italy 1938, Estonia 1939, Latvia 1939,), and only made such an agreement after the crucial Vienna betrayal gave Hitler Czechoslovakia in an attempt to entice Germany to attack east. In fact, the defensive Moltov-Ribentop pact, not only gave the Soviets crucial time to prepare for the genocidal attack that they knew was coming, but it also gave the USSR vital territory to absorb Nazi Blitzkrieg attacks. No one within the USSR expected the alliance to last, and it was deliberately designed to buy time and space.
The authors also briefly cite a handful of protests in the anti-Imperialist camp as examples of “workers rebellions” wrongly put down by the USSR. It is no wonder the authors do not dwell on these examples. The first such “workers rebellions” occurred in the German Democratic Republic in 1953. This “workers rebellion” was supported by Nazi’s from WWII, forighn inteligence agents, and Berliners bussed in from the western zones of occupation. The protests were also urged on by Radio in the American Sector. The U.S. Air Force was also involved, and flew sorties over the Soviet zone bombarding it with leaflets urging the overthrow of the GDR government.
The “workers rebellion” of Hungary in 1956 was of an even more openly faschist nature. According to Hungarian Socialist politician Szófia Havas, “revolutionaries went house to house in search of communists and Jews” and “the revolution couldn’t have broken out without groups of ex-Nazi dissenters”. Many communists and Jews were shot or publicly hung. The CIA also waged psychological warfare by broadcasting radio messages into Hungary to spurn on the fascists. The CIA propaganda arm Radio Free Europe broadcasted messages that the western imperialist camp would militarily aid the fascists, a blatant lie designed to inspire further fascist provocations.
In Poland, already considered the most liberal state within the Soviet bloc, the Communist regime acquiesced time and time again to major demands of the protesters. These liberal reforms led to an explosion in national debt, which Poland still owes to this day. By the 80’s, the Soviet Union had stopped militarily intervening in Poland altogether.
However, what makes this argument truly preposterous is that we can today see the consequences of the restoration of capitalism within the Eastern Bloc. Germany, Hungary, and Poland have all returned to the western imperialist camp, and the human rights situation in all three countries has completely deteriorated as a direct result. In 2018 in Poland, 250,000 Polish fascists were led by President Andrzej Duda through the streets of Warsaw chanting ““Use a sickle, use a hammer, smash the Red rabble.”, and “white Poland”. Poland’s capitalist regime has also declared one third of the country as LGBTQ free zones. The restoration of Capitalism has also devastated the Polish economy. Unemployment went from a low of 1% in 1989 to a high of 20% in 2002. Poverty, effectively non-existent in the USSR, currently sits at 15% of the Polish population.
Such privatization also devastated Hungary, to the point that nearly half of Hungary’s population was living in poverty in 2013. Hungary has also abandoned any pretense of being a democracy during the Coronavirus crisis, and the conservative government currently rule’s by decree and has legally banned all criticism. Most alarmingly of all, Poland and Hungary have both joined NATO, violating high level promises given to Soviet diplomats in 1990 that NATO would not expand beyond Germany. Russia, who has three times faced massive European invasion within living memory, is directly threatened by this NATO expansion.
Germany, on the other hand, has been able to maintain a large welfare state because of its economic exploitation of weaker nations. Even the western news site Politico admits that Greece is “a de-facto Germen colony”. The German Military also participated in the occupation of Syria and Afghanistan.
Unsurprisingly then, the repercussions of the restoration of Capitalism have not just been limited to Europe. The overnight liquidation of the only military formation capable of even slightly challenging (the eastern bloc was never as militarily as strong as the west) the western imperialist camp has had far reaching consequences. The U.S. and its allies have pressed this advantage by bombing or invading Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Yugoslavia, and militarily threatening countless other nations. Furthermore, many anti-imperialist states allied with the USSR, such as the DPRK and Cuba, lost an essential trading partner in the USSR and faced mass starvation because of U.S. blockades and sanctions.
The article does correctly identify that many former CPSU, KGB, and state officials have made power grabs after the defeat of the Soviet Union. However, it leaves out the crucial detail that it was the so-called communist hardliners within the USSR that resisted capitalist restoration. It was the more liberal elements within the state, such as Boris Yeltsin, that were willing to sell off their respective nations. Furthermore, the fact that some military and CPSU elements sold out demonstrates the extent to which the USSR had been compromised by careerists and western subversion. If such elements had been dealt with in a more forceful manner, it is likely the “hardliners”, aka principled communists, would have emerged victorious and prevented a monumental amount of human suffering.
So called Chinese Imperialism
Moving on to China, the authors again resort to falsehoods and gross misrepresentations to support their argument. They accuse China of being a “highly exploitative capitalist nation”, when in reality “capitalism” in China looks nothing like it does in the West. Capitalism exists in a limited and highly regulated form in China, alongside state ownership of most of the economy. Most importantly, China maintains no colonies, China does not invade other countries (China “invading” parts of China notwithstanding), and China maintains mutually beneficial commercial relationships with exploited nations. Additionally, Chinese citizens receive a marxist education, corrupt billionaires are put to death, and the state has talked very openly about moving in an even more socialist direction.
The authors also claim that Mao’s great leap forward killed “tens of millions” of people, a claim made famous by the thoroughly discredited “Black Book of Communism”. When considering the “tens of millions” death toll, let us properly contextualize the historical situation of China when communists took over: China had just endured one hundred and fifty of years of brutal colonial occupation at the hands of the British, and a particularly horrific decade of colonial occupation at the hands of the Japanese. Because of this super exploitation, China existed in a state of semi-feudalism. In 1950, when the Communists finally defeated the western backed capitalist Chinese armies, life expectancy was 43 years and poverty was rampant. Communist rule brought about an egalitarian distribution of land and resources and greatly improved the standard of living for hundreds of millions people. The Great Leap Forward was an overly ambitious attempt to further improve living standards, and its mistakes were quickly rectified within a few years. Furthermore, while the ensuing famine was entirely unintentional, the same cannot be said of starvation in the western imperialist camp, where people are allowed to starve despite an overabundance of food. If one did apply the same death toll logic to capitalist nations, the death toll from the British’s deliberate starvation of India alone would dwarf the combined death toll of all communist societies, to say nothing of the forced starvation of the entire continents of Africa and South America by the western imperialist camp. A better line of inquiry is asking how many lives Mao and the communists saved? How many lives were saved by communist resistance to colonialism? How many have been saved by land reform and the CCP’s extremely successful efforts to eradicate poverty? While the answer is theoretical, it surely more significant than the “tens of millions” of deaths the authors cite without a source.
As for Mao’s China being “allied” with the U.S. after Nixon’s visit, this is perhaps the most blatant lie of all. Every communist nation in history, from the USSR, DPRK, Cuba, Burkina Faso, Vietnam, Cambodia, and others have made great efforts to pursue normal diplomatic relationships with capitalist countries. It is the western imperialist camp that not only refuses these overtures (see the USSR’s proposed anti-Nazi alliance above), but rather blockades, bombs and sanctions, the communist countries instead. It took 30 years after the communist liberation of China before the U.S. was willing to meet with its leaders and recognize the CCP as the legitimate government. To call this recognition and meeting an “alliance” is laughable and fraudulent.
The authors also speak out about Tibetans who were supposedly “suppressed” by China, but fail to mention that Tibet was an oppressive feudal society before China intervened and ended serfdom in Tibet. As for China’s Uighur population, the deradicalization effort is certainly not ideal, and rational conversations and debate should occur within leftist circles as to how China can respond better to radicalization and terrorist attacks. Still, this counter-terrorism effort has clearly been blown out of all proportion by the western press and western politicians to manufacture consent for increasing aggression against China. Just look at how far the numbers have dropped from when the story first circulated, from 3 million, to 2 million, to the now “up to” 1 million detained figure currently used. It is worth mentioning that not a single majority Muslim nation has opposed the policy, and at the U.N. more countries (almost entirely exploited nations) support the policy vs. oppose the policy. (U.S., Europe, and their proxies). The 1 million detained number the authors cite (without a source) likely comes from two thoroughly debunked “studies”. The claims of an Uighur genocide coming from politicians like Bernie Sanders and John Bolton is nothing but absurd propaganda, and especially vile considering these same western politicians support the continuous bombing and occupation of multiple Muslim nations.
As for China building its strength in the South China Sea, this is a direct response to U.S. military presence in the region. Furthermore, in addition to the naval strike group located permanently off China’s coast, the U.S. Pacific fleet operates six core battle groups and eight destroyer squadrons. The U.S. operates 11 supercarriers compared to China’s two much smaller carriers. The U.S. has massive military presence in Japan, Australia, and the Philippines, effectively encircling China from the sea. The authors raise the point that Chinese President Xi Jinpiang wants China to become a world class military power by 2050 as if it is a bad thing. China, a previously colonized nation, has every right to develop its military, especially when being threatened by the extremely violent U.S. military.
The authors then proceed to talk of communist atrocities, without mentioning anything additional to the weak examples already addressed. Such “atrocities” are non consequential when weighed against the atrocities of the western imperialist camp. These include the European genocide of 100 million Indiginous Americans, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Holocaust, the continious colonization of the global south, the U.S.-French genocide of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, British Apharteid in South Africa, Palastinian colonization, U.S. supported death squads in El Salvador, Cuba and elsewhere, the destruction of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, hundreds of coups, innumerable rigged elections, and countless other crimes. Truly, comparing the atrocities of the western imperialist camp to that of the anti-imperialist camp is a worthwhile endeavor, for it proves that the western imperialist camp is uniquely evil.
In its conclusion, the authors point out that the russian military under Vladimir Putin has committed serious war crimes against Chechneans. This is correct, but it again reinforces the point that the defeat of the USSR was a monumental catastrophe for human rights. It does not address the fact that Russia’s military is one of the few meaningful checks on the U.S. military. The authors also bring up Putin’s regrettable anti-LGBTQ policies. But denouncing this policy from the U.S. does nothing to help queer people within Russia, it does serve as justification for continuing U.S. military and economic aggression against Russia, which not only harms Russian queer people, but also harms the Russian working class.
Of more importance is the author’s blatant lies regarding the Ukrainian civil war. For those unfamiliar, the Ukrainian civil war began when far-right Ukrainian nationalists, including large neo-nazi elements, with the support of the United States, seized power in a coup against the democratically elected government. As a response to this hostile, western coup on it’s borders, Russia held a referendum in Crimea, a russian speaking area of Ukraine that has historically been a part of Russia, regarding the future of that area. After the population overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining the Russian federation, Russia annexed Crimea. Russia also militarily supports the Ukrainian rebels who fight against the U.S. coup government. This response to NATO and U.S. military aggression on Russia’s border can hardly be called imperialist, but is rather a measured response to U.S. aggression. That the authors characterize it as “the first such imperialist annexation of foreign territory in Europe since World War II” completely erases the fact that the whole episode was instigated by the western imperialist camp. Imagine the consequences if Russia overthrew the government of Canada and installed an extremely anti-American government, would the U.S. response be as measured?
Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war is also textbook anti-imperialism. The Russian military is in Syria at the request of the internationally recognized government of Syria, unlike the U.S. Furthermore, the U.S. has given massive aid to the terrorist groups Syria and Russia are fighting. For example the U.S. has armed such groups as Al-Nusra. Many of the other “moderate rebels” armed by the U.S. have folded into larger terrorist formations such as the Free Syrian Army. Additionally, many of these forighn terrorists only made it into Syria because Turkey (a NATO country) allowed these terrorists to travel into Syria via the Turkish border. Even the YPG (Kurds), which generally takes a neutral stance toward the Syrian government, now support Russia’s presence. That the authors are seemingly supporting jihadists in Syria is remarkably telling about what supporting “the workers” of a nation really entails.
As for Venezuela, the more “complicated” country according to the authors, what socialists living in the imperial core should do is simple: support the democratically elected Bolivarian government. The government’s support comes from the poorest elements of Venezuela’s society, while the opposition is overwhelmingly right wing and white. The authors talk about “socialist party’s opposed to Maduro”, but cannot produce the name of one such party! Our job in the U.S. is to stop the western imperialist aggression targeting Venezuela, not tell socialists in the global south what they do wrong.
After publishing this right-wing filth, the authors have the audacity to lecture the left about what is “discrediting”. To review, the authors have tacitly defended the CIA, literal WWII Nazi’s, Tibetan slave owners, Ukrainian neo-nazi’s, and jihadists. Discrediting indeed!
If Socialists in the imperial core want to support the working class of forighn nations, critical support for those threatened states is a necessity. This is not to say that anti-imperialist states have not committed atrocities, or made horrible errors, but that it is dishonest to pretend that those atrocities and errors come anywhere close to approaching the genocidal level of terror of the U.S. and its allies. Both China and Russia have major faults, but it is not our job or responsibility as western leftists to cherry pick at these countries from the comfort of the largest empire in the history of the world. Our responsibility is far greater. Our purpose is to rip the guts out of the genocidal monster that is America, because it is this empire, not Russia or China, that poses the single greatest threat to the worldwide socialist movement.